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Paris/Normandy Trip Report

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Just returned on Sunday from our trip to Paris and Normandy and wanted to report back with the details and to answer any questions anyone may have.

I'll post in different parts to make it easier to read and as I have time.

Flight and Day 1:
Flew AA Business class JFK to CDG. Uneventful flight, departed and landed on time. Got through the airport very quickly and had the bags and were ready to go within about a half hour of landing (got in around 7:30 am). Had made arrangements for a ride with airport-pick-up.com and had confirmed it the day before, but we didn't see anyone with a sign with our name on it as promised. Tried calling them on the number they gave, but got no answer. So, just jumped in a taxi, no problem. It was Saturday morning, no traffic, took about 35 minutes and fare was 39 Euro, plus tip.

Were staying this portion of our trip at Sofitel Le Faubourg near Place de la Concorde, but room was not ready so dropped off bags and headed out, trying to work through the exhaustion.

Headed over to Angelina to try some of that hot chocolate, as it was just a few blocks from hotel. On the way, caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower (DW had been there before, but was a first for me), now I knew I was finally in Paris. At Angelina, we each ordered the Parisian breakfast, assortment of pastries/bread and hot chocolate, which was better than can be described. Breakfast was 15 Euro per person, which I thought was reasonable for what we got. Great way to start the trip.

Room still not ready, so took a walk through the nearby Jardin de Tuileries. It was a beautiful day, so just strolled through the gardens, sat near one of the ponds and just enjoyed the day. Walked all the way through gardens to Arc du Carrousel, took some pictures of the Louvre pyramid and strolled back through gardens.

It was 12:00, and room still not ready, so took the L'Open bus tour from right outside our hotel. We just couldn't walk anymore, and exhaustion was setting in. We didn't get off at any of the stops, but stayed on for the whole route, seeing all the sights. I thought it was a nice way to see the major sights on our first day, while being able to sit and relax a bit.

Took about 2 hours to see all sights, so at 2 pm back to hotel. Room still not ready, they were cleaning it, but was ready at about 2:30.

Had junior suite at the Sofitel, it was very nice, good size, very clean and comfortable (including those amazing Sofitel beds). Got settled in a bit, but that was it for DW, she had nothing left in her so she stayed in and called it a night. I had to keep going, or I would have been up by 2 am, so I went out walking. Took a long walk all around neighborhood, just looking around. Started to look for place to grab some dinner, kept passing places, but just kept going (probably was so tired I wasn't thinking straight). Ended up at Cafe de Nemours on Rue St. Honore near Louvre. Looked pretty busy, so figured it must be ok. Ordered onion soup and croque monsieur. Food was not good, my only bad meal all week.

Back to hotel, and finally to sleep.

Day 2:
Breakfast at hotel (included in our rate), very nice buffet and assortment of pastries, etc. Then off to Eiffel Tower. Got there around 9 am, lines just starting to form for 9:30 opening, so timing was good. Another beautiful day, so the views were great from the top floor. Really enjoyed seeing the tower so close, and the ride up was fun.

After the tower, walked through the little park there and over to Rue Cler to check out the shops/market. After that, went over to the Jardin de Luxembourg and took a nice walk through that park. Was approaching lunch time, so we decided to head over to L'As du Falafel in the Marais. Took nice long walk, across Il de la Cite, over to the Marais and found the As du Falafel. Had about 20 minute wait, but it was well worth it. DW is a big falafel fan. She was born in Israel, and she said this was as good as any she's ever had. Was like a party out on the street, with everyone walking around, eating, enjoying the day.

After lunch, walked back over to Notre Dame and climbed the towers. Really enjoyed that, great views and loved seeing the gargoyles up close. We were both exhausted after that, so took taxi back to hotel for afternoon rest.

After a nice rest, headed out for crepes to a little place I had heard about called Chaud Express at 49 Blvd. St. Germain. Was a little hole in the wall, with essentially a crepe stand out front and a place with tables inside. I had a ham & cheese, and DW had nutella banana. The crepes were delicious, and I highly recommend the place.

After dinner, walked over to Pont Neuf for the Vedettes du Pont Neuf Seine cruise (took the 9:00 pm cruise). It was magical being on the water at night, with everything all lit up. Saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling light show, it was beautiful.

After the cruise, walked back to hotel and called it a night.

More to follow. Feel free to ask any questions you may have.

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    Day 3 (Monday):
    After breakfast, headed up to Sacre Coeur (via Metro). Note that signs on the Metro indicated that the stop closest to Sacre Coeur on the 12 line is closed from September 18 through December for construction. Riders were instructed to use the Pigalle stop instead (and there's a little trolley that runs between that stop and Sacre Coeur).

    At Sacre Coeur, took the finicular instead of climbing up those stairs (looked rather daunting, and was worth the price of a Metro ticket). Sacre Coeur was beautiful and very impressive. First climbed up to the dome (you buy a ticket from a machine for dome and crypt, but crypt was closed when we were there). It was quite a climb, but worth it (not as bad a climb as the Notre Dame towers). After visiting dome, went into the church and looked around. Beautiful, we really enjoyed it.

    After Sacre Coeur, walked through Montmarte over to Moulin Rouge to take a look and the obligatory photo of the windmill. Not in a particularly charming area, with all the sex shops, etc., but still a nice walk and fun to look around.

    It was lunchtime, so headed back to find a place to eat. Ended up at a place called Cafe de L'Olympia on Blvd. de la Madeleine. Picked it at random, partially because it was quite crowded and the menu looked good. Food was excellent, and there were many locals on their work break from lunch, not touristy at all. I had a croque monsieur and DW had a veal dish. We then shared a butter and sugar crepe for dessert. Total with soda and 2 bottles of water was around 50 Euro. We really enjoyed it and I recommend it.

    We were quite tired, so strolled back to hotel, looking at some shops on the way, for a bit of a rest and freshening up before dinner.

    Dinner that night at Brasserie Balzar at 49 Rue des Ecoles, near the Sorbonne. I had read that this was one of the best brasseries, and it really did not disappoint. I started with the onion soup, and then had mussels and fries. DW just had a salad and some fries. Everything was great. After dinner, took a walk through that area and over to St. Germain des Pres, looking at shops and cafes, etc., before calling it a night, as we had to be up early the next morning for our trip up to Mont St. Michel and then on to Bayeux.

    More will follow.

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    Day 4 (Tuesday)
    It was off to Normandy! Picked up rental car near Gare St. Lazare, then back to hotel and out of Paris. I was a little hesitant about driving in Paris and was tempted to take the train to Caen to pick up car, but it was just easier to do this. The drive from the hotel out of Paris was an easy route anyway, and it turned out to be no problem. I actuall enjoyed driving around the Arc de Triomphe. Trip was uneventful and made it out to Mont St. Michel in about 4 hours with a couple of quick rest stops.

    Mont St. Michel was an incredible sight as we approached it, pictures don't do it justice. It was an overcast day with some light rain, but that did not diminish the experience. The walk up through the village to the abbey was crowded and a bit tacky with all the souvenier shops, but we made it up the the abbey and it was well worth it. We made it in time for one of the English guided tours (included in price of ticket, no extra charge) and it was great. Guide was very funny and extremely knowledgeable. Tour was about an hour and I highly recommend it. They give several English language tours throughout the day.

    After leaving Mont St. Michel, headed to Bayeux (about 1.5 hours driving). Checked into Lion D'Or hotel. We had booked a superior or deluxe room, don't remember what they call it. It was very nice, clean, plenty of room, modern bathroom. Very nice place, would certainly stay there again. After getting settled in, went out to get quick bite to eat. We were exhausted from the long day, so went to a small place just down the street from the hotel on the main road (Rue Saint-Jean), I believe it was called Cafe Dakkar. It was actually very good. DW had pizza, I had escargot and a steak, we were very pleased with the meal (came to about 45 Euro). Then off to bed as we had a long 9 hour battlebus tour the next morning.

    More to follow.

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    Day 5 (Wednesday)
    Took the American Highlights tour with Battlebus. One of the most amazing experiences of my life. Our guide was Stuart Robertson, and he was without question the most knowledgeable and intersting guide I have ever encountered. We went to St. Mere Eglise, Utah Beach, Angoville au Plain (a small church with an amazing story about 2 medics), Point du Hoc, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetary. The tour was all day (8:30 to 5:30) and Stuart had us mesmerized and emotional all day, and we learned a tremendous amount. Stuart has met with so many of the veterans that he has these stories first hand and tells them with such emotion and passion, at one point it brought DW to tears. I highly recommend this tour and Stuart in particular.

    Following the tour, we had dinner at the restaurant in the Lion D'Or, and it was an excellent meal with wonderful service.

    More to follow.

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    Thanks so much for taking the time to write your trip report. It is concise, yet informative. I'm looking to reading more.

    The feeling that you experience the first time you saw the tower... it never goes away no matter how many times you get that 'first glimpse'. That's was says, 'you are in Paris.'

    Nina

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    almesq, Great trip report! I wish we'd taken the tour you did with Stuart. We had a great time on our own, but I have no doubt we'd have seen and learned more had we taken that tour. I'm looking forward to more. Normandy, to me, was just enchanting.

    Love your writing style. Thanks for posting such an easy-to-read report.

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    So far so good - except...

    When in Normandy, I highly recommend ordering a main course that has à la normande in its name. Or at least came from the sea (the fresh catch in Port-en-Bessin is to die for). I suppose the pizza and steak in Bayeux are very good, but Chicago and Kansas City are where I go for those.

    Nice report. Keep it up.

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    Robes: agreed, however we were so tired that night, and it was raining a bit, so we found a place that looked good right near the hotel and just sat down for a meal. We had eaten so many rich heavy meals over the prior several days, DW saw the pizza and just felt like that. Had plenty of rich Normandy food the next night at Lion D'Or.

    Day 6 (Thursday)
    Before heading back to Paris, went to see the Bayeux Tapestry, which we enjoyed. The audioguide was excellent, maybe even a little too fast (usually those audioguides drag on and on, but this moved at a very nice pace and gave interesting detail). We were really amazed at how good shape the tapestry is in considering how old it is. I can only imagine how long it took to make!

    After tapestry, headed over to the cathedral to take a look around. Simply beautiful, and there was a service going on also which was nice to see.

    Then headed to train station for trip back to Paris. Short ride to Caen, then changed trains for the trip to Paris (a bit less than 2 hours). We had first class tickets, and were in a nice little compartment with 6 seats (3 on each side facing each other). There were 2 other people in the opposite seats, so we had plenty of room to spread out and for all the luggage.

    Upon arrival in Paris, headed over to our new hotel, the Crillon. When making our plans, I really wanted a splurge for these last few nights, and considered some of the top places like George V, Ritz, Meurice. After much research and reading posts here, I decided on the Crillon (also because I was able to get what I considered a good "deal" for the Crillon). Hotel was lovely, and our room was on the top floor with a little balcony with a wonderful unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower--heaven. After getting to room, they brought up a bottle of champagne and a plate of delicious chocolates (it was part of the rate package I booked, very nice way to start round 2 in Paris). After stuffing some chocolates in our mouths, I headed out for a walk and to round up some lunch for us while DW got settled in. (It was after 3 when we got into room, and we had a 6 pm Musee D'Orsay tour, so wanted to eat in, freshen up and get ready). Got some nice sandwiches at a boulangerie on Rue St. Honore and headed back to Crillon to have the lunch. The sandwiches are so good in Paris, maybe because they are on those great, fresh baguettes!

    After lunch, took Metro over to Musee D'Orsay for our tour with Paris Muse, and had a nice walk around that neighborhood first.

    Tour was excellent (Elizabeth was our guide). It was the impressionist tour. DW and I are not "art people" and know very little about art history, so we like to take the guided tours of the museums as we find we get much more of it that way, rather than just looking at things and saying, oh that's nice. Elizabeth gave us a very nice history of what was going on at the time, and the conflict between the classical French painters and the Salon exhibitions on the one hand, and hte impressionists on the other. Very interesting, and really gave some meaning to what we were seeing. Saw some lovely works, including Monets, Manets, Van Goghs, etc. Tour was about 2 hours.

    After tour, took a nice walk over to Relais de L'Entrecote on Rue St. Benoit in St. Germain area. Fortunately, there was no line and we sat down right away. No need to order, they just ask how you want the steak cooked. Meal includes a nice salad, followed by their great steak frites, in a delicious mustard sauce. They serve the first half of your steak with some fries, and keep the second part warm over a burner near the table. When you're ready, they serve the second part of the meat with a fresh batch of fries. DW and I shared an order of the best profiteroles in chocolate sauce we have ever had. Profiteroles were so fresh, and the chocolate sauce was great). We were stuffed, and took a walk around the neighborhood to walk off that meal. Our feet hurt by that point (and DW had developed some blisters on her toes, despite being used to being on her feet all day), so it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

    One of our favorite things about our room at the Crillon was our view of the Eiffel Tower (top to bottom, in all its glory). When we got back to room, it was just in time to see the sparkling light show they have every hour for 10 minutes after dark. Breathtaking! What a way to end the day. I couldn't help getting up to look at the Eiffel Tower every few minutes, I just loved looking at it. Finally, to sleep to get ready for the next day.

    More to come.

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    Day 7 (Friday)
    Quite overcast and foggy today, but we're certainly not going to let that bother us--we're in Paris!!

    Breakfast at the Crillon (it is included in our rate) was fabulous. A very nice tray of pastries, breads, etc. on the table, and a buffet with excellent selections (eggs, sausage, bacon, cold meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, cheeses, champagne--everything you could want). Breakfast was in Les Ambassedeurs, the Crillon's 2 or 3 star Michelin restaurant, so it was a very nice setting.

    After breakfast, it was off to the Arc de Triomphe, the last monument in Paris we had yet to climb. Only 284 steps, not bad compared to the 422 of Notre Dame. View was not great at the top because of the fog and overcast, but it was still nice. Having just driven around the Arc a few days before, we really enjoyed watching the traffic from above.

    After leaving the Arc, took a nice stroll along the Champs Elysees back towards Place de la Concorde and our hotel, looking at shops and restaurants on the way. DW was feeling a bit under the weather, so she decided to rest a bit at the hotel. I went out to walk some more (as if I hadn't walked enough!), checking out some shops and cafes along the way. Eventually, made my way back to a boulangerie near the hotel, picked up sandwiches, salad and a fresh baguette for a nice lunch feast, which we ate in the room. We had a 6 pm Louvre tour scheduled, so we headed off in that direction. On the way, we checked out some stores and some restaurants we were considering for dinner after the museum tour.

    Arrived a little early for the tour to take some pictures at the Louvre of the pyramid, etc., then met our tour guide Mary, also from Paris Muse.

    This tour ("Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre") was excellent also, giving us some historical background and things to look for in the things we saw. We enjoyed what the guide selected to show us, including the old underground city wall around Paris that they had excavated during the construction of the pyramid. Of course, saw the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, etc. and we were duly impressed. We took this tour and the Orsay tour at 6 pm on the recommendation of Paris Muse because they said it would be less crowded at that time, and it really was. At the Mona Lisa, Mary showed us what to look for when viewing it, and it really made it interesting to view. We could really see the painting almost changing the direction she was looking depending on what side you were looking from--we were amazed.

    After the tour, it was time for dinner. We had decided we both really wanted something light along with that great hot chocolate again, so it was off to Angelina, just a few blocks away. We were stunned and upset to find it closed when we arrived. (Guess I should have checked the closing time, I just assumed it would still be open at 8:30 pm). So, there we were, with no hot chocolate in our immediate future. We decided to head back to Relais de L'Entrecote (the other location off the Champs Elysee this time) since we enjoyed it so much the previous night. This time, had to wait a bit for a table, but only about 10-15 minutes. Another wonderful meal of steak frites and some great desserts. After dinner, walked back to hotel along Champs Elysees, people watching, etc.

    Earlier that day, we had decided to go to Versailles on Saturday, so we headed back to the hotel to get a good night's sleep for our early wake up call. Of course, we had to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle from our balcony when we got back, a nice way to head off to bed.

    Only one more day in Paris, we couldn't believe our week was finally coming to an end.

    Last day to follow.

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    Day 8 (Saturday)
    Our last day has finally arrived. After months of planning, it's hard to believe this is our last day in Paris!

    We had saved Versailles as a possible day trip until the end of the week, wanting to make sure we got in everything we wanted to do. We really wanted to see it, and since we had done well seeing things during the week, we decided to go on Saturday morning. We of course could have gone on our own, but the day before I had found a tour company (Paris Vision)near the hotel that did a Versailles trip, including transportation and guided tour, so we signed up for that. We were to leave Paris at about 9 am and be back by about 1, leaving us the afternoon to spend in Paris.

    We really enjoyed Versailles. The tour was just ok, and we probably would have been just as good going on our own and trying to get one of the guided tours once we got there. But it was easy, no waiting in line, so it was fine. We had a tour of the King's apartments, Queen's apartments and hall of mirrors. The tour was about 1 hour (was a bit rushed, but was interesting nonetheless). They had an all day tour that included the petit apartments and some other things, but didn't want to do that.

    After the tour, we were left to stroll the gardens on our own for 1 hour. It was Saturday, so the fountains and the music show were on, which was spectactular. Unfortunately, it was another overcast, foggy day, so we didn't get to see it in sunshine, but the gardens were simply gorgeous. We kept wondering in amazement that this had actually been someone's back yard! No wonder there was a revolution. Strolled the gardens, looking at the fountains, listenting to the music, it was a great experience. Kept making me think of the line from History of the World Part 1 with Mel Brooks--it's good to be the king!

    Got back to Paris at about 1:30, and we had already planned on going to Angelina for lunch for another fix of hot chocolate, since we had been denied the night before. It worked out well since the tour bus dropped us off just a few doors down.

    Got right in and sat down with no wait. I had a croque madame, DW had a club sandwich, as we were really waiting for dessert to be our main feast! After the sandwiches, which were good but not great (go to Angelina for pastries and hot chocolate, not for their "real" food), we ordered the hot chocolate and 2 pastires to share. Had the famous mont blanc and a pistachio cream pastry. Both were delicious. Just sat and relaxed, watching everyone else enjoy their pastries, and remembering that just one week before we were sitting there on our first morning drinking our first hot chocolate.

    After lunch, we headed off to Maison du Chocolate to check out their offerings and I wanted to bring some gifts home for people. Everything looked so good, and despite being stuffed from lunch, when the salesperson offered us a sample truffle of the type we had just bought a box of, we both of course said yes. They were so good!

    Then it was off to Rue St. Honore, right near our hotel, to seek out Longchamp (DW needed to buy another handbag as a gift in addition to the ones she had bought for herself the day before).

    Back to the hotel for a little afternoon rest before heading back out. Went out front of Crillon to take pictures of "our" obelysk on Place de la Concorde as well as the fountains out there.

    For my "last supper" I decided I wanted to have those great mussels and fries at Balzar again (unless something else caught my eye on the way). Also, there was still one of my favorite things I hadn't yet had this week, tarte tatin, so I was in search of one.

    But first some last photo opps had to be taken care of. Headed over towards Notre Dame to take some pictures out front, then walked over the bridge towards the Latin Quarter for another stroll before dinner. Ended up on Rue St. Andres des Arts, a lovely street with some nice restaurants, and crowded with people enjoying the afternoon. Everything looked so good as we walked by, I was torn as to what I wanted to eat for my last dinner. The crepes smelled and looked so good, I had to have one. Even though we were still full from lunch and on our way to dinner, I got a ham and cheese crepe from a place called Kiki Mimi. It was good, but not as good as the one earlier on the week from Chaud Express. I just had a little bit of it, as I didn't want to completely ruin dinner.

    So we headed over to Brasserie Balzar. Even though it looked empty, they said there were full and we had no reservation, but we took a table outside which was very nice and seemed very "Parisian." I had my mussels and fries, DW was not hungry at all after our mid-afternoon feast, so she just watched me eat. Followed it up with, at long last, my tarte tatin, which was delicious.

    Well, it was time to face the music. Back to hotel to pack up for our departure early the next morning. A few last looks at the Eiffel Tower, both sparking and just in normal lighting.

    Following morning, had our continental breakfast brought to the room, as the restaurant did not open until 7:30 and we wanted to leave about that time for airport. Jumped in a taxi, no traffic on Sunday morning, easy trip to airport.

    As I had read in other posts, security in CDG is extensive. First, before getting to check in counter, you have a "chat" with the security person (at least this is how AA does it). He asks you all the questions about packing the bags, etc. They also had all the tickets pre-printed, and he dug ours out of the pile and have them to us. Then, you go to the check in person behind the security station, who asks you to open your carry on, and checks in your luggage. Then it's off to passport control and the security. Line moves fairly slowly, and finally got through and went to gate area and to Admiral's Club.

    Finally, the do the last security check on jetway. Men in one line, women in another. This is an EXTENSIVE search. They took everything out of the carry on, looked at it, asked what it was, and did that for everything in the bag. When that was done, they did a full body frisk (and I mean full and in depth), patting us down from head to toe (which is why they have different lines for men and women). After clearing you, we went to a holding area and when that was full, they stopped the line on the jetway and led us onto the plane. Flight after that was uneventful.

    It was a great week, and I want to thank everyone here for all of the helfpul tips along the way.

    Some final comments. Are Parisians rude? I didn't think so. We are from NYC, and I think it is similar, people just busy, rushing about doing their business. Some of the waiters were not the friendliest, but we had no problems. DW and I don't speak French, but I had bought some CDs and had learned a little for the trip, and we got by. Most people we came across spoke enough English and my limited French was fine.

    Metro is an excellent way to get around and very easy to use. Bought a couple of carnets to save a few Euro.

    Hope this provides some helpful information, if anyone has any questions at all, I'd be happy to answer.

    Happy travels,

    Andy

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    Thanks for the nice report. After reading yours, I've decided to write my own about my trip 2 weeks ago that also include Paris and Normandy. Mind you that my travel budget and style is very different from yours, so it'd make a good contrast. I'll start posting mine later tonite. :)

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    Hi there, my name is Stuart Robertson and I am the tour guide mentioned in this posting. Having read the review I felt I must reply and just say a quick note of thanks for your kind words. I do not need much motivation to do the job I love but when I read these words it makes me realise how lucky I am. Thanks once more and hopefully we may see you back in Normandy again for a battlebus tour. Kind regards. Stuart Robertson.

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    Hi Andy - nice report and thanks so much for sharing your trip! We took a very similar trip earlier in the year and it brought back great memories.

    We loved the Battlebus tour also - great organization! Hey Stuart - Say "Hi" to Gert from the couple in Wisconsin who forgot to pay him (it was TOTALLY an accident and we got it straight later!!!)! We are now infamous at Battlebus.

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    Your report was helpful to the trip I am eventually planning.
    Andy, from the itinerary I'm assuming you left your luggage in the car while at Mont St. Michel. How did you feel about parking lot security, etc? Was it an open above-ground lot with lots of visibility and people walking around?
    Also, had you previously booked your train tickets from Caen to Paris? Or were you a walk-on?

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    Parking lots at MSM are on the causeway. The more cars there are already there, the further you are from the entrance. But there are always tonnes of people around. Never felt security was a problem when I visited there 4 weeks ago.

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    Yes, we left luggage in the car and I was comfortable with that. We took our passports, camera, etc., but left everything else. The lots are crowded, a lot of people around, and everyone had stuff in their cars, so I didn't think it was a problem.

    As to the train tickets, we had actually booked on line and then picked up the tickets when we arrived in Paris. There were empty seats, but I never like to take a chance on those things, so I just bought them ahead of time.

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    Good to know. Thanks for your prompt responses. Oddly, a poster of Mont St. Michel was the first thing I bought to adorn the wall of my college room in '63. I doubt I even knew where it was!

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