paris

April (and May) in Paris

Paris map

Paris, je t’aime!

A mother-daughter trip to Paris was the experience of a lifetime. We spent ten days taking in as much art, history, and delicious food as possible, walking about eight miles a day fueled by croissants and strong espresso coffee.

Mom & I spent several months immersed in planning for our first trip to Europe: researching traveling and tour options, applying for passports, practicing the art of packing light, discussing outfits and testing many pairs of shoes, studying maps to navigate the city. Anticipation for all things Parisian was a great excuse to revisit some favorite French films – Midnight in ParisAmelieMoulin Rouge, Paris, je t’aime. I also brushed up on my high-school French, apparently just enough to become socially awkward in two languages. Example: greeting Cedric at the hotel’s front desk with a cheerful “Merci!” as we arrived – oops!

As a thank you to Maman, I created this online journal to collect our photos, destinations, and travel notes – a scrapbook to remember and share. I’ve been dreaming of the City of Light since I was a 10-year-old kid with a beret and a poster of the Eiffel Tower on my bedroom wall. And Paris, you did not disappoint. I’ll never forget those lovely spring days, finding inspiration in the people, museums, cafés and gardens of Paris. ❤️

Versailles portrait
Paris with Mom

Day 1: Welcome to Paris!

Eiffel Tower

Best of Paris Itinerary: We’ll gather at our hotel in Paris at 3 p.m. for a short meeting and orientation stroll around our neighborhood, followed by a panoramic tour of the City of Light aboard a private bus. Then we’ll get acquainted with one another over a delicious “Welcome to Paris” dinner together. Sleep in Paris (6 nights). Bus: 2 hrs. Walking: light.

Journal

Sunday, May 1: May Day/Labour Day
This was our first morning waking up in Paris. After a delicious breakfast of café au lait and croissants in the breakfast room downstairs, we took some time to shake off the jet lag and explore our new neighborhood. We walked through the park around the Eiffel Tower, saw the gold dome of Hôtel des Invalides, crossed the Seine on a gorgeous bridge (with a bridal photo shoot in progress), and found our way to Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which leads all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.

At 3:00 p.m., we met our tour guide, Arnaud, and the other 22 members of our Rick Steves tour group. Over wine and cheese, Arnaud led us in a round of introductions, offered observations and tips on making the most of our time in Paris, answered questions, distributed museum and metro passes, and taught us how to use our whisper audio system that would keep us connected to his instructions for the next 6 days. He delivered lots of information with the efficiency of a seasoned guide, along with a delightful sense of humor and charming Parisian accent.

Our group ventured out, walking through the Rue Cler street market, and getting to know the neighborhood. We took a brief bus tour around Paris, then had an outstanding dinner at La Terrasse: white wine-blackberry current aperitif, salad nicoise, salmon with green beans, table wine, very decadent chocolate lava cake dessert and cafe.

I’m going to like Paris!

“When spring comes to Paris the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise.”

– Henry Miller

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Day 2: The Historic Heart of Paris

Sainte-Chappelle

Best of Paris Itinerary: Let’s begin where Paris did, on the Île de la Cité. Your guide will lead a walking tour of the city’s early history, including visits to a pair of the world’s most significant medieval Gothic churches: the legendary Notre-Dame Cathedral and the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle. Then we’ll take a stroll through the bohemian Latin Quarter, with free time for lunch on your own. We’ll end our afternoon at the Cluny National Museum of the Middle Ages, where after an introduction, you’ll be free to visit the sublime Lady and the Unicorn tapestry and have a rare, up-close look at the artistry of original stained-glass windows from Sainte-Chapelle. Walking: moderate.

Journal

Monday, May 2
We met with the tour group after breakfast, and jumped right into an orientation on the Metro system – at Monday morning rush hour! We bravely took the underground subway to the Île de la Cité, historical center of Paris. First we stopped at the fabulous Sainte-Chapelle, famous for its beautiful stained glass windows, and continued to Notre-Dame, Paris’ cathedral, known for its hunchback Quasimodo. We spent a lot of time looking at the facade and portals to the cathedral, learning about the significance of the statues and the the stories they tell.

At lunch time, we joined Julie and Suzi for an outdoor salad lunch in the Latin Quarter. After lunch, Arnaud led a tour through the quaint Latin Quarter, passed by Odeon theater, Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, the Sobonne University, and Musée de Cluny, which is entirely dedicated to medieval art, and has a display of the famous The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. We explored the museum, then headed back to the hotel with some others from our group.

I tried out the Google Translate app to interpret an urgent-looking sign at the bus stop, but it has its limitations – the bus route was either cancelled completely, or just one stop on the route was closed. Our small group compared notes about whether anyone had actually seen the bus we were waiting for … and eventually, one showed up, so all was well. Note for next time: work on more vocabulary about transportation – tickets, closures, delays, “where is the Metro station?” and “why is the airport terminal closed off?” 😬

In the evening, we had a light supper with Katie at Bistro St Dominique: baked camembert cheese with honey, served with a baguette; ham & cheese omelette. As we walked home, Mom was struck by a sudden urge for crepes, so we popped into an odd little restaurant down the street. (The place always seemed closed, with a locked door, although you could sometimes see a woman standing in the back.) The creperie was empty but its door was open this time, so we gave it a try – the sweet crepes were fine, mine was even served on fire! 🔥 A good ending to an action-packed day.

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”

– Thomas Jefferson

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Day 3: Montmartre and a Seine Cruise

Paris sunset on the Seine

Best of Paris Itinerary: This morning we’ll hop on the Métro, then hike up Montmartre to tour the colorful neighborhood which was the haunt of artistic geniuses a century ago—including Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir—and generations of hopeful artists since. We’ll end our walk with spectacular views of Paris from the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. You’ll be free for lunch and have time to explore more of the city on your own this afternoon. We’ll regroup this evening to enjoy a wine tasting and dinner together before embarking on a dreamy Seine River cruise. Boat: 1 hr. Walking: strenuous.

Journal

Tuesday, May 3: Bon Anniversaire!
What a happy coincidence that on my birthday our tour was scheduled to go to Montmartre, site of the Moulin Rouge and one of my favorite films, Amelie. It was surreal to walk through the cobblestone streets and hear an accordion playing a tune I know so well from the soundtrack … I kept expecting Amelie to appear and lead me on a little tour.

We met our tour guide at the top of a tram ride to picturesque Montmartre – he kept us entertained with many bad puns and colorful stories about the history of this artists’ village. During the Belle Époque, many artists had studios or worked in this area, including Salvador Dalí, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh. It was an absolute thrill to be in this place with so much artistic history and inspiration. We also saw locations from the films Amelie and Paris, je t’aime.

After the tour, Mom and I had lunch at Amelie’s restaurant, Café des Deux Moulins (of course!) – and I was sitting about in the place where she is cleaning the glass behind the object of her affection. ❤️ After lunch, we did a little window shopping, and stopped for crème brûlée and espresso. Then we visited the Musée de Montmartre and Renoir Gardens. What a charming museum! Founded in 1960, the museum was built in the seventeenth century as the Bel Air House and is the oldest building in Montmartre. During its heyday, 12 rue Cortot served as a residence and meeting place for many artists including Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon and Émile Bernard, who held their studios here. We got to peek into Valadon’s apartment, and got goosebumps. In the garden, you can see the actual swing depicted in Renoir’s The Swing. More goosebumps.

We spent the afternoon exploring the museum, and I especially enjoyed the number of black cats I saw in the Chat Noir exhibit. The afternoon flew by, and I realized we’d better get ourselves back to the hotel in time for wine tasting. We retraced our steps to the Metro stop where we had arrived with the tour group – uh-oh – we couldn’t find it, and the streets seemed unfamiliar. After getting jostled by an aggressive street hustler, we almost chickened out and just called a taxi. In our stressed-out wanderings, we finally happened upon a different Metro stop, and figured out a route to return to home base. Whew! 😓

Back at our hotel, a wine and cheese tasting event had just started. Mom went to the room to rest, and I let some delicious French wines take the edge off. 🍷 We regrouped for dinner with our tour group at Bistro Saint Cirgues. This sweet family restaurant served up risotto with mushrooms for dinner, followed by a waffle with strawberries for dessert … mine came with a candle and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from our new friends. Paris is a great place to celebrate!

We finished the evening with a cruise on the Seine River. I wouldn’t describe a boat tour packed with high-energy teenagers and tourists as “dreamy”. However, this offered a unique and lovely perspective on the city at twilight, and it was a real treat to see the twinkly lights of the Eiffel Tower on the hour. Just as I was about to take a video of the spectacular light show event with Patrick’s camera, it ran out of battery! 😳 But we saw it, and it was magical. ✨

“There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.”

– Ernest Hemingway

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Day 4: The Marais District and the Louvre

Louvre

Best of Paris Itinerary: We’ll begin our day with a walking tour through Paris’ diverse, history-layered Marais district. As we walk we’ll learn about enlightened 17th-century urban planning at the beautiful Place des Vosges, the cultural roots of the Jewish Quarter and how the French Revolution grew from this neighborhood. Our walk will end at the Carnavalet Museum, a cavalcade of Parisian history, which you can visit on your own. This evening, Europe’s greatest museum—the Louvre—is open late, and we’ll take full advantage of that. You’ll come face-to-face with the works of Rafael, Delacroix, and Leonardo, and timeless treasures that include Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and hundreds more. Walking: strenuous.

Journal

Wednesday, May 4
We enjoyed strolling through the Marais district. There was a beautiful little garden with dozens of little birds swooping through and singing. It’s so lovely to find these little pockets of green where you can step out of the busy city for a moment.

We had lunch with Darrin and Tami at a Middle Eastern restaurant – we knew it would be good, because there was a long line out the door. It was our first time eating falafel, and we had a really fun time visiting with this delightful couple. After lunch, Mom and I shopped around the Marais district and sampled some macarons at a cute little bakery.

Getting ourselves to the Louvre, our sense of direction worked fine today, but depth perception was a little off! We thought it was just a few blocks away, but kept walking … and walking … and walking. (It’s the biggest museum in the world, it has to be around here somewhere.) Mom approached a trio of French Armed Forces – serious-looking men, carrying very big weapons – and made a “pyramid” sign with her fingers. They just looked at us, unsmiling and puzzled. We kept walking the same direction, and soon – voila! – we saw a glimpse of the great glass pyramid that is the entrance to the museum. Tip: take Bus #69 – it drops you off right at the front of the museum. 😳

We met our tour guide, Charles, who led us through the highlights of the Louvre – Venus de Milo, the Wing of Victory, the Crown Jewels, and of course Mona Lisa. I hardly took any photos today – there was just so much to take in with my eyes, so much amazing European art. One thing that stood out: a 3,750-square-foot ceiling painting by American Cy Twombly – suddenly you find yourself in the sea and sun of the Mediterranean. The Louvre has room for everything.

Tip: Wednesday night is a perfect time to visit the Louvre, when it is open late. Except for the Mona Lisa exhibit, it was not crowded at all!

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”

– Oscar Wilde

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Day 5: Château de Versailles

Versailles gardens

Best of Paris Itinerary: Today we’ll explore the elaborate palace that Louis XIV, XV, and XVI called home. We’ll make the 30-minute train trip to Versailles, where we’ll have a guided tour of the dazzling Hall of Mirrors and other sumptuous rooms of the palace. You’ll then have free time to wander through the expansive gardens and visit the farm animals at Marie Antoinette’s hamlet—or zip back to Paris early via one of the frequent trains. Train: 1 hr. Walking: strenuous.

Journal

Thursday, May 5: Ascension Day
Our Versailles day trip coincided with the beginning of a 4-day holiday weekend to celebrate Ascension Day, and gorgeous spring weather – so it was a very popular destination. We took the RER train from Paris in the morning, and Arnaud led our group through a less-crowded back entrance into the palace. There we met Catherine, our tour guide for the day and a long-time friend of Arnaud. She led an interesting tour of the immense 18th-century palace, with guilded apartments and Hall of Mirrors. I recalled that some friends were visiting here in January, and the palace was closed due to a strike; they were able to view the Hall of Mirrors without any other people – that must have been incredible!

Our tour ended outside with an amazing view of the gardens, greenhouses, and the Grand Canal down below. After a forgettable touristy lunch, we strolled the gardens to view the marble statues, then took the Petit Train to view more of the property, which included the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s estate. There were long lines of people waiting to get back to the palace via the petit train, so we kept our seats and just went along for the ride. The impressive fountains were turned on in the late afternoon, and there was classical music playing in the gardens – a nice touch.

Tips: Arrive at Versailles early in the day, and go see Marie-Antoinette’s digs. Arrange to rent a bike and pedal around the property, and enjoy a picnic lunch in one of the lovely open green spaces.

We took the RER train back to Paris in the late afternoon, then popped into the laundromat across the street. After a few tries, and patient instructions from Arnaud at the front desk of the hotel, I managed to do a load of laundry while Mom took a nap. Our efforts were rewarded with a batch of clean clothes and another fabulous dinner at Café Constant on the corner.

“Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant.”

– Honoré de Balzac

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Day 6: Masterpieces of Paris

Clock at Orsay Museum

Best of Paris Itinerary: This morning we’ll tour the Orangerie Museum featuring Monet’s magnificent water lilies and home to a fine collection of other works by Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and more. You’ll be well oriented and have time this afternoon to see the world’s greatest collection of Impressionist art—almost next door—at the Orsay Museum, with art from Monet and Degas to Cézanne and Gauguin, and beyond. Or visit other nearby places covered by your included 6-Day Paris Museum Pass, such as the Rodin Museum, or the military museum of Les Invalides. Tonight we’ll enjoy a farewell feast together, sharing travel memories and toasting new friends. Salut! Walking: moderate.

Journal

Friday, May 6
We visited two wonderful museums today: Musée de l’Orangerie with a fabulous guide, Joelle, who was Arnaud’s art history teacher. She gave us plenty of time to learn about and appreciate Monet’s great project, The Nymphéas [Water Lilies], which occupied the artist for three decades. One enters these rooms by way of a small, empty circular room, painted in white with a single skylight. The intention is to clear your mind, to become new, “like a child”, and allow for the full-color impact of what is to come. The museum displays the panoramic frieze of the Water Lilies in two elliptical rooms, and the effect is magnificent.

Fun fact: an orangerie is a greenhouse for citrus trees. This museum building was built in 1852 as a winter shelter for the orange trees that lined the garden of the Tuileries Palace. Before then, the orange trees were housed in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre.

Next we visited Musée d’Orsay, a museum with an impressive 19th and 20th century European art collection housed in Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station. The beautiful clocks in the museum were made famous in the film Hugo, and it is amazing to see Paris through the glass face of a clock. We had lunch in the hip café on the top floor, and enjoyed wandering through the museum’s many galleries afterwards.

Our final tour group dinner was held at Le Bosquet. The wine was flowing and the conversation lively! I tried one snail (escargot) – now I’ve done it! Delicious artichoke starter, duck for dinner, apple tart for dessert.

It was a little sad to say goodbye to our new friends from the tour – like the end of summer camp. We had a lot of fun experiencing Paris with this group, and Arnaud was a terrific guide!

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”

– Claude Monet

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Le Bosquet Menu

Entree au choix / starter:
Ravioles de royans
Royans ravioles stuffed with cheese and herbs
Six escargots de Bourgogne extra gros
Six extra large snails from Burgundy
Artichaut de Bratagne prepare
Artichoke, herbs French dressing

Plat (Main dish):
Confit de canard de la ferme, puree maison
Duck confit with mashed potatoes
Duo de poissons frais a la provencale, riz et haricots verts frais
Two fishes (gambas & seabass) Provencal mode with rice and fresh green beans

Dessert:
Tiramisu
Fraises melba
Strawberries and vanilla ice cream
Tarte tatin
Apple tart

Day 7: Musée Rodin

Rodin garden

Best of Paris Itinerary: Tour Over After Breakfast. Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. It’s a breeze to reach Paris’ airports by taxi, shuttle or public transportation. Your guide will help you with any post-tour planning, leaving you well prepared for the road ahead. Merci et au revoir!

Journal

Saturday, May 7
We said goodbye to Arnaud and friends from our tour over breakfast, then headed out to make use of the last day of our museum pass. First we did a little shopping at the upscale Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, the oldest (and perhaps most expensive) department store. Ooo-la-la! We window-shopped a little, bought a few treats at a dry goods store with tablecloths and aprons, and explored a few of the sweet little pocket gardens.

We discovered Café Varenne nearby and had a delicious and relaxing lunch – fresh green bean salad, ratatouille, and good people-watching.

In the afternoon, we visited the outstanding Rodin museum and sculpture gardens. Rodin rented space, lived and worked here in the early 20th century – one of the exhibits is a recreation of his workshop area (goosebumps!) Among the other artistic tenants of the Hôtel Biron were the writer Jean Cocteau, the painter Henri Matisse, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the sculptress Clara Westhoff, future wife of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1908, Rodin rented four south-facing, ground-floor rooms opening onto the terrace, to use as his studios. From 1911 onwards, he occupied the entire building.

Musée Rodin was also Rodin’s workshop, and contains most of his significant creations, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell. Many of his sculptures are displayed in the museum’s extensive garden. Fun fact: the park covers nearly three hectares (7.4 acres) – and we walked over 14,000 steps today.

This evening, we strolled through the Rue Cler street market, had dinner in an Italian cafe, and dessert from a street vendor for dessert. It was a nice “vacation” moment to walk down the cobblestone street in the evening, eating ice cream.

“Nature and Antiquity are the two great sources of life for an artist.”

– Auguste Rodin

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Day 8: Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes

Journal

Sunday, May 8 – Mother’s Day (U.S.) and Victory in Europe Day
Today was Mother’s Day back home, so this was Mom’s special day and very well spent in the vast Jardin des Plantes (garden of plants) – the main botanical garden in France. We had purchased tickets in advance to see Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny, but opted to go here instead: no need for a train trip out of Paris, and no holiday crowds. Mother’s Day is celebrated in late May in France; however, May 8 was both the final day of a 4-day Ascension holiday weekend and Victory in Europe Day – so we expected tourist attractions to be busy. I was torn, until a friend advised that Monet’s Gardens is equal to Versailles in level of popularity. Jardin des Plantes it is!

Plant species are grown in a number in botanical and alpine gardens, and restored 19th-century hothouses. In addition to serving as the site for the city’s huge Museum of Natural History, the park is also home to a small zoo. It was a perfect spring day for garden strolling and picnic lunch, and there were plenty of colorful tulips and lilacs in bloom.

For dinner, we aimed to try a place where President Obama had dined: La Fountaine de Mars on Rue Saint-Dominique. When we arrived, there was the bustle of a film crew setting up outside, and a fancy Italian car parked out front. When I requested a table, the host said they weren’t open yet. I had read that this is a place Parisians go to see and be seen … perhaps we weren’t the target clientele? 😉  Lucky for us, Rue Saint-Dominique is home to no less than three restaurants by chef Christian Constant. We had a wonderful meal at Les Cocottes, concluded with a truly fabulous dessert, just as the name promises.

Mother’s Day Dinner

Les Cocottes, 135 Rue Saint-Dominique – 75007 Paris

Dinner:
Poached egg with crispy bacon and rocket salad
Les cocottes: fillet of cod with buttered savoy cabbage
Les cocottes: beef stew

Dessert:
The fabulous Christian Constant chocolate tart get the recipe

Wine: Petit Chablis

“That was the moment I fell in love with Paris and the moment that I felt that Paris had fallen in love with me.”

– Carol, Paris, je t’aime

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Day 9: Eiffel Tower

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Journal

Monday, May 9
Our final day in Paris! We went downstairs to the hotel breakfast room, which was filled up with the next batch of Rick Steves “Best of Paris” clients, excited about the start of their tour. Today we took a similar walk to our first day in Paris, over the bridge and down Avenue des Champs-Élysées, continuing all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. The workweek was beginning and the city streets seemed clean and fresh after a hard rain the night before. We were hoping it might drizzle a little so we could wear the raincoats we packed especially for the trip.

We stopped in for coffee and macarons at Ladurée on Champs Elysées, recommended by a friend as the place to have this Parisian treat. It is said that Ladurée invented the macaron … in any case, they have gorgeous window displays of the cookies and so many flavors to choose from! We selected four from the menu and savored them with coffee in an elegant tea room upstairs.

We enjoyed taking a closer look at the Musee de l’Armee at the center of the Hôtel National des Invalides. It has a beautiful church inside, and the golden Dôme des Invalides contains Napoleon I’s tomb. We also took a second walk by the living garden wall outside of Musée du quai Branly.

As the afternoon got late, it was time to bid farewell to Paris … from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve posted a video of one of two elevator rides we took to the top. Don’t look down! 😳

Final Dinner in Paris

We returned to a favorite restaurant for our last special dinner: Cafe Constant

Dinner
Volaille «Patte Bleue» rôtie au beurre d’herbes, petits oignons, lardons et champignons
Chicken roasted in herb butter, onions, bacon and mushrooms
Crème de potiron, émietté de châtaignes et croûtons
Cream of pumpkin soup with crumbled chestnuts, croutons, and cheese ravioli
Get the recipe

Desserts
Profiteroles maison, sauce au chocolat chaud
Profiteroles (cream puffs) served with hot chocolate sauce
Fromage de saison
Seasonal cheese

“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more sublime.”

― Victor Hugo

Video: ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower


Travel Tips & Resources

birthday card
birthday card
Bon Voyage! A hand-drawn birthday card from Patrick

This was my first trip to Europe, so I had a lot to learn! While it’s still fresh, I’ll pass along these notes to my future self (for the next trip) or to anyone else going to Paris for the first time …

  • TOUR: Rick Steves Best of Paris in 7 Days
    This was the first tour experience for both of us, and it turned out to be an ideal way to jump into European travel and explore a new city. We learned a lot from our guide and fellow travelers, had a richer experience, and covered more ground than we would have on our own. Even if you don’t take a tour, check his guidebooks, podcasts, and audio tours for useful information.

    Best of Paris in 7 Days Tour
  • TOUR GUIDE: Our lead guide was Arnaud Servignat, and I would recommend him without hesitation. Arnaud is a Parisian who generously shares his enthusiasm and knowledge about the art and history of Paris, has a wonderful sense of humor, somehow manages to keep a large group of tourists on time and organized, and made the tour experience really enjoyable throughout the week. We also had a fantastic guide named Joelle for the Orangerie Museum – I’m looking into whether she provides private tours.
  • HOTEL: Hotel de Londres Eiffel, 1 Rue Augereau, 75007 Paris. Highly recommended: staying at Hotel de Londres Eiffel made the 10 days a wonderful experience. The lovely rooms are clean and cozy, and every day started with a delicious breakfast of coffee, croissants, and other treats. The staff was friendly and incredibly helpful with everything – including making restaurant recommendations, helping us navigate the city, and teaching me how to use the laundromat across the street. They were gracious and helpful hosts at every opportunity. The location near the Eiffel Tower, Rue Cler and Rue Saint-Dominique is a wonderful home base – it was quiet off of the main street, but close to plenty of cafes, cheese shops, bakeries, and resources (grocery store, pharmacy, bank, laundromat). One of our tour friends even got an adorable hair cut next door. I would stay here again, or check out Montmartre – I fell in love with that area.
  • PACKING: I used Rick Steves’ packing list as a guide, and packed fairly light in one bag + a small backpack, but could have gotten by with just one sweater, because the weather was warmer than forecast. Two pairs of shoes, two pants, one skirt, and a variety of short and long-sleeved shirts were perfect. I brought a rain jacket and umbrella, but only used the jacket for the Eiffel Tower tour, because it was windy. Tip: public transportation can be gross – bring plenty of hand-sanitizers/wipes.
  • SHOES: SKECHERS Performance Go Walk shoes with a yoga mat cushion inside held up really well, and we walked about 8 miles each day. They look more stylish than sneakers, but with all the time on my feet and cobblestone streets, I’ll admit to missing my super-comfortable running shoes and gym socks some days. I had some Keen Mary Janes as my second pair.
  • JET LAG: It’s real, man. Our tour officially started on Sunday at 3 p.m., and I am very glad that we arrived on Saturday afternoon.  I didn’t sleep on the airplane in either direction, so it took a couple of days to re-adjust.
  • STAYING CONNECTED: I signed up for the 30-day AT&T Passport addition to my mobile plan, and was glad that I did. When we were out and about, I used Google Maps a lot, some apps for navigating the Paris metro and bus routes. The plan also included unlimited texts, so I felt connected to home and friends. Remember to: add a passcode to voicemail before you travel, it’s not possible to check voicemail without it, or add the code after you are outside the U.S.
  • LEARNING THE LANGUAGE: I used Fluenz and DuoLingo to brush up my French, but it seemed to fly out the window – sometimes with hilarious results – as soon as I encountered a French person. Of course they are speaking quickly, so it was much more difficult than following along with the stock phrases I heard in my practice. Fortunately, most of the Parisians we encountered were very kind and patient (tolerant of bumbling tourists). Well, not at the Post Office, but what do you expect? I did all right interacting in restaurants – the basics are greetings, please, thank you, asking for an English menu, ordering water, coffee, wine, requesting the bill (they won’t bring it until you ask). Areas to focus on next time: vocabulary about navigating, transportation, getting help and information about tickets, closures, delays, directions. Google Translate app can help with signs/written material, but it has its limitations.
  • NAVIGATION: I don’t have a strong sense of direction, and we got lost or turned around a few times. Along with relying on Google Maps and Compass apps, I discovered two apps just for Paris that were helpful – Paris Metro Map and Route Planner, and Visit Paris by Metro – RATP.  Sometimes the problem is actually finding the Metro or bus stop – and I think there’s an app for that too! Low-tech tip: write down directions / key intersections / bus stops on a piece of paper ahead of time, then there’s no need to constantly consult your phone.
  • CASH/ATM MACHINES: I followed Rick Steves’ advice about getting money from an ATM after we arrived. Unfortunately, the only cash machines I saw in the Paris CDG airport were Travelex ATMs – which he says to avoid – and which apparently charges about $40 extra to “convert” the transaction into dollars. If you have to use a Travelex, be sure to respond NO to that helpful extra service they offer at the end of the transaction. Fortunately, getting cash during the rest of the trip went very smoothly — I just found ATM machines inside banks, and it was no problem to get as much cash as we needed at the correct conversion rate. I only carried what we needed for that day, keeping the rest in the hotel safe. The last couple of days of our trip, I started planning my ATM withdrawals more carefully so I wouldn’t have too much extra currency left over.
  • CONVERSION RATE: Euros were very close to dollars; I used the XE Currency App when I wanted to buy something in Iceland and had no clue what 3,500 Icelandic Krona was in dollars ($28). 😳
  • FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES: Many credit cards charge an extra 1%-3% for a foreign transaction fee, every time you use your card. Before your trip, check your credit card agreement, and search online for “cards with no transaction fees” to find a new card.
  • SAFETY: We received many warnings about pickpockets, theft and scams, so I got a Pacsafe anti-theft purse – the CitySafe 50 was the perfect size to carry around, and all my stuff was locked in and secure. The only times I felt hassled was when we were lost and I was studying my phone or map – I later learned the tip about writing down directions ahead of time, which doesn’t look so obvious (“I’m a lost tourist!”) and is more safe and convenient than pulling out your phone.
  • U.S. CUSTOMS: I had no clue about declaring purchases at U.S. Customs when we returned home, and they didn’t give us any forms on the airplane. Here is a Rick Steves article about clearing customs that I wish I had read ahead of time.
  • ICELAND AIR has good fares on flights from Portland to Iceland (KEF) to Paris (CDG), or with a quick stop in Seattle, depending on the time of year you are going. Plan to bring your own food and water on the plane – they do offer complimentary beverages, but it takes a while to get around to everyone, especially on a full flight. In Reykjavík, before going to your connecting gate, you first have to get your passport stamped at Passport Control – this was true both coming and going, and a little stressful when we had a total of 20 minutes to make our connection. On the flight home, we seemed to disembark right into the gift shop! All the signs will remind you of shopping at Ikea.
  • PARIS CDG AIRPORT: after you pick up your bags, the terminal seems like circle with no way out. Just keep following the “taxi” signs until you get to Exit #24, where the licensed taxis (like G7) are parked. Airport helpers at the end of the queue will point you to a car and driver, and you’ll be in Paris in no time – for a flat fee of €55.
  • WISH I WOULD HAVE TAKEN MORE TIME TO … write in my journal, just hang out in some Hemingway cafes and people-watch, go see the Eiffel Tower one more time at night. I was so happy and tired at the end of each day, sleep kept winning!
Notes for Future Trips: Paris Tips From Friends
  • I STILL WANT TO SEE … the Eiffel Tower from the Tracadero, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, the inside of Musée du quai Branly, the Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou, the creepy underground Catacombs of Paris. See 36 Hours on the Left Bank (NY Times).
  • Paris by Mouth walking tours, recommendation from my foodie friend Kimberly. “We did the tour of St-Germain and it was one of our all-time favorite travel experiences. Definitely worth the price. We used it as an introduction to the city on the day we arrived in France (I would recommend going the day after for jet lag reasons but we still loved it). I just can’t rave about it enough. Pick a tour and do one!”
  • Fat Tire Bike Tours; we also saw bikes you can rent like a Car2Go, all around the city.