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Trip Report 3 Weeks in Paris-Lyon-Annecy-Burgundy-Reims-Paris September-October 2011

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First of all, I want to say a huge "merci" to all who so generously share their knowledge and experience on this forum, and to Fodor's for providing it. It's such a wonderful resource and helped me out so much with both planning this trip and questions that came up during the trip.

Next I should say that if you're expecting a beautifully written and entertaining day-to-day account of our scintillating experiences, you're probably going to be disappointed. There have been quite a few such reports recently (that I have thoroughly enjoyed), but, alas, I am not such a gifted writer, so will just mention some specifics about various aspects including transportation, hotels and apartments, and touring and sightseeing highlights.

My husband and I together have been to France half a dozen times since the mid-80s, and I have made several other trips there. This time we chose to split our three-week stay between places we had not previously visited and Paris. Before this trip, we usually went for ten days to two weeks. This time I decided to try to add the extra days without upping the cost too much, so I set out to keep the fixed costs of accommodations and transportation lower than on previous trips.

We flew into Paris, spent one night there, then took the train to Lyon where we spent two nights. From Lyon we drove to Annecy via Chambéry and Aix-les-Bains. After one night in Annecy, we moved on to Beaune for five nights, then drove to Reims via Troyes. The next day we took the train from Reims to Paris where we spent the next eleven nights.

AIR FRANCE - Flights and Buses

We were able to get frequent flyer award tickets using Delta miles. The last time we flew AF, the overnight flight was completely full and I occupied the middle seat in a row of three. With my husband on the aisle and a stranger in the window seat, I found it very hard to relax and sleep. This time I gave up my preference to fly in the forward part of the cabin and chose seats in the first of several rows with only two seats together at the back of the 747. This worked out very well, especially since there is a bin between the window seat and the window where you can stow things. I actually slept for a few hours. We had the same seats on the return flight.

As everybody knows by now, flying any airline anywhere anymore is likely to prove less than a pleasant experience, and these flights were no better nor worse than any others. From Boston to Paris went smoothly. I had a little bottle of wine then went to sleep, so didn't take advantage of the seat-back entertainment options or have whatever meal was served. We actually landed early at CDG, but no gate was available so we taxied to somewhere quite remote from the terminal and waited for buses to take us in. Once in the terminal, we waited nearly an hour for the bags. At that point I was very happy we didn't have the non-refundable/non-changeable TGV tickets from CDG to Lyon that we had considered buying.

On the return trip to Boston, we boarded on time then sat at the gate for awhile while they located and removed bags belonging to passengers who were not on board. There was no seat-back entertainment and my channel/volume controls for what entertainment there was didn't work. Since the movies shown were an animated film about cars and another about dolphins and sharks, I was happy to have my good book.

Because we were spending the first night in Paris near the Gare de Lyon, we decided to take the Air France bus which stops there. This was very convenient; the buses run every thirty minutes and are very comfortable. We bought the tickets online at a discount and printed them ourselves. €24.30 round trip per person. www.lescarsairfrance.com/en.html

TRAINS

Our first train trip was an iDTGV from Paris to Lyon. The iDTGV cars were the first cars in a train that was also a regular TGV. We got to our platform and started walking along the very long train looking for our car. When we found the car number and started to board, someone noticed we were holding iDTGV tickets and let us know that we had not even reached the iDTGV section of the train yet. After walking past many more cars, finally there was an iDTGV agent scanning tickets and admitting passengers to that section of the platform alongside their part of the train.

We were in 1st class on the upper deck in single seats that faced each other across a table. As we zipped along through beautiful countryside, we enjoyed our sandwiches and the other goodies we purchased that morning in a neighborhood boulangerie. The train was very nice, clean and quiet. As we left the station, a conductor came into the car and reminded us that we had chosen to travel in the "Zen" car and asked that everyone maintain that ambiance.

Because I purchased tickets online as soon as they went on sale, we got them for €26 each. (2nd class would have been €19. TGV PREMS were a little more expensive in both classes for the same train.)

Our second trip was a TGV from Reims to Paris, also 1st class, same type of seats but in a single deck car. Also purchased these tickets as early as possible and got the PREMS fare for €16 each. (2nd class would have been €12.)

Figuring out how to get the iDTGV or TGV tickets at the lowest prices was somewhat challenging at first, but thanks to great advice from Fodorites, I learned about signing up for the email alerts (Alerte Résa) from SNCF and iDTGV that let you know a day ahead of the date tickets will go on sale for the train of your choice. That worked perfectly.

We also went to Auvers-sur-Oise by train from the Gare du Nord. I had heard about a special direct train on Saturday mornings and we wanted to take that one since getting there otherwise involved connecting somewhere. A few days before this planned trip we were in the Gare Montparnasse and went to the SNCF ticket counter to get tickets for this special train. The agent couldn't find anything about such a train and suggested we ask RATP or RER about it. I decided to look on the RATP site for information and didn't find anything. Finally somewhere I found a mention of Transilien trains, found their site www.transilien.com and found the train. So on Saturday morning we went to the station early, found the ticket machines for the Transilien trains and bought our tickets. In the departure area for these trains, there was no train to Auvers-sur-Oise listed on the departures screen, but there was a train called "Special" that departed at the expected time. That turned out to be the right train and off we went.

That afternoon we went to the station to find out how to get back to Paris since the special direct return train would not leave until much later. The station agent was nowhere in sight, but soon people began gathering and a helpful local explained that we needed to take the next train to Persan-Beaumont and change there to go back to the Gare du Nord. At Persan-Beaumont we changed to the most attractive, clean, quiet and air-conditioned!! commuter train I have ever seen. That day had been one of the hottest of our trip, and the a/c was very welcome.

CAR

Our car was rented through Kemwel and picked up from Europcar in Lyon. We were confirmed for a Renault Clio Diesel or similar and got a Renault Modus Diesel, a somewhat larger car, to use for the week we drove from Lyon to Annecy to Beaune (and around Burgundy) to Troyes and Reims. It was a great little car and got around 45 mpg. Using city locations for pick-up and drop-off, we avoided the charges for airport/train station locations. Our one week rental charge of $260 was prepaid to Kemwel. €39 additional driver fee plus €21.77 other taxes/fees were paid directly to Europcar. We also have the $24.95 per rental American Express plan that provides full insurance coverage with no deductibles.

So now I've covered planes, trains and an automobile. Tomorrow I'll move on to hotels, apartments and food.

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    Thanks everyone for your encouragement.
    Here's the next installment - Hotels, Apartments and Food.

    HOTELS

    Hôtel Terminus Lyon, Paris - www.hotelterminuslyon.com
    This nice small hotel is directly across the street from the Gare de Lyon. The location was perfect for us to get there on the Air France bus from CDG, and to depart by train the next day. I found several recommendations for it in the forum archives and it was exactly what we needed - quiet, comfortable, decent breakfast, genial staff. If you need to be in that location, I don't think you can do better for the price. €139 including breakfast.

    Hôtel la Résidence, Lyon - www.hotel-la-residence.com
    On the pedestrian rue Victor Hugo, a block from the Place Bellecour, this hotel is ideally located for getting around Lyon. It's a nice 3* with very friendly and helpful front desk staff. Again, we chose this hotel because of recommendations I found on this forum and, again, we were not disappointed. €88

    Hôtel du Nord, Annecy - www.annecy-hotel-du-nord.com
    We were just here for one night and the hotel was perfectly fine for that. It's a few minute's walk down into the old area, but close enough. The room was small but nice, but the bathroom was sort of unusual with a bathtub/shower set into a deep narrow niche so that you had to step over the narrow end of the tub and walk to the other end where the shower and faucets were. Free overnight parking is included in a parking garage a couple of blocks away. I verified this with the front desk man the afteroon we arrived and he indicated that we would only be charged for the hours up until 8:00pm (I think), then the charges would start again at some time the following morning. So the next morning when we were leaving, my husband went to get the car to come around and pick me up. He said he had been charged for the entire night. I showed the receipt to the woman at the front desk who told me that we should have been given a special ticket to take to the garage when picking up the car. At no time during my discussion with the man on the previous day did he mention that we would need a special ticket. The front desk woman was very sorry, but there was nothing she could do, shrug. We needed to get on the road, so didn't stick around to pursue the issue. €69

    Ibis Reims Centre - http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-1422-ibis-reims-centre/index.shtml
    We have stayed in a few Ibis hotels, usually because we just needed something acceptable in a particular location. This one falls into that category. It was a short walk from Europcar where we returned our car, and next door to the SNCF station for our train to Paris the next day. The room was very small, but well designed with good bedding, reading lights, and a desk area with a couple of electrical sockets. Free WiFi too. The bathroom was functional and everything was very clean. Bathrooms in this type of hotel always remind me of something you would find in a nice RV. €79

    APARTMENTS

    Barbary Lane Studio, Beaune - www.barbary-lane-houserental.com

    Location, location, location. This studio was in a great location in the center of Beaune. Every time I rent an apartment in France, I seem to take a leap of faith since I don't always know much about what I'm getting into. It has always worked out well in the past, and this was no exception. One thing I never do without some feeling of security is send money in advance. Since this owner requested no deposit, only that I reconfirm with her from time to time, I figured things would probably work out and they did. This place is not perfect, but the location is wonderful and the price is moderate. The studio is on the ground floor with an entry through a small courtyard accessed by a coded entry from the street. It's fairly large for a studio, and the kitchen is well-equipped with an induction cooktop and good oven. There's a full size refrigerator and freezer, but no microwave. The bed is a little larger than queen size and very comfortable, but there is no reading light on one side. The bathroom is good, plenty of hot water, good water pressure, usual smallish shower, good fluffy towels, good lighting, but no towel racks or hooks. No washer or dryer. Free parking was provided in the St.-Etienne parking garage a few minutes walk away. There is a TV, but I'm not sure there are any English language TV channels. There is a nice CD player with a good selection of classical and other CDs. There is a nice small desk near an electric socket that we used for our computer. Free WiFi too that worked very well. Other than the lack of towel racks, our main complaint was that there was nowhere to sit except on the bed or on the small metal chairs by the kitchen table. There were several floor cushions that my husband stacked to improvise a chair. We enjoyed our stay there and would certainly recommend it if you're looking for something well located and reasonably priced. €80 per night.

    9 rue Lacharrière, Paris
    VRBO 22038, Paris - http://www.vrbo.com/22038
    or
    RentParisApart SMG2 -
    http://www.rentparisapart.com/Apart/Apart2_Lacha-rouge/appartement.php

    Previously we have stayed in hotels in the 5th, 6th, 7th and an apartment in the 4th. This time I wanted to move out a little and I found this apartment in the 11th that seemed to be in an interesting neighborhood and moderately priced. I communicated with the owner, found that it was available for the dates we needed, then started looking for reviews. I found only one on Trip Advisor that was either for this apartment or another one just like it in the same building. Again, the owner was willing to take the reservation on faith, waiting to be paid until we arrived. Several emails passed between us and she was always responsive and professional. Although I first saw the apartment on the VRBO site, the RentParisApart site much more accurately describes it, and gives much more information about the owner. There are definitely pluses and minuses. On the positive side, the layout is very nice with the separate bedroom, the clean and simple decor, the nice large windows that look out on a large courtyard and provide good natural light, a good little kitchen with everything you need to prepare simple meals and coffee. The refrigerator is very small with a very small freezer, but with an American size ice tray which is rare to find in a French apartment. The owner provided some basic starter items, including a bottle of wine and a carton of orange juice. There is also one of those all-in-one washer/dryers which worked pretty well, but I never seem to be able to get them set just right for the drying cycle. The beds were pretty comfortable, but the small, lumpy pillows were not. There was an adequate reading light. The bathroom was OK with good lighting, water pressure and plenty of hot water, but, the bathtub was somewhat elevated and anyone with mobility or balance problems could have difficulty getting in and out. There were no grab bars. The glass shower screen made it difficult to turn the water on and adjust the temperature prior to getting in. The towels, though, were wonderful - large, white and fluffy. Contrasting with the light, bright and airy decor in the rest of the apartment, the bathroom is very dark and gloomy with brownish yellowish tiles and dark grout that have seen better days. In the hall, there's a very large closet with plenty of room to store luggage and hanging clothes. The WiFi worked well, as did the radio/CD player. We never turned on the TV. All in all, we enjoyed being in this neighborhood and didn't find it inconvenient for visiting other areas of the city. It's across the street from a nice, well-used park. There are a lot of shops and cafes nearby, two metro stations and several bus lines. I'm not sure I would go back to this apartment, but it was nice to go "home" to a residential neighborhood in the evenings. €1000 for 11 nights.

    FOOD

    Except for the first morning in Paris, we had no hotel breakfasts. I have a small dual-voltage immersion heater that boils water in less than a minute in a two-cup metal jug. This trip we brought Starbucks Via packets. We especially like the Italian Bold variety and even use them at home sometimes. While I made coffee, my husband made a quick run to a boulangerie for a few things for a light breakfast. After we move into an apartment, we add milk, yogurt, cereal, and fruit to the breakfast menu.

    Lunches frequently consisted of baguette sandwiches from a boulangerie, although we occasionally (and usually spontaneously) decided to eat in a restaurant or café that caught our eye.

    Dinners were mostly chez nous and generally consisted of things we had picked up at markets or neighborhood food stores and take-out places (traiteurs). Of course, rotisserie chicken and pork roast were on the menu with a generous helping of those wonderful roast potatoes. My husband loves strawberries and was thrilled to find that very nice ones from the Dordogne were still available in the markets.

    This time we made a special point of finding a Picard store in our area and enjoyed several items from there - Tajine de poulet with apricots and spices, Tartes tomates, and Taboulé with raisins and mint. Picard has a wide variety of offerings. I regret that we didn't try some of the wonderful looking ice cream treats from there, but with the daily temperatures in the high 80s, I was afraid they wouldn't last the 20-minute walk home even in my small insulated bag. Thanks again to all the Fodorites who responded to my inquiries about their Picard likes and dislikes on this thread:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/paris-apartment-cuisine-what-did-you-like-from-picard.cfm#last-comment

    We mostly buy wine in whichever supermarket happens to be convenient. Perhaps we aren't as discerning as we should be, but it's rare that we get one that isn't perfectly drinkable. Quite awhile ago Kerouac posted a note about a wine he was getting for €2.99 at an Ed/Dia store and I wrote down the information. I did find it in the Dia store near us and we bought a bottle. It was even on special that day for €2.39! We did like it, but sadly, two days later when we went back to buy some more, they had sold out. It was a Bordeaux - Malmaison-Laroussie Beaucastel.
    So, Kerouac, thanks for the tip.

    Here are several restaurants we especially enjoyed:

    Le François Villon, Vieux Lyon - www.lefrancoisvillon.fr/home.php
    We happened upon this nice small bouchon while wandering around Vieux Lyon our first night there. We had the Menu des Canuts and a nice house red (Côtes-du-Rhone, I think). I had the cervelle des canuts followed by the délice du Villon and my husband had the salade lyonnaise and bavette à l'échalottes. The food, service and ambiance were very enjoyable.

    Le Gaulois, Reims - http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187137-d1829522-Reviews-Le_Gaulois-Reims_Marne_Champagne_Champagne_Ardenne.html
    This large brasserie is on a corner overlooking the fountain in the Place Drouet d'Erlon. It's in a pedestrian zone that was very busy the Friday evening we were there. The restaurant was very busy too, but the service was good and the mussels were excellent.

    Café Constant, Paris - www.cafeconstant.com
    We were wandering in the 7th looking for somewhere to have lunch when we found ourselves in front of Café Constant. Having seen so many of gracejoan's photos, and so many others' recommendations here, I thought "why not?" and we went in. They were very full, but we were told to return fifteen minutes later and were promptly seated then. The plat du jour was poulet basquaise and it was delicious. The dessert was something sinfully rich and creamy, some sort of éclair. Along with a small carafe of burgundy, it was a lovely lunch. This was our first Constant restaurant experience and I certainly agree with all the high marks it gets here. The two course lunch menu was €16. We will make a point of trying Cocottes one of these days, and may even stretch our budget in the future for Violon d'Ingres.

    West Country Girl, Paris - http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/12/west-country-girl/
    This little crêperie is just around the block from our apartment location. I had seen the Lebovitz article and, being fond of both crêpes and caramel beurre salé, decided to try it the first night we arrived in Paris. I had a galette with chèvre, spinach and raisins. Husband had one with ham and mushrooms, then we shared the pièce de résistance - a crêpe caramel beurre salé. It was all wonderful. So good, in fact, that we went back there our last night in Paris. Really good food, carefully prepared, really nice people. Even if we stay in a different part of town next time, we will go back.

    Crêperie Plougastel, Paris
    Located in the rue Montparnasse along with many others, this crêperie is down the block from the Josselin which is most commonly recommended. When we saw that the Josselin was full with a line of people waiting, we went down the street to this place which was half full and went in. We had the lunch menu for €9 that included a galette, a sweet crêpe and a glass of wine, bowl of cider or coffee. It was all good, very friendly service and nice ambiance. It seemed to me that we were the only non-locals in the place.

    Next up, highlights from Lyon to Annecy.

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    taconictraveler - One of my disappointments with the Paris apartment was the tiny freezer space. I would have liked to bring home more things from Picard, but the ice tray plus a couple of small items completely filled the freezer.

    denisea - I'm looking forward to your next T/R when I can again vicariously enjoy your wonderful dining experiences.

    Here are some of the highlights of our time in Lyon, and our drive from there to Annecy.

    LYON

    Museum of the Resistance (Centre d'Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation), Lyon -
    http://www.chrd.lyon.fr/chrd/sections/fr/pied/english_1
    We arrived in Lyon mid-afternoon and after checking into the hotel took a tram to this museum where we spent two hours seeing a great deal of original print material, audio recordings, film and video presentations. The museum is not large, but the exhibits are in depth and require more than a passing glance. We had recently watched the film, Hôtel Terminus, which had made a great impression on us when we saw it years ago. It's a documentary that covers the period of the occupation of Lyon, and especially events involving Klaus Barbie. It's good background material for a visit to this city and this museum.

    La Maison des Canuts, Croix-Rousse, Lyon - http://www.maisondescanuts.com/english/index.html
    On the morning of our second day in Lyon, we took the Metro to the Croix-Rousse neighborhood to visit this small museum of the silkworkers and silk industry. We took the morning guided tour during which a docent/silk-worker demonstrated her weaving skills on a large loom and explained and showed examples of different types of silk weavings (jacquard, brocade and others). There was also a film about the history of the industry in Lyon and the culture of silkworms, along with other exhibits. The tours are in French only, but for the English speakers there were cards explaining some of the information in English.

    Le Mur des Canuts (Silkworkers Wall) -
    http://www.visitelyon.fr/murs-peints/mur,des,canuts/mur,des,canuts.php
    Using a map provided by the museum, we walked a few blocks to a small square to see this large and amazing trompe l'oeil mural. It is said to be the largest in Europe, and it's really impressive.

    Traboules - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traboule
    We tried to follow the museum's map to walk down the hill using the traboules, but the map was not very accurate and some of the signage had been removed or obliterated with graffiti. A couple of helpful locals put us back on track twice, but then we eventually gave up and went back out on the street to continue our descent.

    Bibliothèque de la Cité (City Library)- http://www.francetoday.com/articles/2011/10/23/the-murals-of-lyon.html
    Another wonderful trompe l'oeil mural featuring writers associated with Lyon.

    Lyon Public Transportation - http://www.tcl.fr/index.asp
    Although Lyon is very large city, many of the sites of interest to visitors are fairly close to each other and well-served by public transportation. A Ticket Liberté for €4.80 gives you unlimited rides for one day on the Metro, Bus, Tram and Funiculars. All are convenient and easy to use.

    CHAMBERY - AIX-LES-BAINS - SEMNOZ PLATEAU

    We picked up our car from Europcar at 9:00 a.m. and left Lyon in a downpour. By the time we got to Chambéry the rain had let up so we decided to venture into town and look around. We found a parking spot and walked a couple of blocks to the town center where the Saturday morning market was in full swing. There was a market building surrounded by stalls filling the square and extending up the side streets. Everything you could wish for was there - flowers, plants, produce, chickens, ducks, rabbits, cheeses, sausages, meats, wines, kitchen gadgets, shoes, purses, scarves. The food items mostly seemed to be local products. Lots of shoppers.

    From there, we went to have a quick drive-by look at Aix-les-Bains before heading for Annecy. The weather looked a little brighter so we decided to follow a route suggested by FrenchMystiqueTours that took us up to the Semnoz Plateau before descending into Annecy. A huge thanks to you, FMT, for sharing your knowledge and enabling us to experience one of the best drives of this or any trip. The weather wasn't wonderful, but the scenery was, and we enjoyed being virtually alone on top of the world (except for the cows, of course) for a couple of hours. For details of the route: http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/chambry-aix-les-bains-annecy.cfm

    ANNECY

    Annecy looks very inviting in pictures and it was on my list of places to visit someday. It's certainly picturesque with its lakeside location, pedestrian streets, colorful houses along streams and canals in the old town; but I found it a little too touristy overall. The area around Annecy is gorgeous, but were we ever to return to that area, I would choose to stay somewhere less crowded.

    Next time - Burgundy.

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    Thanks Maine GG. I am trying to set aside some time to re-read mine from last trip. I have decided not to take my computer on the trip. I wanted to get an iPad before the trip but have lost out to my husband's new mountain bike! Will report when I return.

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    And now, Burgundy, Troyes and Reims.

    CLUNY

    From Annecy we drove to Cluny to see what remains of the abbey. The weather had cleared, and the drive was scenic between Annecy and Bourg-en-Bresse. When we got to Cluny, we had a good lunch in the Brasserie du Nord, then walked over to the entrance and found that there was no admission charge that day because it was a Journée du Patrimoine. Very little remains of the buildings of this abbey that was immensely influential in Europe for centuries, but it is an impressive site.

    The drive from Cluny to Beaune was picturesque as we passed through Cormatin, Chapaize and Brancion before getting on the autoroute. Near Brancion we saw a hand-made sign "vente du vin" and turned up a driveway to see what was on offer. What we found was the small Château de Nobles - http://www.chateaudenobles.com/ . The very pleasant owner/vintner had several of his wines for sale at a reasonable price and we enjoyed them over the next few days. They also do B&B there.

    BEAUNE

    We chose Beaune as our base for touring Burgundy because of its small size and convenient location. It worked out well in both regards. We were right in the center of the old town, no more than a five-ten minute walk to anywhere within the walls. From our parking garage a couple of blocks inside the wall, we could get out of town and on the road very quickly. Although we didn't spend a great deal of time in town, we did enjoy strolling around the picturesque streets and ramparts. After checking into our apartment, we walked down to the Place Carnot where a free jazz concert was in full swing, thanks to the Jazz à Beaune festival. Of course, we visited the Hôtel Dieu/Hospices de Beaune with its beautiful patterned glazed tile roof and interesting interior displays. Since we have visited wineries elsewhere in France and our time was limited, we decided not to focus on wine here. Instead we spent three and a half days touring as much of the region as we could.

    First Day - Morning in Beaune (at the laundromat), then Autun
    It was a gray day with intermittent showers, but we decided to take the hourlong drive to Autun to see the 12th century romanesque St. Lazare cathedral and see the ruins of what had been the largest Roman arena in Gaul. We had a quick look at the ruins then continued into the heart of the old town. After visiting the cathedral, we spent nearly an hour just wandering around the streets near the cathedral before returning to Beaune. During my research prior to the trip, I ran across quite a few comments from people who had found Autun unimpressive. I found it very worthwhile, both the sights and the town itself, but I have long been interested in medieval history.
    http://www.burgundytoday.com/towns/autun.htm

    On the way back to Beaune, we had a quick look at the exterior of the château of Rochepot and were sorry we had no time to visit. Maybe next time. http://www.larochepot.com/

    Day Two - Dijon
    Thanks to good information from always helpful Fodorite Coco from Dijon, we decided to take the train to Dijon to avoid the extensive roadwork and potential parking problems there. The train was fast and pleasant and after stopping at the tourist office near the station to pick up a map for the Owl Trail, we set off to see the city. It was a Tuesday, so there was a market in full swing in the Eiffel-designed market building. We spent a long time browsing there among all the interesting offerings. At the end of the trail, we agreed we had had a very good day in this interesting city.

    Day Three - Avallon, Vézelay and Bazoches
    We took a very scenic drive from Beaune to Avallon where we parked and wandered around the town for an hour or so. Then we went on to Vézelay to climb the hill to the basilica of St. Mary Magdalene, the site of one of the beginning points for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Campostela. It's a wonderful example of romanesque architecture in a beautiful setting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A9zelay_Abbey

    From Vézelay we headed south to Bazoches to visit Vauban's château and burial place. http://www.chateau-bazoches.com/en/ Ever since we did a trip on the Canal du Midi and crossed one of the aqueducts he designed to carry the canal over a river, I have been interested in the work of this eminent 17th century engineer.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A9bastien_Le_Prestre_de_Vauban .
    I very much enjoyed visiting the château, and the small village church where Vauban is buried (except for his heart which was moved to the Invalides church by Napoleon).

    Day Four - Pouilly-en-Auxois, Semur-en-Auxois, Alésia/Alise-Ste.-Reine, Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, Châteauneuf
    Pouilly is the town at the summit of the Burgundy Canal where it emerges from a long tunnel. Not much to see there except for one of the electric tugs that towed boats through the tunnel.

    Semur is very picturesque, but really there's not much to see in the town. We had lunch there in a café, Le Mont Dréjet, that was really terrible. Their plat du jour was boeuf bourguignon. It tasted like canned beef stew that had been heated in the microwave.

    In Alésia/Alise-Ste.-Reine, the site of the battle in 52 BC when Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls, the large statue of Vercingetorix, the Gaulois chief, is impressive. We passed the site where a new MuséoParc will open next year with expectations of 100,000 visitors a year.
    http://www.alesia.com/anglais_fr_90.html

    Next we went to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, a picturesque village where the movie "Chocolat" was filmed. After a look-around there, we moved on to Châteauneuf for an up-close look at the château we had seen in the distance the day before. The extensive views from this town are beautiful, including a stretch of the Burgundy canal and a reservoir that supplies it. Down the hill is the town of Vandenesse where we watched a large hotel barge transit the lock before we headed back to Beaune.

    TROYES

    We left Beaune and headed up the autoroute to Troyes where we had lunch and spent a couple of hours walking around the old neighborhoods and visiting the cathedral. The old half-timbered buildings are beautifully preserved. It was well worth a stop on our way to Reims.

    REIMS

    We drove into Reims with a printout of Mappy directions to the cathedral, and then to the Ibis hotel. In a very short time, we were totally lost, but eventually saw a sign for the cathedral parking garage and pulled in. After visiting this magnificent site, we set out to find the hotel, now armed with a city map we had obtained from the tourist office by the cathedral. Unfortunately the map did not indicate which streets were one-way and which were restricted to taxis, trams and buses only. Finally, somehow, we ended up on the right side of town in very congested rush-hour traffic and eventually made it to the hotel. For the first time during the trip, I thought about how nice it might be to have a GPS.

    That night we walked over to the cathedral to see the special illuminations they are doing for its 800th anniversary. I was amazed at the technology that made this show possible. I know there are similar shows in other places, but I had never seen anything like this and I loved it.
    http://www.cathedraledereims.fr/spip.php?article654

    The next morning in Reims we visited the Musée de la Reddition and found it very interesting. This is a small museum in the school building where the Germans signed the surrender in May, 1945. It's near the SNCF station. http://www.ville-reims.fr/index.php?id=899

    We turned in our car in Reims, and went by TGV to Paris for the rest of our stay.

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    MaineGG, what a wonderfully detailed trip report. Thanks so much for sharing - you certainly covered a great deal of territory. I am determined to try a Constant restaurant when I return to Paris.

    You mentioned going to Auvers-sur-Oise by train from Paris. Could you say a little more about the place itself? Were you following the van Gogh legacy there? What was it like?

    Merci again...

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    LDT - Yes, we did cover a lot of ground, but never felt rushed. There's a bit more about Auvers-sur-Oise in the last installment of my report below.

    Denise - Bon voyage et bon appetit!

    Here are highlights from our Paris stay and a few notes about some things in general.


    PARIS AND ILE DE FRANCE

    If you go down the list of the top tourist attractions in Paris, we have seen them, usually more than once. Many of our previous trips to Paris have been with people who were there for the first time, so all the must-sees were on the agenda. This time, and in 2009, we were on our own and mostly did things we had not done previously. Here are the highlights from this trip.

    Walking the Canal St. Martin
    We walked from the point where the Canal exits the tunnel near the rue du Faubourg du Temple to somewhere near the Gare de l'Est. It's a picturesque section of the canal with locks and turning bridges. It's very discouraging, though, to see how much trash there is in the canal and along the walkways.

    Vedettes du Pont Neuf - http://www.vedettesdupontneuf.com/
    I had done Seine cruises with grandchildren, but never with my husband. It was a lovely cool way to end a very hot day. There's a good discount for buying tickets online.

    Madeleine Concert - http://www.concerts-lamadeleine.com/
    We had attended mass at St. Sulpice on a previous trip to hear the Cavaillé-Coll organ and it was beautiful. There's another C-C organ at the Madeleine church and we went to a concert there to hear it played by a well-known organist. A youth symphony orchestra also performed at this very enjoyable free concert on a Sunday afternoon. I do think, though, that the acoustics in St. Sulpice are better than in the Madeleine.

    La Défense - Rueil-Malmaison
    We took the Métro to La Défense to get a bus to the Château de Malmaison. Because my husband had never been out to LD, we surfaced there for a look around. It's a very interesting urban space with the grand arch, the C.N.I.T. building and the art works including those of Miro and Calder. From there, it's a thirty-minute or so bus ride to the stop near the Château, Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte's home. http://www.musees-nationaux-napoleoniens.org/en/homes/home_id24833_u1l2.htm
    After our visit there, we picked up the little tourist train that stopped outside the château and rode it around a complete circuit of the town. More details in this thread: http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/visiting-malmaison.cfm

    Château de Vincennes
    We took bus 46 to its terminus there and enjoyed the ride through areas of Paris we hadn't been in before. The château is truly impressive. We did not visit the interiors of the buildings, but just walked around to see the various parts of the complex including the chapel which was modeled after the Sainte-Chapelle. Returning, we took the 56 bus that took us on a different route back to our home neighborhood.

    Free Museums on the First Sunday
    On the first Sunday in October we took advantage of the free entry to visit both the Cluny/Musée National du Moyen Age - http://www.musee-moyenage.fr/ , and the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine - http://www.citechaillot.fr/ . I expected crowds but there were none. Both museums were great follow-ups to our sightseeing earlier in the trip where we had seen so many examples of medieval art and architecture, especially the Cité de l'Architecture. Some time ago Kerouac did a great photo post on this museum. Here's the link: http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/paris-the-cit-de-larchitecture.cfm

    La Mouzaia
    Another bus trip to explore a new neighborhood. Again, inspired by a Kerouac photo essay, I wanted to see this unusual residential area in the northeast part of Paris. It's charming and so different from the usual urban scene. The 75 bus takes you there, passing by the Parc des Buttes Chaumont as well. http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/paris-la-mouzaa-another-top-secret-location.cfm and http://tinyurl.com/qlwgkl

    Notre Dame du Travail
    This is a beautiful and most unusual church in Montparnasse that was built in a working-class neighborhood near the Gare Montparnasse using structural steel and wood to a great extent, as well as delicate art nouveau stencil work. It was the highlight of our first excursion into Montparnasse. Thanks, Michael, for the recommendation. The best information I found in English about its history was in this blog entry: http://parisianfields.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/notre-dame-du-travail/

    Maréchal Leclerc and Jean Moulin Museums
    http://www.paris.fr/english/museums/municipal-museums/p8229
    These small museums are adjacent to each other and located on the elevated park above the tracks of the Gare Montparnasse. (If you go into the station and up to the departure level, the stairs just to the left of Platform 1 will take you near the entrance.) I was already familiar with Moulin, but didn't know much about Leclerc and found his history very interesting. There's a great deal of WWII period material, nearly all in French. You can download an English language guide at the site above.

    Auvers-sur-Oise
    We took a Transilien special direct train that leaves from the Gare du Nord on weekends and holidays. Our first stop was the tourist office where we picked up a local map and watched a short film about Van Gogh's experiences there. From there we walked to the church and the town cemetery to see his and his brother Theo's graves there. It's a pleasant walk, gently uphill, but that day the sun was blazing and the temperature reached record highs, so we were happy to get back down to the town center for something cold to drink and some lunch. On the way, we passed through a small park to see the Zadkine statue of Van Gogh. After lunch, we walked a few blocks behind the mairie through a lovely residential neighborhood and onto a path that follows the Oise. It's easy to see why the impressionists loved to paint in this area.


    THINGS WE FOUND ESPECIALLY USEFUL

    Michelin Atlas Routier France 2011 - ISBN 978-2-06-715562-6 - €11,90 from FNAC
    The maps in this atlas are the same 1/200 000 scale as the regional folding maps we have used before. I decided to get an atlas since I would have needed several maps to cover the area we needed, but was disappointed to find that the road atlases available in the US and Canada were all spiral bound, which I dislike. From the FNAC site, I was able to determine which Paris stores had this one in stock, and our first day in Paris we bought one.

    Drive Around Burgundy and the Rhone Valley - ISBN978-1-84848-013-1
    This was the only guidebook we took along this trip and it was very useful. Not that we ever explicitly followed their suggested itineraries, but used a lot of the information on the areas covered when planning our wanderings.

    RATP Interactive Map - http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/carteidf.php or http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/carteidf.php?lang=uk (English language version)
    I began using this interactive site during our visit to Paris in 2009 and found it very helpful. If you're going to be using public transportation in Paris while you're there, and will have internet access, I recommend that you "play with" this wonderful tool before your trip.

    RATP Itinerary Planning - http://www.ratp.fr/itineraires/fr/ratp/recherche-avancee or http://www.ratp.fr/itineraires/en/ratp/recherche-avancee (English language version)
    Also very helpful in deciding the best way to get from place to place.

    Purex Complete 3 in 1 Laundry Sheets
    One half of one of these is the perfect size for the small washer/dryer machines found in so many apartments.

    Starbucks Via Instant Coffee Packets

    Visa Card with Chip & Pin
    We use our Capital One card whenever possible to avoid foreign exchange transaction fees. For this trip I obtained a U.S. Bank Flexperks Visa card with a chip. We always tried the Capital One card first, but it never worked in any machine. The Visa card with the chip came in very handy when buying train and metro tickets, paying some tolls (although some machines didn't accept it and we had to use cash), paying some parking garage charges, and when a shop wouldn't accept the Capital One card. When we were in Paris in 2009, we only had one incident where our credit card was refused because it had no chip. This time, in several stores, especially grocery stores and tabacs in our apartment's neighborhood, the same thing happened. I believe it's only going to get harder to use non-chip cards in the future.

    Phone
    We decided that, for the first time, we would need to have a phone. Neither apartment we rented provided one. Thanks to good advice from some helpful people here, I decided to buy an unlocked phone on eBay and order a free Lebara SIM card to use during our trip. The Lebara SIM card never arrived before we left, and I had to try to get one after we arrived in France. It seems that many tabacs and other stores will recharge Lebara phones, but do not actually provide SIM cards. After asking in several places in both Paris and Lyon, a very nice person at The Phone House in Lyon fixed me up with a plan from Bouygues. She also installed the SIM card, entered all the codes etc. and checked to be sure it was working well. The total cost for the SIM card plus a month's service was €20 and it worked fine. The Lebara plan would have been less expensive, but for €1 a day I had a working phone during the trip and I was happy not to have to keep looking for the elusive Lebara SIM card. By the way, the Lebara SIM card I had ordered actually arrived after our departure and was waiting for us when we got home.

    So now I'm on to thinking about the next trip and already have edited my "Paris Next Time" list, removing those things we did this time and adding nearly as many for the future. I don't believe I could ever run out of interesting things to see and do there.

    In a new thread, I'll post links to some photos from this trip. Hope you've found some useful information in my report, and that you'll enjoy seeing pictures of some of the beautiful places we saw.

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    Thanks for your most interesting report. Looking forward to the photos.

    Now you know why every French town has at least one street or
    bridge or quai named after General Leclerc. ;^)

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    I'm just getting caught up with your trip MaineGG and I love your itinerary. You really made good use of your time and hit some great known and not so well known sites. Thankfully, for me, you enjoyed my recommended trip up to the Semnoz Plateau. I see you agree the views and atmosphere up there are worth spending a few hours of time to enjoy.

    A great Burgundy highlight tour you did. I haven't visited the area south of Beaune so I'm glad to have your feedback on that area. I'm really looking forward to spending a few days around Brancion, Chapaize and Autun on my next visit. I've heard others say there were unimpressed with Autun but I have a feeling your impression would be more similar to mine. Some people are also disappointed in Semur and while I'll agree the town itself isn't spectacular I really love the walk and the views along the river outside the ramparts.

    You've loaded your report with lots of useful info that I'm sure will be of great help to other travelers. Thanks for the very enjoyable read.

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    On these cold Nov. days,I too am getting caught up with all of the France TR's.

    The details are great. We're always looking for new & interesting things in Paris, and actually I found the other towns to also be of great interest.

    How fortunate you were to spend 3 weeks on your adventure. As you said about your previous vacations---we too usually spend 10 days to 2 weeks. The weather was particularly nice this year, didn't you think? The beautiful blue skies in some of your photos show that.

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    TPAYT - There sure are lots of good TR's up right now and I'm enjoying them as well. I'm also busy getting out in the countryside on my bike (when blue skies allow) so I can add to the collection. ;)

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