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dina4 Jul 8th, 2006 11:59 AM

Dina4's Family Adventure: FRANCE and ITALY trip report
 

We just returned from a fantastic 2-and-a-half week trip to France and Italy with our daughter and son, ages 13 and 16. It was so fun and so easy to plan the trip with all the help from all the great people on this travel forum. I really appreciate all the questions I got answered and tips I received, and so I�m attempting my first ever trip report with the hope that I may be of help to someone else.

First, the basics�

We flew British Air from L.A. to Paris, and then returned from Rome to L.A. (We had connecting flights in London.) After 5 nights in Paris, we rented a car and started our adventurous drive to Rome. We stayed overnight in Beaune, Nice, Florence, Montalcino, and Rome.

We really had an amazing trip and have never eaten so well in our lives.

I�ll start with PARIS. (and please forgive my spelling errors!)
We walked SO much and bought several carnets of 10 metro tickets.

DAY 1:

It was our first time in this city. It was everything I expected and more. It is truly a beautiful city.

We arrived at our hotel at 4. The cab ride was quick and only 36 euro for the 4 of us. We stayed at the WESTIN PARIS. It was very disappointing considering it�s supposed to be a �luxury� hotel. Reports on Tripadvisor are true: stained furniture, peeling paint, bad service�our room wasn�t ready until 6:15 pm! We stayed on Starwood points and so were fine with everything, but I would not spend the $$ for this hotel. Nevertheless, we made the best of it and our suite grew on us, so we ended up very happy there.

Our first afternoon, we took a walk through our neighborhood (1st), bought our museum passes at the tourist center, and saw the following:

JARDIN PALAIS ROYAL � very beautiful, charming park surrounded by beautiful buildings. Lots of moms and toddlers playing in the sand pit. It was my first sight of the gorgeous trees in Paris. They are pruned so beautifully and symmetrically�it really blew me away.

LOUVRE COURTYARD / TUILLERIES GARDEN -- we walked through to get back to our hotel, which was across the street from Tuilleries. Again, I was SO impressed with the gardens. I just loved being across the street, too. Every morning, I would come into the garden with the kids, get a crème and croissant, and sit on a bench and peacefully enjoy the view. My husband doesn�t eat breakfast, so he would join us after a while.

DINNER -- CHEZ DENISE � We had a great meal. My husband had the veal stew, with the most divine white beans I have ever put into my mouth. The escargot was also wonderful.

After dinner, we took the metro to the Trocadero, to get our first glimpse of the EIFFEL TOWER. Even though we knew that we would see it when we turned the corner out of the metro station, nothing can prepare one for the magnitude of this thing. It took my breath away. It was about 10pm, so the sun was setting and the sky was pink. We spent about 20 minutes, staring and walking through the park, across the bridge, and under the tower. Our photos are incredible! We never expected to be so impressed!

It was a great way to end our first afternoon in this gorgeous city. Tomorrow we would begin using our museum passes and starting our l-o-n-g walks.

(I hope this trip report is going okay. Not sure if there are too many or not enough details!)

Robdaddy Jul 8th, 2006 12:02 PM

Don't worry, you're doing fine! In fact for some of us trip report addicts, more is better.

Please continue.

starrsville Jul 8th, 2006 12:25 PM

Great report so far. Sorry the Westin wasn't great - but at least the price is right! :-)

Talk about the right price - 36 euro for 4 via cab from CDG! Indeed a deal.

Can't wait to read more!

CRAZY4TRAVEL Jul 8th, 2006 12:39 PM

Ah...Paris. Brings back wonderful memories. Please do tell us more. Don't worry about the spelling. I'm sure we'll get the jest of it.

LoveItaly Jul 8th, 2006 01:03 PM

Dina, forget about the spelling..I am the world's worse typist!

I love trip reports, especially when parents take their children with them. Children and trips are fantastic as far as I am concerned.

I loved your description of seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, sigh. A beautiful description.

And veal stew with white beans, two of my favorite foods.

Do continue with your trip report and please include anything and everything you wish to share. I know there are so many of us that will enjoy every word!

noe847 Jul 8th, 2006 01:04 PM

I'm enjoying your trip report. I was also surprised by the size of the Eiffel Tower and how much it impressed me.

Danna Jul 8th, 2006 02:34 PM

We stayed just around the corner from the Trocodero and the Tour took my breath away each time I saw it straight on. Great report, keep it up please.

miaspapa Jul 8th, 2006 05:11 PM

I wanted to go to Paris ,many discouraged us so we didn't go what were your experiences like? Thanks Dina4

dina4 Jul 8th, 2006 07:39 PM

Thanks for the encouragement, everyone.

Here's DAY 2... Ile de la Cite, Ile St. Louis, and the Marais

We really made great use of our 2-day museum passes. We didnt get them for the kids, as their admission was always free.

Briefly, heres what we saw

SAINTE CHAPELLE (Museum Pass)- We were all blown away by the stained glass chapel upstairs. Even though people say it's amazing, you have to stand in there to actually know what they're talking about.

CONCIERGERIE (Museum Pass)- Our daughter really wanted to see this, as she had been reading about Josephine Bonaparte and the French Revolution. It was beautiful. Not too shabby for a prison.

NOTRE DAME (Museum Pass) - After seeing the interior, we waited in line to climb the tower for about 40 minutes (the only line we ever waited in!). Seeing the gargoyles up close and the city from up high was quite a treat. Our daughter is a bit claustrophobic, but she made it up with a lot of support and encouragement.

NOTRE DAME CRYPT (Museum Pass) Didnt know much about this, but out son wanted to check it out, and we were very pleasantly surprised. There are incredible archaeological ruins under Notre Dame of ancient Rome. It was actually quite fascinating for all of us.

We then crossed over to Ile St. Louis and had lunch in a charming little place on Rue St. Louis. My daughter had a delicious omelette, and I had a yummy quiche. I will try to look up the name of this place, because it was so good. We were very impressed with the cute shops and quaint buildings. I bought some delicious apricot jam in one of the stores.

MARAIS -- Yes, were still walking.

PLACE DE VOSGES another gorgeous garden with beautiful trees and fountains.

We shopped along the cute boutiques and ended up at the CENTRE POMPIDOU, which we all decided was a bit of an eyesore from the street.

We did metro from there back to our hotel. My daughter and I took turns giving eachother foot massages, and then we all passed out with a long nap.

At about 6pm, we headed to the LOUVRE (Museum Pass) and the hit the big 3: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory. We also looked at the Greek antiquities. The museum was not crowded and we really enjoyed it. It was one of the highlights for our son. We are all disappointed we couldnt stay longer because we were just too tired.

We recovered outdoors with a glass of wine at Café Marly. Ahh.

Soon we were off to the ARCH DE TRIOMPHE (Museum Pass). We took the lift instead of climbing and enjoyed the gorgeous views as the sun was low in the sky.

Then 2 things began: the rain and the fete d musical (the summer soltice music festival).
We headed to the left bank, which was swarming with people. Words cant quite describe how crowded the metro was. Imagine every inch of your body pressed hard against the people next to you.
There was a lot of excitement on the streets as well!

DINNER ALLARD Absolutely delicious. The green beans in mayonnaise with raw duck were amazing, and my daughter and I shared their signature dish: duck with olives. It was fantastic! The boys each had a fish entrée that they loved. I highly recommend this place!

Again we hit the pillow happily with a full stomach.
Tomorrow: We finish up using our museum passes, and , yes, more WALKING!


dina4 Jul 9th, 2006 05:43 AM

I want to add that we were really surprised about how few American tourists we saw in Paris. Walking down the streets in Nice and Florence, we heard a lot of American English being spoken, but hardly at all in Paris.

Another surprise is that I expected to see all the French walking around like fashion gurus. Truly, it was not any different than walking around L.A. There were trendy people, sloppy people, and everything in between.

We all made an effort to learn and use French phrases and to greet people as we entered stores, etc. We found the French we encountered very friendly and willing to help. In fact, my daughter and I were thrilled to actually be stopped 4 times on the street by French people, who started rambling questions to us in French about, I think, how to get somewhere.

Okay, on to DAY 3 in Paris:

(Second/final day of our museum passes, which in the end saved us lots of euros AND let us skip lines.)

We walked through the PLACE DE CONCORDE and down the CHAMPS DELYSSES and headed to RUE CLER, where we bought picnic provisions. I expected to see hordes of tourists carrying Rick Steves books, but ironically we were the ones doing so! (The book was actually discreetly tucked away in my bag.) We bought sandwiches, cheese, cherries and baguettes, and then ate our lunch on the Champs de Mars, enjoying the incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. I will never forget how good that goat cheese tasted spread on my baguette. This was a memorable moment, and one of the highlights for our daughter.

We popped into INVALIDES (Museum Pass) to see Napoleons tomb (no one was highly impressed, especially after we couldnt get a straight answer to where the toilette was and our bladders were bursting), and then headed to

RODINS GARDEN (Museum Pass), which was one of my favorite places in all of Paris! We stayed for a long time and relaxed, sitting on the benches, enjoying the sculptures and gardens. It was truly spectacular. I just LOVED it! Don't miss this place!

We then strolled and shopped in the St. Germaine area. Lots of great boutiques! And then metroed home for our daily afternoon nap.

The kids were still pooped, so my husband and I headed for what was going to possibly be my most favorite experience in Paris

LORANGERIE (Museum Pass)-- oh my god! Monets water lilies are breathtaking! The place was empty, too, which was a pleasant surprise. We could have sat for hours staring. Truly beautiful!!!

LORSAY (Museum Pass) My husband and I had a cheese plate and some wine in the café with the big clock, and then headed for the impressionist galleries. We loved this museum. The architecture of the museum seems to be a work of art in itself.

We headed back to the hotel to pick up the kids and then took the metro to the Latin Quarter. We loved this area. The streets are narrow and the buildings are charming. We had a cheap dinner of gyros, and ate them overlooking the Siene lots of fun!

We ended our evening with a 10pm SIENE RIVER CRUISE. I was the only one who really enjoyed this, as the rest of the family claimed it was too touristy. I had even picked the Vedettes du Pont Neuf because they were supposedly more intimate and had live running commentary in English and French. Two things were sort of frustrating, the lady doing the English commentary had such a strong accent that we could barely understand what she was saying! The other disappointing thing was that even though it was 10 pm (June 22nd) and the sun had set, none of the buildings or bridges were lit up until the last 5 minutes of our one hour cruise. I guess they dont light the city until its totally dark! Nevertheless, I enjoyed sightseeing while actually SITTING for a change.

WARNING ABOUT THE METRO:
My husband and son accidentally lost or threw away their metro tickets, and while we were changing trains on the way home back to the hotel, we got stopped by officials and charged with two 25 euro fines! So hold onto those tickets!!!! (Its actually sort of tricky to keep track of which ones are used and which ones are new.)

Still, it had been another fabulous day in Paris. What a city!



RosieinOz Jul 9th, 2006 05:57 AM

bookmarking :)

annhig Jul 9th, 2006 05:59 AM

loving the report; looking forward to the Rome bit as we were there at Easter and want to compare notes!

dina4 Jul 9th, 2006 07:46 AM

Thanks, Ann. We loved Rome. But this is taking a lot longer to write than I thought! I'll keep going!

DAY 4:

We started our day with a metro ride to MONTEMARTE. We took the funicular up the hill, enjoyed the view of the city from the steps of Sacre Coure, and headed over to the Place de Tetre. My daughter and I had fun seeing the artists and their work. There was lots of art worth buying, but we were unfortunately being hurried along by the boys. Perhaps we should have stayed longer to appreciate the area, but in the end, none of us really loved the area.

We took the metro to LUXEMBOURG GARDENS, which I was really looking forward to. I thought perhaps it might be my favorite, and even though it was indeed beautiful, I had become very attached to the Tuilleries.

Lunch was at the famous LES DEUX MAGOTS. We loved sitting outdoors and people watching, and we were especially surprised by how gerat the food was. We were worried it was kind of a touristy place, and that the ambience would be better than the food. The Croque Monsieurs and Croque Provencals were absolutely delicious! We loved it.

More shopping after lunch, and our daughter bought a beautiful red dress at Zara and was thrilled.

After some World Cup soccer in our hotel room and a nap, my husband took the kids to dinner at ATELIER MAITRE ALBERT. They loved it. I was sorry to miss it, but wasnt feeling well and stayed in bed.

DAY 5: Versailles

We were on the 9:15 train to Versailles and there by 10! We waited until Saturday to visit so we could see the fountain spectacles, and we bought the Versailles pass at the train station that includes your train fare. The kids just needed a train fare.

The kids were eager to go, since they had learned about the French Revolution, but unfortunately, our visit was a bit of a disappointment.

Although we didnt have to wait in line to enter, once we got in, we were herded like cattle through the rooms and through the hall of mirrors. Truly, it was wall-to-wall people and you had to worry about losing eachother. We could barely enjoy it since it was such a claustrophobic and frustrating experience.

The gardens were a nice relief. Dont miss the Orangerie, which is off to the left as you enter the gardens. It is beautiful. We rented bikes and rode to the Trianons and to Le Hameau. Everyone enjoyed that.

But then it started raining, so we headed back to the train station, and were sitting in CAFE BONAPARTE, eating delicious Croque Monsieurs again by 1pm. This place was also great, and recommended by this forum.

That afternoon we picked up our rental car, as we were heading out of Paris early in the morning to visit Giverny and head to Burgundy.

Our last dinner in Paris was at LENTRECOTE , off of the Champs Elysee. The steak and frites were very good, but nothing really special. We then stopped in LE SOUFFLE, which was right by our hotel, and each ordered our own soufflé! The kids and I loved our chocolate souffles, but my husbands Grand Marnier soufflé was also divine. We actually regretted not having dinner here, as everyones meals around us looked excellent! We will definitely plan to next time.

Dayle Jul 9th, 2006 08:03 AM

Dina,

Really enjoying your report, please do keep going! You brought back wonderful memories of my favorite and most impressive sights in Paris, L'Orangerie, the D'Orsay, Sainte Chappell, and the Rodin Museum! I hope you did go inside?

TuscanTweety Jul 9th, 2006 08:08 AM

Can't wait for more :) I'm searching the forums for "trip report Florence" and waiting with bated breath.

dina4 Jul 9th, 2006 08:32 AM

Dayle,
Sad to say , we did not tour the inside of the Rodin. I really had to be careful how many musuems I dragged the family to in order to keep everyone in good spirits. I was disappointed, but then I was so overwhelmed by the gardens, it made up for it. Next time we'll do both.

Tuscan Tweety,
Will get to Florence soon. We LOVE Florence, and it was our second trip, and I will have 2 GREAT restaurant recommendations for you!

Promise to get back to writing in a few hours...
Thanks again for the compliments.

julia_t Jul 9th, 2006 08:43 AM

Really enjoying this so far - brings back memories of last summer in Paris with my young teens!

Looking forward to reading about the Rome part of your trip - did you do the bicycle tour in the end?

bardo1 Jul 9th, 2006 08:58 AM

This is very enjoyable and informative - everyhting a trip report should be. Can't wait for more...

CRAZY4TRAVEL Jul 9th, 2006 10:12 AM

Sounds like you all had a wonderful time. Not easy to do when you have several people to please. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

dina4 Jul 9th, 2006 11:50 AM

Julia,
We did not do the bike tour. By the time we got around to thinking about it, we realized we had already seen most of the "destionations"on the route, and decided to save some euros. In the end, I think it would have been fun for the kids and I sort of regret not doing it.


DAY 6: Giverny to Beaune

We woke up Sunday morning in Paris to pouring rain. I was devastated. I had been looking forward to visiting Giverny for 15 years, and I was broken hearted to think it would be in the pouring rain. Despite th major detour to our Burgundy destination, everyone was a very good sport since they knew how badly I wanted to visit Monets garden. So on we pressed, hoping the rain would let up, but it continued to pour!

By the way, when we drove out of Paris, we went down the Champs Elysee and stopped at the lovely Laduree Bakery for croissants (the best of our trip!) and maccaroons (which accidentally got thrown away!!!). My husband was so excited to drive around the Arch de Triomphe in a big traffic jam, but on a Sunday morning at 8am, it was practically empty and thus uneventful.

On to Giverny...
I am SO thankful for the fodorite who told me about the small parking lot directly across the street from Monets house. (Im so sorry I cant remember who you are!) We skipped the tourist parking lot and found this one practically empty! We literally crossed the street and entered! We had 2 umbrellas to share and we were ready!

Its hard to believe that with all my anticipation AND the pouring rain, the gardens actually exceeded my expectations. They were absolutely stunning! Even my photographs were breathtaking! We moved sort of slowly due to all the tourists donning umbrellas, but I wouldnt have wanted to move any faster. The kids and my husband were also very pleased, so when we saw the long line to enter the house, I didnt push it and we left. I know I will go back.

We then drove the 4 hours to Beaune, and it rained for quite a while. We were pleased to find Autogrills in France, as we had eaten at them in Italy and were surprised at the great fast food!

Arrival in Beaune:
We stayed at the HOTEL GRILLON (1 night). I found this hotel on this forum, and it was really a delight. Very basic, clean rooms in a charming country setting and very friendly staff. The only reason we wouldnt stay here again is probably because we realized we might prefer staying within the town of Beaune if we came back.

The sun had come out and we actually sat by the pool for about 30 minutes before the rain arrived. The pool are is small, and the water is actually freezing.

The kids went in to watch World Cup soccer, and my husband and I headed out to explore. We drove to the village of POMMARD, which was darling. The first bottle of wine that the two of us had shared over 20 years ago came from Pommard. We found a small shop and bought a bought a bottle. It was a really nice excursion for us. We loved it.

We then went into the town of Beaune. Very cutethe medieval walls and even a moat still exist. I couldn't wait for the kids to see it. We walked around and went into the March au Vins. I thought the candle lit caves were really cool, as ambience was a priority for me, but my husband the wine was tasting was pretty mediocre.

By the way, parking outside the walls and walking in was very easy. It was very late, Sunday afternoon.

Picked up the kids and went back into Beaune for dinner at IL GOURMANDIN, recommended on this forum. It was excellent.

The next day we had a long drive ahead of us. I had StuDudley's Provence driving tour (Thanks, Stu!) and was determined to get off the autoroute and see some gorgeous Provencal countryside on our way to Nice.


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