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pls suggest combination of Paris & which other cities/regions for 2-week trip

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Hello! My boyfriend and I are planning a 14-16 days trip to Paris this mid-May. We are having the hardest time trying to figure out where else to visit other than Paris. We've never travelled to Europe before, so I apologize if my questions seem amateurish. THANKS in advance for all your suggestions!

We are in mid-20s, love seeing historical sites, significant architectural buildings, natural scenaries, arts (not crazy, just know the most famous paintings/sculptures)and food. Don't mind extensive walking.

Our dilemma: Paris is such a hub, you can essentially go anywhere in Europe from here. Question is...where?

SURROUNDING PARIS - The only two places we know for sure we want to visit is Versailles and Giverny, Monet's Garden.

LORIE VALLEY - Would love to see the cathedral in Chartresand Bourges; chateaux in Chambord, Chenonceau and Tours.

The trouble is, I don't drive and my boyfriend hasn't driven a stick (paying premium for an automatic will be out of our budget) in years...is it do-able/sensible for us to rent a car from Paris and tour the Lorie? (starting from Chartres)

NORMANDY - Heard great things on D-day beaches, Bayeux tapestry and Mont St Michel. But is this region only accessible by car again? Past reviews on local tours in this area seems disappointing.

ALSACE - Strasbourg is highly recommended by a friend and looks so beautiful in picture. But the city seems kinda 'out of the way', is it worthwhile just to do a 1-2 day trip in the city? What else is there to see in the region?

PROVENCE - Montpellier, Marseille, Nice and St Tropex seems magical...but again, is it only do-able with a car? Is it more enjoyable if you're on a honeymoon or something where you just stay around the sea?

I'm so SORRY that this post is so long, but I am so confused and would love to hear your suggestions. MANY THANKS IN ADVANCE. Much appreciated!!!

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    LeeLeeLee
    Do you really leave from Paris during your vacation. You could spend a couple of months in Paris and not even scratch the surface.

    Since you're both young, there's even more choices within Paris. The night life is great and if you miss to visit someplace the next morning, you have the next night to recouperate.

    But, if you insist to visit outside from Paris, take the train to Chantilly. I am certain that there's a train to this site. You can visit the chateau, there's a museum, and check out the beautiful village. Senlis isn't to far, so maybe you could take the train to the next stop.

    Closer, visit the cathederal in St.Denis. This is the burial place for many Kings and Queens. I don't remember these marble coffins are called but there's an English translation for what you see.

    Epernay (spelling?) is the center for Champagne production and you can spend a good part of an afternoon. Make sure that you take a few visits and taste the Champagne.

    Fountainebleau (spelling again?)is supposed to be beautiful. I haven't visit there but maybe some day.

    If you go through a few tourist books, you'll find the various neighborhoods in Paris. Visit the area which has dishes and ceramics. I think it's near the Gare de North. Nearby the Moulin Rouge you can find where fabrics are located. There's also a group of Music shops.

    The cafes on Montparnesse give you a lot of history. Hemingway used to drink coffee there, I think. Look around and you'll find all of the writes from the beginning of the 20th century. If you like music, maybe visit to Bobinos. I think it's back into business and certainly this place is full of history.

    You can take your baggages full of new places most travellers never find. It will a bit of digging but it's worth while.

    Blackduff

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    I have a totally different thought for you since you don't want to drive. Several years ago we took a bicycle trip in the Loire Valley arranged through the Anjou Bike Center. We took the train to Angers where the owner picked us up. He mapped out our trip, provided us with bicycles, and arranged lodging for us. It was much cheaper than most comparable bicycle trips we have seen. The scenery was beautiful, the chateaux and other sites extremely interesting, and the bicycling relatively easy for people who are in somewhat decent shape (and, we're your parents' ages). You will see Europe frim a very different perspective this way.

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    Last June we did a London-Paris-Amsterdam trip: traveling EuroStar from London to Paris, Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam, flying open jaw into London and home from Amsterdam. It was a great combination of different cities and we had a blast. I'd recommend those three cities if you want to hit three different countries and cultures. Otherwise, I'd take some advice above-- thoroughly enjoy Paris and tour nearby France. Have fun planning.

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    LeeLeeLee:

    To discover the best the French countryside has to offer, you SHOULD rent a car.

    Therefore, my advice would be to get your BF to learn to drive a manual car. I must assume, as you are in your early 20s, that someone in your group of friends has a manual car and can teach your BF. Its SUCH a guy thing! It is SO easy to do, it will take him only a day to learn and reduces your car hire costs considerably. If you can’t call on your friends, then book a couple of lessons with a driving school.

    Trust me, it is worth the investment. I have always driven a manual car, but was concerned about driving in Europe on my own. Finally, I realized that I was missing out on so much, so I booked a car in Provence, faced my fears, and had a wonderful time. That was about 6 years ago and since then I have rented cars, at least four times a year, in France, Italy & Spain. There is nothing like the freedom.

    Talk to him about it. You are too young to limit your traveling experience when it would be so easy to overcome your only challenge.

    However, as BlackDuff has said, two weeks in Paris would be magical and you would never be bored or at a loss to find entertainment.

    Regards Ger

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    I can't say I blame you about not wanting to drive. I've never done it Europe, and don't plan to. (Last time I drove stick I saw my life pass before my eyes, never again).

    My advice, hop on the Eurostar and spend maybe 5-6 days in London.



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    Thanks for all your invaluable suggestions!!

    The more I read about the Lorie, the more I think it'll be better appreciated with a car. My boyfriend agreed too and he'll try to get some practice before leaving.

    If that doesn't work out, we can always join a local tour to see the chateaux.

    OR, what we might do, is take MaureenB's advice and do the London-Paris-Amsterdam (maybe adding Bruges) route.

    In any case, we still have lots to toy with. But thanks again for your info!

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    You might want to take a closer look at Alsace.

    We didn’t spend time in Strasbourg after taking the train from Paris but headed south along the Route du Vin. We stayed in Kayserberg. Great food, great wine, lovely settings, and the beautiful Vosges mountains.

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    In case you're interested in all my details, here's my trip report of London-Paris-Amsterdam last June. I wish we'd had more time in each city!

    First stop: London. Four nights’ stay, first visit for my husband and I, second visit for our two teens.

    We liked the Hyde Park Radnor Hotel very much. Nice simple breakfast included eggs with ham plus cold cereals, juice, coffee, etc.. VERY small room and bath, though, for a quad family room. But a very clean and nicely kept place. Location very safe, and close to Paddington tube. Beautiful residential neighborhood to stroll around in.

    First vacation problem we encountered, though, was when we arrived on United airlines at Heathrow. We kept waiting for my husband's bag to come up on the carousel. Finally it dawned on us that the one remaining bag going around, which looked identical to my husband's but wasn't his, was the only bag left.

    It turned out some dunderhead took my husband's bag by mistake, didn't check the nametag on it, and headed off to Wales! Not what you need at the beginning of the trip. The good news was that it was just clothes, and worst case my husband could borrow some of our 17 year old son's clothes. Plus, we were staying in London four nights, so we hoped the bag would show up before we left.

    Luckily, the dunderhead discovered the mistake before driving too far and United delivered the bag to our hotel late that night. Lesson learned-- maybe put a bright swatch of tape or a ribbon on your bag to easily distinguish it.

    We were getting a very late start on dinner one night, and knew the kitchens were closing at that late hour, so we opted to simply walk the pretty neighborhood by our hotel. We found the excellent Indian restaurant down the street from the Hyde Park Radnor, the “Noorjahan 2” at 26 Sussex Place. I had an amazing prawn dish with shrimp so big you'd think they were lobster tails, in this incredible sauce. (And this from someone who thought she didn’t like Indian food!)

    Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower was interesting and memorable. (Tickets are limited, but free if you inquire by mail in advance.)

    Thames River cruise at night with Circular Cruise was very pretty to see the city lit up.

    Great lunch at a restaurant across the street from Parliament, St. Stephans Tavern If you stand at the main street facing the Parliament, it’s on the left, across the street, on the first corner down. Very nice, traditional English atmosphere-- wood and leaded glass . Good sandwiches. Minimum age is 18, but they let in our 17 year old son anyway.

    Also a nice lunch near the Hyde Park Radnor Hotel, at Sawyers Arms, 8-9 London Street. Nothing really special, but good sandwiches, good value, cute atmosphere and good service.

    Took the tube one evening to see “Abbey Road” and take our corny pictures crossing it. Then we took the tube to Hampstead for dinner. Found the La Gaffe Italian restaurant there, which was very good. Barely caught the last tube into Paddington at midnight and back to our hotel. Very fun evening.

    Toured Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. The Banqueting House was closed, so we unfortunately missed seeing the Rubens ceiling.

    Saw the queen’s royal guards on horseback, parading from Hyde Park with canons in tow, to give the Salute to the Crown on June 2 (which we missed because we had a train to catch). Saw royal marching band practicing, too, on the parade grounds near Buckingham Palace the afternoon before.

    Our daughter liked shopping on Oxford Street, at TopShop, Mango and Zara mostly. Our son discovered the Apple Store there, too. We adults thought Oxford Circus way too crowded for our tastes.

    Used the tube and city buses extensively. Very easy to figure out and get around.

    Second stop: Paris. Four nights’ stay, first visit for all of us.

    Stayed at Hotel la Bourdonnais, in the 7th and liked it very much. Nice-sized quad room for our family, with A/C and a lift. GREAT view of the Eiffel Tower from our little balcony. Friendly front desk, too. Offered a simple breakfast buffet, but we chose to visit Rue Cler in the mornings, for coffee, croissants, crepes and fresh fruit. A nice market next door to the hotel was handy, too. Metro stop on the corner, Batobus stop close by, too, at the Eiffel Tower. Even an ATM machine at the corner bank. Loved the location and the upscale neighborhood. An easy walk through the Champs de Mars to the Eiffel Tower.

    Funny experience—on the Rue Cler, I met a woman who must be related to Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi”! (Remember that classic episode?) When I went into a patisserie/coffee shop there, to place my order, using my decent but very basic college-level French, and my best manners, I was immediately, loudly and firmly told by the counter attendant to “Go, sit!” I never did understand why I was ordered to sit, when many French women went up to the counter and had no problem ordering their items take-out. I wanted to sit outside anyway, but still didn’t understand the system.

    When I wanted another cup of coffee, I threw caution to the wind, and went back inside to ask for another “s’il vous plait.” I was again ordered to “Go, sit.” Very odd. Enough so that I sure didn’t return the next mornings!

    One morning at brunch, at La Terrasse, around the corner from Hotel la Bourdonnais, we had a very nice young French man who waited on us and spoke excellent English. When we complimented his English, he said he’d studied in Washington D.C., and that he wanted to move permanently to the U.S. because he said, “People here are rude!”

    (Please, don't anyone infer I am saying Parisians are rude in general-- just reporting two funny incidents. All told, we found Paris as welcoming and friendly as you'd expect any large city to be that hosts hordes of tourists-- like New York City-- who wouldn't get edgy now and then? But the Croissant Nazi, now she has no excuse!)

    Bought the Batobus two-day pass and enjoyed hopping on and off the boat to get to the sights, plus seeing the beautiful city lit up, from the river at night.

    Toured Notre Dame, Sainte Chappelle, walked to the second level of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Louvre and the d’Orsay. Walked the Champs Elysee and window-shopped the designer houses. Our daughter did some shopping at Zara there, and our son got some French perfume for his girlfriend on the Champs Elysee, too.

    We walked everywhere, but didn’t have time to get to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, or to the Sorbonne and Latin Quarter. Too much to see in Paris for only three days there.

    Had our favorite meal on Ille St. Louis, at Le Caveau de l’Isle, at 36 rue Saint-Louuis en l’Isle. Great menu, with a three-course fixed prix around 30 EU. Excellent and friendly service. Small and atmospheric place.

    First dinner at Le Champ de Mars on Avenue de la Bourdonnais simply because it was close and we were starving. Good enough food poor service as only two waiters were serving the entire place. Nothing memorable, except the price of an iced tea or cola there is outrageous! The kids ordered one apiece at this first meal, and they were 6 EU for the small size and 8 EU for a medium!! Tried not to make that mistake again. Wine at the same place was only 4 EU a glass.

    Not so good dining experience, also on Ille St. Louis (that’s what we get for returning a second night!). A place called Sergeant at Arms or something like that. It is more a family place, but we were too exhausted and hungry to search further. The waiter was very funny and friendly, the food basic but plentiful. The problem was that shortly after we were seated and had started our salads, a table of SEVEN middle school girls was put next to us. Seating was very tight, and four of the girls shared the banquette seating with two of us. They proceeded to get out of control right away, singing loudly, jumping up and down on the banquette seat, running around, spitting food out and laughing, generally cutting up inappropriately in a restaurant.

    They were part of a large party of about 35 people, with the adults all sitting together in an area a level above ours. We thought it was rude of the adults not to mind the kids, or care they were disturbing the rest of the restaurant. And a mistake on the restaurant’s part to seat them there, also, instead of hiding them in the back, behind their parents’ tables. After asking twice to move, we were finally given another table on the other side of the room from them. We also noticed a couple was seated next to the girls, but soon asked to be moved as well.

    Final stop: Amsterdam. Five nights’ stay, first visit for all of us.

    LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Amsterdam! You always hear of the Red Light district and the coffee shops and the laissez-faire attitude, but you don’t hear how open and friendly the people are, how lovely the canals and side streets, how wonderfully trendy the restaurants and cafes, how people are out strolling at all hours of the night and you feel safe everywhere. I think I’d expected it to be quaint and charming (which it is), but in a dark wood-paneled cliché way, not in the young and contemporary way it is.

    The standard reply we were given in Amsterdam, when we asked for anything, was always “Of course!” How refreshing.

    We stayed in a fabulous location, at The Hotel Residence le Coin, which was directly across a small street from the Hotel de l’Europe, down the street from the Hotel Doelan, on Nieuwe Doelenstraat (sp?). A great neighborhood in the heart of old Amsterdam.

    The hotel has a lift and A/C, also free use of the hotel’s washing machine and clothes dryer in the basement (which was welcome as we’d been traveling over a week when we arrived there). Each room has a little kitchenette, a nice-sized bath, large rooms with wooden floors and a sitting area. It’s fairly new, so everything sparkles. Very friendly front desk, too.

    Two cafes on the same block as the hotel were wonderful: Café Katoen for a university atmosphere, and Café de Jaren, for great table seating on the canal.

    Amazing dinners at two restaurants in particular:
    “Stout!”, at Haarlemmerstraat 73 (www.restaurantstout.nl). Fabulous ‘foamy asparagus’ soup with shrimp, chateaubriande, fresh fish, dessert course, wine list. Very trendy lighting. Great service. We’d gone to the neighborhood in search of a restaurant called “Lof” which we’d seen written up. We didn’t like its atmosphere, but were lucky that Stout! was just across the street.

    Also at “Restaurant Dining Eleven” we had a great dinner. It’s at Reestraat 11. Also trendy and contempory, well-presented and beautifully-served meal.

    Another nice dinner at “frenzi”, at Swanenburgwal 232. Very simple and contemporary. We arrived shortly after 10:00p.m., when most restaurants close in Amsterdam, and persuaded the owner to sell us any left-overs they had in the kitchen! They put together a nice Caesar salad with cooked-in-the-shell shrimp and mango. Very nice.

    Also a good brunch at a place across the street from frenzi—called “Puccini”. Creative salads and sandwiches. Very nice also.

    We took a canal cruise one evening. Toured the Anne Frank Huis and the Van Gogh Museum. Visited the Nieuwe Kerk (sp?) Our teens went to a concert at the Paradiso and loved it.

    One afternoon we did the 2:30 “Best of Holland” excursion to Volendam and Marken, with a stop to see wooden clogs made, Gouda cheese created, and to visit windmills. It was by bus, with a boat from Volendam to Marken. A lot of fun. Even our two teens liked it.

    Our teens also liked shopping at one street in particular, between our hotel and the museum district. Also a Zara shop there, and many others like it. They thought the selection and prices were better in Amsterdam than what they’d seen in London and Paris even.

    A detail about Amsterdam if you go there-- carry enough Euros in cash, because many places won't accept a credit card for a 'small' purchase (i.e. under 25 EU).
    The only unpleasantness we encountered in Amsterdam related to cab rides and inconsistent pricing. Especially when our two teens were grossly overcharged cabbing to the hotel from the concert. They were well aware of the route, having walked it already twice, but we'd wanted them to cab home late at night. They knew the cabbie took a very round-about way back in order to over-charge. Also, when we arrived at the taxi sand at Central Station, I was literally swarmed by rather aggressive cabbies and felt uncomfortably jostled by them all.

    A great trip all in all. Weather was spotty, with rain showers on and off, but not bad.
    We enjoyed EuroStar from London to Paris. Then we took the Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam. It, too, was very nice, until we encountered a derailment which had rail traffic stopped at central station. We were re-routed to Schipol airport, and told our tickets would get us to Central Station on another train. It didn't make much sense, as that train also got held up by the derailment mess, and was a commuter which was quite slow. Also, they didn't give us much direction as to how to find the next train, but we figured it out. Some locals simply shrugged and indicated that the train system didn't usually run 100 percent smoothly. Not a good start to Amsterdam, but we loved it there anyway.



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    If I could collate some of the suggestions in this thread - you may want to consider trveling via rail to Strassborg, and then renting bikes there and biking through Alsace. I started to assemble such an itinerary but my family overruled me and we came up with an itinerary to take a side trip to Bruges, Belgium, also a good idea. But I suggest Strassborg.

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    Lee:
    I was asking the same question on here awhile ago for a 2 week trip and was advised to combine Paris with Rome.

    We did and it was FABULOUS. It is easy and cheap to fly from Paris to Rome (RyanAir) and the contrast between the two cities was just so amazing.

    So that is my recommendation!

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    Hey There!

    I am planning my second trip to Paris this summer. The first time (I was in my mid-twenties) we rented a car and drove to Normandy. It was truly amazing! I really feel that you and your boyfriend are cheating yourselves out the most memorable trip you'll EVER go on if you don't rent that car!

    Good luck and have a ball!

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    I've the same problems with driving and learning how to drive a stick shift has been on my to do list for a long time.

    That said, the tours for the Loire Valley are quite easy to come by. You can join a local tour in Tours, for example, and you can get there by TGV (about 1 hour). The Tours tourist office has some details.

    I don't really know France all that well so I can't comment on much on the trips to other areas in France.

    However as quite a few people have pointed out, Amsterdam, Belgium and London are all easy train trips away (about 4h for Amsterdam one way).

    Rome was suggested as a destination you can fly to -- but whichbudget.com will list other possible places within a short plane hop of Paris.

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    Dear LeeLeeLee:

    You have several options available to you. Being in your 20's with boundless energy, I have no doubt that you'd be willing to flitter all over the country to take in as much as you could in 14-16 days. BUT, that would defeat the purpose of visiting probably the friendliest and most tourist oriented country in Europe.

    For 1st timers to France, I'd suggest you devote a solid week in Paris. This will give you time to take in all the major museums, galleries, shops and of course walk the grand boulevards, quiet alleys and of course, stroll along the Seine.

    After a week, you have numerous options. Personally, my favorite region is the Southwest of France, from the Dordogne down through Gascony and through to the Ariege. If you plan on visiting the Dordogne which has become insanely popular, you will more than likely need a car. The up-side is that in mid-May, the tourist hordes haven't yet arrived in full force so that towns like Sarlat, Domme, Rocamadour, Beynac Bergerac etc are still manageable.

    If you don't feel like driving, then Provence is a viable alternative. There is excellent train service via the TGV from Paris to Avignon and other cities: trip time under 3 hrs. Using Avignon as a base, you can easily see Arles, Nimes, Aix en Provence and even Marseille as day trips, or using some or all of these other towns as overnight or longer stopovers.

    Drop me a line if you need more information or insight..

    Regards..
    Luis

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    Just to return for a moment to the topic of this thread, if LeeLeeLee is still soliticing opinions:

    I recommend staying in Paris in a two-week apartment rental and taking day trips on the train according to your whim. One will be Giverny, another Versailles, but it's also possible to take a fast train to Marseilles, have a great bouillabaise and tour the historic center (which is now an art center).

    I very much second the endorsement to visit St. Denis, which is reachable by Metro.

    Other trips to consider include Chartres or even Bruges in Belgium.

    But chances are you won't get restless being in Paris. There are 20 arrondisements in Paris. 10 of them have marvelous attractions in them. I won't tell you which 10. It would the spoil the fun of discovering a Paris that is uniquely yours.

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    Nessundorma - that's an opera aria, no?
    Can you expound on your recommendation about St Denis? I have gotten the impression from reading other postings that although the cathedral there is impressive, there isn't much else to see in the immediate area, and in a city of impressive cathedrals, why spend a long Metro ride just to see yet another one? I'm playing a bit of devil's advocate here; please set me straight if I'm wrong. Aanyway, since I'm the one who chose Bruges, let me just say that most posters to threads involving Bruges have noted that spending one night there (as opposed to just a day trip) is preferable as the town is supposed to be _very_ pretty at night. reasonably priced b&bs are searchable on the web.
    (But if I had my way, a bike trip in Alsace still sounds better - I was outvoted :) )

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