Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's time to set sail! Boarding the Avalon Waterways Tapestry II! 6/20/15

It's hard to believe we'd only just arrived in Paris the day before! We'd already been all over it felt like!  After our food tour in the morning, we went back to our hotel and found the Avalon Waterways reps and introduced ourselves. We still had quite some time before we had to be back to board the bus. As I mentioned earlier, the hotel we stayed at was the meeting point to take the bus to the ship. We didn't have to meet back there until sometime around 3:00 I think? Maybe even later. So, the rep gave us a map, some more sites within walking distance and a recommendation for a place to get crepes for lunch! Off we went!

This was really our first time venturing out totally on our own with no where to actually have to be!  We really had no idea where we were going, but we did it! 

We had some pretty amazing crepes for lunch - because of course the food tour snacks had worn off by now!

And then found our way back to the hotel with plenty of time to spare. 

We sat up in one of the conference rooms as people started arriving.  Everyone seemed pretty excited!  Some people came in groups.  Others were couples, or friends. The mood was festive! We were given cards of sorts as to which bus we'd be on.  There were two if I remember correctly.  And off we went!  And somehow I totally did not take a picture of the boat as we arrived, so I'm going to have to use this picture from Avalon...thank you!

That would be what our riverboat looks like!  The Avalon Tapestry II.  It's a new riverboat, just started sailing in March, 2015.  We boarded and went to our cabin.  It was lovely!  We had one of the Panorama Suites which means the window is floor to ceiling and the door opens up so you have a built in balcony as part of the room.  Maybe not the best picture since the curtains are closed, but there will be more coming!  You can see from the picture how we have a huge window, and two twin beds.

So here is a little tour of our cabin!  We had plenty of space, and plenty of storage room.  Try to ignore our mess, we just walked into the room and dropped everything here!

The space between our beds was a decent amount.  If we were a couple, the beds would be together and there would be more room between the bed and the desk.

I like that the TV was up on the wall in the corner.  It didn't take up any room and we both could see it.

Of course, the biggest benefit of the beds in this Panorama room, looking out the window at the amazing views going by!  Jumping ahead a couple days for a picture of just what I mean!

Ok - back to the tour!  The bathroom - it was amazing!  For a ship bathroom, I couldn't have asked for anything else!

Even the products in the bathroom were nice.  I brought my own shampoo and conditioner, but these were better than what I brought, so I just used them instead!

I has some lovely gifts when I arrived, and the flowers stayed fresh the entire week.  They brightened the room so very nicely!

And so it was time to set sail.  Carol and I popped the champagne, opened the chocolates and watched the world go by as we sailed along the Seine River.  Life was good, very good!

We relaxed for a bit, noticed some familiar sites as we left the Paris area...

and then went to the lounge area for our first night's Port Talk about the next days events.  The lounge would be the main inside gathering area on the ship.

And then it was time for our first dinner on board.  The meals are not dressy as they can be on a traditional cruise. They're not shorts and a t-shirt either. But the food was always very good. We made some great friends by the end of the cruise since there were only 120 guests on board. I don't have a lot of food pictures, but this would be a typical looking entree.  Every meal consisted of a choice of an appetizer, soup or salad, main course and a dessert.  There also was always an amuse-bouche to start the meal and an intermezzo between the salad and main course.  There were rotating special dishes and then the "always" on the menu options.  We never, ever left feeling hungry and the wine was free flowing at dinner for sure!

After dinner we walked up to the Sky Deck, and noticed on the way that we were going through our first lock.  This whole lock system was absolutely fascinating!  It's pretty cool that in this picture you can see the boat coming the other direction is up so much higher than we are, and that we just were lowered the level of the water that's on the wall.

And this was one of the smaller locks!

This is the Sky Deck of the ship.  Most nights it was pretty cool up here, and most days we were off the ship, so we never really spent any time here other than a few pictures. But it's nice, very spacious and there's a hot tub too!

Believe it or not, this picture was taken at almost 10:00 pm! Just look how bright it is out! Even so, we knew we had a busy day ahead of us.  We'd be visiting two different towns tomorrow!  Our cruise had begun.  We were ready!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Before leaving on our river cruise, a bit of a food tour! Day 2, Paris - 6/20/15

After our longest day ever, first day in Paris, you may think we would have slept in on our second day right?  No, we were up early and ready to see what the day had waiting for us! Today was a pretty exciting day! We would be embarking on our river cruise! Sailing on Avalon Waterways, Paris to Normandy, and then back to Paris. Neither Carol nor I had ever been on a river cruise, so this would be new territory for us. We were really looking forward to this new experience!

But the cruise didn't depart until much later this afternoon, so we planned a walking food tour for the morning. What sounded like a better way to start the day than a tour called "From Baguettes to Bistros, Culinary Traditions of Paris"? We got up, checked out, left our luggage with the bellman and got directions to our meeting point off we went! We decided to take a taxi, and we were dropped off right in front of the cafe that was our designated starting spot, in the Saint Germain area...and this was the corner of the street where we waited.

Once our group arrived, and we were introduced to our guide, Preston, we began our walk. This wouldn't be just an ordinary walk to taste food.  Preston was here to teach us about the French staples and teach us he did!  He was amazing!  Our first stop, a Boulangerie.

We learned about the baguette, which may sound simple, but to the French, it's a very serious topic!  There are rules, laws even as to how it can be made. There are bread laws. And it's a good thing, because that bread is amazing.

Throughout the tour, we didn't just stop at the "everyday" shop, but at true Artisan stores. These shops were owned and run by craftsman. Everything we tasted, everything we saw was like opening and tasting a gift, artwork.  

Preston picked up some baguettes for us that we'd be eating later, as well as some other breads, but also some croissants.  I mean, you can't really be in France without a croissant can you?  Although, the croissant isn't originally from France, did you know that? Much to Carol's shock, as she learned this story, and got to taste a fresh, French version of the croissant...yum, breakfast!

Of course, after our bread stop, the next logical thing to learn about would be cheese. Preston took us to not any cheese shop, but a true Fromagerie where they age the cheeses on site.

We learned about the differences in cheeses in France as compared to the US, and even the differences in French imported cheese in the US. We learned about so many cheeses and boy they have a lot of cheeses.  Our whole group looked to be in a cheese coma!  We were just jaw dropped, giddy with a glow that said - let's try some of this amazing cheese!

So, Preston recommended we pick out 3 cheeses I believe. A goat cheese, a hard cheese and a brie if I recall. We gazed and we oohed and aaahhed and I have pictures of each one that we picked. We went outside and he set up a little table, and placed them on a tray, with our baguettes and a loaf of fresh fig bread and really, could it be any better this morning?  I don't think so!

But wait, isn't there a fourth cheese there?  No, that really, really yellow bit that looks like cheese, that's butter.  Oh MY Goodness!  That's butter.  From what we were told, the butter we have here, in the US would not even be considered butter in France because it doesn't have enough fat in it.  This however was butter.  And it was truly the most heavenly butter in the world. 

We ate our cheese and baguettes and bread, and butter and then it was time for our next stop.  What comes after cheese?  Well, chocolate of course!  And that's right, not just any Chocolatier, but one who gets the beans from various parts of the worlds, and then actually makes his own chocolates, right there.  Only the best.

As with the other shops we've visited, everything was presented as if it was a gift.  Everything was beautiful.  It was artwork. Stunning.

All of the chocolate was labeled with where the beans were sourced.  So unique!

And then there were the macarons! 

Here we all and a couple of pieces of chocolate, and Preston knew Carol was allergic to chocolate so he got a bar of special White Chocolate - not the super sweet white chocolate we're used to, but one with a mixed blend.  Carol can have white chocolate because it has no cocoa in it. She had that. Then we all had a macaron.  Heavenly!

Moving along, our next stop was to a shop that made and sold Armagnac.  Armagnac is a brandy.  We had a tasting session of the different types, blends as compared to vintages. It was quite interesting! Definitely something I never would have tried otherwise!

And then our final stop, a Patisserie.  This one was so very unique!  We browsed around for a bit, while Preston put an order in for us.  

We walked for a bit to a lovely park, and had a little picnic with our pastries!

Preston picked up boxes of mini treats of all of the regular sized pastries we had seen.  Each of us got to try 3 or 4 of the minis.  All in all there were about 8 of us in the group I think?  This was perfect!

That's where our tour ended.  It was pretty much perfect! Preston gave everyone directions on how to get back to our hotels, or where we could go for shopping our lunches if we were actually hungry at that point.  We said our goodbyes and thanked him for a fantastic tour!