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France Trip Report

Hello! I would like to share a report for my trip to France - I just got back 2 days ago. This is my 2nd trip to Paris. I will be honest that we were initially worried about safety, but on arrival we were so glad that we went. There were security changes in Paris: bag checks everywhere, metal detectors at larger sites, and military presence visible in train stations, airport, and Versailles. However, we felt very safe everywhere that we went; we were grateful for the extra precautions and no one else seemed to mind, either. People were kind, helpful, and welcoming.

Flight: Flew Icelandair for the first time - saved an estimated $1300 overall! Tips: (1) Drinks but not food items are included, you have to bring your own food or pay for it separately - which was fine for us. (2) Watch your layover time - We had a 1 hour layover in Iceland, and thought that should be fine, however it turned out to be barely enough because you have to get your passport stamped before continuing on and there are no clear directions about this step. Flight departures also seemed very unorganized - almost missed our flight to Paris because they had another flight to Germany lined up in the common stairwell (no joke!) blocking the way to our gate. We had to be a bit loud and pushy, I am afraid, and literally had to push our way down the stairs to make our flight. (3) Icelandair flies in and out of Terminal 1 in a small, quiet part of CDG airport, which is nice, I think, with a Brioche Doree for sandwiches and 2 souvenir shops in the gate area. Overall, I would fly Icelandair again now that I understand the transfer process at the Iceland airport.

Day 1: Our flight landed in Paris in the early afternoon, we decided to take the RER to Gare du Nord and then taxi to our hotel. In hindsight, we wish that we had not. The RER train was fine, but when we went to a Gare du Nord designated "Taxi" stand, a man quickly started hustling us into a taxi (not the driver), putting our bags in the car, and then started to shout "Tip tip tip!" He was actually shouting this at us while we were trying to tell the driver where to go. I finally had to tell the man that I had no small change and he gave up, but it was innerving. Then, we quickly realized that our taxi driver was new to Paris, I actually had to type the hotel address into Google for him, he then circled the address at least twice (I kept trying to tell him but my French was just not good enough). He finally pulled over, got out, and asked someone in a different hotel where to go. Then, to our great relief, we finally arrived at our hotel. We were all a little shaken. I will add, however, that we took 2 taxis elsewhere in Paris after this without any problems - I only share this to say maybe be careful around Gare du Nord.

However, all was forgotten once we arrived at our hotel! We stayed in Hotel Chopin inside Passage Jouffroy in the 9th Ar. The glass-covered passage is a delight - there are several book shops including 1 for children's books, a toy shop, a home goods shop, and a wonderful tea and cake shop (Le Valentin). Our hotel was great - we had a beautiful and extremely clean room on the 3rd floor. We were warmly welcomed at the hotel, dropped our things off, and then promptly went to an early dinner at the historic Bouillon Chartier right around the corner. The food is just ok, but the service was wonderful and the setting was lovely, and you don't need a reservation (they don't take them). We then strolled through our passage (Jouffroy) as well as the adjacent Passage Verdeau. Passage Verdeau has some beautiful art galleries and an adorable embroidery/cross-stitch shop. We finished our first evening with coffee and a delicious chocolate mousse and orange cake at Le Valentin.

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Day 2: We started the day unexpectedly at the Apple Store, due to I-Phone problems (FYI - inside a pretty building, super nice people, made an appointment and were helped within 30 minutes and nice coffee around the corner to wait). The store was within walking distance of the hotel down Blvd Haussmann. After this stop, we decided to visit the Opera Garnier, which was across the street. We were so glad that we did! We got the audio-guide (5 euros, they hold a drivers license until returned). It was gorgeous, and the Chagall ceiling is breathtaking. We then had lunch at the Angelina's inside the nearby Galeries Lafayette (make sure to look up! - gorgeous dome inside the mall) - a bit pricey, but the hot chocolate was as good as everyone says! We saved a little by getting some lighter meals (omelet, croque monsieur) and sharing a hot chocolate. We then rode the bus to the D'Orsay Museum. We followed Rick Steves' recommendations and bought our museum tickets at the nearby newspaper stand (cash only, helps to know a bit of French). We were then able to enter line C and walked right in. We loved the Impressionist floor (of course) but were also surprised to see an entire section of beautiful Art Nouveau furniture. You should also look for the Salle des Fêtes, which was a lovely room. We then took the bus back to our Passage Jouffroy and had dinner in Café Zephyr, a decent bistro in the passage.

Day 3: We had signed up in advance for an afternoon D-Day tour with Overlord Tours (cash only at end of tour but reserved with credit card). We took the 8:40am train from Gare St Lazare via Caen to Bayeux for the day. The transfer was super easy, you get off the train from Paris and the next train is waiting for you on the adjacent track. We arrived in Bayeux on a market day (Wednesday), which was great, and we picked up strawberries and cheese for later, as well as some crackers and a small bottle of cider (ask for cidre) at the nearby grocery store. We had lunch at Le Volet qui Penche - it was amazing: steak in mustard sauce with a glass of delicious red wine for 9.70 euros! We shared a couple of tasty desserts, too. We had enough time to visit the Bayeux Cathedral, which was worth a peak, and then met Overlord for the tour. As expected, an afternoon tour is a little rushed, but it worked out and we were able to see all of the key spots that we had wanted to see. We were dropped off right at the train station at the end of the tour, which was great. We then munched our little picnic dinner on the train ride home at 6:30pm. We had a great taxi experience from Gare St Lazare.

Day 4: We went to Sainte Chappelle in the morning (beautiful!) and then took a bus a bit across town to the area around the Luxembourg RER. It was pouring rain the whole day, so we stopped for a relaxing cup of coffee in a nearby bistro until our lunch reservation at noon at Les Papilles. The food was incredible - we ordered the plat du jour all around (cod that day), combined with 1 entrée (heavenly carrot soup) and 1 dessert du jour (a delicious chocolate custard concoction) which we shared. This was a very special meal, and we enjoyed the whole experience. We then had the delight of a Paris Greeter Walk through the Latin Quarter - it was pouring rain, unfortunately, but we pulled out our umbrellas and off we went. Our guide had a great wealth of historic knowledge about the Latin Quarter, and we had a pleasant stop in Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church, where we were treated to an unexpected organ concert. We walked down the adorable Rue Moffetard, and stopped for coffee and tea in the Paris Mosque. The mint tea is delicious. This was one of my favorite parts of the Paris Greeter Walk, because we had a chance to chat and learned a lot about life in France. We ended the day with yummy quiche in Le Valentin in our Passage Jouffroy.

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Day 5: Versailles day! I had reserved tickets for a small-group tour of the King's Apartments, so we had to get there by 9:30am for the English tour. The Paris RATP page grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to get to the RER station (by bus), so we had to "leg it" to make our tour. TIP: There is now a bag check for everyone at the entrance (tour does not get you out of this line) even before you get to security, which also slowed us down so do budget extra time. Be careful on the cobblestones - a woman in our tour had a bad fall on the stones but received prompt medical attention from Versailles EMTs. The special tour of the King's Apartments is worth it (you learn a lot, it is a small group so you can enjoy everything more, and you get to see the Versailles opera house) - you don't realize how valuable it is until you discover the mob waiting for you at the State Apartments (and Hall of Mirrors). I was practically carried into the State Apartments by the push of the crowd. We moved as quickly as possible through these areas to get to the Hall of Mirrors, which was beautiful. We then made a fast escape outside. We used the little train (thank goodness!) to get to Petit Trianon and the Queen's Hamlet (really fascinating). This truly is an all-day site, we took a packed RER train back to Paris with lots of friendly visitors and then ended the day with a relaxing picnic in our hotel room.

Day 6: We took an early high-speed TGV directly to Colmar this morning and arrived at 10am, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the day. We dropped off our bags at the fabulous Domaine Martin Jund and were delighted to discover that we had arrived in the midst of a spring festival in Colmar. Lots of fun stalls and animal exhibits near the Koifus, and a great pottery exhibit inside the Koifus. We had tarte flambee at Winstub Schwendi, where we had a fun if slightly garbled half-English half-French conversation with a very nice couple from near Eguisheim (who were extremely pleased that we would be visiting there next). We then took the Green Train tour of the city and visited the Unterlinden Museum. The tarte flambee were so huge we finished them for supper along with some Pinot Gris from Martin Jund.

Day 7: A relaxed Sunday in Colmar - we visited the second area of the spring market, had a great lunch at Le Fer Rouge (near the Koifus), and then explored the two main churches, St Martin and the Dominican Church, which was a neat comparison - one over the top and the other much more plain. However, the Dominican Church has the lovely Virgin in the Rosebush painting. We relaxed a bit in our great bed and breakfast, then had an adventurous dinner at Winstub Brenner in Little Venice- first time to try escargot and also ordered the very meaty choucroute.

Day 8: Eguisheim! We went by taxi. Cute as a button. Great wine tasting at Emile Beyer, found a sweet tiny stork park, wandered the colorful streets, stopped for coffee and discovered that the café owner was a huge basketball fan ("Michael Jordan!"), and then popped 0.50 euro cents in the box at the Pope Leo Chapel for the "lightning" (turns the lights on). We had a delicious coq au Riesling at Restaurant au Vieux Porche. We picked up veggie crepe wraps in the Colmar spring market to try and feel a little healthy for supper.

Day 9: Train to Reims, arrived around 12:30pm. Had to do a bit of a sprint to lunch at Anna-S but we made it in time. Great food, best dessert ever - passion fruit tart with delicate meringue on top. We visited the Reims Cathedral (totally worthy of being a UNESCO site, great stained glass from Chagall). Then, we ended the day with a Mumm champagne tour and tasting. We stayed 1 night in the Novotel near the train station - a nice place to stay the night before heading out because we could print our boarding passes, and some microwavable things to eat in the room. We took the train to CDG airport out of Reims the next morning.

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6486 posts

Thanks so much for this entertaining and informative report, Bethany! I hope it will inspire others to try a high-energy adventure like yours. I don't think I could have kept up with your pace, but you obviously enjoyed it, saw a lot, adapted to conditions like rain and long lines, and came back with good memories and, hopefully, the desire to return to Paris and France some day.

Icelandair is a nice little secret for us northern-tier Americans, with lower-cost flights through Reykjavik. We haven't had the kind of problem transferring there that you experienced. One advantage of the transfer is that you clear Schengen-area border controls in Reykjavik, which saves time and confusion when you get to Paris. And paying for food is a small price for the ticket savings.

I hope you'll check back with this board from time to time and share your experience with others planning to visit France. You can help assure people that it's safe to go there even in this challenging time. Thanks again!

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1368 posts

Enjoyed the report. I to am heading back to Paris for my second time, 8-nights, at the end of May. Taking my girlfriend this time, her first. We will also be spending a night in Colmar, Hotel Saint Martin, I am really looking forward to just strolling around the town & having a bit of a break from the hustle & bustle of Paris. Thanks for the info on the Green Train, will be looking into that.

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3580 posts

Taxis at Gare du Nord: the hustlers get in your face before you reach the official taxi stand, which is OUTSIDE the building and is highly organized. A hustler stopped me at the door last year and asked me where I was going. I told him and he said it would be 70 Euro. I brushed him off, thinking that was way too much. Just outside the door was the taxi stand I was looking for. My taxi cost a lot less than 70, maybe less than half that!

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I agree that Icelandair is a great bargain. You also have the option of a stop-over in Iceland for a few days before continuing your journey for no extra flight cost. I did appreciate the smoothness in Paris of getting in and out of the airport as a result of flying Icelandair rather than a direct flight from/to the US. It was just an odd experience in the Iceland airport itself.

Colmar and Eguisheim were the perfect way to slow down after Paris - I highly recommend the area, and only wish that we had more time to explore. We did not rent a car but used a taxi to get to and from Eguisheim (about 17 euros each way). I think that Reims is a perfect day trip, as well, we used it to break up the return journey for our flight out of Paris. And we ended our trip with champagne!

As for Gare du Nord - we did make it out of the train station and approached an area with a "Taxi" sign posted there, and the man working for tips was positioned right underneath the sign. It was only innerving because we were totally caught off guard (originally thought that he was the driver) and it added a bit of stress when our driver clearly didn't know where he was going. Again, never felt unsafe, and probably only overpaid by a little bit for all of the circling (20 euros total).

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2252 posts

Thank you for sharing your trip with us, Bethany. Loved the details and will file away for future reference. It sounds as if you enjoyed every minute! With your positive experiences I think you have provided a measure of confidence to those waffling about traveling to Europe in these unsettled times.

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I would like to add that we also did small things to reassure ourselves and just make the trip a little easier: Something really important that we did was register our trip with the U.S. Embassy in Paris (easy to do on their website). It gave me peace of mind knowing that I would stay informed, but it also was very practical. Twice while we were in France we received email notices from the Embassy that there were worker strikes in Paris on certain days - I was able to adjust my public transit plans and avoided any transportation problems this way!

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13904 posts

Bethany, what a wonderful report! I walked thru a number of the passages last fall and really enjoyed them. I did spend some time in that cute little cross-stitch shop and yes, regretted walking away without buying. I'm headed back there in the fall so maybe....!!

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Hi Pam - I am a beginner to cross-stitch, but the shop was so cute and they come as little kits, so I did buy 2 cross-stitch kits to try at home that included some little phrases in French (I thought it would be a fun souvenir!). The shop is called Le Bonheur des dames, and I think the shop owner said that they will ship to the U.S. if you order something on their website, too.

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I'm, I guess, a high beginner. I can manage anything with regular cross stitches but I do not like anything with quarter stitches where they just go across 1/2 of one side of the X. I tried to ask about that on a kit I picked up but with my bumbling French (really how many phrase books have cross stitching terms, lol!!) and the clerk's lack of English I didn't get very far. I wound up smiling and nodding like I understood, lol. She was trying to be helpful which I appreciated. I will have to look them up online! Thanks for that.

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2602 posts

Thanks for the great report--I'm heading to Paris solo in mid-May and reading about the increased security precautions makes me feel a bit better. I will also register with the US embassy as you did.

I took a few notes from your report, particularly the mention of the adorable embroidery/cross stitch shop, then read that it's Le Bonheur des Dames and got very excited, I love their kits! Is Passage Verdeau near a metro stop?

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17 posts

Passage Verdeau is near the Cadet metro stop, you can also use the Grand Boulevards stop and cut through Passage Jouffroy.

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1976 posts

This is a great trip report, Bethany, thank you! My sister and I are going to Paris for a week, leaving next Tuesday, and she wants to go to Angelina's for their hot chocolate.

I enrolled in the STEP Program (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) through the State Department: https://step.state.gov. I've never done this before but I think it's a good idea in this climate.

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The STEP program is what I enrolled in, and it sends your information to the US Embassy in Paris. I would recommend this to everyone, no matter where you are going.

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346 posts

Thanks Bethany! Great detail. I am planning our second family trip for this June, and will file this for reference.
Happy Travels!