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Paris – Bardo1 & Company - May 25-June 2, 2008

Paris – Bardo1 & Company - May 25-June 2, 2008

Old Jul 5th, 2008, 11:56 AM
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Paris – Bardo1 & Company - May 25-June 2, 2008

WARNING - very long and overly detailed.

DW and I had been thinking late last year where to go in Spring 08. DW was pushing for somewhere we hadn’t been before but I was secretly feeling a familiar pull to Paris. DW & I had been twice before - each time for a week. Additionally, DW had been to Paris on business. So... I suggested we take my sister’s teenage daughter somewhere - pointing out how enriching it would be. My niece had hardly left her home in rural Georgia, let alone the US. Once we decided this would be a nice present, the decision then became “where?”. Well, DW thought: where else could a first trip abroad for a teenage girl be - “Let’s just go to Paris!”. My Machiavellian plan was a success. I should feel bad, but I know we are all going to have a blast.

On with the trip....

Sunday, May 25 – Our US Airways flight to Paris departed from Philadelphia (better price than from home in DC) at 6:15 pm. The flight was one of the most pleasant and comfortable trans-Atlantic flights I’ve been on: I even slept for about an hour! Being in the front section of Economy seating makes a big difference -- almost two inches more room than the seats in the rear of the cabin.

Monday, May 26 – We arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport at around
8 am on Monday morning. All the airport’s moving walkways in their Habitrail-like plastic tubes were broken, so we had a lot of walking to, and then waiting at, Customs. We took the airport
people mover to Terminal 3 to catch the RER commuter train into Paris, getting off at Luxembourg Station on the Left Bank, about a 10-minute walk from our apartment. It was a nice ride into town, and we were tickled by a 2nd grade field trip that got on the train en masse at the Chatelet transfer station. It was very impressive how the teachers kept the group together and somewhat under control!

Our apartment was located in the Latin Quarter, 31 rue Tournefort 5e, a block from rue Mouffetard, the old market street. We rented the apartment through a New Jersey company “Vacation in Paris”, and the arrangements were convenient (the apartment key was mailed to us a week before departure at home, payment could be made through U.S. mail by check, or through the internet by credit card); the directions were clear and thorough; everything was very professional. I highly recommend the company!

We had Google-mapped the walk from the station to the apartment, and got there
without any problem. After letting ourselves in at about 10:00 am, we were just
starting to relax when the apartment cleaner came. He told us that he would be
done and the apartment would be ready by 12:30 or 1:00, so we gathered our maps
and cameras and trudged out into Place Contrascarpe, the center of historic rue
Mouffetard. We settled in at the outdoor tables of a little café and had some
breakfast – crepes for our 15yo niece (DN), croissant for moi, and soft-boiled eggs and
toast for DW. After lots of coffee and a little food, we felt ready to explore.

Using another pre-printed Google map, we walked north-east to the Jardin des
Plants Batobus stop on Quai St. Bernard, past the Institut du Monde Arabe and
through a park and outdoor sculpture garden on the bank of the Seine. The
Batobus ticket office was just opening, and we got on the first boat of the day
at 11:00, to make an 8-stop, 90-minute circuit of important Paris sights along the Seine, including City Hall (Hotel de Ville), the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Musee D’Orsay, St. Germain des-Pres, and Notre Dame, where we disembarked and walked back to
the apartment – arriving at 1:30 pm, all of us ready to crash!

Our cute apartment was roomy, well-appointed, and perfectly located. We had two
bedrooms – the master bedroom overlooking rue Pot de Fer, an intense
pedestrian-only block of restaurants, and the second bedroom overlooking the
quiet apartment building courtyard. The bathroom had a very large and deep
bathtub and handheld shower, and the toilet room was separate, which was
convenient because it prevented a lot of waiting around. The kitchen was large,
bright, and well-stocked, and the living room was comfortable, with a dining
table and three chairs, as well as couch, easy chairs, and TV.

We fell into bed and slept for awhile. I napped very briefly, then got up, made
coffee, read and relaxed. At 4:00, DW went out in a light rain and bought a few groceries
for the apartment from a nearby Franprix, a mini grocery store. When DW got back, we made a light supper of croque monsieurs, though DW didn’t like the stinky (and divine!) Camembert cheese, so she made herself a PBJ. After eating, we took the Metro to Centre Pompidou and looked at bewildering modern art for about an hour. We were kicked out at 9 pm, then walked back toward the river to Chatelet Metro and took the train back to Place Monge (our closest metro stop, only two blocks from the apartment), and home to bed.

Tuesday, May 27 -- DN was up early, around 4 am, but DW and I slept until
about 7. DN bought croissants and a baguette from a little boulangier on Place Contrascarpe for breakfast. Then we walked up to Notre Dame, about 15 minutes to the Ile de la Citie. It was about 8:30 when we arrived, so there was absolutely no line to get in. (Yay!) The Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris is a stunning edifice, finished in 1270 and recently cleaned of almost a millennium of grime; the building is one of the best-known architectural icons in the world. We toured the interior slowly, listening as a group of priests and nuns sang morning mass in the Great Choir, admiring the stunning rose windows, carved and painted choir cloister walls, and beautiful side chapels. Afterwards, DN and I lined up to climb to the top of the towers. DW passed on the climb (400 steps!), having done it before and Metroed back to the apartment for the second pre-bought Museum Pass we had accidentally left behind. (Only DW and I needed the Museum Passes. Because DN was under 18, she had free entry to all museums.)

We rendezvoused at a café right beside the Cathedral, “Les Tours Notre Dame”, where DN & I rested and waited for DW, nursing our 10,60 ($16.70) diet coke and Perrier water. It was raining hard by then, and we waited about 20 minutes in a long, slow line to get in to Saint-Chapelle, before deciding that life was too short to wait in line in the rain. So we ditched and took the train to the St. Paul station in the Marais on the Right Bank, a short walk from Musee Carnavalet, a museum of that explores the history and culture of the city of Paris itself.

We ate lunch at a traditional French restaurant across the street from the museum. Each of us got the fixed price lunch for 19 . DN did not care for her food – she asked for her steak well-done, something that no French chef will do of course, and it came back about (American) medium rare. That’s as well-done as it gets in Paris! DW & I had salad with country pate, sour cornichons and ham, and grilled cod with braised endive as a main course. The fish was yummy, but lots of bones.

The rain had stopped by the time we were done, and we walked over to the museum. The Musee Carnavalet occupies two neighboring mansions, and displays a vast collection of works of art and historical objects in period settings. We were there for two hours, until I was ready to drop. We Metroed back to Place Monge and all collapsed – DN to nap for a solid 2 ½ hours, while DW and I rest and read.. DW ran out to the Mouffetard market street at around 5 pm and bought rotisserie chicken, roasted potatoes, and fruit, and at 6 pm, we woke up DN and had a tasty dinner, which she enjoyed much more than her lunch!

After dinner, we walked up rue Monge to Arena de Lutece, a wonderfully well- preserved Roman amphitheater from the 1st Century AD. Some boys were playing soccer in the sand where gladiators and animals had once fought in gory spectacles. We wandered back, stopping at Franprix for more o.j., and got back to the apartment right before it started raining again. DW and I set up our Scrabble board and settled in for an early evening.

Wednsday, May 28 – There was a tremendous thunderstorm on Tuesday night that awakened us. Wednesday morning dawned cloudy, cool, and blustery. After our now-customary breakfast of fresh croissants and baguette, we walked to the Jardin du Luxembourg, a 60-acre formal garden with a beautiful palace built for Marie Medici, wife of King Henry IV, in which the French Senate now meets. We were on a mission: we knew that somewhere in the gardens was a tiny Statue of Liberty carved by Bartholdi, who built the New York Harbor statue. After much
wandering and questioning of passers-by, we found it!

Our next stop was the Museum of the Middle Ages, formally called Musee Cluny. The beautiful 16th century house was built atop one of the oldest preserved sites in Paris, an ancient Roman bath. The museum had many gorgeous things – stained glass, carved wooden religious artefacts, and paintings – but it is most famous for its tapestries, especially The Lady and the Unicorn, a set of six spectacular tapestries produced in the late 1400s and rediscovered in the 19th century. They were stunning! I am so happy to have gotten to see them.

We were starving by then, and, in deference to our guest, went to “Breakfast in America”, a diner at 17 rue des Ecoles for a lunch of burgers, which DN declared delicious. (And properly cooked.) Then on to the Pantheon for a quick spin through its solemn and somewhat pretentious upper halls, which include Foucault’s Pendulum, then downstairs to the crypt for a quick peek at the French heroes who are interred there.

We deserved a break after our tour of the Latin Quarter, so we returned to the
apartment for some pastries and a short nap. At 4:00 we woke so we could move out to the western part of the Left Bank to see Musee Rodin and the Eiffel Tower. We Metroed to Varenne station and breezed past a long line of waiting patrons at the Musee Rodin using our Museum Pass. The museum is the home where Rodin lived, called Hotel Biron, and is chock-full of
his beautiful, erotic, and lifelike statues. (In fact, his statues are so lifelike that a vicious rumor was spread during his lifetime that he was actually encasing live bodies in bronze, a la “House of
Wax”. Of course, that doesn’t explain the fact that the same statues were made in varying sizes.) The gardens around Hotel Biron are beautiful and full of Rodin’s larger works like “The Gates of Hell”, “Burghers of Calais”, and “The Thinker”.

We walked westward, across the grounds of the Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, and our energy was starting to flag, when I had the idea to hop on a bus for the rest of the distance to the Eiffel Tower. The bus ride was fun, and it dropped us off right at the base of the tower. The entry line was long – about a 1-hour wait, but the line was sure longer when we got back to the bottom
later in the evening! The tower is crowded and expensive, and you can’t use the Museum Pass, but it is definitely still a must-do experience. We were so glad that the weather had cleared up throughout the day, because we had fantastic views. We went all the way to the top (having to wait in yet another long line at the second level), then we descended in stages, stopping at the second level for some ice cream. By 8:00, we were back on the ground and jumped into a cab for the return trip. We had leftover chicken, potatoes, cheese and fruit for dinner at the apartment, and were all in bed by 9:30.

Thursday, May 29 -- Forget the DaVinci Code, we know the real secret of the Louvre – use a Museum Pass, and get there at 9:00 am when the museum opens. We waltzed in from the Palais-Royal/Musee du Louvre Metro station through the Passage Richelieu, checked our coats, and flashed our Museum Passes – no line! It gets better. We made a beeline for the Mona Lisa, giving a lot of awfully nice 14th and 15th century Italian paintings very short shrift, and there she
was, in her bulletproof glass-encased glory, a rather small painting acquired by Francois I to hang in his bathroom. We were practically alone; there was the three of us, the guard, and four other people. She smiled, we smiled, it was magic. The moral of this story is, go early, and use a Museum Pass!

There is other nice stuff at the Louvre, of course – we saw some lovely sculptures, including the Winged Victory of Samothrace from 200 BC, Roman sculptures from the Borghese, and an Aphrodite from the island of Milo who was gorgeous even without her arms. Next up were the Egyptians – lots of sarcophagi, mummified cats, sphinxes, the works; and finally, we breezed up to the 15th, 16th and 17th century German, Dutch and Flemish painters. I was annoyed by the
museum’s decision to showcase a modern artist’s pieces interspersed among the Durers and Rubens. There were exoskeletons fashioned by wiring lateral human bone slices together (yuck!), a “graveyard” installation featuring a worm with a human head (yuck again!), and a performance art video of two people dressed in medieval armor locked in a glass box doing tableaux vivant of famous paintings like St. George and the Dragon or the Pieta (huh?).

We went down to the cafeteria and had a coffee overlooking Napoleon Hall, under the big glass pyramid. Then we collected our coats and walked out at 11:00, just as it was getting crowded. We walked through the enormous Tuleries Garden to the Orangerie, where we viewed the panel paintings that are installed to completely encompass two big oval rooms, surrounding us with Claude Monet’s beautiful water lilies, or Les Nympheas. There was more art downstairs, but we were getting snackish, so we Metroed from the very grand Place Concorde to Sully Morland
station on the Right Bank, at the eastern edge of Ile St. Louis.

We walked across the Pont de Sully and wandered up the main drag of Ile St. Louis, stopping first for delicious ice cream at Berthillion, and then a shopping spree at the fun and cheerful Pylones, full of whimsical kitchen and household gear. We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant near the bridge that joins Ile St. Louis to Ile de la Citie. DN & I had pizza - DW had spaghetti. It was vrey good and, more importantly, familiar. After a big meal, we all suddenly realized that we were very tired, and the walk back to the apartment was much slower than our morning pace
had been. We stopped at an internet café, @Znet, sent e-mails and checked the weather (more rain on the way!). Then we went back to the apartment for a long and well deserved afternoon nap.

About 6:00, I set off down rue Mouffetard to do a little shopping for dinner, and bought delicious sausages, pate, raspberries, juice, and few other items. We cooked a quick and tasty dinner, then went out at around 8:00 to the Arc de Triomphe. This was a great visit! The skies had cleared and there were wonderful views in all directions. My favorite direction was down, watching the chaotic traffic around Place de l’Etoile – no lanes, 12 roads merging crazily into one big traffic circle. It was infinitely entertaining.

Then we walked down Champs-Elysees, strolling with the throngs of tourists and Parisians. I was looking for a movie, but none were starting before 10:00 or so, and it was just 9:00. So we had an ice cream, then took the Metro from Franklin Roosevelt station to Pont Neuf, where we crossed the Seine looking back across the Ile de la Citie. We walked through the lively
St. Germain des Pres neighborhood, where diners spilled out onto the sidewalks and strolling accordionists played. One last Metro ride brought us to Cardinal Lemoine, just a few blocks from Place Contrascarpe and home. It was finally fully dark by 10:00, and the streets were thronged with students, couples, and well-heeled parties eating and drinking in the mild evening air.

We telephoned home for quick chats. Unexpectedly, our Cingular cell phone worked in Paris. Of course, who knows what it will costs? (Just got the bill - $1.29 minute).

Friday, May 30 – We rose at 7:30 and had breakfast – no croissants today, just toast, baguette, and delicious cantaloupe. We got on the Metro at Cardinal Lemoine, after stopping at a pharmacy for some blister covers for DN’s foot. We were walking that poor girl to death! Two stops took us to the main train station for the southern half of the city, Gare D’Austerlitz. We bought three RER commuter rail tickets, a deal at 1,50 each, and rode the C Line to the west of city, to the suburb of Versaille-Rive Gauche. The Versaille Palace is an easy 5-minute walk from the train station; we arrived at the chateau at 10:00. It wasn’t too crowded, and we zipped through the line since we could use our Museum Pass. The chateau was built as the hunting lodge of King Louis XIII, but is best known as the opulent home of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.

We started our tour with the 17th century galleries of the chateau. Before too long, the crowd thickened, and by the time we got to the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments and Hall of Mirrors, you barely had to put your feet on the floor – you could just let yourself be carried along by the crowd. It was all quite opulent, but too crowded to really enjoy. After touring the palace, we had a snack in the cafeteria, then walked to the grounds behind the chateau – nice back yard! The gardens, ponds and fountains stretched away for over a mile, as far as the eye could see.

In fact, the grounds stretched so far that we opted to buy tickets for the “mini-train” which makes three stops: at the chateau, at the Trianon estate buildings on the southern edge of the property, and at the central Grand Canal area, where there are boat, bicycle, and Segway rentals and restaurants. We got off there, and had a lovely traditional French lunch at La Flotille, a formal
restaurant with garden seating. Happily, DN enjoyed her four-cheese ravioli and Chicken Supreme with citrus sauce. I had steak tartare, and DW had salmon. We each had a delicious dessert, which DN duly photographed (she took 5 times as many photos as we did).

After our pleasant repast, we needed to work off all those calories, so we rented bikes to ride around the park area. We rode to Petit Trianon, where Marie Antoinette retreated from the formalities of palace life. The building itself was undergoing repairs, so we wandered the grounds, then returned our bikes and made our way back to the train station in time for the 3:05 train to Paris. We were all just exhausted and slept on the train.

Once back in Paris, DN & I headed straight to the apartment to nap, but DW walked back from Gare D’Austerlitz through the Jardin des Plantes, which houses the city’s zoo and natural history museum, stopped on rue Mouffetard and shopped for dinner items.

At 6:00, DW and I made dinner: steamed shrimp (I pinched off their heads before cooking in deference to DN’s sensibilities), green beans&butter, bread, pate, melon, and cookies.

After ward, we took the Metro to Hotel de Ville and walked two blocks to Saint-Merry Church for a free concert by the Johannes Brahms Orchestra of Paris, a 26-piece amateur orchestra (who definitely sounded amateur, though there were some nice musical moments). They were joined by a small choir in the first half of the concert, singing a Berlioz piece and the gorgeous Faure
“Cantique de Jean Racine”, then the second half was the orchestra alone playing Beethoven’s 1st Symphony. The concert ended by 9:30, and we were back in the apartment, ready for bed, by 10:00.

Saturday, May 31 – I let the women sleep in and made breakfast. Then “the girls” went shopping at the Paris department store extraordinaire, Galeries Lafayette. Then, for the contrast, hopped on the Metro to the very northern end of the No. 4 line, right outside the edge of the city. Pourte de Clignacourt is home to an enormous non-stop flea market. Meanwhile, I had gone on the essential errand to Pierre Herme on 26 rue Bonaparte 6e, near St. Suplice, for pastries, chocolates, and macarons.

For lunch, we stepped out onto rue Mouffetard to the Creperie, and watched our lunch crepes be cooked before our eyes, then folded into a paper-wrapped cone so we could eat them with our hands. But we opted to be civilized and brought the food back to the apartment (1 block) to eat and rest. DN was still peppy, and ran back out for more shopping in the neighborhood.

After a brief rest, we set back out for Montmarte. It was a long train ride on the No. 7 line, transferring to the No. 2 and stopping at Anvers station, where we rode the funicular to the top of the butte. There was an enormous crowd on the steps of Sacre-Coeur church, singing John
Lennon’s “Imagine” along with guitarists, mimes, break dancers, and (no doubt) pickpockets. The view from Sacre-Coeur over the city of Paris was not good – it was overcast and hazy.

Inside the church was quite beautiful in a stark, modern way. But we didn’t stay long because the ushers/security guards were very aggressively shushing everyone, insisting on complete and reverent quiet and no photos. One guy tried to take a picture in the church and was bodily ejected. We walked around the village of Montmartre, ending at Place du Tetre, a busy square filled with restaurants, souvenir shops, and artists plying their trade.

Leaving the crowds behind, we went down a series of steps, each set leading to a street. About halfway down the hill, we stopped for an early dinner at an informal brasserie called Relais au de Butte (“Toll House on the Hill”). DN & I had enormous salads covered with heaps of cold cuts and cheeses, DW opted for the duck breast and mashed potatoes. Everything was delicious!

It was starting to lightly rain, but we were only a couple of blocks from the Abbesses Metro station. This was on the No. 12 line, so altogether, we have ridden on eight of the 14 Metro lines: numbers 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 13. And we’ve taken two of the three RER lines, the C Line to Versaille and the B line to the airport. And on Sunday, we woud be taking intercity rail to Chartres. Plus, we’ve taken the bus, ridden on a boat, bicycles, and a taxi (just once!). We are
so multi-modal!

Upon our return to the apartment at 8:30, DW went out for a little food for Sunday’s breakfast. I kept trying to find an English-language station on the TV, with no success. At not even 9:00, we were in for the night. We played a three-hand game of Scrabble, then turned in.

Sunday, June 1 – We slept in until 8:00, then breakfasted on toast and the last of the farm butter and jam We checked out the twice-weekly outdoor market at Place Monge, shopped for our final Paris dinner. DW also picked up a scarf. One food booth featured goose and duck liver pates, and the seller was giving away free samples. It was delicious! DN was quite nervous about trying it, but the guy said, “It’s not poison! He’s still standing.” (Pointing at me.) So DN tried a bite, but wasn’t impressed at all.

At around 10:30, we left for the Montparnasse train station to catch an intercity train to Chartres. Once we got to the station and waited in the ticket line, we found we had just missed the 11:15 train, and the next one wasn’t leaving until 1:00 pm. So we went around the corner to a Pizza Traittor called Pietro’s. My pizza was delicious, though quite French, with plenty of arugula
and a cooked egg on top.

The train ride to Chartres was about 1 hour and 8 minutes, and we were all pretty sleepy when we
arrived at 2:10. The weather – which had been sunny all day – suddenly got cool and cloudy, and a few raindrops fell as we waked in to the Cathedral. The Chartres Cathedral was dedicated by Louis IX in 1260, and has been perfectly preserved in its original Gothic glory. The church is famous for its gorgeous stained glass windows. The predominate color of the windows is blue – a blue unlike any other and never duplicated, that is now called “Chartres Blue”. There is also a labyrinth on the Cathedral floor, though it was partially covered by chairs since they had celebrated Mass that morning.

We admired the gardens behind the Cathedral, which drop away in terraces to the old city below. DN’s blister was hurting her, so rather than explore more of the town, we headed back to the train station, stopping for coffee along the way. The town was pretty much shut down, anyway, since it was a Sunday afternoon. We took the 4:48 train and were back at the apartment at 6:30. Our last dinner at the apartment was fantastic - quality of ingredients make all the difference. I made sure to cook DN’s steak well done, the way she likes it. After dinner, we went a block up rue Mouffetard and got gelati for dessert.

Monday, June 2 – We needed to be out of the apartment by 9:30 am, so we packed, cleaned up, then reversed our incoming trip to Luxembourg RER station to Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was tougher going back, since somehow we had more bags to carry, and everything was heavier! Oh, and of course it was raining – again! Our flight was at 1:30, and we were at the airport by 10:30, so we plenty of time to spend our last few Euros at the airport gift shops, including a big box of stinky cheese that was triple-wrapped in plastic, aluminum foil, and a plastic bag (and I still smelled it in the overhead on the plane!).

And so our Paris adventure was over. We had a wonderful time! While this was the third time DW & I have had the opportunity to spend a week in Paris, it was great to see some new things in this amazing city, and in some ways, it was even more fun to do things we had done before on previous trips, but to experience them anew with our dear niece, and see them through her fresh eyes.
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Old Jul 5th, 2008, 12:53 PM
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bardo1: This was so nice of you. How did niece react to Paris? I know I have a secret ambition to somehow get everyone I know to Paris, yet if they didn't enjoy it, I would feel bad.
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Old Jul 5th, 2008, 02:34 PM
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My niece loved Paris. She is an exceptionally well behaved teen and enthusiastic about new experiences.

She was skeptical about the food - one reason we went with an apartment - but loved the city, the museums, the stores, the pastries/macarons/chocolates, and the transportation system. She actually didn't like the authentic crusty bread at first (!) but it grew on her as the week wore on.

DW and I are epicures (see our previous Paris trip report), so we also had to be flexible on this trip.
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Old Jul 7th, 2008, 08:17 AM
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shameless top in hope of another audient....
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Old Jul 7th, 2008, 09:03 AM
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Glad you topped this. I really enjoyed reading your report. Your niece is a lucky girl. What a wonderful experience for all of you.

I like the details you provided about your day's touring, including that sometimes it rains, places are busy, or you just get tired.

I, too, am a huge fan of the museum pass.

You write that one of the reasons for staying in an apartment was for ease of eating with your niece. Do you usually stay in hotels?

Thanks for writing.

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Old Jul 7th, 2008, 09:04 AM
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Loved your report, thank you! It really is fun to take someone who has never been and to see what they think. We did that with my mother last summer. Your niece is very fortunate to have you and DW in her life, and she will remember this for many year to come.
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Old Oct 26th, 2008, 05:56 PM
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Thanks for the great report. Going to Paris soon; got lots of good ideas and made me even more impatient to be there.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2008, 02:33 PM
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Wonderful trip report. I am heading to Paris for my third visit in May and your report made me wish the time could pass more quickly. Thanks for sharing.
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