Had a great 8 full days in Paris at the end of April and beginning of May. We flew Air France in cattle-car class. It was fine. I'm a movie buff, so having my choice of dozens of movies on demand made the trip going and coming fly by, so to speak. Django was a hoot.
Landed at CDG at 5:30 AM, 15 minutes early. Immigration and customs were both a breeze, not one form to fill out. Went to the RER station, popped my brand new USAA chip and pin card into the machine to buy the train tickets, and it didn't work! Oh, nooooo. Tried it again, it didn't work. Ahhhhhhh, in my jet-lagged state, I got my USAA card pin confused with my bank ATM card pin. Worked great once I used the right pin. RER train was fine, not luxurious, but got the job done well enough for about 20 euros for the two of us.
Got off at the St. Michel-Notre Dame RER station, and took the Ile de la Cite exit near Notre Dame so we could get a quick view of the cathedral for the first time in 20 years. Sweet. It was a pleasant morning, so we decided to wheel our carry-ons to Hotel Atmospheres, 31 rue des Ecoles. It was a very nice walk--we stopped several times along the way to see this and that and have coffee and pastry. The hotel stored our luggage, showed us a bathroom where we could freshen up, and then we started out walking--walked all over the Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint Louis for starters. But I don't think I'll turn this into a minute-by-minute detailed travelogue.
So, our strategy this trip was to spend each of our 8 days in a different neighborhood of the city. We had done a lot of the usual, big tourist sights/activities on our last trip, so this was to be a more 'wandering about" type of experience. The strategy did work well. Following are the highlights for me.
1. Contemporary art exhibits at the Palais de Tokyo. We do like modern art (and other types, too), so this was a natural for us. Unfortunately, almost all of the art at the Paris City Modern Art Museum next door was unavailable as they were setting up new exhibits.
2. The catacombs--it was the only warmish day we had in Paris, so the catacombs were pleasantly cool that afternoon. It is more than just piles of bones. Some are quite nicely arranged, and quarry workers carved cities of stone and other items here and there.
3. Place des Voges. We enjoyed the Victor Hugo House museum. Interesting art works, though some depicitions of Asians might not be entirely PC.
4. Lazing our way through the Luxembourg Gardens, Tuileries, Jardin Atlantique, Rodin Museum gardens, Champ du Mars, the Invalides grounds, and various little parks that we happened upon along the way. I rubbed Montaigne's foot for luck.
5. Musée d'Orsay--missed it first visit to Paris
6. The Pantheon--lots of history (deceased) there for an old European History major like me.
7. A very pleasant International Workers Day starting at Pl. de Bastille then walking the Promenade Plantée to Jardin de Reuilly. Meandered back to Pl. Bastille through diverse and interesting neighborhoods.
8. Checking out Hemingway's dwelling places and haunts.
9. Eating--and nary a dish or spoon to wash!
10. Just walking and stopping to look at this and that--from shops, to dept. stores, to fountains, historic markers, etc.--and, of course, candy and pastry shops, bistrot, and cafes.
11. The May Day art fair along the Bassin de l'Arsenal. And watching the demonstrations, marchers, balloon releases, rock bands, and general confusion around Pl. de Bastille on International Workers Day. The Communist Party demonstrators were quite impressive with their bright red banners and chants and songs.
We had several excellent meals in our 8+ days. Our favorite was a small bistro (22 chairs), l'Estrapade--just south of the Pantheon about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Reservations essential. Also near the hotel, we had a couple of very nice dinners at le Coup-Chou. Just across the street from Hotel Atmosphere, there was a bar/cafe that was fine--not as glorious as l'Estrapade, but relaxing and easy with quite an eclectic menu. And just a block west we stopped for breakfast or lunch a couple of times at La Petite Perigourdine--very nice with friendly service. We did not have a bad meal in Paris, mostly ate at smaller cafes, bistrot, and such.
Hotel Atmospheres was quite pleasant. I'd stay there again. Friendly, effective service. The room with private bath and separate toilet room wasn't huge, but we had no trouble storing our carryon bags and we could move around well enough. I've had a lot smaller in Europe for more money. Loved the location--one or two blocks from a Metro station. There's a small neighborhood market at one of the metro exits several days a week.
We had one real rainy afternoon. Hired a cab to return to the hotel--driver was friendly and didn't try anything funny to run up the fare (we've had trouble with some of the world's cab drivers on other trips). It wasthe only time we used a cab during our stay--we prefer walking a city, or subways if going very far.
People seemed more willing to use English then 20 years ago. And, while not glad-handing back-slappers, the Parisians seemed more open and friendly than last time. They weren't unfriendly on our first trip, not just particularly outgoing.
A very pleasant 8 days in Paris, even though the pollen was outrageous and I had to see a doctor one morning.
AF flight home was routine--again, plenty of movies to keep me busy. AF meals were OK, except for the breakfast sandwich they gave us before landing at IAD--it was nasty. No one we could see actually ate it. I still don't know what it was. Of course, plenty of wine, aperitifs, digestifs going both ways--in fact, when I asked for red wine with dinner when headed to Paris, the stewardess insisted that I also take a bottle of white "for the cheese course."