My daughter (18) and I just returned from France and I wanted to share our trip report with you. Thanks to all of you who helped with questions along the way while planning.
Day 1 – arrived late morning, very tired. We checked into our hotel (Hotel Odeon – fantastic location – definitely recommend). We then began exploring. We walked to Notre Dame. Enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner at a café. And then visited Saint-Chapelle. First lesson learned for those of you planning a trip: I had read about Sainte-Chapelle and how it was built to house the Crown of Thorns (and other relics from the Passion), so I was looking forward to seeing the Crown of Thorns on my visit. I guess I didn't read close enough as these items are no longer housed at Sainte-Chapelle, but have been transferred to the Notre Dame Cathedral Treasury where the Crown of Thorns is displayed the first Friday of every month and on Good Friday during a service, "Veneration of the Crown of Thorns" - so if you are looking for the Crown of Thorns (as I and a few other visitors were), you won't find it here. We still thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Sainte-Chapelle – the stained glass windows are beautiful. We retired early this night.
Day 2 – we got an early start with crepes and coffee/tea at a nearby café and then explored Luxembourg Gardens on our way to the Catacombs. I’m a fan of gardens and highly recommend Luxembourg Gardens – beautiful statues, gardens, etc. and also a very active park with joggers, painters, etc.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of the Catacombs. It was an eerie, interesting experience. We had about an hour wait time before we entered the Catacombs (note to self: I need to remember to consider “wait time” when I’m doing trip planning). This was a self-guided tour, which included walking down what seemed to be a never-ending winding staircase and then traveling through a series of dark tunnels, adding immensely to the eariness. I would not recommend this tour for anyone who is claustrophobic. We came to the section where the bones began and were a bit surprised by how many there were as we walked and walked through the tunnels. I was a bit concerned about how I would feel about walking around bones from real bodies ... human bodies... and I'm still not sure how I feel about this. I think they've done a good job of maintaining respect for the bodies/bones that are on display, yet they are on display. I'm still pondering this aspect ...... having said that, the history and the experience was interesting and as noted before, a bit eerie.
From the Catacombs, we took the metro to the Montmartre area (we used the advice we had read on TA and had purchased a carnet of 10 tickets from a tobacco shop the day before – it ended up being the perfect amount for our visit). Here we enjoyed lunch at a café right across from Moulin Rouge and then joined up with a Discover Walks tour. If you are going to Paris, check out the Discover Walks website – they offer several “free” guided tours. No reservation is required. You just show up at the published meeting place and time. And then at the end of the tour, provide the guide with a tip based on your experience (accordingly the guides are motivated to do a good job). We did the Montmartre walking tour – we enjoyed having someone guide us through the streets of Montmartre, from Moulin Rouge to Sacre Coeur, sharing the history and entertaining stories related to the sights we were seeing. Besides enjoying the tour, it was fun to meet other people who were visiting Paris and get to visit with them while walking. Our tour ended at Sacre Coeur, so we took time to explore this beautiful basilica.
From Montmartre we traveled via metro to the Trocadéro for the most beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower. We explored this area, but did not go up the Eiffel Tower due to the current Lift issues / wait times.
Day 3 – while many recommended that we not do this, we did go to Disneyland Paris and thoroughly enjoyed this day. We are big Disney fans and were most interested in going to see the Paris influence and perspective. While we continue to prefer the U.S. version of some attractions and rides (such as Indiana Jones), we also preferred some of the Paris versions (such as Thunder Mountain Railroad) and fell in love with some attractions only available in Paris (such as the Alice in Wonderland Curious Labyrinth). We also enjoyed the slightly smaller / less crowded experience (note: we visited on a weekday while school was still in session) – with just a few exceptions, most rides were a less than 15 minute wait. Looking at TA, there is a lot of mixed feedback on park sanitation and I will say the toilet situation could use quite a bit of improvement. Also, for anyone considering going, there are other detailed TA postings about how to take the RER line to get to Disneyland and the directions were quite easy to follow and the RER line stops right outside the park.
Day 4 – we checked out of our hotel for the night (special thanks to them for storing our luggage while we did this) and traveled by TGV train to Tours, France. Thanks to the many other TA postings I read about booking TGV tickets online in advance for the best fares - the process/website was a bit time consuming, but once in France everything went very smoothly with our train travel. We did some exploring in Tours upon our arrival and found the Office of Tourism (right across the street from the train station) where we would be meeting for our tour the next day. Tours is a smaller city, with some very enjoyable restaurants, a beautiful cathedral and more.
Day 5 – we did a Loire Valley Chateau and Wine Tasting tour with the Loire Valley Tour company (booked in advance online through the Tourist Office of Tours website – we did “Chateaux & Wines around Chambord”). Two other couples joined us on this tour and both had done a tour earlier in the week and scheduled a second because the first had been so good! We visited three different chateaus: Blois, Cheverny and Chambord. We did a wine tasting and had lunch near Cheverny. I thoroughly enjoyed touring the chateaus and we had a lot of fun with the wine tasting and very French lunch. I thought the guide did a great job with the pace of the tour, stopping for photo ops, sharing of history and interesting stories. It was a very enjoyable day. We returned to Paris via TGV that evening and checked back into our hotel – this time on the 6th floor with a view of the twinkling Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Day 6 – we explored Paris some more, this time heading to the Louvre (I had been to the Louvre once before on a day trip to Paris). We spent a large portion of the day enjoying art and having lunch on one of the terraces overlooking the courtyard. I personally love the statues and enjoy that area as it is so much less crowded than some of the other areas of the Louvre. One of the things we saw this visit was the medieval moat … a moat inside a museum … the vastness of the Louvre continues to amaze me. Upon leaving the Louvre we visited the nearby Tuileries Gardens and enjoyed a drink in one of the outdoor cafes. We did some shopping and we ended our evening with an excellent dinner at Le Comptoir du Relais (it was less than a block from our hotel and so good we went back the next night as well – imagine my surprise when I was posting a review on TA and read all the comments about how good this restaurant is and how hard it is to get a reservation, etc. – we must have just been really fortunate with our arrival timing).
Day 7 – we took the RER train to Versailles. So up to this point we had been doing an excellent job navigating the metro system. The yellow line that you take to Versailles has an amazing number of routes … we weren’t paying close enough attention and we initially boarded the incorrect train. We caught our mistake early and were able to correct, but I just caution you to pay particularly close attention when getting on the yellow line … there are many other TA postings about how to take the train to Versailles and I encourage you to look at those. The second mistake we made was to not purchase our Versailles tickets in advance. I know it was highly recommend on TA, but due to timing and other considerations, we didn’t do it and regretted it. We did learn some valuable lessons about the ticket lines at Versailles and I encourage you to look at my review of Versailles if you are interested. We enjoyed Versailles (yes, it was very crowded) and especially the gardens and fountains (and the added plus of the musical gardens/fountains going on right now). We returned to the city, did some shopping and ended our evening with another excellent dinner at Le Comptoir du Relais.
Day 8 – we caught a very early taxi to the airport. Au Revoir.