We got back from our first trip to Paris on October 24th – finally I have a chance to report back and say "Thanks" for all the great advice we got pre-trip.
General comments – I found Parisians to be very friendly and helpful. I do know a bit of French, but not enough to hold a conversation. The first sentence out of my mouth (after "Bonjour") was always "Parlez-vous anglais?" And most people did, at least a bit. I asked in English, they answered in French and we managed very well.
We stayed at the Hotel Residence Monge (next to the Arenes de Lutece in the 5th) and couldn't have been happier with the hotel and its location. Julie was very helpful and her English is very good.
We lucked out and had great weather for almost the entire trip (some light showers later in the week). My husband walked around in short sleeves most of the time.
In our pre-trip preparation, we were advised that we were trying to stuff too many museums into our itinerary. We did end up going to 2 or 3 every day of the 5-day pass – enjoyed some more and some less, but made good use of the museum card. A suggestion – ALWAYS ask if a museum/attraction has guided tours. We didn't start doing this until midway through the trip and were sorry we didn't ask earlier as well.
Day 1 (Friday) – Arrived at our hotel just after noon. Eiffel Tower in the early afternoon, got back to our hotel by a combination of RER and walking and since we hadn't slept the night before, we folded early. In the course of the day we bought our Carte Orange passes for the following week (no problem at all, we were prepared with pictures) and while we tried to buy our museum passes at 3 different metro stations, none of them carried the passes, so we stopped at Musee d'Orsay (didn't go in, but it was late and there was no line) and bought the tickets so we'd have them.
Day 2 (Saturday) – LOTS of walking: Jardins de Luxembourg, Jardins des Plantes (including the museums of evolution and paleontology). Walked along the Seine all the way west to Pont d'Alma in order to get tickets for a cruise on the Seine. We decided to wait for the 7:00 PM cruise so that we could get a nighttime ride as well. So we walked over the bridge and sat at a café with a view of the Eiffel Tower (what else?) and rested for an hour. The cruise was pretty full, but lovely. We ate dinner at an Armenian restaurant near Boulevard St. Germain (very disappointing food), and stopped at a small shop to buy cheese and fruit for breakfast.
Day 3 (Sunday) – Musee d'Orsay. Just lovely. Could have spent more than a couple of hours there. Took the bus to Notre Dame. The plaza was the most crowded place we had yet seen, but it started raining and the area sure did empty out fast! Because of the showers we decided to do more indoor stuff, but the Conciergerie was closed and so were the crypts, so we headed over to the Marais area (rain had stopped). Went to the Picasso Museum and the Holocause Memorial. Sat for a while in Place des Vosges to recuperate.
Day 4 (Monday) – The Pantheon, St. Etienne du Mont, the Cluny Museum (I loved the tapestries). Went to theConciergerie, tried to see St. Chapelle but they had JUST closed and also the crypt (closed on Mondays). Ate dinner at Hippopotamus chain and found the food to be very decent.
Day 5 (Tuesday) – Musee Carnavalet. Took a bus to Les Invalides – Musee Rodin (and yes, I got the famous picture with the Thinker, the Eiffel Tower and the Dome Church). Musee de l'Armee. Did some window shopping on theRue de Rivoli.
Day 6 (Wednesday) – Arc de Triomphe. Walked down the Champs Elysees towards the Louvre. The Louvre was the first place that actually sent chills up my spine. We signed up for a guided tour but had about 45 minutes to wait, so went to see the Mona Lisa by ourselves (very easy to find your way around, although it is so big – the rooms are numbered and the signs are great). The tour took us to a dozen highlights – Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Sphinx, and also to the excavations of the earliest part of the Louvre. Very worthwhile. FYI – we had printed out suggested tours for the Louvre from their website, but never used them.
Day 7 (Thursday) – Versailles (used the Museum Pass – this was the 5th day of the pass). Enormous and breathtaking. We also signed up for a guided tour there. Took the tram ride around to the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, but never got all the way to the end of the gardens.
Day 8 (Friday) – Decided (actually we had planned this ahead of time, which is why we crammed so much into the earlier part of the week) to take a trip to the Loire valley. We used (IIRC) the France Tourism company – their office is just west of Boulevard St. Michel facing the Seine. Cost 85 euros per person for transportation and admission to 3 chateaux – Chenonceau, Chambord, and Cheverny.
Day 9 (Saturday) – Montparnasse. Sacre Coeur, of course, and a walk around the area. Not much else, and we took a bus back to the Louvre area, walked through Place Vendome and up to the Opera Garnier, where we bought tickets for a guided tour the following day (we had already missed Saturday's last tour.).
Day 10 (Sunday) – The flea market in Place de Clignancourt in the morning, big but a lot of the same things over and over. Then to the tour of the Opera Garnier – we had a very knowledgeable guide, and we really enjoyed ourselves. Then home in the evening.
All in all, a WONDERFUL trip!