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Trip Report Paris - First of 3 European Cities in 15 Days!

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First I want to thank everyone for the wonderful input and help in planning this trip. This is the first of three trip reports - one for each city. WARNING: It's LONG! The others will be forthcoming, but I don't know how soon I will get to transferring my notes into something readable.

This was a college graduation trip for my daughter, and it was just my daughter and I traveling. We were abroad May 12 - 27, 2013. We stayed in apartments in all three cities. In Paris we were in a lovely apartment in the 6th. Feel free to ask any questions - I'll be more than happy to answer them if I can.

I'll start by saying that I love Paris and am already looking forward to a return trip someday! I had hoped the weather would be beautiful as it usually is during late May, but that wasn't in the cards. The weather did put somewhat of a damper on the trip, but we made the best of it. We didn't have time to do everything I had hoped to do, but we did a LOT! Probably more than we should have as we didn't really take time to "smell the roses" so to speak, but then again, parks and sidewalk cafes aren't really very pleasant in the rain, wind or cold. So, here's a detailed recap, and probably more information than you bargained for when you all made me promise to do a trip report!

DAY 1: Day 1: Air France has to be the best airline I've ever flown. Arrived CDG 40 minutes earlier than scheduled and got through customs quickly. We bought our museum passes and a Navigo Card at the airport. Took the RER B to St. Michel-Notre Dame, which was less than a 5 minute walk from our apartment. Lost my child when a guy with a DOOR and a whole bunch of other crap, couldn't move his stuff out of the way in time for me to get off of the train. Slight panic settled in when the train left my daughter on the platform with no money, credit card, or passport, and me on the train with no orientation to the city. Thankfully, the turnaround was an easy one, and she had the good sense not to move. We were reunited shortly. By the time we got settled in and hit the streets, it was 11:30. We walked to Luxemburg Gardens, which were beautiful. We wandered around St. Germaine area and saw St. Suplice. We had delicious macaroons from Pierre Herme -I would have loved to have had one of everything in the shop! At 2:30, we meet up with Discover Walks of Paris outside of Norte Dame for a walking tour of the Latin Quarter with Timothee. It was a great walk and very informative. Highly recommend. Met a mother and son from New Zealand on the walk. He had just graduated as a computer engineer and is looking for a job Houston or Austin-wow - we're from Texas too and my daughter is in chemical engineering! Small world and a lot of people in it seem to like Texas. After the walk ended about 4, we went shopping at the Monoprix for apartment essentials, got a tart and a baguette from Paul's to bring home, dropped the goodies off and want back out for dinner. We got to bed about midnight. It was a long first day, but amazing! The weather was overcast, chilly and windy with occasional sun.

DAY 2: Got to the Eiffel Tower about 10:30. Is one of the ugliest monuments I've ever seen. It reminded me a giant oil rig. Joanna kept seeing the physics and math equations that kept it standing. Wonder if these are normal reactions? I think not, but we were underwhelmed, although is it beautiful at night - more on that later! Walked down the Champs Elysees, lots of high end and known brand retail. It could have been Chicago or New York - nothing special here. Arch de Triumphe was amazing. I especially loved the tomb of the unknown soldier. We were planning come back to climb it at night, but that didn't happen. We also went to the Opera Garnier, which was beautiful both inside and out. I would have loved to have been able to see a performance there, but they were sold out of tickets for the days we were there. Went back to the apartment to rest a while, then out again to the Deportation Memorial, Tulier Gardens, Place de Concorde, and Napoleon’s Tomb, which was open late. Deporation Memorial – it always disturbs me how in modern times such a travesty could have occurred – over 200,000 people from France alone, exterminated. When we exited, the attendant asked me to watch the entrance, so I was directing people as they came in. Joanna just shook her head in wonder that I find myself in these situations! The quote at the Memorial is very appropriate: “Forgive but never forget." Tulier Gardens was beautiful, but would have been even better if the weather were nice, it was gray and dreary, but you could tell it would have been gorgeous on a sunny day - everything was blooming in the gloom. I can only imagine Paris in the spring, which is what I was going for, but some things are just not controllable. A highlight here was the sighting of "Garden Goats." These were random GOATS in the middle of Paris eating grass under a small bridge in the gardens - really?? Photo op was essential, so in true Folse woman fashion, Joanna got on the grass (Stay off the Grass) to get a shot! Place de Concorde – a very busy intersection/public square with a cool monument, a pretty fountain, and some good photo ops. Napoleon’s Tomb is beautiful inside. An added bonus was a concert in an adjacent church. You could hear the music through the walls. It was both haunting and beautiful. We tried to leave the grounds, but it appeared that we were locked in. We had done a tremendous amount of walking already and didn’t want to leave the way we came in. We were actually analyzing the situation to see if we could jump the wall, but there was a giant dry moat preventing that. We must have been being watched, because the police made sure we got out! We went back to our side of town for an awful meal at Latin Cafe. If you're ever in Paris, just don't go.

DAY 3: Ate breakfast at Paul's. Delicious bread. Meant to get a croissant, but got distracted and ordered a baguette instead. Oh well, still good. We were sitting next to a really nice couple from Washington DC, and had a lovely visit with them. Tables in Paris are so close together that there is always an opportunity to get to know your dining neighbors. Sometimes this is a good thing, but the ability to have personal space would be nice. No such thing in Paris-it's very communal. Musee Orangerie. Non-remarkable except for the water lily room. I could have easily spent an hour or more in those tranquil rooms - they were beautiful. Late morning brought us to the Rodin Museum. It was gorgeous and clear for a few hours, but the weather didn't hold. The statues were great and the garden lovely. We got a great photo with the Thinker, the EIffel Tower and Napoleon's Tomb all in the background with a perfectly blue sky. Couldn't ask for more! On the Metro back to our side of town, we saw an adorable “Hipster child” with a mop of blonde hair and wearing little round glasses. I wanted to take him home. We had lunch on the isle at a small little café. The quiche was wonderful! After lunch, we went to Notre Dame to join the 2:30 free guided tour in English. Our guide never showed up, so we saw ND on our own. I'm sure it would have been far more interesting with a guide – we were just sort of aimlessly wandering. That said, the church was beautiful, but rather dark and commercialized inside. It didn’t really feel like a sacred space as much as like an attraction. We got commemorative coins there, and I looked like some kind of a scammer stopping people and waving paper money to try and get change! After finishing inside the church, we went to the top and hung out with the gargoyles for a while – great views of the city! At some point we used a rather odd public toilet – everything was automated – it talked to you, gave you instructions, and cleaned itself after every use. Very advanced toilet, but each process took about 10 minutes to complete so the wait was long. Next stop was Sainte Chappelle. The stained glass was the most gorgeous I've ever seen ANYWHERE! Highly recommend seeing this church if you haven't. It's just a few steps away from ND on the isle. It was under renovation, and one half of it was covered with scaffolding and drop clothes , but it was still breath taking. I can only imagine what it looks like when there isn't construction going on and full sun is streaming into the windows. We had dinner and then went to the Louvre as it was open late on Wed. We had about 2-1/2 hours there, no line and hardly any people, so we were able to see quite a bit in that time. Mona Lisa is overrated, as is Venus de Milo, which I expected. My favorite part of the museum was the area with all of the sculptures. They were so beautiful.

DAY 4: We went to the Cluny Museum to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, which were, unfortunately, on loan to a museum in Japan. There was nothing else of interest to us there, so it was a quick trip. We headed over to the D’Orsay after that, and it was by far, my favorite. We spent a long time there as we are both fans of impressionist art. It was a highlight! We met Discover Walks later that afternoon for a walking tour of Montmarte, which was fabulous. I was able to see a side of that part of town and learn interesting facts that I would have never uncovered on my own. Highlights were the Moulin Rouge; Sacre Coure; the area's past as a haven for artists, writer, cabarets and a generally decadent lifestyle; and learning about the modern day "Booboos" (bohemians/bourgeois) who now live in the area. A bonus for me was stumbling upon a special Chat Noir at the Montemarte museum. I love Chat Noir and this was a real treat. The museum is small and doesn't house a regular collection as far as I can tell, but hosts small special exhibits throughout the year. This made up for the missing tapestries! We also loved the view from Sacre Coure and watching the artists in square. The area does have some sketchy people, but I was aware of that beforehand. There was even a small incident with some sort of vagrant, but the police were right on it and hauled him off. I would go back there, but never at night. I’d like to explore more of the shops and restaurants in the area and see the inside of the church. That evening we went on a night cruise on Seine. It. Was. FREEZING. The first half wasn't bad so we were able to be on deck. We were able to see the ET at night and caught it twinkling on the hour. I like it much better at night! The second half of the cruise, the wind picked up and the temperature seemed to drop like a rock. Just about everyone went below. It was too miserable to be on top. I would take the cruise again in warmer weather.

DAY 5: We got up this morning and went to the Shakespeare Bookstore. My daughter had a book stamped with their stamp, but found nothing to buy. We finally got a photo of the one of the perpetually flowing water fountains (drinking water) that are located throughout the city. Too bad bathrooms aren’t as prevalent. We wandered around a little and then took a train to Versailles. We had a wonderful lunch at a sidewalk cafe on the way. What can I say about Versailles? Magnificent doesn't even begin to describe it. The Hall of Mirrors was fabulous! I wasn't very impressed by the grounds. While they are massive, the gardens aren't nearly as lovely as some that I've seen in England, but the palace itself, WOW! When we got back to Paris, we took the metro to La Defense. It was very interesting to see how the new, modern Paris contrasted with the old, European Paris. You could see the Arch de Triumphe from Arch at La Defense, which was cool. We went back to our side of town and watched the Eiffel tower twinkling on the hour one last time before heading back to the apartment.

DAY 6: Unfortunately, there were renters accepted for the apartment today, so our agreed departure time was 10:00. The new tenants were coming in from a long flight, and the owner asked if we could leave at 9:30 in order to get everything ready faster. What’s 30 minutes, so I agreed. Our Easy Jet flight didn't leave for Pisa (where we would take a train to Florence) until 2:30. We had luggage and no convenient place to store it, so we just headed to the airport. I was disappointed that he didn't allow us to keep our luggage at the apartment for about 2 hours. It would have been nice to spend a couple extra hours in the neighborhood rather than 4 hours at the airport especially since it was a beautiful day - just as we were leaving. Murphy's Law in action.

We loved the apartment, the location, and Paris! I would definitely stay in the 6th again on any future trips. Contrary to everything I had heard, I found Parisians to be overall helpful and friendly. The next trip, I want to do more shopping and less sightseeing. This time around, I wanted to do the things that you can only do in Paris, and it didn't leave much time for anything else. In fact there were a few things that didn't get done such as going to the top of the Arch de Triumphe, exploring Marius, etc. But there's always the next time!!!

I highly recommend Discover Walks. They are free and operate on gratuities only. Their guides are fantastic and interesting, and we were fortunate to never have a group larger than 8 for either walk. We used the Metro CONSTANTLY, so the Navigo card was a steal, especially since we arrived on a Monday! We brought our photos from home to avoid having to pay for photos from the photo machines. The metro was very easy to navigate! For better or worse, this is our 5 days in Paris in a nutshell!

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