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Trip Report Our trip to Paris and Provence, Sept. 2012

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We visited Italy twice, in 2005 and 2006. I fell hard for Rome, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast; harder for Venice and Florence. But I left my heart in Paris when we visited in 2009. We returned last month to reclaim it. We'd already seen many of the major sights our first go round and been overwhelmed by the art, architecture, food, history, culture, people; loved that we could walk all day; loved how beautiful and vibrant the city is.

This was a special trip to celebrate my husband's 60th birthday. We spent 5 nights in Paris and 4 in Provence, with Avignon as our base. We splurged -- on flights(with the help of frequent flier miles), hotels, restaurants, a driver for Provence. Here are some notes and recommendations:

PARIS

We split our time -- 3 nights in the beginning at Hotel d' Aubusson in the 6th; 2 nights at the end at Hotel Relais Saint Germain. We had stayed at the Aubusson on our first trip. There is much to recommend here -- the location, minutes from Pont Neuf and the islands; the lovely interior and spacious, comfortable rooms; the warm and helpful staff; the nightly music at Cafe Laurent. Relais Saint Germain is located a short distance away, on the other side of Blvd. St. Germain and closer to the Luxembourg Gardens.
Much to recommend here, too. A very charming boutique hotel with very small but lovely
common areas and a friendly staff. Breakfast was included here. Our room was beautifully furnished. As guests of the hotel, we were able to get a table at Le Comptoir.

We returned to familiar haunts -- Luxembourg Gardens, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Ile St. Louis for ice cream at Berthillon, walking along the Seine, taking a Vedettes du Pont Neuf river cruise. And added the Rodin Museum, the Deportation Memorial behind Notre Dame, Les Invalides, St. Sulpice, Versailles (where we took advantage of the little train to get around the grounds, and enjoyed hot chocolate and mont blanc at Angelina's); all places we had missed on our first trip.

We dined at Reed, on cold zucchini soup, mushroom risotto, cornish hen and cheesecake. Others here have raved about this place. We enjoyed meeting Catherine Reed and we liked her food, though this wasn't our favorite place.

We had wonderful meals at Le Violon d' Ingres (roasted vegetables with pork; sea bass with almonds; John Dory; multiple amuse bouches; a grand marnier souffle and millefeuille with caramel sauce followed by caramels and tiny madeleines), where the service was stellar (our waiter escorted us out of the restaurant and got us settled in our waiting taxi); and at Le Comptoir (red rice with beets, carrot flowers, parmesan and horseradish foam; fingerling potatos, black cod; grilled breast of veal with roasted semolina and saffron; a cheese tray, and yuzu, sheep milk ice cream and pepper timuk(??, but delicious).

We enjoyed the food and the diners on either side of us more than the service at
Josephine Chez Dumonet -- foie gras; artichoke hearts in butter sauce; delicious
boeuf bourgignon and a shared millefeuille.

While at the Aubusson, we breakfasted on quiche and pain au chocolat down the street at Eric Kayser, where we bought olive bread almost daily.

I dragged my husband on the great macaron and chocolate hunt -- back to Gerard Mulot where we had our favorite macarons the first trip, and then to Un Dimanche a Paris, Pierre Marcolino and Pierre Herme. The salted caramel macarons at Pierre Marcolino may have been my favorites this time. He savored a plenitude individuel (dark chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and salted caramel) from Pierre Herme.

One afternoon we enjoyed a "snack" of hot chocolate, tahitian tea and chocolate treats at Un Dimanche a Paris and, like groupies, had our picture taken with the owner, Pierre Cluizel.

I was left with vivid memories of things we had seen and done after our first trip -- the stained glass windows of La Sainte-Chapelle; Monet's vast canvasses at the L' Orangerie; the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower; the length of the Champs-Elysses from the top of the Arc; Notre Dame; Place des Vosges; the Luxembourg Gardens;
the wonderful paintings in Musee d'Orsay; the Mona Lisa at the Louvre; the city lit up on our evening Seine cruise. This trip, I am left more with memories of the people I encountered -- locals and fellow travellers.

Paris was no less magical the second time around. It is a city I could return to again and again.

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