Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 4 in Paris - Shopping Day, Hotel Porte Doree and Paris Museum Pass

Today was the last day of our Cosmos Tour of France and after breakfast, everybody started their own journey either going home or onward to another trip. For us, we would continue our stay in Paris and moved to another hotel so this would be actually our Day 4 in Paris on our own. We had a leisurely breakfast and checked out after that. No knowing the taxi situation here, I thought we could just hail a taxi outside the hotel anytime we want but it was a mistake. This is because Hotel Mecure Porte de St.Cloud is located off the main street and not many taxis come all the way in. Worse still, it was a Monday and it was also raining so there were more demand for taxi service in the city. I had to request the hotel to call a taxi for me; this would cost more since the taxi will start charging once they leave for the hotel from wherever they are. Even then, we waited for about 45 minutes before the taxi turned up. So if you need a taxi to catch a flight home, make the arrangement with the hotel earlier.

The taxi driver could not speak English so it was a quiet trip to our new hotel, the Hotel Porte Doree at the end of Avenue Daumesnil, Porte Doree. This is one of those small, old boutique hotels that has been refurbished with lifts, bathroom and other modern amenities. In fact, it is very cosy and atmospheric but it must have the smallest lift in Paris (if not the world) as it can only take 3 passengers officially! Anyway, I managed to squeeze myself in together with 2 x 20kg luggage to get to my room.

It is located in a very peaceful neighbourhood and very accessible as the bus to Gare du Nord stops right in front and the Metro stop Porte Doree is just 1 or 2 minutes away.

There are many eating places nearby, including MacDonald, Quick and Subway for fast food fans, Italian and Vietnamese restaurants, some Chinese takeaway (traiteurs), a mini market and pastry shop right in front and a French restaurant around the corner that served traditional fare where we had a fantastic dinner on our last night in Paris. More about that in my Day 7 Paris post later. 

This is an ideal small hotel for a relaxing stay except that it is located a little away from the city centre (7 stops to Bastille where we stayed the first time) and I could hear the rumbling of the Metro train at times but not enough to disturb my sleep. The Park of Bois de Vincennes is just across the ring road (some construction going on nearby) that borders the end of the block. Highly recommended unless you prefer those modern chain hotels or a very lively, happening neighbourhood.

We arrived at about 11am and though it was before the announced check-in time of 12 noon, we were able to moved straight into our room. The room is small but clean and very tastefully decorated. The corridor and staircase have some period charm.

Free WiFi is avaialble in the room and worked during all my 4 days' stay albeit slow at times and there is a free computer for use (as long as nobody is hogging it) but it has a French keyboard that needed some getting use to. They even printed my boarding pass for my home trip for free at the reception. 

Since today was designated as shopping day (the wife's idea of not wanting to shop at the last minute) we went straight to Galeries Lafayette for her to continue her shopping survey. While she was comparing designs and prices at GL, I went to look for the Paris Museum Pass. There is a Tourism Office near the Opera shown on the map so I made my way there. Don't bother, it turned out to be Office of the Tourism Ministry and I could not find a way in, they probably do not serve tourists directly. Then I stumbled upon the American Express office that was just next to the Roissy shuttle bus stop for CDG Airport, near to the Opera. Here they sell the Museum Pass among other services on offer. No queue here and English is gladly spoken so this is the best place to get the Museum Pass if you are near the Opera.

The Paris Museum Pass cost 35E for 2 days and 50E for 4 days and I regretted later that I should have taken the 4-day instead of the 2-day Pass as it would have given me more opportunity to visit additional museums and sights in Paris. If you intend to stay in Paris for more than 2 days and you wish to visit some of the popular sites, do get a Museum Pass. Not only will it save you some euros (if you do the maths right), it will save you a lot of time. Here's how. Some of the popular museums require you to buy a ticket and then go through a security check so there will usually be 2 queues, one for the ticket and for the security check. By having the Museum Pass, you bypass the ticket line and go straight to the security check (joining other ticket holders.) For some sights, there may even be a separate entrance for Pass holders. The other advantage is that you can enter a museum repeatedly (within the validity of the Pass) or visit museums that you may not have entered otherwise since the entrance fees are already paid for.

The PMP is just a neatly folded list of museums and sights where the Pass can be used sandwiched between two covers. You validate it the first time you use it by entering the date so they will check the validity of the Pass based on that date.

After my purchase, I met up with my wife in GL and since we did not want to eat at the self-service restaurant at the 6th floor again, we went to another restaurant nearby. I had the salad nicoise, the green salad with the salted anchovies, as starter and fish as the main course. My wife had a normal salad and omelette as the main dish.

The ladies here must be wondering, were is the shopping? OK, after lunch we continued on Boulavard Haussmann to look for Hard Rock Cafe as it was customary for my wife to buy T-shirts for our relatives and guitar-pin for our son as souvenirs from Hard Rock. Finally we reached Boulavard Montmartre and suddenly Hard Rock popped into view. BTW, this is actually nowhere near Montmartre where the Sacre-Coeur is located, don't know why they used the name.

A bonus for me was that there were two passages nearby, the Passage Jouffrey just next to Hard Rock,

and Passage Panoramas was just right opposite where I could shoot more videos.

Passages are shopping malls of bygone days and as they are covered, they would be good for visits during rainy days. Both have seen better days and Passage Jouffrey seems to have aged better, judging by the flooring. 

After my wife's haul at Hard Rock, we went to the Holy Grail of designer handbags, the flagship store of Louis Vuitton in Champs Elysees. A visit here is the dream of the everyday housewife and a nightmare for the everyday husband.

Before reaching LV, we passed another flagship store, this time that of Laduree, the maker of the famous macaroons and also the celebrity cafe, Fouquet with the striking red awning.

In fact, branches of Laduree seem to be everywhere, in Galaries Lafayette and even in the Palace of Versailles. So while my wife was doing her battle in LV, I, like many faithful husbands, sat waiting patiently at the benches that were thoughtfully provided at the sidewalk in front of the store, taking in the Parisian air of Champs Elysees and the fumes of the endless traffic. Thankfully, the purchase at LV was at the request of a relative and not her own. Phew!

As it was raining on and off that day, the LV store provided a plastic cover over the normal paper bag so it was very thoughtful of them. After the purchase, I thought it would be wise to make for the safety of the hotel and not parade the spoils all over Paris.

After some rest in the hotel, we went out for our dinner. My wife seemed to have taken a liking for the Chinese mixed rice takeaway so we had that at a traiteur near the hotel.

Her reason is simple, you can see what you are ordering and maybe she was worried about the E.coli outbreak. After dinner, we watched the Paris weather forecast to plan for tomorrow's activities. Since the forecast was for cloudy and rain, we decided to do some museum visit for tomorrow and reserve the next, brighter day for Versailles.

Ronald Kwok

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