“Two People, Two Days — Take the Train”

Café de Paris in Ghent, Serving Raclette!

Two People, Two Days — Take the Train

Parler Paris…
Your taste of life in Paris and France

Monday, February 13, 2006
Paris, France

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Dear Parler Paris Reader,

We wanted to escape for a weekend to somewhere we hadn’t been before. From Paris that’s very easy — Amsterdam is a little more than 4.0 hours by TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), London is 2.5 hours, Brussels 1.5 hours, Avignon 2.5 hours, etc., etc. When you book on the last minute, less than 7 days in advance, the tickets aren’t that cheap and they become sold out very quickly, so plan in advance when you can (book online at http://www.sncf.com).

We hadn’t. And so the tickets were becoming more expensive by the moment as we were humming and hawing about where to go and how to go trying to keep time and expense at a minimum.

In a desperate act, I got on the phone with Auto Europe, a car rental broker that will beat any agency’s prices. Over the years, I have found their service to be the best. For less than 100 euros, I rented an automatic four-door with AC for two days (it turned out to be a Mercedes!) and considering this was one-third the price and even less than any of the train schedules I had checked, we agreed to drive and have the freedom of going anywhere.

Early Saturday morning, we showed up at the Europcar desk in the Gare du Nord and within a few minutes, we were driving out of the parking garage and headed north, first to Ghent (“Gent” in Flemish, “Gand” in French) and then to Antwerp (“Antwerpen” in Flemish, “Anvers” in French), where we had never been. No one ever speaks about either of these Belgian cities as destinations, and now after having visited them both, am totally perplexed as to why.

The drive was “du gateau” (“piece of cake”). The weather was beautiful, the car perfectly comfortable, the roads smooth as silk and within three hours, we were parking next to the cathedral in Ghent searching out a restaurant for lunch. So far, so good. Ghent is gorgeous.

Ghent has proof of human settlement from prehistoric times, but during the Roman period, the nucleus of the city began to grow near the confluence of the two rivers Scheldt and Leie. It is thought that the Flemish name “Gent” is probably derived from the Celtic “Ganda,” which meant “confluence.” It is the fourth largest city of Belgium with about 250,000 inhabitants and is certainly less touristed than Bruges or Brussels. It’s classic Flemish architecture is stunning in its geometric symmetry, simplicity, sturdy brick construction and forthright manner.

We parked near the center, strolled in one of the market squares, along the canals and in the ancient streets to find a restaurant to have Belgian mussels and fries with a glass of white wine before heading northeast to Antwerp, just 60 kilometers away. Driving there couldn’t have been easier until we hit the Kennedy Tunnel under the Scheldt River on the western edge of the city, taking a left where we should have gone right only to discover kilometers and kilometers of the uninhabited Belgian landscape surrounding Antwerp on endless highway with no return, slowing us down by about 30 minutes and costing us an additional 5 euros in tolls.

Oh well, we began to think, if we had only taken the train…

Once in Antwerp, it was no easy task to maneuver the cobblestone streets of the center city, slowly tagging behind the horse-drawn carriages transporting gawking tourists around the old town to seek parking, of which there was less than none. Underground parking became our saving grace, not too far from the hotel I had booked online, just opposite the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) — an A-rated location, b

ut a C-rated hotel I won’t bother recommending.

Antwerp is Europe’s best-kept secret. It’s the country’s second largest with about 500,000 inhabitants. The people are known for their lack of modesty (and from the size of the shoes on display in the shops, big feet!) with as many facets as the diamonds for which the city is famous. By contract, however, we found them very unassuming (unlike the French who generally sport an “attitude” we all know and love).

The architecture is splendid, most of which dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. We visited the Peter Paul Rubens House, the 16th-century house of the greatest and most famous of all the Antwerp painters, that he had embellished and turned into one of the most elegant Renaissance-Baroque houses of the Low Countries, with a beautiful restyled garden and an impressive entrance.

Nearby is the open air Vogeltjes market, where on Sundays, is complete with a bird market where you can buy small birds, roosters, chickens and other varieties, as well as rabbits, other small beasts, their cages and feed.

The city abounds with more restaurants, cafés and bars than any European city I’ve ever visited. Forget the shopping (except for diamonds in the Diamond Quarter) and instead, eat and drink. Mussels and fries are a must, at least once, but every sort of ethnic cuisine exists, too. In the quest for something simple, we ordered omelets, expecting something resembling what a brasserie in Paris serves, only to discover something much more elaborate, filling and delicious.

Antwerp, is the diamond center of the World. We visited the Diamond Museum and ogled the precious gems, both in the museum and in the neighboring shops. The diamond district surrounds the central train station and is well known to be the Jewish Quarter where you can also see many Chassidic Jews in traditional garb.

The church bells rang, waking us early on Sunday to snow flurries and as the day progressed, so did the downfall. Once we had done all we wanted to do in this little-known European Mecca, we headed out of town late afternoon in a virtual blizzard, making the roads icy and slow going. With plenty of time under the snowfall in the car to reflect on what we had learned, after having spent a total of 235 euros on car rental, gas, parking and tolls, not to mention 8 to 10 hours of driving (counting getting lost, looking for parking, picking up and returning the rental car) compared to 300 euros for two round-trip tickets by TGV and 4.25 hours total by train, we decided…

If it’s two people, and you’re only going for two days — take the train.

A la prochaine…(and Happy Valentine’s Day!)

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. I have a few brief announcements…

1. Parismarais.com is offering 30% off apartment rentals during the month of February: 4-star suite 90 euros/night, luxury attic apartment 70 euros/night, romantic studio 65 euros/night with champagne included for special Valentine’s Day celebration! Visit http://www.parismarais.com/visit-our-flats.htm or email Pascal at [email protected] for this special offer.

2. We celebrate Valentine’s Day at Parler Paris Après Midi tomorrow from 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais! Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more details and be there!

3. I will be speaking out on Hurricane Katrina at the American Women’s Group (AWG) February Coffee next Monday, February 20, 2006 at 10:00 a.m. Visit http://www.awgparis.org for more information. Call or write for details if you wish to attend:, [email protected]

4. Sign up today for the Parismarais newsletter, The Art of Living Guide to Le Marais. It’s FREE and it’s out the 15th of every month, do don’t delay. http://www.parismarais.com/parismarais-newsletter.htm

French Property Insider


Calvados Department 14

Famous for cider and apple brandy, half-timbered houses, the lovely port of Honfleur, impressionist paintings, casinos and racetracks, dining on seafood, the Bayeux tapestries, William the Conqueror and several popular cheeses…FPI Subscribers Read On…

Learn how to buy property in France. French Property Insider is an e-mail newsletter from the editors of Parler Paris. If you’d like to learn about the insights, recommendations, and discoveries about buying and investing in real estate in Paris and France that French Property Insiderreaders get every week, now’s a special opportunity.

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Insider Paris Guides

* Excerpt from the “Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants”

Traditional Belgian, Restaurant, Bar and Salon de Thé

Not far from the Luxembourg Gardens, founded by Camille Chartier in 1906 and classified as a historic monument, this absolutely beautifully decorated art nouveau
2-level brasserie-style restaurant, bar and salon de thé has been reinvented as “la cuisine Belge aux couleurs de la bière,” specializing in Belgian dishes and brews…”

…For more details about this restaurant, including the address and phone number, see the guide….

Yes, you can have a great three-course meal with wine and coffee in Paris for between $15 and $40 including tax and tip! Take Adrian’s advice…and discover more than 200 of the best-kept estaurant secrets in Paris. Get your copy of Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants now.

Further Resources

* You’ve found your Paris apartment…now comes all the complicated legalities of the purchase process. We can help! Find out more about our Purchase Assistance Package. /frenchproperty/insider/purchase_assist.html

* What’s your property worth? The answer to your question is our Property Evaluation Service. Whether you are interested to purchase a property, looking to sell your property or just want to know the value of your home, we can provide you with a detailed report that outlines the current market valuation of the property. /frenchproperty/insider/appraisal.html

* Make sure your money goes as far as you do! Save money when transferring from dollars to euros! HiFX takes the pain and guesswork out of currency conversion. For more information, click here: /frenchproperty/insider/currencyonlineconvertor.html

Classified Advertising

Leeds Marais Guest Room or Entire Two-Bedroom Apartment

Available in its entirety May 19 – 30, 2006

Located in a 17th century Le Marais Hotel Particulier, this 70 square meter two-bedroom apartment with lots of light is nicely furnished and is perfect for a single woman in the freshly renovated guest room when owner Adrian Leeds is in or for up to 4 people when she’s traveling.

Pictures and more details available here: Marais Guest Room or Entire Apartment


Coming soon…Parler Paris Apartments rental representation at ParlerParisApartments.com. If you have a property ín Paris you’d like to keep booked and represented properly, please email Parler Paris Apartments at [email protected] for more information.

For all short term rental apartments in Paris, take a look at /parlerparis/apartments or
/frenchproperty/insider/longterm.html for long term apartments.


Parler Paris Après Midi

Come for a drink and to meet and chat with other readers in Paris:

The next gathering is February 14, 2006

Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group

Practice speaking French and English. Make friends, discuss interesting topics, learn about other cultures, progress in understanding and speaking, naturally and easily. Meets three times a week — come as often as you like. http://www.parlerparlor.com/


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