Tag Archives: paris

The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

Paris on a Dime

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flickr creative commons (c) Vincent Anderlucci

Think the City of Lights is expensive? It doesn’t have to be.

Airfare to Europe has been relatively low this summer, and travelers can continue the trend of saving money once in the city. Saving can be valuable especially on a longer trip, say to three major cities like London, Amsterdam, and Paris.

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flickr creative commons (c) Moyan Brenn

So let’s take a quick look — here are some cost-saving methods to see La Belle Paris:

Walk around. Paris is a big city, but so much can be seen and enjoyed on foot. Don’t forget to head out from the metro and wander around — who knows, maybe an afternoon getting lost will turn into an afternoon munching down succulent delicacies at a secret patisserie. Plus, it’s always good exercise! (Just bring a pair of good walking shoes.)

Free Museums. The Paris Museum Pass is a wonderful way to see some of the best art collections and attractions in France. Let your Wittravel agent advise you whether or not you would benefit from a pass. However, did you also know some Paris museums are free? Maison Victor Hugo, where the writer lived while composing Les Miserables, the pretty gardens at Musee Carnavalet, and the remains of a Roman Theater at Arenes de Lutece are all open to the public at no charge.

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flickr creative commons (c) Moyan Brenn

Hop on a Boat. At Wittravel you can pre-book a boat tour, at a low per person price, and cruise the Seine river. These 1- or 2-hour trips are best enjoyed at dusk, when the lights bloom all over the city, and the Eiffel Tower begins to glow. Some boat trips even offer you champagne tasting or historical lectures on board.

Take a Day Trip. You can reach a lot of interesting sites on the outskirts of the city by just taking the local commuter RER. Visit Auvers-sur-Oise for Van Gogh, the charming town of Crécy-la-Chapelle, the royal chateau at Fontainebleau, or the medieval villages of Moret-sur-Loing and Provins.

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flickr creative commons (c) Cristian Bortes

Window Shop. True, it’s not technically shopping, but who doesn’t love it? Check out the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps to see luxury clothes, chocolates, jewelry, what have you, in all of their glory. And you don’t have to spend a dime — but you always can if you want to.

which brings me to…

Splurge! It’s Paris — don’t forget to spoil yourself a little. Take your special someone out to a fancy dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Buy that necklace as a token of your trip. Live a little — you’re on vacation after all!

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Filed under Art & Architecture, Europe, France

Jim in London and Paris

Our agents recently organized a great trip for our client Jim D to London and Paris. Read on for his hilarious inside look into what these iconic cities have to offer. 

Did you know we post client feedback on our Testimonials page? Click here to read more excellent comments!

I am happy to say that my trip went quite well, thanks in great part to the subtle details which had already been taken care of by your agency. The flight that started things off (my first!) was very pleasant, and less grueling than I had expected; hats off to Delta Airlines for the great service. It may have helped that the flight was only about half full, so everyone had plenty of elbow room, and the amenity-to-passenger ratio was in our favor.

I loved the Radisson Blu Vanderbilt Hotel, not only for the cordial service (and special free breakfast!) but also for the great location. After checking in I immediately trotted off to the Natural History Museum, followed by The Victoria Albert and the Science Museum (Must… Stay… Awake…). I found a good chip shop in the neighborhood and then went off in search of Harrod’s department store, which I had heard was a near-mythological monument to commerce. I wasn’t disappointed. Every room was like a different land! Food, Perfume, Clothes, and a toy department (LAND!) where I would like to live, please. I think the stuffed toy giraffe they had cost as much as a real giraffe. While exploring Harrod’s I came across my favorite amusement ride in London, The Egyptian Escalator.

The following day I rode the London Eye, spending the extra money on a fast-track ticket, saving me at least an hour of line-standing; totally worth it. The Tate Modern and the Winston Churchill War Room Museum were also on the docket, with lots of walking- Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral- followed by an excellent take-away cheeseburger in the hotel room, a change of clothes, and the discovery that 6pm on a Friday night is kind of a busy time to take the Tube to the West End. Into the breach, indeed. “Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown”, at the Playhouse Theatre on Northumberland Ave. in the West End, was excellent and I recommend it. A solid and entertaining production in a space that seats less than 800. Theatre heaven.

Saturday’s first mission was to go to the sandwich shop featured in the BBC America TV show “Sherlock” (On North Gower St. in Camden, posing as Baker St.), but it turned out they were shooting the show on that day so I was out of luck. Next I walked to The British Museum, where I spent the afternoon gaping at their astonishing collection of artifacts, in a building I would have loved even if it was empty. By this time I was having so much fun just walking and people watching that I walked all the way back to the hotel, through Piccadilly Square and past Harrods, where of course I had to go in and ride the Egyptian Escalator a few more times. London struck me as a thriving, bustling, culturally bountiful city, and I enjoyed it very much. The next morning I checked out of The Radisson Blu Vanderbilt and got myself over to St. Pancras Station, and onto The Chunnel, which was as comfortable and modern as I had hoped.

My biggest misstep happened upon my arrival in Paris. A cabdriver (who intercepted me- and spoke excellent English- before I even got to wherever the line of cabs outside actually was) convinced me that a cab ride to my hotel was going to cost a small fortune, that it was a long way, and that the rate was set, that any other cab would cost the same amount. If I were to do it again I would say “thanks anyway” and try a few more cabdrivers, and also look into the Metro situation. But I took the ride, and, to his credit, he did point out all of the important landmarks to me on the way to the hotel. And, this gave me my first chance to use the emergency-sentence-finisher I had prepared for just such an occasion: “Well, that didn’t go very well, but it’s okay, because I’M IN PARIS!”

After checking in at the hotel (The Aramis Saint Germain- cozy, well appointed, pleasant and helpful staff), I set out to walk down to the river, taking care to remember what my good friend John Smith had passed on to me from a Frenchman he had met: Parisians think that Americans smile too much, and they find it annoying. So I was trying my best to appear sullen and world-weary, but that didn’t last very long. Everything in Paris was so beautiful, and so French, that I kept laughing. I mean, somebody actually rode by on a bicycle with baguettes in the front basket. Come on!

Down by the Seine, I visited the Musee d’Orsay, yet another museum housed in an extraordinary  building. The view from the roof of the museum gave me good ideas about where to go next, and it wasn’t until I was on the right bank, and crossing back over again, that I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. I had been so preoccupied in the preceding hours that I had kind of forgotten to look for it, so it caught me by surprise and I may have actually yelled “Eiffel Tower!” out loud.

Monday was reserved for said Eiffel Tower (which closed for undisclosed security reasons right before I got to the front of the line), and also for a lovely walk along the river to Notre Dame Cathedral. Then I wandered across the bridge to explore a cluster of buildings and discovered that it was the Louvre, and that it was open on Mondays (closed on Tuesday). I went in to say hi to the Mona Lisa, and then down below ground to see the old Roman ramparts; beautiful and fascinating.

Tuesday morning I overslept due to new-smartphone-related complications, but eventually got myself all the way out to The Palace of Versailles, which I wanted to see with my own eyes just to get a sense of the kind of gross imbalance of wealth distribution that would cause an entire country to revolt. As I roamed around the palace (Hall Of Mirrors!) and its expansive grounds, I thought, “Yeah, this would do it”.

Then back to Notre Dame to go up in the towers this time, where the gargoyles were a highlight of the trip. Tuesday night I was able to convince personnel at three different stages of access to the Eiffel Tower that they needed to let me in with the previous day’s pass because I had been shut out the day before. I’m glad I went back- nighttime was better, I think.

Wednesday was mostly for Montmartre neighborhood, which I enjoyed very much. I took a bus out there but walked back to maximize my Parisian experience before an early bedtime and an ungodly early wake-up.

The transfer to the airport went smoothly. The flight to Amsterdam was a little bit late so things were a bit harried on arrival but they held up the flight to Portland for us and all was well once on board. I returned to Portland with 3 stamps (!) in my passport and a desire to get out and get some more stamps as soon as possible. Thank you for everything. I would love to be kept informed of the various tours the agency conducts, and I will be in touch when I figure out where I should go next.

~~~ JIM D.

Willamette Intl Travel works one on one with clients, delivering personalized and memorable travel experiences. Book your summer and fall trip to Europe today! Contact us to discuss the best options that fit you and your family’s travel style. Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com

Recently returned from a trip planned by the Wittravel team? Tell us all about it! We love to hear your comments, and maybe it will even end up on our testimonials page!

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Filed under England, Europe, France, UK, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

All Aboard the Chunnel!

photo credit Mike Knell, creative commons

photo credit Mike Knell, creative commons

On May 6, 1994, Eurostar’s channel tunnel, or “Chunnel” as it is colloquially known, officially opened from England to France. It is a modern marvel of engineering—it took eleven drilling machines and 13,000 people six years and 4.65 GBP billion to install it. At 31.34 miles long, it is the second longest undersea tunnel in the world. Its lowest depth is 250 feet underwater!

Since it’s opening in 1994, millions of people have enjoyed the convenience and comfort of this fast zip from London to Paris. If it’s not on your travel bucket list, it should be!

Tickets for the Chunnel are released about 6 months prior to travel date, and it can start as low as $65 if you grab yours early! They also have senior fares available. A regular one-way ticket may cost around $120-180. There are 3 classes on board: standard, comfort and business. Standard class is family-friendly, with access to a buffet car with snacks. Or if you’re traveling in comfort class, your journey will include a light snack and first class seats. Want to travel in style? Business class comes with a 3-course meal and your choice of fine spirit on board, plus access to the exclusive Eurostar lounges at St. Pancras or Gare du Nord stations.

Did You Know?

–         A contest was held to determine where to place the Chunnel.

–         Both the British and French started digging from each side at the same time, but they didn’t quite meet in the middle—the English side tunneled the greater distance.

–         French engineer Albert Mathieu was the first engineer to propose the tunnel in the 19th century, and his plans included an artificial island half-way across for changing horses.

–         Much of the chalk marl bored on the English side was deposited at Lower Shakespeare Cliff in Kent, now home to the Samphire Hoe Country Park.

–         One of the eleven boring machines remains buried under the Channel. Another was sold on eBay for £39,999 in 2004.

–         Up to 400 trains pass through the tunnel each day, carrying an average of 50,000 passengers, 6,000 cars, 180 coaches and 54,000 tonnes of freight.

–         The lining of the tunnel is designed to last for 120 years.

–         Shuttle trains are 775 metres long – the same as eight football pitches.

–         The Queen and President Mitterrand were the honored guests on the inaugural ride. The royal party travelled from Waterloo to Calais at a sedate 80mph. The presidential party sped to the coast from Paris at 186mph.

 

Willamette Intl Travel designs and books train itineraries all over the world. Our rail expects can explain the nuances of train travel and book Eurail tickets, rail passes and city passes. In a hurry? We can issue your tickets in-house with just a day’s notice! Make an appointment today, call 503-224-0180.

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Filed under England, Europe, France, Travel by Rail, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

PARIS: Family Fun at Art Ludique

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Fans of Animation take note! We’d like to share with you Art Ludique, the world’s very first museum dedicated to the art of entertainment. It’s housed in the avant-garde collection of Les Docks en Seine.

Families on vacation in Paris this month should bring the kids to check out the exhibit PIXAR: 25 Years of Animation, with original pieces from the artists who created Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Wall-E.

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Next up is a major exhibition: The Art of DC: The Dawn of Superheroes, which showcases the world of Batman, Superman at the Justice League. This is a must-see for anyone (parents and kids) who grew up with these cultural icons. This exhibit opens March 31 and runs through September 10, 2017.

So check it out! Take your kids to see Art Ludique, a fun and interactive stop on your French holiday!

Note: There are also 3 great dining options at Les Docks.

Art Ludique
34 Quai d’Austerlitz
Hours: Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Fridays 10-10; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
WEBSITE

family-fun-travel-paris

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Filed under Europe, France, News

Three Day Trips from Paris

We all love the City of Lights, but who doesn’t also love to take a day excursion to see the nearby towns and countryside?

Auvers-Sur-Oise. Less than an hour from Paris is the village of Auvers-Sur-Oise, notable as the location where Van Gogh spent the last two months of his life. Take a leisurely stroll through the luscious green village and visit landmarks such as the famous church Van Gogh painted, the cemetery where he is buried, the auberge where he spent his last days, and the house of Dr. Gachet, one of the painter’s last subjects.

Fontainebleau. This lovely historical town is renowned for the scenic Forest of Fontainebleau and the historical Chateau de Fontainebleu. It is a weekend getaway for many Parisians as well as a major tourist attraction (though less popular than Versailles). The town is very navigable on foot, as there is only one main artery, the Rue Grande, which connects the castle to the opposite edge of town and maintains a collection of lovely shops. With origins dating back to the 12th century, the chateau was the preferred residence of French kings and emperors for 7 centuries, who embellished the building and the gardens to their present grandeur. If you can, visit during the weekend, where its streets come alive with the Sunday morning food market. Make Fontainebleau one of your stops in the region, before exploring nearby Barbizon, Milly-la-Foret and Samois-sur-Seine. The castle is open every day except Tuesday, January 1st, May 1st and December 25th, from 9h30 to 17h in winter and from 9h30 to 18h in summer. As of April 2011, the entrance fee for adults is 10 euros; children below 18 enter free.

Giverny. A small village 80km mwest of Paris, Giverny is best known as the rural retreat of the Impressionist Claude Monet. The paintings of haystacks, cathedrals and waterlilies come from here. As Giverny tends to get a bit crowded, it’s always best to arrive early to avoid the throngs. Explore Monet’s House and garden and the Museum of Impressionism, best visited with a guide. You can also try one of the nature trails that wind above Giverny, with panoramic views of the village, Seine valley and neighboring town of Vernon. Just make sure you where sturdy shoes or hiking boots!

Call Willamette Intl Travel to book your trip to France today! We have all traveled extensively through the country and would love to arrange the perfect vacation for you and your family! Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com today.

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Filed under City Guides, Europe, France

July 14 ~ Happy Bastille Day!

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Are you lucky enough to be in Paris this weekend?

Bastille Day is right around the corner, on July 14th! It’s a serious affair, even in Paris, there’s plenty to do to celebrate the holiday. Many businesses are closed, so you’re best off just to enjoy the holiday!

Did you know? Most French call Bastille Day merely “Le Quatorze Juillet” or “La fête nationale française”!

Bal des Pompiers. Legendary parties thrown by firefighters will light up nightlife Saturday and Sunday. The party is one of the wildest in town, so if it’s your scene, prep for long lines and some gentle shoving. Dancing fireman and nonstop DJ are well worth the wait. From 9pm to 4am.

Military Parade. The ceremony starts just after 9AM and launches down the historic Champs-Elysees. The day’s festivities are complete with military vehicles, aircraft, and military personnel including the French Foreign Legion.

Free Ballet. Head to the Opera Garnier for tickets to the year’s free ballet, “Signes.” The show is choreographed by Carolyn Carlson, director of the Atelier de Paris, and features dancers from the Paris Opera. The show starts at 2:30PM.

Free Art. The price of the Louvre drops to €0. Worth heading there early or very late in the evening to avoid the crowds.

Picnic at Versailles. Festivities run at Versailles as well. A communal picnic around the Grand Canal awaits you. Regional specialties are on the menu, but you’re welcome to bring your own food. Music and festivities animate the Canal’s banks. The only condition is to wear white!

Fireworks. Head to the Eiffel Tower at 11pm for some breathtaking fireworks set to music. Remember, nearby metro stations are mostly closed, so prepare for a hike or grab a view from one of Paris’ famous bridges. Also earlier in the day at the Eiffel is a concert by the French National Orhcestra and the Radio France Choir.

Festival Paris Quartier d’été. Every year performers take to the streets for a variety of dancers, shows, theatres and circuses in the open air all over Paris.

Enjoy the festivities! Missed Bastille Day in Paris this year but want to make it for next year? Call Wittravel, your local travel agents, for professional and knowledgeable travel counseling. We can arrange private French guides who will make your trip à Paris unique and memorable!

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Filed under Europe, France