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Pat_in_Mich Jun 6th, 2009 02:42 PM

Celebrating DD’s graduation – Paris, Normandy, Loire trip
DD just graduated from college with a degree in French so we decided to celebrate with a trip to France. DH and I had been to France once before in 1982 but we were only there a few days and just to Paris and Versailles. DD studied in Tours for 8 weeks in 2006 and took a couple of day trips to Paris. DS (19 years old) had never been to France. DH and DS took French all through high school, DD is somewhat fluent, and I know only courtesy words.

First some general info and impressions. Keep in mind that we are far from experienced European travelers so many of these things may be well known to others but maybe some other newbies will find the info helpful.

Planning – I started planning the trip about a year out. Major planning sources were this forum, tripadvisor forum and reviews, and travel books (Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Rick Steves). After deciding what sites we wanted to see, I made a spreadsheet noting the location, the hours, and the cost. We then used this to come up with an itinerary and determine whether to buy the museum pass. We bought the six day pass and felt it was well worth it and allowed us to sample a variety of museums.

Money – Our original plan was to get one CapitolOne card for the trip because of the no foreign transaction fee thing. However, they would only give us a credit limit of $5000 (don’t know why, we have excellent credit scores) so we ended up both getting one so as to have $10000 available. As expected, our American credit cards didn’t work at automated machines like in the metro. We had to go to the ticket booth. We had ATM cards for 2 different credit unions. As expected, we didn’t get to choose checking or savings when withdrawing, all withdrawals drew on our checking account. Neither credit union charged us any fees on our withdrawals. We had planned to get our first euros at CDG but while on a layover at the Toronto airport we found that there were ATMs there that dispensed euros. The exchange rate was lousy but we decided it was worth the convenience not to have to seek an ATM in the airport to pay the shuttle driver who required cash.

Food – Eating in Paris was easier than we expected. I was a little concerned because 2 of our group are not adventurous eaters, but being able to view the menus before entering was a huge help. We stuck mostly to cafes and brasseries. Most places had at least some English on the menu and most staff spoke some English.

Language – DH and I found this a lot easier than back in 1982 when we were last there. We really struggled then, but it seems like a lot more English is spoken and understood now. Having DD as our personal translator was a big help but I think we would have gotten by okay anyway. I remembered the advice on this board and made sure to always say bonjour, au revoir, and merci.

Clothes – If you are interested in fashion and want to try to look French, go for it. But if you’re a kind of frumpy middle-aged mom like me, don’t worry too much. Paris in particular is swarming with people from all over dressed in every imaginable style and no one will give you a second look. We decided that we were going to do casual meals, so we took no dressy clothes. I took 2 pairs of jeans and several pairs of khaki slacks. My tops were cotton knit things and polo shirts in various colors. I had brown New Balance walking shoes and brown leather Mary Janes. I wore the walking shoes most as they were the most comfortable. DH dressed similarly but he had brown casual shoes and (oh horrors!) white tennis shoes. He mostly wore the white tennis shoes because he has bad plantar fasciatis and they were the most comfortable. The kids dressed like young people everywhere in jeans and tennis shoes. DD also brought a casual black skirt that she wore with flip-flops. We each had a 25 inch suitcase.

Carrying our stuff while touring – I hate carrying my big heavy purse while walking around all day so I use a one of those wallet on a string type things that is about 4 inches by 6 inches that I can wear across my body. I have a small digital camera and was able to attach the case to the purse. DD carried her regular purse. DS was our beast of burden and brought a drawstring backpack in which he carried our umbrellas (we picked up super compact ones for the trip), some bottled water, a guide book, and a map.

Cell phones and computers – DS brought his laptop and we had free wi-fi at most of our hotels. We rented two cell phones from Call in Europe at a cost of $74 including shipping both ways and 39 cents a minute for calls.

Is Paris dirty and full of dog droppings? – I have heard this said by some people on this or other boards but we didn’t think this was the case at all. There seemed to be trash cans everywhere and they were well used. We saw very little trash on the streets and only twice did we see dog droppings on the sidewalk.

Driving – The second week of our trip we rented a car from Hertz. It was an Opel Zafira which turned out to be a perfect size for us. We picked it up at Place d’Italie. DH was the driver since he is the only one who knows how to drive a manual transmission; however he hadn’t done it in 25 years. It was a bit challenging at first with lots of stalling but he got better as the week went on. We did not find driving in France easy and we got lost constantly. I’m normally an excellent navigator and we’ve rarely gotten lost on our many U.S. road trips but this was a whole different level! If I had to do it over I would make sure to get a GPS. We paid 314 euro for the 8 day car rental. We got this price through Air Canada.

Day 1 & 2 – Red eye flight and 1st day in Paris
We flew on Air Canada, Detroit to Toronto. The flight was late leaving Detroit because the fueling truck stalled out after fueling the plane and it was in the way. It didn’t matter because we had a longish layover in Toronto. The plane was small; only 18 seats yikes! Not great for this nervous flyer! We had about 4 hours in Toronto and the food options in the international terminal there were surprisingly limited but we did find something to eat. Our Paris flight left on time. We had booked the window and aisle seats in 2 consecutive rows hoping that no one would take the middle seats but the flight was full. Both middle seat occupants were happy to trade for the aisle. We all tried to sleep on the plane. I had bought an eye mask, a neck pillow, and I brought ear plugs. The eye mask made me too hot and the neck pillow wasn’t comfortable but I did catch a few hours and so did DH and DD. DS didn’t sleep at all. Our flight landed on time at a little after 10 a.m. and our luggage came through fine. Our driver from Shuttle Inter was waiting as promised with a nice clean van large enough to accommodate us and our luggage. It cost 65 euro and I gave him a 5 euro tip. Thanks to Joan for this recommendation! By 11:30 we were at Hotel Familia in the 5th. Our room wasn’t ready so we stored our luggage and headed out to explore Paris. First we had a quick lunch and then it was off to Notre Dame. The weather was cool and rainy. Notre Dame was very busy. We were approached several times before reaching the entrance by the “Do you speak English?” girls but ignored them. It was Sunday and there was a mass going on so we couldn’t wander freely and the side areas of the church were SO crowded. We didn’t stay long. Since it was still rainy we decided to defer the towers until another day. Next we walked over to the Musee Cluny, where we bought our 6 day museum passes. We enjoyed this museum, especially the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. After this we had planned to go to Saint-Chapelle and the Conciergie but the lack of sleep caught up to us. We went back to the room and took a 2 hour nap. Dinner was at Café Le Metro. We were back to the hotel by 9:30.

Hotel details – Hotel Familia, a 2 star hotel, we had the family room, which was right off the reception area (there wasn’t really a lobby). The room was small, maybe 12 by 14, not counting the little entry area. When you entered the room, a closet with mirrored sliding glass doors was immediately in front of you. This was the only clothing storage but we didn’t care since we typically work out of our suitcases anyway. To the left was the door into the room proper. The first wall on the right in the room contained a dorm sized fridge, then 2 straight backed chairs. We stored one suitcase on top of each of these 3 things. Then there was a twin bed which DS used and at the head of the bed there was enough floor space for the 4th suitcase. DS liked having that little corner for his stuff. Next wall had a big window onto the street and the day bed that DD slept in. Third wall had the four poster double bed for DH and I with a little night stand on each side. Fourth wall had the bathroom door and a small desk with a little bench that slid under it. There was a TV mounted on the wall opposite our bed. The bathroom was a good size with a pedestal sink with a small glass shelf above (we ended up storing cosmetics on the desk) a tub with hand held shower spray and a half glass door to contain the water (no shower curtain) and the toilet. Soap was provided but no shampoo. There was a hair dryer, a square box mounted on the wall with a hose coming out of it. It was pretty useless. Not much space but we were only sleeping and showering there anyway. Breakfast was included, served in the little breakfast room off the reception area. Each person got some bread, a croissant, butter and jam, orange juice, and tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. The day staff spoke good English and were very helpful. The night manager was just a body there to hand you your key. One evening as we were planning the next day I stepped out and asked him directions to something. He looked at me like I offended him completely to ask such a question and said “I don’t know, ask in the morning”. The neighborhood had plenty of inexpensive eating options and 2 metro stations nearby. The cost for the hotel was 187 euro a night.

JulieVikmanis Jun 6th, 2009 03:20 PM

Wow. This is incredibly organized and complete. It should be a very helpful document for many traveling to Paris and your other destinations. Keep it up.

Pat_in_Mich Jun 6th, 2009 03:36 PM

Thanks, Julie! Here's the next installment.

Day 3 – Louvre, Orangerie, and lots more
Up at 7:00 feeling pretty well rested, breakfast at hotel and then off to the Louvre. On the way we saw the gold ring scam in action. I don’t think my family had believed it really existed until then! Entered through the pyramid with only a short line for security and then toured using the Rick Steves plan. Saw the biggies (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory) and then just wandered a while looking at this and that. DH was interested in seeing the Rubens room and DS wanted to see the code of Hammurabi so we found those things. It was getting crowded so we left and had lunch in the Jardin des Tuileries eating some yummy sandwiches from the stand there. From there we went to the Orangerie which I really enjoyed since I love Monet. Next we walked from the Place de la Concorde down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. We went up the Arc and got some great views. After that we took the metro out to Sacré-Cœur and walked up and toured the church. The string bracelet men were there but they didn’t really bother us. We walked around Montmarte and had dinner there before taking the metro back for the night.

Day 4 – Versailles
Up early as we hoped to be at Versailles when it opened. We got there at 9:30 and it was pretty crowded but it didn’t bother us too much as the grandeur of the rooms seemed to dwarf the crowds. I was a little disappointed that the Opera was closed since that was my favorite part last time we were there. Then we headed out to the gardens to see the fountains. This was an extra ticket not included with our Museum Pass and was available at the entry to the gardens. We had lunch at the snack stand in the gardens and DD and I waited in a 30 minute line to use the restrooms (there never seemed to be enough restrooms at public places in France). We spent a lot of time wandering in the gardens, which were fabulous, but didn’t make it as far as the Trianon and the Estate of Marie-Antoinette. Then we returned to Paris and since it was a beautiful day we decided to go up the Notre Dame towers. We waited about half an hour but once we got up there the views were great and it was very interesting to see the bell and the gargoyles. After coming down we took a boat tour on the Seine (Vedettes de Pont Neuf) which was very pleasant. Then we went to La Taverne de Au Sergent Recruteur for dinner. Touristy I know, but we had fun. It was pretty quiet there that night, no big tour groups or anything. DH really enjoyed the sausage and the pate and we all liked the cheeses. The main courses weren’t awful and dessert was really good. DS and I had the ice cream, DD had the chocolate mousse, and DD had the apple tart. Plenty of wine was consumed and we had a good time. During the trip planning DS had several times expressed an interest in going to Disney while we were in Paris, but I brushed it off because I didn’t want to spend any of our precious time on that. He had mentioned it in passing several times since we arrived and I realized that it was important to him and after all it was his trip too so why not? So after we returned to the hotel we had a family meeting, looked over the rest of the itinerary, and prioritized and rearranged to free up a day for Disney.

Leely2 Jun 6th, 2009 03:43 PM

That's a good deal on the car.

You sure packed a lot in these first few days. I guess having kids with lots of energy keeps everyone going. And nice of you to be flexible and "give in" on the Disney trip.

I'm looking forward to reading more! Thanks for posting.

Pat_in_Mich Jun 6th, 2009 04:10 PM

Day 5 – More museums and stained glass
Slept in a little later today so missed hotel breakfast and just ate something on the way (mmm, pain chocolat). Started the day at Musee D’Orsay. The old train station was a great venue for presenting the art and since I really like Impressionism I loved this museum. Had a pretty decent lunch in the cafeteria there and then left for our next stop, the sewer tour. DH liked this since he always enjoys learning how things work and it wasn’t as smelly as I feared. Then we took a long walk across town for our wine tasting at O Chateau in the 1st arr. We did the Wine, Two, Three tasting and we all really enjoyed it. The presenter was excellent, he kept us all laughing, and we learned a lot about French wines. After that the kids went off to a free concert at the Virgin Records store and DH and I decided to go to Saint-Chapelle. We waited about half an hour to get through security and then were inside. We took a quick look around on the first floor and headed upstairs. Coming around the corner into the main chapel just took my breath away. I’ve never seen such amazing stained glass! We were there for nearly an hour just staring and taking pictures. After that we visited the Deportation Memorial behind Notre Dame, which was very moving. Next we strolled around the Marais and eventually the kids called after their concert and we met up for dinner at a café near the hotel. After dinner DD and DH had Nutella crepes at the yummy crepe stand across from the hotel.

Day 6 – Disney
Up early and off on the RER to Disney. The train got progressively more crowded with kids and families as we traveled along. Disney is the last stop and basically right at the station. There is about a 15 minute wait in line to get tickets and then we’re in. DS and I, the Disney fanatics in the family, were excited. We had a fun day noticing which things were the same as in Florida and California and which things were different. The attention to detail and the cleanliness were not up to par with the U.S. parks. By 6:00 we’ve done everything we want to and we pick up some souvenirs and head back to Paris. Thankfully the return train isn’t too crowded and we get to sit down. We transfer to the metro to the Trocadero stop and get off to see the Eiffel Tower. This was a great way to approach the tower, the views were fabulous! We spent about 2 hours strolling to and past the tower as it gradually got dark and we took lots of fun pictures using all kinds of different features on our cameras. The line to go up was about 45 minutes and we debated doing it but all of us except DS had done it before and he didn’t care if we went or not, so we skipped it.

Day 7 – Making some bread and visiting the dead
Slept in this morning and then started the day with a tour through Meeting the French at bakery and pastry shop Au Grand Richelieu. We saw how baguettes, croissants, and pain chocolat are made. We enjoyed this tour a lot. Next we planned to visit the Catacombs but the lines were really long, so we bought some food at a nearby outdoor market and had a picnic in the park. The catacomb lines were still long after lunch so we gave up and went to Pere Lachaise cemetery instead. I always like visiting cemeteries so this place was fascinating to me. It was mid-afternoon when we left there and we debated what to do next. The things on our original agenda that we hadn’t yet fit in were the Conciergie, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Carnavalet Museum, and the Pompidou Center. We decided to go to the Pompidou Center because it was open late and because modern art always makes us giggle. The Pompidou Center didn’t fail us in this respect and we had fun. We had dinner at an Italian place in the 6th and headed back to the hotel to pack for checking out in the morning.

irishface Jun 6th, 2009 05:33 PM

Thanks for your well organized descriptive report. I am really enjoying sharing your trip with you. Hope you will also share some pictures with us. Keep it coming and thanks again.

Pat_in_Mich Jun 6th, 2009 05:39 PM

Day 8 – Bonjour Paris and driving challenges
Time to check out of the hotel and head to Normandy! In order to avoid having to drag our luggage onto the metro, we had decided that DH would go pick up the rental car (taking DD with him in case of language difficulties) and then they would drive back to the hotel to pick up DS and I. Of course there was no parking available in front of the hotel, so we had to be ready to leave when they returned with the car. They were picking it up at Place d’Italie only a few kilometers away. I gave them directions on how to get back. Everything at the rental office went smoothly and we got the exact car we had reserved at the agreed upon price. Then they headed back and things didn’t go quite as smoothly. They got lost and DH kept struggling with the manual transmission. Luckily he had a good attitude and didn’t let it bother him. Eventually they arrived in one piece, the luggage all fit in the back, and off we went. Despite the careful directions I had printed and studied, we missed the entrance to the Peripherique. After trying to recover from this error on our own we eventually stopped at a gas station and got directions. After an extra 30 – 45 minutes we were heading in the right direction toward Rouen. Got lost again entering the city but eventually found a place to park. By this time were hungry for lunch so we just grabbed something at Quick which was right in the pedestrian area. After lunch we followed the Rick Steves tour, seeing the Cathedral and the St. Joan of Arc church. We found the St. Joan church very different since it is a modern church built in 1979. The weather was cold and rainy and after a few hours in Rouen we were ready to move on to Honfleur. We had originally planned to spend the night in Rouen and I was glad that we had changed our plans to stay in Honfleur. Got lost (of course) leaving Rouen and getting to our Honfleur hotel took a few years off my life. The streets were extremely narrow and just swarming with tourists. DH kept stalling the car and at one point scared a local half to death as he gunned the engine to try not to stall on a small hill. The hotel was right on the harbor and had no parking of their own but they sent me a detailed map of parking lots and eventually we found one and parked the car. Hotel was only a short walk away and after checking in we had dinner. We ate at L'Arome Marin and sampled the local cider which we quite enjoyed. After dinner we walked around all the way out along the sea wall to the end and dipped our toes in the water. The weather had cleared and the view over the harbor from our hotel was beautiful as dusk arrived.

Hotel details – Best Western Le Cheval Blanc, a 3 star hotel, family room one floor up. This room was far more spacious than we had in Paris and contained a queen size bed and a day bed in the main room, and a twin bed in a separate curtained off alcove. There was plenty of floor space to move around. The bathroom was a good size but there was no shower curtain and the bathroom got quite wet when we showered. The location was excellent, right off the harbor, and we had a wonderful view. The hotel had a lobby with chairs. Price was 225 euro a night through

Day 9 – Much walking and a boat tour
Checked out of hotel around 10 and moved luggage to car. Started Rick Steves tour at cathedral but could only peek in because Sunday mass was going on. Took a long steep walk to an area above the town with beautiful tours of the harbor. We walked along the road further and passed a farmhouse with cows grazing. The cows came to the fence to investigate us. DS tried to pet them which they wouldn’t allow but they were more than happy to lick his hand and eat the grass he offered them. A little further along the road we came to a small church with a maritime theme which was interesting. While we were there they rang the bells which were outside the church. Made our way back down to town and bought sandwiches, fruit (including some amazing strawberries), and drinks and sat near the harbor for a picnic. After lunch we took a boat tour of the harbor including going through the lock and under the bridge. As a non-swimmer I’m always nervous on boats so I wasn’t disappointed that the next tour on the smaller boat (the Calypso) wasn’t for over an hour and instead we had to settle for a larger boat. They gave us a printed English brochure but the commentary on the tour was in French. We didn’t care, it was a beautiful, sunny day and it was very pleasant to be on the water. After returning to dry land we picked up a few postcards and it was time to leave for Bayeux. Our original plan was to stop in Caen and see the museum on the way to Bayeux, but it was too late. We got lost leaving Honfleur and entering Bayeux. Checked into hotel and walked around for a while. It was pretty quiet on Sunday night. We had dinner at the Hotel Reine Mathilde next door.

Hotel details – Churchill Hotel, a 3 star hotel, 2 rooms, a twin standard and a double standard. Rooms were adequate size and attractively furnished, bathroom had fully enclosed stall showers. We had real blow dryers here so my hair didn’t look quite so bad! We really liked this hotel, the staff was so friendly and helpful, and the kids liked having their own room not even on the same floor as us. There was free parking behind the hotel. Although the brochure said that there was a charge for internet even if you had your own computer, DS was happy to discover that this was not the case, it was actually free. He couldn’t get it in the room, but had to sit on the sofa in the hallway. We paid 108 euro per room per night.

Pat_in_Mich Jun 6th, 2009 06:17 PM

Day 10 – Normandy beach tour
We had booked the American Highlights tour with Battlebus. There were two other couples on the tour with us in addition to our guide Stuart. Pickup was at 8:30 right behind the hotel. This was the one thing DH really wanted to do, the rest of us were lukewarm on it. We all like history but we were concerned that there would be lots of dry military details, but this wasn’t the case at all. We really enjoyed this tour. Stuart was an excellent and knowledgeable presenter and very passionate about his subject. We started in Ste Mere Eglise where we saw the Airborne Museum and the church. While there we were honored to have the opportunity to meet and talk with meet 2 British D-Day veterans who were there making a movie. From there we went to Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Military Cemetery. Lunch was sandwiches eaten in the van along the way and the day flew by. We highly recommend this tour! After returning to town we had dinner at Le Petit Normand which was my favorite meal of the trip.

Day 11 – Bayeux sites and a drive
Slept in a bit, bought bread and fruit for breakfast along the way, and then toured the cathedral and the tapestry. I’d always wanted to see the tapestry and I really enjoyed it. The museum in which it is housed is interesting too and the movie was good. Had lunch near the cathedral and then we were kind of out of things to do even though we still had one more night in Bayeux. I’m not sure why I booked 3 nights. We decided to take a drive to Arromanches to see the remains of the artificial harbor. We actually didn’t get lost getting there! DH found the harbor fascinating and we all enjoyed walking along the beach. It was a sunny day but cool and windy. Debated backtracking to Caen the next day before moving on to Mont St. Michel but decided against it.

Day 12 – Mont St. Michel and a touch of Brittany
Checked out of the hotel by 9. Street market was just setting up out front so we took a short look before hitting the road. Had a really hard time finding the right road out of Bayeux but eventually were on our way to Mont St. Michel. Parked on the causeway and headed up to the Abbey. The street was really crowded so we took Rick Steves’ advice and went up the ramparts. There weren’t very many people doing this so it was pleasant. We stopped for a while to watch a nun below unload some packages from the trunk of her car onto a dumbwaiter. She then waved at someone up above and the dumbwaiter started ascending to the top. Eventually we reached the point where we started touring the Abbey, using Rick’s tour. After the tour we headed back down the touristy street, looking in the tacky souvenir shops. We were also looking for lunch but everything seemed pretty over-priced so we ended up driving down the road and getting sandwiches at Brioche Doree. We had a reservation for a hotel at the end of the causeway but it seemed rather pointless to stay there since we had already toured Mont St Michel. Our next stop was Tours so we called our hotel there to see if they could take us a day early but no luck. DD suggested that we drive to St. Malo for the afternoon. She had been there when she was in France in 2006 and remembered it as a pleasant town, so we decided to do that. Rick’s France book had directions for a scenic drive to get there so off we went and got there without much trouble. St. Malo is a walled city so it reminded us a bit of York which we visited in 2001. The tide was out so we were able to walk a long way out on the sand. The kids collected some shells. Got back to Mont St Michel, checked into the hotel, and went to a chain type place across the street for dinner. After returning to the hotel DH and I waited until it was dark and walked back towards Mont St. Michel to see the abbey lit up at night. It looked really pretty but my camera wasn’t advanced enough to get a picture of it.

Hotel details – Le Relais Du Roy, at the end of the causeway, family room up one floor. We had the largest room of the trip here. When you entered the room, there was about a 12 by 12 bedroom to the left with a room in the corner containing the toilet. Directly across from the room entry was a large shower room with double sinks and lots of counter space. The tub had a half glass panel. To the right of the entry was a smaller bedroom with 2 twin beds and then a loft above with a third twin bed. Both bedrooms had large closets and in the smaller bedroom one side of the closet contained a sink with a mirror above. However, the room had 2 problems. The beds didn’t have a top sheet just a comforter, so I was either too hot or too cold. The more major issue was that there were almost no electrical outlets in the room and DH uses a CPAP machine for his sleep apnea. The only way he could plug it in is if we switched sides of the bed. All night I kept whacking him because I didn’t expect him to be on that side of me!

Day 13 – Loire Valley
This was our longest drive, from Mont St. Michel to Tours. We didn’t have too much trouble finding the hotel since DD was somewhat familiar with Tours. One of our two rooms was available already even though it was before noon so we dumped the luggage there. Lunch was at Sherlock Holmes pub and then we saw the cathedral and rode Le Petit Train which was something DD and her friends always meant to do back in 2006 but never actually did. It seems that many towns in France have one of these. I wouldn’t recommend the one in Tours, the commentary was all in French and the English info we were given was lengthy and rather dull. We bought our tickets for the train at the tourist information center where we were also able to buy discount tickets for the chateaus we planned to visit. They also had a nice selection of souvenirs there. Back to the hotel for a while to move our luggage to the 2nd room and relax before dinner. Dinner was at La Couscousserie near Place Plumereau. The kids had couscous with chicken which they liked a lot.

Hotel details - L'Hotel des Chateaux de la Loire, 2 rooms, triple and double. Both rooms were up one floor and were not a bad size. The triple room, room 17, had a nice remodeled bathroom with a stall shower with the only shower curtain we saw on the entire trip. The double room, room 17, had a very dated bathroom with a tub and a handheld shower sprayer with no way to hang it up to make it a shower. The mattresses here were very hard. The location was good, on a quiet side street, and parking was in a parking structure just down the street. This was our cheapest place, 66 euros per room per night. It wasn’t horrible but I wish I’d gone for somewhere nicer.

Day 14 – Chambord and Cheverny
Got some bread and fruit on the way to the car and then drove to Chambord. Toured the chateau and then took a long walk through the grounds. Lunch from the sandwich stand onsite. From there it was easy to find Cheverny by following the signs. We liked Cheverny much more; it is so much more furnished and seems like a home. The family that owns it still lives there on the third floor. The grounds were beautiful too and DS really enjoyed the dog feeding. Back to Tours and had dinner that night at the Irish Pub in Place Plumereau. It was a perfect night for eating outdoors and watching the people go by. We had one more night in France but that would be at the airport hotel so we were kind of sad that our trip was ending.

Day 15 – Chenonceau, Chartres, and back to the airport
Checked out of hotel and walked through the flower market before leaving Tours. Toured Chenonceau which I’d always wanted to see but I liked Cheverny better. We did find it interesting that during the World War II the chateau sat right on the border between the Nazi occupied zone on one side of the River Cher and the "free" Vichy zone on the opposite bank. On the way back to Paris we stopped in Chartres to see the cathedral. DS was not happy that we were seeing yet another cathedral but I’d always wanted to see this one since I took an art history class in college. This was far and away my favorite cathedral and even DS liked it. It was a beautiful day and Chartres seemed like a nice little town. We wished that we had more time to explore. The drive to Paris was uneventful and I actually got us there without one wrong turn! Maybe I was finally getting the hang of navigating in France. More likely is that it was mostly freeways and those weren’t all that different from home. There was an amazing amount of traffic around Paris for a Saturday night. Checked into hotel, had dinner at the pub in the hotel across the street, topped off the gas in the car, and went to bed early.

Hotel details – Holiday Inn (not Holiday Inn Express) at the airport, large modern American style room with 2 double beds, large modern bathroom (still no shower curtain, but a glass panel), lots of nice bath products, one of the nicest shower heads I’ve seen with thermostat temperature control. Parking was onsite for 20 euros a night. We opted for the executive floor since it was only 135 euros a night.

Day 16 – Heading home and one last driving challenge
Return flight was 10:30 so we were out of hotel before 7:00 to allow time to return the car. Good thing too because we had a terrible time finding our way into the airport. It seems that the hotels were on the back of the airport and we must have gone in circles for half an hour trying to find the front side. Eventually we got there, turned the car in, waited in line 20 minutes for a receipt and then had to wait another 20 minutes for the shuttle to our terminal. If there was a place to return the car at Terminal A we missed it, we turned it in at Terminal E. Another line at the Air Canada desk to check luggage, 2 or 3 more lines for security and passport stuff and we were finally at the gate with about 90 minutes to spare. The airport didn’t seem particularly busy I would hate to see it if it was. Flight was on time, once again the middle seat in both rows was taken but our seatmates happily traded for the aisle. Since I wasn’t trying to sleep in this direction I really enjoyed the seat back entertainment system and watched several movies. At the Toronto airport we had to claim our luggage and walk it over to another area to drop it back off. I’m not sure what the point of this was, no one searched it or asked us any questions about its contents. Had enough time to eat at the airport before our next flight and this terminal had more options than international. Final flight was on time and we were back home by 6:00 in the evening.

mms Jun 6th, 2009 06:34 PM

Loved reading this, thank you!!!

We visited Normandy 2 years ago, and also stayed at the Churchill and did the Battlebus tour. For the tour, we were 3 women...myself, my mother and my teenage daughter. Like you, we were so impressed with it! We really wished we had time to do the 2 day tour. Loved the Churchill...not fancy but so welcoming, etc. and of course the location is fantastic.

I loved how you changed things around so that you could do Disney for DS:) We are headed back in a week, and I told DD just today that she needs to let me know what things are a priority for her.

Pat_in_Mich Jun 6th, 2009 07:41 PM

I thought it might be helpful to list what the costs of the trip were:

airfare: $930/person
hotels: $3454
food: $1825 (plus additional below)
car rental: $453
gas: $141
Disney tickets: $285
souvenirs: $111 (plus additional below)
metro and RER rickets: $152
admission tickets to various attractions: $240
airport parking: $93
six day museum passes: $347
additional money drawn from ATM: $1688
($476 of above paid for Battlebus tour, $98 for airport shuttle, remainder was street food,tolls, and souvenirs)

So the total was just over $12000 for 15 days.

The trip was such an amazing experience! It was wonderful to spend the family time together. I'd be happy to answer any questions and if you've read this far, thanks!

AGM_Cape_Cod Jun 7th, 2009 04:59 AM

"a tour through Meeting the French at bakery and pastry shop Au Grand Richelieu. We saw how baguettes, croissants, and pain chocolat are made." This is the tour for me. How did you find it?

tahl Jun 7th, 2009 05:19 AM

This is an interesting & very useful report -- thanks so much for writing it all out, including prices!

Pat_in_Mich Jun 7th, 2009 06:43 AM

For the bakery tour go to Look under gourmet tours or cultural tour and then under Meeting the Parisians at Work. We booked and paid for it online. The baker didn't speak English but the Meeting the French company sends an interpreter. It lasted 45 minutes to an hour and cost 6 euros a person.

I don't remember how I came across this idea. Maybe in a trip report or googling something else for the trip.

maxmox Jun 7th, 2009 07:37 AM

Hi Pat, just wondering re: Metro if you bought carnets or Navigo Decouverte weekly pass? I'm struggling between the two. Did you mostly walk from site to site in Paris, or did you use the metro a lot? We are in our early 30's so like to walk a lot but the metro could be a good time saver? Like to know your thoughts... thanks.

maxmox Jun 7th, 2009 10:20 AM

Oh, and one more question... we are going to Loire, too and planning on going to the following chateaux: Chambord, Chenonceau, Villandry and Azay Le Rideau. I read that you bought discount tickets to the chateaus you visited... is this available only day of, or in advance... are the tickets date-specific, i.e. do you need to know what day you are going? Also, was this option only available at the tourist center in Tours, or do you happen to know if they are available at a discounted rate at all tourist centers such as in Amboise?

Pat_in_Mich Jun 7th, 2009 04:23 PM

We considered the Navigo but decided that it wasn't cost effective for us. We like to walk a lot so we didn't think we'd get enough use out of it. In the beginning of the week we walked a lot but as the week went on we used the metro more. Two of the days we used the RER (Versailles and Disney) so the Navigo wouldn't have been good for that. We just used carnets.

The chateau tickets were not date specific. We saved a euro or two per ticket. I don't know if you can buy them at other tourist offices. We just stumbled upon it when we went into the Tours tourist office to buy the tickets for Le Petit Train.

irishface Jun 7th, 2009 05:18 PM

Thanks for a wonderful report.

michigandra Jun 8th, 2009 07:36 PM

Great trip report, Pat. I am so, so jealous.

I do have a one-word answer question: Your favorite place of them all?

(If only I could convince DH to go to France with me, but no go! He's just plain not interested. Probably Italy again--not that I would complain!)

Pat_in_Mich Jun 9th, 2009 04:25 AM

Well, I can't really answer in one word! It would have to be Paris of course because it is so beautiful and because I love big cities anyway. Outside of Paris I think I liked Honfleur the best. It is very pretty and very lively.

Christina Jun 9th, 2009 06:25 AM

This is an excellent trip report, you have so much good detail on the hotels, also, which I'm sure will be helpful to others.

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