Subject: Return from France trip...
Hi all!

We just returned last night from a wonderful, fun, eat your way around the region trip to Paris, the Loire Valley, Brittany (Dinan, Mont. St. Michel area) and Normandy. I don't know where to start so I will start in short chunks and see where I go. Also, I've been up since 3:30 AM., done laundry, dishes, email etc....jet lag coming back to the east coast always gets me.

First the Airport Shuttle...we took the advice of various Ziners and made reservations on the shuttle (the navy van with yellow letters). They answered right back the 2nd time ( I didn't give them a credit card number the 1st time and even if you pay in cash they want that to take the reservation). Called before we collected our luggage, as instructed), went to the meeting place and waited and waited. Called again, about 9:30 AM and she promised they would be there. By then we were trying to flag one of their vans down. A tour guide type person was trying to get his people on without reservations but they wouldn't take them. We finally got picked up and had a pleasant ride thru the 17th arr. which we would not have seen on the Metro. And certainly wouldn't have wanted to drag luggage up and down Metro stations. Turned out fine in the end and the wait was about 1 and 1/2 hours. Maybe it was a bad Saturday AM for them. I'd use them again tho...

Our hotel was in the Rue Cler area, the Hotel Muguet. Lovely, small hotel baking up to the Invalides...we could see the top part of the Eiffel Towel from our window. We were two room was smaller than the other...both small but lovely. This was a Traveler's Magazine pick as one of best hotels in Paris for under $100...breakfast was extra. We ate in local restaurants around that area all three nights and ate lunch wherever we were during the day. I certainly like the sidewalk cafes...could eat like that anytime...and coffee and croissants for breakfast is a great way to start the day.

We followed Rick Steve's advice on a lot of things throughout the trip. I know many people don't like him but for first time traveller in an area he gives a good overview. We used him in England several years ago too. We had been to Paris last summer for a few days so were familiar with the area and knew what we want to see. The value of the dollar makes France a wonderful place to visit now.....had three course and more dinners plus a bottle of wine or two for well under $100 for the four of us. 7.75 FF = one US dollar....up from 7.05 when we started planning last February.

Sunday was Pentecost and Monday was Pentecost Monday when many things were closed....a national holiday. This took us by shopping time was Monday but Samartiane's and other places were closed. The first Sunday of the month is free at many museums...we went to the Orsay, Pompideau ( because the Carnavalet, which was the goal in the Marais district was closed both days for the holiday) and got in free. Missed the Rodin because it was closed on Monday...our friends went there on Sunday. We never needed out Museum pass except at the Arch because of the free entry on Sunday but our friends used their's at the Louvre and the Rodin.

We had been watching the weather on the web and the forecast was for cold (36 degrees on Sun. PM!!!) so we were delightfully surprised that after a rainy Saturday that it turned sunny and 60's. Walking to the Orsay early Sunday AM was nice because the streets were empty....the museum got crowded but not for an hour or two. We had missed this last year and it was top priority on the list. My husband got a kick out of the Carlo Bugatti exhibit (he not only built racing cars but also furniture, worked in silver, copper, brass, wood...quite interesting). The building is a big attraction too if you like architecture.

Walked all around the Marais area to the Pompideau which was mobbed (free, you know)...interesting building, quickly looked at some of the modern art. Then on walking back to the Metro we saw a church having a classical performance starting at 4...which was then...a trio of piano, flute and bassoon.....quite different. My husband, the musical one, loved it.

On Monday, we went up to Montmartre, very early and got there with the first crowds...not too bad...another beautiful view...walked the area...and then I got pickpocketed getting into the subway at the Blanche station!!!! They had just announced in French and English to watch out for PPs. There were two little urchins, maybe 7 and 10 sitting near us at the station...we got on (four of us) and the next thing I knew a Paris resident was slapping the youngest' hand and she dropped my two bills which she had gotten out of my small purse I carry hanging across my shoulder under my coat....just a US dollar and a 200 FF bill. The rest and passport is around my neck inside my shirt, thank goodness) He gave it back to me and slapped the kids...another man threw them off the train. We were impressed that the French were so angry this was happening but it was sad to see these kids who were probably sent out by their parents each day. The girl had a blanket on her arm so she could pull the $ back out of sight quickly. We realized we had to get off at the station too so we jumped off and saw them get back on two cars down. It shook me up for awhile because I was completely unaware of what happened.

We walked out each night to see the lights....amazed us how late it stays light...on a nice night the twinkle lights on the tower can't go on until 10 PM! And then the river and building lights go on! The last night we metroed down to the Latin Quarter and walked around the bridges looking at lights....there is a footbridge between Pont Neuf and des Arts, I think where all the young kids had gathered for eating and drinking, dancing and daughters would have loved it....not rowdy just everyone having fun.

Ellie Maryland