Just returned from Paris & HOF here are my tips:
Bring a foldable shopping bag - the kind that can fit in a pocket or purse. Grocery stores in Paris don’t hand out bags. A couple of people in our group got ready to eat salads and sandwiches from the grocery on the nights we were in our own for dinner. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit a couple of street markets if you start the tour on a Tuesday and you’ll want to have a bag to carry your baguette and cheese and snacks.
Restaurants in France offer “menus” where for a set price you can pick either an entree (appetizer) and plat (dinner) or plat and dessert or for a little more all three! It’s a great value and a way to taste a lot of food. You may need to turn to the back page of the menu to see the offer and the choices. There are usually two or three choices for each category. Restaurants have their menus posted outside. Order the house wine by the carafe. Tips are built into the price of dinner
If you go to the grocery store you can get a great bottle of wine for €10. Wines labeled in France aren’t designated by the grape (Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) But by the region. Also, and this is news to me after being a wine drinker most of my adult life the bottle shape tells you what’s inside: shoulders on the wine bottle means Cab, tapered bottle is Pinot.
We didn’t feel like we needed to dress up. My husband wore sneakers and no one turned up their noses at us.
Always start any conversation with “Bon jour” and include “S’il vous plait” in every request. It was hard for me to remember. I always said “merci” but I was so concentrated getting the other words to my request correct I kept forgetting to say “please”. The French aren’t snobs they are just formal. Nearly everyone you meet in Paris speaks English and are happy to once they hear your accent. More than once people on the street were very happy to help us with directions. Outside of Paris you are going to need to use your phrase book.
On the tour:
Paris: you’ll have two free afternoons to go to museums on your own using the Museum Pass. Be sure to read the fine print on the pass that explains how to skip the line: for instance at the Musee D’Orsay you go to door C. It’s not obvious when you are standing in line that there is a skip the line option. Make sure you visit the Orangerie to see Monet’s Water Lilies. You’ll be visiting the gardens at the end of the tour and it’s nice to see the paintings beforehand.
You will buy a scarf. Just make peace with that now.
Monoprix is like a French Target. Great place to get a scarf or food for a snack. Don’t over schedule your free time. Sitting in a cafe drinking a coffee or rose and people watching is a great way to spend a few hours. In the 2nd arrondisment there is a lovely street: Rue Montorgueil. It’s near the cook shop E. Dehillerin It’s a pedestrian street with fromageries, boulangeries etc and lots of restaurants. We has wonderful onion soup and warm goat cheese salad at Grille Montorgueil.
The tour of Guedelon is fascinating. Walking is on dusty paths and some uneven surfaces in the castle so wear shoes that are appropriate.
Bourges is so beautiful. Their cathedral was built at about the same time as Notre Dame. It’s a nice way to see a major cathedral since ND is not an option.
We stayed at the Hotel Angelterre in Amboise. They offered laundry service for €15 for a small basket — big enough for six pairs of underwear and four tee shirts. Totally worth it! The Patio restaurant got good reviews. We had pizza at a pasta place which was delicious (French can do anything with dough!!) I wish we had bought candy at Bigot. On the first side street off the main drag there is a soap store with lovely soaps in dozens of fragrances I think it was 4 bars for €10. Nice gifts and easy to pack — they are the perfect size to fit into the space where your roller bag handle goes into the back of your suitcase.