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10 Nights in France, Sept 29-Oct 9 2023


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My husband Bob and I will be flying tomorrow (Thursday the 28th) from Boston to CDG so I figured I would start a thread to update as we go. I'm not sure how much I will be able to post (not bringing my laptop so harder to type!) but I will see what I can manage. I'll also be sharing more photos & videos on my instagram feed (https://www.instagram.com/devafagan/), hopefully. I've been to Paris twice before and Bob lived there as a teen so we've seen most of the "must-see" sites and are hoping to take things on the slower side (though not as slow as some might, since our vacation time is limited due to our jobs).

Here's our itinerary!
Friday September 29: Arrive and check in to our apartment in the 11th https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/630221285302406915?
Nothing scheduled for this day other than getting groceries (maybe walking to the Marche Aligre) and just settling in
Saturday September 30: Visit the Petit Palais and walk through the Marais visiting some food shops I want to explore
Sunday October 1: Canal boat tour and walk back along the canal.
Monday October 2: Atelier des Lumières and wandering our neighborhood
Tuesday October 3: Small group tour of the Catacombs, then Luxembourg Gardens (my favorite place in Paris).
Wednesday October 4: Check out of our apartment and pick up a rental car at Orly airport, then drive to Blois and overnight at a hotel there
Thursday October 5: Drive to Fontevraud Abbey, overnight at the hotel there.
Friday October 6: Drive to Puy du Fou (a sort of amusement park/renaissance faire that we have long been eager to visit as renanissance faire/reenactment fans). Overnight at one of the hotels on site.
Saturday October 7: Full day at Puy du Fou and overnight there.
Sunday October 8: Drive back to Paris and stay at a hotel near CDG. Possibly stop at a site on our way, maybe a troglodyte village...
Monday October 9: Fly home!
Friday September 29

I'm here in Paris, yay! We had a smooth trip from Boston and arrived in the city Friday mid-morning. Our apartment is lovely and in a less-touristy area of the 11th arrondisement, near Pere Lachaise cemetery. Two flights up a tiny spiral staircase and then another inside the apartment between the living/kitchen area and the bed/bath! The windows have large metal grill-like shutters we were instructed to be sure to close overnight if we wanted the windows open to avoid having a "tour of the local pigeons." :)

I had left the day unscheduled because of jet-lag but I was so amped up with excitement that I couldn't really stop to rest. So I visited the Marche Aligre where a fruit seller convinced me to buy one of his amazing mangoes by offering fresh dripping slices (he also gave me a giant chunk of pineapple and an entire passionfruit which tempted me too but I was strong). I also got some fresh figs, comte cheese, and a vanilla tart from a nearby patisserie. On the way back I stopped into a huge store selling French graphic novels and wanted to get one as my souvenir but was overwhelmed by choices! (If anyone here is a fan of such things and has a suggestion let me know!).

I picked Bob up from the apartment where he had been napping and we spent the afternoon walking past the Bastille towards the Marais, stopping for lunch at a Vietnamese place, people-watching at Place des Vosges, getting amazing Japanese crepes (mine was filled with matcha ice cream, matcha cream, whipped cream, a brownie bite, sweet bean paste, and matcha pocky), and visiting a cat cafe. Bob was done for the day but I was still amped up so I took a second walk across the Seine to the Jardin des Plantes, then back again, with a stop at a metro station to get us our Navigo Easy cards since they no longer offer the carnets of 10 paper tickets that have used previously. I got a tiny glimpse of the top of the Eiffel tower from the bridge, as well as Notre Dame (still under construction after the fire). That was all finally enough to tire me out for the day, whew!

Inside the garden of Hotel Sully near Place des Vosges:


Jardin des Plantes late in the day...
Saturday, September 30

I had a leisurely (for me) morning in the apartment having tea and some fruit, then headed out around 8. I went out on my own to test out my new Navigo Easy pass (they no longer sell the paper tickets for the metro) to get a bus closer to the center of the city. From there I crossed over the Seine, pausing to get a slightly better view of the Eiffel tower than the tiny glimpse I'd had Friday, and then again to admire the Fontaine Saint-Michel, before winding my way to the Luxembourg Gardens, one of my favorite parts of the city. It was really lovely there and I had hoped to stop and get a croissant to eat in the park, but had not found a boulangerie (amazingly!) along the way. Also the bathrooms were not yet open! So I continued on towards the Pantheon, around several very cute streets and small plazas, before finding a cute little cafe with a view of the Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. I had a very good pot of black tea with milk and a wonderful flaky croissant and enjoyed my view and even did a bit of sketching.

After that I headed back to catch another bus home, stopping to get two amazing meringue & cream pastries at Aux Merveilleux de Fred to take for later. Back at the apartment I picked up Bob and we headed out again via metro at around 11:30 to visit the Petit Palais art museum. This was absolutely stunning (and free! and not too crowded!) and I am so glad I went. The collection is small compared to the other famous Parisian museums but it was still more than I could absorb so I tried to focus on a few things, specifically a number of paintings and statues of female figures with intense expressions, and a collection of vividly colored artwork depicting martyrs. We also had lunch at the cafe though sadly there were no free spots out in the beautiful garden (plenty of room inside though). There was a strange art installation in the garden pool of giant black cubes that would regularly start steaming and making ominous noises.

We headed out of the museum after a couple hours, planning to walk through the Tuileries gardens but there was a giant rugby park blocking the Place de la Concorde and then a bunch of tents for some other event taking up much of the gardens (or at least blocking us from seeing the open parts) and it was packed with tourists, so we ended up just getting past as fast as we could and heading away from the river to pick up some goodies from a Japanese bakery (several different fresh mochis and a melon pan bread). We took those to the nearby Palais Royal garden and enjoyed them there while people watching.

After a rest, we continued on towards Rue Montorgueil (also very crowded!) stopping to pick up a petite praluline (brioche bread with pink pralines) at Pralus. We took another break (for the toilettes more than anything) at a very calm and quiet Moroccan place where we had some mint tea in an enormous (empty!) upstairs room where we could look down over the busy streets below.

After that we got our metro home and took a break for a couple hours watching some tv and (in my case) tending to some blisters, oops. Around 7 we went out again on foot to an Indian place not far away, and had an amazing meal, followed by a nice walk home enjoying seeing the Parisian kids playing in the parks, lots of dogs being walked, and people starting to fill up the local bars. We ended the night with the pastries I'd gotten earlier in the day, which were AMAZING. Definitely something I would get again...

It was a great day!


Sunday, October 1

I had tea and some delicious pink praline brioche in the apartment for breakfast, then took the bus to the Parc des Buttes-Charmont. There were a few hiccups (the bus was about 10 minutes late, parts of the park were closed because of work/erosion control) but I was still glad I had the chance to see it. The views of the temple of the Sybelle were still lovely and it was fun to see all sorts of people out doing things- playing music, reading, walking dogs, doing tai chi-- on a beautiful morning. I walked home and stopped for a baguette along the way.

Back in the apartment, Bob and I made some sandwiches with the baguette and leftover chicken and cheese and greens from one of our meals. We took those with us and headed out for the viaduc des arts, an elevated greenspace and walking path on an abandoned train line. This was gorgeous and one of the highlights of my trip so far. The weather was beautiful and the trees were all dappled gold with autumn and we watched other happy people and happy dogs passing by. After a nice walk we headed back to the basin of the canal near the start of the path, where we were to board a barge for a canal tour.

The canal tour was one we had done before but it was fun to do again, and a relaxing way to see the city. We passed through four different locks, saw lots of people out along the canal, and admired all the arched bridges we passed beneath. We ended up near La Villette, an amazing sprawling entertainment complex and science museum that was full of people enjoying the lovely weather. We visited the science museum on a previous trip and loved it-- partly for the exhibits but also just because I really enjoy the futuristic vibe and architecture of the whole place.After disembarking, we stopped at a bookstore where I found a souvenir: a French edition of the novelization of the movie Labyrinth (one of my favorites) with a bunch of extra materials at the back. The clerk approved and said how it was one of her favorites so that was nice!

We continued on walking along the canal, and stopped for dinner at Breizh, where Bob had a salmon crepe and I had the vegetable crepe of the day. It was delicious and the service was very good! We continued on, people-watching and admiring street art, eventually peeling away towards the Republique where we had some boba and an amazing matcha sundae for dessert at a Japanese dessert shop. Then a quick metro ride and we were home for the night!

(photos failing to attach, will try again later!)
Monday October 2

I'm still struggling with making myself slow down and not feel like I have to rush around and Do Something at every moment. Yesterday I did a little better in that I went and got a croissant and ate it in the peaceful and beautiful Place des Vosges watching the morning light on the stones and the trees. Then I wandered a bit and ended up getting some takeaway pastries and an almond croissant at Le Petit Versailles bakery, and walked over to see the construction on Notre Dame, admire the morning light on the river, and people watch. Eventually I took the metro back home (crowded like a sardine due to rush hour, but at least it meant I wasn't sitting down which made me feel better after reading reports of a plague of bedbugs that has even spread to some of the metros).

I spent some time at home finishing a sketch and working on my travel journal and then Bob and I headed off to Le Atelier des Lumieres, an art installation in a giant hanger-like space. The one at the moment is on Paul Klee and Marc Chagall. The artwork plays over the walls and floor moving and shifting with the music for about an hour before looping. It's very dreamy and magical, even though neither artist is a favorite of mine. I really loved it! It wasn't too crowded, either. And it was cool inside which was nice because it was getting quite warm outside by then!

After that we went to a restaurant near our apartment that offered dim sum and noodles, and got a bunch of really delicious dumplings and buns, along with a lotus root salad. We loved it so much we ended up coming back later for dinner!We walked back to the apartment, stopping for a few things at the grocery store, then headed out again over towards the Pere Lachaise cemetery. We took a break for drinks and dessert (a silky and crunchy citron creme brulee) at a cafe just outside the cemetery gates, then headed in to walk around the cobbled paths. We visited Heloise and Abelard, Jim Morrison, Chopin, but mostly just absorbed the atmosphere and the many small, intriguing architectural and design elements.

From there we took the metro to the Opera Garnier, where we had booked tickets for a small group tour at 5, after the opera was closed to the daytime visitors. This was absolutely worth it and I would highly recommend, as we got to see the space with many fewer people, and had a really comprehensive tour, AND we got to see the inside of the auditorium itself (not always possible depending on performance schedules). I had seen photos of the dramatic sweeping staircases and they were as amazing as I expected, but there was even more: a pair of rooms with sun and moon decorative elements and infinity mirrors, and a grand hall used during intermissions that was even more impressive than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles upon which it was based (probably because Versailles was so crowded when we were there, on a previous trip, whereas this was just us and our 20 person tour group).

I'm really glad I booked the Opera tix-- it was a last minute decision the week before we left but it was one of my favorite things so far!Back home via the metro, we ate again at the dumpling place, then had the pastries I'd gotten earlier in the day for dessert. The perfect way to end another great day!


Tuesday October 3

Tuesday was our last full day in Paris! I did better slowing myself down and spent the morning drinking tea and eating praline bread in the apartment, then walking over to Pere-Lachaise cemetery where I wandered around absorbing the excellent atmosphere. It was cloudy and windy and leaves were pattering down along with just a bit of light rain. There are so many interesting little details and bits of artwork on the tombs.

Back home, I picked up Bob and we took the metro over to the Catacombs. On the way we had some nice quick glimpses of the amazing giant street art on the sides of several tall buildings in the 13th arrondisement. I didn't get photos but if you are curious you can see more here: https://parisjetaime.com/eng/article/street-art-walking-tour-in-the-13th- arrondissement-a776

By the time we arrived the weather had turned sunny again, and we had just enough time to share a tomato & mozzarella baguette (takeaway from a boulangerie) in a little park across from the catacomb entrance. It was delicious! One of the best things I've eaten this trip, and so simple and cheap too!

I'd booked us with a small group tour so that we could skip the lines and be guaranteed entrance (the normal tickets only go on sale like a week ahead of time and sell out fast) but it was also nice as our guide had a lot of interesting stories about the cataphiles who explore and map the catacombs illegally, and we got to enter a couple areas that general public do not access. We have been to the catacombs before but for us they are worth going back too!

After the tour we walked up towards Luxembourg Gardens, with a detour to pick up four amazing pastries (got to make the most of the last day!) which we then ate very messily but very happily while sitting beside the Medici fountain. After that we moved to a sunny spot and watched people and just enjoyed being in such a beautiful place!

We walked over to the Pantheon next, and since the lines were not long we decided to go in. I had never been and was happy to see the vast, dramatic interior and Foucault's pendulum, as well as the tombs in the crypt below.

From there we walked up to the Seine, picked up falafels and ate them along the river, then headed towards Ile Saint Louis for Berthillion ice cream as our final treat in Paris. We enjoyed watching a man and his tiny child feeding the swans in the beautiful golden light. Magical, and a great way to finish our day!

(Except that then we had to get on the metro and it was sardine-packed again! But we made it home to the apartment eventually!)

I was anticipating the worst with respect to picking up our rental car, but it ended up going just fine! Whew! We left our apartment at around 8:30 and made the short walk to a nearby taxi stand, where we found plenty of drivers waiting. The cost to Orly is a fixed price, and worth it to save us the stress of navigating the metro and bus with our luggage! The signage at Orly was good and we found the Europcar desk easily, then waited in line for about 20 minutes before we could speak to someone. Thankfully our automatic was ready and waiting and they didn't try to upsell us or get us to take a larger vehicle! We were on the road at around 10:30, yay!

Thanks to google maps we made it out of the airport and onto the highway without too much stress, then drove about 2 hours to Blois, a city in the Loire valley where we had reservations for the night. We stopped along the way at a rest area for bathrooms and a snack.

In Blois we parked in one of the city garages near our hotel, and when we came out we were in the middle of a garden that is part of the chateau grounds! We wandered around, admiring the impressive edifice of the chateau, which looms over the city, looking out onto the Loire river.

We had lunch right out in front of the chateau at a cafe, then got tickets and entered the chateau. There's an enormous courtyard inside that features and amazing white stone spiral staircase on the outside of one wing. The chateau itself had excellent signage (in French and English) and was not too crowded. It was kind of overwhelming though! I can only absorb so much before my brain fills up and I just start wandering and not really seeing anything, especially when everything is so rich and opulent.

We headed back out into the city where we wandered a bit, enjoying the narrow streets and twisting passages and half-timbered buildings, before eventually getting some sushi at a takeaway shop and eating it along the river for a light dinner. We got crepes for dessert, then walked back to our hotel in the beautiful pink and gold evening light.

It was a slower day with more travel but still a good one! I like Blois, and am very happy we could see a chateau so convenient to where we were staying.

Thursday, October 5

Thursday morning I walked around Blois, enjoying the picturesque streets and the misty Loire river and the smells of the boulangeries that sadly were not yet open. Eventually I found a place to get some tea which was very welcome by that point! I got a croissant and two choux bites (like very airy donut holes covered in chunky sugar) and ate them in the garden up beside the chateau, overlooking the town. It was lovely!

We checked out of the hotel at 11, then Bob joined me to walk around Blois in search of something for lunch. We ended up getting takeaway from the same Japanese place as the night before, but this time we got noodles and veggies and chicken. We ate it in the park, and it was lovely and relaxed. The food seemed fresh and we enjoyed it. After that we got a box of fancy pastries to take with us and headed for our car.

The drive to the abbey was easy enough via the highways, even though we still aren't quite sure we understand the way the French tolls work...! We arrived around 3PM and spent an hour exploring the small cute village, petting a local cat, and eating our pastries picnic style. Once it was 4 we drove down to the hotel entrance and checked in. This hotel was a bit of a splurge, and fancier than we would usually stay at! But it was worth it to be staying at the Abbey itself. We had access to the cloister and chapels until midnight, and it was just so peaceful and serene there! Definitely the most tranquil part of our trip! I loved it. It made me feel a bit like I had been transported to the world of Brother Cadfael (though it is no longer a working abbey-- in fact it was a prison most recently!).

Blois, along the Loire river, and around town...



Fontrevaud in the evening...

Friday October 6 and Saturday October 7, 2023
We departed Fontrevaud Abbey Friday morning after a delicious breakfast, then drove about an hour and a half to the mind-blowing Puy du Fou theme park...

I don't have a lot of photos of Puy du Fou because I was too busy absorbing it, and because pictures can't capture it well. You can see videos of some of the shows on their official website (and probably elsewhere on the internet) if you want more of an idea of what it was like.

Basically it's a giant complex with its own hotels (we stayed in the Villa Gallo-Romaine, aka the Greco-Roman Villa, but there are others with different historical themes, and the staff wear costumes to match the setting) and a sprawling park of winding trails that link together several areas with different themes/eras. There are seven large "spectacle" shows that each last about 30 minutes, where you need to get in line as much as 45 min early to get seats. Some are inside and some are outside in large stadium (literally in one case) seating areas. I paid extra for a special pass that let us skip the line and go directly to reserved seating and it was definitely worth having!

I'll cover both days as one because they were pretty similar, although Friday the park was much less crowded. Every day's schedule is different, though, so you need to plan your day carefully if you want to try to see as much as you can. Some of the big shows only performed once or twice a day, and never more than five times a day (between about 10AM and 7PM).

Our favorites were:

Les Vikings: Featuring stage combat, a giant Viking boat that rises up from the river with actors on it (we have no idea how they did that! They just came up from the water in costume! And then sank back down!)

Le Secret de la Lance: featuring lots of horseback acrobatics, Joan of Arc, a giant castle wall that lowered down to reveal another giant castle behind it that then moved forward with gouts of flame spewing from it and knights rappelling down the walls.

Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes: featuring birds of all sorts including a crow that collected a half-dozen roses one by one for the maiden, hawks and owls and GIANT VULTURES that swept over our heads so close that one of the vultures actually clipped Bob's cheek, and a finale featuring literally hundreds of birds all flying back and forth over the stands. Also a balloon that floats high, high above and it a floating roost for a bunch of raptors that are released at a certain point and then divebomb the stage area to catch treats the handlers toss into the air. It was so thrilling and beautiful!

And there were so many more incredible spectacles: a recreated Roman arena where prisoners from Gaul had to fight for their lives; three different indoor stages (one of which features a seating area that rotates from display to display, another that had a sort of side-scrolling stage where actors played out a silent film-inspired story in black and white with all these cool special effects that made it really look like a vintage film); and a walk-through show about King Clovis that featured moving walls, a room that made you feel as if you were underwater, and another that made you feel as if you were in the middle of a lava cavern.

On the negative side: smoking was allowed pretty much everywhere, it was very, very crowded in places, and there weren't a ton of food variety (we had the same chicken sandwich at least three times I think). Also there were two shows that used a racial slur (for Romani) to describe characters in the English translation, which was disappointing.

But all that said, I am glad we went and it truly was an amazing and unforgettable experience!
Now we have successfully made it back to Paris, turned in our rental (with no extra damages, woo!) and escaped being cheated by a dishonest cab driver en route to our airport hotel (ugh!). In theory we could take the train into Paris for dinner but we are both worn out and probably just going to have dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow we get an early breakfast and then take the shuttle to the airport for our 11AM flight home!

It's been a great trip, but we are looking forward to seeing our dog and returning to our normal routine. Just exactly what I would hope to feel at the end of a good vacation!

The "stage" for Le Vikings. The boat rises up from that river there....


Faux medieval streets...


Special effects in the Clovis attraction where they make fleur-de-lis appear on sheets of falling water (the figure kneeling is a dummy, but a very realistic one).


Our "Roman" hotel room...
Thank you for a great read and some lovely photos. Sounds as though you had a great time.
@devarae - let me add my thanks as well - we are getting ready to leave for Piemonte in a few days time and already beginning to plan the next trip and are thinking about the Loire. So this was a grat "taste" of what we have to look forward to!
I'm glad the reports were helpful and/or entertaining! I enjoy everyone else's reports so much so I'm happy for the chance to share mine.
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