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France trip report continued: French Riviera, Provence, Paris

I will keep replying to this post until I get all of the trip report in one forum topic. Thanks for the advice about that.
French Riviera: We stayed at the Welcome Hotel in Villefranche-sur-Mer, one of Rick Steve’s recommendations. The hotel is right on the water in a beautiful setting with lots of activity going on. The room was lovely, modern bathroom, nice bar where we sat outside in evenings for drinks & people watching. They had a wonderful breakfast in the mornings in the same bar area. The staff was fantastic. They were able to answer any questions & help us with whatever we needed. There were lots of restaurants to choose from within a few minutes walk. There was usually one cruise ship docked out from the cruise welcome center adjacent so we watched the smaller boats bringing groups of people in everyday for their activities. The area was always lively with a party atmosphere but our room was quiet enough. Partying went on until 1 or 2 sometimes but by dawn, there were workers out & about getting ready for the next day. We had a really nice balcony where we could see it all. They had fireworks every night around 10:30. Our first evening we had dinner at Les Palmiers next to our hotel. Our last name is Palmier so we had to go there! Then we sat at our hotel bar outside right along the water & had several drinks!

Friday, September 6: We took the train to Monaco & spent the morning there walking to all of the main sights: Casino, Prince’s Palace, harbor, gardens, cathedral. We stopped for coffee & a pastry at a café & enjoyed talking to a lovely gentleman & his little 6 year old daughter. They lived in Monaco but he had gone to NYU. They both spoke English & French.
From Monaco, we took the train to Nice & went to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Hotel Negresco (had drinks in the bar there) & headed to Promenade d’Anglais. But a storm blew up & we ducked for cover under a café umbrella. We shared it with a young woman from Corsica, nice conversation, then she left & another woman took her place. We ended up talking with her for an hour & having some coffee at the café. She taught English at a high school nearby & her name was Latifa. We had so much fun that we did the French two cheek kiss when we said goodbye!
Saturday, September 7: We took the train to Nice again so we could see more of the old town & the Cours Saleya market. We also went up Castle Hill. The weather was beautiful; the colors in the Riviera are gorgeous with the sea & buildings. After we got some lunch, we found the bus stop for bus 15 to take us to Cap Ferrat. The bus ride from Nice was 45 minutes to Villa Ephrussi de Rothchild. We toured the estate & gardens for several hours. The history is very interesting but the overall facility looked worn in places. Around 4:30 we went back to the bus stop to wait for a bus to take us back to Villefranche. The first bus was full but we got on the second one. We met a young man on the bus who lived in St. Louis & had gone to school in Belleville, IL where we used to live before moving to New Mexico after we retired. We knew a few people in common, small world! That evening we had dinner near our hotel again.

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Continuing to Provence:
Provence: Sunday, September 8
Our TGV train left Nice at 6:57 a.m. so we were up very early & walked to the train station in Villefranche in very early morning light but we felt safe & there were other people at the train station. When we arrived in Avignon, we walked a couple minutes to the Hertz car rental, easy to find & we were on our way to St. Remy by 11:15. We stayed at La Maison de Line, a B & B that had rooms or cottages, private secure parking, pool, & lovely grounds. Our cottage had a living room, kitchenette including a washing machine (yes we did laundry!), spacious bedroom, & patio area. We were very comfortable there. We ate breakfast there one of the mornings & they served yogurt, egg cream (like custard), breads, butter, jam, OJ, & coffee or hot chocolate. We did have Wifi with the cottage but it was so weak it was pretty useless. The location was a ten minute walk from the center of the village & there was a great bakery a five minute walk at a main intersection roundabout. We stayed here for 3 nights & we ate dinner in the village every night. We enjoyed Gus Restaurant the most for dinner & Le Bon Burger for lunch.
After our arrival, Louis, the owner stored our bags as he was still getting our cottage ready. We took off to go to Les Baux de Provence to see Carrierres de Lumiere & the village of Les Baux. We had to wait in a long line for Carrierres because we didn’t have tickets but we did get in after about an hour. The experience is very enjoyable with the projections of images of Van Gogh’s work on the cave walls combined with music. After that, it is a short walk up the hill to Les Baux & more hilly streets to go to the Castle ruins.

Monday, September 9
We went to Pont du Gard all morning & Arles for the afternoon. We went through the museum then hiked around Pont du Gard a little bit on both sides of the river. It is such an impressive structure. We drove to Arles & found the Et Marche parking lot right outside the city walls with the help of google maps this time. I had researched where to park before leaving home. We walked all over the town & spent most of our time at the coliseum & Classical theatre. And I had more ice cream! We did eat quite a bit of ice cream on this trip!
Tuesday, September 10
We had a rainy day but we forged ahead. We modified our plan to see lots of towns in the Luberon & focused on Roussillon, Gordes, & a visit to the Abbaye de Senanque. The church was closed for construction at the Abbaye & of course the lavender is gone for the year so it was sort of a bust. They have quite a gift shop but I was holding out for the St. Remy market on Wednesday morning. We shortened our day because we were pretty wet from walking around & we ended up back at our cozy cottage after going to the bakery on the corner for some things for dinner & breakfast the next morning. We had also gotten some beer & wine to enjoy there. Incidentally, one factor about walking around all of the villages, castles, ruins that I had not thought about is how dirty the bottoms of your jeans & shoes can become. Something to keep in mind because of all the dirt & gravel used for paths.
Wednesday, September 11
We ate breakfast in our cottage packed up, checked out & walked up to the St. Remy Wednesday market. There were lots of clothing, bags, scarves, jewelry, toys, and everything lavender. The food vendors were amazing; paella, roasted chickens with potatoes underneath getting the drippings, piles of olives, charcuterie, cheese, herbs, and salts. We bought some lavender items, salt with herbs de Provence, a top for our grandson, and an embroidered towel for gifts. I usually don’t do much shopping on vacation so this was no exception.

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After the market, we walked back to Maison for the last time to get our car which they allowed us to leave in the secure parking area after we checked out until we left town. We drove to Avignon TGV, returned the car, took a shuttle train to Avignon Centre station, and checked in at the Novotel Avignon Centre a 5 minute walk away. One tip; we had to buy a train ticket to take the shuttle from the Avignon TGV to Avignon Centre & the shuttle train only goes about once every 30-40 minutes. We just missed it & had to wait a good 30 minutes for the next one. After that, we made sure to get our ticket for the shuttle train for the next morning & check the timetable for when it would leave since we had reservations for the TGV to Paris at around 8:00 a.m. There were several times during the trip when we bought tickets the night before so we would not have to worry about it the next morning, especially if we were pulling our luggage.
The Novotel was very nice & convenient if you have a train in or out of Avignon TGV. In addition, it is very close to where you walk into the city walls to see all of the town. We set out to find a place for lunch then to go to the Pope’s Palace, the famous bridge & wander the streets. We had lunch at an Irish Pub. My husband was thrilled to have some beef stew. We enjoyed Avignon, the main sights were easy to find & there were a lot of nice little streets & café areas with lots of trees. We went back for dinner that evening at a cute café & met a nice couple from California.
Thursday, September 12
We took the TGV to Paris & arrived at Gare de Lyon around 10:30. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Gare de Lyon. I know that most people prefer the various neighborhoods like Latin Quarter or Marais, etc. but we were going for convenience to the train station & metro. We were happy with our choice. The rooms are modern, the elevators use a key system for security & there are plenty of cafes in the area. There is a Starbucks right outside the hotel which turned out to be very convenient several times. Our room was not ready since it was so early but they stored our bags so we could hit the ground running. After getting our Navigo Decouverte passes, we took the metro to stop nearest Arc de Triomphe, then after spending some time there, we took the metro to the Trocadero station since it is near the Eiffel Tower. We walked around the area & checked out some of the streets in the vicinity like Buenos Aires (great Eiffel Tower shots) the Luis de Camoes fountain, Rue Beethoven, & Quai Branley along the river I think (thanks Cory Fry, French Fry in Paris weekly video tours for the tips). When we were walking in the area of Pont d’alma bridge was when the pick pocket scam occurred. Shortly after that, we had to go to our hotel, get into our room & take showers. Then we discovered the theft of my husband’s credit card & dealt with that. That evening we took the metro to Place de Bastille & had dinner at a café near there. We were a little down after the incident so we were ready to get back to the room & just get in bed! Tomorrow is another day!

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Friday, September 13
We spent some time in the Notre Dame area, toured St. Chapelle, walked through the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Grand & Petite Palais, Hotel de Ville, Pont Alexandre III Bridge, St. Germaine neighborhood (where we had the wonderful lunch), Saint Sulpice Church ( my favorite), Luxembourg Gardens (my favorite garden) Pantheon and then back to the Notre Dame area & Ile Saint Louis. We were trying to make up for lost time from the day before & I don’t feel that we did justice to many of the places but we still enjoyed the walk. We were amazed to see all of the renovations to Notre Dame, the wooden flying buttresses look really awesome. I think there are still as many people hanging around even though you can’t get close or go in. We enjoyed all of the little newsstands along the river & all of the people having picnics and sitting in the grass or in chairs enjoying the beautiful sunshine at Luxembourg Gardens.

That evening, we had a cheese plate, dessert & drinks at a café on Rue de Rivoli so we would be near Pont Neuf as we had tickets for an evening cruise. The cruise company was Vedette. We met a couple from the US who had just gotten married in Paris that day & were on their honeymoon. They were both nurses, second marriage for both, & had found their soulmates on the second time around. They planned to become traveling nurses when they returned to the states so they could see our country & decide where they wanted to end up! So cool.
We enjoyed the cruise very much. We saw so many people sitting on the banks of the Seine having picnics & there was even a group of people dancing. It was Latin dancing & must have been something organized that happened on weekends since there was a nice crowd and a sound system playing. And we got to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle of course.

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Saturday, September 14
We took the metro to Gambetta Station, got coffee & pastries at the McDonalds & walked to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. We used Rick Steve’s audio guide for the tour. When we left, we saw all of the names of the soldiers who died in WWI on the walls outside the cemetery. We looked for all of the Palmiers since that is my husband’s family name. We actually found a Justin Marius Palmier who died in 1916. Our son’s name is Justin Palmier so that was interesting.
From there, we took the metro to Anvers station, and walked to the funicular for Sacre Cour Basilica. There were the expected crowds but we were able to go in the church within 10 minutes of getting in the long line. There was a mass going on but they still let people walk around the perimeter. We walked around Montmartre, including finding the Moulin Rouge, windmill & all. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Montmartre but it was bustling. We ended up at the Abbesses metro station and saw the Wall of Love before taking the metro to area near Opera Garnier. We had lunch in a café & had a nice conversation with a couple from New Zealand, then we toured Opera Garnier. The building is stunning but it was very crowded & they weren’t allowing people into the auditorium which was a real disappointment. I wish we could have chosen to go there first thing in the morning & it might have been less busy but seeing Pere Lachaise when there were very few people there was peaceful after the hectic pace of Paris. We were worn out after that so we went back to the hotel to rest. That evening we walked from our hotel to Rue Cremieux, which is supposedly the most colorful street in Paris & was only a few minutes from our hotel. It is a short residential street, pedestrian & very charming. From there we found a café for our cheese plate, drinks & crème brulee. One aside that I noticed that evening as well is the unbelievable number of motorcycles parked in certain areas of Paris. There are literally rows crammed all along streets & sometimes streets full of motorcycles. I don’t know how the owners even get their motorcycle out of the parking spot. There were people on scooters everywhere too, the non-motorized type. You must keep an eye out for those as well as bicycles when you are walking about!

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Sunday, September 15
We left our hotel for Gare de Lyon by 7:00 am so we could be at Versailles in plenty of time before the gates opened at 9:00. But due to the RER being under some maintenance at the station we connected to, we had to re-figure our connections & we didn’t get to the long line until 9:00. I’m not sure if I messed up in my understanding of where to go for our guided tour, but I thought we still had to enter with our Passport ticket, then find where to meet the tour. Since we waited 35-40 minutes in a long line we missed the tour. There were other people just as confused about which line they should be in & there were not any official people around to ask. I should have just gone over to one of the other entrances & asked but I had received an email telling me that our Passports didn’t allow us to skip the line so I guess I was confused by that, thinking that meant our guided tour as well. So when we got in, we got audio guides & went through with everyone. It was so crowded that you really couldn’t get close to anything, in fact if you are claustrophobic, you might have a panic attack! The hall of mirrors was a bit better since it is so large. When we finally got outside, we enjoyed ourselves since it was fountain/music day & the grounds are lovely. Honestly though, we enjoyed our experience at Schonbrunn in Vienna much more. But I am glad we saw Versailles, the history is so amazing & we had enjoyed the series about it as well as documentaries we have watched. Just go early.
We had a lunch in the restaurant that is outside under a lovely shaded area & had a nice conversation with a young man from China. We walked the gardens until late afternoon, then went back to the hotel to pack for our flight home. We just picked up sandwiches for the last supper! We left our hotel the next morning by 7:00 for our 11:25 flight out of CDG & we were glad we allowed plenty of time. The train was very crowded at that time of day but everything went smoothly & we had time to relax at the airport.
So that is the trip. In restrospect, we enjoyed the French Riviera & Provence the most but we would prefer that to big cities anyway. I am sure that tourists who choose to rent an apartment & give Paris a week or two would have a much better experience because of not rushing through places & having the option of buying food from the markets, bakeries etc. in other words, live more like a Parisian! Thanks for all the posters who helped me so much with planning before this trip!

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One more addition regarding transportation; our bodies!!! We walked 90 miles and 331 floors during the 12 days, not counting our day of travel coming home. I was tired of wearing my Fitbit!

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What a fabulous helpful trip report! Sounds like you had a marvelous time! In Provence, which was your favorite town or city? Does one need to see Avignon and Arle? I’m working on our itinerary for September. Thank you!

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We enjoyed all of the towns mentioned in my trip report for different reasons. We liked staying in St. Remy. Roussillon was a charming town even though it was raining most of the time we were there. Since it rained the day we were planning to see several Luberon villages, that put a bit of a damper on our plans. We didn't stop and walk around Gordes but it looks beautiful and I know it is very popular. Realistically, many of the villages of the Luberon are pretty similar so I would advise you to research and just pick a few that are not a long drive apart and then spend a few hours at each one on the same day. We really enjoyed the Pont du Guard and Arles because we specifically wanted to see some Roman Ruins. We also enjoyed Avignon because it was completely different than the rest of the Provence area we spent the other three days in. And it was convenient for our plan to take the train. I think it depends on what you are interested in seeing. If you have any other questions I am happy to try to answer them!

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Thank you so much for posting! I have been thinking about staying at the Welcome Hotel in Villefranche sur Mer as a base for exploring the Riviera.

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Estimated Prophet, you will love the Welcome Hotel. We so enjoyed every evening there because are plenty of restaurants right there, the view and people watching is spectacular and the people at the Welcome Hotel are so accommodating. They have a wonderful breakfast every morning and the cocktails right on the water every evening.