Our Paris Trip Report

Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 11:33 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2003
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Our Paris Trip Report

Thanks to all Fodorites for your help in planning. My and my husband?s trip with my parents for a week to Paris was a huge success. (Great weather helped, it was the first week of September but we had 7 days of 80 degrees and absolute sunshine.) I?ll give an overview first and then details below.

My husband and I had been to Paris twice before and we travel a lot for work and for fun. My parents had only been out of the country once before, on a bus tour of England a couple of years ago. We live in a big city in the U.S. My parents are suburbanites. I am the only one of the four of us who speaks any French, but really only enough to make restaurant reservations, ask directions and a few other basics. (But I did make sure everyone else knew ?bonjour? ?s?il vous plait? ?au revoir? and ?merci?.)
The challenge was to arrange a trip that all could enjoy.

For the first time in Paris we rented an apartment. It was a great choice for four adults, with lots of common space to relax in the morning or late afternoon and lots of local neighborhood ambiance that is hard to find in a hotel. It was in the Marais district, 4th arrondissement.

I had arranged our sightseeing around a theme each day. My themes were inspired by Ina Caro?s book about traveling in France by chronological order. (I can't remember the name but it is an excellent book, she starts in Nimes with the Roman city and moves up through Medieval southwestern France, the Renaissance in the Loire Valley, etc.)

Day 1 Landmarks. We arrived about 1:00 at the apartment, had a quick lunch at a neighborhood café and then walked to beat the jet lag past Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, Louvre, Pompidou and ended at the roof top café of La Samaritaine department store. (I did have to explain to Mom that the 7 Euro glass of Coke there was really a 1 Euro glass of Coke and a 6 Euro view of all of the landmarks of Paris.) From there we could see all that we had walked past as well as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Tour Monparnasse and beyond.

Day 2 Revolutionary Paris. (I wanted Day 3 to be Revolution and Day 2 to be Medieval to keep in the chronological order, but Day 3 was a Monday and the museums for Revolution were all closed on Monday.) We walked to the monument to the Bastille and then back through the Marais, seeing the Place de Vosge and other renaissance ?hotels?, the Musee Carnavalet (French history, especially about before during and after the French Revolution) and the Musee Cognaqc Jay (beautiful 18th century mansion with art, furniture, etc. from the period. We followed the Frommers walking tour of the Marais and Rick Steves Paris chapters about the museums. (Very helpful as not all museum descriptions are in English and you need some context even for many of the items.) Later in the afternoon, as it was free day at the Louvre, we went looking for the ?Marianne? painting of the Revolution, but couldn?t find it.

Day 3 Medieval Paris. When we couldn?t find the ?Marianne? painting on Day 2, we went down in the basement of the Louvre to see the medieval foundations and model of the original fortress as a preview of Day 3. On Day 3 we first found the remnants of the medieval wall that surrounded Paris right in our neighborhood near rue St. Paul. Then it was Notre Dame and the Cluny Museum. (The medieval inspired garden behind the museum was excellent for a picnic lunch.)

Day 4. Impressionist Paris. We took the Monmartrobus up to the top of the hill, enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods of past and present artists and the Museum of old Montmartre. We had planned also to do the Musee d?Orsay or the Marmottan but my Dad was feeling a bit under the weather in the morning and so we didn?t go out until nearly noon. Later we walked around the Eiffel Tower in the evening, before dinner in the daylight and after dinner in the dark.

Day 5. 20th Century Paris. I had a range of choices from the Jean Moulin museum of the French resistance to the Pompidou to a walk of Marie Curie?s neighborhood and laboratory that is now a museum or Ernest Hemingways haunts. We settled on an architectural walking tour of SW paris from Guimet (who is more famous for designing the metro station entrances but who designed entire blocks of apartment buildings and had his home and studio in the 16th) to Corbusier (whose Fondation Corbusier and other landmarks of contemporary architecture are also there). The walk in one from the book ?Time Out Paris Walks? (not just the regular Time Out guide, but a separate one with wonderful themed walking tours.) Because we had missed the Marmottan the day before, and it is in the same neighborhood of the walk we also went there. We also walked up from there to see the Arc de Triomphe up close, although we did not go up.

Day 6. Normandy. We originally had debated whether to spend half a week in Paris and half a week in Normandy, but decided to have an apartment which required a week, and go to Normandy just as a day trip as we were especially interested in the DDay sights. We took a 6:45 a.m. train to Bayeux connecting through Caen arriving about 9:30. We walked from the train station to the battle of Normandy museum there, had a walk through the lovely town of Bayeux and joined a 1:30 p.m. half-day mini-van tour of the DDay sights. We had time for a croque monsieur and a Normandy cider before we caught the train direct from Bayeux to Paris at 7:30 p.m. arriving at 9:45 p.m. It was a long but entirely worthwhile day. The museum and tour were excellent (see my previous posting about our guide Alain Chesnel). The only disappointing thing was that the way the train tracks are situated they are kind of down below and the hedges hide the scenery of what I thought might be a good view into more pastoral France for the ride.

Day 6. We had left this last day for whatever we had missed the rest of week. I?m almost forgetting now what we did, but it was the Musee Picasso (still my favorite museum anywhere for the setting, the explanation of Picasso and his life and influences and overall experience, even if people say it doesn?t have the ?best? examples of Picasso?s work), a little shopping, a little café sitting, for sure.

Day 7. Put Mom and Dad on the Eurostar for their trip on to London. Husband and I rented a car there at the Gare de Nord and drove out to Vaux le Vicomte (we saw the chateau and had opera tickets for an open air performance there that evening). We returned the car to CDG the next morning for no charge beyond the one day rental before our flight home. It was a nice treat after a week playing tour guide. I highly recommend the chateau.

As one last note, can there be an airport more confusing than CDG? We arrived in Terminal 2A and had to meet my parents in Terminal 1. It is quite a bus ride through 2A-2F and then at least a few kilometers to 1. No, you cannot walk between 2 and 1 (although you can walk at least from 2D (where the rental car return is) to 2A (where we left from again) at least we didn?t even see a sidewalk between 2 and 1 and it is too far anyway. There is construction even at Terminal 1 and all international arrivals were coming in through one tiny part. I could go on and on. All I can say is allow plenty of time to arrive and depart there.

Overall, it was a huge success, with the great weather we were able to do more and enjoy more than I thought we would and the trip will be some great memories for my family (as we aren?t giving them any grandchildren after all).

Details.

Apartment. 24 rue St. Paul, 4th arrondisement. It is owned by an American man and managed by Pascal Zytomirski at www.rentalfrance.com. This apartment was a 2 bedroom, on the first "European" floor. They manage other apartments too, some of which Pascal owns and some his just manages for private owners. Pascal speaks excellent English. All the arrangements were exactly as expected. The apartment was even nicer than the photos. An apartment is not the same as a hotel, however, and you should be expecting to get by on your own. (There were excellent and detailed written instructions in a ?house book? for all appliances, neighborhood services, etc. prepared by the owner.) It was perfect for us. And for 4 adults the price was right too, 1400 Euros for the week.

Restaurants. Enjoyed Chez Paul (the 11th, recommended on www.chowhound.com for one open on a Sunday), Rouge Gorge (4th, down the block from our apartment, more stylish and upscale than I thought a wine bar would be), La Varangue (7th near Eiffel Tower and rue Cler, recommended by Rick Steves Paris although it was great it was also the only restaurant where we saw only other American tourists) and Le Relais de St. Paul (in the 4th, recommended by our apartment owner and our favorite of all, with an excellent ambiance, 3 course meal 21 Euros). We did observe the phenomenon that with small restaurants, which all of these are, a reservation is important, even if you just make it earlier the same day as walk ups often were turned away, there?s really only one seating, and there?s nowhere to wait anyway except on the street.

Sights. Highly recommend the smaller museums we saw. (We had been to the ?biggies? before.) Less crowds. More context. A better overall experience. And I highly recommend Rick Steves Paris guide and the chapters in it of these smaller museums.

What to wear and what to pack. I know this is hotly debated on Fodors. I usually like to try to dress to fit in. But, believe me, of my three trips to Paris (1987, 1997 and now) I would not have imagined the French would ever dress no better (and no worse) than Americans, but they did. (I am usually embarrassed by U.S. tourists even in my own large U.S. city.) Maybe because it was unseasonably warm for September, but it was an ?anything goes? even in the middle of the road restaurants we picked for the evenings. Wear whatever makes you comfortable. I had one paid of khaki capris, one pair of black capris and four colored T-shirts and that is all I wore all week, except that I took my black sweater to Normandy in case the coast was cold but it wasn?t. (What a change from my June 1997 trip to Paris where we almost froze to death or my September 1997 trip where we almost drowned it rained so much.) I also had a pair of black silk slacks and two silk blouses, but it was too warm really and never necessary to dress up more in the evening. Otherwise all I had was my raincoat, my umbrella and my books.

Hope you all enjoy your next trip as much as we enjoyed this one!
laurie_ann is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 12:03 PM
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And your parents had a good time!!??
I would guess so! Good idea about a theme...

Thanks!
SuzieC is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 01:02 PM
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I also enjoyed your theme approach--thanks for a fun report.
mvor is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 01:29 PM
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Sounds like a great trip and the report is a great read! I think your approach to the sightseeing was very clever! I'm sure your parents will remember this trip often!
stormygirl is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 02:00 PM
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I think your 'themes' are a great way to make sightseeing more manageable and more meaningful. Great idea.
Travelnut is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 04:26 PM
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Hi Laurie Ann you did a great job...very nicely done, and I am sure you feel tremendously. indeed it is rewarding to be kind and generous ...the Book I also think is great the name is
The Road from the Past in case anyone is interested by Ina Caro.
Thank you for your report.
Graziella5b is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2004, 04:30 PM
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Nice report! Always fun to hear about how someone else arranges their time and you did a great job planning. Thanks for including the information about your apartment, isn't the Marais wonderful?
Margie is offline  
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