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Visiting Paris, France is not only one of the most exciting trips you will ever do, it is also going to be one of the most challenging… because there is so much to see and do in this incredible city. To visit Paris, you will need to do some advance work. How long will your trip last? What do you want to see? How will you prioritize your list? Will you do it all yourself or be part of a tour? There are lots of good resources in travel books (Frommer, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, TimeOut, etc.). Find one that seems to fit your needs and works well for you.

The third time I was in Paris was through a company called Go Ahead Tours. A company that provides some structure, but not too much. What Go Ahead did was provide structured activities and allow it's guests to pick and choose what they wanted to participate in. Your tour cost included your airfare, lodging, one group dinner and your choice of any or all of the group tours the Team Leader provided (some tours do cost extra). We were lucky to have Patrick Long, a 23 year American expatriate, as our guide for the 8 days we were there. Having lived there for that long, Patrick was almost a native and added lots of knowledge and insights to our time in Paris. The group of 6 Stocktonians I was traveling with were also accompanied by Debbie Berg, Stagg High School French teacher, who had not only lived in France for a year, but returned frequently with her students to share her love and knowledge of France. Our trip with her was the first time she had been a leader to a group of adults.

What I'll share here are some of the things we did this trip:

  • Tuillerie Gardens, beautiful flowers in bloom while we were there. The French don't encourage you to walk on their lawns. Very different from our parks and public places.
  • The "locks of love" on numerous bridges are amazing to see. In some places it is locks locked onto locks!
  • D'Orsay Museum (we were lucky to be there for a special Van Gogh exhibit)
  • Get some Berthillion ice cream from the Isle de Citie… the chocolate is incredible and the salted caramel was exquisite, so good in fact, that I made a second trip back before I left!!
  • Visiting Montmarte and learning the "real story" behind St. Denis, Patron Saint of France, who was the Martyr killed on the mountain from which Montmarte draws it name.
  • La Arche Grande at the amazingly modern West end of Paris. I had the opportunity to see Paris from the top of this building in the mid 1990s, shortly after it's construction. It is truly one of the most impressive views of Paris. Sadly however, access to the roof top has been recently closed. Not certain when it may reopen, but check if you will be in Paris and would like an amazing view down the Champs Elysses and over all of Paris.
  • Rodin's Museum and Courtyard. Because numerous castings were made of some of his best known pieces (The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais), you have had the opportunity to see them elsewhere in the world, but it is even more special to see them in his town, in his home!
  • While Napoleon is probably the epitome of "egomaniac", the alter and his tomb in Les Invalides are so beautiful that I have made it a point to visit EVERY time I am in Paris.
  • Pere Lachaise Cemetery houses the graves of so many notables. Jim Morrison, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf are only a few. Visiting cemeteries in foreign countries gives a very special insight into that culture and it's people. I find the European cemeteries are like small cities with numerous "buildings", beautiful photos of the deceased and well worth taking time to wander through them.
  • I grew up with an uncle that hunted and brought wild game home for the family. I have always loved duck that is cooked correctly (not an easy thing to do). However, I had duck almost daily in Paris and was never disappointed. The Parisiennes take their duck very seriously!
  • In my opinion, Paris has one of the best Metro systems in the world. It is well-organized, easy to follow, timely and clean. While I love the London "Underground" because of the sooty smell and rush of warm air that precedes the arrival of the train, the Paris Metro is truly the "Best" there is!
  • The hourly "light frenzy" that occurs at the Eiffel Tower after dark is beautiful to see. It's stunning while you are standing near it, but is also impressive from any vantage point in the city.
  • Taking the high speed train is a good experience. We ventured out to Amboise to see the Chateau Royale, the Chateau du Clos Luce and Parc Leonardo Da Vinci as well as nearby Chateau Chenonceau. My favorite is DaVinci's home with the models of his inventions. It's amazing how ahead of his time he was.
  • Consider shopping in the French version of WalMart, Carrefours, for souvenirs, gifts and just a chance to see what is available to the average French shopper. Seeing wonderful "blinis", (you can't buy those ready made in any store in my hometown!) and Foie Gras as well as caviar as regular items was a comment on the choices the French have for appetizers!
  • Visit the Galleries Lafayette for the view from the rooftop and the beautiful interior Dome you can see from the Make up Department of the ground floor.
  • While the Pompidou Building is unique and houses the Modern Art Museum as well as other exhibits, the glass that surrounds the top floor may not always be clean enough to see the view clearly. Still worth a visit.
  • Notre Dame is always worth the visit. Make certain you find the small sculpture of the head of the Hunchback of Notre Dame on the back left side of the structure (as you face the cathedral). It is an "homage" to Victor Hugo as his book helped drive the renovation of the church. This is in a crevice about 3 stories high. It is the ONLY non-religious icon on the entire building.
  • Make certain to find one of the six Angelina's in Paris and have some of their hot chocolate. Debbie Berg had told our group this was the BEST hot chocolate she had ever had and was so rich it would be difficult to drink even one cup!! She was absolutely right! The other food on the menu is good as well!
  • Fun to have a "Fitbit" on to track your activities. Our daily averages were 17,325 steps, 7.35 miles and 41+ staircases! It's a great city to walk!
  • People who travel often find the "Hop On, Hop Off" Bus tours a good way to get oriented and start to refine the priorities for what will be seen and what will have to wait for a future trip! In Paris, there is also a "Hop On, Hop Off" Boat tour on the Seine.  
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