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Kathie May 23rd, 2014 07:50 AM

Kathie and Cheryl's Ten Days in Paris in May
I want to begin by thanking all of the people here who offered information, ideas and suggestions.

Think of this as a first trip to Paris for both of us. While I had previously been to Paris – all too briefly – a couple of decades ago, I felt like this was my first real trip to Paris.

Getting there: We flew United Business Class SEA – IAD – CDG. The transatlantic flight had lay-flat seats. Even though we had gotten up at 4 am, I didn’t sleep a wink on the flights. Cheryl napped briefly on the first flight. We arrived at CDG before 7 am (flight was 20 minutes early). We found an ATM inside baggage claim, but it was owned by Travelex, and we had been forewarned here about high fees and poor exchange rate, so we avoided it. Outside baggage claim, we found HSBC cash machines and we each withdrew 140 E. We planned to put as much as possible on credit cards, and figured that would hold us for the whole trip. (It did, we even came home with over 100E for a next trip to Europe.)

While in theory, all taxis accept credit cards, we had to wait 10-15 minutes for a taxi that would accept credit cards. The drive into Paris was pretty smooth and easy considering it was rush hour. We arrived at the Marriott on the Champs Elysees about 9 am. We knew our room would not be ready but we dropped our luggage and went out to walk. I have to say I was uncertain about how good the location of the hotel was. This was a free stay and this is the Marriott in Paris with the largest rooms, so that is how we decided on the hotel. The location turned out better than I had anticipated. We were a block from the FDR Metro station on the 1 and 9 lines. There is a Monoprix half a block away, a nice little cafe a block away, a local boulangerie two blocks away and the very popular Laduree across the street.

We got into our hotel room before noon, which we much appreciated. We are accustomed to flying to Asia, where we arrive near midnight, get to our hotel and collapse, then awake in the morning in that time zone. Getting there in the early morning was harder for us. Even though we did the things one is supposed to do – get out and walk in the morning light, etc, we lost most of our first day to jetlag. We napped for a couple of hours, felt better, planned our next day and went to the nearby bistro (Baroche Café Brasserie) for dinner (reservations made on La Fourchette).

Transport within Paris: We planned to use the buses so we could see as much as possible and learn our way around the city. Posters here thought that was a crazy idea and predicted we’d end up using the Metro. You were right. Our plans were foiled by the weather. When it is raining, standing waiting for the bus loses some of its appeal. So we used the metro most of the time, plus, of course, lots of walking (6 -8 miles a day, our fitbits said). We had a couple of apps on our iphones that proved very helpful. City Mapper, the Fodor’s Paris App, and Google maps. Google turned out to be the best app for finding our way around.

We have T Mobile service on our phones, so we had free data the whole time we were in Paris. We were sent a “welcome” text saying all data would be free. Good thing because we used it a lot!

chris45ny May 23rd, 2014 07:56 AM

I was so looking forward to your report. Can't wait to continue reading as Paris is on my horizon for Sept. 2015. This will be a first time trip for me so I'm gathering as much info as I can from the forum posters who have been recently or who have been so many times they are "experts" on the best way to experience Paris.

Kathie May 23rd, 2014 08:44 AM

Chris, I hope my report will prove useful to you.

In general, we organized our days around particular places we wanted to visit, often made a lunch reservation on La Fourchette, and walked to lunch and to other places we wanted to see from there. We timed it so we arrived at our first stop at opening.

It was not worth it to us to buy a card for the metro, so we bought carnets. We did buy museum passes, which we felt were worth their weight in gold! The FNAC next door to the Marriott sold Museum passes, but only the 2 day and the 6 day. We started with a 2-day pass, as we thought we might not use it over the weekend. The two-day pass is listed as 42 Euro, but we got it for 39 E at FNAC.

Day 2: La Musee de Moyen Age: I’ve wanted to see the Cluny tapestries for years, so it was easy to choose this as our first destination. While the tapestries are clearly the highlight, it is a lovely museum. I understand this is a new installation of the tapestries, and it is very well done. After touring the rest of the museum, we sat with the tapestries for a long time, just taking them in.

After leaving the museum, we had some time to walk in the neighborhood before our lunch reservation. This is a lovely neighborhood, with some charming little gardens. We walked around, just enjoying being in Paris.

Lunch: Le Coup Chou, a very charming and atmospheric small restaurant close to the Cluny. Food was very good. Two courses each plus wine came to US$120.

After lunch, we walked across the bridge (I loved waling across all of the bridges over the Seine) to Ste Chappelle. The line was short, and our passes allowed us to bypass even the short line. There are some advantages to being in Paris when it is raining! There is restoration work going on inside, so the rose window was covered with tarps and scaffolding. Nonetheless, there was plenty of stained glass to admire.

We then went next door to the Conceirgerie. No line at all. I found the place chilling, imbued with the dark days of the French Revolution. The huge open spaces created by the Gothic arches was impressive. Again and again in Paris, in the midst of the beauty, we were confronted with the sad realities of the French revolution.

We walked to our Metro station in the rain and went back to the hotel.

We didn’t eat dinner most evenings. One two or three course meal in a day is usually enough for me. Cheryl went out and bought a sandwich at a nearby bakery when she wanted one, and a couple of nights we had a cheese plate (once comp’ed to us) from room service augmented by a lovely bottle of Margaux from Monoprix. Another night the hotel sent us a huge fruit basket, which, with addition of a bottle of wine, became dinner. Two evenings we had champagne and chocolates.

After dinner, we planned out the next day. The weather forecast was for a week of rain, followed by a few days of sun. So we planned another day of museums.

shelleyk May 23rd, 2014 09:07 AM

Hi Kathie-Jim and I spent several weeks in Paris in the 90's. On one of our trips I bought a 7 day Museum Pass for about 25E and made very good use of it. I guess the price has gone up considerably since we were there. We loved Paris and hope to return some day. I'm looking forward to the rest of your report.

Cathinjoetown May 23rd, 2014 09:11 AM

Thus far, great report.

Kathie May 23rd, 2014 09:59 AM

Shelley, the museum pass was really a deal back then!

Day 3: The object of our desire for this day was the Louvre. I had read about which entrance to use with the museum pass, and the consensus seemed to be to go in from below. With the rain, I think we would have been better off using the main entrance near the pyramid. The lines were endless, and everyone seemed to have a museum pass, so there was no expedited line. Or this might have been a time when going later in the day was better. Whatever the case, I’d try to do it differently next time.

The Louvre is overwhelming. I knew that intellectually before I arrive. But I knew it fully once I got inside and moved from building to building. I had no interest in seeing the “big 3” of the Mona Lisa, Winger Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo. The museum is huge, and somewhat confusing as you go from building to building. I knew that the only way we would have a good experience at the Louvre was to have very limited goals. I wanted to see their Egyptian collection and the Mesopotamian sculptures. Cheryl wanted to see some of the classical sculpture and French paintings, so we parted ways and met later at a pre-determined spot.

The Louvre is supposed to have a wonderful Egyptian collection. It should, given Napoleon’s time in Egypt. I remember seeing graffiti carved into temples in Egypt by some of Napoleon’s soldiers. But I found the collection rather disappointing. Perhaps it is because I’ve seen so many Egypt exhibits – I don’t know. But I did browse all of the Egyptian Galleries without feeling much moved by what I saw.

I liked the Mesopotamian exhibit better, though if you have seen the British Museum’s collection of Mesopotamian sculptures, there isn’t much here that is new or different.

After a couple of hours here, we caught a glimpse of the sun through a window and decided to go out and walk in the Tuileries. We had a lovely interlude of sunshine (we call them “sun breaks” in Seattle) and enjoyed the walking in the formal gardens and the flowers.

We had made lunch reservations at Le First in the Westin. This was a La Fourchette reservation for which we were to get 40% off the a la carte menu. We each had to order two courses, and the wine was not discounted. They had no house wine by the carafe, so we ordered a half bottle. It was a chardonnay bottled expressly for the Westin and was mediocre – the worst wine we drank in Paris (as well as the poorest value for money). The food was good as well as interesting, but I was not wowed. We ate in a lovely open-air courtyard. The down side is that smoking is allowed in outdoor cafes. Thus, at the end of our meal, there were smokers – including a cigar smoker – lighting up. At approximately $162 it was the most expensive lunch we had and was the least satisfying.

After lunch, we enjoyed walking in the area and made our way to our favorite chocolate maker: Pierre Marcolini. This was the winner of our “best chocolate in Brussels” task we set for ourselves years ago when we visited that city. We bought chocolates to have with champagne that evening.

The Monoprix near the Marriott had a nice selection of wines. We opted for a vintage Drappier for 30 E, about $42 and had champagne and chocolates in our room that evening.

Kathie May 23rd, 2014 11:13 AM

We had now used up our two-day museum pass. We decided to go ahead and get the 6-day pass for 69 E, as we anticipated spending a lot of time in museums until the sun comes out for our last few days in Paris. We again conveniently bought our passes at FNAC, next door to the Marriott.

Day 4 In keeping with our theme of gorging on art, our destination was Le Musee d’Orsay. Our Museum pass paid off, and we were inside pretty quickly after it opened. My plan was to start at the top and work our way down. But as we headed for the escalators, I saw a special Van Gogh exhibit (Van Gogh/Artaud) so we decided to start there. Smart move, as later there were long lines to get into the exhibit. The exhibit was excellent. It was timely for Cheryl who is in the midst of reading a biography, Van Gogh: The Life. Also, the special exhibit is covered by the museum pass.

After Van Gogh, we went to the fifth floor and their remarkable collection of impressionists. After several hours, we were getting painting fatigue and decided to have lunch in the restaurant there. They have a prix fix menu that is a good buy, and we had a carafe of wine, total bill, US$81.

Refreshed and refueled, we went back to the exhibits. We saw as much as we could, then walked over the bridge to L’Orangerie. We wanted to see Monet’s water lilies, of course, but did browse the rest of their collection before settling in to commune with the two rooms of water lilies. What a fabulous exhibit of the paintings – to feel in the midst of the water lilies!

We decided since we were close, this was the day for hot chocolate at Angelina’s. With the rain and cool weather, we weren’t the only ones with this idea. There was a line – it probably took us 20 minutes to get inside. But the chocolat chaud was as wonderful as everyone says it is!

progol May 23rd, 2014 12:01 PM

Following along, and thoroughly enjoying your report. Should I say, sighing? Ahh, Paris.

While we visit Paris less frequently compared to many of the folks on this board, we feel as if we are "at home" when we do go. Our last visit was in 2009, and it rained most of the week, but we loved every moment of it!


annhig May 23rd, 2014 12:23 PM

Two evenings we had champagne and chocolates. >>

such hedonism! but i bet it's one of the meals you remember best.

loving your report, Kathie, keep it coming!

Cathinjoetown May 23rd, 2014 01:30 PM

Love your attitude and the way you make the most of every day.

Kathie May 23rd, 2014 01:49 PM

Glad you are following along.

Day 5 was a Sunday, so we had to pay careful attention to what is/is not open. We chose La Musee Guimet. Of course we would want to see the Asian art museum in Paris, but I appreciated Thursdays recommendation of it as well – it moved it up to a must-see. We are frequent travelers to SE Asia and love the Buddhist art.

The Museum wasn’t terribly far from our hotel, and it wasn’t raining, so we walked. We wanted to make sure to take time to walk in various neighborhoods, so this was an opportunity.

We were able to walk right in to the museum at opening – even if we hadn’t had our museum passes. They have quite a collection: some pieces from the Angkor temples (as well as a life-sized replica of a temple panels at Bayon). They have some Buddhist art from Java, and some from Burma. They had a gorgeous bronze Buddha from Mandalay. We very much enjoyed browsing their galleries. It was wonderful to see the various styles of SE Asian Buddhist art virtually next to each other. They also have an interesting collection of Afghani Buddhas. They have extensive Japanese and Chinese collections as well. Half a block away is their “Buddhist Pantheon” – well worth seeing.

With a break in the rain, we walked to the Trocadero and Cheryl took Eiffel Tower photos. We walked down into the area next to the tower, and opted to have lunch at Café Constant, one of Christian Constant’s highly recommended eateries. There are no reservations taken, so we had a 20 minute wait. The food was very good, and we enjoyed our lunch there for about US$116.

After lunch we headed for the Rodin Museum, in spite of the rain. This was another time the Museum Pass helped. There was a line, but we were ushered right in with out pass. Many people recommended the Rodin Museum itself and its gardens to us, and it is certainly a worthwhile stop. In addition to the permanent collection there was a special show of Robert Mapplethorp’s photos, and commentary on the similarity of approaches between Mapplethorp and Rodin. We very much enjoyed the special exhibit. In spite of the rain, we did stroll the lovely garden.

simpsonc510 May 23rd, 2014 01:50 PM

Great report Kathie! Since my July trip is still fresh in my mind, I find myself "walking around the museums" with you! You really MUST make a trip to Chicago to the Art Institute to see the Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street, Rainy Day. It is fabulous! I can sit and contemplate that one painting for a half hour!

Anyway, before M and I headed to Paris last year, guenmai had suggested that we ride the bus vs metro, in order to see the sights of Paris. We planned to do this, but ended up taking NEITHER! We walked all over Paris (although the hop on hop off bus and batobus did help us get to places further afield from our apartment in the 6e).

I agree with your idea of a substantial meal in the middle of the day and then a snack... champagne and strawberries YUM... in the evening. Although I will have to say, we loved sitting in the sidewalk cafes from about 5pm - 7pm, eating a salad or shrimp and people-watching. But we did not have to cope with the rain the way you did.

Keep the report coming!

noe847 May 23rd, 2014 02:07 PM

I'm enjoying your report as I prepare for a very short return to Paris in July. The Cluny Museum is my favorite! On our last trip I went twice (and once more to the gift shop, which had some unusual souvenirs, imo). It was pre-rehanging of the tapestries, so I'll just have to force myself to go back again ;)

The rose window of the Sainte Chappelle was under construction 4 years ago, and I was counting on seeing it this visit - that's disappointing but I'm glad for the heads up.

Looking forward to your further adventures.

cornelius01 May 23rd, 2014 02:34 PM

We also like the idea of a 3 course lunch and in the evening champagne and snacks in our room and just relaxing from the busy day. That is what we call living!
Oh and the French chocolate is pretty darn good too.

progol May 23rd, 2014 02:43 PM

Really love "walking around the museums" with you, as simpsonc says! I also love the Cluny -- I didn't expect to enjoy it so much, but found it just the right size, and well done.

I'm also enjoying the art you're seeing at the Guimet; we were at the museum in 2009, several years before our trips to India and SE Asia, so I now have a greater appreciation for the original sites that the works are from. I feel like I'm seeing them through your eyes right now!

Looking forward to more!

thursdaysd May 23rd, 2014 02:44 PM

Oh good, I've been waiting for this. Sorry you had bad weather, but Paris is still Paris...

Kathie May 23rd, 2014 02:59 PM

I'm glad to have more of you following along.

Carol, it's been years since we were last at the Chicago Art Institute - what a great museum, Next time I am there, I will look for your painting!

Progol, it does make a difference seeing where the art comes from. Standing among the sculptures in the Guimet felt so familiar!

As you can tell, Thursdays, we didn't let the rain interfere too much. Yes, it was still Paris!

Day 6 We decided to switch gears and do something different today. We opted to go out to the Chateau Vincennes. It is very easy to get there, as it is at the end of #1 Metro line.

This had been the primary residence of a series of Kings beginning in the 14th century. There had earlier been a royal hunting lodge at this site. Over several centuries, a large royal compound was built. The last king to build there was Louis XIV. What is left that you can visit is the chapel and the castle keep. Much of the compound is used by the military.

The chapel is modeled on Sainte Chapelle in Paris. It is lovely, though its stained glass is not as elaborate as that in Paris. (noe, you can see the rose window here)

The keep is the other building you can visit. A real architectural feat, it stands 50 meters tall, with six stories. It is a huge square tower with four corner turrets. Each floor has the same layout, with the four small corner rooms in the turrets and a huge open room in the middle. The open rooms have a single center column, which holds up all of the arches. It is quite a feat of engineering. It was built as a defensive position, and there was originally just one entrance to the keep, on the second floor, accessible only by a drawbridge. There was a defensive wall around the keep and a moat as well. I found the site very evocative, as much is original.

After spending all morning at Vincennes, we went back into the city for lunch at Chez Denise. This place was recommended to us by my niece’s boyfriend – he loved it. Located in Les Halles, it has the look and feel of a traditional brasserie. This is one of those places where you order the house wine (in this case, a Brouilly) and they bring you a liter of it and only charge you for what you drink. The thing I want to tell you about this place is to plan to share every course. The portions are huge! We opted for a fois gras entre and shared that, though even sharing it was so much, I wondered briefly if they had mistakenly brought us two orders. Our plats were enough for two. So we both left half on our plates. Next time we will know. The food was excellent, and we had a nice, long lunch there. The bill totaled US$147, but would have been much less had we known to share each course.

After lunch we walked around the area. It started to pour – lightening and thunder - and ran across a Patric Roger chocolate shop. As this was one of the chocolate shops recommended to us, we bought some. The chocolate didn’t look dark enough to me, but we bought some to take back to the room to augment a nice bottle of champagne, nonetheless.

Chocolate verdict: Pierrre Marcolini still wins. But we didn’t let any of the Patric Roger chocolate go to waste.

Pepper_von_snoot May 23rd, 2014 06:03 PM

There is a huge chocolate bar selection in the Food Halls of Galeries Lafayette.

They also have a hundred flavours of yoghurt.

I like the Monoprix on the Rue de Rennes near Deux Magots.

It is too bad you didn't visit Hediard.


Kathie May 23rd, 2014 06:06 PM

Thin, we had to leave some things for the next trip! Of course, I'm always interested in your recommendations.

Day 7 Another day going farther afield… this time to the Basilica of St. Denis. I remember that this was a place on Adrienne’s list she said she hadn’t made it to yet. It is almost at the end of the #13 Metro line. This train was crowded the whole trip, unlike the trip to Vincennes, where the car cleared out the farther out we got.

The Basilica is the final resting place for generations of kings and queens of France, and is reputed to be the burial place of Saint Denis. It has the largest collection of funerary art in Europe. The whole front of the building is undergoing restoration, so that façade is completely covered.

This is a place where you must visit the crypt. There is very good signage in the crypt, including commentary in English. I do read French, but I know I miss things. There are very old royal graves here, going back into the 800s. Again, there was commentary on the deaths of Louis and Marie Antoinette and there were funerary sculptures of them. I know there was also some destruction at the Basilica during the revolution, though I don’t know how much. I noted that there were several old funerary sculptures marked “princesse inconnu.” I don’t know if the identities had been lost earlier or whether it was during the revolution.

I found the styles of the funerary statuary to be fascinating. Some had small dogs at their feet, some were in full royal regalia, others in bed clothes, two were shown simply wrapped in a sheet.

This was a fascinating little trip back in time.

For lunch we went back into the city to Le Petit Retro, another La Fourchette reservation. This is a charming little place I had seen when we were wandering this neighborhood on Sunday. The place has many neighborhood regulars – always a good sign. They had a nice prix fix menu or we could use the La Fourchette discount. The food was very good and we had a lovely lunch for US$95.

After lunch, our plan was to visit the Architectural Museum. Oops – it was closed today. So that is something to put on our list for the next trip. We walked some more in the neighborhood before walking back to our hotel.

sartoric May 23rd, 2014 06:15 PM

I like the way you guys travel, thanks for sharing your adventures.
Not sure when (if) we'll get back to Paris, it's such a long way from here. I do enjoy the vicarious visits though :)

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