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Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Wagga Wagga...
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Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Long day by day trip report below for hubby & my 12 days in France & Italy. We travelled with 2 friends from home, P & K. Between the 4 us we have 7 kids, all being looked after at home in Australia by grandparents/friends. The reports are based on my emails sent home to them (with minor adjustments to protect the innocent!)

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1. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Sunday 9 June – Day 1

Oh Paris, after so many months of planning we’re really here. Even though it’s our 2nd visit, and you’ve seen before how incredibly beautiful the architecture is, how delicious the food, how exhausting it is to traverse and just how overwhelming the whole experience is in every sense – it still surprises you and seems like you’re realising it all anew. Unfortunately before you can experience this you have to endure a day and a half of the water torture that is long distance economy travel...

We landed at 8am, were through customs and in the taxi so quickly that we decided on the way in to change our plans. It was raining lightly, and walking through the Luxembourg Gardens and left bank didn’t seem so appealing in this weather. The quick airport departure made me think we might have time to get to the Catacombs, which have a 2hr wait to get into (they only allow 200 in at a time) most of the day. The only way to minimise it is to be in the queue by 9.30am (they open at 10am). So we went straight to the hotel, dropped our bags, had a quick hug with P& K who arrived before us and were breakfasting across the road and then had the cab driver take us straight to the Catacombs. Joined the queue at 9.35 and were in by 10.20. Hubby ducked off for a coffee and returned with a divine chocolate tart, raspberry tart and packet of 8 mini macaroons, which made the wait much more bearable!

The catacombs were amazing. They were created in the late 1700’s when the extremely overcrowded cemeteries in Paris were overflowing their boundaries and creating a major health risk. The solution was to exhume all the bodies (don’t complain about your day job people!) and store the bones of an estimated 6 million people no less, in the abandoned stone quarry tunnels that dated from Roman times under the city. I’d read the book “Pure” recently, which tells the (fictional) story of the chief engineer assigned to this task, it was a great read. The passage open to the public weaves around for 2km through tunnels and caverns with bones stacked in row after row. Not quite the creative display that is the bones of the capuchin monks in Rome, but a very interesting experience. By the time we emerged the rain had stopped (just as well, as that is what my plan intended!) and we began the 30min walk to the Pantheon. I just adore the Pantheon in Rome, and when we didn’t make it to Paris’ last time, it was near the top of my list this visit. It was lovely from the outside, but we thought €7.50 each to enter was expensive for what was nice enough inside, but nowhere near the wow factor of many other of the great monuments. Some of the most famous citizens of France are buried here, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Braille. The one I was most interested to find was Marie Curie (after our son did an assignment on her a few years ago). What I was very happy to find next though at the church behind the Pantheon, were the steps from the movie “Midnight in Paris” where Gil is collected by Hemingway et al and transported back to Paris in the 1920’s. After a quick detour to see Hemingway’s apartment on the nearby rue du Cardinal Lemoine (I’ve read a few accounts of his and others from the period which made me intrigued to see it) we were in dire need of food and made it to a quaint place not too far from Notre Dame for a delicious lunch. Re-fuelled, we wandered through the ramshackle Shakespeare & Co and then decided it had been long enough since dessert that we could head to the Ile St Louis for a world famous Berthillon sorbet. Mine was a double scoop raspberry and caramel nougat, oh wow, the raspberry was just an explosion of flavour....sooo good.

We then ambled back along the Seine towards the Louvre, stopping for a while to watch the Men’s French Open final with a huge crowd on the big screen outside the Hotel de Ville. We’d done the Louvre last trip, but not the Napoleon Apartments so I was tempted to go back for that, but we decided €11 each was too much and time was marching on so we contented ourselves with a glimpse into the free viewing area and then went to the shopping centre underneath (which was so overheated we couldn’t wait to leave!) where you can see the inversion of one of the glass pyramids. Our feet and calves were well and truly feeling it by now, and the light rain had returned, but we still staggered through the Tulleries Gardens up to the Place de Concord. I was ecstatic to get a seat on the metro as we rode to the Trocadero, unfortunately we arrived way too soon and it was back on my pounding feet. Thankfully the view of the Eiffel Tower from that side of the river is spectacular, we hadn’t made it there last time, so enjoyed our wander. We crossed the river and walked under the tower, through the gardens and Champ de Mars (which looks so much different when not covered in snow, our previous visit was at Christmas time) We planned to walk back to the hotel, which should have taken 20mins or so, but given our jet lagged brains managed to take 40mins after several wrong turns (my favourite being when we should have been 5min from home turning left instead of right and then finally realising and retracing our steps).

Our room is sooo tiny, but very cute. We’re on the 5th floor (thankfully there’s a lift) and we can see the Eiffel Tower from our window – tres bien! Our grand plan had been to buy market supplies for a picnic at the Eiffel Tower tonight with P & K, but as the weather wasn’t accommodating (just as well really, as my feet weren’t either) we had a lovely dinner (seated on even more lovely chairs!) with another spectacular raspberry tart for dessert. Hubby and I were both circling the drain by this stage (helped by the Bordeaux with dinner) and were ready to crash. I did get a slight dose of energy when K& I took the boys into a souvenir shop we’d discovered on the way to dinner. Hubby forgot to pack socks, only having the pair he’d worn over so ducked into the only place open nearby. We asked the owner if he had any socks, he looked confused and said no. Then K spotted a pair on the rack, turns out he didn’t know the English word for sock. In French it’s “chaussette” and pronounced most weirdly (to my Aussie ears) so he spent the rest of the time (both then and when we returned with the boys) trying to teach us to say it.

We were tucked up and asleep well and truly by 10pm, quite pleased with ourselves that we’d lasted that long – we didn’t even manage to see the tower alight (not dark till nearly 10pm here now). I slept pretty well, woke at 5am and snuck into the bathroom with my laptop to write this and not disturb hubby. It’s now 7.30am and he’s still asleep, he really is the zen master of slumber, it’s an enviable gift. We have another big day ahead so had better wake him and hit the road.

Wagga Wagga...
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2. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Monday 10 June – Day 2

After face timing with the kids first thing this morning we had a quick breakfast with P & K, then headed our separate ways to explore Paris. First stop was another place we never made it on trip #1, the Madeleine church. We were there at opening and it was a lovely to be able to enjoy the serene atmosphere inside, while frenetic Paris traffic whirled around us. Only a short walk then to the Opera Garnier, a completely over the top gilded theatre. Would be spectacular to go to a performance here and sit in the lush red velvet chairs surrounded by its golden dress circle and chandeliers overhead. Another short walk to Galeries Lafayette, one of the top end department stores in Paris. It has a great rooftop garden and stunning leadlight dome ceiling. Very expensive prices though, so our only purchase was a Pierre Hermes macaroon. While we were in this area I was thrilled to have the “Paris ring scam” tried on us. According to trip advisor, it’s extremely common, and if you aren’t approached with this scam, you haven’t had the full Parisian experience. Someone pretends they’ve just found a thick gold wedding band style ring on the ground in front of you. They offer it to you as a “gift” but then demand a thank you payment for you to keep it. I find it incredible that anyone would be gullible enough to fall for this, but apparently they get plenty of takers. She did the whole “look what I’ve just found” routine with the ring to us, but we just said no and kept walking.

Back on the metro for another first, the Pere Lachaise cemetery where so many famous French and world names are buried. It is huge and notoriously difficult to navigate to find the graves of interest, so we thought we were Pere Lachaise experts when we found Oscar Wilde with no trouble first up. Ticked a few others off our list and then almost came unstuck wandering round and round in search of Sarah Bernhardt. The map is pretty vague and open to multiple interpretations. We were just about to throw in the towel when this friendly French guy pops up and asks if we’re looking for Sarah, and leads us to a spot we would never have found. Spent a couple of hours wandering around here, there are beautiful memorials to the wars, the holocaust as well as countless monumental plots. Many of which have built in flower beds, some of which were immaculately maintained, others not so much. It was a beautiful place, I really enjoyed it...hubby was very motivated to find each name on my list so we could move on  Jim Morrison’s was fairly plain and grotty, but plenty of people around to check him out. We had to declare defeat on the last 2, which looked very obvious and easy according to the now cursed map. One was Rossini (composer of the William Tell overture) and the other Baron Haussman (who designed many of Paris’ streets), but despite a thorough investigation they were nowhere to be found.

I then managed to completely misdirect us as we were enroute to meet P & K for a walking tour in the old artists enclave of Monmartre. For some reason I thought we had to go to Bourse metro, so we made our way there only to realise it should have been Blanche metro. Luckily we had time to get back to the correct place in time for our tour. We started with a view of the Moulin Rouge, and then had 90mins wandering the back streets of Monmartre, past the only remaining vineyard, some windmills (including the famous one painted by Van Gogh), learning lots about the history of the area. Finished at Sacre Coeur where I was hoping to find a small Eiffel Tower watercolour, but the perfect one managed to elude me.

The boys happily parted ways with us there, heading back to the hotel to find themselves a spot for people watching while enjoying a beer or two. K and I were off to the Hotel de Ville which was hosting a free Haute Couture exhibition. It was absolutely wonderful, must have had about 50 designer dresses from all the big names (Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga etc) from 1860-present. The workmanship was just exquisite, we really enjoyed taking in all the detail – and having someone to share it with who found it just as interesting (ie, not our husbands!!) We had a few favourites, including a beautiful green Art Deco styled one from the 1930’s and 2 stunning 1950’s numbers that would have looked wonderful on Audrey Hepburn. Frustratingly for both of us there were no photos allowed, with lots of security keeping an eye on things. The link below shows 2 of our favourites (the left hand and centre one in this shot)

vogue.co.uk/news/…944501

We then joined the boys for a drink and people watching session, and could happily have stayed there all night. The warmest time of the day is from 6-8pm, and it’s not dark until 10pm so you really lose track of time in the evening. We had to extract ourselves though as hubby and I had 9pm dinner reservations at 58 Tour Eiffel, definitely not something to miss. The evening was just beautiful, couldn’t have been more different to the previous night. Takes about 15mins to walk to the tower from our hotel, took us a little longer as I kept finding fantastic photo opportunities. The restaurant is on the first floor, we had seats right near the window with a view overlooking sunset on the Trocadero. The meal was good, 3 courses with a choice of 4 meals per course. We both had prawn entrees, which were divine. My main was chicken which was nice, but vegies were only fennel – mashed, steamed and cold. I left most of the vegies and the waitress asked if I liked my meal, I said yes and she said “but too much fennel...right?” which I most certainly agreed with. Dessert was chocolate éclair for hubby and mousse for me, yum yum. The wine was bizairre, we both had French white, but it was the weakest, nothingest (sic) one I’d ever had, no body at all. I drank mine in 3 seconds flat as I was trying to find the taste in it. After dinner we climbed from the 1st to 2nd floor as the lift queue was so long, it’s a LONG way via stairs but the good news was I could feel the fat practically dripping from my thighs with each step. We had hoped to then catch the lift to the summit, only to be told that it closes at 10pm, so that’s now 2 visits to the Eiffel Tower and still yet to make it to the summit. The walk back to the hotel was beautiful, with had lots of stops to turn around and soak in that view. If there’s a more romantic sight than the Eiffel Tower aglow, I haven’t found it yet. Capped off a beautiful night watching the tower sparkle at midnight from our hotel room.

New York City, New...
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3. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Impressed with all of the walking on a jet lagged first day! Don't worry, the view from the 2nd level is better than the summit and there is always next time.

Looking forward to reading more.

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4. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Great reports! thanks so much for sharing!

so cal
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5. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

TMBHL;

Great report, enjoying it very much. Can you tell me which company you used for the walking tour of Montmartre? Planning the same thing, just curious which one you took. I'm thinking we are going to use discover walks since their schedule works with our plans.

Looking forward to more of your report!!

Wagga Wagga...
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6. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Yes, we used Discover Walks Paris, very happy with them.

Wagga Wagga...
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7. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Tuesday 11 June – Day 3

Huge day of walking today with our visit to the Palace of Versailles with K & P, one of those iconic and amazing places that exceeded its reputation for me. We started with a 9.30am “private” (with 30 others) tour of the King & Queen’s private apartments and their Opera House, all of which is only viewable if you do this private tour. Our guide was quintessentially French, with his slightly longish hair, delicious accent and pale striped blazer. He gave a great run through of the history of the Kings during the time of Versailles. The rooms are all decorated in gold leaf paint, with off the scale “ornateness”. After the tour we joined the masses to shuffle through the public rooms, including the spectacular public bedrooms of the King & Queen and of course the massive Hall of Mirrors. The views out the windows at all points are breathtaking, with photo worthy views of ornate manicured gardens and fountains everywhere you looked.

We’d bought picnic supplies first thing and found a marble bench to set up our lunchtime spread. Hubby had been amusing me all morning looking like a real Frenchman, with 2 baguettes poking out of his backpack. We’d timed our visit today to coincide with one of their “Musical Fountain” days, so spent a fabulous 30mins enjoying the most delicious bread, cheese (camembert so intensely flavoured it bears no resemblance to what we get at home!), jambon (ham) and berries while listening to piped orchestral music with fountains in full flow. Pretty darn wonderful. We then set off for a few hours of walking all round the massive estate, our calves were screaming by the end. Marie Antoinette’s idyllic hamlet reminded me quite a bit of the garden, mill & bar area at Hobbiton of all things. Also saw the Petit Trianon and Grand Trianon (Queen & King’s separate “retreat” palace-ettes). I should say K & I saw those 2, the boys both decided they were palaced-out and elected to rest their weary bodies on the nearest horizontal surface adjacent to their feet (to plagarise my daughter’s favourite Bill Bryson phrase) while the more cultured of our group explored in full.

We had plans to catch the mini carriage/train like contraption to cover the final of couple of km’s back to the main gate, but we just missed one and there was no guarantee the next would have 4 seats available, so decided to just keep trudging on. We were SOOO happy to score seats on the train home, and in no hurry for the 25min journey to end. The groans as we had to rise from the seats and then negotiate the step off the train were loud indeed.

We were very jealous of K & P’s planned quiet night ahead, as we had a booking for 7pm dinner and show at the Moulin Rouge. We did at least get an hour at home to collapse, then off we went for a night with more boobies on show than we’d ever seen before. As hubby said, there’s no way he could have got away with selecting that as our entertainment for the evening. Our dinner companion situation started poorly, when we were seated next to an old Eastern European couple with no English. Thankfully though not too long later the seats on our other side were taken by an Aussie couple from Eden NSW of all places. We had a fantastic night together, my new BFF C and I spent the night critiquing the bodies on display. We have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a skinny woman with natural big breasts, those dancers were all tiny. No implants here either, they would have stood out a mile :-) Gender inequality is alive and well at the Moulin Rouge. The bodies of male dancers would have been 95% covered by their costume (hands and face only on view), the women on the other hand were usually 95% UNcovered. Needless to say, I much preferred the routines where there was a bit more clothing and I could focus on the spectacle rather than the nipples. Some of the male dancers had the most unreal looking angular faces, one in particular we nicknamed Kryten (from Red Dwarf fame). Interspersed with the dance numbers were amazing acrobatic or clowning performances that were alternately hilarious or inspiring. It was a spectacular and entertaining night, very pleased we dragged our weary bodies out for it. Had a face time session with the kids on our return, finally made it to sleep by 1am ready to leave by 7.15am Wednesday for our trip to the Champagne region. Of course I then woke up at 4.30am this morning, tried for an hour to get back to sleep before admitting defeat and heading into my favourite spot in the bathroom to type this up.

Our kids demanded their Dad also write some highlights, so I’ve included his musings as well;

Dad’s bit; Just woke up at 6:20 and told time to write your bit – so with a still waking brain from a big few days, my little extras are; I feel very safe around here with all the police we see and in so many different styles (on roller blades, on bikes with body armour), although was a bit taken back with police with sub machine guns around the Eiffel Tower and one of them looked about 16!

Also I am doing a study of partner positioning. I have decided from unofficial observations that the male in the relationship will walk on the right hand side of his partner if they are holding hands etc. My theory starting very strong as we walked around (like 7 out of 8 of the first couples I noticed) but then has taken a bit of a setback but I think I am still at around 70% unofficial percentage – wonder if I could get a someone to pay me for a study tour to confirm the theory.....

And lastly I have officially given up on trying to learn French – I had unofficially given up years ago but when we stopped at station that was called Temple and it was pronounced “Turmp” I decided that my analytical brain had absolutely no hope of understanding this language!

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8. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Love it!!! May I ask where you stayed?

Wagga Wagga...
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9. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Thanks Tanya. We stayed at the Hotel du Champ de Mars, I've written a review for TA, still waiting for it to be published.

www.hotelduchampdemars.com/

Wagga Wagga...
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10. Re: Day by Day trip report, child free Aussies in France/Italy

Wednesday 12 June – Day 4

Our day was off to a good start when we got to our meeting place in the hotel foyer to see K & P had been up early with coffee and croissant waiting for hubby and a Pain au Chocolat for me, so we could munch as we walked to the metro – yum! Our TGV fast train (speeds up to 320km/hour) left at 8am for the 45min trip to Reims (prounced Rhaance, go figure!) We had plenty of time before our 10am walking tour so saw the Pont du Mars, which is the remaining portion of the Roman city wall and then ducked into a shop where we ended up buying the boys some clothes. I’d read lots of good reviews on the walking tour, but have since decided they were written by oldies who are obsessively into Art Deco and history. There was a lot of good information, but she needed to greatly reduce the amount of detail and time for staring at her points of interest. The best part was her description of the impact of World War I in particular, complete with before and after photos of the main street. Before 1914 there were over 30,000 buildings in the city – after the war only 36 remained. As the city was rebuilt after the war, there is a reasonable amount of Art Deco style, but she took way too much time pointing out each and every balustrade, railing and door with its art deco styling (yes, I get it, Art Deco uses geometric designs....lets move on!!) We then spent time at the Reims Cathedral, which is where all but 2 of the Kings of France have been crowned. It is absolutely massive, 23m higher than Notre Dame with so much stunning stained glass. Around 230 bombs were dropped on it during WWI so major restoration had to happen after, but there are still some intact glass windows from the 13th Century.

After a lovely lunch our first tour was at the Champagne house of Taittinger. It was a slick operation, our guide was a gorgeous 20 something lady, tres chic with her black stilettos, black suit with mini skirt and black pashmina wrap to avoid the cold in the chalk caves where the temperature is a constant 10 degrees. What defines the champagne region is that the vines are grown in only 20cm of dirt before they hit chalk. The region is all chalk under the surface that was extensively quarried during the Roman and later periods. With the removal of all that chalk/stone the area is now riddled with caves that are a perfect spot to store millions of bottles of champagne. Many of the caves have carvings on the walls from after WWI when the residents of Reims were forced to live underground when the bombing destroyed their homes. We finished the tour with a tasting, but weren’t that impressed with their champagne so no temptation to buy. We then had a 4pm booking at another champagne house – G. H. Martel. This place only takes booking via the phone, so I’d had to ring from Australia a few weeks ago to lock it in. We’d spent a fair bit of time today with R & D, a lovely couple from America as they were on both our walking and Taittinger tours. They came with us to try their luck getting into G. H. Martel and I was able to up our booking from 4 to 6 to include them. This tour was really wonderful, a much smaller producer, tour price was the same as Taittinger, but we got 3 different glasses each at the end, all of which were more enjoyable than the earlier one. The guide was far more experienced, she started off fairly aloof (or so we thought) but by the end had a wicked sense of humour and made the time lots of fun. The number of bottles even the “smaller” champagne houses produce is phenomenal, in the millions. Most are now machine turned, they have to be turned daily initially and then 1-2 times per week during the production process. The more exclusive vintages are still hand turned and one worker can turn 40,000 bottles in a day (both hands working), must be a good candidate for RSI. We enjoyed their champagne so much we decided to buy 6 bottles (as they had a good deal for that quantity). To avoid carrying the bottles on the 30min walk back to the train station we asked them to call us a cab. After 15mins of trying with no success, we had to cut our losses and start the trek back as we were cutting it fine to get to the train, which left from Epernay, not Reims. R & D were on the same train as us, so we stuck together and attempted to navigate our way, with hubby grateful for every bench press he’d done at the gym that helped him to carry the carton of 6 bottles.

We must have looked a motley bunch as we trudged along, consulting our maps but unable to find the street signs we needed. We finally got to an intersection we could find on the map, only to discover we’d walked in the wrong direction and had to do a complete 180 and retrace our steps. While retracing we were most amused to realise we’d walked on the wrong side of a sign that beautifully directed us to Reims Centre, in fact we had quite a conference on that corner about which way to go, while the answer was just on the flip side of the sign across from us. All this misdirection cost us time, so we were really sweating about our train departure. The whole way we’d tried to hire any passing cab, but none would take us on. We eventually got into the centre of town where we could catch a tram to the station. More panic as we tried to sort out the auto ticket machines, got our coins in pretty quick, only to wait over 10mins for the tram to arrive. We had to do about 12 stops on the tram, it took 15 excruciatingly long minutes, only to drop us at the bottom of the hill from the TGV station. It was now 6.19pm and the train was due to leave at 6.20pm. Hubby of course was handicapped by his box of wine, so I leapt off the tram and started to run up the hill. Well the adrenaline kicked in and I ran my little legs off, panting and heart pounding, praying that one of the other 4 would come charging up behind me to take the lead, but I was there first. Ran through the station to the departure board which only referenced a 7pm train, looked down and no sight of it on the track, found a station worker who was already talking to another guy in a suit who said to me “did you miss the TGV too?” Bummer. More consultation and chaos ensued as we then had to choose whether to wait for another tram back into Reims to catch the 7.20pm train (of course there were no cabs at all available) or stay at this station and catch the 8.40pm. The trams did not run that often and we realised we could end up with a repeat situation of waiting ages for a tram, only to not get there in time. We decided to cut our losses and stay put, cost us €33 each to buy new tickets. The best part of the whole farce was that we set up camp at the station with R & D and had a wonderful couple of hours chatting about everything from America’s unfathomable gun laws to all our favourite travel destinations.

By the time we finally boarded the train my 3.5 hours of sleep had caught up with me and I tried to snooze on hubby’s shoulder. Didn’t manage to actually nod off, but it was nice just to close my eyes for a while. We arrived at 9.20pm and then the race was on again. We had to catch another metro train to Montparnasse to collect our rental car from Hertz, whose office closed at 10pm. We ran as quickly as we could (with a case of wine and pretty exhausted bodies) to the platform, made it to Montparnasse station and then K and I got to scamper ahead, while the boys brought up the rear with the wine. We made it to the Hertz office by 9.50pm, to find a sign on the door directing us to a car park about 5mins away which is where you collect vehicles if you arrive between 8pm – 10pm. Quickly memorised the map directing us to the car park, and then we girls got to break out our running legs again, this time dashing through traffic and down ramps in the parking station following signs for Hertz. Arrived at the door at 9.55pm with lungs on fire, to be greeted by lights off and a sign saying they close at 10pm – yes, that’s 5min away !! The boys were so thrilled to be met by us when the trudged in with that happy news. So back up the ramps to street level we went when something GOOD finally happened – a cab drove past that actually deigned to stop when I flagged it so the wine and its bearers got to ride home in style. The cab ride was spent strategising how to recalibrate our plans, with us all reluctantly concluding we’d have to get up even earlier to cab back to Montparnasse with our luggage and be there at 7am when Hertz opened. Just to add to the stress, all French trains are going on strike tomorrow so we were very worried that we’d be classified as no shows and our car given away to one of the many people who’d have to change their travel arrangements.

After a quick rest at the hotel we planned to pop out for a very late meal before packing. I had a sudden urge to see the Eiffel tower one last time, so at 11am the 4 of us headed out and grabbed a crepe each (banana and nutella, so filling). Very frustratingly, our 6 bottles of champagne were too warm to drink, so we had to buy a chilled one enroute and finally got to enjoy the picnic on the grass in front of the tower that was on our schedule for day 1. Boy it was beautiful warm evening, lying on our rug with the tower aglow. We stayed for ages, taking it all in while sipping champagne and taking photos. Our finale was the midnight sparkles, could not get a better way to wrap up our Parisian experience.