Traveling through the movies – Southwest France

I recently watched a movie that was filmed in the beautiful area around Toulouse, France which is in the southwest area. It’s called The Hundred-Foot Journey. There were a few small villages that were used as locations but in general, that whole area probably looks very similar once you are outside of the city itself. Little villages, stone buildings, cobbled squares and narrow lanes set near a river in a little valley beneath rolling hills. Lovely!

The movie is about an Indian family from Mumbai who have lost their restaurant and the mother of the family in a fire. They live in London for a short while then decide to move on to the continent. Their van breaks down outside of a small village, Saint Antonin, with a suitable building for sale that Papa (played by Om Puri) decides could be renovated into a restaurant, a curry house. Unfortunately, it’s also across the road, one hundred feet,  from a grand restaurant that has a Michelin star, run by a snooty woman whose greatest desire is to achieve a second star. Neither is about to give in and it’s war!

Meanwhile, one of the sons, Hassan, is a gifted chef and he falls for one of the sous chefs, Marguerite, that works for Madame Mallory (played by the wonderful Helen Mirren). That makes things difficult! He ends up working for Madame who discovers that he is a natural talent and nurtures the talent. Eventually, Hassan moves to Paris and becomes acclaimed. It’s based on a true story though I haven’t read the book but I really enjoyed the movie, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, not just for the scenery that makes me want to visit that part of France. The story and the main characters are wonderful, though the rest of the Indian family really doesn’t get much of a look in at all.

Here’s a few screen captures:
100Yard 07m55s square

100Yard 15m55s village

100Yard 15m58s58

100Yard 23m18s carAlley

100Yard 42m45s maison mumbai

100Yard 49m19s winter

100Yard 55m06s valley

100Yard Paris

Paris in the winter

100Yard Paris sculpture

A view through the courtyard at the Pompidou Centre

100Yard Paris sunset

Paris at sunset

According to IMDB, some of the locations used were Castelnau-de-Lévis, Tarn, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, Tarn-et-Garonne, Saint-Jory, Haute-Garonne, France

There’s a trailer here. And Here’s the official movie website.

Itinerary building – Accommodations

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Step one: Book the main flight to the U.K. ….. check
Step two: Book the one way flights to Paris….check.

LeavingParisEurostarStep three:  Pick and book a hotel in Paris (five nights) and one in London (two nights).
Step four: Book the Eurostar Paris to London.

The Eurostar website won’t let me book their own hotels with the ticket as a package unless I book a return ticket. Too bad because you can get some very good package deals from Eurostar with a return ticket.

Requirements: Location, and budget. Budget is very slightly flexible, depending on what’s included we could go a little bit over if necessary. Wi-fi is a must and having a safe deposit box in the room that will fit the laptop is desireable. Breakfast included would be nice but not a deal-breaker.

In Paris, we were thinking of staying around the Opera district, the 8th or 9th district. We want it to be fairly central and we don’t want to be right on top of the train stations (Gare du Nord and Est) because I’ve heard that area is a bit rough even if the hotels are cheaper. Probably a good reason for it, you get what you pay for! The right bank of the Seine will be more convenient this time because we’ll be using Gare St. Lazarre for our day trips and leaving via Gare du Nord on the Eurostar.

I did look on the British Airways site to see if I could get a deal on Paris hotels with the flights but they were still all very expensive. Fail, B.A.

For London, I thought either near Euston station or Bloomsbury might be the most convenient as we’ll arrive at St. Pancras and G. leaves from Euston to go back to Manchester (oh, note to self, make sure he books that train ticket, too!) I will probably get a taxi to Paddington and then the train to Heathrow from there. The Canadian Dollar has taken a hit against the pound lately so hotels are going to cost a bit more than usual but the Euro is still a good exchange rate at this moment in time.

I have been scouring websites like Expedia, Trivago, booking.com and hotels.com, making notes of likely candidates and making the mistake of looking up the TripAdvisor reviews which only further confuses me unless overall it’s generally not so good. Reviews, as I’ve said before, are so subjective and you really have to read between the lines. A lot of people whine about small rooms. I can handle small rooms unless they’re like a closet. Were the rooms as dirty as some people complained when others have found it spotless? I am a bit skeptical of that one as am I about scattered reviews about rude staff. In my mind, it takes two and in general most hotel staff are professional, sometimes a bit business like, and often very friendly,  but never rude.

Yesterday, I visited the hair salon and after that, post-coffee break with some relatives I bumped into, went to the travel agent. The woman I usually deal with wasn’t in and I wanted to get this sorted so sat down with one of the other agents. I have her the list of possibilities but told her I was open to anything else she found that was in the budget range and location. They don’t always have the access through their booking agents to everything you could find online but often they can sometimes get better deals with their sources.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It's on the left bank near Odeon stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It’s on the left bank near the Odeon Metro stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

One of the Paris hotels I’d noted was in one of those sources and she also found another one not far from it which I think I’d seen on my web surfing. She couldn’t book straight away. Some hotels through her booking system are “On Request”, that is, she has to request the availability and wait 24 hours or so until the hotel replies so she’s put in for that for these two hotels: My Hotel Opera St. George, and Hotel Opera Lafayette. I gave TripAdvisor a cursory glance and overall either sounds ok, they’re in our budget range albeit very slightly over the top end. Breakfast is included in both so I think that makes up for the little over-budget because you’d have to buy it anyway. I think we’d be happy with either one.

Ok, so we’re waiting for availability on those. Crossing my bits that at least one of them will be a go.  Next step: Eurostar. That’s pretty straight forward. I knew the time and the class of the ticket we wanted so it’s booked and pre-paid. Check.

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

On to London. Here’s where I ended up being delighted I had gone to the agent because what we ended up booking was far nicer that I would have found on my own.  I had given her a few names for hotels I’d chosen including one, a Hilton, that had been in the budget range earlier in the week but which, I thought, was a sale that had just ended. She came up with another name, and said it looked like she could get a very good rate. It was just a little over our budget but  it had free cancellation (barring a fee of one night’s accommodation and taxes) and a full breakfast buffet. The location is perfect, the hotel is a luxury four star and I didn’t hesitate. We’re staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton. I looked at the cheapest room through the website’s booking widget and we’re paying almost 25% cheaper than that. The equivalent booking on Expedia was a little more expensive again. Result! I never would have considered this hotel otherwise. Booked and prepaid! Check.

Yeah, that’s the other thing, most of the time you get the best rates if you prepay the whole thing. Often you still get free cancellation, sometimes with a fee of one night’s accomodation or even less. Sometimes, though, it’s non-refundable. If you have trip cancellation insurance that will cover you.

Once the Paris hotel is booked, we can book a rental car for the week I’m in Manchester because we like the flexibility for day trips, visiting mates and getting groceries and shopping. That’s pretty much the main items on the list, then we turn to a new list, our itinerary, both in Paris, the Paris day trips, London and things we might do while in Manchester. But that’s something for a future blog post!

Plans are made to be changed

Rouen Cathedral

We were going to do a driving tour around Scotland in October, you may remember. But it turns out, I’m going to have to have surgery and I really won’t be in any shape to be slogging around airports and lugging suitcases quite so soon. Scotland will have to be put on the shelf for another time. Bummer!

What’s next, then? We have made plans to go somewhere in April. We thought about a river cruise but missed the window for the 2 for 1 sale. When we went to book a few days after we decided, the sale cabins were sold out and the only ones left were twice as expensive. Never mind. We are now discussing doing some of the same things on our own.

The river cruise was going to start and end in Paris, stopping at Giverny, a few more places, with an overnight stop in Rouen. It included a bus trip out through Normandy to the battlefields and cemeteries. I think we could very easily do that ourselves. We could spend a couple of nights in Paris. Go to Giverny on the train for a morning out. We could then take the train to Rouen and base there for a few nights. The city itself seems to have a lot of really interesting things, including a cathedral where the heart of Richard the Lionheart is entombed! I’m sure we can find a tour company that will do a day trip out through the countryside from there. On the way home, we could take the Eurostar back to London, have a couple of nights there as well.

In addition, it will probably cost half what the river cruise would have!  Maybe we’ll take a river cruise some other time, if we can book far enough ahead to get the 2 for 1 deal. I’m really surprised that booking for April back in June found the “cheap seats” all sold. It has a vague feeling of a rip off because… April? Doesn’t seem like high season. If it was the Netherlands and tulip time, I’d say yes. Friends of ours did that a couple of years ago in April. I would assume that would be high season for the tulips but Normandy? Seems odd. Never mind.

Plans are made to be changed. You gotta be flexible and think of something else that would be just as cool, right?

Big Wheel Keep on Turnin’

The Paris to Normandy river cruise

We’re always looking and planning beyond the next vacation destination. I”m over to the UK in October where we’re planning a road trip around Scotland but then I’m going over again in April because he needs to come here in August for my niece’s wedding so we’re reversing our directions next year. So where to go? What to do?

I have a friend who has taken a couple of river cruises and really enjoyed them. I suggested this to him and found this short cruise that would fit in with our vacation window. April in Paris! We thought the itinerary (click on the map for the itinerary) sounded good. The nice thing about a river cruise is that you don’t spent a lot of time on the ship like you often do on sea cruises because the destination distances are short.  It’s not the Proud Mary and it isn’t a paddlewheel Mississippi steamer, but the boats and state rooms are quite nice. The state rooms will be tiny but who cares! They have en suite, a bed, and wifi. That pretty much covers all needs doesn’t it?

We had decided on  the Viking River cruise company as they do 2 for 1 deals if you book really early and pay for it by July 31. It seemed like a very good deal and the travel agent also has good things to say about the company. I do realize that you add on tips for the crew and various guides at the end of the week and though all meals and wine/beer are covered, chances are you’d be out and about at lunchtime so probably would eat in the towns then.

But like all good things that seem too good to be true, this one turned out to be as well. The Travel Agent called Viking last week and quoted me a price of about 2550 for a total for two people. So today, I went in and said ok, we’ll go for it. She called them again to set it up but emailed me back and said that the cheaper state rooms are sold out and the higher class of state room that was left was about 2700 PER PERSON. So much for the 2 for 1 deal advertised! It looked to me as if all the room prices were not per person, they were 2 for 1, for all classes of room. It shouldn’t make a difference whether they’re nearly sold out or not.

Sadly, I declined. nearly $5500 for an 8 day 7 night river cruise is far richer than my budget. I’m not being sold down the river, thank you very much.

Traveling via the movies – French Kiss

8778028_origThis is another movie that I really like, partly for the story itself and partly because it features some wonderful footage of Paris and the south of France. It was filmed in Paris including some scenes in the reknowned five star George V hotel and Cannes in the south. There are lovely views of vineyards in Vaucluse in Provence as well.

French Kiss was released in 1995 and starred Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. Both were at the height of their movie heyday and had enjoyed a string of successes. Along with Timothy Hutton and Jean Reno, the cast just sparkled for me, creating really great characters.

Champs Elysee, Paris

The action takes place in Paris and in the south of France and follows Kate, an American about to marry a Canadian, Charlie, who goes to Paris for a medical convention and meets a French woman there and falls in love. Poor Kate’s perfectly planned world blows sky high and, although terrified of flying, gets on a plane to Paris determined to win Charlie back. On the plane she meets Luc, an arrogant and slightly distasteful Frenchman who is also be a jewel thief.  He smuggles a stolen necklace and a grape vine cutting in Kate’s carry on bag, knowing she would never be checked by customs but when her bag is stolen, he has to stick by her to try to help her get it back.

Their story takes them through the streets of Paris in daytime as well as at night, as Kate is in pursuit of Charlie and then to Nice where Charlie and his new girlfriend go for a holiday. Kate and Luc follow them and are in turn followed by a French detective who has a long complicated history with Luc. Luc promises to help Kate get Charlie back in return for the necklace.

As with most RomComs, you can predict how it will end but the personalities and chemistry of the actors makes it worth watching, as is the amazing scenery. The streets of Paris, at night especially, that we see are enchanting and the vineyards and little towns of southern France certainly make me want to wander the narrow cobbled streets of the villages and try the local wines at the sidewalk cafes and then drive through the hilly vineyards. The soundtrack of the movie is really atmospheric as well, one of my favourites.

Where it all started

Right. So.

I’m middle aged now (sob… how did that happen?) . My family didn’t travel when I was a kid, we mainly got a week in summer staying at my grandparents’ camp (small cottage with less amenities).  When I was in high school, my school always did a couple of student trips each year during the March break. One was a cruise in the Med and the other was somewhere in Europe which would include some part of France as the French department was the sponsor. You’d still have to pay for the whole whack yourself, there would be none of these bake sales and fund raisers to send or subsidize the group like many do these days.

That’s me in the middle.

By the time I was in grade 12, I had been working part time at a department store and I saved up the money to go on the French department trip. The itinerary had us flying Alitalia in and out of Rome, with a brief stop there to see the city, then on an overnight train to Paris for three days, and another overnight train to Nice for four days along the Riviera doing side trips.

Even though I spent the last few days sneezing and miserable with a streaming cold, I was hooked on travel. And unfortunately, I wasn’t able to afford to go again for many years.

Fast forward to 1993 and I finally got to get my ass on a plane again. There was no trouble trying to decide where I wanted to go. I have had a lifelong love and interest in all things British so I had to go to the U.K. for my first foray. I decided on a bus tour to see as much as I could, (that’s a story for another post!) and it was awesome! Bus tours aren’t for everyone but I like them and took 3 more in the years to come.

By the new millenium, I was in a better financial place and I’ve been able to travel somewhere every year, sometimes more than once. I’ve been back to the U.K. many, many times and a few more places besides. I have a fiance who lives in the Manchester area so that’s the first stop and we have been trying to go on road trips, day trips or holidays off the island.

I’ve got stories, photos, plans and dreams for future trips and wishlists too!