Au revoir, Paris: Our Photo Album

Bon soir, mes amis! This will be my last entry on our holiday trip to Paris and, instead of a lot of gabbing, it’s just going to be photos taken while we were there. Some you may have seen in earlier entries but there are some new ones here, too.

Enjoy!

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Friday evening: British Airways offers on-the-ground-buffet dining for some overnight flights

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AAC, CPA taking advantage of same

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Our Open Skies cabin

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Saturday morning: Checking into the fabulous Peninsula Paris

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Saturday afternoon: AAC, CPA arrives at the Arch de Triomphe: Bon jour, Paris!

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And then grabs lunch at Ladurée just down the Champs Elysses

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Classic Club Ladurée

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The hotel provides us with our own stockings

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Saturday evening: Negronis at Bar Kléber at the Peninsula

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Followed by Christmas Eve dinner at Bistrot de L’Oulette

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Sunday morning: Christmas continental breakfast at Le Lobby

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Sunday afternoon: checking out the competition – Four Seasons George V

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Sunday evening: Pre-opera dinner at L’Opera

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Followed by AAC, CPA at the Palais Garnier

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The grand foyer and Christmas tree at the Palais Garnier

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Iphigénie en Tauride curtain call

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Christmas Night: the Champs Elysses all gussied up

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Monday morning: Irina, of Paris Muse, shows us the Louvre

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And we get to see the Mona Lisa. Wait, what???

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Monday evening: AAC, CPA arrives at Le Grand Véfour

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Véfour

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Sensational duck liver ravioli – one of their “Classics”

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Post-dinner view from our Uber on the way back to the hotel

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Tuesday morning: AAC, CPA takes Le Metro to our next Paris Muse tour

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AAC, CPA outside of Notre Dame Cathedral

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And with our terrific Paris Muse guide, Jason

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Tuesday evening: Cocktails and dinner at Monsieur Bleu

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Cool light fixtures at Monsieur Bleu

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View from the best tables at Monsieur Bleu

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Wednesday afternoon: Lunch at Caviar Kaspia

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You always get pickles with your caviar – a Russian thing?

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2nd course of “The Rasputin Set” – caviar with a baked potato

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Famous sites on the way back to the hotel: the Madeline

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Place de la Concorde – late afternoon

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Wednesday evening: 42nd Street at Théâtre du Châtelet

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AAC, CPA at Théâtre du Châtelet

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42nd Street onstage at Théâtre du Châtelet

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Thursday morning: Paying a visit to Jeu de Paume

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Seeing the exhibit “Uprisings”

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Thursday afternoon: And now over to Bibliothèque nationale de France

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AAC, CPA pays homage to Richard Avedon and Audrey Hepburn

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Part of the Avedon exhibit at Bibliothèque nationale de France

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Thursday evening: Gala farewell dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc atop the Peninsula Paris

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc

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AAC, CPA takes a picture at L’Oiseau Blanc

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A replica of the actual L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird)

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Friday morning: AAC, CPA heads back to reality and New York City

That’s all, folks!!

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Thursday in Paris: Two Exhibits

So: AAC, CPA and I are still in the afterglow of our magical week in Paris. I’ve shared a lot of it with you already, but I wanted to tell you about two exhibits we saw last Thursday – our last day in Paris – which were as different as night and day, but equally valid and important.

You probably already know that, back in the day, the Jeu de Paume housed the impressionists before the Musée D’Orsay was restored over 30 years ago, at which point the art was moved there. Between 1947 and 1986, Jeu de Paume was arguably the most notable museum of impressionist painting in the world. While the D’Orsay restoration was under way, AAC, CPA and I made our first visit to Paris and visited the Jeu de Paume specifically to see the art that was then on display. It was breathtaking. But, once the Musée D’Orsay opened its doors, we never returned to the Jeu de Paume.

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Jeu de Paume at the edge of the Tuileries at the Place de la Concorde

Until last Thursday, that is, when we went to see an exhibition entitled Soulévements (Uprisings). Georges Didi-Huberman, curator of the exhibition, says:

“What makes us rise up? It is forces: mental, physical, and social forces. Through these forces we transform immobility into movement, burden into energy, submission into revolt, renunciation into expansive joy. Uprisings occur as gestures: arms rise up, hearts beat more strongly, bodies unfold, mouths are unbound. Uprisings are never without thoughts, which become sentences: we think, express ourselves, discuss, sing, scribble a message, create a poster, distribute a tract, or write a work of resistance.

” . . . . whenever a wall is erected, there will always be “people arisen” to “jump the wall”, that is, to cross over borders. If only by imagining.”

Presented in five sections: “With Elements (Unleashed)”, “With Gestures (Intense)”, “With Words (Exclaimed”), “With Conflicts (Flared Up”), and “With Desires (Indestructable)”, the exhibit spans over 200 years. It is challenging, provocative, sometimes difficult to view, but, also, inspiring and extremely timely.

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“With Elements”: The Whims, Francisco de Goya, 1799

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“With Gestures”: Anti-Catholic demonstrations in Londerry, Gilles Caron, 1969

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“With Words”: Dada raises everything, Philippe Soupault, 1921

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“With Conflicts”: The Charge, Félix Vallotton, 1893

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“With Desires”: Preparatory Drawing for “The Hope of the Dead Man I, II and III”, Joan Miró, 1973

Unfortunately, the exhibit is ending on January 15th but, if you’re in Paris and want to spend a couple of hours seeing an extraordinary array of images, Soulévements is for you.

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume: Soulèvements

After that extremely intense experience, it was time to hop back onto the Metro and head across town to the Bibliothèque nationale de France to see a fabulous exhibit entitled “Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look”. We’re speaking now of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), one of the most significant and influential photographers of the mid-to-late 20th century.

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Richard Avedon

A prolific artist, Avedon worked in many media but he is, perhaps, best remembered in the United States for his fashion photography, celebrity portraiture and, most especially, for the 1957 film, Funny Face, in which Fred Astaire plays a photographer named Dick Avery (get it?) who plays Pygmalion to Audrey Hepburn’s Galatea.

It’s a marvelous MGM musical (check the film’s credits to see all the creatives from that studio) but which, for contractual reasons, was actually produced by Paramount (which wouldn’t release Hepburn to MGM, so everyone schlepped over to Paramount). Mostly set in Paris, Avedon was the visual consultant and created some sensational images that are as astonishing now as they were 60 years ago. In fact, the first thing you see at the exhibit is a large circular room dedicated to Funny Face.

MOVIE TIP: Funny Face Montage, Photography by Richard Avedon

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AAC, CPA channels Audrey Hepburn in his homage to Avedon

Here are some of Avedon’s remarkable images from Funny Face:

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This image became the logo for the film.

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Suzy Parker in the opening of the film: “Think Pink!”

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Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, a/k/a Dovima

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Audrey Hepburn with an assist from The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Avedon exhibit runs through February 26th, and I encourage you to make the trek. You’ll have a great time.

CULTURE TIP: Bibliothèque national de France: Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look

All in all, a day well spent by AAC, CPA and me.

The Peninsula Paris – Unparalleled Luxury and Pampering

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Avenue Kléber entrance to the Peninsula Paris

When traveling, there are those who use their hotels and hotel rooms as a convenience where they can drop off their luggage, take a shower and sleep. There are others, like AAC, CPA and me, who like to hang around the hotel, to enjoy our accommodation and to be well taken care of and, perhaps, to be pampered – just a little bit.

Welcome to the Peninsula Paris – one of the most luxurious and beautiful hotels it’s been our pleasure to visit. Originally opened in 1908 as the Hotel Majestic and conveniently located on the Avenue Kléber within a 5-minute walk to the Arc de Triomphe, the building was sold by the French government in 2008 for a reported $460 million; it reopened as the Peninsula Paris on August 1, 2014. The extensive rebuilding cost €338 million. 

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The lobby entrance to the hotel – town cars at the wait

We first stayed at the Peninsula Paris in 2015 for a too-quick 36 hours, and were dazzled by the experience. It immediately became one of our top-5 favorite hotels of all time. When AAC, CPA’s hip thing forced us to juggle our travel schedule (see my earlier entry “Hips and Ships” for details), we decided to spend Christmas in Paris. 

Although I generally book all of my hotel reservations through the sensational Veronica at AmEx FHR, on this occasion the hotel was offering a deal that was too good to pass up and which, unfortunately, AmEx was unable to match: stay 2 nights and get the 3rd free. As we were staying a total of 6 nights, we ended up getting 2 nights for free. Additionally, when we booked the trip in August (sometimes it definitely pays to plan ahead), the rates at the hotel were as low as I’ve ever seen them, literally hundreds of Euros lower. Perhaps it was a flash sale, and we got lucky.

In the months leading up to our arrival, I must commend the superb concierge team, who assisted us in making dinner reservations and dealt with an assortment of requests. Because we were in Paris over Christmas week, we decided that we wanted to send our holiday cards from the hotel and, sure enough, our intrepid hotel concierges were happy to oblige. Always prompt, always cheerful, armed with lots of useful information, each of them was a joy.

A great feature of the Peninsula hotels and that they basically have 24-hour check-in; that is, you let them know what time you plan to arrive and, in most cases, your room will be waiting for you. As we flew overnight from New York to Paris, we were at the hotel before 10:00 AM and, yes, we were immediately escorted up to our room, a junior suite. 

The guest rooms in this hotel are gorgeous, and I thought you might enjoy seeing where we stayed.

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Our bedroom area

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iPads on both sides of the bed – they did everything. We had dueling remote controls!

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The living area (printer included at the desk)

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We got goodies.

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As we arrived on Christmas Eve, we were given these for Santa to fill.

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This is our dressing room – loads of room for all our stuff.

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Perhaps the pièce de résistance: our bathroom

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We each had our own sink.

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Generous walk-in-shower

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Excusez-moi, but here’s our Japanese toilet (with heated seat)

Perhaps now you understand why we didn’t mind spending time in our room after a day of sightseeing or museum-going. It was the perfect place to hang out and relax.

The rest of the hotel is equally gorgeous. Allow me to give you a quick tour of some of the public spaces:

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The lobby

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Side entrance to the hotel

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The grand staircase

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AAC, CPA under the Christmas tree

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Le Lobby, the main restaurant, where we had breakfast each morning.

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AAC, CPA’s Continental Breakfast – enough to share

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On Christmas morning, we were treated to a floorshow with breakfast!

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The intimate Bar Kléber – great for a pre-dinner cocktail

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Negronis, anyone?

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L’Oiseau Blanc, the hotel’s rooftop gourmet restaurant, view included

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc on our last night in Paris

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A replica of the real L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird), which gave the restaurant its name

Just a final word about the hotel staff: from the front desk, to the doormen, to the maids, to all of the restaurant personnel, everyone was pitch-perfect. It’s the mark of a truly great hotel where everyone makes you feel welcome and always greets you with a smile.

There are Peninsula hotels all over the world. We’ve been extremely fortunate to visit the ones in Beverly Hills, Chicago and Paris. They are each in their own ways superior properties, but the Paris hotel is the absolute top. If you have the means to splurge for a special occasion, by all means you must stay. At the very least, drop by and take a walk through the lobby and, perhaps, have a cocktail at the Bar Kléber or afternoon tea at Le Lobby. You won’t regret it.

LODGING TIP: The Peninsula Paris

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

CUISINE TIP: L’Oiseau Blanc

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

Paris Muse: The Best Way to See Paris

Happy New Year! AAC, CPA and I returned from the City of Light on Friday afternoon. Over the next few days, I’ll be telling you more about our Rainbow High week in one of our favorite places on the planet.

Today’s topic is seeing Paris. Although we’ve been there over a dozen times, there are a few things we haven’t yet done. For instance, some years ago we made a quick visit to Musée du Louvre, but only to see the “Big 3”. Even your faithful correspondent, TheCulturedTraveler, was at a loss at how to see the most famous museum on the planet.

Enter Paris Muse, which is in the business of providing private tours to the discerning traveler (cultured or not). I happened to stumble upon them when doing some research a couple of months ago. They offer all kinds of tour options from the great museums, to walking tours around Paris, themed tours, family-oriented tours for kids aged 6 and up. There’s even a “Cracking the DaVinci Code at the Louvre”, which is much more interesting than you might expect. Or how about “The French Revolution: A Murder Mystery Tour”, which is also very family friendly? 

When you decide to book a tour (or tours) on their website, it’s incredibly easy. You’ll have an option of being in a group of no more than 4 people but, for a total of an additional 20 Euros, it’s just you and your guide. Should you want to book a tour for your family or friends, I believe it’s up to a maximum of 6 people. It’s such a great deal. 

What makes Paris Muse so superior are two basic things: 

First, I had questions prior to booking a couple of tours online and sent an e-mail inquiry. I kid you not but, within 15 minutes, I had a reply from the intrepid Tricia, who runs the office and seemed to be available 24/7, and she answered all of my questions. She was amazing. We had wanted a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral on a particular day, but their website indicated that nothing was available. One more e-mail to Tricia and, voila!, the perfect time slot on the day we wanted materialized. Paris Muse absolutely runs a first-class organization.

Next and, perhaps, most importantly, the guides are incomparable. They are knowledgeable, accessible, friendly and totally passionate about their subject matter. They also make it very personal. It’s like having a good friend showing you something they love.

We elected to take two tours: Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre (a 2½ hour tour) on Monday and Notre Dame Cathedral (a 90 minute tour) on Tuesday. When you book a tour online, you receive an almost immediate confirmation, along with the name of your guide and an assigned rendezvous point (photographs attached). When you arrive at the assigned spot, your guide will be waiting with your name on a placard.

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AAC, CPA outside Musée du Louvre with the Tour Eiffel in the background

Our Musée du Louvre guide was Irina, originally from Russia, but living in Paris for the past decade. She has two Master’s degrees – in French literature and journalism. She was marvelous in squiring us around the massive Louvre and showing us things we’d never seen there before.

We started over 3,700 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Irina led us right up to the Code of Hammurabi, which features the first laws ever put down in writing. The text is written in cuneiform script and the Akkadian language. In fact, it predates biblical law by centuries. If we had seen nothing else at the Louvre that day, seeing this work of art, history and literature would have been more than enough. And we were just starting.

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The Code of Hammurabi

I could take up a lot of space telling you what we saw that day but, instead, I’ll concentrate on a few photos. You’ll get the idea.

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One of the entries into the Palace of Darius, built over 2,500 years ago.

Of course, the “Big 3”:

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The beautiful Aphrodite, a/k/a the Venus de Milo

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We couldn’t even get close to the Mona Lisa – there were literally hundreds of people crowding in to see La Gioconda. Fortunately, we discovered another, earlier version of the painting in an adjacent gallery, which we went to see. If you look closely, the model bears an uncanny resemblance to someone we all know and love.

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The alternate Mona Lisa

Finally, here’s a picture of Irina with AAC, CPA at the conclusion of our tour:

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Irina showed us a great time.

The next morning, we had our tour of Notre Dame Cathedral with Jason, a Harvard PhD candidate specializing in the history of architecture. He’s wrapping up his dissertation this year. Like Irina, he’s very personable, highly knowledgeable and has a great passion for architecture.

We spend most of our tour studying the exterior of Notre Dame, which took well over 100 years to complete and is one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses, which support the extremely high exterior walls. The structure was erected in stages and underwent a controversial restoration in the mid-19th century, led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Due to his expertise, Jason was able to explain the intricacies of the architectural history of the cathedral over the past 800-plus years.

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AAC, CPA anticipates our Tuesday morning tour.

Various shots of the cathedral:

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And, finally, here’s a shot of AAC, CPA and Jason at the conclusion of our tour:

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So, if you’re planning a trip to Paris and would like to experience a terrific private tour that is immersive and entertaining and educational, contact Paris Muse. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Culture Tip: Paris Muse