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Trip Report Impression: France - The Paris Portion

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After several weeks, we’ve recovered sufficiently from our month in France (and more or less caught up with work and the overgrown yard) to start a little trip report. Okay, it’s a big trip report. In fact, I plan to divide it into three sections: Paris, Provence and Lot/Dordogne/Toulouse.

I would first like to thank the French-oriented Fodorites who helped me so much during the 18 months of joyful planning that went into our little adventure: StuDudley, StCirq, Carlux, cigalechante kerouac, FrenchMystiqueTours, ira, Michel_Paris, Michael, Stu Tower, tedgale, Christina and all the other fellow travelers who wrote about their own trips.

I will endeavor to post the per diem reports on a daily or every-other-day basis. After the first day, the remainder will all include links to our photos.

If and when you read my musings, please keep in mind that my reasons for creating the journal are threefold. 1) I am telling my friends and family about the trip on a separate blogsite where they can see the photos in one place; 2) I am posting on Fodors to help travelers seeking information or entertain those who simply want to reminisce; and 3) I am recording details of our experience for personal reasons to help us remember down the road. (It’s only been a few weeks and my husband reads the journal and says, “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.”) Since I wasn’t about to write three separate trip reports, covering these bases means that I am providing background and details that will likely seem superfluous to those who are familiar with these places. I would also invite the experts to correct any mistakes they may see as we go along.

Okay, caveats complete. Anyone interested may now follow our family trip from June 6th through July 4, 2011. Phil, Shari and our youngest kid, 13-year-old Joe (and let me tell you, it was nice to travel with only one kid for a change).

* * *

Monday 6/6/11

It was of course a long haul at just under 11 hours, but pleasantly uneventful save for the fact that it was the maiden voyage of our Air France plane. The ginormous Airbus A380 was "christened" leaving the gate in San Francisco by the SF Fire Department. Trucks on either side of the taxi tarmac shot streaming arcs of water over the plane as we passed under like a monstrous football player breaking through a banner to enter the field.

The complimentary champagne and wine gave us another reason to appreciate the French d' avance.

* * *

Tuesday 6/7/11

Unless I'm staying in the same apartment or on the same street, I am most definitely taking a cab from the airport instead of trying to save a few bucks after a long, brain-anesthetizing flight.

When we finally found the train station after picking up our bags, we had to stand in line to get tickets because, as we all know, Americans don't have the chip credit cards the rest of the modern world now uses. Without the exact change in Euros, the multitude of shiny green and blue electronic ticket kiosks scattered around the station just stood their tauntingly and did us zero good.

The attendant at the ticket booth had a long-suffering air about him and all but rolled his eyes when I starting speaking to him in tentative French. Having calculated earlier how many metro tickets we would likely need for the week, we bought four carnets of T+ tickets at the same time we got the three RER tickets to get us into Paris. I had expected the carnets to come in perforated packs of 10, but they were all little individual strips. I hurried to gather up the 43 tiny tickets and juggled with my bags to follow Phil and Joe out to the main area, but then we couldn't find one of the three train tickets when we stopped to put our packs back on. Assuming that I must have dropped it, I got back in line to buy another one, ticked off that I was wasting more time and embarrassed when I ended up with the same snide ticket agent waiting on me again. (We later found the damn' thing mixed in with the stack of metro tickets, though we had thumbed through them multiple times.)

The train ride was quick and easy. The public transportation in Europe is always impressive and France is no exception. However, Phil was dismayed as he looked out the window and saw the abundance of graffiti decorating the buildings along the tracks. I reminded him that London and other great cities have the same problem; but in his fond memory from the Summer of '69, Paris had been pristine.

We were careful to follow the correct exit to the Left Bank side of the St-Michel/Notre Dame station. We were pleased to see how well-marked all the directions seemed to be - - but that was the end of my confidence that day.

We emerged from the RER station to a rainstorm and laughed in surprise. My humor was tamped down rather quickly, though, when I couldn't immediately find the Fontaine St Michel I was expecting to use as my "signpost" to turn into Rue St-Andre-des-Arts. It's always a bit disorienting to pop up from an underground station in an unfamiliar area, but the vision-obscuring sheets of water definitely added an extra challenge. My hands were too full to fish out my umbrella, much less hold it over my head; and I had to put my printed directions away as they were getting soaked.

My first instinct to turn right and head southwest ultimately proved correct (it was less than a block away), but I got flustered in the rain and couldn't find a sheltered spot on the quay to examine my map & notes. Feeling guilty about Phil and Joe staring at me expectantly with bags on their backs and rivulets streaming down their faces, I foolishly, inexplicably turned around and went the other direction

Rapidly snaking through the wet streets and alleys, I felt rushed by the relentless downpour, pressured by the angry vibes emanating from the big boys stumping along behind me and disoriented by how different the neighborhood was in reality compared to the way it looked on a map. I was trapped in a maze rather than following a pattern on paper. When we turned into the Rue Galande, I looked up and saw the old houses looming over me with their dark Mansard roofs blending into the stormy sky and I pushed down a wave of claustrophobia. As I picked my way over the wet cobblestones, it occurred to me that the narrow medieval rues walled in by the towering facades felt more like paths through deep woods than Parisian streets.

I knew something was off when I looked to my right and saw the damaged tower of St Julien le Pauvre and thought, "Gee, that looks familiar. I've seen it on Google Street View." Then we came smack in front of the Gothic hulk of St. Severin and I froze in my tracks. Crap - that means we're blocks away! The immense windows and blackened, vine-covered walls laced with gargoyles excited me, though, and I started to say, "You, know, this was first built in the 13th century . . .", until the stony looks on my companions' faces cut me off. No one was in the mood for sightseeing and history lessons. It was not until we reached Boulevard St. Michel, turned south and saw the Cluny that my brain began to properly register a sense of direction. At that point, I knew exactly where I had gone wrong, but Phil was clearly losing confidence in my navigation skills.

By the time we half-drowned rats at last found our cheese, we were completely drained of any initial excitement. I could tell that Phil didn't have much faith that I was going to be able to pull the whole thing off for a month and I was a bit nervous about that myself.

After we climbed the four flights of winding stairs to the cozy little apartment, Joe promptly threw down his backpack, fell on the bed and went to sleep. We thus decided to abandon the rest of the afternoon plans and stay in to dry off.

Besides being in a great location on the Left Bank, the apartment itself is really quite nice. It is in a lovely Louis XIV building of carved stone built by a wealthy baron in 1740 and spacious enough for up to four people. There is only one bed, but two sofa beds are available in the living room. The furnishings are not luxurious, but the unit is well-appointed in general and definitely more nicely decorated than many of the apartments we viewed online during our research that were within our price range. The kitchen was stocked with everything one would need to cook a full course meal, though I inevitably did not do so. A big plus was free Wi-Fi. Having the washer/dryer unit was also crucial, but it did take me awhile to figure it out as even the instruction manual I was able to unearth was in French, of course. (As it turns out, French dryers never quite dry the clothes and one is forced to hang them about for a few hours before they can be folded and put away.) Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to stay there again. If I could afford it, I would probably rather stay in the more upscale Paris Perfect apartments, but the terrific location of this little place at No. 52 on our favored 13th century Rue St Andre des Arts might still win out over an increase in luxury. It was so nice to see the big blue-green door to the courtyard when we returned home every afternoon. Moreover, the owners, who live in Dublin, were very friendly, communicative and organized during the entire rental process. The only drawback is the long climb up the stairs, but it did prepare us for the hill towns we visited later in the trip. (It is on the European 3rd floor, but to Americans, that means four flights up. The fact that it is listed as a historical building means that they are not allowed renovations to provide an elevator.) Here's a link to the apartment, which has better pictures than we were able to take.

Phil shortly left in search of provisions, but he got lost again in the unfamiliar streets and his temper soon followed. The crepe place I told him to look for was only a couple of blocks away near the Odeon, but he ended up following Bld. St. Germain all the way west to Rue de Bac before he realized something was wrong and called me to talk him back. Using the map I pulled up on the netbook, I felt like an air traffic controller directing a panicked passenger to land after the pilot had collapsed. It was 24 minutes and $9.36 of Call-in-Europe costs before I heard him climbing the stairs. Fortunately, he had found a boulangerie somewhere along the way and so we settled for stale croissants before crashing to bed. It was not the best of beginnings.

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    Good start. Reminds me of my experience trying to navigate roundabouts driving a standard shift vehicle (a van, no less) for the first time in years while trying to get from the Toulouse airport to the Dordogne. A cloudy, rainy, day (we arrived a few days after you, on June 10) didn't help me, either, as I didn't have the sun for some little bit of orientation.

    Look forward to reading the rest.

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    Thanks for the replies, all. I actually did have a little compass buried at the bottom of my purse, but I forgot about it entirely until we were out of Paris and I didn't need it anymore. Kerouac, you are so right about no straight streets and no clear view.

    I'll post Day 2 in the morning.

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    You are visiting lots of my favourite places!

    I'm sure your days improved in beautiful Paris. But you did have a "doosy" first day.

    Enjoying your trip report. Looking forward to more.

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    Enjoying it so far., though how you could miss rue St Andre des Arts if you came up the stairs at St Michel to the place St Michel. It is right in front of you though a bit to the left!

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    Isn't it amazing how the men always rely on us to get them where they are going. My DH is always clueless too, I could lose him very easily. I always thought it would be nice if he too took some interest in where we were staying and locations.

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    I'm enjoying your writing style and details and looking forward to the rest of your report. I found it funny about the compass because we take one on our travels but always forget to use it.

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    Amen, Nikki!! I know perfectly well where rue St Andre des Arts is located but arriving jet-lagged and in a driving rain, I'm certain I'd be disoriented and lost!

    Enjoying your report, sap.

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    Wednesday 6/8/11

    Unlike the afternoon of our arrival, this first full day was good. Very good. We didn't get lost. We filled our plates -- literally and figuratively. It was in fact one of our favorite days in Paris.

    We were all up by 4:30 a.m., bubbling with the flipside energy of jet-lagged circadian confusion - and we were more than a little hungry. Last night's meagre rations led to a little extra tug of urgency to find a blood sugar boost in any form. Phil ventured out sometime after 7:30 with Joe tagging along to snap pictures. They found Paul's, they passed the verger and another boulangerie down the rue, around a corner or two and back, but no. All shut tight, every one of them. Even Starbucks was closed. Who ever heard of a bakery not being open by 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning? The streets were virtually deserted, except for the morning power-washers in their green uniforms, sweeping the sidewalks as water flushed through the gutters.

    As it turns out, Paul's doesn't even open until 10 a.m. We soon discovered that the French, especially Parisians, tend to stay up late every day of the week. They're still hitting the night scene when we're hitting the hay. Correspondingly, they roll out of bed a little more slowly than other sentient beings. As the days progressed, we learned to value those early hours of serenity and take advantage of the opportunity to beat the crowds and chaos.

    Stepping out into the street again at 9:00 a.m., we found that the Parisian world was ever so gradually coming to life. Shopkeepers were putting out their signs; tourists and businessmen exchanged bonjours (though not usually with each other); and the traffic gendarme at Place St. Michel was blowing madly on his whistle with little effect. The only thing on our minds was breakfast, though, and that remained surprisingly elusive. At last we found a cafe open on the quay across from Notre Dame. We ordered trois Parisian breakfasts (coffee, toasted baguettes and croissants) and noticed that the couple at another table were drinking large beers. Hard to say whether they were starting or ending their day.

    Across the street from us on the island sat Notre Dame and she certainly is a grand old dame. Like Paris herself, she is inspiring and perhaps grows more beautiful with age. Draped in a lacy stone gown beribboned with buttresses, she wears the Kings of Judea like a carved ivory necklace. Really, I think she is ridiculously overdressed, but she somehow pulls it off with persistent pride. Better still, we found the immense skirt of her courtyard was nearly empty, so we could be the first of her daily admirers. If you don't count the pigeons.

    Quite often our pre-impression of a place is greater than the reality. I had been unexpectedly disappointed in London's St. Paul; but Notre Dame held her ground. We spent a quiet, meditative hour wandering inside, circling the facade and paying our respects in general. We decided against the tower climb, took several pictures at Square Jean XXIII -- mostly of strangers on benches as that is one of Phil's endearing quirks -- and left just as the tour buses were parking. Yes, it was going to be a good day.

    Maybe 10 a.m. is still too early to expect much activity, but the Marche aux Fleurs was a misser. I'm not sure what I had in mind - open stalls brimming with a kaleidoscope of colors, exotic scents and old ladies shopping for their drawing room bouquet -- something closer to a real outdoor market at least. Instead, it merely consisted of a couple of long permanent green stalls selling potted plants. Frankly, the nursery at my local Home Depot is more attractive.

    We then bought two six-day museum passes from the tourist office in front of the Hotel Dieu and waited for the Crypte Archeologique to open. Since Joe was under 18 and thus free at nearly every site, we only needed the two adult passes. Of course, he made up for that savings by ordering soda at every opportunity the next four weeks, which so oddly costs more than wine.

    The archaeological excavations below Notre Dame's parvis were mildly interesting. I had expected to like that museum more. It's one of those subjects that is compelling to me in theory, but leaves me rather cold, even bored on site. As much as Roman history fascinates me, I can't seem to get appropriately excited about seeing the ruined foundations of villas when they have been reduced to nothing more than stone outlines and crumbling stacks of tiles like some sort of ancient Roxaboxen. We didn't dislike it. The reconstructed models and images were helpful, but overall it required more imagination than we possessed that first jet-lagged day. Besides, the grand dame had already stolen the show.

    Passing by Notre Dame again on the way to Isle St. Louis, we were briefly swallowed by the rapidly expanding crowd and amazed to see that the line for the tower trek now stretched down the block.

    Sadly, the Deportation Memorial was closed. I had been quite looking forward to it. Naturally, no reason was given - just a terse note: "Ferme."

    We continued over the bridge to the lovely little Isle St. Louis and down its short main drag lined with charming, but overpriced shops and gourmet food stores. Phil has mentioned many times since how much he liked the Isle St. Louis, but he must be remembering its genteel ambiance in general as we made few stops. I had thought we might visit the fromageries, the epiceries, a verger or two, but lunch was still a long way off and I couldn't get the boys to bite. Really, it was too cold for the picnic on the quay I had planned anyway. We did pop into Nicolas for a couple of bottles of Rhone, but it was basically all window-shopping until we reached the famous Berthillon ice cream shop. Now this was something to interest Joe no matter what the temp or time of day! We were naturally the only patrons on a cloudy morning at 11 a.m. and that was perfect. The coffee and salted butter caramel flavors (parfums) were incredible, especially accompanied by an express. Two scoops each piled in a footed bowl with a toasted crepe on top. That was all it took to forget that being lost in the rain yesterday had ever happened.

    Unfortunately, Berthillon's didn't take credit and Phil had to access the stash of euros in his money belt. As the waiter went back in the kitchen I looked over in horror to see that Phil was unbuttoning the top of his jeans and I gasped, "You're supposed to do that in the restroom!" He protested, "Do you see a bathroom anywhere?" I could see that he had a point and we were the only ones in the cafe, but did I mention that we were in a window seat? Joe almost fell over laughing. I wanted to slide under the table with embarrassment. I tried to shield the activity with my napkin as I looked nervously over my shoulder at the window. Thankfully, the classy waiter had the tact to avert his eyes coming back to the table while Phil finished securing his Levis again. The next day and for the rest of the trip, Phil wisely wore a silk neck pouch under his shirt instead.

    On the way back to the apartment for a midday break, we visited the oldest church in Paris, St. Julien de Pauvre, and the aforementioned Gothic beast of St Severin. This time, I knew precisely where we were and where to go. For some mysterious reason, Joey absolutely loved St. Severin and thanked me for taking him there. It was certainly a very nice church, but he seemed almost spiritual about it. (Maybe he was still coming off an ice cream high). He told me later that day that he liked it more than Notre Dame and Ste. Chapelle. In fact, he announced at the end of the trip that he thought it was the best church we had visited in France.

    We then found the Monoprix on Boul St Mich to stock up on snacks and supplies. It's always such fun to visit grocery stores in foreign places. Even familiar, everyday things seem different. Different yet the same, just like the people.

    Back at the apartment, we rested our feet and sipped coffee while we weighed our afternoon options. There was a smorgasbord of possibilities on the table, but we both agreed that the itinerary I had formulated back home at my desk now seemed too ambitious for his back and my feet. (This is a recurring theme when we take trips, but I would rather plan too much than too little.) In the end, Phil's determination to keep the rest of the day short and sweet won the round. Roasted chicken was a priority. I didn't argue with that, but I did insist on Ste. Chappelle.

    I was eager to see "the stained glass church" and knew it was best to wait for the afternoon light. While it proved to be a cloudy day instead, I personally liked Ste. Chappelle very, very much.

    Since Ste Chappelle shares a courtyard with the Palais de Justice, there is a security line to enter. It stretched down the block a bit, but moved quickly. I earned an extra wave of the wand when I forgot to remove a chunky bracelet.

    Joe was ready to crash again and sleepily gave the stained glass a "meh" in comparison to his beloved St. Severin. Phil said that he thought it was overwhelming -- almost too much detail to digest. In reality, I think it was the crowds that detracted from the experience. On my next trip to Paris, I'll forgot about the afternoon sun and see how the place looks in peace and quiet.

    Our final mission of the day was to hunt down a roast chicken vendor. By now, we were really starting to acclimate to the Rive Gauche and know our way around. The pedestrianized Rue St Andre des Arts and surrounding avenues are filled end to end with cafes, bars, theaters and food stalls. By day, the tourist throngs gawk and the souvenir shops thrive, but the neighborhood changes character in the afternoons when the Parisians get off work and the restaurants open. Rue du Buci became a favorite go-to in the evenings and it was J.L.F. Traiteur where we found the chicken. The menu was rounded out by pastries from Eric Kayser around the corner on rue de l'Ancienne Comedie. While the chicken was quite good, it was no better than I make at home. On the other hand, the potatoes roasted in the drippings lived up to their delicious reputation. God knows what their fat content must have been, but who cares when you're on vacation? With our feet up and a bottle of rouge, we could just sit back and listen to Paris come alive on the street below.

    NB #1: While we prefer to view the pictures in the full-screen slideshow format, we noticed that it tends to cut off edges of the photos and scrunch the captions.

    NB #2: Please be aware that the photos from day one are pretty bad. This is not Phil's fault. We made a mistake that first day by uploading the photos to Shutterfly and then deleting them from both the camera and the jump drive. When we got home and downloaded them back to our computer for sorting/editing, the quality had severely degraded in the transfer. Fortunately, all the photos thereafter were stored on our jump drive-- so better pics tomorrow.

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    Great report, but it makes me want to beg you: don't stay in the center of the city next time! We Parisians in the outer arrondissements are up at 6am and the cafés and boulangeries are open (well, not all of them, but it is easy to find one open since there is a boulangerie every 50 meters).

    I am also wondering what you spent for a rotisserie chicken because in my neighborhood in the 18th, they cost 5€ each or 2 for 9€. I am generally horrified by the prices I see in central tourist Paris.

    Central Parisians are disgusting sluggards and layabouts. Tourists should try not to mistake them for real Parisians.

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    Now I get it Kerouac! Who knew such distinctions in Parisians even applies to Central vs. Outer Parisians, but it does explain why Paris does seem to be such a "late" city.

    Love the report and I love that salted butter caramel ice cream at Bertillon...pure paradise!

    I feel your pain...we got lost a few times while holding a map...sometimes I don't think a compass would help! Great city to be lost in when it isn't raining.

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    Hah, Kerouac. I promise that we will explore more outside the center next time 'round and try to meet a few "real Parisians." About the roast chicken, Phil recalls that we spent at least 12€ -- but he was always torturing himself by mentally calculating the exchange rate as we went along, so he might be remembering the figure in dollars.

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    Enjoying vicariously your Paris visit! It whets my appetite until I return there in the fall. Last fall, Paul was open early, as our flight arrived in Paris at 6:00 am and we couldn't check in to our apartment until around 11:00 am. We camped in Paul for hours and drank gallons of coffee and ate too many croissants passing the time. Oh wait -- there is no such thing as too many croissants.

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    Loving your report, Sap. Burst into laughter a few times in Day One. The "rolling his eyes" ticket clerk--oh so familiar!!!(All that was missing was a phony smling singing"Bonne journee!!" from him after looking down his nose to you.)The recognition of aplace...from Google Maps!! LOL!!

    Glad your second day went better. Some sleep , and no rain, can make all the difference!!

    TWK, i had the same experience on the first roundabout leaving the Toulouse airport--round and round and round--on the way to the Dordogne. It was like that scene with Chevy Chase in "Euroepan Vacation" ...but it wasnt so funny when i was the driver!!! Oh how we (me and daughter) grew to dread the female GPS navigator directing us "au rond point"!!

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    Thursday, 6/9/11

    I woke up a' minuit with the sound of a French reveler singing in the cafe downstairs while his friends clapped encouragingly. There had been a lot of laughter and chatter down on the Rue St. Andre des Arts that Wednesday night. In the middle of the night. In the middle of the week. It was always that way, but I didn't mind. Heels clicked in rhythmic patterns up and down the cobblestones for hours. The strollers weaved in and out among each other like colorful ribbons floating on the darkened street, alone with their head down, or leaning into each other, kissing. Paris doesn't sleep - - at least not until morning when the people disappear like mice into the woodwork and the green men come to wash away their footprints.

    When I, too, couldn't sleep that week, I would wander in the dark from room to room, peeking out the windows from different corners of the apartment onto each little night scene: The theatre crowd in a steady, babbling flow under the living room window; the brunette reading her book on a pile of red cushions in the house opposite our bath, Across from the kitchen, a girl in a white chemise leaned out, elbows on the sill, as she looked down into our mutual courtyard and smoked a cigarette. Accompanied by the chorus of disembodied voices rising up from the cafes below, the unshuttered, uncurtained frames revealed vignettes of activity on multilevel backlit stage sets. I smiled when I remembered how Lebovitz had described this lack of concern for privacy, how one could witness the drama of relationships and lives unfolding through open windows. This is Paris, unabashedly lifting and swinging her skirt. Who needs the Moulin Rouge? The entire city is a show.

    And I liked the way I could choose to watch and listen, or close my eyes, stick in the ear plugs and shut it all out -- except the motorcycles, which were louder than chainsaws roaring down the street day and night.

    The Louvre was wonderful, but overwhelming of course. It doesn't take long before the depth and breadth of its treasures simply short circuits the senses. My plan was to leave by noon before we became walking shells, staring at master works with unseeing eyes and mouths hanging open. I'm not quite sure we made it out in time.

    The first highlight was arriving early enough to beat the lines and sidle up to the Mona Lisa before the crowds -- or at least up to the rope as she is cordoned off and armed with a guard. I had seriously thought about skipping this celebrity viewing, but Joe insisted that it mattered to him. There were less than a handful of people paying homage to the petite lady when we arrived. (Later that morning, we passed through the room again and the crowds were so deep that the people in back had to wait to move forward before they could get so much as a glimpse.) I mentally curtsied to her as she serenely, almost smugly stared me down. I thought, "Forget the wry smile, it's all in those eyes." Joe apparently enjoyed little Mona more than we did. He said that seeing her was a highlight of the trip because now he could tell everyone back home that he had done so. (That's Joe.) Frankly, we like many of da Vinci's other works much more and were surprised to find The Virgin of the Rocks practically unnoticed in the Grand Galerie, completely exposed and unguarded.

    We didn't quite find everything we were looking for at the Louvre and got lost trying to find works on my "must see" list, despite my detailed turn-by-turn notes. We passed the Victory of Samothrace so many times it became an inside joke. At some point, I just gave up entirely and decided to enjoy what was in front of my face instead of staring down at my map.

    In my mind, the other high points which rang bells through the growing brain fog that morning include the Galerie Daru (Borghese Gladiator), Michelangelo Gallery (Slaves), Salle Mollien (Raft of the Medusa), Salle Daru ( three of my favorite David masterpieces), the Rotonde de Mars and Cour Marly, of course. In fact, all of the countless sculptures were beautiful and impressive. Phil liked them even more than the paintings, with perhaps the Michelangelo Gallery being his favorite room.

    After about four hours and lunch at the Mollien Cafe, we left enthralled and humbled, awed to the point of numbness. Comparing notes, Joe and I liked the museum more than Phil, who felt it was really too, too much. This truly surprised me and I realized that he must have short-circuited. The husband I know is more than a passing fan of art and knows quite a bit about many of the major works.

    Our next stop was Angelina. The infamous chocolate chaud was definitely wonderful, but so rich that it made Joe slightly sick (especially since it was paired with a Napoleon). Apparently, cocoa as thick as mud after a morning of non-pixelated sensory assault is more than a teenager can handle in one day.

    We angled up to La Madeline, which I liked more than my boys. Phil was running out of steam, Joe's stomach was giving him grief and neither of them wanted to stop at any of the gourmet stores in the square. Not that, as the sole female in the group, I had ever counted on actually shopping-shopping; but my vin fan even turned down the mammoth wine shop, Lavinia, nearby.

    I did rally the troops enough to swing by the Palais Royal before our walk back to the Left Bank. Phil simply hated the Opera/Bourse area that we passed through en route and I had to admit it was not my favorite part of Paris so far. He said it looked like downtown San Francisco, or the generic business district of any other random city. If you take out the rows of Baron Haussmann's creamy facades and black Mansard roofs, leaving only the heavy traffic and crowds of walking suits, I guess that could be true - but I think the Baron would take exception to the idea. I'm sure it was more pleasant in the horse-and-buggy days.

    After landing at last in the Jardin du Palais Royal, we rested for a short while by the fountain next to some teenagers who looked like they were still recovering from a night on the town. I took heart in the fact that they appeared to be in worse shape than we were. Joe had a minute of fun balancing on Buren's silly striped posts in the Court of Honor and then we went home to recharge our batteries.

    After a few hours recuperating at the apartment, we were all up for a boat ride to end the day on a happier vibe. And yes, the Louvre and the Seine did make rather nice bookends.

    It was a quick stroll over to Isle de la Cite to get tickets at Vedettes du Pont Neuf. Our apartment really was in the best location for most of what we wanted to see that week.

    While we waited for our time slot, we sat on a bench in Square Vert Galant and ate a picnic of cheese, a baguette, crepes and wine. The weather had greatly improved. There was a group of well-dressed, young student types who began to gather on the grass. Their numbers gradually grew by twos and threes, with a corresponding increase in wine bottles, until a park official came over to kick them out. It's really too bad because they were quite entertaining and it appeared to be a lovely party. Later we saw the same group from the boat, happily pique-niqueing on the quay.

    The boat was certainly an edifying perspective on the Parisian scene. I felt like a kid at Disney, but couldn't decide if the ride was more like the Storybook Land Canal or Pirates of the Caribbean. If you don't count the guy blithely peeing on the quay in broad daylight and the guitarist in purple pants hauling a suitcase whom Phil dubbed Mr. Bojangles, highlights of our cruise included the leg-dangling partiers lining nearly every quay; the lonely guy leaning over the Pont des Arts smothered with love-locks; passing under the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III; peeking under the Eiffel Tower's lacy iron skirt; and the tango dancers at Jardin Tino Rossi. If I had been steering the boat, that's where I would have docked as the sun set and Paris began to hum.

    NB: You'll notice that Phil only took photos of sculptures and no paintings in the Louvre. While he is an art fan, I suppose he just didn't think the canvases were the right subject. His camera is an Olympus SP-560 U2 and Joe's was a Kodak Easy Share. (I say "was" because the latter died the next week in Provence. Phil told Joe it must have committed suicide after being forced to take so many pictures of pigeons.)

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    I love your style.

    I had a similar experience at the Louvre, finally gave up on my attempt to follow a plan and tried to appreciate the things that were right in front of me. Amazingly, the things I saw and the things you saw had absolutely no overlap.

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    Enjoying each installment of your trip! Everyone who goes to Paris takes photos of the same landmarks, and yet every person has a different viewpoint and, so, a different photo.

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    Thanks, Nikki and The Flock. (There’s a BoPeep joke in there somewhere.)

    Nikki, I love your style, too, and so it really means something when you say that. Your trip reports were manna for me during the trip planning phase - always so very entertaining. Your descriptions of the streets, people, food, the cannibal exhibit and your adventure at the circus. Not to mention that train ride to Bethune feature the hirsute men in evening gowns. How I wish I could “run away” to Paris as often as you do; attend the theater and concerts and the classes at the College de France. (Someday I will go alone and just do that.) You are so adept at painting a picture with words. Looking forward to more from you over the next few months/ years. In the meantime, “Au revoir, madame.”

    I note also that our own reporting experience is a two-headed creature. The "impression" that I was getting wasn't always what Phil was seeing behind his camera lens. He will read my report and get a fresh viewpoint and I will see his pictures and think, "I never noticed that." (Though more often, it's "How come you didn't take a picture of . . . .") Next time, I may be bring my own camera; but it is an accurate reflection of our joint endeavor from different angles.

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    love your appreciation of Paris and the life always going on there (I do wear ear plugs to drown it out, but to no avail with the crotch rockets at all hours)!

    look forward to more. I love the great shops around Madeline-Hediard is great for gawking and I love my Maille mustard!

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    Friday 6/10/11

    Cafes, cabarets, artistic innovation and the avant garde. What can I say about the d'Orsay? Paris' great tribute to La Belle Epoque. Impressionism, pointillism, art nouveau and the fabulous, trippy Mr. Van Gogh.

    Loved it.

    Even better, the d'Orsay is bite-sized. Covering a timeframe just over six decades, it is an amuse-bouche compared to the Louvre's 2,000-year cultural feast. Keeping in mind that one wing was still under renovation, we were able to see every inch of the museum in a little over two hours.
    We had considered walking the mile or so to the musée, which certainly would have been doable, but we decided to give our travel-shocked legs a brief respite. The RER was a quick, straight shot west from St-Michel to the d'Orsay stop. It also gave us a chance to more precisely determine which train we needed to take to Versailles the following day, confirming it was the C5 named Victor.

    We arrived about 15-20 minutes before opening, but even the separate museum pass line already had a dozen or so people in queue. When we left before noon, we noticed that the regular line extended nearly to the quay.

    The d'Orsay building perfectly complements the art it houses, stemming from approximately the same era and so clever in its design. Even before the former train station was built, the site had accumulated an interesting history with the palace a victim of the Commune flames, like so much of Paris.

    We opted out of the special Manet exhibit, though he is one of my favorites. I was able to peek into the exhibition space as we passed by and did catch a glimpse of Olympia on the wall. (She's not one of his best IMO and is most notable for the hoopla she created by her stare.) I know that we also saw Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe and his portrait of Berthe Morisot at some point, but I don't recall whether they were out on the main floor, or visible from the exhibition door. (I believe one of Manet's best works is his portrait of Mallarme.)

    On a personal level, the visit led me to learn/confirm that Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Millet are my least favorite from that era; I feel a little warmer toward Sisley, though I tend to confuse him with Pissarro; and my love for Monet is inconsistent. I am increasingly aware that Degas was more talented and versatile than I first realized. Meanwhile, Renoir, Van Gogh and Rodin remain at the top of my list. I must have stood in front of his large canvas of Bal de Moulin de la Galette for more than five minutes, though I prefer Luncheon of the Boating Party, which I think is in D.C. Ditto for the time I spent staring at Starry Night, that haunted church and the 1889 self-portrait, though my favorite Van Gogh is Dr. Gachet and his desolate expression, which was also on display.

    I have always had mixed feelings about Cezanne, but am slowly learning to appreciate the diversity of his work. The same holds true for Corot, whom I am beginning to like almost as much as Degas. Artists we also enjoyed, though relatively new to us, included Vuillard, Bazille and Caillebotte. Joe thought it was pretty cool to come across a couple of live artists set up with their paints & easels, creating amazingly accurate copies of the original masterpieces.

    The sculptures interspersed throughout the museum were a real treat, particularly those in the center of the ground floor. We discovered Alexander Falguiere, whose work we later admired at the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse. I also found Schoenewerk's seductive Jeune Tarentine to be luxuriously beautiful.

    Leaving the Musée d'Orsay, we took the same quick train west toward Pont de l'Alma and walked down to the Rue St-Dominique in time for a nice little lunch at Les Cocottes.

    Unfortunately, we emerged to a sudden, heavy downpour. What was supposed to be a relaxing stroll down Rue Cler became a mad dash. Even with an umbrella, it was so heavy that we had to stop under the eaves along Motte-Piquet to wait for a let-up. I think the Parisians must have received a month's worth of their much-needed rain in that one week we were there.

    The first shower that day was quick, though, and we were able to take some pretty decent photos of the Eiffel Tower from the foot of the Ecole Militaire, cast admiring glances at the golden dome of Les Invalides as we passed and make it all the way to the Rodin Museum before the skies let loose again.

    If the d'Orsay is an amuse-bouche compared to the Louvre feast, then the Rodin must be a macaron. It is, however, a luscious little cookie.

    We all like Rodin, the rebel, the genius, the best sculptor since Michelangelo. Who doesn't? (Well, maybe he was a beast to poor Camille Claudel.) While we had seen many of his works at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center and that morning at the Louvre, I really wanted to see his actual home and studio. It's such a small, pleasant museum that it took only a little over an hour to visit. While Joe and I started with the house, Phil went out to the garden to take pictures. It turned out to be an excellent plan since the rain had resumed with a vengeance by the time we got back outside. Joe and I actually had fun sharing the umbrella, tiptoeing around puddles as we made a circuit of the famous works displayed throughout the pretty garden.

    Highlights of the museum include the great Thinker surrounded by roses with the Eiffel Tower looking like a street lamp behind him; the tragic Burghers of Calais; the dark, creepy trio of The Shades (probably my favorite), The Man with the Broken Nose (the early result of a poverty-induced accident which Rodin treasured for its deformity); Claudel's poignant Maturity; and the room filled with Rodin's frustrated attempts to capture the enigmatic Balzac (one of the busts being better, we think, than the final shapeless bronze). We wrapped up the visit with the sculptor's unfinished, dramatic magnum opus, The Gates of Hell, which we sat to examine for some time under the umbrella while the rain created rivers flowing around the hills and valleys of the Inferno's tortured figures.

    While crowding shoulder-to-shoulder with other visitors in the gift shop hoping for a break in the weather, we studied my map to figure out the fastest way straight home. My plans for gourmet shopping were foiled again. No Le Grande Epicerie, no Poilâne or Barthelemy. (Someone up there was certainly on Phil's side.) Fortunately, the Varenne Metro is quite literally in front of the Rodin and only one stop from Invalides, where the RER is just another quick hop back to St-Michel. Piece of cake. The French are geniuses when it comes to anything that makes life easier. (Except for their flimsy toilet paper, but we won't get into that.)

    Later in the evening after the clouds had retreated, Phil and I decided it was a perfect time to take a walk around the neighborhood. Joe opted out so he could Skype with his friends, so the idea of pre-dinner libations was introduced. For fun, we took the alley of Rue du Jardinet/Cour de Rohan and popped out onto Cour de Commerce St-Andre at the back of the 17th century Le Procope, Voltaire's favorite cafe. Down a block on Rue Quatre-Vents, we were sorry to see that the wine bar La Cremerie was closed as that had been my idea for a little verre de vin; but just up on the corner was Gerard Mulot where we selected nine pretty little macarons which we shared later for dessert, each in a different flavor. (I think rose was my favorite.)

    Then up Rue de Seine and a few steps west, we found our real prize. Le Derniere Goutte (the Last Drop) had an open door and wines available for tasting. It was founded by an American, Juan Sanchez, and features only boutique, rarely-exported French wines from independent producers. Both of the gentlemen who assisted us spoke excellent English and, after our tasting, we were taken back into their cellar area for a discussion about the little-known Alsace wines. We left the shop with three bottles -- all quite good -- and we will certainly make a point of stopping there on our next visit to town. Too bad shipping is so expensive.

    Back on our beloved Rue de Buci at the corner with Rue de Seine, we stopped at the open-air verger we'd been frequenting, Cours des Halles, to pick up more fruit and veggies. Just as we were leaving, a young but weatherbeaten drunk staggered down the street like a bowlegged cowboy and started yelling at the shopkeepers. Of course, we couldn't make out a word he was sputtering in French, but we got the gist as his belligerence continued for a good 15 minutes. People began to stop and stare, but the gentleman behind the cash register who had become the focus of the tirade just laughed and threw back retorts as he elbowed his co-workers with a grin. I do wish I had understood what he said, because it caused the drunk to jerk and turn circles, suddenly speechless, as he frothed at the mouth and glared. Do you suppose he is a regular character in that colorful neighborhood?

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    I love Le Dernier Goutte as well! I hope you also had a chance to go to their restaurant, Fish, which is just around the corner.

    Really enjoying your report! It's like taking an afternoon excursion to Paris for me.

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    Love d'Orsay! Also, sorry that you shopping for little luxuries is not going Poilane and the food hall at Le Bon Marche...Barthelemy is on my list for November since we will be in an apt and have a place to sit and enjoy the cheese and save a little for the next day!

    We went to Gerard Mulot everyday for pain au chocolat! The pastries there are delicious and works of art. You were right by our old haunts...a lot of champagne was drunk at Le Danton!

    Great shots...enjoy those macarons!

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    Very enjoyable report and photos. I loved the Eiffel with the two modern elements! More please.

    (Luncheon of the Boating Party is indeed in DC at the Phillips. Some years back, sculptor Seward Johnson did a life-sized 3-D version of it and many impressionists' works including Olympia if memory serves. They were at the Corcoran and great fun. The van Gogh of his room was life-sized and much climbed upon by kids! Some are at the Grounds for Scupture in NJ now.)

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    denisea, if your apartment is anywhere near a Gerard Mulot, they have excellent tarts and quiches for any easy dinner. Quite often, if we have significant lunch, we'll just grab something easy for dinner in the apartment before heading back out. A 3 hour lunch really makes you want to skip a big dinner!

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    Just now reading this excellent report. I'm being masochistic in doing so as I had to cancel my planned September trip--the first year in ages I won't see Paris. A couple of things:

    I know your angst when you felt responsible for getting your men to the apartment. When I've led the family they always stand around like, "what? Me worry?" while I scramble to get train tickets, find the cab, etc. UGH

    I was glad to see you felt that "The archaeological excavations below Notre Dame's parvis were mildly interesting." I thought perhaps I was not in the right frame of mind when I saw it, so I've not recommended it to others. I think you'll also find you didn't miss much in the Deportation Museum. The Shoa was much more moving. (IMHO)

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    thanks Judy...we scoped those out last time but never got around to sampling them; we do plan on taking some of those back to our apt on a day we are over that way...not real close this time but we will visit our old 'hood for sure!

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    Denisea & Judy: I guess we can figure that whatever we miss gives us an excuse to return with a fresh list! Those gourmet stores will be at the top for me.

    TDudette: Thanks and I'll tell Phil. I saw that photo and said, "What the heck are those?" He said, "They were parts of the boat on either side of the shot I wanted to take, but I decided to leave them in for the colorful juxtaposition." It does kind of set it apart from the usual Eiffel picture.

    MelJ: So sorry your trip had to be canceled. I hope you have it on the calendar for next year. I didn't see the Shoa, but will definitely try to get there someday. (Funny how that list starts growing again so soon.)

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    You are making me so anxious to get to Paris. Only 74 days to go! This will be the 2nd year we've stayed on rue de Bourbon le Chateau and though la Derniere Goutte is just across the street, we never made it there. Will this year, though!

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    Thank you, Sap, this is a wonderful, detailed report. I'm especially enjoying it because my husband and I are leaving for Paris in late Sept. for our 25th anniversary and first trip to France, so this is really helping me visualize! We just secured an apartment on Rue Saint Honoré through a site HD found online, after striking out on VRBO. We booked through Kik and Pay and I'm hoping the pictures of the apartment are close to accurate. Any fodorite comments on KlikandPay or tips on breakfast or grocery options near Rue Saint Honore? We'll be going on to Dordogne so I'm looking forward to reading about your time there, also.

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    ceilifinnigan, you should start a new thread with your questions, you'll get more answers that way. I hope you have a great trip, I wish I was going, I'm well and truly overdue for a trip to Paris.

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    Just getting to this - great lunchtime reading!

    Kerouac, you're right. I was scratching my head about no bakeries being open since my husband went out for pastries most days at 7:00ish - but that was in the 18th.

    I'm really enjoying your report, sap - great writing. I stayed in an apartment during my college days in Paris, with a courtyard similar to the one you describe. I always felt like I was in the movie, "Rear Window." :-)

    Looking forward to more...

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    I'm behind now, folks. (I had wanted to keep a week ahead on my writing in the event I got bogged down with work & life.) After today's Day 5 post, I'll split Paris Days 6 & 7 into two sections each to stall for time. (They're so darn long anyway that you'll probably appreciate that.)

    Ceilifinnigan: I haven't come across KlikandPay and am not completely familiar with the Rue St. Honore area myself. TDudette's advice to start a new thread about that is a good idea.

    YankyGal: Rear Window is exactly right!

    Glad you're all enjoying my reflections. Gotta keep going while they're even remotely fresh in my mind. . .

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    Saturday 6/11/11

    Continuing with the food analogy, we now arrive at an enormous buffet laden with desserts of every imaginable kind: mile-high cakes and exotic tarts, mille-feuille, madeleines, profiteroles and eclairs just bursting to the brim, meringues and souffles, savarins and sorbets -- all as thick, gooey, rich as Joe's chocolat l'Africain. Versailles, you know, can be magnificently sickening.

    By half past eight, we had boarded Victor, walked to the shining gold gate called the Grille d'Honneur and were second in the passholders' line. It was a Fountain Spectacle Saturday and I didn't want to take any chances. When we noticed that the garden entrance was still wide open and free until nine, Phil took the opportunity to shoot crowd-free photos of the Southern Parterre in the morning light while I held our spot out front.

    Before long, a large and quintessentially American group of kids from the University of Texas had somehow wrangled the privilege of cutting past everyone else to enter the roped space in front of the doors. The little bearded French guide behind me with his own small group was apoplectic with rage. Sporting a captain's hat and navy, double-breasted jacket as he bounced on his feet and muttered, "Les Americaines!" repeatedly under his breath, he looked like a ruddy-faced skipper who had just steered his yacht down the Seine. I did have sympathy for his legitimate frustration, though.

    The Marble Courtyard was an impressive way to begin the tour. The black Mansard roofs make the gold trim pop, while the rosy brick facade provides an elegant, if not exactly understated, contrast.

    Our first interior views were of the stunning Royal Chapel, cordoned off from entry and lined with marble as white as a wedding gown, almost stark in its beauty. More hollow than hallowed. It felt like an empty reception hall instead of a place of worship. I imagine that most of the worshiping at Versailles was done at Louis XIV's feet.

    The visit of the chateau itself was oddly stressful. One feels so buffeted along through the gilded rooms, pushed by the people behind you and pulled by the realization that there is still so much to see before the day is done. (Phil and Joe were certainly in a hurry to leave as they were nearly two rooms ahead of me before we exited into the gardens.) I was sure that, if only I could sit quietly in one of those salons with a cup of tea or a glass of claret for an hour or so, I would actually be able to grasp the details of the Veronese paintings and the ceiling by Lemoyne depicting the Apotheosis of Hercules (a project so intense that he committed suicide upon its completion).

    The infamous Hall of Mirrors was certainly beautiful and filled with reflective light that morning, but the space was designed for kings and courtesans. Somehow, the denim-clad tourists with their Nike caps and backpacks detracted from the intended impression.

    In my mind, the second grandest space would be the seven rooms of the King's Apartments (particularly the Hercules Salon, along with the Apollo, Mars and War Salons.) I simply cannot grasp what it must have looked like when the actual furnishings, tapestries and carpets were new and fresh. Most of the objects disappeared during the Revolution and several of Louis' surviving paintings, busts and statues were not relinquished by the Louvre until 1989.

    The Coronation Room is also noteworthy -- an ode to the explosively egotistic Napoleon Bonaparte, featuring large-scale paintings by one of my favorite artists, Jacques-Louise David. Then there's the "Museum of French History" section originally created by Louis-Philippe, whose rooms contain enormous paintings of more or less famous French battles that were added between his coronation in 1830 and the 20th century. The Gallery of French Battles is so impressive that one would think the French had never lost a war.

    Overall, we found the palace itself to be just a tad more awesome than Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace or the lovely Blenheim near Oxford, but Versailles pads its already voluptuous qualities to the point of vulgarity. The total cost of expanding and renovating Louis XIII's original hunting lodge has been estimated at half of France's GNP at the time. It is worth seeing once, but I'm not sure I would repeat the visit. Well, unless I'm invited for tea.

    Now the gardens were another story.

    Louis XIV was more than a little obsessive about fine-tuned control and absolute power. This was, of course, something he'd picked up from the dark star Richelieu and then Mazarin. Perhaps also moulded by his lonely, neglected childhood, he spent his adult life focused on manipulating and suppressing enemies and his own nobility alike - even down to the most minute, subliminal details. He was also obsessed with mythology. Whether or not he really believed he was god-like, it certainly was in his interest to push the notion to others. Controlling nature was one aspect of this illusion. The 2,000- acre park was designed according to a precise, symmetrical plan. It is the epitome of perfection in its geometry and harmony, meant to convey the king's power over nature in all its forms. What interests me is why he chose to identify himself with Apollo, the Sun God, as opposed to Zeus. Was it because Apollo seems more eternally filled with the promise of youthful vitality than his craggy father? Whatever the motivation may have been, the solar theme dominates and Louis in his role of Sun King pervades everything you see while exploring the vast estate.

    We first admired the intricate geometric patterns of the Orangery, including lawns carved like damask, a pair of pools and boxed fruit trees up to 200 years old. It is sunken on a lower level at the southern edge of the Chateau so the design can be appreciated from the parterres above. (A "parterre" is an open terrace.) In Louis' day, it was dotted with sculptures that are now in the Louvre.

    We then meandered for a time around the upper flower parterres and ornamental pools while Phil took photos of statues. As we were in the process of enjoying the famous view down the Royal Drive toward the Apollo Fountain and Grand Canal (wondering how much of that mass acreage our feet could take), the water burst forth and the show began. As classical music played over the hidden loudspeakers in every corner of the main estate, the height of the fountains gradually increased and everyone began to ooh and aah. All the fountains are powered by gravity from underground streams pumped into Versailles by pressure from the Seine.

    The Gardens of Versailles essentially consist of small mazes within one enormous maze. There are 10 major fountains ((aka "basins" of which there are now 300 total out of an original 1,500), but only four large, straight paths. The real adventure involves the challenge of finding the 15 hidden groves (bosquets) spaced throughout the geometric pattern formed by tall shrubs and foliage. These uniquely-themed garden rooms are each at the center of their own separate maze. They are formed by diagonal paths making diamonds and squares, as opposed to concentric lines, but it is surprisingly easy to lose your sense of direction when you're inside the walls of greenery.

    I think it could take all day to explore every grove at a leisurely pace, but the fountains only flow in three-hour increments a couple of times per day on the Fountain Spectacle weekends, so it's not practical to see it all. Especially when lunch calls. Within minutes after the fountains sputtered to life, Joe's stomach started rumbling, Phil's blood sugar plummeted and I realized I was in desperate need of a cup of coffee, so we abandoned my logical plan and headed straight down the Green Carpet to the restaurant instead. On the way, we did stop at the marvelous centerpiece Apollo Fountain to take pictures and watch children splash in delight.

    Since it wasn't even noon yet, only one of the restaurants was open: La Flotille down along the mile-long, cross-shaped Grand Canal where gondoliers used to pole through the waters. (It was first called Petite Venise.). You can still rent boats today and paddle around to your heart's content, but it was a crisp\, cloudy morning and the canal was free of any activity.

    We had a very nice lunch (croque monsieur for Joe, quiche for me and roast duck for Phil), then headed back up to find some groves. We reached the Colonnade first, which resembles a Roman ruin with a 100-foot circle of marble columns supporting arches. Underneath each arch is a birdbath fountain and there are stone carvings of children and nymphs.

    After that, we got lost. Are you surprised? As in life, though, I was looking for one thing and found something even better instead. We got confused in the Chestnut Street Salon trying to reach the King's Garden and suddenly popped out in front of the Mirror Fountain instead. At that exact moment, as if on cue, the most spectacular little fountain show started. As a line of four water jets spun and swirled high in the air, perfectly synchronized to the classical music, Phil snapped photos as fast as he could and I squealed in delight like a girl. The water formed dancing funnels that would then explode like sparkling white fireworks in the sun. I've been to wonderful water and laser shows before, but this was so much prettier and more intimate in a natural environment. It was a quiet, secluded corner of the garden - only three or four other people were watching -- and stumbling upon it seemed somewhat serendipitous.

    There were two other favorite groves we discovered that day. The first was the interesting 17th century open-air Ballroom featuring a cascade fountain of millstones and sea shells on one side and an amphitheater on the other side with tiered seats of grass. The marble circle in the center was used for dancing, while musicians played on a ledge above the cascade. Trés romantic. Unfortunately, we had reached the grove just after the three-hour fountain shutoff. It would have been really cool to see that in full flow.

    Another noteworthy find was the Grove of Apollo's Baths, which is basically a grotto hollowed out of a large rock. In front of the cave, a statue of Apollo is surrounded by nymphs and at the base of the rock is a small lake. The lake was cordoned off, so it was hard to see the statues; but Phil used his camera for close-ups which turned out quite well.

    It was all an immensely enjoyable romp through a Romantic painting filled with Greco-Roman follies. While it would have been more pleasant on a warm, sunny day, we were happy and agreed that we would certainly be willing to visit again if we skipped the chateau.

    Leaving the manicured lawns of the main palace and entering Marie's English-style fairytale hameau is a shocking transition. (We didn't have the energy to visit the two Trianons, though I would like to go back there someday.) It is easy to understand why Louis XIV's heirs sought refuge in the smaller space of the Grand Trianon and why Marie felt the need to retreat further into her own childish private fantasy at the Petite Trianon and Hamlet.

    On top of all the walking we had already done that day (and that week), it was nearly a mile to the other area of the estate from the upper groves. By the time we reached the Petit Trianon, I thought my feet were going to fall off and Phil looked at least as miserable. At that point, we had realized there was no way we could manage visits to either of the Trianons, so we simply headed toward the Hameau and found the nearest bench in her English garden. Barely acknowledging the otherwise charming Belvedere and Follies, we then followed one of the winding paths another quarter-mile or so to the farm where we soon saw an enormous, wall-eyed cow pulling leaves off a tree. Clearly, we were a long way from the chateau. Joe was delighted when up ahead he saw sheep, ducks, geese, goats, chickens and two very fat pigs.

    Marie Antoinette apparently longed for cards much different than life had dealt her. In 1783, inspired by the paintings of Hubert Robert, she had this miniature village built around a lake to indulge her dreams. The Petite Hameau is an odd village, though, as the buildings are both simple and decorative, rustic but refined. It reminded us of a Disneyfied version of a Cotswolds village, yet we liked it very much. Besides the 11-acre Farm, there are more than 10 structures surrounding the lake like giant dollhouses, including the Queen's House, the Billiard Room, the Boudoir, the Mill, the Dovecote, two dairies, a Warming Room and the picture-perfect little Marlborough Tower. Each house has its own garden and the banisters of the staircases and balconies all have blue and white pots with hyacinths and geraniums. Small orchards, grapevine and rose arbors fill the space in between the houses. Little wooden bridges cross the stream and lake, stocked with pike and carp. Swans floating serenely complete the scene like icing on an exquisite petit four. It was the best thing so far that day, yet it was somehow melancholy, too. I'm most definitely not a romantic at heart, but I felt oddly sad for Marie.

    Behind the backdrop of his gleaming stage sets, the Sun King deftly pulled puppet strings in a world ruled by strict etiquette and plagued by court intrigue. To distract and amuse his idle court, he encouraged partying, preening and political leapfrogging. For his comparatively dim offspring and the docile courtiers, it was a treasure-filled, pleasure-stuffed Shangri-La that smothered independence, will and reason like a giant Turkish pillow. The downside of this was that it also insulated the increasingly clueless class from the cries of the people.

    The Sun King may have been the Apollo of his world, but his empire inevitably suffered the fate of Icarus in a heavy gold chariot, pulled down by the gravity of debt and mass unrest. By the time Louis XVI came to the throne, the decadence had naturally led to moral and mental decay. This last monarch of Versailles, was naive and ill-prepared, reluctant to take the reins. Instead of being obsessed by power, he was merely obsessed with food. He was still toying with boats and clocks while his cloud thinned and he was utterly incapable of steering a bankrupt nation.

    Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette is even more difficult to interpret, though she and her husband have been judged from all sides now. Was she conniving, or slightly doped and dependent by her insulated life? Was she desperate for meaning, but trapped in a gilded cage?

    From our long view down the Grand Canal of time, they merely seem small and tragic to me, victims of the Sun King's shortsighted schemes as much as the Revolution. I pity Marie's awful fate, but I'm not a peasant in the 18th century watching my queen play at being a milkmaid while I starve.

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    Sap: This is a marvelous trip report. thanks to both of you for your excellent writing and for the imaginative photos (even though of subjects we all know well).
    this is great prep for our September/October visit!!

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    Great pics from Versailles. We were luck to attend a formal private reception and dinner there two years ago. So, no shorts in the hall of mirrors and much more private. But, we did not get to see all the grounds and gardens. I hope to go back (and on a sunny day), to see the Petit Trianon and more of the gardens!

    Re: Marie Antoinette...if you are interested, read Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser for more perspective on her. A domineering, impossible to please mother and an appalling lack of education and preparation for her life as a queen. Plus a husband who could not 'perform' for quite some time (imagine being blamed for that today), got her off to a disappointing and frustrating start in France. I think she is widely misunderstood, credited with things she didn't say or do and was woefully unprepared for her marriage and role as a political chess piece!

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    What a fun trip you had. I hope you have photos of yourselves enjoying these wonderful adventures that you are not sharing...having made multiple trips I've discovered that my favorite pictures are the ones of odd things, or people in the process of doing something...because those are the memories we have in our minds. You can always look up a photo of a favorite piece of art, or church, etc. So far, I really love the photos of the staircase in your apartment building, and those beautiful macaroons! I an almost taste them!

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    You had the same impressions of Versailles that I did. I found the house overwhelming and hated the crush of people. However, I loved the gardens and Marie Antoinette's folly and when we returned for a 2nd visit we didn't bother with the chateau and we spent the entire day in the grounds. I did notice that when we were leaving at about 3pm there was no queue at all to get into the chateau, so perhaps next time we will give it a go then.

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    Thank you for taking me along to relive so many fantastic sites. Your photos and descriptions are so creative. I especially loved your description of Notre Dame----beautiful choice of words.

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    Sunday 6/12/11


    It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. It was a village of art and music, it was a human swamp. We screwed up our plans, but we ended things well. In short, the day was so Parisian in its flavor that we will remember it fondly, for better or worse, as a unique part of our long, strange trip.

    We were recalled to life past 7:00 a.m., already later than we were supposed to leave. I knew there was too much on tap, but I had high hopes of cracking through maybe half the sites. Oh, but we were slow to move old bones after the miles at Versailles. Our brains were slow to acknowledge that cup of coffee we threw down like a whisky shot.

    In fact, I was too slow the entire morning to admit that the whole thing wasn't. . . going. . . to happen.

    Montmartre went okay. Maybe a lot better than okay, but even that was in an odd sort of way.

    The metro transfer hike at Marcadet-Poisonniers rather sucked (it is a long way from the Left Bank to the martyr's hill), but we arrived at the cavernous Abbesses stop and popped up the elevator just fine. Art Nouveau metro sign - check. The "I Love You Wall" in 280 languages at the little Square Jehan - check. Nod to the Art Nouveau Saint-Jean church, croissants at Coquelicot and an easy walk to the steep funiculaire. Check, check check. It was then that the day began to deviate.

    First of all, Phil loved Sacré Coeur the minute we stepped off the cable car. Go figure. This place that has been called "a lunatic's confectionary dream," and maligned by Zola as "the basilica of the ridiculous," was one of his favorite places in Paris. Obviously, it was the view. That and the fact that it is very different from other French churches, almost Byzantine with its layers of bulbous domes and constructed of travertine so white that it glows. He had been pleading, "No, come on, not another church," but rather quickly changed his mind.

    Besides being at the highest point of Paris with the city stretching out 420 feet below, the fascinating thing about Sacré Coeur is that it was built by the citizens as a penance for perceived sins and a fulfilled promise should they be spared. And this didn't occur in the superstitious Middle Ages, but in the 19th century. Catholic locals were convinced that losing the war to Prussia in 1870 was punishment, but they were relieved they had survived total invasion. (Otto von Bismarck's four-month siege had reduced the citizens to "urban hunting" - which means cats, rats and dogs. I can't imagine this. Do you think they would eat their own pets; or would they exchange with their neighbor so it would be less personal? Would old Madam DuPont need to hide her pedigreed poodle because Monsieur Girard down the street had been looking a little thin?)

    The church was thus conceived both as a monument and an offering following the political upheavals generated by the embarrassing surrender to the Prussians and the fiery Paris Commune. The Communards first uprising took place on Montmartre and many Communard bodies remain in the honeycomb of underground gypsum mines, sealed off by explosions during the clash. (Now, if they want to feel guilty about destroying large portions of their beautiful city during the Commune, I can relate to that.) The church's construction soon became associated with the rise of the Third Republic and a desire for both national renewal and spiritual purification. Perpetual prayers to the Sacred Heart in the form of a consecrated host have been offered here 24/7 since 1885.

    In 1944, 13 bombs fell in a line near the church during World War II. The stained glass windows were shattered, but no one was killed. This of course fueled the idea that Sacré Coeur was miraculously protected and local devotion increased.

    One other interesting note is that, to build the foundation, they had to sink 83 pillars 130 feet deep because the site rests on subterranean gypsum galleries (as in "plaster of Paris"). In fact, the entire city is built upon the Swiss-cheese substrata. Obviously, they don't have a problem with earthquakes.

    After several pictures of the panoramic cityscape, the church and a blind beggar who caught Phil's eye, we made a 10-minute circle of the interior and I was ready to leave. Joe, however, wanted to climb to the inner dome. He was up there for quite a long time before coming down with a big toothy grin. It's the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower and evidently offers a rather spectacular view.

    Phil gave me another surprise when I tried to skirt around the Place du Tertre, knowing it would be an ugly show. It was teeming with tourists and obnoxious hawkers, but Phil headed straight into the chaos as he decided it was the ideal photogenic scene. To me, it resembled a carnival midway complete with street artists, cheesy souvenir booths and roaming flimflam men. While I didn't see any jugglers or fire-eaters, I was sure some gypsy was going to start weaving one of those scam bracelets on my arm at any minute.

    Phil was somehow able to see through all that to the area's fin-de-siècle heyday of bohemian cafés, lively cabarets and easels en plein air. I began to think he was channeling one of the dozens of the butte's dead artists as he explained that, behind the camera lens, the overall impression of the bustling square was of color, movement and vibrancy. Well, our general impressions may have been off sync, but I would agree that it was surreal. Unfortunately, I must have pulled my artist out of there before his inspiration was fulfilled as apparently no images of the square ever made it past the lens.

    We did manage to squeeze through to the other side of Place du Tertre and escape to the shady corner where Louis Icart lived in the 40s at the top of the stairs. Besides the door with the Art Nouveau window, there was strange graffiti depicting crying eyes dripping down the apartment's east wall.

    After navigating back through the mob and swatting down a clipboard carrier who kept buzzing in my ear until I glared at him in disgust, we headed north on Rue Mont Cenis and down the steps to rue St. Vincent. Up on the corner, I saw a green space that I thought was the park above the Montmartre Vineyards. I suggested that we take a detour to walk through its quiet space for a few moments on the way to see the Lapin Agile cabaret. It was a luscious little place, featuring a cascade, several levels of shaded paths and a large vine-covered pergola where we stopped to watch a man coaching a girl how to kick-box. "Voila!" he said. "Voila, voila," every time she hit the pillowy target.

    It was not until we exited on the other side expecting to see St. Vincent that I realized with a sinking feeling I had somehow made a wrong turn. For cripes sake, we were lost again. How could that have happened so fast?

    Still thinking I was heading west down the hill, I led us down a flight of stairs to look for more street signs, but none of them made any sense as I studied my rather crappy little map. Seriously, we couldn't be more than one street off. Phil quite naturally started questioning me about what I was looking for and why we were aimlessly wandering around. What was so crucial that we had to see next? In his mind, the priority that morning was Pere Lachaise Cemetery for its photogenic promise, but we had to get there before noon or the light would be useless. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

    I tried to explain that I had planned a nice little morning walk around Montmartre just to see the neighborhood itself and that no site was necessarily more important than any other, but I gave up in mid-sentence. It was impossible to convey the concept of being a flâneur to such a goal-oriented guy. (Of course, genuine flâneurs don't even plan their walks.) Frustrated and growing somewhat tired of my role as the designated cruise director, I sunk down on the steps and sat there for at least 10 minutes trying to pull threads straight in my head. This had all started when we left too late. I should have realized then that my already ambitious plan had become impossible. Obviously, we could not really reach Pere Lachaise Cemetery by noon, or Museé Jacquemart-Andre in time for tea, much less Parc Monceau or Monet's water lilies at the Orangerie. I'd blown it.

    To Phil's credit, he started listening and helped me formulate Plan B: We'd wipe out everything on the original itinerary and spend more time in Montmartre before going back to the apartment for lunch. If we felt like it, we could maybe do the walk in the Marais that we had missed the first day. We needed a break. We needed to keep it simple.

    With the pressure now off, I felt much better when we retraced our steps back up past the park and instantly found Rue St. Vincent, which I could swear hadn't been there before. Then Phil looked up and said, "Isn't that Sacré Coeur?" Good grief it was the back of the church. We had walked in a circle! As it ironically turns out, some of Phil's best photos of the Sacré Coeur were shot from this unexpected vantage point (and I know now that it was the Parc de la Turlure where I'd been lured off the path and lost my sense of direction -- apparently it doesn't take much.)

    Having come to grips with our location, I was able to easily lead us through the whole walk within 20 minutes: From the half-hidden, faded Lapin Agile sign to Renoir's house and the statue of St. Denis, who posed politely, head in hands, for Joe's camera. Then around and down to Place Marcel Ayme where Joe laughed at the man trapped in the wall and pretended to pull him out. Phil took the classic photo of Utrillo's oft-painted Le Consulat and we stopped to look at Renoir's Moulin de la Galette over on Rue Lepic. Of course, the exterior of the restaurant barely resembles the famous canvas, but it's a nice little windmill anyway. (It's also real, unlike the big red fake on the cheesy, sleazy Moulin Rouge at the bottom of the hill. Montmartre once had 14 windmills, but only two are left.)

    It was briefly sunny on this late morning in early June and we were growing quite charmed by Montmartre's steep cobblestone streets. The multitude of staircases staggered in tiers up and down the hill seem like an Escher illusion come to life. Humorously tugging on the neighborhood's bohemian roots, one of the shops along the sloping Rue Lepic near the former houses of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec had clothes printed with puns of old political slogans. Our favorite was a baby tee warning of "Anarchy in the Nursery."

    Back on Rue des Abbesses just before the metro, we came upon a street performance by a group of jazz musicians, slightly grey in the muzzle and very talented. They were clearly having a wonderful time, winking, grinning and expertly hamming it up for the Sunday crowd. It was like being in New Orleans, leaning against a tree and drinking up the ambience for a moment before we said goodbye to the quarter. Montmartre had been a good antidote to the stress I had accumulated by gripping the wheel so hard. I knew I had to just let go like this once in awhile, take a backseat and let the road rise up to meet us instead.

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    Loving your report and photos. Your writing is far better than many magazine articles I have read. We head to Paris for a week of our vacation in October. Had not planned to visit Versailles but after checking the online schedule we could visit during the fountains weekend. We last visited in 1998 and biked our way through the gardens to the hameau and trianons. We spent only an hour and a half in the palace but loved the grounds. Thank you for the inspiration.

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    Great photos and excellent reporting. My words to hub at first sight of Versailles: "No wonder they had a revolution!"

    We too managed a huge circle in Montmartre!

    Hope to find that you got to Jacquesmart-Andre!

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    Thanks all for the continuing words of encouragement. It keeps me going when my brain hurts from trying to grab memories before they slip past the synapses.

    TDudette: I did not make it to Jacquemarte-Andre -- definitely bummed about that. It's at the top of the Next Time list.

    TPATY: It's so funny you say that because Phil apologized for the photo and said, "I just couldn't do anything about that dappled light." He almost deleted it unti I told him it was worth keeping.

    Part Two of the Tale of Two Quarters demain matin with hope that I don't offend any lovers of Le Marais.

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    Sunday 6/12/11


    After a break at the apartment and a repast of bread, olives & cheese, we felt ready to explore the lower Marais. I was mostly looking forward to the Carnavalet, a free museum in two adjacent mansions that is devoted to the history of Paris. I had heard that they have a particularly good section on the Revolution.

    "Marais" is French for marsh. Exactly like the lovely little Isle St. Louis nearby, it had been a neglected area where only sheep were grazed until the aristocracy drained the land and moved in to do their gentrification thing. Well before Louis XIV led a mass migration to Versailles, King Henry IV attracted 17th century nobles to the Marais when he built the Place Royale, now the Place des Vosges. In 120 years, over 500 mansions were built (then called hotels before English speakers changed the meaning of the word). Richelieu, Descartes, Pascal and Molière - it was all happening at the Marais.

    After the Revolution, the mansions were converted to workshops, warehouses and apartments as the working class moved in. The area soon became a center of the clothing industry.

    The Marais is also known for its large Jewish community which has been here off and on since the Middle Ages (depending on whether the king of the moment kicked them out or welcomed them back -- usually for political or monetary reasons, either way). One of the greatest tragedies of the neighborhood and a stomach-twisting eternal shame to the entire city was the betrayal by French citizens and police during the Nazi occupation when Jews in the Marais were rounded up en masse and eventually sent to the gas chambers. We're talking entire families. Schools of children.

    A large gay community filtered into the Marais in the 1980s, along with young, single bohemians and middle-class families attracted by the low rent. So, now there were Hasidic Jews in black hats and solemn coats sharing the sidewalks with men in studded leather holding hands while they munched kosher pizza. Trés cosmopolitan. As the new residents spiffed up the place, they of course garnered a little notice. The trendy boutiques began to set up shop, forcing delis and barbers out of business one by one. That apparently remains the tug-of-war status today. Once the bobo Parisians designated the arrondissement as the new hot spot, it triggered the gentrification process all over again. As the rent increases, the real bohemians and working class families are picking up and moving on to cheaper pastures.

    I had heard such good things about the Place des Vosges. "It is Paris' oldest square. . . a beautiful Renaissance plaza filled with art galleries and restaurants under the arcades." Well, that may be, but we couldn't see past the large lawn tableau of jeans and t-shirts sprawled all over every square inch of grass. It looked like a college campus on the first warm day of spring. Meanwhile, the arcades were blocked off by chatting mamans with strollers. We did manage to nab a bench for a few minutes of shade and Wi-Fi.

    Oh, well. There was always the Carnavalet. Not. I checked my notes. It was only closed on Mondays, always open on Sundays -- except this was Whit Sunday, i.e., Pentecost. (The French are primarily secular unless a Catholic holiday is involved.)

    This day was having more ups and downs than the streets of Montmartre.

    What we needed was some refreshment. A unique pick-me-up, a local specialty so we could get a real flavor of the neighborhood. I had it: Falafels! I love them. The guys will love them. What's not to love about a falafel? I somehow neglected to remember that Phil doesn't exactly do backflips over chickpeas and cucumbers. It was the only thing he ate that month in France that he didn't really like.

    Before feeding on falafels, we stopped briefly at the interesting and secluded little Square Georges-Cain. This archeological graveyard was the most peaceful part of the Marais. Roman columns, stone rosettes and marble figures lay rather randomly strewn among plants and flowers, or leaning against stone walls. Some of the pieces are leftovers from the Carnavalet, while others were brought here from the burned Tuileries Palace. We liked it much more than Place des Vosges.

    Apparently, it's all still happening at the Marais and along Rue des Rosiers in particular. I couldn't tell you much about any unique or charming characteristics of the quarter because all we saw were wall-to-wall tourists, hipsters, yuppies towing well-dressed children and middle-aged Parisian women. Most of them were eating falafels. The Parisians apparently came to shop, eat and loiter simply to see and be seen. The crush of humanity was worse than the Place du Tertre, worse than the interior of Versailles, worse than my local mall the week before Christmas. There wasn't enough space to look down and see your feet to determine if they were actually moving. The crowd flow on the narrow street seemed to lift you by the shoulders and carry you along.

    I noticed that the women around me held their large designer bags in front of them as shields, pushing determinedly into the melee. All I had was a flimsy, little cross-body square that wouldn't have covered my face. I was thinking a stale baguette would have been useful to slash my way through. (French bread turns to metal by late afternoon, a chemical transformation worthy of Nicholas Flamel.)

    The worst of it - and this happened repeatedly - was when a chic madame would suddenly meet a friend and stop in midstream to squeal and kiss-kiss on both cheeks, backing up the people behind her like dead leaves against a log. A log stuck in the corner of a swamp.

    Is it perhaps only this way on a Sunday? Should I have come on a Tuesday at 10?

    Back at the apartment checking for any bruises we may have sustained in the battle to get out of the Marais, we counted our losses and discussed a new strategy. Face it, Plan B had mostly been a bust.

    Since this was our last opportunity to see the city at night, the Eiffel Tower light show was clearly a priority. (Monday night was not an option since we had to catch an early train to Avignon on Tuesday morning.) No sooner had my spirits improved at the prospect of redeeming the day then we heard the rain. I whipped back the curtains and stared in disbelief at the floating umbrellas and wet cobblestones below. I was beginning to feel targeted by Louis' Greco-Roman gods.

    We tried to wait it out, but it just came down harder. We dashed through the downpour to pick up crepes down the street and then waited again. As the sun set around 10 p.m., there was still no let-up and I was practically pacing the apartment, ready to release a torrent myself (whether in the form of swearing or tears, I'm not sure). Paris had been unseasonably warm and sunny for weeks before we arrived. They were having a drought until we stepped off the plane.

    Looking at my face, Phil sighed and said, "What the hell. Just grab the umbrella and I'll get the wine." And so we toasted the City of Light in the dark, in the rain.

    Feeling far, far better than I did before as we watched the lattice tower sparkle against the inky sky, I leaned against Phil's wet shoulder and thought that the prophecy of Dickens' Mr. Carton had surely come to pass: It is a beautiful city and a brilliant people. But, geez it had been a long, long day.

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    I have to bring up the "dappled light" photo again to ask where it was taken? We know we've seen it, but are having a hard time placing it. Was it at The Delacroix Museum?

    Sorry about all of the rain, but sometimes we have taken some gorgeous photos of Paris in the rain when "the pavement shines like silver" as they sing in Les Miz. So, you will always remember The Eiffel and be able to tell a great story of your adventure in the rain.

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    One of the best trip reports I've ever read! I love the extra details and your perseverance when plans needed changing (which they always do, don't they, lol).

    The pictures are beautiful and gave me very bad PPD (Post Paris Depression)

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your trip with us.


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    Your pictures are incredible. I have enjoyed your T/R...and am glad I have never bothered with the Marais. I will say we were fortunate enough to have seen Place des Vosges in the snow on Christmas with no crowds. We didn't stay long, so I haven't really seen any more of the Marais...maybe that's a good thing after your T/R and Kerouac's recent thread on rue de Rosiers.

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    Thanks sap----I sure was off in my guess. We went to Montmarte on our first trip to Paris in 2001 and haven't gone back during our next 6 trips. #8 coming up, I think we'll take another look.

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    sap...just loving your report. I too ran into the museum/post office/SNCF boutique clousures on Pentecost last year. I never figured that into my plans but it wouldn't be an adventure without a little adjustments thrown in, you just had alot of adjustments all in one day! :-)

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    Thanks all. Just entertaining the troops. My guys are both such funny characters that I hope to provide them with a worthy record of their adventure, too.

    Monday 6/13/11


    Our last day in Paris was like a stroll through time. As we walked the streets of La Rive Gauche from the Latin Quarter through Luxembourg to St. Germain-des-Prés, we traversed the ancient roads of Gallo-Roman Lutetia, weaving back and forth through the millennia between our world and theirs. While the medieval, Renaissance and 18th centuries are most visible on the Left Bank, with a little imagination we could still sense the distant Roman heartbeat 2,000 years under our feet.

    After coffee and chocolate chaud at La Patisserie Viennoise (the hot chocolate being almost as good as Angelina's), we walked down the street to the Cluny. This was one of our favorite museums in Paris, as much for the clever, sensitive manner in which they display their collections as the objects themselves. The sculpture, stained glass, tapestries and artifacts cover the centuries from Gallo-Roman antiquity to the 1500s. Many pieces have been so harmoniously integrated into the space they occupy that the old stone walls feel like part of the exhibit. The museum is housed within a 14th century abbey that was built upon the remains of Roman baths. Some of the museum rooms incorporate the Roman frigidarium with a 50-foot vaulted ceiling. I had originally planned to spend maybe an hour at the museum, but we easily enjoyed ourselves for more than two.

    For us, the first highlight of the Cluny was the room with the original early 13th century Stone Heads of the Kings of Judah from Notre Dame. They had been ripped off the cathedral by a mob during the Revolution, who thought they were the kings of France. In 1977, all but seven of the 28 heads were found during construction of a bank's basement near the Opera Garniér. They had all been carefully buried facing in the same direction, where they remained undiscovered for nearly two centuries. The 2 ½-foot decapitated heads in various states of destruction and decay are now mounted on stone supports along stone ledges, still looking regal despite their traumatic experience. (They were long ago replaced with replicas on the facade of Notre Dame itself.)

    We soon entered the museum's cavernous, vaulted, Roman frigidarium, constructed in 200 A.D. The primary exhibit in the baths is the Pillar of Nautes, featuring the oldest carvings in Paris. It was found under Notre Dame in 1711 and formed part of an altar. The pillar is dedicated to Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, several other Roman and Celtic gods, as well as the Emperor Tiberius. (I guess they wanted to cover their bases.) It had been created on behalf of the Boatmen of Paris, Nautes Parisiens, a powerful Gallo-Roman guild that has given the city its coat of arms depicting a white boat on waves against a red background. A compatible motto was added much later, "She is battered by the waves, but does not sink." Part of the pillar's significance is that it demonstrates that Romans were not completely successful or even interested in wiping out Celtic deities. Then again, the Romans were known for adopting other cultures' gods so they could add to their own list of potential benefactors.

    The Roman legions first moved in to take control of the local Celtic fishing village in about 51 BC after they won the decisive Battle of Alesia during Caeser's conquest of Gaul. Either eliminating or subordinating the Parisii tribe that had been here since 250 BC, Julius Caesar renamed the city Lutetia, meaning, "place by a swamp". The Romans then immediately began to do what Romans do best: design and build.

    In addition to building over the Celtic fishing village on the Isle de la Cité, the master architects decided that the Mons Lutetia on the Left Bank was a good spot for their classic grid plan, high enough to avoid the flooding Seine. Their settlement included baths, at least one theater, a forum and an amphitheater. By the 3rd century, it had grown to 284 acres with a population estimated from 5,000 to 8,000, though many Gallo-Roman cities were much larger, particularly Lyon and Narbonne. (We know the hill as Montagne Ste. Genevieve, where the Pantheon mausoleum now sits. It was much higher and steeper then.)

    Other areas of the Cluny we enjoyed included the Romanesque and Gothic rooms with fragments of columns and capitals, carved ivories, frescoes and statues.

    There was a special temporary exhibition upstairs related to swords. Joey, in particular, enjoyed it very much. They had numerous medieval weapons on display, including the famous swords of Charlemagne, Roland, Durandal and Joan of Arc, along with sword-fighting techniques in books and video. They also featured screens that would loop scenes from Monty Python. (Joe is a big Monty Python fan.)

    Besides the exquisite chapel ceiling with its Flamboyant Gothic arches (under which a Paris doctor once purportedly conducted dissections), the tapestries are what bring many to the Cluny. The most famous of those are the six in the set depicting The Lady and the Unicorn. The museum has cleverly placed them in their own room on the walls of a rotunda and one can therefore turn in a slow circle to admire Taste, Hearing, Sight, Smell and Touch. The colors are definitely still vibrant and the symbolism is complex. Unfortunately, this was the last room we visited and it had grown rather crowded by then. On my next visit, I would plan to make this my first stop instead.

    Much of our pleasure at the Cluny was simply meandering through the atmospheric, delicately-lit stone rooms with their little treasures. It was not as grand and overwhelming as the Louvre, nor stylishly avant-garde like the d'Orsay, but somehow more simple, graceful and peacefully reverent, like a reflection of the old abbey itself.

    Diagonally across the street from the Cluny baths on Rue Racine was a Roman theater, quite close to the present-day Odeon. (So you could attend a play after your time at the spa.) Just south of the Cluny is the illustrious Sorbonne, a university founded in the 13th century that gives the neighborhood its old nickname as the Latin Quarter. Excavations have revealed several Roman layers here, too, since it lies between two parallel Roman roads, Blvd. St. Michel and Rue St. Jacques. Expanded by Haussmann's renovations in the 1860s, St. Michel is now the larger street, but St. Jacques was the main Roman artery. Houses had existed where the Sorbonne is today, so the remains include a Roman well, which is now in the center of Place de la Sorbonne, surrounded by student cafes.

    Over a few streets on another Roman road, Rue Monge, we picked up bread and picnic accoutrements at Eric Kayser to supplement the wine and cheese we had stashed in the backpack. To boost our blood sugar, we ate a portion of it at a quiet park called Square Paul Langevin before heading up the medieval Rue de la Montagne Ste. Genevieve. This old Roman road once led to the Forum on the hill.

    On the other side of the hill, heading down Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, we came to No. 71 where James Joyce borrowed a friend's house hidden at the end of a courtyard path to write Ulysses in peace & quiet. A few doors down at No. 74 is where Hemingway first lived with Hadley in conditions so cramped that he rented a garret room around the corner so he could likewise be alone to write. And from there, cutting across the tiny Rue Rollin and down its flowered steps, we came to the Arenes de Lutece where we rested our feet while Joe spent a ridiculous amount of time photographing pigeons.

    It was peaceful and quiet at the Arenes -- a couple of other tourist families, a pair of young lovers enthusiastically contributing to Paris' romantic reputation. Like most Roman ruins, it did require a great deal of imagination to picture what it must have been like in its day. Built in the 2nd century, this was the second largest amphitheater in Roman Gaul. There were 10,000 seats for spectacles that included circuses, gladiator fights, musical performances and theater.

    By the 3rd century, Goths, Vandals and other Germanic tribes had begun to attack, so the Roman-Gauls withdrew to the smaller settlement on the Isle de la Cité and increased the fortifications. Emperor Julian renamed the city "Paris" in the 4th century. Before long, poor old Lutetia abandoned on the hill sank to her knees in the dusts of time. The theaters, baths and forums became quarries for building materials until they were simply forgotten.

    In 1869, construction unearthed the remains of the amphitheater and Victor Hugo led a campaign to save what he could. The city has since transformed the Arenes de Lutece into this leafy park, popular with students from the Latin Quarter, soccer-kicking kids and old men playing boules.

    Retracing our steps back down Rue Rollin, we turned into the Place de la Contrescarpe. It was just past midday and the cafe-centric zone was humming as terrace chairs spilled out toward the fountain from opposite ends of the circle. The name of the square comes from the word "escarpment", which meant an earthen wall enclosing the moat against the medieval city wall. The square had been just outside the wall and thus a little more wild and uncivilized, rather like being on the other side of the tracks. Despite its reputation for grittiness (or maybe because of it), is has long been associated with writers. In the 16th century, Rabelais drank at the taverns, About 200 years later, Balzac roamed the neighborhood in search of inspiration for his novels and Victor Hugo used the southern edge of the area as a setting in Les Miserables. During Hemingway's time, the cafés and bars were still rather scruffy hangouts for writers and artists and he, too, mentioned the square and the neighborhood more than once in his stories.

    From the square, Rue Mouffetard extends south into pedestrian cobblestones. It also retains a slightly scruffy quality, though its street market is quite popular among both Parisians and tourists. Locals call it La Mouffe. The River Bièvre was here where skinners, tanners and tripe butchers worked, hence the word "mouffle," which is Old French for "stink." Fortunately, it was paved over in the 19th century. Now, La Mouffe and its neighboring streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, boulangeries and fromageries, so the scent is mainly a blend of coffee, baguettes and cigarettes, with an occasional whiff of Camembert or the old Frenchman at the next table who hasn't had his bath yet this week (often confused). Oh yes, and urine, but it's a rare street in Paris that doesn't give off that pungent background note.

    Though it's seemed slightly more downscale and tourist-oriented to me, Phil liked this area nearly as much as our own Odeon neighborhood and we plan to be back someday when the market is in full swing and the sights, sounds -- and scents -- are swirling at even higher levels.

    (To be continued.)

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    >>Is it perhaps only this way on a Sunday? Should I have come on a Tuesday at 10?<<

    Yes: there's a risk the Place des Vosges may become another Place du Tertre, at least on a Sunday. And you're not wrong about the gentrification of the Marais; on my last trip I noticed that the initial bobo artification seems to be ever more rapidly giving way to blandification - yet more generic beauty product and shoe shops, while the interesting and different (the antique musical instruments on rue du Pas de la Mule) are vanishing.

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    Thanks for the feedback Patrick.

    Nice to "see" you again FMT! I know, I know: We didn't have that drink, did we? (I probably would have got lost trying to find you anyway.)

    Monday 6/13/11


    When last we left off, we were sniffing the air of Rue Mouffetard, which was also a Roman road, you know. It becomes known as Rue Descartes heading north from the Place de la Contrescarpe and that's the direction we took to loop back up Genevieve's old Roman hill at the center of the Lutetian grid plan.

    By the 5th century, the barbaric Huns were threatening French towns and this is when Genevieve, the city's patron saint, made her debut. I have no idea where the legendary Roman legions were by then, but Paris was inspired by the young nun with her visions and prayers a century before Joan of Arc rescued France in the same way. (Their patron saints are girls, yet Salic Law prohibited a queen from ever inheriting the throne.)

    Once the Romans had beaten their last retreat, the Franks built their castle on top of the island's Roman palace and the medieval city grew in concentric circles, layer upon layer, like a snail building an enormous shell. [Even today, the 20 Parisian arrondissements (neighborhoods) are numbered in a spiral from the center.]

    The Carolingian Clovis I was the first Frankish king. He founded an abbey here on the hill where both he and St. Genevieve were later buried. Her cult became so popular that the crowds of pilgrims soon outgrew the building and a separate new church was built alongside to accommodate them. As we turned left on Rue Clovis, we saw that church: Sainte Etienne du Mont. The bones of St. Genevieve are here now, though her tomb was destroyed during the Revolution. It really did seem to be a pretty little church, but it was closed for the Pentecost weekend.

    The church of the abbey itself was rebuilt in the 18th century by Louis XV as his thanks to St. Genevieve for curing him of illness. The remainder of the abbey was destroyed during the Revolution. Rue Clovis in fact runs right through where the abbey had been and only the Clovis Tower remains on the south side, now part of a college.

    Louis XV's neoclassical church was supposedly modeled upon the original in Rome, but it also looks very much like London's St. Paul to me, especially the dome. Following the Revolution, the church was transformed into the current Pantheon, a mausoleum for French luminaries.

    While beautiful frescoes of St. Genevieve's life and other religious scenes remain on the Pantheon walls, there are also pervasive hints of the tyranny of secularism that existed during that strange political climate created by the Reign of Terror when public executions were thought to be educational. The leaders of those movements encouraged, even forced, worship of the state instead of God. Like so much of what they did during those years, it was not undertaken in a thoughtful manner to set their world straight, but imposed as an emotional and hypocritical overcorrection that swerved the whole country off course for a rather long time.

    Despite this fervent creep factor around the edges, we did enjoy the Pantheon. In fact, I preferred it far more than St. Paul's in London, though I'm not sure there's any valid reason why.

    A European history major in college, Phil understood many of the nuances of the Revolution's aftermath. From this perspective, he spent quite some time looking at the huge group of statues called The National Convention, which both disturbed and fascinated him. The magnificent Marianne (Lady Liberty) is surrounded by soldiers and members of Parliament and the inscription reads, "Live Free or Die." How inspiring. How romantic. How exactly where the altar would have been in this former church. Some people describe it as an altar to liberty, or an altar to the republic, but the very placement is a strong allusion to state worship. (In a similar vein, Notre Dame had for a time been renamed the "Temple of Reason" and Marianne replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. Didn't that ring anyone's alarm bells? Of course, if it did, good old liberté didn't seem to include freedom of speech at that point, so any concerned citizen who expressed dismay was probably beheaded for not supporting the movement.)

    Another major attraction in the Pantheon is of course Foucault's amazing pendulum. I also quite liked the frescoes and tributes to the almost mythical Joan of Arc.

    While much of the point of the Pantheon today is meant to be a memorial to the 70-some people interred in the underground crypt, we actually only spent a few moments there. Phil thought it was a waste of time because, however great any of them may have been, they're simply only bones in boxes now. (He'd much prefer a real cemetery for atmosphere and sunlight played against the shadow of architectural details.) As usual, he was correct on a practical, logical level, but I wanted to have a look-see anyway. For personal, symbolic reasons, I just had to mentally tip my hat to Voltaire and thumb my nose at Rousseau, noting that their tombs are exactly opposite each other in the crypt -- clearly not a coincidence. The French are quite clever. Interestingly, the choice of who is interred has been a hot topic of debate for generations. Some bodies have even been removed.

    Leaving the Pantheon on Rue Soufflot, we crossed over the heart of old Lutetia. Here was the Forum, whose foundations are still hidden under the centuries of buildings. It was the political, cultural and religious center of the city with a temple and basilica, plenty of shops and more baths. The present Rue St. Jacques was the main north-south road, called the cardo.

    As we walked toward Luxembourg's green space ahead, I wondered if this was also the route the young Hemingway would take from the Latin Quarter when he was a budding writer crossing the gardens on his way to visit Gertrude Stein.

    We quickly found the perfect spot at the cool and shady Medici Fountain with its long, languid pool. Better still, we managed to grab the only three chairs left that weren't completely enameled with pigeon droppings like some sort of Jackson Pollock experiment. The timing was crucial as I had sensed from Phil's expression over the last 30 minutes that I was dangerously close to invoking the Bataan Death March lament. (This is an inside joke dating back to a Hawaiian hike I subjected him to many years ago. He brings it up at least once every vacation.) I had to admit that we had been wandering for several hours now and anyone with a sense of humanity would know it was time to put up our feet and open the split of wine.

    As we discreetly pulled off hunks of bread and cheese from our bag, I looked around and noticed that everyone sitting silently along both sides of the fountain pool was doing the same thing. Clearly they were munching on baguettes as they read, but you would only see a hand reach into a tote or newspaper and come out with one large morsel at a time. Was this out of Parisian etiquette, or due to some sort of park rule? I didn't want to find out the hard way and we kept a low profile.

    This famous 60-acre park was created under the orders of Marie de Medici, the Sun King's grandmother. Obviously, he inherited her interest in gardening on a rather grand scale. It was originally a Roman camp and then the site of a 13th century convent before Marie's Palais de Luxembourg was built in the mid-17th. After the Revolution, it was a prison where the future Empress Josephine (Napoleon's gal) was imprisoned with her first husband, who was later executed. The palace is now the meeting place for the French Senate, though it was briefly Luftwaffe headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

    After a sensible amount of time resting, we decided to check out the Grand Basin, the main feature most popular with visitors. It was only a few yards away from the Medici Fountain, but a world apart. Here at the large octagonal pool, chairs were strewn everywhere, three and four deep around the center. People lounged and napped, some sprawled with their mouths hanging open. There was no shade, so the sun was hot and bright. There certainly seemed to be a lot more tourists and the noise level was higher, too. The most charming sight was the children trying to sail toy boats, so we sat near the edge for several moments to watch their efforts.

    I'm sure there are many other interesting corners in Luxembourg's vast space, but the idea of an afternoon coffee was beginning to take hold of our minds. We hurried north up the street to the 17th century St. Sulpice. The tourists know it now for the obelisk popularized by The Da Vinci Code, though nearly nothing in the story was based on fact. I had actually forgotten the obelisk was there until I saw a small crowd gathering around it. Joe managed to get a slightly blurry photo, though he had a hard time getting the whole length into the frame. I was more interested in Delacroix' murals, but they were difficult to see in the dim light.

    By the time we left the church, a cup of coffee had transformed from a nice idea into a desperate urge. This was about the time that we began to notice a phenomenon that would plague us for the rest of the trip: Our ability to locate a source of caffeine was inversely proportional to our need.

    We knew there were multiple cafes up ahead near the Saint Germain-des-Pres church. We circled around all of them: Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots, Cafe Bonaparte and several more. There was not one table open. Not one. If Sartre or Hem had walked up to their old haunts, they would've been forced to stand at the bar. The first warm weather in days at the end of a long holiday weekend had brought people out in droves. A sidewalk scalper could have made beaucoup bucks selling premium seats on the street.

    On top of that, there was a snaking line to the door of the St-Germain church, so we ditched the whole place and headed back east on our mission to find caffeine. It wasn't until we reached Cafe le Buci in our own neighborhood that we finally spotted a space. It was just big enough to link two doll-size tables and squeeze in with our backs to the wall.

    Leaning back with a sigh and surveying the scene, I started to change my mind. It was late in the day and very warm and it was a coup to claim this space. Let's just park ourselves here for our last night in Paris and watch the people go by. Phil laughed but agreed when I suddenly said, "Forget that damn coffee." So, we ordered wine and dinner instead.

    Later, while cleaning the apartment and zipping our suitcases, we agreed that we would definitely be back; we had to come back. (You have to tell yourself that.) I reflected out loud about this to push down my sadness at leaving so soon. "And next time there will be more cafes and restaurants; a handful of little museums; the canal, St. Denis, the Mouffetard market; a day trip to Giverny. . ."

    "Less walking," said Phil.

    Old mother Lutetia may have been smaller and less powerful than her sister settlements, but her daughter Paris has grown into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. She has an elegant facade and a colorful past with ancient little streets and grand boulevards. Secluded jardins are hidden around the corner from vibrant squares. The best museums and monuments line the long riverside quays. And of course there is the art, the cuisine, the romance that seems to permeate the air. Whoever you are, whatever your mood or desire du moment, she delivers (unless you want a sidewalk seat at a café on a warm, June day),

    Anyway, it's clearly unanimous. This dame's show is worth the price of admission.

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    Yup. For the rest of the month, whenever I saw "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" inscribed on nearly every public building in the country, the hair would stand up a bit on the back of my neck. There may once have been a sinister edge to that seemingly promising and innocuous pledge.

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    "Bataan Death March lament"-LOL my hub instigated them. Perhaps you are related?!

    BTW, the Italians say they taught the French how to cook via Marie Medici! Possible?

    Very enjoyable TR!

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    LOL! I love the Bataan Death March! My bro-in-law swore I was trying to kill him with all the walking around Paris.

    He didn't tell me he'd brought a pedometer...he secretly wore it the next day. That was the day I cut down on walking and took more buses. We still clocked 13+ miles. I was a duly abashed taskmaster.

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    Thanks all!

    JeanneB: The pedometer story is funny. I hope Phil doesn't ever try clocking our days with one of those things. I'd never hear the end of it. (After Paris, it wasn't so much the walking as the driving and he of course did have a handy record of that which he would point to frequently with alarm.)

    I am continuing the report on another thread with the Provence portion:

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    Poor Phil, less walking next time, huh? I cracked up at the Bataan Death March lament.

    We have a little joke about Clovis at our house and favorite photo from last trip is of the street sign, so I enjoyed a Clovis inclusion, I also love the church there and also didn't get to go in (it was during Sunday services). So, this was a trip down memory lane (Dec 26, 2010 to be exact).

    I have really enjoyed your trip report.

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    Throughly enjoyed your report, sap.
    You have packed it with detail and interesting fact and history, and wrapped it all up in a lovely writing style. Your 'life unabashed through the open windows of Paris' was one of my favourite paragraphs.
    Thanks for sharing through words and beautiful images.
    I may be in Paris in the Fall and your report will be very useful to me.

    Looking forward to Provence now.


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    And these as well! *very* well done, great composition! You're good at taking the candids, which is a gift. I'm a little shy about doing that - love love the bench photo. It's perfect.

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    Terrific reports!!!
    Taking tons of notes for our trip next September
    We may rent apt you liked in Paris
    Would you like us to tell owners that you recommended it?
    Was the wifi strong signal for iPad or iPhone?
    If so, what name should i say? Or to keep privacy on fodors, I can just say 3 people from California.
    Let me know!

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    What a lovely report! Thank you so much for writing it.

    We were lucky enough to rent an apartment across the road from the Jarden du Luxembourg and spent many hours relaxing on those chairs and watching the children chase the toy boats.

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    What detail, what knowledge, what pleasure reading this.

    kerouac, if you are still reading this.
    I read Rendezvous Eighteenth that takes place in your neighborhood. The author, Jake LaMar is often at the VillageVoice readings, Very interesting take on a black man in Paris. Nikki passed it on to me and I passed it on to gomiki. Thanks NIKKI

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