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"April in Paris"

Introduction:
My fifth visit to Europe, first to Paris. My husband and I, both mid-60’s, love history, archaeology, gardens, and taking photographs. This trip was added on to a Mediterranean cruise (Barcelona to the west coast of Italy and back) so we started the week already recovered from the jet lag caused by flying from our home near Washington, DC.

Research tools include this forum, the Rick Steves Pocket Paris Guide, DK Paris, and advice from friends. I took a 12-week class at the community college to reacquaint myself with a language I studied forty years ago.

Arrival:April 22, 2018
During the planning we decided to take the TGV train from Barcelona to Paris. It’s about six hours, so a little longer than by air (reaching the airport two hours ahead, flight time, travel from CDG into Paris) but we admired the countryside, wrote postcards, processed photos, etc. Luckily this wasn’t a strike day but that possibility wasn’t something we considered when we dreamed up the idea. We grabbed a cab from Gare de Lyons to l’Hotel des Deux Iles, on l’Ile Saint Louis. I had imagined I’d be dying to walk the streets but it was almost 9 pm and raining, so we settled in and called it a night.

Monday April 23, 2018
Sainte Chapelle, Seine cruise, Notre Dame
“Wow I’m in Paris!”
The security line looked long at Notre Dame so we started our day at nearby Sainte Chapelle (bought the 6-day Museum Pass at the tabac across the street). The windows are so beautiful! Pictures just don’t do it justice. There’s a statue on the balcony that I mention here because I’m guessing it’s Jesus Christ but wasn’t sure and he was standing on some interesting animals. Help me out, Paris lovers. My Google skills failed me on this. Guess I should have bought the book.

After almost an hour and a half we were ready for some sitting down, so took a one hour cruise from Vedettes du Pont Neuf. I can’t recommend this enough. The guide describes sights in French and then English, and amazingly I was able to understand quite a bit of the former.

We split a long baguette sandwich for lunch (from a shop in the Latin Quarter) and ate it on Pont Neuf. Our initial plan was to visit Notre Dame afterwards, but we needed a break and our hotel was nearby so we rested for a bit first, then stopped for ice cream. Notre Dame is massive, dark and gloomy after Sainte Chapelle - in hindsight I would recommend seeing Notre Dame first. Right now there’s an interesting display on the construction - which parts were added when, etc.

Before dinner we took another break, then strolled next door to Aux Anysetiers Du Roy. We had a Bordeaux they were selling by the glass - fabulous. The chicken dish of the day was delicious and so was the boeuf bourguignon. Topped the evening off with some night photography of Notre Dame, with the Eiffel tower suddenly sparkling in the distance (yes, it was 10:00 pm).
My initial plan had been to take the Rick Steves Historic Paris Walk, but we somehow never got around to it. Guess I forgot to plan for rest breaks and ice cream.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Notre Dame’s tower, l’Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower
“Look at the view!”
Here’s the new drill: download the Out of the Line app over your hotel’s wireless, launch it at 7:30 am and choose a time for your Notre Dame tower climb, move on with the rest of your day. You will pay the admission fee later, at the gift shop part way up the tower.

Climbing the tower of Notre Dame is not-to-be-missed if you’re good at climbing stairs. The views are absolutely incredible. You show your phone when your entry time arrives and climb with a group to the gift shop. There you buy your tickets or show your Museum Pass to finish the climb. Three-quarters of the way up you emerge on a walkway between the two towers where there are gargoyles posing for your cameras. Then you cross to the other tower, visit the bells, and wait your turn to go to the very top (that stairwell is used in both directions but is open in one direction at a time.

After a brief lunch break (baguette sandwich eaten in Pope John XXIII park behind Notre Dame) we were ready to brave the Metro. Used my chip-and-sign Visa in the machine at Châtelet. You just choose 10 tickets and the two of you are all set for 5 trips in Zone 1. We got off at l’Arc de Triomphe to take photos from ground level (no way we could face another set of stairs) and a lovely walk to the Eiffel Tower for our 5:00 pm admission, purchased back in January. I had wanted later in the evening but that was the latest available so we rolled with it. My guess is I forgot that if tickets went on sale at 10:00 am in Paris that’s 4 am on the east coast of the U.S. Anyway we crossed our fingers that the weather would be fine and it was.

We followed Rick’s advice and got off at the second floor. Had planned to get in the line to the third floor immediately, but the view was too attractive. After several circuits we got in the line for the elevator to the top but decided that since the line was long we were high enough and spent some time exploring exhibits on the second and then first floors. All day long I’d been humming a few bars to “La Vie en Rose” (all I knew) and suddenly somewhere nearby someone began whistling it!

Back on the ground we had an unmemorable dinner nearby, finishing in time to catch the glow of the setting sun behind the tower. Many photos later we thought the C5 RER would be the fasted way home. Alas the next train wasn’t for half an hour, then the St-Michel Notre Dame station was closed so we got off at the first stop afterwards and worked our way back. Made for a long tiring night. Later we learned that station was closed all week for “security reasons” but never learned the details.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Laundry, Sainte Chapelle, D’Orsay
“Une galette is a buckwheat crepe”
Rain was predicted so we devoted the morning to laundry. We prefer to take smaller bags carrying fewer clothes, and actually enjoy doing laundry in foreign countries.

But first: a stop at a boulangerie patisserie not far from our hotel. We wound up here three times (and by the third visit she knew our coffee order) to purchase coffee and croissants to eat on the way to our first adventure of the day.

We treated ourselves to a leisurely lunch while the weather cleared. Café Med was recommended by the R. S. Paris Pocket Guide and it did not disappoint I had a ham, egg, and cheese galette with a chocolate galette for dessert. Afterwards we re-visited Sainte Chapelle (my husband needed to take some shots with a lens he didn’t have in the day bag on Monday) and took a half hour walk to D’Orsay (2.7km), strolling along the river and “window shopping” all the bookstalls. It’s beautiful how they’ve made the train station into an art museum, and I enjoyed the top floor of Impressionists very much. We were there about an hour and a half, and so exhausted we took a taxi home. Memorably, this taxi driver was very chatty, encouraging me to practice my halting French by asking where we were from and what we’d seen so far. “Dinner” was a baguette sandwich shared in our room.

Thursday, April 26, 2018
Versailles
“L’état, c’est moi!”
We decided to take our time in the morning, see the gardens first, and tour the palace in the afternoon. This was Rick’s advice to late-arrivers, ait it worked perfectly. I think we arrived around 10 am and took our time in the uncrowded gardens, reaching the Grand Trianon just before it opened at noon. Such lovely rooms, with beautiful views of the gardens. We missed a turnoff in the the gardens and wound up taking the long way to the farm - watch out for that. Then ate lunch at le Petit Trianon around 2 pm and caught the small tram back to the palace. There we walked right in! I surprised by my reaction to the Hall of Mirrors. I turned a corner, there it was, and I almost burst into tears. It was so beautiful and so much history happened there. Afterwards we stopped for an early dinner nearby, which meant we weren’t arriving back in Paris tired and hungry. Another suggestion from Rick that I’m glad we heeded.

Friday, April 27, 2018
The Louvre, l’Orangerie, sunset cruise
We followed the suggestion to use the Carousel entrance, arriving slightly before 9 am and following a group through when the gate opened. It was easy to follow the signs to the Mona Lisa, and although the room was by no means empty we found it possible to wait our turn to be in front of her. We browsed the Italian Renaissance and saw the famous painting of Napoleon’s coronation. Then at a muffin break my husband suggested playing hookie and going out to enjoy the beautiful weather. We strolled through the Tuileries, spent some time in the Orangerie (do not miss if you love Monet), and rode the ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde. Taking the metro back used the last of our first 10 metro tickets. We caught a late lunch at the Café Saint-Régis near our hotel, then put our feet up for a bit before sharing a baguette sandwich on the way to a spur of the moment almost-sunset 7:15 pm cruise. The commentary was about the same (same cruise line) but we caught the setting sun reflecting off the buildings, took photographs, and enjoyed a beer.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018
Giverny
“Go if you love Monet more than you hate crowds.”
It was a bit of a struggle acquiring SNCF tickets, mainly because I put it off and then wanted to buy them on the internet Thursday night for Friday 8:15 am and there were none available. So we wound up with Saturday at 10:54 am, oh well, it is what it is. The Paris Metro trip planner app does a good job of routing you - you put in your hotel and destination and it chooses your starting station so you won’t have to change lines. We had an uneventful trip to Vernon and at my husband’s suggestion rode the cute little tourist train out to Giverny. It was longer than the bus but took us through Vernon and we learned a bit of its history. When you get to Claude Monet’s House and Gardens follow the signs for groups if you have pre-purchased tickets.

We admired the beds of flowers for a few minutes then headed to the water garden, which we circled maybe three times, taking photos with different lenses and just drinking in the beauty. We noticed the crowds increasing as the afternoon wore on, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. I think we spent about two hours in the water garden and another half hour in the Clos Normand (in front of the house). We skipped touring the house, which I’ve been told since was a big mistake: something to come back for.

We reversed our outward journey, however choosing to stay above ground and walk back from Gare St. Lazarre (3.9km). We hit l’Opera with the setting sun lighting up the golden statue on the top, and caught the moon rising behind the Louvre - a photographer’s heaven. Not to mention two ice cream stops, one on the way to the mini-train back to Vernon and one between l’Opera and the Louvre.

Sunday, April 29, 2018
Musée de l’Armée
It’s our last day in Paris, rainy and cold. My husband asked me to choose a destination, so I picked the Musée de l’Armée because the guide books made it sound so interesting and I wanted to see Napoleon’s tomb. Our six day museum pass had expired but there was no line to speak of to purchase admission tickets. Wow, I will definitely be back here again. We went first to Napoleon’s tomb. The pictures do not really convey the beauty and the proportions of the space. After a museum cafe lunch we caught a little of an exhibit on the Franco-Prussian war before our timed entry into the special exhibit on Napoleon the Strategist. This was a very interesting series of displays of maps, uniforms, and paintings focusing on several major battles. The signage was mostly in French which I offered to translate for my husband but he found he could figure most of it out. By 3:00 pm we were ready for a rest, some packing, and dinner (duck and ravioli at the St. Régis).

Monday, April 30, 2018
We had an uneventful cab ride to CDG and an uneventful flight home. Apparently the Hotel des Deux Iles has a deal with a shuttle company but you have to book earlier than the day before or they might be sold out (and were in our case). Thank you so much for reading my first trip report. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have questions or suggestions (it was so difficult to decide what to leave out).

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Hi Marty,
I enjoyed your trip report. I spent 4 nights there from 4/19 - 4/23. We stayed at the same hotel, on the island, a perfect location for the sights we were interested in. We would go back to this hotel, did you like it? The staff were helpful and our room was quiet and the bathroom was very nice with lots of counter space.
We visited Giverny also, one of my favorite places. I loved the house. We went on Sunday afternoon with massive crowds and temperatures in the mid-80’s. It did not affect my enjoyment at all as the flowers were in glorious, riotous bloom! The house itself i could move into today, it is so comfy and colorful.

We also visited the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris, not far from the la Muette Metro stop. Lovely house museum owned by Paul Marmottan who collected Monet and other Impressionist painters. Very nice.

I posted a trip report: 4 Days in Paris if you are interested.

Your trip sounds amazing, thanks for sharing!

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Thanks, Judy. I read and enjoyed your report. Our hotel was just down the street from yours, the Hotel des Deux Iles. I would recommend it, loved being able to pop over to Notre Dame for a few quick photos if the clouds looked awesome or stop by the hotel to put my feet up for an hour or so. The staff members were helpful, the room very clean and not too tiny. Next time (yes, there will be a next time, so much more to Paris) I will choose a hotel in another part of town, perhaps some place a little less expensive, and get to know that neighborhood.

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Great trip report, thanks for sharing! I've been to Paris 4 times and I still picked up a few tips 🙂

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Thank you Marty for a great trip report! I haven’t been to Paris in over 30 years, must get there soon! I love ice cream too and taking photos! However, I will need to have some memorable meals there!

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Nice report, Marty! It makes me ready to go back.

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Enjoyed the report. One year to go on my return to Paris, it will be my third.

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I love Cafe Med! I once had a chicken, Gruyere, and walnut galette there that was so unbelievably tasty. What I wouldn't give for another one right now! Thanks for making me hungry. ;)

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Loved your trip report! Wondering if either you or your husband have a photography blog? I'd love to see the pictures you took! We will be going to France for the first time in just 13 days!!!!

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It's early days yet, but some of them are on Eye & Aperture, a Facebook page.