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Comments on Paris itinerary -- late visits to museums, neighborhood/lodging choice

Comments on Paris itinerary -- late visits to museums, neighborhood/lodging choice

Old May 12th, 2006, 12:06 PM
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Comments on Paris itinerary -- late visits to museums, neighborhood/lodging choice

We'll be staying a week in Paris in June with possibilities of day trips. I was in Paris for a long weekend years ago and my husband has never been.

We're age 50, very active, usually only stay 3-4 days in one location, like history, architecture, Impressionists and other art, and nature. Not interested in shopping or fine dining. Husband doesn't like crowds. Budget travellers.

This is what I have so far and would appreciate advice.

Arrive/depart via Gare Nord. Use Metro to hotel.

Lodging requirements--nonsmoking room (if available), air conditioning, and clean.
Can stay either at Hotel DeVillas near Gare Austerlitz/hospital, apartment from Lodgis.com (No. 2154602) sort of near Eiffel Tower, Holiday Inn Express d'Italia, Istria St Germain, or France Albion toward Opera.

I'm leaning toward DeVillas because of low price special and access to Metro, Gare Nord, Gare Austerlitz, and Batobus. The apartment offers the kitchen, but I don't like the dealing with owner and deposit equal to week's rent. Seems more risky.

Some activities we will schedule based on weather and others on opening times. These we will choose from the Rodin museum, Marmottan, walk to Arc d'Triumph, view of Tower at night, Sainte Chappel when sunny, Notre Dame exterior, walk through Latin Quarter and Marais.

As for day specific recommendations:
Wednesday Louvre open late--how soon do crowds start to thin out? 4 or 5 o'clock?

Thursday late d'Orsay--same question about crowd times.

Are there other day-specific plans I should lock in and work around?

I've repeatedly seen Sainte Chappel concerts suggested--is it best to just go by in person to see what is offered and book tickets or are they sold out well in advance?

As for day trips I am considering a chateau--either Loire Valley train to Amboise or Blois with bus or bicycle to one or two chateaus, Chantilly, or Versailles (including the gardens). I'm leaning away from Versailles because of the crowds and the work on the Hall of Mirrors--what I remember most from my trip before. I saw the suggestion of the spectacular and looked at the French website--seems there are fountain "shows"? on weekends and a theater troupe on Saturday, but neither of us speaks French so I don't know if the theater will be worthwhile.

Can anyone recommend a nice small town accessible by rail to spend a day or part of one out of the city, walking or cycling? Any parks or other outdoors types of recommendations to get us away from the city for a day?

Thanks as always.
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Old Jun 17th, 2006, 03:14 PM
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Kay and Rob’s budget trip to Paris

I planned our trip using this travel board (though I didn't get a response to this post), Eyewitness book, a little Rick Steves, Tripadvisor reviews, and biddingfortravel.com. II started to give some highlights that seem to be turning into a trip report, so here goes…

The reason for the trip is I had a meeting in Germany, so we flew into Dusseldorf using Delta's new route--good price for me and easy to get FF seats for Rob. DUS was a small, manageable airport with short lines and no crowds. The skytrain at DUS was not operating so we followed signs to a bus to the airport train station, not the sort of complication one likes to find after a redeye flight. On the return we stayed in Dusseldorf and used the S-Bahn 7 terminal train from Dusseldorf Hbf (much easier).

Once we had the air tickets to Europe, Rob chose Paris for the holiday. We debated whether to fly on to Paris on a separate ticket or take the train. After learning on this board how to use the SNCF site, I booked PREM tickets on the Thalys from Aachen to Paris. When we arrived at DUS we bought train tickets to Aachen to spend the night. I brought along the train schedule downloaded from bahn.de, so I knew our options, times, routes, and price in advance. The regional commuter train was packed and not the best start to our day, but at least we were in Europe and didn’t have to make any specific flight or train that day.

We stayed at an Ibis hotel in Aachen. This location offered nonsmoking air conditioned rooms, our requirements. The rooms are tiny but very clean. Street noise, but we closed window and turned on the air/fan. Heavy curtains to block the late sunlight. A fine choice for a budget single night stay, sort of like a nicer Super 8 or similar chain. We walked into town for what would become our daily lunch of fresh bread containing our choice of meat with garnishes. We visited the Dom and picked up some of the local gingerbread mentioned on this site (locals were buying heart shaped gingerbreads with “thank you” and other sentiments written on them with icing). After a nap, we walked to the market square for a German dinner. We were looking forward to a good schnitzel and we weren't disappointed. Up early to eat what would be our daily breakfast, pastries and tea, this time at a counter in the train station, then we joined a group of lively young German women on the train to Brussels. I’ve decided that travelers of all nationalities tend to talk loudly when they are excited and with a group of friends. I enjoyed seeing the countryside in Belgium and my husband napped some more. (I can sleep some on the flight; he cannot.)

When they announced on the train that one could purchase Paris Metro tickets in the bar, I bought our initial tickets for transport on the RER to our hotel to smooth our arrival. We worked our way through the huge Gare Nord multi-floor maze to the RER B to Les Halles and another maze up through the Forum, another station we would avoid in future days because it was just too large. I got stuck trying to get out of the station—my RER ticket kept turning on the red light rather than the white one. Of course, my husband breezed through, so there he is outside and I am inside. I knew he wouldn’t get far without the directions to the hotel. I went to the Information desk and realized immediately my limited French covered the word for ticket and no, but not “won’t let me out”. An employee examined my ticket, looked at me with my rollaboard and pack, fished into a plastic bag and gave me another ticket to use to get out. In hindsight, it may have been that at that station you had to push to get through the turnstiles while some others opened automatically so maybe my ticket worked at first but I didn’t recognize it. However, when I went through the gates a Japanese woman was at the gate I had tried repeatedly feeding in her ticket just like I did, so maybe it was that reader. In any case, I was no longer trapped in the Paris mass transit system.
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Old Jun 17th, 2006, 03:14 PM
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I had never spent so much time picking a hotel as I did for Paris—so many neighborhoods. I wanted nonsmoking, air conditioning, and close to RER B or Metro 4. I made a reservation at the Best Western Orleans, but didn’t like the price. I found cheaper options further out that would require more use of the Metro, changes with bags or a taxi. Two weeks before we left I checked biddingfortravel.com and saw reports on the Novotel Les Halles and decided it was a good compromise if we could get it. It was a great decision. The location was very convenient for Metro, RER, and walking; staff was friendly; and the room large, nonsmoking, air conditioned, and overlooking the quiet courtyard. They gave us a renovated room with tea service. Only negative was the crowd in Forum area on Friday and Saturday nights—lots of guys looking tough, boombox with French rap blaring, Gothic kids, and money changing hands in secluded corners. All near the police substation.

We started our visit where Paris started on the islands, walking right in to Sainte Chapelle—gorgeous. By mid afternoon we walked back through the rain to hotel to check in, Rob to nap and me to explore the neighborhood to find the grocery, internet café, ATM, etc. My husband’s main goal is visiting Paris was to see the museums while I also wanted to see the neighborhoods, so we planned one art museum a day, whichever stayed open late, with the mornings to explore. We arrived on Wednesday, so our museum at about 5pm was the Louvre with a line of 10 people and crowds only when tour groups moved through a room. The main info desk had a sign up “Sorry, no English brochures” but we heard someone in line say they got a floorplan from an information office back by the pyramid, so I left Rob inside security and went in search of the information office. I had to be persistent to get a copy out of the fellow behind the desk who insisted I should be able to get one at the museum entrance, but he finally gave me one to make me go away. We could have spent en entire day here except my feet just can’t handle all that standing on hard floors. I had read about the food court in Rick Steves, so we went there around 8:30pm to get quiche and salad. We stopped into this food court 3 times during our stay just because it was so easy and offered a variety of choices.

Please, someone explain to me behavior I saw at every art museum we visited. People of all nationalities and ages were taking their cellphones or cameras and walking from canvas to canvas, snapping a photo, and moving on—never looking directly at the piece of art. It was like they were creating an inventory, not visiting the museums. With so many museums posting photos of their collections online, I just do not understand this.
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Old Jun 17th, 2006, 03:16 PM
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Next day we found the bakery we would frequent most-Pauls. It is a chain that gets some deliveries from a central bakery, but it was convenient and consistently good. We seemed to violate morning bakery protocol. Everyone was in a hurry—quickly greet, give your order for one or two pastries, pay, and head out the door, eating on the run or in the Metro. We tried to let people go ahead the first couple of days as we surveyed the selection and made our decision, but it just confused folks. Then it seemed impossible to order a total of four or more pastries (planning for later snack). When dealing with a foreign language in which I only know a few words and a foreign currency, I usually point and use my limited number knowledge, estimate my total, then provide slightly more money to receive change rather than trying to understand the precise number. So, the first couple of days I handed over my 5 or 10 Euro note, was handed my change and bags, went back to our room and discovered one less pastry than ordered. The change appeared correct, so I don’t think we were overcharged, just given fewer than requested. My husband called it a pastry tax—order 3 but receive 2, but I think they were trying to control what looked like an unhealthy desire for pastries by an overweight American. Another helpful phrase would have been, “that is all” or similar. I couldn’t find it in my phrase book, but began to recognize it when asked.

We visited Notre Dame in the chilly morning, walked through Ile St Louis (I sort of expected something more scenic), then down through the Latin Quarter and along Rue Mouffetard. We really liked this street and the market. If we had been later and hungry, it would have been ideal for a lunch break. We worked our way through the Sorbonne, past the Pantheon, back toward the river. I’d thought we’d head back to hotel for break, but Rob was in mission mode—what else was on the list to accomplish today, couldn’t we just head straight to the museum of the day? So, I suggested we find lunch and see the Luxembourg Palace/gardens. We found our sandwiches and settled into a chilly lunch with a number of others in the garden. Afterwards as we strolled through the park, past a boulle game, I convinced my husband that sticking to the evening museum visits was best to avoid crowds. So we headed toward what must be the only poorly marked Metro station in Paris to ride back to hotel. We trusted the location shown on the Eyewitness map, found a set of stairs headed down and gave them a try. We bought a carnet of 10 tickets this time—the machine was very easy to use for singles, carnet, and carte orange. Around 4pm we walked to d’Orsay where the line consisted of about 10 people, but the lobby was very busy. We knew which floors we wanted to concentrate on, so we dodged through the crowd to the coat check, then again into the museum, heading up the first staircase we saw and starting our exploration. It was much more crowded than the Louvre, maybe just because of size or concentration of popular exhibits. When studying the floorplan we discovered we had made a tactical error. We ended up on the far side where the express escalators up are located when we wanted to go down. We tried going down to another level to discover you can’t get there from here. Three other groups of people were doing the same rat in the maze routine. We looked at the plan more closely and found our way to another level and lots more to see, but with lots of extra stairs. When my feet were reaching their daily museum limit we thought of dinner. Let’s try the museum restaurant on the next level! More stairs up, of course, only to find the restaurant closed for renovations. What restaurant is open? A few floors up. Rob refused to climb more stairs except to get out, so we found our way to the exit and agreed to head back to the known food court enroute to hotel. Afterwards we cut through the Palais Royal, happened along some of the arcades, and worked our way to the hotel (after Rob questioned my sense of direction and we checked a signposted map, one of many located conveniently on many corners in Paris).

Friday we were headed to a less popular destination—the air and space museum in Bourget. Rob is a pilot, so it sounded like a nice change. We headed into the Metro/RER station, planning to use the Metro 4 to catch a bus all the way there, but once through the turnstile, it looked like we were being guided to an exit to reach 4 (and you know my experience before), so we took the RER B that also went to Bourget and would get the bus there. We followed the crowd out at the station, but no Bus 150 waiting outside in the queue. I showed the printout for transportation to Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace from the webpage to the station clerk and he said, “two lefts.” We headed left up the street, then left at the corner, and there was the bus stop, including #152. Our tickets canceled, we stood with the crowd and watched for our stop on the overhead display on the bus. Definitely a different crowd of people here than in central Paris. The route map was clearly displayed onboard with the stops. I asked my husband what to say about the museum in my report. “It’s no Smithsonian.” Probably best for school children (many of whom were visiting that day). I thought the historical sections on balloon and early airplane flight much better than the modern displays. Interesting to see the French perspective. My husband did enjoy walking through a Concorde. It was past lunchtime and there is a line of ethic restaurants across the road from the museum, but as we debated whether to eat at one bus 150 arrived so we decided to jump onboard and grab a sandwich near the station. Of course, then there were no sandwiches along the route. I found the refrigerated vending machine in the station and grabbed a snack to quell the growling. Then our tickets wouldn’t let us in. We stood in line discussing that we probably didn’t have the right tickets, which was confirmed by the fellow in front of us and the clerk behind the window—only Paris and we were beyond Paris (lucky we had gotten out). I wondered if the tickets were good for zones 1-2 or 1-3; it’s 1-2. It took a few minutes to make it clear we wanted to buy 2 one-way tickets into Paris and the fellow from line insisted on helping translate and showing us to the proper platform only to ask my husband for money for coffee in exchange. We went through the turnstiles, got on the train, and I successful got out of the station on the first try this time. Our Friday night museum was L’Orangerie. Arriving around 5pm we saw a line of maybe 50 people and growing, waiting to get in. We decided it was a good time to see the Tuileries and walk up the Champs-Elysées. Just when the aimlessly wandering crowd on the sidewalk became too much, we watched in amazement when a waiter dashing to the sidewalk café just missed a rollerblader who careened around a mob of Japanese teenagers spilling out of the adjoining restaurant. The split second choreography got us laughing all the way to the Arc d’Triomphe where we sat and were entertained by the traffic and the circulation police. We especially enjoyed the woman who was being forced onto Champs Elysees who stopped in the third lane of traffic from the curb to argue with the traffic cop. Someone told me the circle is a “no fault” zone for accident insurance purposes. Back to museum after 6 and we walked right in. As it is small, we had plenty of time to enjoy the collection before our nightly walk “home.”
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Old Jun 17th, 2006, 03:17 PM
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A week is a long time for us to spend in the city—we are outdoors folks and tire of people and traffic. I had thought we would head out to the Loire Valley or Normandy for 2 or 3 days to walk, bike, etc., but we hit on a holiday weekend and many of the hotels I contacted were full and we would have to pay more to get a room than we were paying in Paris. The recommended D-Day tour guides were all booked up by the time we were making plans. So, I planned a one-day trip in advance and would play the rest by ear. I purchased online tickets from SNCF for the Paris-St Pierre des Corps TGV train with plans to buy the local ticket to Chenonceaux and the return in France. At Montparnasse the machines would only take credit cards with chips (as we had been warned here) and the lines were long, so we boarded with plans to buy the ongoing ticket during our 30-minute layover at SPdC. Despite a delay on a siding we were able to dash into the station and purchase our onward tickets from an agent and take the short ride to the Chateau. It was very convenient to step off and walk a few hundred feet to the entrance. We were in heaven—out of the city amongst the trees on a beautiful day. We self-guided ourselves through the house, but the tight quarters and tour groups pushed Rob to his sightseeing limit, so we retreated to the gardens and paths through the woods. After our usual picnic, we walked into the tiny town and asked at the TI about the Saturday bus I had researched that could take us to Amboise. We had a fun conversation with the lady in the TI as we asked about the “bus,” “autobus,” etc. She got out her French-English dictionary to try to figure out why we asking about her “boss.” Bottom line, she said there was no bus, we should take the train to Tours. The bus stop sign outside the TI reflected the same schedule I had found on the web, but I thought maybe the holiday weekend made a difference. If we were going to take the train I thought we would probably just head back to Paris rather than stop to see more chateau or sights in Amboise or Blois as my husband had said one was enough for him. I showed her my printed train schedule from the Web for two routes to Paris and she insisted we should head back to SPdC, not the other route and that we could buy tickets from the machine at the train siding or the conductor. We found the ticket machine and it would take coins in addition to chip credit cards. However, we didn’t have enough coins for the SPdC tickets, much less Paris, so we bought a snack from the concession stand outside the Chateau and asked for coins in change. The machine turned out to be a good opportunity to use up many of the 5 cent coins we had acquired. Tickets to SPdC in hand, we waited as a half dozen people went through much the same routine as we did. We became the experts, directing French tourists with their bicycles to the concession stand to get more coins. So, doing the Chateau by train is possible and the time between the morning train arriving around 9:45am and the early afternoon train leaving around 1:30pm was sufficient. However, it was so lovely I wished we had arranged for an overnight in just such a small village with a bike ride or hike to enjoy the countryside. We bought local train rather than TGV tickets back to Paris, getting to see the towns and chateau from the train and experiencing yet another train station in Paris. Takeout pizza and salad from Pizza Hut (so much better than in the US) allowed us to lounge in our hotel room that evening and wash some clothes in the sink.

Sunday was one our “unplanned” days because of not spending the weekend in the country—what to do now? Reduced Sunday schedules made a day trip to Reims difficult. Versailles would be too crowded for my husband who was tiring of sightseeing. Paul’s wasn’t open, so we had to find a new bakery at which we ran into the same informal pastry restrictions. We found a self-service laundry to dry the clothes but were lost when the instructions on the machines did not match the design. An Australian couple came in and explained that we had to ignore the instructions on the machines and put our money in a central box on which we punched in the number of the machine we were using. They had been traveling around Europe for 6 weeks and had not found two laundries alike yet. We traded stories about Paris, traveling, and many other topics while the clothes dried. Deciding to stay in town for simplicity, our museum choices were Rodin or Marmottan. We chose Rodin because it partially outdoors and walkable. We cut through the St Germain area and bought what were the best sandwiches of the trip from a stand in the street market. We walked through the Rodin garden to the back and found a bench under some trees by the back fence. As we ate and looked at the brochure, we saw “no picnicking in the garden”—oops! We browsed the garden, then the house, but left when it became crowded. How do they keep people from breaking things? Outside, a line had formed and was growing, so we took our cue to leave. We wandered through the Invalides, but decided neither of us had to pay our respects to Napoleon. When reviewing a calendar of events before the trip, I saw that there was to be a brass band fanfare with a massing of the bands at the Champs de Mars that day. Not sure what to expect, we arrived just in time to climb up on the wall and sit watching bands from across France march around, come up to the statue when it was their turn and perform. Some were in uniform or costume, others just in street clothes. Some had flags, majorettes, and other performers. It was quite fun, but I wish they had planned it more for an audience with more seating and an easier view. Instead, it was focused on a small stand under the statue facing into the park. As we were getting sunburned, we decided to move into the park and find something cool to eat or drink. As I stopped occasionally to snap photos of bands, Medieval garb, etc. I fell well behind Rob and had another one of those lost/separated moments. There were crowds of people moving in all directions and I was trying to stand on my tiptoes and spot my 6-ft husband wearing a drab ballcap. After a frantic 5 minutes of slow movement in the general area I lost him, I found him again. At least after 19 years of marriage we tend to think the same in these situations—don’t go too far, circle, return to where we last saw each other. We found a great ice cream stand with a flirtatious clerk and settled in on a bench for some people watching. I think every Parisian was in a park that day. Not an inch of grass was uncovered except where fenced off. Parents were pushing strollers, children were chasing balls, picnics were in full swing. Do all Paris parks have carousels? We eventually made our way back to Les Halles, but the trip was growing long for us and we were starting to let small misunderstandings become arguments. Again, we are outdoors people, so more than 3 or 4 days in the city, including crowded parks, gets on our nerves. Why do locals and tourists alike walk 3 or 4 across on small sidewalks and not yield to oncoming pedestrians or allow others to pass? There were so many large dogs—how do they fit in the apartments? We decided to try Flunch for dinner—I remembered seeing the mixed reviews on this board, but we wanted to just point and choose at a reasonable price. The desserts were as good/better as the ones we bought in the bakeries and the ground beef steak, fried fish, and potatoes were great (ask for meat to be cooked more when asked—still barely medium after “more”). The chicken and some of the other vegetables were not as good. The huge ice cream sundaes seemed popular with the locals.

Monday—last full day in Paris. Again, decided against day trip to Reims or Fontainebleau. We were just touristed out. Eventually we headed toward Sacre Couer using Eyewitness walking tour. The church was nice, but we didn’t think the view of Paris was very inspiring. We worked our way through various neighborhoods, down to Galleries Lafayette, and along shopping streets to the hotel to pack and get dinner at Flunch again. That evening we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower and settled on a bench before 10pm. The sparkling lights on the hour caught Rob by surprise (proof he doesn’t always listen to me). We agreed it was a magical end to the trip.

With a half day before the train on Tuesday, I suggested we walk past the Pompidou and stroll in the Marais. Proving again he wasn’t listening, about 5 minutes after the museum Rob asked where we were going. So, I made Place des Voges our destination where we sat and watched the workers trimming the plane trees. We checked out and as veterans of the mass transit system, rode to Gare Nord, found our seats, and headed to Aachen. There we purchased tickets on to Dusseldorf. We knew how to use the machine, but did not have small enough bills, so a helpful Die Bahn employee ran past the line to the window to get us change, then showed us how to get cheaper tickets than we expected via the machine. In Dusseldorf we stayed at the Intercity Hotel, a 3* near the train station and in the morning Rob bought his S-Bahn ticket to the airport (and almost boarded the wrong train as they arrive/depart so close together in the a.m.) and I boarded my InterCity train (discount ticket purchased online from Die Bahn) to head to work.

All in all a great trip, if a couple of days too long for us. If we had cut it by two days or if we had arranged the country/small village 2-3 day break, it would have been as perfect a trip as we have experienced and we would not have tired and started disagreeing. Still, Rob no longer holds the stereotypical image of the French and wants to learn more of the language. We found we could follow our budget approach to travel even in Paris and enjoy crepes, strawberry tarts, and fresh bread. We’ve seen even more of the Impressionists’ work and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Not bad.
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Old Jun 18th, 2006, 06:39 AM
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I'm glad you posted. I enjoy reading others' trips to Paris. Thank you.

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Old Jun 18th, 2006, 07:12 AM
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Hi Kay. I enjoyed reading your trip report.
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Old Jun 18th, 2006, 07:21 AM
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Thanks for the post, Kay! I'm going in September and hearing what others do in Paris gets me more excited about going!
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Old Jun 18th, 2006, 07:24 AM
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Hi Kay.

Nice report and thanks for sharing.

My wife and I stayed at the Novotel Les Halles years ago as we enjoyed the location very much.
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Old Jun 18th, 2006, 07:12 PM
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Kay, thanks for posting your report, it was enjoyable and I appreciated the details. Not sure why you didn't get any help with the original question but I am very glad that you took the time to come back and tell us about your trip. Thanks for the effort you put into it and for sharing your experience with us!
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Old Jun 18th, 2006, 10:06 PM
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Nice trip report - thanks!

The pastry tax is strange; usually they are only too happy to sell you what you want. Using your fingers to indicate how many pastries you want is different: in France you need to use your thumb, if you don't things are confused.

If you want 2 of something: show your thumb and index finger; this still would not explain why you had less than you wanted!
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Old Jun 19th, 2006, 08:50 PM
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Great report - love the relationship details - can absolutely relate. My husband and I are going for an 8 day trip in Sept. I wanted to do 5 days in Paris and then another 2-3 either in the Loire, Normandy or Bugundary. Was almost going to just do the 8 days in Paris, but you reminded me so much of me and mine. Too many days in a city - even Paris may be too much for us.
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Old Mar 6th, 2009, 07:17 PM
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Thanks Kay, just found this report as I was searching for info on "late museum nights," which you cover beautifully.

We visited the Louvre on a Friday evening last time (also in 2006 like you), and plan to see the Orsay on a Thursday evening this year. Didn't know that the Orangerie was open late on Friday too, so thanks for that most useful detail.

Thanks again for your posting.
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