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Trip Report: Celebrating 50th in Paris and so much more (3/30 – 4/15)

Trip Report: Celebrating 50th in Paris and so much more (3/30 – 4/15)

Old Apr 18th, 2008, 10:47 AM
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Trip Report: Celebrating 50th in Paris and so much more (3/30 – 4/15)

Thanks to Fodors for years of information and support, especially for helping to make this recent trip so wonderful. This is only my second trip report, despite several trips that were informed by Fodors Talk, so it’s vastly overdue.

Forward:

Until last year I traveled about 40,000 – 50,000 miles a year for work (small by some standards, but enough to accumulate a fair amount of miles on United). I wanted to cash in the miles for first class tickets for my wife Jessie and me, which can be hard to come by. I’ve cashed in miles a few times before for first class tickets overseas, and have always felt that this was a great tradeoff for all the work travel that earned the miles.

The question was where to go.

I’d been looking forward to turning 50 with a great deal of reflection, and although I was hoping for a celebratory trip, I really wanted a meaningful trip as well. I decided that I wanted to spend my 50th in Paris, which has become one of my favorite cities, but also use the miles to visit my niece and nephew (and grand niece and nephews) in Israel, and to introduce Jessie to the country (she’s never been; I’ve been 4 times over the last 30 years).

I’ll report the Paris portion here, and will include a link to the Israel trip report once I’ve completed that part.

Itinerary:

Because our miles were on United, which doesn’t fly to Israel, our best option was Lufthansa. Somehow we managed to get two first class tickets together, which is not an easy thing to do. Award tickets allow one stopover, but a layover less than 24 hours isn’t considered a stopover, so the goal was a stopover in Paris, and spending the night in Frankfurt on the way back so as to avoid having to arrive at TLV airport at 2:00 in the morning. However, since Paris isn’t considered “en route,” we had to do FRA-CDG on a separate ticket (luckily only $105; otherwise we probably would have taken the train).

So here’s the itinerary (not likely something you’d see suggested by Fodorites, but it all worked out in the end):

Fly San Francisco to Frankfurt (FRA), four hour layover (in Lufthansa first class lounge), then to CDG.
Five nights in Paris (Hotel des Deux-Iles on Ile St. Louis).
Fly CDG to FRA, spend the night at the Sheraton in the airport (avoiding middle of the night arrival in Israel)
Fly to Israel, four nights in Jerusalem, four nights in Zichron Yaakov (where my niece lives).
Fly to Frankfurt, spend another night at the Sheraton (free night using Starwood points).
Fly home.

We’ve been to Paris a few times before, and the goal this time around is to revisit favorite spots, but also venture out to some places we haven’t been before. Also, we’ve always just wandered into whatever restaurants appeared in our paths, to varying degrees of success, so this time around we did a fair amount of research and even reserved a couple of restaurants in advance (especially for my birthday dinner).

One note about wardrobe, since there are so many threads about the subject, especially vis a vis Paris: After stressing about being out of place without a sports coat vs. bringing a warmer leather jacket for the early spring chill, I opted for the latter. I tend not to look like a cookie cutter San Franciscan at home, or a cookie cutter New Yorker (e.g.) when eating out in New York, so why should Paris be any different. I have no regrets about this choice, and would have froze if my jacket was just a sports coat. And although I didn’t look like those around me, I never felt uncomfortable. Paris is a cosmopolitan city, meaning that there’s room for all types at most restaurants (granted, none of our meals were at any of the fancier restaurants).
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 10:48 AM
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3/30-3/31: Traveling to and arriving in Paris:

We got to the airport and settled into the United first class lounge (no Lufthansa lounge at SFO). A nice lounge; not a ton of food, but can’t beat the price.

Our flight to Paris confirmed that the service on Lufthansa was indeed better than United’s first class (there’s a ton of information on Flyertalk comparing one airline’s first or business class to another, so I won’t go into too much detail here). Pouring my drinks from a fifth of Johnny Walker Blue was a nice touch. The only drawback was that the entertainment system was down for the whole flight. But since I had a laptop and the seat had an AC outlet I was able to watch a DVD before settling down to sleep for a few hours.

After arriving at Frankfurt we made our way to the first class lounge near gate A26. Had to go through security again, although it may be that we took a wrong turn (others from our flight were doing so as well, so probably not). The took my water bottle away.

The raves about Lufthansa first class always emphasize the first class terminal and lounges at FRA, and I could see why. Taking a shower between flights, having an espresso and a light lunch (resisting the 21-year-old single malt), checking email, and lounging was a nice way to spend a layover in what is usually a fairly miserable airport.

The economy class flight to Paris was 50 minutes, but they managed to serve small sandwiches and drinks. Big difference from US carriers.

We arrived in Paris and took a cab to the Deux-Iles and checked in, receiving the same room we had the first time we stayed there 9 years ago. The elderly cleaning woman (same as last time) carried our luggage to the room. Felt like home.

After calling home and dealing with a bit of family drama, we ventured out. It does seem that Ile St-Louis has become more popular with Americans since the last time we stayed several years ago, but it’s still a nice, quiet, and central respite and we’re glad to be back. We took a walk past Notre Dam, Hotel de Ville, walked around the Marais. Paris immediately sunk in and transformed us out of our day to day existence.

But as the afternoon turned to evening the jet lag started hitting us hard, so after leaning on a several poles we decided to think about dinner. Neither one of us speaks much French, just enough to be mildly polite, and there’s always a first-day intimidation hump to get over before feeling comfortable enough to consult a menu translator or ask what something is. Jet lag and low blood sugar tend to exacerbate this.

After passing up many suitable choices, we decided to head back to the island and stumble into whatever seems suitable. We ended up at a touristy Italian restaurant, Sens’O. The food was fine, but the atmosphere a bit awkward (mostly tourists who were there unintentionally as well; not a lot of lively conversation).

Went to sleep at 9:00 and sleep through until 7:00 am.

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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 11:58 AM
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4/1: First full day in Paris

After checking email and voicemail (used Skype to check voicemail; not crazy about using it for a conversation unless we have a strong and fast connection, but at 2 cents a minute it is more than adequate for checking voicemail at home), we head out the door. We were happy to find our regular bar still open, le Louis IX Brasserie, where we always have café and croissants every morning (this is our third time staying in Ile St. Louis). Nothing’s changed except for the lack of cigarette smoke. Our old friends obviously didn’t recognize us, but we were happy to see familiar faces.

Afterwards we head to our old standby patisserie, but they’re out of Pain au Raisin (I know, two pastries in a row for breakfast are not exactly what the doctor ordered, but I’m still clinging to my Paris habits as long as I can fit through the door). After many tears and whining, and a pain au chocolate, we move on to the metro station.

I request a Carte Orange for zones 1 & 2, and the agent pulls out the card and says I need to fill out the carrier cards and provide two photos. I pull a small ziplock with two 1” square photos I printed at home and hand them over, and she smiles and pastes them to the card (thanks Fodors!). Her colleague is pointing to the Paris Visite pass, which would cost us several Euro more, but she brushes him aside as we seem to know what we want, which is cheaper and suits our needs. No Navigo required yet, I guess.

We take the metro and head to Musee’ Jacquemart-Andre’. This was on the list of places we hadn’t been, and we wanted to see the house and it’s collection of renaissance art, Rembrandts, etc., as well as have lunch in the café. It didn’t disappoint, especially lunch. We headed to the café at opening time and were the second people there, but it soon filled up. Clearly the most ornate setting for a lunch we’ve ever been to, and the meal was a fine way to start things off (the first night dinner doesn’t count for setting the tone, IMO). Also, we felt a bit off the (American) beaten track, and didn’t hear English at all.

We then headed to the Rodin museum. Although I’m not a huge fan, several people had recommended the museum to us, and we ended up loving it. Being able to wander through the gardens with their early spring buds among some exquisite statutes, very un-crowded, and wandering through the villa and looking at more wonderful art (including an unexpected Van Gogh), it really fit the bill for our first day’s museum. The sun started to peek through the clouds so we grabbed a couple of lounge chairs and sat for a few minutes in the garden before moving on.

We went back to the room and napped for a couple of hours. I normally try to push through the jet lag for the first few days and force myself awake, but our naps the first couple of days really seemed to help instead of hurt our adjustment to the time change. Maybe it’s aging, or maybe I’ve been wrong all along?

Although I wasn’t sure if I’d be up for it, around 6:00 we decided to head over to San Chappelle to see if there were any tickets for the evening’s 7:00 concert. Although we were still fairly jet lagged, we knew the concert would be short, and this is probably my favorite spot in Paris. After seeing reports here and elsewhere, I’d been eager to experience a chamber music performance there. Daylight savings time just changed the weekend before, so the concert took place as the sun lowered, making for an excellent viewing of the stained glass windows.

I can’t recommend this experience enough. I’m not exactly a chamber music (or classical music) fan either. This was easily one of the highlights of our trip, and occurring on the first day it set a fine tone for the rest of our journey.

I had set up my iPhone for international roaming, and when the concert got out we decided to call ahead to Le Petite Prince de Paris to see if we could reserve a table. They had one open and we had a pleasant walk through the Latin Quarter and found the restaurant. I had found the restaurant while looking through the Zagat guide, and my wife found it here on Fodors, so we were eager to try it. We had a truly wonderful meal, food wise perhaps the best of our trip to Paris. I had Chivas (I asked for Irish whisky, since they had Irish Coffee on the menu, but after they understood what I was asking for they said they were out), my wife had wine (I’m allergic). For starters I had mussels in cream sauce that was amazing (sorry, I don’t know the specific sauce since I ordered from an English menu), and my wife had goat cheese and balsamic salad. For the second course I had the duck confit, which was by far the best I’ve had, and Jessie had the fish plat du jur, which was wonderful (not sure what kind of fish it was). We shared banana mouse for desert.

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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 12:51 PM
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Wed. 4/2.

After café, croissants, and my first pain au raisin, we headed to the Louvre. Started with our old friends, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Dou, and other Dutch masters. However, the museum was in the process of installing the latest experiment of contrasts (contemporary art amidst the masters), by someone named Jan Fabre. Coffins in front of paintings, sides of beef made of dead beetles hanging in front of Rembrandt, etc. If the goal was to prompt conversation, or drive people to reexamine the old masters, perhaps it succeeded, but it was a bit baffling to me, and Jessie hated it.

Headed to the Napoleon apartment, which we’d never seen despite several trips to the Louver. Quite a place. Ornate to say the least. Then on to the Renaissance rooms. I was always amazed at all the people passing by the great art in their haste to view the Mona Lisa through a vast crowd of people. Now it seems that people are stopping to view other worthy paintings on their way to the Mona Lisa, but as much as I’m glad for the increased appreciation it made it difficult for us to linger for very long. The other Leonardos, which are exquisite, were mobbed, as were all of the hallways leading to the icon to end all iconic paintings. What a zoo.

We had baguette lunch at Tuileries, and then on to L’Orangerie. Our Museum pass came in handy here, as it allowed us to get in ahead of a long line of people waiting to get in. It had been closed the last couple of trips to Paris, so it was really wonderful to return to the two rooms of Monet Water Lilies. I can’t think of anything like it, although the Rothko room in the Tate Modern is oddly a close second for me.

We walked through the Marais. I was on a mission to find Jessie a scarf, since the weather was a bit chilly and she left hers at home. We ended up finding the perfect linen scarf just off Place des Voges, one more in line with what the Parisians were wearing (if there’s one observation I could make about a common thread among Parisian wardrobe, it would be that pretty much everyone had a scarf; few, if any, were wool like mine, though).

We went back to the room and took a nap for a couple of hours.
We had espresso and then went to a bar we liked in Le Marais, “Les Philosophes,” for a drink. We ended up staying for dinner. Nothing spectacular, but it was the comfort food we were in the mood for (onion soup, salad, beef bourguignon).

Had a crepe sucre on the way home.

Mmmm.

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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 01:05 PM
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I'm enjoying the report! Can't wait to read more...
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 01:11 PM
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Hey Zooey91. We were there around the same time as you - 3/24-4/4 and did very much the same things. Love Le Petit Prince, went there on our last night, and also Jacquesmart Andre and their cafe. Isn't L'Orangerie amazing? It was closed on my first two trips but I went there last year and again this year. It is really my favorite museum. Can't wait to hear more of your trip.
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 01:45 PM
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Thanks for the comments. L'Orangerie isn't like any other museum, that's for sure. We were thrilled to return after 10 years.

Jim

Continued:

4/3 (the last day of my 40s).

Café at Louis IX, Pain au Raisin at a boulangerie, then out to enjoy our first sunny day in Paris. We’d been here for a few days, but this day really reminded us of why we came in April (besides the obvious fact that I was born on 4/4).

We stumbled on the Bibliotheque historique de la ville de Paris and saw a color photography exhibit on Paris during the occupation by Andre Zucca. Some stunning photos depicting day to day life in Paris during the War.

Spent a few minutes at Place des Voges, and then on to our first reserved meal at Bofinger. I wore a button down shirt and my black “dress” boots instead of my usual long sleeved t-shirt and New Balance running shoes. No jacket or tie, but I didn’t feel out of place (or any more than I normally would).

Oh my God. Such a gorgeous restaurant (we were sat in the main room under the stained glass dome), and the service couldn’t have been better. I ordered Fois Gras (I have to confess this was the first time I’ve ordered it, but when in Paris . . . ), salmon in crab sauce, and floating islands for desert (then caf&eacute. Jessie started with a goat cheese and tomato salad, had the Sole for the main course (the whole table of 4 next to us ordered the sole, so I get the impression it’s a specialty). The couple on our right had an enormous seafood platter which looked amazing but overwhelming.

We walked off our lunch along the Viaduc des Arts, a converted railroad bridge that a friend who lived in Paris recommended several years ago that we keep coming back to. Under the bridge are several artisan workshops and a few great stores and cafes; on top is a unique garden park. Spring was in full bloom and the day was glorious.

We ended up at Gare de Lyon and peaked into Le Train Bleu, the restaurant we rejected in favor of Bofinger. It was a gorgeous (albeit somewhat gaudy) restaurant, but seemed very hot inside, so we felt good about our choice.

Jessie went back to the room to rest; I changed clothes and walked to Pompedu Center and Hotel De Ville. Noticed a free wifi sign in the park next to Hotel De Ville, and remembered that much of Paris has subsidized wireless. I got out my iPhone and checked my email, sitting in the sun, watching kids on a merry-go-round. A “life is good” moment, for sure.

Thursday nights Musee’ d’Orsay is open late, so we headed there around 6:30. On the way there the light was amazing (Tulerie, along the river, etc.). Took the escalator and started from the top (post-impressionists) and worked our way down. Packed with several different groups of Italian teenagers for some reason; must be their spring break. The museum is exhausting in its embarrassment of riches, but was wonderful as always. Saw the sunset over Montmartre through the clock windows.

As Jessie was in the store buying postcards, I called our old favorite, Cheing Mai, and made a reservation. Took the RAR, which was easy, and had some good Thai comfort food (quick and relatively inexpensive).

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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 01:47 PM
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4/4 (birthday)

Our friend at Louis IX put down the small and large saucers for us as soon as we walked in (for my usual espresso and Jessie’s café crem), which was a nice touch. Finally able to get pain au raisin at my favorite patisserie which had been closed the last couple of days.

We walked to Jardin des Plantes along the Seine, and went to the paleontology museum. A friend recommended this to me, and since I was feeling like a dinosaur it seemed like an appropriate thing to do on my 50th birthday.

I loved it, and highly recommend a visit. The building is from the late 19th century, built for the worlds fair, and many of the placards are hand written. The first floor is filled with skeletons of non-extinct animals, including a few whale skeletons. The second is where the dinosaur skeletons are. Several school groups were there taking and comparing notes; we took tons of pictures.

We found our way on foot to Rue Mouffetard. Had lunch with high school kids on lunch break. Jessie had a baguette sandwich, I had a ham and cheese croissant that was very good, but that had enough mayonnaise for a hundred sandwiches.

After walking through the lower market, we took the Metro and headed to St. Honore street and Jean Paul Hevin. We had cake and tea/café at the solon upstairs, and then bought some amazing chocolates and caramels downstairs in the chocolate shop.

Back to the hotel for a bit of a birthday celebration, I received calls on my cell from both of our moms, and then we headed out for a drink and dinner. Although it seemed like we didn’t have enough time, we still managed to have a drink at the San Regis hotel before dinner at Le Florimond (not near each other, but our Carte Orange worked its magic). I don’t know what staying at the San Regis is like, but we’ve stopped there for drinks on each of our last few trips to Paris, and we’re always either alone or nearly alone in the lobby bar, which is very elegant and relaxed.

Google maps and Mappy both had different locations for Le Florimond, neither of which were correct. So we were walking rapidly to try to make our reservation, and I ended up calling to let them know we were running about 20 minutes late when I realized how far off the mark we were. No problem.

I’d never been to the restaurant, but it sounded exactly like what I had in mind for my birthday. A friend recommended it, and the more I read (on Fodors and elsewhere) confirmed that it would be appropriate, so I chose to make a reservation there. The restaurant was comfortable and the hosts were extremely warm, and we had a great dinner. Like everyone reported, there were locals mixed with Americans and other tourists, and it didn’t feel touristy at all. Three others in the small restaurant were celebrating birthdays. I had a couple of single malts, white asparagus with cream sauce, two types of beef (a filet and a stew in a tiny pot), amazing potatoes au gratin, and pineapple crem brulet for desert. Jessie had a goat cheese soufflé starter with smoked salmon, and ordered stuffed cabbage, one of their specialties (I noticed “traditional” cooking on the window, so who knows what it was stuffed with, but it tasted great). She had a parfait for desert.

We walked to the Eiffel Tower after dinner, and just as we entered the park the flickering lights started (great timing). We hung out underneath the tower for a while. It was a relatively warm night, and it felt quite celebratory.

Took the RER home. There was an impromptu party along the Seine, complete with marching band instruments. We watched from afar for a few minutes before heading to our room.

All in all an extremely memorable birthday.

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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 01:48 PM
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4/5.

Overslept a bit but managed to get café, croissants, pain au raisin, and checl out on time. Took a cab to CDG for our short flight to Frankfurt. Checked into the Sheraton, and they gave me coupons for two free drinks at their because of my birthday (nice touch). With the plunging dollar the hotel became much more of a splurge than I had counted on, but it is very nice, and very convenient being that it is in the airport.

After having a couple of whiskies, we took the S-Bahn into town and walked by Romer square. We wandered around looking for food, and found a restaurant recommended on Fodors, Vinum. We sat down, but noticed that they unfortunately only served wine. Since I’m allergic, and wanted to enjoy a local beer, we decided to head somewhere else. Ended up in Das Wursthouse, which seemed touristy from the outside but actually turned out to be very good. Had a couple of good local beers (“Binding”), Asparagus soup, traditional veal Wienerschnitzle (me), salad, and pork Wienerschnitzle (Jessie).

Headed back and went to sleep.

4/6. Woke up at 6:00, made coffee, checked out, and walked across the walkway to first class checkin. A van took us to the first class terminal where we were greeted our concierge (Anna). She explained the layout of the terminal, and said she’d keep our passports and get us in time to go through passport control.

The terminal lived up to its reputation. Very pleasant, like the first class lounge, although much bigger. Excellent breakfast buffet (complimentary) and other amenities. And a small duty free shop.

Anna got us as our plane was boarding and took us to passport control. Then she introduced us to our driver(!), who drove us in a brand new Mercedes Benz S-Class to the gate. He walked us past the gawaking crowd, making us feel like VIPs, and walked us onto the plane, where we were practically alone (only 2 others in the upper deck with us).

Now I need to write the Israel trip report. I’ll post a link when I get to it.

Jim

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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 02:05 PM
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Hi Jim - What a great way to spend your birthday! Thanks for posting.

A few comments and question:

1) The "contemporary" art at the Louvre does sound annoying.
< sides of beef made of dead beetles hanging in front of Rembrandt > !!!

2) We also like Petite Prince

3) The Monet waterlillies room, to me, is just always so crowded. I think it'd be nice if it weren't. To me, I'd much prefer the Rothko Room at Tate Modern. Serenity!

4) Cake, tea/cafe at Jean Paul Hevin. That's what I want for my birthday too! Just lovely.

5) Question: Do you recall how much was dinner at Le Florimond ?
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 02:12 PM
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When we got to L'Orangerie, the first Water Lilies room was crowded and the second was nearly empty. One thing I liked is that the museum regulates the crowds (to some extent).

Dinner at Le Florimond was 118 Euro for two. We didn't get a bottle of wine, and no coffee, but I did have two whiskies and Jessie had a glass of wine.
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 02:52 PM
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what a lovely report.
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 03:14 PM
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Great report, with plenty of useful details!
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 04:35 PM
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Thanks!
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Old Apr 19th, 2008, 02:35 AM
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Chock full of good tidbits!
And happy belated birthday!
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Old Apr 19th, 2008, 03:11 AM
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Thank you for such a great report, lots of good information.

Lucky you to find the Water Lillies rooms uncrowded, we ran into huge crowds standing in front and not moving. We'll have to try it again.
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Old Apr 19th, 2008, 06:11 AM
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Thanks for all the great info! I'm going to Paris four weeks from today (who's counting???) and your report is helpful.
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Old Apr 19th, 2008, 06:58 AM
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I really enjoyed your report. You hit some places I have enjoyed in the past, and others I would love to try in the future. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Apr 19th, 2008, 07:09 AM
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zooey91 - I so enjoyed your report! We are leaving for Paris in 11 days and are looking for some advice on good restaurants (sounds like you found them). I had thought about eating at Le Petite Prince also - do you mind telling me the amount of your final bill?
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Old Apr 19th, 2008, 11:10 AM
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I'm glad that my notes are of some use.

Our dinner at Le Petit Prince was 63€.

Or 413.25 FRF, as indicated on my credit card receipt, which I'm sure you'll find as informative as I did.


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