Paris Trip Report - Long

Oct 2nd, 2006, 11:50 AM
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Paris Trip Report - Long

We just returned from a week in Paris on Saturday. While it's more or less fresh in my mind, I'm posting my report.

First of all, I was last in Paris when I was in my late 20's, 28 years since I was last in Paris. I was backpacking and I was not all that prepared that time - I don't even know if I had a guidebook, although I must have. This time I did a lot more research!

Friday – Departure Day

We flew Zoom airlines from Toronto. That’s a ‘budget’ airline that flies between some cities in Canada and the UK as well as Paris. To be honest, it didn’t seem all that different from Air Canada, except that it left on time! (And that’s really not the experience with Air Canada.) It wasn’t direct – we stopped off in Montreal to pick up most of the passengers. I hadn’t been to Paris in 28 years, so was looking forward to our week. We had rented an apartment in the 15th.

Day #1 – Saturday

We arrived in Paris around 6:30 Saturday morning. Zoom uses terminal 3 of CDG. I was really surprised by the security – it seemed very lax. The first 10 people in the line to go through immigration were interviewed. The rest of us were just waved through. Literally we just held up our open passports and walked through. We waited a long time for our bags – I assume that’s because we flew from Toronto, so our bags were first on, last off. Once we got them, we tried to get cash. I posted about this last week – our ATM cards (Convenience cards from CIBC) didn’t work at the only ATM in the arrivals area. We then went to the departures area – same story. We ended up buying euros at the American Express desk, but even there, we had problems – my Amex card and my husband’s Visa card were both rejected. My Visa worked. So, now with some cash, we made our way to the RER to catch the train into Paris. We decided to buy a 5 day Paris Visite pass – now we find that both our Visas are rejected, but my Amex card worked. Go figure. (P.S. The card did work later in the week, but we found we used our credit cards a lot and didn’t use a lot of cash.) The Paris Visite pass was about 45 euros.

We both agreed that if we had been contestants on the Amazing Race, we would have lost already.

I hadn’t slept well on the plane, so I was very tired but we had no problems getting into Paris – the apartment owner had given us great instructions. When we got to the apartment, the cleaner was still there so we dropped our bags off and went for a walk. Our apartment was on Rue St. Charles, and we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, so headed that way. We tried a couple more ATMs, no luck.

We finally dragged ourselves back to the apartment and settled in. The apartment was wonderful! It’s a new building, probably 7 stories. Our apartment was on the ground floor, and we had a beautiful little garden terrace, quite private. There was a separate living room, small kitchen (with full sized fridge, dishwasher, stove, washing machine), bathroom, separate WC and bedroom. There was even a laptop computer, printer and phone that we could use. We had booked it through VRBO and it was perfect for us. I have spent the last few months travelling back & forth between Toronto and Montreal on business, and I am sick of hotels, so it was a real plus being in an apartment with a terrace.

First stop after checking out the apartment was Monoprix (about a block away) to get some groceries (coffee, milk, cheese, etc.). We also stopped at the wonderful bakery across the street from the apartment. There was also another bakery around the corner called Eric Kayser.

After that, we decided to head over to the Seine and catch a Batobus near the Eiffel Tower. The lineup didn’t appear too long, but it seemed as though it moved slowly. In the meantime, we decided to buy a 2 day Batobus / Open Tour pass. Got to the front of the line finally and the clerk told us that she didn’t have any 2 day passes left, just 3 day. Then she said she only had one 3 day pass left. But here’s where it gets really weird - she said the clerk next to her in the same booth had passes – she seemed to be saying that we’d have to get in that line. Eventually she asked that clerk if she could ‘borrow’ a couple of passes. She got 2 passes, but then she told us that her Visa machine didn’t work – the other clerk’s machine worked, but she couldn’t ‘borrow’ that, so we would have to pay in cash or get in the other line. By this time, we’re thinking maybe we’re dreaming this – very odd! Since our cash situation wasn’t great, we said no thanks and we went over to Bateaux Parisiens and bought a ticket to do that instead (15 euros for the 2 of us, with a discount coupon). Lots of European tourists, it seemed. I was so exhausted, I almost fell asleep on the boat anyway!

That night we had quiche that we had picked up from the bakery for dinner in the apartment. We both slept well.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 11:51 AM
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Day #2 – Sunday

Next morning, we had breakfast in the apartment and then headed to Montparnasse. We walked through the outdoor art show (I saw some nice jewellery which I later wished I had bought) and then through the cemetery. I love visiting cemeteries, and this one didn’t disappoint. We saw the graves of some famous people (Sartre and de Beauvoir and others) and marvelled at the different monuments. One is like a large ceramic cat.

We then took the metro over to Rue Mouffetard and wandered around that area a bit. We stopped for lunch at a place called Jardin d’Ivy – fixed price for 2 courses, not expensive and quite good. They spoke English, but I think we were the only non-French people there. My entrée was ham (like proscuitto), melon, pineapple and goat cheese. I can’t remember what John’s was, but my main course was duck with a fabulous sauce and John had fish. Price was 45 euros for the 2 of us. It looked as though it would rain at that point, but when we finished lunch, skies were clear again. (Actually the forecast was for rain every day, but we only had rain a couple of times at night.)

After lunch, we headed over to the Catacombs (seemed fitting after the cemetery) – quite amazing to go through. Cost was 7 euros each.

Dinner that night was at an Italian place near our apartment. We were still suffering from jet lag, so didn’t feel like a big meal. John ordered a pizza and I ordered spaghetti carbonara. It was actually surprisingly good, and of course more than I needed. I think we both drank coke. The bill came to 30 euros for the 2 of us.

Day #3 – Monday

We started off by going to the Tourist Information office on Rue Pyramides. We wanted to pick up our museum passes – we decided on 2 day passes (30 euros each). We then hopped back on the metro and went to Galleries Lafayette. The store was amazing – the cupola is gorgeous and the place is huge. We wandered through their food hall and then had a café au lait outside (5 euros each).

We had decided to make our focus that day a walk through the Marais. Starting point was the Bastille, where we spotted Bofinger. We decided to have lunch there. We shared an entrée of aubergine ‘caviar’ and little fresh mozzarella, and then had an enormous platter of different types of sausages and choucroute and potatoes – massive amount of food, more than we could eat. I don’t remember if we had coffee or not, I’m sure we didn’t order dessert. Décor was very nice and service was friendly. No problems going at 1:30 or so – lots of tables. Service was friendly, and the total bill was about 60 euros.

After that huge lunch, we wandered through the Marais. Interesting area.

That night we just had a pizza at the apartment, and then walked over to the Eiffel Tower. Amazing views from the third deck (11 euros each). No crowd to get into the tower and up to the second deck, although the crowd to get to the third deck was a bit much. Also getting out was a drag. Two women wedged their way in – I didn’t say anything, because it was only 2 people. But then they were joined by a group of about a dozen large Eastern Europeans – when we pointed out the back of the line, they told us they were part of a group. I’ll say they were – they filled the elevator. (That’s being catty.) Well, I guess that’s one way to jump the queue.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 11:52 AM
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Day #4 – Tuesday

Our focus that day was the Latin Quarter. We walked around for the morning, saw the usual sites. Eventually we made our way to Chez Denise, in Les Halles area, for lunch around 1:30 – 2 PM. We had to decide between Chez Clovis (we had heard good things about it) and Chez Denise, and decided on the latter, having heard about it on the Anthony Bourdain show. John ordered a salad to start – huge salad – and then steak frites. I ordered lamb chops. The frites came in a very large platter to share and were delicious. The lamb chops were more medium than medium rare, but still tasty. I had 2 glasses of wine and John had mineral water. The waiter teased me that I drank too much. I think we both ordered coffee, but no dessert after all that food. Cost was 76 euros.

Actually before going to the Latin Quarter, we went to the Marche aux Fleurs. Didn’t spend a lot of time there – to be honest, I was a little disappointed. I remembered it as much larger and more colourful – may I had it confused with a flower market somewhere else, another city perhaps? (After all, it had been 28 years …..)

After Chez Denise, we went to Fauchon. A friend had said we had to see it. Maybe we missed something there – again, it wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting. (Did we miss a floor or even a whole store?) Galleries Lafayette was much more impressive.

When we got back to the apartment, we called Cityrama to book the Illuminations of Paris open bus tour (or whatever it’s called). Cost was 24 euros each, I think. It starts at 10 PM and lasts about 1 ½ hours. It was a little nippy by the time we finished, but I was glad we chose to do the open air tour – definitely fun to see Paris that way. The lights were amazing, and even though it’s touristy, it was fun – and we’re tourists.


Day #5 – Wednesday

That day, we took the metro to Pigalle and headed up to Montmartre. Yes, it’s touristy, but it was fun to walk through the streets. Weather was great, but the visibility over the city wasn’t particularly good. We had lunch at a little creperie – we split a really good salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts, and then we each had a wonderful savoury crepe. We split a delicious dessert crepe (marron) – I hadn’t had one of those in 28 years! I also drank excellent cider there, and we both had coffee. Cost was about 31 euros for the 2 of us. We met a woman from Mexico while having lunch – she was sitting next to us with her little daughter. She lives in Paris, and we got talking. We’ve travelled extensively in Mexico and it’s still my favourite country to visit, so it was interesting to talk with her. Her husband is Parisian. They met in Mexico, although she had lived in Paris before she met him, and they plan to move back to Mexico.

After lunch, we went to the cemetery in Montmartre. Again, we saw some graves of famous people (Truffaut being one of them), and I found it interesting that this cemetery was quite different from the one in Montparnasse.

We went back to the apartment to rest up a bit, and that evening we went back to Rue Mouffetard. I had a drink at a brasserie (happy hour, so my mojito was 5 euros). We didn’t feel like a big dinner – we ended up stopping at a place called Mouffe-tart and had their special - a slice of quiche with salad, a slice of dessert tart and a coke – I think it was about 8.5 euros. The quiche was heated up in a microwave, so lost points there, but it was still fairly tasty and the dessert tarts were wonderful. (And with the dessert tarts, definitely more than I needed.)

We had reserved Thursday and Friday for museums. We had bought a 2 day museum pass (30 euros each) earlier in the week and were waiting to see if we would have a rainy day to start using them. Since we were leaving Saturday, we started running out of time!
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 11:54 AM
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Day #6 – Thursday

On Thursday, we started at the Cluny since we had enjoyed the garden there. No line, quite interesting.

Then we walked up to Notre Dame and looked around the cathedral. The museum pass entitles you to go up the tower so we joined a short line for that. Great views (much clearer day than Wednesday). I would imagine that the stairway would be a problem if you were claustrophobic.

We then stopped for lunch at a brasserie – John had pizza and diet coke, I had a croque madame and beer. The sandwich was huge and quite tasty. Cost was about 27 euros for both of us.

After lunch, I had the bright idea of going to Ste. Chapelle and seeing the stained glass. It was covered by our museum pass and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The lineup wasn’t all that long to get into the Palais Justice, but neither of the xray machines was working. I started to wonder what they were doing to the people ahead of us – full body checks or what? I wanted to leave after ½ hour, John wanted to stay. After all, how long would it take? Well, it took 1 hour and 40 minutes to get in. And maybe if we hadn’t waited so long, I could have appreciated it. As it was, we were in and out of there in less than 10 minutes (just enough time to rest our tired feet). Definitely not worth it, although we did enjoy talking and joking with the couples in front and behind us in the line.

By this time, we were ready to head back to the apartment to rest up. The owner of the apartment was there, having the locks changed (apparently the keys to the old lock were hard to replace) – the new lock looked like something from Fort Knox. We knew that he would be there – he had called the day we arrived to see if everything was ok and let us know that he would be in Paris, and if it was ok to have the locksmith in. It was nice to meet him – up to this point, all our communication was either by email or phone (he lives in the US part of the year). I sat in the garden and just relaxed with my book for a while.

Later we headed out to Musee D’Orsay. Both of us really enjoyed it and it wasn’t overly crowded and there were no line ups. We left there around 9 PM and had a drink at a bar a few blocks from the museum. (Not much seemed open at that time right there.)

We had a 10:15 reservation at L’Ami Jean in the 7th for dinner, so made our way over there. My feet were sore by that point – it didn’t look so far on the map, but it was definitely a longer walk than I expected. The restaurant was packed (we couldn’t get in earlier) and very lively. Both of us had the 30 euro fixed price menu – John had a terrine to start, then pork with lentils (which was fabulous) and a clafouti for dessert. I had a soup (sort of soup like foam) with mushrooms, mussels and shrimp to start, then fish (waiter said sea bass) and mashed potatoes, and then rice pudding. Unfortunately I’m probably one of the few people alive who don’t like mashed potatoes, but given the size of the rice pudding, I was glad I hadn’t filled up on starch. It was the biggest bowl of rice pudding I’ve ever seen – it came with a big wooden spoon and a smaller bowl with something in the bottom of it. Quite delicious, although neither John nor I could finish it all! I had their version of a kir to start and we had a large bottle of mineral water to drink. Cost came to 77 euros for the 2 of us. Again, we got talking to a Mexican there – this time, it was a man who was visiting Paris and his Parisian date – they were sitting next to us. The man has lived in several countries, including Canada, although he’s now a banker in Mexico City.

That was a late night for us – with the late dinner reservation, it was almost 1 AM by the time we got to bed.

Day #7 – Friday

First of all, we got up a little later than we planned, so we didn’t leave the apartment until 11 AM. We headed off to the Louvre. It was much bigger than I had remembered, and I found it overwhelming. We didn’t spend a lot of time there but it was more than enough for me. It was too crowded, too hot, just too much of everything. Plus my feet were already sore. The good thing was that with the museum pass, there was no line up to get in. We then went to the Museum of Decorative Arts. That was much much better, although it seemed odd that even with the museum pass, we had to line up to get into it, then line up for a ticket (which was free with our passes). I mean, what’s up with that? I enjoyed that museum a lot more – it’s much more contemporary.

By now, I was definitely ‘museumed out’.

We then walked over to the Odeon area, to have lunch at Le Comptoir. The Parisian woman from the night before had recommended it for lunch. I knew it would be difficult / impossible to get into for dinner without a reservation, but there was no problem at lunch. We got there around 3 PM. We split a croque monsieur (smoked salmon & cheese) and a salad nicoise. I can’t remember if I ordered beer or just drank mineral water. We ordered coffee and shared the most fabulous dessert – tiny rum baba with rum & raisin ice cream. Bill was 43 euros for the 2 of us. After lunch, we went back to the apartment to rest up again.

Dinner that night was at Le Meurice, in the Winter Garden. I had read about their 45 euro fixed price menu on Chowhound, and decided it would be an experience. (I think it’s a 75 euro fixed price menu in the restaurant.) Food was excellent, service was excellent. Highlight for me was the macaroon with white chocolate and basil for dessert, although my entrée and main course were very good as well. I had a kir royale to start (15 euros) and 2 glasses of wine (10 euros each). John stuck with mineral water. We also had coffee. Total bill was 178 euros so definitely more expensive than anywhere else we ate, but I’m sure many people spend that every night! (And apparently their restaurant is a 2 star Michelin restaurant, if that matters.)

We got back to the apartment and packed up to leave. The trip was almost over.

Day #8 – Saturday

We had an 11:30 AM flight out of Paris. We got on the wrong train at first, but a young French woman noticed our bags and told us to take the next train. Very nice of her! We got out to CDG and flew home.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 11:54 AM
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General Impressions (Random Thoughts)

Paris seemed bigger than I remembered – or maybe 28 years later, I just found I got more tired wandering around!

My feet were really sore by the time we left. I didn’t take a lot of clothes – 2 black skirts with tops and a black dress. I brought my comfortable Mephisto shoes to wear with them (kind of like maryjanes, but with a wide strap). I had intended to bring a pair of pants, but at the last moment decided not to, so I didn’t bring the shoes that I would have worn with pants. Instead I brought another pair of shoes that I thought were comfortable to wear with my skirts – big mistake, they weren’t comfortable enough. Weather was so good, I could easily have brought some comfortable sandals to wear as well as the Mephistos.

There was so much graffiti on the way from CDG, but once in the city, it seemed fairly clean.

Prices can be high – but apart from Le Meurice, we ate in moderate priced restaurants (and some were inexpensive). It was wonderful having an apartment – the garden terrace made it for me, and having access to grocery stores and bakeries really helped. We ate breakfast in the apartment every day and also had late lunch or dinner there on more than 1 occasion.

We had been told that the servings were small in Paris. We certainly didn’t find that - portions were more than enough. Food in general was great! Bakeries on every corner – wow! All those cheeses! If we didn’t want to order the fixed price of 2 or 3 courses (which were usually a good deal), we ordered off the menu. (My only regret is that I didn’t have any Moroccan food – oh well, how many meals can you eat?)

I admit it – we stopped on several occasions to have a Starbucks coffee. Sometimes we just wanted to take a break and linger over a large coffee.

John commented that he was disappointed that he didn’t come across one rude French waiter! In fact, people seemed very friendly to us. We don’t speak French (apart from knowing the basics) and there were times we were presented with French menus that I didn’t understand. I would then ask the waiter to explain the menu – probably not all that sophisticated of me, but at least I was more sure of what I was ordering.

I’ve seen posts about whether it’s ‘acceptable’ to not order wine in a restaurant. Well, my husband doesn’t drink alcohol and we certainly didn’t feel that we ever got poor service. I never ordered a bottle of wine, sometimes a glass or maybe a beer.

I didn’t really do any shopping. I wished I had bought a necklace or earrings early in the week. I also saw scarves that I liked. There were lots of great shoes in Paris – I saw a lot of flats or very low heels in the stores. That’s mostly what I wear (even though I’m short) so I was tempted every time I saw a shoe store. Also saw a lot of nice skirts. Oh well. Always the way, if you don’t buy something when you see it, you don’t usually see it later on when you’re ready to buy.

A friend who had lived in Paris lent me a very good map book – that was really useful. I don’t think there are any intersections in Paris where there are 90 degree corners – it seems 5 or 6 streets all converge in 1 intersection!

The metro is great. We used it every day, at least 4 times a day. We took a bus one day. We each bought the 5 day Paris Visite pass, then 2 one day Mobilis passes for the 2 last days. Each of those was 5.5 euros. We bought a combined metro / RER ticket to get out to the airport the last morning – that was 8.5 euros, I believe.

I wouldn’t buy the museum pass again. Yes, it probably saved us money, but it meant that we were trying to cram all those museums into 2 days. I found it exhausting and overwhelming. I can’t imagine anything I’d dislike more than a trip to Paris focussing on the museums and galleries.

It’s true that Parisians seem to like dogs – we saw a lot of little dogs all over. (We did see one cat on our terrace several times – but we weren’t able to entice him to visit. The apartment owner said he’s a typical Parisian cat, not friendly!)

After a week there, I would have liked to get out of the city. I was tired of looking at my map book and seeing sights – I would have liked to just relax! (Instead I’m back in Toronto working….. or at least planning to work!)

Overall, an excellent holiday!
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 12:02 PM
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Great report! I think everyones first stop is the Monoprix. Smart move.
Lostmymind is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 12:06 PM
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Thank you for your post! It sounds like a great trip - and (sshhhh....don't tell anyone but I get museumed out as well.) <GRIN>
My cures are cafe's, terraces and parks.
SuzieC is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 12:17 PM
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Susanln Toronto,

Great trip report. I will mark it so that when I return to Paris I will have some really good places to eat based on your experience with them.

I'm glad to hear that Bofinger is still in business. I ate there in 1990, last time I saw Paris. Do they still have the piano and did you see any dogs accompanying their owners?
Khori is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 12:33 PM
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hdm
 
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Hi SusanInToronto,
I'm in Toronto too. I'm just about to start planning our first trip to France which we hope to take next May or June, and we're also thinking of an apartment in Paris. We did that in Tuscany (also vrbo) last year and enjoyed it so much. We enjoy shopping at the local markets and cooking the occasional meal at home.

I think I've found your vrbo number based on your description. The terrace really appeals to me because we'll be there in the nice weather. I see a tiny table out there -- is it big enough to eat outside? And did you find the apartment quiet? I'm a little concerned that being on the ground level, there might be street noise.

Also, I hadn't considered using Zoom but I'll look into it. Was it a much better price than the larger airlines?

Thanks so much for such a detailed trip report -- I'll definitely print it off and put it in my Going To France file!
hdm is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 12:51 PM
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Hi, we bought the 4 day pass and it was too much finally - we felt guilty about not using it to it's best advantage although we did go see some museums and monuments we likely otherwise would've passed up. I much preferred the old 3 day pass myself. Also I was disappointed that the Branley wasn't included. I bought a ticket for L'Orangerie from FNAC but could easily have just used the pass for that museum. Live and learn i guess.
lucyp is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 01:10 PM
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HDM, the number on VRBO is #30651 and there was no street noise. You punch in some numbers on a keypad to get into the building. You pass through a small lobby and out a set of doors into a garden area. There are 2 more sets of doors - 'our' apartment was through the second door near the end of the garden. So you're not on the street at all. The table on the terrace was definitely big enough to eat outside. I don't think it's the same one as in the picture - the table now has a blue ceramic tabletop and metal legs - really pretty. The terrace is actually much prettier than in the picture. The owner has another apartment in the same building, but it's not on the ground floor, and the terrace really appealed to me. I would definitely recommend it.

I thought Zoom was pretty reasonable. It came to about $650 each for our tickets, and that included our cancellation insurance with them, as well as a fee to pre-assign seats. During the flight, we were served the usual soft drink and pretzels, then a meal with wine (they came around with refills) and finally a sandwich about 1 1/2 hours before we landed.

As I said, they actually left on time - that never seems to happen with Air Canada! For the past few months, I've been flying weekly to Montreal and have given up on AC - I usually fly Westjet.

Lucyp, the Branly was one museum I would have liked to see. Based on the posters at the airport, it looks great. We also thought of L'Orangerie, but by that point, I really couldn't face it!
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 01:17 PM
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Susan,

Wonderful trip report. Thanks for sharing it with us. We have been to Paris twice, in 2002 and in May 2006, and we ALREADY want to return! We are very interested in renting an apartment next time and yours looks appealing.

Was there smoking allowed in the apartment?

Thanks again!
dwzemens is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 01:28 PM
  #13  
hdm
 
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Thanks so much, Susan, especially about the table -- the one in the picture wasn't very attractive. It's good to know about the quiet too.

One other question, unless I missed it somewhere, it doesn't say anything about air-conditioning on the listing. Do you remember if there was AC?
hdm is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 01:36 PM
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Nice report Susan, concise and informative.

Would you recommend and/or stay in the same apartment again? If so, could we have the VRBO number.

Thanks again,

Nina
Nina66 is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 01:52 PM
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Sorry about asking for the VRBO number - we all posted at about the same time.

Nina
Nina66 is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 03:25 PM
  #16  
dcd
 
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Excellent report. Thanks for taking the time to share all the great info. We, too, didn't find one rude Parisian during our 9 days there this past spring. Welcome home!
dcd is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 03:43 PM
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I would definitely recommend the apartment. It's like staying in someone's home - there's lots of original art, books, nice furniture, comfortable pillows for the bed. It didn't feel like a rental to us, although it's not fancy by any means. (I also just realize that I described it as a 'new' building - I meant 'newer'.)

There's no A/C in the apartment, but there's a ceiling fan (operated with a remote control) in the bedroom.

We've rented places before through VRBO (a casita in Sayulita, Mexico). For me, an apartment is definitely preferable to a hotel if you're going to be in a place for a week or so.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 03:45 PM
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Great report. And perfect timing, I am going to paris for the first time at the end of the month. The term I like to use is 'arted out'.

Tom
TRSW is offline  
Oct 2nd, 2006, 06:52 PM
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Thanks for the trip report! I am adding your apartment to my Paris notes for my next trip there. I love having a terrace!
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