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Back from May-June Europe Trip - mostly France.
Old 06-20-2015, 02:03 PM   #1
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Back from May-June Europe Trip - mostly France.

We had a really great trip to Europe - already home!

We spent about 3 weeks in France - a bit on the hectic side.

First we celebrated DH's 60th birthday in Paris - the Eiffel Tower lit up just for him, LOL!

Then we joined a small group for a week tour of the chateaux of the Loire Valley and a couple near Paris. The castle/chateau visits were great. We stayed in a neat chateau B&B accommodation as the base for the trip, and saw an amazing amount of stuff. My first visit to France (as an adult) so I wanted a little primer first. On our own we would have only visited one chateau a day, but I wasn't ready to do the driving in France yet. Really amazing places to visit, though - every single location was worth the visit (excepting Versailles - way too insanely crowded).

It had been over 10 years since we joined a week long group tour. And, I think this will be our last excepting boat cruising. The group travel, not so much. Van too small for the group (not what was advertised!) and looooong evening meals with people confused about what they ordered. Our group was small - 8 people plus guide - so that was really nice - but it didn't keep the evening meals from taking hours!!! The guide was great, but it didn't make up for the annoyances.

After that we were off on our own - yay! We took three additional minivan day tours (max 8 people) - each with a different group. Each one of these was just excellent. Outstanding, extremely knowledgeable guides, (I think that's what they mean by licensed guide!), terrific daytime agenda and great execution. It's hard to say which one we enjoyed the most.

Returning to Paris from the Loire Valley we took a minivan day tour to Monet's gardens in Giverny, and where Van Gogh last lived in Auvers-sur-Oise. Terrific, even though it poured while we were at Monet's gardens.

Then off to Alsace. Strasbourg is a lovely city and we really enjoyed the Petite France section where we stayed. We joined an Alsace sightseeing tour for one day that included castles, villages, and wine tasting. It was terrific. We then moved to Colmar for several days. That was OK - but I enjoyed the small towns along the Alsace Wine Route much better and would opt for staying in one of those instead. Strasbourg isn't so big, and renting a car from there and driving the Alsace region looked very doable.

Then on to Reims as our base in the Champagne province. Great base city. We happened to catch the "Joan of Arc Festival" a medieval festival and parade at the Reims Cathedral AND the cathedral light show at night - WOW!!!! We joined our final mini-van tour for a champagne daytrip to Epernay and sightseeing the wine region and vineyards, visiting several champagne producers, Dom Perignon's church/abbey, and a champagne tasting lunch! Again - absolutely fantastic tour with a super knowledgeable guide who is 3rd or 4th generation in the champagne business.

Then went to Amsterdam for a week visiting family after that. A nice rest after our hectic French weeks. There we mainly did stuff that would amuse our young nephews - the zoo, a pancake cruise on the River Ij, cycling out to a goat petting farm, etc. LOL!

There are several more areas in France I would like to visit, and I think depending on the location I may rent a car for a day or three. We did enjoy using the public transport, especially the trains, so when feasible we prefer that. We would definitely return most places we visited. We will continue with the occasional day-tour by minivan, or even hire a private guide in some cases. It's really nice to do that when you are doing regional wine tastings.

We ate a lot of foods that we had never tried before, and tried several new wines most of which we liked. In the Alsace region you pretty much have whites available, and there were delightful, and I'm not really a white wine drinker (excepting champagne!!!!). Much drier than the German/Austrian versions and I found much more palatable.

I spent a little time learning French before we left, and I really used it. My French was just barely enough for greetings, ordering food and asking very simple questions, but it did really help. It did help me decipher French menus - enough to get by. People were super nice. Great service in the restaurants and very good food in general. Very enjoyable country to visit.
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Old 06-20-2015, 03:54 PM   #2
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Ah, France is a nice country to visit.

I have not been back to France in several years. My wife's niece is marrying a Frenchman, and they invited us to the wedding there later this year. Too bad that we have our daughter's wedding to worry about. Maybe a trip there next year. I still need to make a pilgrimage trip to the town of Cognac.
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Old 06-20-2015, 03:59 PM   #3
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Ah, France is a nice country to visit.

I have not been back to France in several years. My wife's niece is marrying a Frenchman, and they invited us to the wedding there later this year. Too bad that we have our daughter's wedding to worry about. Maybe a trip there next year. I still need to make a pilgrimage trip to the town of Cognac.
I thought about you because we ate duck often. It was usually the Magret. DH's favorite was the Salade Perigordine which had duck several ways - smoked Magret breast, duck gizzards, and various other bits. He ordered it several times and each was different. And then there was the foie gras, confit, roasted Magret breast, etc. Lovely!
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Old 06-20-2015, 04:01 PM   #4
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No photos, particularly of the food?
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Old 06-20-2015, 04:04 PM   #5
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No photos, particularly of the food?
DH probably took some food photos. I'll see what I can scare up.
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Old 07-07-2015, 02:49 PM   #6
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I plan to spend a week in Paris this September. Versailles is on my list of places to visit. Can you tell me what day and time of day you were there? Perhaps I can find a less crowded time to go.

I have not been to Paris in 30 years, so I will be hitting all the standard sites, but I'd love to hear from you about anything you saw that was noteworthy. Did you try a "wine tour"? Is there a chateau close to Paris that would be worth a visit?

Also, do you think that a day trip to Normandy using public transportation is possible? I'd like to see the WWII sites, at least some of them, but don't really want to change hotels to make the trip.
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Old 07-07-2015, 04:10 PM   #7
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Normandy looks a bit tricky with public transportation, however there are numerous tour companies that offer day trips of WWII sites from Paris. They will be very long day trips. Might be better to find someone in Normandy to give a day tour, and stay somewhere in Normandy which you can reach by train from Paris.

We were at Versailles on Pentecost Sunday of a long weekend - one of the worst days to go. I imagine week days are better. But it is a heavily visited place with long lines even when you get there at the open.

I thought Fontainebleau was fabulous, it wasn't that crowded, but I'm not sure how far from Paris it is.

Some people do day trips from Paris to Reims to catch a champagne tour. We did wine tours from other cities, not Paris.

We enjoyed the impressionist art exhibits at Musee D'Orsay and Musee de l'Orangerie. The Seine boat cruise was pretty good. We skipped a lot of stuff. Personally, I didn't care for Montmatre - too crowded. But is was a Saturday evening.
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Old 07-07-2015, 04:31 PM   #8
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We visited Versailles last month. Apparently the lines are shortest mid- to late-afternoon; we were able to get into the main palace almost straight away. However, inside it was still very crowded. Other parts of the site were not too bad, but things are spread out quite a bit. We were on a bike tour, but I noticed self-drive golf carts going around as well.

I realize Versailles is a "must-see" on most lists, but the crowds spoilt it for me.
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Old 07-07-2015, 07:24 PM   #9
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I plan to spend a week in Paris this September. Versailles is on my list of places to visit. Can you tell me what day and time of day you were there? Perhaps I can find a less crowded time to go.

I have not been to Paris in 30 years, so I will be hitting all the standard sites, but I'd love to hear from you about anything you saw that was noteworthy. Did you try a "wine tour"? Is there a chateau close to Paris that would be worth a visit?

Also, do you think that a day trip to Normandy using public transportation is possible? I'd like to see the WWII sites, at least some of them, but don't really want to change hotels to make the trip.
I was in France for 2 weeks in fall of '13. The Viator company offers a nice one-day bus tour to Normandy, leaving Paris at about 7 AM. Great guide, easy transportation, affordable, with plenty of time to visit the American Museum (amazing artifacts from the battles),the American cemetery, and Omaha, Utah, Sword, and Juno beaches. Worth every penny for its convenience. Just Google "Viator" and you will see they have a lot of good offerings. I would also recommend their 2-day tour to Mont St. Michel and 3 chateaux in the Loire Valley (Chenonceau, Chambord, and Amboise). The accommodations and meals included were just fine; the convenience, again, simplified everything.

(I had just finished 10 days with a girlfriend on a "do-it-yourself" vacation, using a Rick Steves book. I was ready for somebody else to figure out all the logistics, so I could just kick back and enjoy the countryside and the guides' commentary.)
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Old 07-07-2015, 07:30 PM   #10
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Also, Noiseboy, I think you will find that there is a major difference visiting Paris in September, instead of during the summer. The first time I was there was in July, many years ago (crowds and heat everywhere). In 2013, I was there the last two weeks of Sept.: what a difference! Few lines, few tourists, few crowds (at least compared to summertime)--- mostly Parisians going about their business. Many even stopped to offer directions to my friend and me (when they saw us studying our maps). It was a slower, more relaxed pace.

If I go again, it will be in the off-season. Much more relaxing!

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Old 07-07-2015, 07:44 PM   #11
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Thanks to everyone for the ideas. The Viator bus tour to Normandy sounds like it might be just the ticket for me. I have seven full days and nights to play with, so I think that I can give at least one up to see some WWII history.

Impressionists are definitely on my list. I'm thinking a full day for the Louvre and roughly 1/2 days for Musee d’Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie. Does that sound about right?

I need to add a Siene tour to my itinerary and I will look into Fountain Blue

Here's another question; second deck, or all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower? I'm leaning towards the second deck mostly to save the time of waiting in line to go all the way up.

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Old 07-07-2015, 07:57 PM   #12
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I don't know how much impressionist art is in the Louvre. Musee De l'Orangerie easy in 3 hours. You are right next to the Place de Concorde then, and we wished we had strolled over to take a good look - especially the Luxor Obelisk. Musee D'Orsay we wished we had started at level 5 and then checked the section with Gaugin and Van Gogh on the 2nd level. We would have skipped most of the rest. Easy 1/2 day then. There is a nice combination ticket that covers the two museums. Musee d'Orsay stays open late on Thursdays. There is one other museum in Paris that I heard mentioned for impressionist art and it wasn't the Louvre, so Google for best impressionist art museums in Paris.
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Old 07-07-2015, 08:18 PM   #13
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We visited Versailles last month. Apparently the lines are shortest mid- to late-afternoon; we were able to get into the main palace almost straight away. However, inside it was still very crowded. Other parts of the site were not too bad, but things are spread out quite a bit. We were on a bike tour, but I noticed self-drive golf carts going around as well.

I realize Versailles is a "must-see" on most lists, but the crowds spoilt it for me.
Compared to all the other chateau we visited which were excellent, Versailles Palace was the only disappointment mainly due to the crowds. It was so insane that we couldn't actually get through some doors except at a snail's pace as the crowd inched through pushing and shoving. Where was the fire marshall? And we got there early. The grounds were neat, if I return it will be to see the grounds again, and I'll take the train to see the Petit Trianon and visit the Grand Trianon. It's really spread out, so taking the little trains/trams is a good idea.
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Old 07-07-2015, 08:35 PM   #14
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Thanks to everyone for the ideas. The Viator bus tour to Normandy sounds like it might be just the ticket for me. I have seven full days and nights to play with, so I think that I can give at least one up to see some WWII history.

Impressionists are definitely on my list. I'm thinking a full day for the Louvre and roughly 1/2 days for Musee d’Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie. Does that sound about right?

I need to add a Siene tour to my itinerary and I will look into Fountain Blue

Here's another question; second deck, or all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower? I'm leaning towards the second deck mostly to save the time of waiting in line to go all the way up.


Probably you will find yourself rushed and disappointed if you only allow 1/2 day for both D'Orsay and L'Orangerie. That's what I did, and feel like I practically ran through them. So, now I want to go back (so I could give at least 1/2 day to each). If you love the Impressionists, these 2 museums are worth it.........where you will want to spend some time. (I spent 1/2 day in the Louvre, and was ready to go see the Impressionists.)

I only went to the second deck of the Eiffel Tower and felt like I had "done it justice." The views were great.......but you can also get great views of the city from the top of Notre Dame.

Also, the French Military Museum in Hotel Des Invalides is worth a morning, if only to see Napolean's horse (taxidermed! though cracked) and the exhibits about the French Resistance during WWII. The exhibits of the Resistance underground newspaper office (retrieved, intact!) and their forgeries are fascinating. They also have some of Hitler's possessions there.

Have fun--- it sounds like a great adventure!

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Old 07-07-2015, 08:59 PM   #15
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Probably you will find yourself rushed and disappointed if you only allow 1/2 day for both D'Orsay and L'Orangerie. That's what I did, and feel like I practically ran through them. So, now I want to go back (so I could give at least 1/2 day to each). If you love the Impressionists, these 2 museums are worth it.........where you will want to spend some time. (I spent 1/2 day in the Louvre, and was ready to go see the Impressionists.)
I meant to say 1/2 day for each, so that sounds like a good plan, but maybe I should have a backup for my Louvre day in case I don't need a full day to see everything there. I think I'm going to get the Paris Museum Pass, so I shouldn't have any trouble picking out some extra sites to see.

Thanks again for all of the great tips. Any good gift ideas? Favorite chocolate to bring back for Mom?
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Old 07-07-2015, 09:10 PM   #16
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Also, Noiseboy, I think you will find that there is a major difference visiting Paris in September, instead of during the summer. The first time I was there was in July, many years ago (crowds and heat everywhere). In 2013, I was there the last two weeks of Sept.: what a difference! Few lines, few tourists, few crowds (at least compared to summertime)--- mostly Parisians going about their business. Many even stopped to offer directions to my friend and me (when they saw us studying our maps). It was a slower, more relaxed pace.

If I go again, it will be in the off-season. Much more relaxing!

Actually, September is still considered peak season and the hotel rates are high.

I've not been to Versailles in over 20 years. But I did some legwork to prepare.

Supposedly if you can time it to arrive at 8 AM, the crowds inside the palace isn't suppose to be bad.

That means leaving from Paris around 7 AM though.

Paris Visite Museum pass is a good way to save money on museums but has to be used on consecutive days after the first entry. So to maximize the value, that means going to a lot of museums over a short period of time.

Versailles is included in the pass so if you go to Versailles and the big museums like the Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Orangerie, it will pay for itself.

The pass lets you skip the queues or at least use the shorter queues to enter the museums. Will be a big time saver.
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Old 07-07-2015, 10:26 PM   #17
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I meant to say 1/2 day for each, so that sounds like a good plan, but maybe I should have a backup for my Louvre day in case I don't need a full day to see everything there. I think I'm going to get the Paris Museum Pass, so I shouldn't have any trouble picking out some extra sites to see.

Thanks again for all of the great tips. Any good gift ideas? Favorite chocolate to bring back for Mom?
1/2 day each is pretty easy. That will give you time to checkout some of the sights nearby.

In Paris you usually buy silk scarves or perfume to bring back to ladies. There is good chocolate to be found too.
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Old 07-08-2015, 07:38 AM   #18
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I am by no means a Francophile, as most of my many European trips have been spent in Germany, Austria and Italy. Last time we came into the Paris Gard du Nord train station, the information booth was staffed with young adults that refused to speak English. This is the station where thousands of Eurostar riders arrive from London daily. That's the French.


We're going to be spending Sept, Oct and Nov, 2016 in Europe staying in apartments 2 weeks at a time. We're starting in Budapest, and who knows where we'll be going? New places will be seen while we have health to make such trips. We do want to see Dresden and the mountains on the Czech border.


We're leaving 8/25/2015 for Copenhagen and a Baltic Cruise. Then flying to Oslo and seeing the fjords of Norway. We expect a fabulous trip.
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Old 07-08-2015, 09:20 AM   #19
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I only went to the second deck of the Eiffel Tower and felt like I had "done it justice." The views were great.......but you can also get great views of the city from the top of Notre Dame.

Here's an alternative. Wander over to the Printemps department store. Enjoy the building itself which is very interesting from an asthetic point of view. Go to the top of the department store where these is a very good cafeteria. Have lunch there, while enjoying a great view of Paris that includes the Eiffel Tower. Much more tasty and far less crowded.



Note: if you and or your spouse are shopping oriented this could be a very expensive option.
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Old 07-08-2015, 09:39 AM   #20
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I plan to spend a week in Paris this September. Versailles is on my list of places to visit. Can you tell me what day and time of day you were there? Perhaps I can find a less crowded time to go.

I have not been to Paris in 30 years, so I will be hitting all the standard sites, but I'd love to hear from you about anything you saw that was noteworthy. Did you try a "wine tour"? Is there a chateau close to Paris that would be worth a visit?

Also, do you think that a day trip to Normandy using public transportation is possible? I'd like to see the WWII sites, at least some of them, but don't really want to change hotels to make the trip.
We were in Paris in May, and successfully did both Versailles and Normandy as day trips. The key to both was getting an early start.

We took the 7:45 AM train to Versailles, which put us first in the pre-ticketed line by 8:30 AM. As a result, we had no crowds our entire visit. We got a little cocky at how easily we'd traversed Versailles, in fact, and decided to go through it again as soon as we'd finished our first walk-through. What a mistake! By the time we re-entered, it was wall to wall people. Not even remotely close to the terrific experience of our first walk through.

Regarding daytrip from Paris to Normandy: While it's not cheap, we booked a guided daytrip, and had a fantastic 12 hour start-to-finish trip. With pickup from our hotel at 6:30 AM, we were back in Paris in time for dinner. Originally, I thought the cost was too much for a one day sightseeing trip ( approx $500 for two), but it truly was one of the highlights of our three week France trip, and an emotional experience I will remember forever.
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