France

0-thelowdown-1Paris is the most visited city in the World and for good reason. I have been there many times, usually only for a few days as a stopover to another European destination, but this summer I spent three weeks exploring Paris, Provence and the French Riviera. It’s as marvelous as they say it is!

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1-flight-1Using JetBlue points, we flew to JFK to get direct flight to Paris using British Airways Companion Business Class tickets. Companion tickets are not free, however for for $1200 you can lie down in a flat bed rather than paying a few hundred less to sit in economy without the added goodies of lounge access, preflight meals and inflight champagne!

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2-accomodations-1France has an amazing mix of Airbnbs, Starwood properties and boutique hotels. The main reason for our 3 week trip to France was that we did a home exchange in the town of Vence, just an hour driving within all major attractions of the French Riviera. Hotels can get pretty pricey and home exchanges are an excellent way to stay in the South of France and spend next to nothing. It was a great experience and I highly recommend checking it out!

In Paris the first 3 nights we stayed in Airbnbs and upon our return we found a great rate at Eugene in Ville near Montmartre on Jetsetter. Stayed in a variety of Airbnbs in Montpellier, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence and finally the home exchange in Vence. Also splurged one-night using Starwood points to stay at the Le Meridien Monte Carlo. If you have the points, a luxurious one or two night stay is the best way to spend it.

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Red-eye from NYC to Orly-Paris. Great seats in Business Class due to British Airways Companion ticket airfare. Nice lounge and great options for a pre-flight dinner. Upon arrival in the morning/afternoon, I always make sure to get out as soon as my bags are dropped off to prevent jetlag. This is so important, and should never be underestimated. We head to the TGV station to print out all of our Rail Europe reservations. Cannot emphasize enough booking reservations BEFORE you arrive to your destination because it can get a bit confusing. Luckily we had help from a very patient, English-speaking woman. Read more about getting around on a France RailPass here. From there, we take the Metro to the Centre Pompidou. For 3 Euros you can just take the escalator and see most of the interior. I have actually never done that all the times I have been to Paris, so it was a nice treat to get a great layout of the city as a whole. As I heard someone going up the escalator, “….In Paris, you don’t have to go high up to see all the city.” It’s so true and that’s what makes the urban architecture of Paris as a whole so unique and comprehensive of a vision. From there we wander to the Louvre and Tuilleries Garden. The sun is just setting as we approach and there is a playful Carnival happening in the garden. We continue walking through the garden to the Champs-Elysee. Some benefits of arriving in August, is that though a lot of locals are on vacations and things are closed, it really isn’t very crowded. Head back to the airbnb for a quick refresh and then have an amazing dinner with rosé at Restaurant Frenchie. Cannot recommend this place enough, just arrive early. Off to bed for an early morning train to the town of Lens.

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Wake up early to grab breakfast at cute café in the Bastille area called Café del Rey. Nice shopping district with design stores. Then we head to the Gare Nord station again for our departing train to Lens. Don’t forget to stamp your tickets upon arrival at the train station. They usually do check! The Louvre Lens is an extension of the world-famous museum and free shuttles pick you up right from the train station. Designed by architects SANAA, this museum aims to “disperse culture” throughout France, rather than just having a concentration in Paris. Lovely gallery and the on-site restaurant L’Atelier Marc Meurin is a real star. Amazing French food, and due to the smaller portions (which I prefer) it doesn’t seem as heavy as some previous meals. We spend most of the day there and head back into town to go see the light show at the Eiffel Tower. We get off at the Luxemborg Garden station and walk through the gardens (one of my favorites) and make our way along the River Seine to the Eiffel Tower. The light show starts around 10pm and we make it just in time. Amazing nutella crepe for dinner and off to bed for an early train to Lyon.

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Arrive at Gare d’Lyon for our two hour trip to Lyon. As the second largest city in France, the city center and historical district is extremely quaint and walkable. After checking into our airbnb, we head South across La Saone to the Medieval center. There’s a wonderful hike through various gardens to the Notre Dame de Fourviere Basilica and has miraculous views of the entire city. Geographically blessed with two rivers and bordered by hilly, picturesque terrain, you really can see the development over time from Miedival West to the Contemporary East. So many cafes line the streets and we stop for a reward glass of wine after a long hike. Head back to the airbnb for a refresh before drinks and dinner. We are staying in the Cordeliers area which makes everything walkable or a few metro stops away. Found a great bar, L’Antiquarire, with some serious cockatils. So good, I order two! Dinner only a few blocks away at Potager Les Halles for some intense Lyonnaise food with a modern twist.

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Our airbnb hosts are so kind to provide us with classic French breakfast: coffee, basket of pastries, baguette, orange juice and yogurt. Most things are closed on Sundays, especially in August, but it’s nice to get up early and wander around when the streets are empty. Makes for some great photos! We go to August Comte quarter which supports local fashion and product designers. Unfortunately it’s closed this time of year, but we stumble upon some amazing Renaissance and Gothic churches mixed between the urban fabric. We head to the Renzo Piano designed Contemporary Art Museum by walking through the park Tete d’Or Gardens. Flowers and in bloom, people jogging and walking their dogs….life in Lyon seems to be sweet. The museum has a comprehensive exhibit on Brazilian artists and it was nice to see the cultural exchange. Next stop is lunch before my first European futbol game. Allez Lyonnais! Most things are closed, but we stop at Crepe Pit. I can’t resist a good crepe! Walk through the other train station in Lyon-Perrache, and catch the tram to the Eastern end of Confluence to see the rehabilitation of this discarded, industrial part of the city into a modern, cultural hub. From there it is easy to jump back on the tram a few more stops to the Stade de Gerland. Great biergarden called Ninkasi right in front of the stadium and we head in. Really fun game and great seats. Head back to the airbnb to freshen up before dinner and opt for some lighter Japanses fare at Matsuri.

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Another lovely breakfast provided by our airbnb hosts and an afternoon train to Montpellier. It’s only two hours away, but already you start to feel the French countryside unfold before you. Upon arrival, we take the tram to the walled City Center to check-in to our airbnb. We are only here one night, so we want to make the most of our stay. The walled city is so walkable that you really won’t even need a map. There are a lot of tourists here in August and the town really makes an effort to provide many services. The tram system here is amazing and they have apps and roaming tourist officers that you can ask for directions at anytime. We find a great café near the Fabre Museum and order some rose and fresh burrata, tomato and basil salads. We walk a majority of the city, stopping in cute design shops, grabbing gelato. We pick up a bottle of wine and head back to refresh before dinner. We find a cute tapas place called Le Tapas that has a beautiful outdoor seating arrangement. Dinner in France can easily turn into 4 hours and is extremely enjoyable. Something must be in the water here!

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Time to catch up on some design projects and check-in on ongoing projects. Found a great coffee place nearby with great wifi called Columbia Coffee. Working while travelling is a major advantage so I can travel so frequently. Without that flexibility of owning my own business where a majority of the work can be communicate worldwide through a computer, I wouldn’t be so fortunate to be in the position I am in today. We head outside of the city center and catch the tram, then a bus to the Chateau de Flaugergues. Manicured French gardens perfectly frame the chateau that has been in the family for several generations. Very interesting gardens with plants and trees from around the world. They also have a vineyard with wine tastings. We pick up a bottle of rose and head back to town. As few blocks from our stop at the tram station we stop at La Grange aux Crepes and we cannot resist. We only had enough time for one night, but I think that really is enough if you are pressed for time in your France adventure. Night train to Aix-en-Provence is only 1.5 hours and we arrive around 10pm. Highly recommend the bus to the city center that is only 8 euros per person and from there we catch a taxi to our new airbnb. We are exhausted after two consecutive days on the train, so we opt to get a good night’s rest.

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Enjoying our first day to sleep in after long day of travelling yesterday. Nice to catch up on some sleep. Lunch at Le Contrepoint is an excellent choice. So many cute boutiques in Aix, two that stood out to me were ‘IGLOO and Cote Bastide, both interior design shops. Sun in shining, so we take the #2 bus from Rotonde a few stops to The Vasarely Foundation. Really interesting art and building. Highly recommend! Near the Rotonde, you can pre-buy museum tours and tickets at a lower price with the tourist office, not to mention not having to wait in the long line at the Granet Museum. We opt for the 9 euro pass to tour the Cezanne studio and entrance to the Granet Museum. The Granet Museum houses a great collection of works by Paul Cezanne and other notable Impressionist artists . Really beautiful grounds, and highly recommend buying your tickets before at the tourist office so you don’t have to wait in line. Winding down before dinner, it’s nice to stop in the well-stocked wine shops for some rose, fromagarie for fresh cheese and baked goods, and vegetable market for fragrant heirloom tomatoes. Snack is served! Great vegetarian dinner at the nearby Le Petit Bistro.

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Up early to rent a car. Highly recommend the Hertz in the Aix city center since it’s extremely convenient to walk there. We only have the car for the day, so we hurry off to make the most of it. The drive is beautiful, but can be very narrow in some areas, so be careful! Our first stop is the town of Lourmarin. It is famous for the Chateau that Albert Camus, the author, resided in. Next stop is the hilltop town of Gordes. It is extremely popular with tourists, so I recommend going during the weekday. We stop for lunch at Le Loup Blanc for a cappuccino and pizza. The apricot and almond cake is also amazing. We wander through the village. Everything is perfect picture and weather is unbelievable. You could wander this quaint town for years and never get bored. Next, we head to the famed Abbaye de Senaque. Built in the 12th century, monks still reside to this day in the abbey. Normally there is a bounty of lavender in front of the abbey which makes the view even more picturesque, but in August they harvest. For peak viewing times, go in July. No time to go to Sault before our 5pm tour of Cezanne’s atelier back in Aix, so our last stop is the Village des Bories before we head back. Really amazing to see these ancient sructures and they recommend going at either sunset or sunrise for the full effect. We make it back to town just in time for the Cezanne Atelier tour (tickets purchased the previous day at the Tourist office). It’s a brief 30 minute tour, but very interesting to hear about the inspirations and methods behind one of the most famous Impressionists painters in history. We go back to return the car and head to our favorite cheese, wine, bread and market shops to make a simple dinner.

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Wake up early to catch the bus to the Aix-en-Provence TGV station. It is only 8 euros per person and well worth it since the station is an almost 25 minute drive. Grab a quick cappuccino and crossaint and board the train. It is around 2 hours to the Nice Ville station and the views, particularly during the last 30 minutes through Cannes and Antibes are beautiful. Make sure to reserve window seats. Upon arrival, we take the bus to the Cote d’Azur airport (only 6 euros) to pickup our rental car for the next several days. Though the public transportation is very good in France, to reach those out of the way spots, a car is a must. We drive to meet our hosts of the house we are renting in the small town of Saint Jeannet. The view from the house is amazing. We settle in and head to the nearby town of Vence to grab dinner at Non Stop Restaurant. Despite the corny name, the food is excellent. Most things are closed today because there is a local festival to celebrate the liberation of Provence, so we head back home to unpack and enjoy the view with a glass of wine.

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Wake up early to head to the famous beach of La Croisette in Cannes. A beautiful 30 minute drive from quite, mountainous Vence, Cannes is already buzzing with action and luxury cars. After a nice walk and some people watching, we grab lunch at the Sushi place. We then drive 20 minutes across the coastline to the quieter town of Antibes. The water is breathtaking. There is free parking at the edge of town and we walk to the Picasso Museum. Picasso lived and worked here in the actual building for a few summers, so it’s a great experience. The castle itself is the former Château Grimaldi, so even if you don’t enjoy art, the view and building itself is amazing. We continue walking along the beachfront and stop for some gelato before our big hike up to the basilica on the route Chemin de la Garoupe. It is a very easy hike and the view allows you to see Antibes in it’s entirety. Really a perfect day and we decide to come back one morning to go to the beach. You have to get there early for a prime spot! Antibes is a real treat! We stop to get groceries at the nearby SuperMarche Casino so we can make breakfast and dinner at the house. Great backpacker money-saving tip.

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Wake up to a homemade cappuccino and we decide to grab some crepes in town in  Vence. The first day we were here we had a dessert crepe at La Maison de la Crepe and we want to try their savory crepes. It’s a nice few hours and family-run joint. A few minutes away is the beautiful, Medieval town of St. Paul de Vence. Really one of the most photogenic towns I have ever had the pleasure of visitng. They have a great juxtopisiotn of the old town with some of the most prized contemporary art foundations, musuems and galleries. One of my favorite towns I have ever visited. If you are anywhere near the French Riviera it is definitely worth the drive. Our first stop is the Maeght Foundation. I am completely blown away by the story of this family, their amazing collection and the architecture of Josep Lluís Sert. Up there with the other great family foundations. You can spend days here and I really hope to return one day. From the free museum parking, you can leave your car and wander through the old town. They have a plethora of home design and décor shops, art galleries and since the lavender harvest is completed in August, I buy a ton of gifts for friends and family. The town is unbelievably beautiful and we head home to catch the sunset from the pool and enjoy a homemade Sunday dinner.

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Today is museum day. I love going to museums on weekdays, so they aren’t as crowded, just make sure they are open! Most museums close earlier in the week. First stop is the Matisse Museum in the neighborhood of Cimiez, Nice. They have a wonderful collection of his odalisques and the museum does a great job of bringing together props used in the drawings to illustrate the full picture of the artist. Matisse is one of my favorites, if not my favorite Impressionist artist so this was a real treat. The building is a seventeenth-century villa with most donations coming from Matisse himself and admission is free! A few streets down is the breathtaking Chagall Museum. I have always been a big fan of his work, but never learned too much background on him in my Art History studies. They do an amazing job through the audio guides of really describing the composition and thought process of the artists of each piece. Stunning collection of his work and they have a great café on-site. Next, we head to St. Jean Cap Ferrat. A location notorious for it’s beauty and as a vacation home haven for aristocrats and the world elite. Upon arrival, you can see why it is such a desirable place to escape. Crystal clear water, beautiful bluffs, sunny skies…I wouldn’t mind living here either. We are on a mission to view the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, famous for it’s gardens and rose-colored exterior. Lunch at the tea room is a great deal. Make sure to ask for a window seat or outside seating if it’s breezy. Another tip to is to buy tickets online. For most museums now you can buy your tickets online and I highly recommend to avoid any hassle upon arrival. The gardens are stunning. A great place to bring a nice, big camera and take portraits. Beautiful way to end the day. We drive around Cap Ferrat. They also have beautiful beaches and nice hikes. Definitely will return next time for a whole day here.

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As a huge fan of Matisse, I couldn’t resist visitng the chapel he personally designed and provided all artistic direction for right in Vence. The chapel has strange visitng hours so be sure to double-check online if you are just visiting for the day. It also gets extremely crowded due to the restricted visiting hours so try to be the first one there. I head back into St Paul de Vence to buy some linens I had my eye on the first time we stopped by. They aren’t cheap, but the quality is impeccable. Also stop by the famous fragrance store, Fragonard to get some lavender soaps for friends. Hop back in the car and head to Nice. It’s a relatively large city for the Cote d’Azur and doesn’t always have the best reputation, but I found it lovely as long as you stick to the ritzier areas. Our first stop there is the concrete church, Eglise Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc. Unfortunately it is closed when we visit, but the exterior is amazingly bizzare. I would love to have seen the interior, but the exterior is a nice, out of the ordinary stop. You cannot go to Nice without getting some socca and rose. The famous place is Chez Pipo and it really is amazing. Think of it as a hot, homemade, earthy chickpea crepe. Perfect accompaniment to an afternoon glass of wine. We walk the promenade and do some shopping. They have every luxury store here you could imagine and a bit wider selection than nearby Cannes. We grab a nice oceanview spot at the Le Meridian deck for a sweet treat a shopping break. They have an amazing view from the terrace and you can see all the action from the beach below. The Nice beach is expansive and seemingly endless. The higher you can get up to view, the better! Head back home for some homemade pasta and rose, of course!

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Wake up early today for our overnight trip to Monaco. I love using Starwood points for one-night luxurious getaways and you can’t get more luxe than Monte Carlo. Our first stop is lunch at Mirazur in the town of Menton. Right on the border with Italy, you can easily cross just twenty minutes from the restaurant. It’s a beautiful town with a rich history and I wish we had more time to spend there. Another tip is to eat lunch, instead of dinner at Michelin-star restaurants. You get more bang for your buck and personally I don’t like eating heavy meals close to my bedtime. I cannot recommend Mirazur enough. It is a top restaurant in my book and I had THE BEST bread of my life there. Absolutely amazing. If you are in Menton and have a few hours to spare, Mirazur is the place for you to go. After lunch, we drive to Roquebrune Cap Martin, in search of a post-lunch hike and the artchitect, Le Corbusier’s famous summer cabin. No luck finding the cabin, the the hiking is beautiful. You can actually hike about an hour from here to Monaco. We opt for the car route. Arriving in Monaco, you feel transported to another time. It is definitely a flashy place, but images of Grace Kelly cannot help but flood your memory as you drive past the Palace and Casino. We check into the Le Meridian, right on the beach, thanks to my Starwood points. The hotel is in an ideal location to walk everywhere and that is a plus. Monte Carlo is one of the most expensive places on Earth, cabs included! We take a dip in the pool to enjoy the sunset and begin to prepare for a big night out. First stop is drinks at Buddha Bar. Really fun atmosphere, music and view. We are a bit hungry so we hop across the street to Le Tip Top for some pasta. Prices in Monte Carlo can be shocking, so just go with the flow. The place to go out is Jimmy’z, so we head there for a big night out. It’s right by the famous Casino, so it’s great to walk through there late a night to see all the people waiting with their cameras to snap the exotic cars and occasional celebrity. Great night out and we walk back to the hotel.

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I made sure to set my alarm early, only though we only got a few hours of sleep, to enjoy the Le Meridian private beach right in front of the hotel. Definitely a perk over vacation rentals, but glad I got this one entirely on points. We grab breakfast on the go and head to the Grimaldi Forum for the Pinault Collection. Great contemporary art collection and definitely thought-provoking. A nice stroll through the free Japanese Gardnes and along the beachwalk to the Metropole Hotel. One of the most beautiful hotels I have ever been in. All the old-world glamour that you would expect from Monte Carlo. The on-site Japanese restaurant, Yoshi, has a great set lunch menu and I am ready to begin my detox from the night before. Lovely meal and one of the best sea bass I have ever tasted. If you have the budget, definitely splurge to stay in this hotel. The staff and grounds are world-class. No shopping for me in Monte Carlo, so we head back to the car to drive to view the Royal Palace. Tours are frequent, just be sure to book ahead of time online. Buildings tell so much about the history of a place and you really shouldn’t miss a visit to the Palace during your stay. We drive back to Vence and I’m excited to get to bed early after a full night out and an early morning tomorrow.

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Our flight leaves in the afternoon back to Paris. I don’t want to go, but am excited that the weather in Paris actually looks sunny. We wake up early to stop by the Renoir Museum in the town Cagnes sur mer, right near the airport before our flight departs. The flight a little of an hour, but I’m excited to take a little nap before another big day in Paris. Uber in Paris is a godsend and so much cheaper than the taxis. They are extremely clean and the drivers are very polite. Would definitely recommend as an alternative to multiple train transfers or taxis. We found a great deal on JetSetter for the Eugene en Ville Hotel right on the edge of Montmartre. Gives us a great base to explore that area, which I am not very familiar with. The hotel is nice and a great deal when you compare with the exorbitant pricing of other Parisian hotels. We walk around the neighborhood and up to the Sacre-Coeur. It’s a beautiful walk through Montmartre. I have been to Paris several times and never had a chance to spend time in the neighborhood. Would definitely recommend spending time and considering staying in a hotel or vacation rental in the area. We meet up a friend for dinner at Derriere. It’s a fun venue that caters very locally. The food and wines kept flowing, which is perfect since they have a ping pong table in the middle of the downstairs dining area. Great for conversation and meeting people at the tables around you. Really pretty area to walk around afterwards also.

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Wake up early to board the hour train ride to Giverny. This is a very popular day trip since it is the home of Monet, so make sure to buy your train and Monet Garden tickets ahead of time online. From the train you can take a short bus ride or taxi. Also looked pretty to walk, but we were pressed for time. With a pre-printed ticket, you can enter at the side entrance and skip the very long line. The gardens are spectacular. In person, they really don’t seem like much, but once you start snapping away photos, you begin to appreciate the pictorial nature and carefully choreographed positioning of each plant in relation to the other elements. It really is a masterful place to visit for anyone with interest in Impressionist art. You also get to go inside the actual house where he lived with his family.  They have an impressive collection of Japanese art where you can trace Monet’s references and works the family collected over the years from other artists. Again, it’s a small property compared to the vast Parisian tourist sites, so try to go early and not on a weekend. We stop for lunch at a cute café down the street and head back on the train to Paris. After returning to the hotel, we walk around Montmartre for a bit, stop for another cappuccino and get ready for dinner. Chateaubriand is a very popular restaurant that you have to reserve two weeks before your seating. They change the menu daily and there is just one menu for all guests. To be honest, there were hits and misses, but you have to give them credit for the ambitious nature of their daily changing menu. Sneak a peek of the kitchen on your way to the restroom and you will see all the hustle and bustle behind the scenes. Next, we meet friends for drinks at Hotel Costes before going out. The Hotel is a scene, and a lot of celebrities stay there so it is not the most enjoyable place for me personally, but the staff is friendly and décor is typically Parisian. The bar is fun, just be sure to get there early, even in September! Some friends who live in Paris take us to Le Baron. They have a pop-up in South Beach during Art Basel, so I’m pretty familiar with their brand, but the club in Paris is so much fun! If you love dancing and having a good time until the late/early hours, this is the spot.

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Our last full day in Paris, so we wake up early to enjoy the beautiful weather. Double cappuccino, please! We start at the Place Vendome and walk all the way through the Louvre, Tuileries, along the Seine, to the Arc du Triomphe. Paris is one of the best walking cities and a rare, sunny morning makes it perfect. We meet one of our friends at Trocadero to get the best photographic views of the Eiffel Towel. We walk across the promenade to the Eiffel Tower and cross to the Musse d’Orsay side. I didn’t get a chance to go to that museum this time, but it’s one of my favorites in Paris and highly recommend it. We take a short Uber ride to Saint Germain area. They have cute outdoor cafes and plenty of art galleries. A more intimate neighborhood to walk around with many hidden gems. We stop for a quick lunch and glass of wine before heading to the Rock en Seine concert. On our way, we stop at the brand new Louis Vuitton Foundation, designed by Frank Gehry. Unfortunately, it isn’t opening until later this year, but I’m excited to visit the next time I’m in Paris. It’s in a beautiful, suburban setting within a park and a breathtaking work of architecture. We take another Uber to the festival. It’s in a town just 15 minutes from Paris called St. Cloud and it was exciting to see how Europeans do music festivals. They have great wine bars and bodegas on-site. We see Lana Del Rey and Cut Copy. Very fun and the crowd is a lot more laid back than at Coachella or other American music festivals I have been to. I’m exhausted and we head back to the hotel.

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Quick lunch at Cinq-Mars before we have to head to the airport.  The restaurant is beautifully designed as if the food. Would definitely recommend to anyone and I will be back. This rainy morning in Paris is a perfect end to our France roadtrip. I’m glad that we are riding back business class on British Airways so I can sleep the entire way. I had so much fun on the trip, got to see amazing things and experience French culture unlike I have before, but I am exhausted! All those planes, trains and automobiles have finally caught up to me and I enjoy the nice ride back home.

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French people cheek kiss to greet each others between family and friends, even between men. The number of kisses varies according to the region, from 1 (e.g. in the tip of Brittany) to 4 (e.g. Paris and most of the North), and occasionally up to 5 in Corsica.

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The municipality of Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat, between Nice and Monaco, is the world’s most expensive peninsula, and the world’s third most expensive place for real estate – after London and Monaco. Prices per square metre were found to be twice higher than in Tokyo and three times higher than in Paris.

fact-3
Although French language is a direct descent of Latin, French people have some of the most diversified genetic make-up Europe, with genes inherited from the Celts, the Basques, the Romans, the Franks and the Normands, which explains the wide physical diversity in French facial traits, as well as hair and eye colours.

fact-4
The Louvre is the world’s largest castle or palace (it is both). It covers an area of 210,000 m² (2,260,500 sq ft), of which the Louvre Museum occupies 60,600 m² (652,000 s ft). For comparison, the Palace of Versailles is 67,000 m², Buckingham Palace 77,000 m² and the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican 162,000 m².

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