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Our combined Solo & Couple Vacation in France, Aug. 26 - Sept. 18

Preface: Last year I took my first 3-week solo vacation to celebrate my retirement, returning to Italy – a fantastic trip! For this year, I planned a 3-week trip to France, and my husband joined me for the last 8 days. My husband & I have traveled to Europe 10 times. Research & planning European trips are a huge hobby of mine.

This Aug. 26 - Sept. 18 trip had three distinct sections: 1. Cathedrals/medieval/chateau, 2. the Riviera, 3. Eastern France/Paris. The pace of the first section of this trip is one that I would not suggest normally for a person asking for itinerary help and definitely not the pace I would have set up if my husband was traveling with me. But, it worked so well for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – wouldn’t change anything for those first two weeks of solo travel if I was planning it all over again. “To thine own self be true” applies to travel!

So here we go! Flew into CDG. Rouen – 2 nights, Chartres – 1, Le Mans – 1, Angers – 1, Tours – 2, Paris – 1 (this was for train connections), Nice – 5, Paris – 2. My husband flew into Paris & we went to Nancy – 3, Colmar – 2, & Paris – 3 nights.

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On the spectrum of being organized, I’m on the extreme end, so this is how I facilitated efficient 1-night stops:

I selected lodging very close to the cathedrals. It was a quick reference point from the train station, and Le Mans, Angers & Tours had quick tram service. Also, I could wander around town and then easily see which direction to walk to return to my lodging. In France, this was a perfect strategy because that’s also where the light shows at night were located.

Pack light & pack predictably. I brought three dresses which were in a white Eagle Creek Specter Shoe Sac (like a packing cube). My three tops, two scarves and black cardigan sweater were in a green Eagle Creek Specter Shoe Sac. Neither sac was full, so I didn’t need to bother rolling my clothes. Pants were in the bottom section of my suitcase. Underwear was in the smaller RS mesh cube. Toiletries were in the compartments inside my blue LL Bean Toiletry Kit. Power cords & adapters were stored in the red mesh zipper envelope. Dirty clothes went in the plastic hotel bag. Everything had a specific place where it belonged, and everything except the toiletry kit stayed inside the suitcase in the exact same spot. My nightgown returned each morning to the suitcase zipper opening.

I could literally be out the door of a hotel in 5-10 minutes, including paying the bill, after finishing a shower & makeup. (I had my hair specifically trimmed, so I didn’t even need to dry it!) The next location was 1-2 hours by train, so I left my suitcase at the lodging by noon and didn’t need to be near the train station the rest of the day.

What I gained with these 1-night stops was the ability to forget about the clock during the day and to enjoy the evening light shows at several locations. I didn’t need to take a train back at the end of the day. I consider personal safety a high priority, so this allowed me to enjoy evening events next to my lodging and not worry about late train travel, plus walking back to a hotel from the train station. Also, during the day, when I wanted to rest my feet for a short break, my lodging was always within 10-15 minutes.

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The fun details!

ROUEN: Now I understand why Monet painted an impressionists series of this beautiful cathedral! I enjoyed seeing the interior of the cathedral, the beautiful exterior, and it was the backdrop for my first French nighttime Light Show. Some highlights in Rouen were their quaint timbered buildings, the Jeanne of Arc church, some wonderful boulangeries, and the Horloge Clock. I spent my second day of Rouen seeing their museums - definitely recommend their Fine Arts Museum – wonderful paintings, and hard to believe it is free and so uncrowded! The Ceramics Museum, a topic I enjoy, was surprisingly dull. Someone had told me not to miss the Metalwork Museum, Musée Le Secq des Tournelles. It was so interesting; I thoroughly enjoyed that one, too!

In Rouen, I stayed at the Mercure Rouen Centre Cathedrale which I had selected to be at the cathedral for the evening light show. I’ve stayed at their hotels previously, so I knew they have a wonderful buffet breakfast. Their huge assortment included delicious local cheese and everything else! For my jet lag nights, I select a hotel where I’m likely to get a good night’s sleep, and this worked well.

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CHARTRES: During the trip planning stage, this town was a high priority. I even purchased the Chartres Cathedral book authored by Malcolm Miller ahead of time to prepare to see & understand the stained glass.

Wow, just jaw dropping! I had the same reaction stepping into this cathedral and first seeing the stained glass as I did last year when I saw my first Ravenna mosaic! The glass colors glittered like expensive jewelry under display lights! Looking in every direction, the cathedral interior was strikingly beautiful!

I spent over four hours in the Chartres Cathedral. Malcolm was gone that week, but I really appreciated how passionate his protégé tour guide was who gave 2-hr English tours in the afternoon. She also took us through the crypt and showed us levels of history. I would gladly come back and take this tour again with her!

In Chartres, I booked a beautiful B&B, Le Jardin Cathedrale, that was just two blocks from the cathedral. The beautifully decorated French home was lovely, and my gray decorated room was just as perfect as the photos. Yet, my favorite was her garden – lots of overflowing white flowers and greenery and an inviting patio table. I enjoyed reflecting in the peaceful garden afterwards about what I saw and learned that day in the cathedral.

Chartres Light Show was my favorite of all that I experienced. They won points for best use of the building as a cathedral, not just a backdrop, and best dramatic music enhancing the show theme. Chartres also had various light displays around the city that were fun to explore & see.

The B&B setting was very peaceful, but at night the street was noisy, and I could hear the music from the light show nearby. The next morning after breakfast I had 30 minutes before I needed to walk to the train station, so I went back to the cathedral for another look at that amazing stained glass! On Fridays, the chairs are moved back from the huge labyrinth, so people can walk on it. Since it was a Friday, I enjoyed my last moments walking some of its path.

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LE MANS: When I am planning trips, I do a lot of searching around vicinities of towns I want to see. Once I saw that Le Mans had both a well-preserved medieval section of town and Roman walls with intricate designs, I was willing to do another 1-night stop to explore and photograph Le Mans. And, wow, Le Mans did not disappoint! I wandered every lane through the Plantagenet historical section and down to the Roman wall. The ancient wall around Le Mans is one of the most complete remaining Gallo-Roman city walls. This area was also popular in the evening for people to come eat at the restaurants.

For Le Mans, I stayed at La Demeure de Laclais B&B and reserved their lavender-colored room. This big room has three sets of windows looking out at the cathedral! I was going to have the best viewing for their evening Light Show since my B&B room looked right at the cathedral. Sadly, no points given for that light show that I saw at the cathedral and fountain.

This B&B also makes their own jams, and I tried several on my breakfast croissant and bread. How do they make it taste SO good? I would gladly purchase several jars if it was available at home. The apricot jam had a rich flavor with a hint of sweet Fall spices.

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ANGERS: I described Chartres as strikingly beautiful; Angers can only be described equally as outpouring awe! A fortress castle like none I’ve ever seen contains the medieval tapestry of 1375, illustrating the Book of Revelation Apocalypse tapestry - the reason I was willing to do another 1-night stay. I had so much fun at the fortress! First, the tapestries were even better than I anticipated with just small groups of people there when I went in both times. Then, the fortress was a climbing adult playground with so much to see! I ate at the café inside the fortress and tried my first citron presse. Hours later after I exited the fortress and was taking photos of the towers outside from ground level with the beautifully designed gardens, it still was surreal even photographing them!

For Angers, I stayed at Hotel Continental which is located behind the Opera House on Place du Ralliement square – a very handy location since the tram from the train station stops at the square. This hotel is a no frills but perfectly adequate hotel. I purchased their breakfast since my train was leaving late morning. A funny discovery was that the L’Arelequin shop that I wanted to photograph ended up being right next door to my hotel!

Angers has a young vibe and Parisian architecture. I really enjoyed walking around town and being at the Place du Ralliment in the evening and could picture it as a possible city if staying for several days.

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TOURS: When I was researching Tours, I found that they were going to be having a city sale event the day I would arrive. I dismissed it in my plans because shopping is not a focus during my trips. When I left the train station here it was! Check out this site to see what happens to the streets!

https://www.tours.fr/services-infos-pratiques/347-braderie-de-tours.htm

My first hint was a security search of suitcases to leave the train station, transportation workers telling us there was no tram running today and no taxis in sight. So, create a Plan B! I walked in the general direction of my hotel, following the tram lines in the pavement and eventually arrived at Hotel L’Adresse near Place Plumereau in the historic center. By the time I finished walking, I arrived too late for cafes to serve lunch (beverages, only) so I made the best of the situation and ate ice cream and a delicious fresh baguette from a boulangerie for lunch!

I had reserved a chateau tour with Acco-Dispo, but they needed more participants, so I switched to a tour with A La Francaise. For this tour, a couple from Ireland & I went to see the outstanding gardens at Villandry. Our guide walked us through the chateau to see the rooms and see the garden views. Afterwards, she provided a relaxing picnic on the grounds of Chateau L'Iselette. The first tour I had planned to take was going to be intense, covering four chateaus during an entire day. This half-day tour turned out to be the opposite - very relaxing, and I really enjoyed the chance to relax in the country setting and hear much more about living in France from our young guide. Villandry had been my top priority, and we had plenty of time there to enjoy the setting, arriving before it was crowded. (I had seen some of the other chateaus years ago.)

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A special memory I shared on Facebook that occurred at the Tours Train Station!

Bridging Language Barriers - although I studied French this past year on Duolingo, etc. my pronunciations and vocabulary are elementary. This morning I had two wonderful experiences made through the language of music. Arriving early at the Tours train station, I walked over to the piano and started playing. (I’ve played for 55 years.) A young man immediately walked over. He enthusiastically said “Rachmaninov, Concerto No. 2”! (This is a concerto I have been working on this past year) I asked if he played, and he was SO pleased when I appreciated his talent and kept asking him to play a few more. He’s studying music at the university.

After we parted, I still had some extra time, so I walked back over to the piano and played a French composer and then finished with a short passage of the Rachmaninov again. When I finished, a very senior woman slowly walked over to me with a big smile, speaking in French. I smiled and said “Desole, American”. She glowed, “Rachmaninov!”

So, I’ll probably never perform that concerto with an orchestra in the US, but on that day, it brightened three people’s lives in France.

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PARIS: This 1-night stop was just planned to be able to head to Nice the next morning. I walked much farther than planned but saw the change to Notre Dame and several favorite locations. My hotel room at Hotel Le Petit Chomel had a tiny balcony & table, so I picked up a packaged salad at a nearby shop and ate on the balcony.

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NICE: A city of variety - dazzling blue water, large pebble beach, flock of tourists, city life and a special bonus in their old center. I had heard from some people that “Nice is not nice.”, but I really enjoyed this city and would stay there again. The divide between France and Italy at one time was west of Nice, so the oldest center was a welcome step into a traditional Italian neighborhood (I love Italy!). And loving Italian food, guess where I ate dinner? The excitement in town that weekend was the World Champions Ironman Competitions; women on Saturday, men on Sunday. I saw several people from a variety of countries running through their practice sessions, so it was a fun energy environment!

My husband & I really enjoyed participating in Food tours when we were in NYC earlier this year, so, I booked one for my first full day in Nice. Food tours continue to be one of the best values for me to learn about local food, local history, a city’s culture, and having an activity where English is spoken when I’m traveling solo. Oh, and fantastic food! Two couples & I joined Nadia from “Nice Food & Wine Tours” as we walked through some streets I had wandered the day I arrived, and now I could appreciate so much more of Nice’s history and food culture! Nadia took us to several shops, the Market and we finished with a sit-down meal of local specialties. She was passionate about serving us the best and sharing Nice with us. This was four hours well spent! I especially thought this was brilliant timing because I was able to use all of this information & recommended shops for the rest of my five days in Nice.

My second day, I rode a local bus over to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to walk through the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild villa & extraordinary gardens. An eccentric woman, Beatrice, with lots of money had this beautiful 1912 home and amazing gardens created. I arrived as it opened at 10am. RS recommends going through the villa, first. Instead, I headed directly to the gardens to be able to photograph the gardens without people in the photos and catch the lowest light possible. There were so many lovely areas in each of the garden sections – the Stone Garden, the Spanish Garden, the Rose Garden & more. The video in English on the second floor was excellent at explaining the villa & situation of Beatrice’s life.

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(NICE - part 2) My third day was focused on one of those special spots - where website research trails last winter led me to a town I wanted to be sure to see in person. Menton, called the Pearl of France, is the last town on the Riviera before the border with Italy. A book I purchased a month before my trip made me even more excited to explore Menton, "Travels through the French Riviera" - An Artist's Guide to the Storied Coastline from Menton to Saint-Tropez, by Virginia Johnson.

The hues of colors were just as beautiful as I had hoped! What starts out as a normal pretty coastal town suddenly turned into a completely different architecture! Narrow little streets, each one steeper, rewarded me with so many photographs that I finally told myself to just stop - put away the phone, and savor being there. Later I walked back down to the beach that faces Italy and relaxed.

About the time my stomach was beginning to growl, I climbed the streets back into the Italian section and saw a few restaurants & then several more in a small piazza. I ordered a house-made lasagna that is one of the best I have ever eaten! I think they used the crepe method for the pasta and the meat tasted similar to homemade meatballs – yum! It was only a 15-minute bus ride, afterwards, to Monaco (which is filled with American tourists, but I didn’t hear any English in Menton.) I had fun speaking Italian at the Menton restaurant; I had accidently spoken a few times earlier in this trip in Italian instead of French!

From Menton, I took the bus to Monaco... to receive a passport stamp. I knew from the RS book that the TI in Monaco would stamp my passport. After walking through the front portion of the casino, I took the bus back to Nice.

For my last day at Nice, I had planned to go to St. Paul de Vence on Sunday morning to attend a small English church & enjoy the town, but the road was on the bike route for the Ironman Men’s World Championship that morning. So, instead, I stopped at the boulangerie recommended by Nadia to pick up breakfast & joined the crowd on the promenade to see the Norwegian win the Ironman at the Finish Line. Later in the day, I enjoyed the beach area, finishing the day with a walk up to the “# I Love Nice” sign for some final photos.

In Nice, I stayed at the Hôtel Régence on Rue Massena – a perfect location for me and a nice room. I liked being able to walk around the busy area in the evening, yet my courtyard room was very quiet to sleep. The Massena tram stop from the train station was so convenient.

I really enjoyed my five days based in Nice! Nice is vibrant, yet a quick train or cheap bus ride away, I could be in serene gardens or photographer dream spots. I definitely think I will be back!

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PARIS: I have been to Paris several times, so I planned to go to the Museum Jacquemart Andre, one of the best private collections of art in Paris. I was having a very nice conversation with a British woman on the train from Angers who had moved to France several years ago, and she happened to mention this museum, too, so I stopped for a breakfast croissant & espresso and was on the way to arrive when it opened. I definitely recommend this astonishingly beautiful collection in a gorgeous home! I love architecture and art and both were stunning! As I was leaving, it began to get crowded.

Afterwards, I jumped on a couple of city buses just for fun and road the crazy traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe! That evening I had an enjoyable dinner with an American woman who has been living in Paris for several years.

For these two nights, I stayed at Grand Hotel des Balcons – just north of the Luxembourg Gardens, my favorite garden. The hotel room was tiny as expected and basic but was quiet; I slept well.

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My husband flew into Paris, and we caught the train to Nancy.

NANCY: Place Stanislas is regal and beautiful! We stayed at Le Relais Ducal, an apartment in the historic area which was a spacious 2-level attic apartment in a historic building near the Porte de la Craffe, the 14th century gate that looks like a Cinderella castle.

The elegant Place Stanislas reminded us of Vienna, and we enjoyed relaxing there and eating dinner there our last evening. I have to give their Fine Arts Museum a mixed review. I really wanted to see their collection of Daum glass, but that section of the museum was closed because of an electrical issue. This information was not shared when I purchased the ticket.

We stopped at a pastry shop our first day which was excellent. But when we stopped the next morning at the pastry shop mentioned in the notebook of information our apartment owner had left us – wow! I’m still thinking about it! I read reviews on-line about Cadici afterwards, and they’re all true! Since there was a nice park nearby, we enjoyed having our coffee in the apartment each morning and then selecting some Cadici pastries to enjoy in the park’s rose garden.

Nancy is the Art Nouveau capital of France. We stopped into the Tourist Office in Nancy to pick up their map of neighborhoods with art nouveau. It was a fun afternoon adventure activity both days, plus gaining lots of walking steps. For anyone who enjoys taking photos of unique doors, well...my husband teased me about taking so many photos, so I took a few extra ones!

The Light Show at Nancy was spectacular since they utilize three of the four sides of Place Stanislas Square to give a “surround sound” feeling. Topics highlighted their opera, ballet, art nouveau among others. We were glad to have a chance to see it more than one night.

Nancy was another location where I definitely used my French vocabulary. Both of us noticed how friendly people were in this town! Older people we would meet in the park or on the street would greet us; Nancy had a small-town community feeling in a larger city.

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COLMAR: When my husband & I arrived at Colmar we found a quaint town completely filled with tourists. Many of the shops had street displays of trinkets instead of locally made items. Both of us were disappointed because it felt like a fake version of a town, especially since we just came from Nancy which was so authentic and friendly. It wasn’t until later evening after the tourist crowd left and early morning before they arrived that the Colmar we had wanted to see became apparent.

We tried local specialties; I chose Quiche Lorraine since we were in the Lorraine region, and my husband had a traditional meat pie - both excellent. We ate fairly early ~7:00pm both nights and noticed that the outdoor tables were all filled by 7:20pm.

On Sunday, 2300 participants ran in the half and full marathon that went by our hotel, Saint-Martin. We loved that they began the race with three small teams - each grouped around a severely handicapped person in a modified bike. As they ran by our hotel, they were smiling while we cheered them on enthusiastically.

We reserved a village tour with Ophorus Excursions & Tours for the afternoon. Our half-day minivan tour to several small villages outside Colmar was very special. Our friendly guide briefly drove us to sites beyond the tour plan to thoroughly explain the significance of this area during WWII since it’s near the German border. His information, showing us bullet holes in stone building walls, and pointing out the American flag flown high up the hill at a memorial were very meaningful. He also provided lots of details about the wines & origins for this area. The villages were all so cute (he even drove us down to Eguisheim which was my favorite!), and with his time with us, it made an afternoon to be grateful, too.

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PARIS: We visited our favorite garden - the Luxembourg Garden with our favorite treat - gelato, hopped some metros around the city and watched the sunset from a river 1-hour cruise. The beautiful colors in the sunset were spectacular that night! We ate a variety of food during the trip, even finding a Five Guys on the Champs-Elysees for a late dinner!

Since I hate open heights, my husband captured some wonderful photos from the top of the Arc de Triomphe while I lingered at a nearby cafe with a second espresso after he left. Then I entertained myself watching the traffic circle complete chaos! One car just kept honking, even when no one was in front of him - perhaps just a warning to stay away!

I am known for enjoying gelato & sweets. When we came up the stairs from the Marais metro, a half a block away, my eyes zeroed in on Maison Georges Larnicol. Oh, the dividends of research- ha! My husband & I each picked out a Kouignette and a few chocolates. I’ve made K’s at home, but not like these!

For our three nights in Paris, we returned to a special hotel - Hotel Sainte-Beuve. Since we had stayed with them previously, they upgraded our room. The hotel and rooms are beautifully decorated and have bathrobes; the lobby has complimentary coffee which we enjoyed one afternoon with our chocolates – just an overall wonderful experience.

Since we were staying near the Luxembourg Garden, I find the Luxembourg RER stop to CDG very convenient and inexpensive. We boarded while there were plenty of seats which quickly filled at the next stops.

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In summary, another wonderful trip to Europe! The weather was fantastic during the entire trip. I only had some rain one afternoon in Rouen, and I was near a museum, so it didn’t affect me too much. I’ll also summarize with a few helpful hints from my trip. THANK YOU to everyone who answered any of my questions on this forum during the past year! I’m grateful for your feedback & knowledge!

The only disappointment during the trip was that I had reserved an éclair pastry class with La Cuisine in Paris. They suddenly had to cancel this class which was sad since I had taken their croissant pastry class during a previous trip and enjoyed it immensely. Hopefully someday I will be able to take another pastry class with them.

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HELPFUL HINTS from this trip:

Check the WiFi connection before accepting a room. I had an attic room for two nights with no WiFi in Tours. I had to stand at the bottom of the stairway or sit in the breakfast area when it was open to access info and talk to my husband about an upcoming reservation payment.

I really enjoyed the B&B’s in France! Both of mine were charming and gave me a better chance to interact with the owners and fellow travelers. I hesitated booking B&B’s because their check-in times were late afternoon. I e-mailed both of them, translating my request to French, and they both graciously allowed me to leave my suitcase with them at noon. I probably was a disappointment to my first B&B owner when she met me – I had used formal words to translate, and in her reply, she said my French was impeccable! In person when I spoke, not so much!

Look at the train layout map before picking a location on the platform. I knew about this but think it’s worth mentioning to others since two times this year my trains were joined nose-to-nose, so half of the train wouldn’t have been accessible. My car#10 was at the complete opposite end of the long train set from car #11, so if someone was counting down, i.e. #13, 12, 11 there would have been no #10 near them.

After using my first train ticket I had printed on-line, I realized it would be much easier to write some of the info in large letters (for these old eyes!) on the train ticket, so I didn’t need my reading glasses to check the correct info at the train station: Train #, Departure time, Car & Seat #, Arrival time.

I missed my printed Google map I created for previous trips to show me how to get from the train stations to the hotel (tried to print less for this trip). Several of my routes were just a tram ride, but I still wished at times for that quick reference that I would pull out during previous train rides to the next location that typically included a few notes I wanted to remember.

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(HELPFUL HINTS - part 2)

All of my language study time with Duolingo, YouTube videos, and a language study game were valuable, even if it was just getting comfortable speaking words. I knew this trip would require more French than our previous trips to more touristy locations, and yes, it definitely did! I still remember running through the first lessons in Duolingo thinking, “What are they saying? All I hear is sssss!” Ha! I brought the RS summary sheet for French. I also created a page of sentences & questions in sections – what to say at a hotel, at a restaurant, etc. which was really helpful to grab for reference while riding the train to the first locations. My husband was amazed how much they appreciated me using their language when I would say nicely in French, “Good evening. We would like a table for two, please.”

A friendly, humble attitude went a long way. I asked for help in French to find the bus location in Nice, the right bus stop for Villa Rothschild, and when I was riding the Nice tram in the wrong direction (both directions go uphill). Each time, people were very gracious – even others speaking up to help.

Observe, discuss & define personal travel styles. The first section of my trip energized me, yet all of those 1-night stops would have been difficult for many people, including my husband. He enjoys 3-night stops, so the timing and placing 3-night stops at the end of our itinerary worked well for both of us when I was ready to relax my pace, too.

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Expenses for this 24-day trip (Solo travel for 16 days; couple travel for 8 days):

Airplane Tickets $222 (used miles)
Hotels $2,871
Meals & Snacks $1,021
Transportation: Trains & local options $632
Activities: Museums, Food Tour, Village Tour, etc. $439

TOTAL $5,186

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Jean, what a fantastic trip and trip report!! I love how you did what worked for YOU. It sounds like you thought through everything really well and had a fantastic time.

Thank you for taking the time to put this together! So much to absorb.

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What a great trip. Thanks for the extensive report. One can tell just how much you loved some of your stops. I don't do many in Europe, but one can plan to maximize a one night stay and make them worth the time invested.

I might have been too excited to get to the reports, but did you state when you actually traveled? And do you have any weather / temperature comments to add?
So, Spain or UK next?

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Good questions, MariaF.

The trip was Aug. 26 - Sept. 18. I'm almost back to my normal time zone! ; )

I really like to travel in September. We have always had wonderful weather during that month. The weather is still usually very nice, but the college students are back in class. Of course, I think Paris was having some rain this week, so I can't predict perfect weather.

We had a wonderful trip to Spain in 2017, going in October since it was more in southern Spain. The UK is still on our list. For next year, I'm planning to take our oldest adult daughter to Europe for her first time. I told her she could pick the country, and she chose Italy!

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Thanks for the date update. Gentle nudge, care to put it into your first post - for future readers?? :-)
We must have been in similar area similar time in Spain in 2017, then...but mine flowed into November.
Lucky you to see Italy through the eyes of your daughter next year. Have a great time.

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MariaF, done! : )

Yes, looking forward to enjoying Italy with her, and she's excited to go with a person who's very comfortable traveling there. She even sent me a recent article that says Mother-Daughter trips are good for people's health!

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Thank you for such a lovely trip report! I was especially happy to see Angers and the Tapestry of the Apocalypse on your report; so cool!

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What a wonderful trip report! Thank you for taking the time to share you experiences.

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Colmar is cute, but I agree, very touristy. I feel the real charm of Alsace is in all the little half timbered villages. So far my favorites are Eguisheim and Kayserburg. We spent part of the day in Colmar, stayed overnight and a winery in the old town and then moved on to Eguisheim/

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Great report! It makes me want to do something similar to your solo trip. I could enjoy the solo portion of the trip. It seems like a great idea, and you knew exactly what you wanted from your trip and did it. Also, it seems to me most of the train trips were not that long...other than to Nice, of course.

I love Nancy. It's interesting that you thought it was like a little Vienna...I must now move up Vienna on my list.

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Wray, yes, almost all of the train trips were short - about 90 minutes between locations.

Paris-to-Nice was 6 hours, and our return to Paris from Colmar was 3 hours.

If you liked Nancy, I think you would definitely like Vienna!

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Love that your daughter sent you that article. What a wonderful time you will have next year — and planning between now and then!!

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Amy, what an amazing location! I was surprised how few people were at the Angers fortress and viewing the Tapestry of the Apocalypse. I’m picky about adding any weight to my suitcase, but I purchased a nice book of the tapestries to enjoy after returning home.

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I am bookmarking your report - so many nice details and excellent planning! Thank you!

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Hi Jean,

Thanks so much for sharing your lovely trip report with us!

I love reading about all the wonderful places you visited, and now I've added them to my growing bucket list!

Do you want to plan my next trip?

Your report is full of helpful information and I have bookmarked it for future reference.

Your comment here reminded me of what I've also done...

By the time I finished walking, I arrived too late for cafes to serve lunch (beverages, only) so I made the best of the situation and ate ice cream and a delicious fresh baguette from a boulangerie for lunch!

Wow! You must be a fabulous pianist!

So, I’ll probably never perform that concerto with an orchestra in the US, but on that day, it brightened three people’s lives in France.

I'm quite sure that concerto brightened many others who were present at that train station!

A couple of questions for you:

  • Did you take the train, or bus, to Rouen?
  • Did you have to book tickets in advance for the light shows at the various cathedrals, or are they free?

Thanks again!

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Hi Priscilla,
If I planned your next trip, you would miss out on the fun stages we both go through during the year! I do think that planning is half the fun, but then when I'm actually there, it's definitely the best part of the process!

I do enjoy playing the piano and notice that in general, people in Europe respond most positively when I'm playing a classical piece.

"Did you take the train, or bus, to Rouen?" I took the train to Rouen. I took the RER from CDG into Paris, switched on the metro, and went out on Gare St. Lazare. One of the metro lines was down, so I took an alternate to reach Gare St. Lazare.

"Did you have to book tickets in advance for the light shows at the various cathedrals, or are they free? "
The light shows are all free like a community event and some are repeated during the night. They are fun events because so many people come to see them. In Rouen, I sat down an hour early on the steps and a musician was playing some lovely music (gladly contributed some Euros to him) before the light show began. A lot of people showed up within the last 10 minutes before it started. The cathedral was also beautiful just watching the sunset colors change the stone color on the building.

In Chartres, they had the wonderful light show on the cathedral which repeated until 1am. Also, they had various landmarks with either still graphic lights or a small running light show, too. The cathedral one was so great, that I returned to it and watched it a second time that night.

In Le Mans, it was lights at various sights. At first the cathedral one wasn't working. When it did start working, the graphics and music just didn't compare to the previous two.

In Nancy, the light show was projected onto three sides of the square, so people were either sitting at their dining table or standing in the middle of the square where you could see it wherever you stood. It was another excellent show. We went multiple times to see it.

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3704 posts

Priscilla, the light shows run most of the summer. For some of the locations, we were catching the last few days it was happening.

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3678 posts

Jean, I more thoroughly read your trip report while sipping my morning espresso. What a great report and a treat to read. You had details for several places that I haven't been so I appreciate that. I thought your discussion on packing and reasoning for 1 and 2 night stays was extremely helpful. Excellent job on packing light! A lot of people on this forum are more biased towards longer stays and more day trips. While in the end, people need to travel in the way that makes them happy, because that's the point, but there are great reasons for shorter stays and definitely ways like packing strategies to make them work. I often hear, changing locations will eat up a half day, and sometimes that is the case, but for us, more often not. I feel like when people make this mental calculation, they are not subtracting out the day trip travel time, including the "backtracking" to the inn. However, I will also say, that I've taken to heart some comments in regard to longer stays and "savoring".

Regarding inns and noise, I most often pick inns based on location and like to be in the center of the city. I do note "quiet room" but I always prioritize a view. I stay in an older property in Paris with the classic metal balcony iron work and flowers. It is on a street that can be a little noisy. The quiet rooms have no views. Have you ever tried ear plugs? I love them! My husband said that they took some getting used to, but he is a convert.

Regarding traveling solo. I've done it some in Europe at the ends of trips with my husband. I really do quite enjoy being independent. Sometimes I find myself lonely at night, and feel a little awkward at restaurants. Sometimes I'll pick up food in a market and wander around instead of sitting down at a restaurant. For some reason, it doesn't bother me during the day to stop for a glass of wine or coffee or snack, but in the night it feels strange. Did you feel this at all? Any thoughts or strategies? I noted that you did a class and tours, which does provide social interaction and I've done that some, in particular, Paris Walks.

Thanks again for a great and interesting report!

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638 posts

Thank you, Jean, for sharing your excellent trip report! I appreciate your packing tips especially for 1 night stops. Even though I try to avoid 1 nights stops, they do happen sometimes. 3-week trips are my favorite length of time, too.

After reading your report, I really want to visit Chartres. It has been on my radar for many years now. Your Chartes B&B looks lovely. Did the noise settle down at some point in the evening?

I appreciate you posting the names of your B&Bs and hotels. I looked up most of them on TA and they all look wonderful! Good point about Hotel Sainte-Beuve being close to the RER.

I agree about Colmar being touristy, but it is delightful once the tourist leave. I plan to be back there for the Xmas market this year!

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3704 posts

Jules M,

Yes, I think the 1-day stop calculations aren’t always accurately portrayed. My average length of time to reach the next town in that portion of my trip was 90 minutes, plus an additional 20 minutes to walk to the tram from the hotel, take the tram and wait for the train. That’s almost two hours that I didn’t need to backtrack at the end of a day trip. The variable in this decision is how long it takes someone to pack and check out of a hotel and check into the next hotel. In this case, as long as it was less than two hours, I was ahead in overall time; it was a clear choice for me! (I’m a retired engineer, so yes, I calculated each piece for efficiency-ha!). Of course, the intention is not to keep moving through a vacation at this pace; after all, it is a vacation.

Your Parisian spot sounds lovely! I do love those iron work balconies!

I laughed when you asked about earplugs. I’ve tried them several times, even at women’s retreats, and none of them will stay in my ears! I must have defective ear canals! The B&B in Chartres was charming enough to overlook the one night of less sleep. The light show nearby quit running at 1am.

The solo dining you mentioned bothered me last year when I did my first solo trip to Italy for three weeks. This year, the only time it changed what I did for dinner was at Tours. The Place Plumereau was crowded with people for dinner, and I just didn’t want to tackle that as a solo diner. So I walked a few blocks and ate at smaller outdoor restaurants in their more modern shopping streets. Probably a third of my dinners were in restaurants, a third in quick stop cafes, and a third just grabbing a salad and yogurt at the Monoprix, and relaxing in my hotel room. If I was eating dinner at a restaurant, I would change into a dress to feel like it was a special occasion - just something I like to do. I passed the time between ordering my meal and eating by reviewing my photos taken that day. All of the restaurants treated me very nicely.

I enjoyed walking around in the evenings and definitely attending the light shows. I purposely booked lodging where I was very close to where I wanted to be at night. And, I learned in Italy that walking around with a gelato makes it seem like you belong! ; )

Glad you enjoyed the trip report!

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3704 posts

Christine, the Chartres B&B was such a great experience that I would stay there again. I just wouldn’t want to be there several nights. I could hear the music from the light show at the cathedral, and there were the sporadic cars or really noisy people that would wake me up again.

But the chance to stay in such a lovely home and relax in the beautiful French garden are worth it to me. And, it is a very quick walk back to the train station area.

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4557 posts

Hi Jean,
Ha!
I enjoy planning my own trips, however, sometimes I feel like others (like you) do a better job!

I love your attitude!

I learned in Italy that walking around with a gelato makes it seem like you belong! ; )

Just curious... Do you wish you'd have stayed longer than one night in Chartres, Le Mans, or Angers?

How did you get to Menton, by bus, or train?

Do you wish you'd have stayed at least an overnight in Menton?

Thanks for answering my questions! ; )

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3678 posts

Jean, a couple things on the ear plugs. They are cheap and there are different brands to try. In terms of my brand, all I can say is I've settled on the "baby blue colored ones". You have to really roll them tight and insert as deep as comfortable, then they will expand a bit and fit up the ear canal. We are going on our first RS tour soon. They sent us beige ones. They didn't seem to roll as easily and they weren't as dense and didn't seem to block noise that well. At least they didn't block the sound of my husband snoring! A word of caution, I have my phone to vibrate for my alarm because sometimes I don't hear my alarm with the ear plugs.

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3704 posts

Hi Priscilla, to answer your questions -

"Just curious... Do you wish you'd have stayed longer than one night in Chartres, Le Mans, or Angers?"
To be honest, I focused on one day's worth of activities for each of those locations, so I'm not sure what I would have done the second day. Early in my planning I had two nights penciled in for Chartres and three nights for Tours. I borrowed a night from Chartres to see Le Mans, and my last change was to take a day from Tours and stay in Angers. I'm really glad I made both of those changes; three days would have been too long in Tours for me.

I really liked walking around Angers. My husband likes to stay longer at locations, and I was thinking that is a nice city we could stay several days. I did keep in mind during the last part of this trip that Chartres is a short train ride from Paris, so if my husband & I ran into any snags during the trip, i.e. airline strike, I was going to take him directly to Chartres to experience it, too. I place it in the short list of church interiors that really touched me & I want to see again: Parma (Italy) Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral.

"How did you get to Menton, by bus, or train?"
I took the train from Nice to Menton, and I took the bus from Menton to Nice, with a brief stop in Monaco on the way back. The train ticket was 6.50 Euro, and the bus tickets were 1.50 Euro. The train was very crowded at about 9am until the stop at Monaco.

"Do you wish you'd have stayed at least an overnight in Menton?"
Oh yes! Originally when I was planning the trip, I considered staying there (even checked lodging options), but it would have been too far away from the activities I initially had on my list - Villa Ephrussi Rothschild, finding a pastry class in Nice, St. Paul de Vence and possibly some museums in Nice. Nice seemed like a better hub since this was my first time east of Avignon, and I'm really glad I was based in Nice for the five days because it's an active city. But Menton is a great town. If I do a combo Italy/French Riviera trip, I'll aim for an overnight in Menton.

Do I picture French croissants in your future? ; )

Jean

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4557 posts

Thanks Jean for answering all my questions, I truly appreciate it!

Do I picture French croissants in your future? ; )

Yes! I love French croissants!

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3704 posts

Kim,
Our daughter and I are meeting soon to begin the fun process of selecting possible towns to visit in Italy. I’ve been to over 20, so I think the hardest part will be where NOT to go!

This trip was very much tailored to my travel style. Although my husband and I really have fun traveling together, when he’s not with me, it’s become a chance to discover how much I can create a trip that focuses on interests, etc. that appeal to me, ie. I can be in an art museum or taking photos of interesting medieval lanes for several hours!

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2596 posts

Jean, thank you for sharing your amazing journey. So glad you enjoyed Chartres. Spending 2 nights was the highlight of our tour. I am bookmarking your report for future reference. We too just returned from our trip- (Central Europe, Amsterdam). Also looking at Italy, Fall 2020. Revisit Sicily.

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226 posts

Totally loved reading this trip report Jean! We recently took RS Eastern France tour and your report brought back memories. Many thanks!

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1716 posts

Great, detailed, interesting report Jean! I am bookmarking this! Just curious, which flight did you take from Sea-tac? I know you said you used miles, we are going to Paris next spring and I wanted that direct Delta flight from Seattle, but we ended up with Iceland Air through Reykavik.

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3704 posts

Hi Diveloonie,

We both took nonstop Delta flights from Seattle to CDG. I think our flights out left about 1pm, and our return from Paris was around 10:30am.

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3704 posts

Barbara, Kristen, Travelmom, Janis, and Luv2Travel,

I’m glad you also enjoyed the trip report! My next task is to create a photo book and possibly choose a photo to have Costco also print it as a canvas for our den. It’s hard to narrow down favorite photos/memories to one!

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207 posts

Jean,
Outstanding! Did you do all of this via train and tram/bus? It sound that way as you played piano and made many people happy. Anything you can provide on this is very helpful as I normally wait to book when I am there but miss out on the 90 day savings.

Thank you so very much and I too, also love Italy and the coffee and gelato!

KATHY

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3704 posts

Hi Kathy,

Yes, all of the transportation between cities was using trains, except my day trip along the Riviera when I took the bus back from Menton to Nice, stopping at Monaco.

I purchase all of the train tickets ahead of time (except the day trip) for a few reasons: I obtain the savings. I can decide ahead of time which one I want & then don't need to think about it. And, I don't need to worry about needing to validate a train ticket.

Here's what I selected:

From & To: Departure: Arrival: Cost for 1 person in Euros, purchasing ahead of time
1 Paris-to-Rouen 12:46 14:00 (this is the day I arrived from Seattle); 10 E
2 Rouen-to-Chartres (through Versailles Chantiers) 8:45 11:24 ; 24 E
3 Chartres-to-Le Mans 10:09 11:22 ; 22 E
4 Le Mans-to-Angers 10:29 11:10 ; 13 E
5 Angers-to-Tours (though Le Mans) 11:44 13:54; 26 E
6 Tours-to-Paris 12:08 13:31 ; 15 E
7 Paris-to-Nice 10:19 16:06; 80 E (1st class)
8 Nice -to-Paris 10:00 16:15 ; 78 E (1st class)
9 Paris-to-Nancy 12:28 13:59 (this is the day my husband arrived from Seattle); 34 E (1st class)
10 Nancy-to-Colmar (though Metz) 8:50 11:33 ; 19 E
11 Colmar-to-Paris 12:22 15:18 ; 24 E

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3704 posts

Kathy,

I just used the trams to go from the train station to my hotel or B&B. I kept some coins in a handy spot on the outside of my bag to buy the tram tickets, which were usually between 1.50 and 2 Euro. All of the machines were extremely easy to use with English option prompts. I bought two tickets, so I could just use the second one to take the tram back to the train station when I was leaving town. I guess we did use a tram one day in Nancy to go from one of the neighborhoods with the beautiful art nouveau back to Place Stanislas.

For Nice, there's an option to purchase a Day Ticket, so a couple of days I just bought it at the tram stop. It's about 5 Euro. That ticket was good for both the trams and the buses, for instance, the bus to go see Villa Ephrussi Rothschild.