Paris for the French Open

Hey y’all,

This past weekend we did a quick weekend getaway to Paris with the main item on the agenda being to attend the French Open.  A trip of this type would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if traveling from the States, but this was just an easy weekend getaway for us.  We really love taking advantage of the travel opportunities while being over here in the UK, and this time we tried out one mode of transportation that we haven’t used yet: the Eurostar.  If you are not familiar, the Eurostar is a train that takes you under the English channel, directly from St. Pancras in London to Gare du Nord in Paris.  You are from city centre to city centre in 2 hours.  Doug and I have now tried out all the practical ways of crossing the English channel.  We flew over when we went to Paris last year, we ferried over when traveling to Normandy, and we drove under when headed to Belgium.  Now, we’ve taken the train, and I can honestly say that it is the best way to go.  It was fast, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive.  We found return tickets for £64/person and that barely cost more than our train from Derby to London!  Unlike the airport, you don’t have to get there crazy early, you just have to check in 30 minutes before your departure.  Additionally, although you have to go through security checks, they don’t force you to take your laptop out of your bag, take your shoes off, or even throw away your liquids.  Much easier and more civilized than going through airport security.  Finally, you don’t have to contend with the RyanAir or EasyJet bag checkers who are looking to shame you with their cardboard boxes that must fit over your one allowed piece of carry-on luggage.  Instead, you can bring whatever luggage you like, and don’t have to cram your purse inside your other luggage.  Imagine the luxury!

The train was very comfortable and spacious, and we could store our bags right above our heads without having to fight for overhead bin space.  There were seat back pockets, large tray tables, foot rests, and plugs.  All of these things made it far better than a RyanAir flight.  Additionally, the ride was very smooth, even though we were traveling very fast at speeds up to 186 mph.  The only time I felt some discomfort was in my ears when we went through tunnels because of the pressure change.  No matter, I used my scuba diving clearing techniques to equalize.

One more great thing about the Eurostar is that you go through passport control and effectively cross the French Border (or UK border if going the other way) before you even board the train.  That way, once you arrive in Paris (or London), you can just get off the train and be on your way.  No waiting in lines to go through passport control or anything like that.  Super easy and convenient.  Doug and I both agree that the Eurostar is the easiest, most stress-free way to traverse the English channel.

The Eurostar

The Eurostar

Spacious inside of the Eurostar

Spacious inside of the Eurostar

Anyway, enough about the Eurostar.  Let’s talk about Roland Garros.  As most of you probably know, Roland Garros is where the French Open is played, which is one of the four major Grand Slams of tennis.  Last year I was lucky enough to attend Wimbledon, arguably the most prestigious of all the Grand Slams.  The French Open is played on clay courts, while Wimbledon is played on grass.  The other two Grand Slams, the US Open and the Australian Open, are both played on hard court, even though the two surfaces have slight differences.

Doug and I were able to buy tickets to the French Open directly online by signing onto the website the day the tickets went on sale.  Although we waited in an online queue for multiple hours, we were able to get tickets to the women’s singles finals and the men’s doubles finals, both events taking place on Saturday, June 8th.  Obviously at the time of the purchase we had no idea who would be playing in the finals, but it didn’t matter to us (me).  We(I) just wanted to experience Roland Garros!

After arriving in Paris, we had to take a couple metro lines to reach the flat we were staying at because it was slightly outside the city, just two blocks away from the Roland Garros stadium.  Wow, the metro line was packed.  Completely opposite to our peaceful Eurostar journey.

Packed metro

Packed metro

We found the flat on a website called Airbnb, which is where people can rent out their houses, flats, rooms, or even couches.  This was the first time we’ve used Airbnb and it turned out great.  The flat was spacious, and the owner met us there on Friday night to hand over the keys and show us the place.  It was nice to have our own full apartment with a bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room, instead of just a tiny hotel room.  We even had a balcony that had a view of the Eiffel tower!  I also liked that we were staying in a real, Parisian neighborhood, and not a touristy area.  It felt like we were locals, at least until we tried to speak French to anyone.  Although we studied French pretty hard for our last trip to the French Riviera and Provence, we haven’t kept up with the studying, so it was a struggle to remember what we used to know.  We managed well enough, and at least people were more friendly with us when they could see that we were at least making the attempt to speak French.  Most of the time after a few words, they would just switch to English.  That evening we walked around the neighborhood and had some drinks and dinner at a local cafe with a nice patio.

Found some wine

Found some wine

Ever since our last French holiday, I've been obsessed with goat cheese.  this was my goats cheese salad for dinner.  The French really know how to do it.

Ever since our last French holiday, I’ve been obsessed with goat cheese.  This was my goats cheese salad for dinner. The French really know how to do it.

View of Eiffel tower from the flat

View of the Eiffel tower from the flat

Saturday was dedicated to the French Open.  Although the finals matches didn’t start until 3 o’clock, the gates opened at 10:30am.  We contemplated trying to see  other Paris sites that morning, but figured by the time we took the metro into town, we would be fighting the crowds to get back out to Roland Garros.  It would be better to capitalize on our awesome location just two blocks away from the stadium and not fight the crowds that would be on the public transportation.  So we had a leisurely morning where we got to sleep in, and then go to the local supermarket and butcher.  We picked up some ingredients for a nice breakfast, and also some picnic ingredients for lunch so that we wouldn’t be subjected to the high food prices that were bound to happen inside the stadium.

The local butcher was in the tennis spirit

The local butcher was in the tennis spirit

Groceries in our French kitchen.  Apparently a typical French kitchen does not come with an oven.

Groceries in our French kitchen. Apparently a typical French kitchen does not come with an oven, although there was a stove top and a decent size toaster oven.

Delicious home-made breakfast.  Being able to cook our own food is really nice on trips.  Way better than a croissant for breakfast!

Delicious home-made breakfast. Being able to cook our own food is really nice on trips. Way better than a croissant for breakfast!

Another shot of the apartment with the table set for our breakfast

Another shot of the apartment with the table set for our breakfast

Picnic sandwiches being made

Picnic sandwiches being made

Roland Garros was even bigger than I imagined.  The grounds and courts seemed to sprawl out everywhere.  The main stadium court, Philippe-Chatrier, is impressive, but even the other courts have massive stadium seating as well.  We spent the whole morning exploring all the grounds, that is, except for the places we couldn’t get in.  There were all these exclusive-access, private clubs that were either in below ground-level terraces or hidden behind walls of shrubbery.  Peaking in these exclusive clubs gave way to a world of luxury and free-flowing booze.  Meanwhile, the hoi polloi were left to wait in an hour-long queue at the one stand that sold beer and cocktails.  I don’t know what you have to do to get into one of those private clubs, but Doug and I were definitely envious.  We were proud of ourselves for finding a hidden water fountain at the back of the grounds where we could frequently (and freely) refill our water bottles.  We asked one of the security guards at the entrance to a private terrace how you got to go in there and he informed us that you needed a wrist band.  Well, how do you get a wrist band?  You have to be invited.  Oh well, maybe some day!

Getting pumped for some world class tennis action

Getting pumped for some world class tennis action

We were right to bring our own lunch - selection was not great and expensive

We were right to bring our own lunch – selection was not great and expensive

One of the many exclusive, private clubs

One of the many exclusive, private clubs that we were not allowed into

Required picture in front of the draws

Required picture in front of the draws

Loved this sign showing how far to each site of the Grand slams

Loved this sign showing how far to each site of the Grand Slams

They had some Perrier Legends trophy matches going on, including a doubles match that featured Martini Hingis and Lindsay Davenport versus Martini Navratilova and Elena Dementieva.  Wow, I grew up watching these women (well minus Navratilova since she was before my time).  I really enjoyed watching the women play, and they still seem to be in great shape.  Could kick my butt any day.  Davenport/Hingis ended up winning that match 6-4, 6-2 and winning that trophy.

Hingis returning

Hingis returning

Navratilova serving

Navratilova serving

Navratilova and Dementieva concurring

Navratilova and Dementieva concurring

Hingis and Davenport

Hingis and Davenport

They also had a museum on the grounds, so we had to check that out.  I actually really enjoyed the museum and thought it was pretty interesting.  They had a hall of fame wall with all the past French Open champions.  A lot about the history of tennis, and how the game has evolved, which I liked.  A little too much about French tennis history, but that is probably to be expected.  And also some parts about the life of Roland Garros.

Fun fact: Roland Garros was a pioneer in aviation and was the first person to fly across the Mediterranean.

Hall of champions

Wall of champions

Can you imagine playing tennis in that outfit?

Can you imagine playing tennis in that outfit?

Serena Willliams - champion in 2002 - and we'll be seeing her in the finals later that day

Serena Willliams – champion in 2002 – and we’ll be seeing her in the finals later that day

Defending champion Maria Sharapova - who we'll also be seeing later that day

Defending champion Maria Sharapova – who we’ll also be seeing later that day

Rafael Nadal - in the men's finals the following day (didn't have tickets for that match)

Rafael Nadal – in the men’s finals the following day (didn’t have tickets for that match)

I liked this display showing how much the attire has changed.  Sweater vest to tank top.  Nice.

I liked this display showing how much the attire has changed. Sweater vest to tank top. Nice.

Evolution of tennis racquets.  The most current ones are made of graphite or carbon fiber.

Evolution of tennis racquets. The most current ones are made of graphite or carbon fiber.

What makes up the clay courts at Roland Garros?  From top down: 1. Red brick dust  2. Crushed limestone  3. Coal residue  4. Crushed gravel  5. Drain

What makes up the clay courts at Roland Garros? From top down: 1. Red brick dust 2. Crushed limestone 3. Coal residue 4. Crushed gravel 5. Drain

I wish I had actually taken this picture, but it's just a picture of one in the museum.

I wish I had actually taken this picture, but it’s just a picture of one in the museum.

Doug liked the museum for his own reasons (comfy chairs)

Doug liked the museum for his own reasons (comfy chairs)

We also checked out another building full of tech stuff.  They had black light tennis, tennis video games, and even an A380 flight simulator.

A350 flight simulator

A380 flight simulator

The grounds were starting to get pretty crowded as it was nearing the 3pm start time, so we headed to our seats, after some souvenir shopping.

The grounds are filling up

The grounds are filling up

As we made our way to our seats, we kept going up, and up, and up.  We realized that we were literally in the last row of the stadium.  Although this might seem bad, it actually turned out to be great.  It was turning into a quite warm day, and the last row of the stadium actually got a nice breeze through the cutouts of the concrete wall behind us.  Additionally, we could stand up and look over the concrete wall to get a view of the Eiffel tower!  Finally, we could stand up as much as we liked throughout the match without blocking the view of anyone behind us.  I actually think the last row was way better than say, being 5 rows from the last row.

Very last row of the stadium!

Very last row of the stadium!

Our view of the Eiffel tower

Our view of the Eiffel tower

And pretty soon the women’s finals match was off to a start!!

Maria Sharapova versus Serena Williams

Maria Sharapova versus Serena Williams

The match was really competitive and entertaining throughout.  Even from the back row of the stadium, we could clearly hear Sharapova’s shrieks as she hit the ball.  And we could also see how dominant Serena was.  It seemed as if she could just take it up a notch whenever she felt the urge and just hit the crap out of the ball.  Serena ended up winning the match 6-4, 6-4, and I don’t think anyone was surprised.

Our view of the court from the back row

Our view of the court from the back row

Serena killing it

Serena killing it

Court shot

Court shot

I got a kick out of this group and their hats

Noticed a trend with the hats

Serena stretching

Serena stretching

Sharapova stretching

Sharapova stretching

Sharapova serving

Sharapova serving

Score update along with the Emirates A380 skycam

Score update along with the Emirates A380 skycam

Flagged - 50

Serena serving

Serena serving

Stadium panorama

Stadium panorama

Serena takes the first set 6-4

Serena takes the first set 6-4

Sharapova action shot

Sharapova action shot

The crowd doing the wave ... I think it went around the whole stadium 3 times.

The crowd doing the wave … I think it went around the whole stadium 3 times.

And Serena wins it all!

And Serena wins it all!

She gave her interview and acceptance speech in French - really impressive

She gave her interview and acceptance speech in French – really impressive

I didn't have a good angle, so got this picture of the big screen

I didn’t have a good angle, so got this picture of the big screen

Serena triumphantly holding up her trophy

Serena triumphantly holding up her trophy

Another one of us in the stadium

Another one of us in the stadium

Up next was the men’s doubles finals between the Bryan brothers and two Frenchmen, Llodra and Mahut.  I was surprised to see that probably half of the stadium left for this match.  I really thought that since it was two French guys in the finals that the stadium would be packed, especially since there were no other French people in any of the finals.  What was really disappointing was that the boxes and closer tiers of seats were the areas that were the most empty.  The majority of the fans were the ones in the upper decks.  Oh well, the people who stayed were true supporters, and there was a lot of cheering for the French going on.  That meant that we had to cheer extra loud for the American Bryan brothers!  And it was an epic match.  The doubles action was so fast and there were tons of amazing shots.  At the end, it went down to a 3rd set tie-breaker, so the match really could have gone either way.  But the Bryan brothers came out victorious, with a final score of 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4).

This is Mike Bryan serving.  Even though they are twins, Mike plays right-handed, while Bob plays lefty.  Only way to tell them apart.

This is Mike Bryan serving. Even though they are twins, Mike plays right-handed, while Bob plays lefty. Only way to tell them apart.

Llodra serving

Llodra serving

View of the doubles action

View of the doubles action

Scoreboard update

Scoreboard update

The Frenchmen

The Frenchmen

Tons of empty box seats...

Tons of empty box seats…

Bryan brothers action shot

Bryan brothers action shot

Full court shot

Full court shot

Uh oh - storm clouds are rolling in

Uh oh – storm clouds are rolling in

Start of the 3rd set tie-break

Start of the 3rd set tie-break

And the Bryans win!

And the Bryans win!

I think the French guys were going in for cheek kisses, but the Bryan brothers hugged it out

I think the French guys were going in for cheek kisses, but the Bryan brothers hugged it out

And finally the Bryans with the trophy

And finally the Bryans with the trophy

As the match ended, some dark storm clouds were rolling in.  We hustled back to our flat and were really happy to not have to fight the crowds of people getting on the metro.  We made it home just before the rain started.

On Sunday, we didn’t have tickets to the men’s final, and our train back to London was at 4:30pm.  We decided to do some sightseeing that we had missed on our previous trip to Paris.  The plan was to do a Rick Steves audio guide walking tour that hit Notre Dame and some other sites.  It would be about a 3 mile walking tour, so we decided to drop our luggage at the train station before doing the tour.  We didn’t want to leave it at our flat b/c it would take over an hour to journey back out that way to pick up our stuff before our train.

However, when we arrived at the luggage storage area of the train station, we were met with a really long queue.  After waiting in the queue for 10 minutes and only moving forward one person, we realized that we would spend the majority of our day waiting in the queue and have no time to sightsee.  Plus, we would have to wait in the queue again in order to retrieve our luggage.  So we made the tough decision to carry our bags with us.  Now this is when the luggage freedom of the Eurostar came back to bite us.  We had definitely overpacked for a weekend trip, but mainly because we could.  We actually had the option to bring whatever we wanted, so that’s what we had done.  We had brought the laptop (normally just bring the iPad), and also bought some extra souvenirs at Roland Garros.  And now we were going to have to carry everything on our tour through the city.

Ridiculously long queue at the luggage storage in the Paris train station

Ridiculously long queue at the luggage storage in the Paris train station

The Rick Steves walking tour had us starting at Notre Dame.  I was excited to see this church b/c I felt like it was the one big touristy site that we hadn’t seen on our last trip.  It was a very beautiful Gothic church, with free entry!  Although the line to get in was very long, it moved super quick and we were inside in 10 minutes.  The cathedral reminded me of the York Minster because of its Gothic style.  It’s more famous than York, but that’s probably just because of the hunchback.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Cool gargoyle - did you know they also function as rain spouts?

Cool gargoyle – did you know they also function as rain spouts?

Me at Notre Dame

Me at Notre Dame

Interior of Notre Dame

Interior of Notre Dame

Surprisingly, pictures were allowed inside - just no flash

Surprisingly, pictures were allowed inside – just no flash

Notre Dame and Doug

Notre Dame and Doug

The next stop on our tour was the Deportation Memorial, which is a memorial to the victims of the Nazi concentration camps.  If it weren’t for Rick Steves guiding us, we would have never found this place because it’s actually below ground level and we didn’t see any signs pointing the way to it.  As you go below ground level, it’s almost as if you become a prisoner yourself, inside these concrete walls.  There is a small passage way that takes you to a hallway with 200,000 crystal lights, each one representing a victim who got deported.  It was a pretty interesting and free memorial, so I would recommend stopping in if you are already in the vicinity visiting Notre Dame.

In the memorial - Doug with his huge bag

In the memorial – Doug with his huge bag

The lighted crystals representing the victims

The lighted crystals representing the victims – the light at the end is the eternal flame of hope

The Deportation Memorial

The Deportation Memorial

The tour took us to the left bank of the river, which is more laid-back than the right bank, with smaller, medieval streets, and second-hand bookshops.  In one of the little parks, I spotted a bride, even though it was a Sunday!

Bride-spotting

Bride-spotting

View of Notre Dame from the park

View of Notre Dame from the park

Famous bookstore where Hemingway, James Joyce, and others would hang out

Famous bookstore where Hemingway, James Joyce, and others would hang out

We walked through the Latin quarter, which had tons of ethnic restaurants, and then to St. Michel boulevard which had tons of cafes and felt very artsy.

Place St. Michel

Place St. Michel

The walk also took us by Saint-Chapelle church and the Conciergerie (where prisoners were held before going to the guillotine), but we didn’t have time to go inside as we needed to make our way back to the train station.  Overall, it was a good day of sightseeing, despite having to carry our bags around.  The weather was pretty dreary, but at least it didn’t do more than sprinkle on us.

We enjoyed the Eurostar ride back to England, complete with wine and a picnic dinner.

Lovely picnic on the train

Lovely picnic on the train

Well thanks for listening to all my tennis talk.  I loved getting to go to the French Open and guess what?!?  You’ll get some more tennis blog posts because I’ll be headed back to Wimbledon in a fortnight!

xoxo

Tara

xoxo

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