Thanksgiving in quotes becuase we were so immersed, we completely forgot about the holiday!
My 60 year old mother and I were in Paris from 11/24 - 11/28. I'll give the realtively brief version here, but please visit my travel-logue at http://www.travelpod.com/members/travelinv for more details and loads of pictures!
First thought: I was surpised with how clean and easy to navigate CDG airport was, especially after being warned of a pervasive "pee" smell there. Delta partners with Air France so maybe we were in a better terminal?
We stayed at Hotel Henri IV Rive Gauche in the Latin Qtr.- it was great! Everything looks *exactly* like their pictures on the website and the room was quite spacious. Staff was very nice and helpful. We wound up eating Bfast there most days, only because it was so darned cold out, we just wanted to head out pre-warmed with coffee!
Day 1: Our flight got in at 9:30, so took a taxi to our hotel and settled into our room. (53 eurod and well worth it!) Then we headed out for a walk to Les Deux Magots in St. Germain des Pres. Touristy, yes, but just what we needed to start the trip. From row seats on the sun porch so we could watch the multitude of scarves and bags go by! (For those planning a winter trip - don't worry about the how's and what's of scarves, just bring one and wrap it around in any fashion and you'll fit right in!) We found the wine shop mentioned here La Derniere Goutte and brought a bottle back for later. Spent the evening shopping at Galeries Lafayette (first metro trip a success) - the Christmas windows were crazy! On our way back, picked up ham & cheese crepes next door to the hotel and ate in our room before bed.
Day2: we took Rick Steve's Historic Paris walk in the morning, omitting the Left Bank, since we were already there. Toured Notre Dame, the Conciergerie and St. Chapelle. Words cannot describe - all were amazing and a blast to photograph. This all took longer than expected and we were long past the lunch hour. After downing protein bars we brought with us, we headed out for an evening at the Louvre. Now, I'm glad we went and I think everyone visiting Paris should just to be astounded by the enormity of the place. But, aside from the sculpture, the Louvre doesn't house my favorite works so it wasn't the most exciting palce for me. I did get some nice photos, though. Now starving, we headed back toward the hotel, hoping we'd find just the right place to eat. Cafe Leffe actually found us - the maitr'd pegged us as tourists and flagged us in from the sidewalk. Heated patio, menus in French and English, the promise of wine.... yep, we were in. I was skeptical, given that hardly anyone was dining (turns out we were jsut the only ones brave enough to stay outside - plenty of folks inside!), but it tunred out to be very good. Hot onion soup for me with a big salad, and escargot and sea bream for Mom. All was excellent!
Day 3: We tried and failed to get up ealry for the train to Chartres - just as well, since it was snowing when we left the hotel! Made our way to Gare Montparnasse where we were completely overwhelmed. It's big and busy, but just following the signs and instincts we managed to get our round trip tickets, found our train and headed out. By the time we arrived in Chartres, the ground was covered with an inch or two of snow and the temperature had dropped. Not the best conditions for wandering around a medeival city! We started with lunch and hot coffee at a cafe across from the station, then headed toward the cathedral's steeples. the cathedral was wonderful - so different from Notre Dame Paris' spruced-up, well-lit interior. And the choir screen telling the stroy of Mary and Jesus' lives - astounding. But, again, it was just too bone-chillingly cold to stay out for long. (Church is not heated.) After walking around it to the park behind, we found a little place, Le Jardin Gourmand de Presbytere, that was the cutest ever! Loads of knick-knacks, holiday decorations, etc. And HOT chocolate with chocolate pastry...mmmm! Back to the station for the ride to Paris. Too tired to look for a dinner place, we picked up quiche at Boulangerie di Papa near the hotel and ate in the hotel while reviewing the day's pictures.
Day 4: Decided to walk halfway to the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine. then took the RER from Musee d'Orsay to Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel. Stepped out and followed the tower to its base. WOW. We didn't go up, but spent plenty of time photographing. (THANK YOU to whoever suggested I use puddles as a photography tool - I love how they turned out!) Walked up the Champ de Mars to Ecole Militaire and took the meto to Bastille for the Rick Steves marais walk. Stopped for lunch at Cafe le Moderne, then walked through the Marais to the Pompidou Center. Modern art fanatic that I am, the Pompidou was my favorite part of the trip! We only had time for the "Bid Bang" exhibition of the permanent collection, but the DaDa exhibition was also going on. This was our Le Coupe Chou night, so we headed back to change and wlked to the restaurant. All of the recommendations here were dead-on: haute cuisine it's not, but it is GOOD. i had the eggplant casserole, beouf bourgingion and creme brulee, Mom had the salmon, monk fish provencale and vanilla/pear cake. The ambience can't be beat - so cute and cozy! For the first time in days, we were warm ;-)
Day 5: Perhaps we over-did it or maybe the cold just wore us out, but we were too tired to do any of the things we planned for the last day. Wound up walking through St. germain des Pres again for some shopping (can't rave enough about La Maison de Chocolate - I'm forever ruined to any other chocoloate!), then snuggled into the hotel room for several hours of reading. Finally dragged ourselves out for one last evening walk across isle de la Cite, isle St. Louis and back down the Seine, with a re-visit to Notre Dame.
Day 6: Taxi picked us up at 7am and we headed out for the ariport and home.
All in all, a great trip. My only complaint was the cold; it was just really hard to get motivated for a lot of walking in 20-30 degree temperatures. (What can I say - we're Floridians!) I'd love to go back at a warmer time of year and do some things we missed, then head to the Loire for a few days. Some general thoughts:
Can't say enough about how pleasant everyone we encountered was. We received better customer service everyehwere we went (including the Post Office), than we do at home.
Ladies, leave the heels at home. Cobblestone streets and sidewalks jump out when you're least expecting it!
I almost think I'd have felt better not knowing much French; I was so intent on speaking the language and getting it right, I exhausted myself. It wasn't until the maitr'd at Cafe Leffe encouraged us to speak english that I realized how darining all the internal translating was. I tried to lighten up on myself after that!
Metro: yes, it is very easy to navigate - you can't go wrong!
Photography: My flash froze and wouldn't work until it thawed inside several times. Also, condensation within my lens froze and resulted in a weird halo on the top right of some pics. No big deal, but soemthing to think about if you'll be shooting in winter.
That's all I can think of for now. THANK YOU so much to everyone who answered my questions and others - wihtout this site, I'm sure our trip wouldn't have been half as fun and easy :-)