Paris in the Springtime--it's everything we imagined and so much more. If you haven't gone, you must go, you have to see Paris, it's one of the most charming, enchanting cities in the world. The sites are magnificent, the food & wine as good as you've always heard, and the people we encountered were uniformly courteous, helpful, and genuinely pleasant. We had 6 days but would have enjoyed another 6 or 10 or 20!!
The short version is: all was wonderful! We expected rain, but had sun and clouds with a bit of drizzle. We expected aloof Parisians, but instead had people stop on the street to offer directions, were befriended by waiters & shop-owners, had conversations with various locals and never once encountered the rumored "stand-offish" French much less anyone who was even remotely rude (other than a threesome of Americans we observed being loud & demanding at a restaurant.) We expected great museums and monuments & culture but all exceeded our expectations.
We saw all the usual, first time sites (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, D'Orsay, etc., etc.), and enjoyed them all. Took an evening cruise down the Seine with Bateaux Marches and while it was a bit chilly, it was a magnificent ride as Paris by night is just as impressive as it is by day.
We would particularly recommend the following, some of which have more detailed reviews posted separately:
Hotel Villa Pantheon (see separate review in Paris Hotels) -- great location, good package price from Expedia, clean, comfortable, safe & walkable to most if not all the sites of Paris. Seemed more like a neighborhood with shops, bars, etc than a tourist-trap (although it is across the street from Hotel California!!)
Senderens Restaurant (see review under Senderens in Paris Forum) -- In a word: spectacular.
Lauderee Cafe & Take Away Pastries (Latin Quarter & Champs Elysees): Gorgeous dining room, impeccable service, great light lunch with the Salad Josephine my favorite, unparalleled macaroons and pastries. A nice splurge for a lazy lunch ( Kir Royale, large Salad, a mid-range bottle of Sauvingion Blanc, bread, macaroons & coffee was about 46 Euro each) would gladly pay again for such an experience! I suspect one could enjoy a much less expensive version of lunch by skipping the aperitif, and having a glass rather than a shared bottle of wine or go for tea & macaroons at 4PM instead!
Kayser Boulangerie (in Latin Quarter) -- Long lines morning & late afternoon but well worth the wait. Go during off-peak times or be prepared to order quickly (we saw 2 English ladies bypassed repeatedly as we & the locals tired of waiting for them to make their choice.) Taking away a still warm baguette, our cheese & wine to share in the room before dinner is one of my favorite memories of Paris! Proving it truly is the simple pleasures in life...
Artisan Fromager (in Latin Quarter) -- shop sign only "Artisan Fromage" near the corner of Rue de Carnes & Rue Laneau! Try the Camembert stuffed with walnuts, or the chevre with figs, or any of the small, triple creams--indescribably delicious and surprisingly affordable compared to their pale imitations sold here in the U.S.
La Petite Perigourdine Brasserie (5th) -- Luscious, home-made pate foie gras & escargot with basil/garlic pesto, great beef steaks with black truffle demi-glace, grilled sea bass and a very tasty chicken with onions & mushrooms. All good and very reasonably priced (aperatif, 2 glasses of wine, water, bread, steak, green beans, and fries for 25 Euro!) Rustic & crowded dining room with many locals/regulars, friendly wait staff.
Shopping in St. Germain: beautiful little clothing shops & boutiques of all descriptions abound in the area behind St. Germain des Pres. Head down Rue Bonaparte and wind your way into the small streets--you'll find some treasures or at least enjoy "licking the windows." Pricing similar to home (D.C.) but with brands & items not commonly found here. Spend an afternoon strolling the streets around St. Sulpice too--very nice.
Sunday morning Gregorian Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. Okay, I'm not Catholic or even Christian, but this was one of the most spiritually beautiful ceremonies I've ever seen/heard. The sweet, pure, clear sopranos of the boys choir gave me chills. Go, do as they do, be respectful and take away a sense of peace, joy & the universal brotherhood of faith.
Saturday stroll in Luxembourg Gardens -- people, kids, dogs, gardens and a small slice of life Paris-style. What a wonderful way to stroll!
Sunday brunch at the Louvre Restaurant -- luscious sampling menu (4 starters, 4 mains, bottled water, a glass of wine, coffee and a dessert bar that'll take your breath (and waistline) away for a flat 28 Euro. All very good and a great prep for a long day of Louvre-ing...
BatoBus -- great way to get around along the Seine. We walked everywhere but took the BatoBus 2 afternoons to speed up our return visits to the Louvre. The 2 day pass was a great deal. We found an open ticket office beneath the Pont de Neuf, but I'm certain other offices are available (we just couldn't find them!).
Paris Shuttle (website or Expedia): Shuttle to/from CDG to Hotel for under $70/round trip! -- a much better deal than you'll find in DC. Drive from airport at noon was a bit frightening for my friend who lives at the shore and isn't used to city traffic.
On that note, here is our very short list of NOT RECOMMENDED:
KLM Airlines (see full review/explanation under KLM: Just Horrible review) -- my single worst airline experience in several years...
Brasserie Balzar -- with apologies to GitteK, et al. who recommended & love Balzar. Perhaps we hit them on a bad night, perhaps we were in a bad mood, but we spent our last dinner in Paris there being pushed, rushed, and poorly fed. Honestly, the room is way too brightly lit for my taste (felt like a cafeteria), the noise level intolerably loud, and the rush to order, eat & get out was down-right offensive. The food was adequate at best with a luke-warm Onion Soup starter that tasted 2 days old and/or out of a can; oysters were gritty & musty tasting, the white asparagus was very good, the sole meunière was over-cooked (and at 36 Euro over-priced); we skipped dessert, but even the coffee was burnt. Our first bottle of wine was clearly off--the waiter/sommelier agreed; but left it on the check until reminded. Overall, just a ghastly dining experience, which I'm hoping was an anomaly.
Brasserie La Coupole -- packed to the gills with Americans, Australians, and tourists of all descriptions. Food was reasonably good/average but just too touristy.
If you've made it this far, you must love or want to love Paris! I I'm already planning a return next May & June with my husband and a big family group. Let me just say I am looking forward to seeing Marais, Montemarte, and other areas/places we missed this time.
Suggestions always welcome for what to see/do/eat next time!
My sincere thanks to all on TA & elsewhere who helped us get the trip organized!