Jocelyn and Farrah come visit!

After giving me a year to get settled and try to figure out how the heck to live and function here in Clermont-Ferrand, it was time to show our city to friends!

Jocelyn and Farrah came to visit in September and though we had plans to visit Paris, too, they came to Clermont-Ferrand first for a few days.

Maybe their first and only time in central France.

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After sleeping off the jet lag, they were ready to go that next day and it was time to show them around!

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They captured incredible shots of the some of the most unique things about our city!

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Walking through the streets of Clermont with these fun girls was like seeing France through “baby eyes” again. The colors, sights, sounds, and smells were so new to them and their excitement was so fun to see.

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I’m pretty sure Jocelyn was a little freaked out by the butcher shop and seeing so much meat all in one place…

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Pick up at school at end of the day. No better place to show them what every day life for school-aged kids is like in France!

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Jocelyn was meeting Owen’s best buddy Robin and, as all French children greet adults, it was her first time getting a “bisou”! 🙂

French kids to and from school are the cutest….

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Walking home…

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Of course, we had to stop by the patisserie to pick up some French pastries. We like to go to LB Patisserie.

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The girls came over later with loads of gifts and goodies for the boys from the US. They were THRILLED!

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These were the perfect dessert after dinner!

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The next day, we explored more. September is THE best time of year to be here. The weather is beyond beautiful.

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Our cathedral that sits up on the top of a hill (which is actually the lip of a ancient volcanic crater)!

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Lunch at 1513, one of the oldest restaurants in Clermont. A can’t miss for the best crêpes.

Dinner at Pavillon LaMartine. We had the whole place to ourselves!

 

Dinner was delish, but French food isn’t always for the faint of heart, or those who don’t eat meat and seafood (Jocelyn), especially when the only offerings that evening are “poisson” (fish). At fancy restaurants, there are often only a very few and very gourmet options.

BUT. our dessert….

The next morning I just HAD to take them by Pralus- this bakery makes one of our most favorite pastries ever- a brioche bread with “praline”. In France, praline refers to these pink chunks of Pomegranate-candied pistachios.

It was actually a beautiful accident; this scrumptious bread. Legend has it that a famous pastry chef was making brioche and accidentally spilled a nearby bowl of praline bits into the dough. Heaven was created! This is a specialty in Lyon, most bakeries carry different variations of it.

Saturday morning, we walked into Chamalières, a little town a 15 min walk from our apartment that has an open air market a few days a week. They also have some shops that sell everything from chocolate, macarons, bread/pastries, meat, fruits/veggies, cheese, seafood, wine, asian food, etc.

A stop at Maison Vacher, one of the best!

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For Saturday afternoon, we threw around the idea of a hike or shopping, but the girls wanted a real taste of the French countryside. Where better to take them than to Saint-Nectaire? A tiny village nestled among the beautiful rolling hills 40 minutes outside of Clermont and home to the most famous cheese from this region of France, Saint-Nectaire.

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But first, the need to stop and get gas set us off our course and we ended up stuck in a tiny town with roundabouts and a map telling us the gas station could be found exactly in the middle of a field.

Luckily the girls talked me off the ledge and navigated our way to gas and off to St. Nectaire. The drive to there is one of the most beautiful in the region! Rolling hills of farmland with the volcano chain off in the distance.

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church in the center of village at St.Nectaire

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After a quick stop for lunch at a brasserie in the heart of St. Nectaire, we continued on.

Next, we visited Fontaines Pétrifiantes, a 7th generation family-owned Petrifying fountain in Saint Nectaire where the calcium carbonate containing thermo-mineral springs that run underground in caves were discovered to serve as an art form by filling rubber molds with various images.

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Thee result is a unique piece of art that has been created by the Papon family since the early 1800s.

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Then we visited the strangest cheese shop. It was called a cave, which is a word the French use for cellar. When we got there, we expected to find tours of the cave, lots of different cheese to sample and (maybe) buy, but when we walked in and there was a woman behind a counter with just a few cheeses who didn’t speak to us.  We figured we should wind around to the back of the store, maybe there was more in back? it was so wierd- there were some wheels of cheese sitting there in a back room on display but that was it, no tours. We did ask to sample the cheese and it might have been our imagination but the woman oddly seemed slightly irritated…

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As a physician, Jocelyn is inquisitive by nature and she needed to know more, see more and so we set off to find some cows, to get a real taste for how this cheese is made.

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They got a “real taste” alright. We visited one of the farms where you could walk in and get up and personal with how they get from cow to cheese.

 

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We were allowed to just wander into this warehouse kind of area full of cows and it was more than we were prepared for. Ugh it was so dirty! And the smell!

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The brown cows that make this cheese.. they are sacred to this region.

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Beautiful views.

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One last stop at Monoprix for these girls! We live above this awesome grocery store that is sort of like a mini-Target- clothes, bags, shoes, makeup, kids clothes, an awesome “pharmacy” with skin care products… It’s dangerous!

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After all that cow-business, no one was much in the mood for meat. Tomato-basil tarts and roasted potatoes for dinner!

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Off to Paris the next day on the Hop!

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It was a beautiful day when we left Clermont. But when we arrived, the sky opened up and it was a rainy Sunday in Paris.

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We checked into West End Hotel, our room was beautiful and plenty of space for the 3 of us!

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Sunday is a really quiet day in Paris. Most stores and restaurants are closed, but Sunday brunch is also a popular thing to do, so it didn’t take us long to find the cutest coziest place for brunch, Renoma Café Gallery.

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It felt like we were in an old library, big old comfy couches and funky chairs, wooden tables, and a beautiful spread full of meats, cheeses, fruit, veggies, salads, pastries, jams, butter, and desserts, champagne, coffee, tea, etc beyond what you could imagine!

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After lunch, we walked to Le Marais district. There lots of vintage clothing shops that are fun to wander through.

This one, The Hippy Market had loads and loads of treasures to hunt through!

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After eating and shopping, it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner! We loved walking through Le Marais neighborhood so much. From both a visual and culinary standpoint, there is so much to see and eat here….so much going on all the time. And such a cool mix of ancient, modern, street-culture all together in the same neighborhood.

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We happened to walk right through a LGBTQ festival and people were outside dancing, Joc and Farrah joined right in..

Coming to Paris means having crêpes from a street stand late afternoon. The perfect “goûter” (afternoon snack). And who can pass these up?

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And of course we had to go into this huge Monoprix we walked by. They had aisles and aisles of cute things. So much more than the tiny one in my apartment building in Clermont!

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Back to the hotel to get ready for dinner…The girls looked so elegant in their evening wear! Our hotel was the perfect backdrop for a photoshoot!

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We were so excited to get a reservation at Marco Polo, an Italian restaurant that Farrah had read about.

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With a 8:30 reservation, this is when restaurants are just starting to fill up. When we arrived, the restaurant was full of people!

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Our waitress was a bit much. We literally sat down and were given menus at which point she was wanting us to order without even having even had time to look!

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But we were ready to settle in for awhile! We were determined to take our time (isn’t that what French meals are all about)?

Cheers!

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And our dessert….

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No Italian meal is complete without limoncello!

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A table of Norwegian men were smitten with Jocelyn and made sure to swing by our table and tell us on their way out! So funny!

The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel, it was time for our bike tour!!

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On our way there, we passed this memorial to Princess Diana.

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We had so much fun on our Fat Tire bike tour. It was SUCH a fun morning and we learned so much about this incredible city!

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Riding through some beautiful old neighborhoods near the Eiffel tower… Apartment buildings like this, known as Haussman-style, are iconic and typical of Paris. These beige-colored buildings became part of Parisian architecture in the 19th century in an effort to modernize the city. Haussman was selected by Napoleon III to manage many public works projects including new water & sewer systems, train stations and development of wide boulevards.

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It was a little crazy with a group of 25 people crossing wide boulevards and intersections like this all as one big group. When it was safe, our guide would have us just charge out into the intersection en masse.

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these gardens…

…and these long stretches of path are perfect for very-occasional bike rider such as the 3 of us!

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We learned all about how much money Parisians have paid (and are still paying, in taxes) for this golden dome at the top of Hotel des Invalides, where Napoleon is buried…underneath this dome!

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So many photo ops! We couldn’t resist!

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We stopped in the Tuileries Gardens for lunch at a café..

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It is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever visited.

These pics Joc took don’t even look real!

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The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful!!!

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Our new friend, the airplane pilot who hung out with us on the tour 🙂

After lunch, the Louvre!

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Heading back towards the Eiffel Tower for more photos!

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But first, crossing these beautiful bridges offer such incredible views up and down the Seine River.

The original lock bridge has since had all the locks removed because it got too heavy, but that hasn’t stopped people from placing locks on other bridges….

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We finally made it back to the Champs de Mars, the giant beautiful green space that sits at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

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After dropping our bikes back at the Fat Tire Shop, it was time to head to Merci.

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Farrah had suggested we head to Merci. At 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais in Le Marais district, this is an awesome concept store situated in an old wallpaper factory where designers (clothing, jewelry, accessories and home goods) offer samples of their creations available to buy and all proceeds go to a foundation that helps educated underprivileged women and children.

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There is also 2 different cafés, one of which we visited for our afternoon-ly goûter (chocolate cake, coffee and wine) before shopping.

We had so much fun exploring all 3 floors and I really think we were in there for over 2 hours!

After Merci, we walked into a few more shops around the neighborhood and then the girls surprised me with a stop at where else but Le Bouledogue! (French for French bulldog!) Knowing even then how obsessed I was with French bulldogs, they had discovered this in their reading about Paris and took me to this cute little bar for a cocktail.

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It is literally deco-ed out in French bulldog decor!img_4143

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Next, it was time to head up to Sacre Cœur, the beautiful basilica that sits up on a hill in the Montmartre neighborhood.

We got up there just as the sun was setting and it was beautiful…img_4147-1

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There was music and tons of people sitting on the steps enjoying the view.

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The view looking back over the city was unforgettable-

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A prayer for my sweet Mother-in-law who had been sick during this time…

Dinner was at a little corner café where we had French Onion Soup, pizza and goat cheese tartines. Farrah picked out a bottle of her favorite French wine, Sancerre.

There was no way we could be this close to Moulin Rouge and not at least walk by!

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We happened to meet a few people from Atlanta and they were nice enough to take our pic. But weird when we went back later to look at our pics and found this selfie.

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As is tradition when visiting Paris, we couldn’t leave without each leaving a little memento for each of our loved ones. The next morning we woke up early and went across town to this pedestrian bridge, Passarelle Léopold Sedar Senghor, where many others have left locks with messages, names, dates, etc. as a tribute to something or someone special.

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If ever we return with our people, it would be so fun to hunt for the locks we left with each of their names!

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Now it was time to get to our Food Tour! A “Sweet & Savory Tastes of Paris” theme, I felt like this might be the best way for the girls to sample everything French in a single morning. And in SUCH a charming and another of my favorite areas- Saint Germain de Prés.

We met right around the corner from this famous café, Les Deux Magots that sits on the corner of Boulevard Saint Germain.

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A café once frequented by intellectuals and writers such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso

After meeting our tour guide, we started at Debauve and Gallais, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris, opening at this same spot back in 1818.

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It was a little early in the morning for chocolate, but then again, is it EVER too early for chocolate?

Next, we went 180 degrees in the other direction and visited swanky butcher. It was the nicest butcher shop I’ve ever been in, and our tour guide took us here because, as both the cattle farmer and the butcher under one roof, it is a unique concept allowing them to eliminate the middle man and provide the finest quality meats. img_9035

Farmers and Butchers obviously work very closely together but aren’t usually the same entity.

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Some of the filets in these refrigerated cases were over 180 Euros!

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So when the woman in the shop walked out with a tray of samples for us to taste (Steak Tartare), whereas normally the 3 of us would have run in the other direction, Farrah and I decided that if we were going to ever try Steak Tartare, this might be the best place to do it.

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For those who aren’t familiar with steak tartare (and I wasn’t before moving to France), it is a very typical and popular dish made with raw chopped/ground beef (usually and hopefully very good quality) along with a variation of other ingredients which differ based on the restaurant or region. This particular recipe we tasted was a mix of onions, garlic, spices, vinegar, capers, etc and was actually quite good! I think we were both shocked!

The next several shops we visited were heavily on the sweet side. First caramels at Henri Le Roux….

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Next, jams/jelly at La Chambre Aux Confitures- a really great little shop where you can sample tons of different jelly/jams and both sweet and savory spreads like onion jams, wine jelly, and green olive/almond that are great for aperos, to accompany cheese, or spread on a warm French baguette!

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We didn’t have a lot of time during our tour to pick out what we wanted to buy, so we came back later… they have both small and bigger jars available, so they made the perfect souvenir to pack into our suitcases!

Next was macarons at Yannick Lefort’s Macarons Gourmands…

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These are known as some of the best in macarons in Paris. They were quite different in that some were savory, not just sweet.. foie grasss, basil/tomato, carrot, pea, peppers, other vegetable flavors.. I loved them, but I don’t think everyone in our group were a fan…

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It definitely tricks your brain when you bite into something savory that is in the form of something typically sweet!

Next we headed to a seafood restaurant, Huguette, in another of my my favorites, the Montorgueil neighborhood.

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Known for cuisine from NW of France, Brittany and Normandy area, this coastal area is home to lots of delicious things from the sea!

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Our tour guide ordered tons of different things to try-Oysters, calamari, shrimp, and escargot. Of course, escargot. What else could be more French than that?  A food that has been on my list to try here in France but that I’ve never had the courage to do, today was the day.

These were sea snails, a different type than the traditional ones, but snails are snails. Once we were shown how to get the little creatures out, it was time to try.

Not bad! Nowhere near what I expected.

 

Farrah was brave enough to try the oysters!

 

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I’m pretty sure I remember that she didn’t love them…

The French are purists when it comes to oysters. They only eat them raw. In fact, they think we Americans are a bit strange to fry them, steam them, grill them.

They were actually really good! I really think Jocelyn might think we were crazy… we definitely couldn’t talk Joc into trying them.

img_4451img_4453We also got a little lesson on French wines and which types come from which regions.

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Back to sweets! We went to Popelini, a puff pastry bar that offers different fillings. They were like little round eclairs but with lots more flavors!

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Just when we couldn’t imagine eating any more sweets, we stopped at a bakery selling Tropezienne tarts..I’d never been to St. Tropez and I didn’t realize they had their own special type of pastry. They were like cream puffs with sugary pearls on top and cream in the middle.

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We even attempted a stop at another bakery, but (luckily for us!) it was closed so we weren’t able to eat anymore food haha.

We walked around a bit, circling back around to some of the shops we had visited on the tour, in order to spend some more time thinking through our purchases (and suitcase space!)

Love walking through these “halles” that you can find all over France… glass-ceiling covered walkways that connect different streets…

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We had a late afternoon stop at Le Bonaparte to grab a snack (poor Joc hadn’t eaten much since breakfast besides chocolate and pastries 🙂 ). It was such a beautiful sunny day and we sat at a window seat, which allowed us perfect people watching.

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Next, it was time to go to Notre Dame. It was such a beautiful blue sky, the bells were tolling and people were outside enjoying. We debated going inside and we decided against it because we still had other stops to make.

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In hindsight, I know I speak for the 3 of us when I say that if we’d known that just 7 months later, fire would ravage a good portion of this beautiful gothic cathedral causing it’s widely recognizable spire to collapse, changing the skyline of the Île de la Cité.

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Afterwards, we strolled along Quai Voltaire, a busy street that runs alongside the Seine River, where street vendors run along several blocks selling art, old books and other collectibles.

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Next, it was time to find a pharmacy where we could really dig in and see what kind of treasures we could find in the way of skincare and beauty products!

France is known for their amazing skincare products. Pharmacies here typically have a separate section known as a parapharmacy that is filled with all kinds of natural products.  Aside from the fact that many over the counter medications here in France are homeopathic based, it has always been very important to them to create products that are natural, and many of the most well known beauty brands used around the world were born here. The girls had done some research in advance and were ready to explore the pharmacy shelves.

Lucky for us, the pharmacy we entered happened to have a nice young guy named John who just so happened to be the resident expert on all skin care products and was able to walk us through some different ones in English!

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We spent over an hour reading labels, asking questions, following John around as he showed us his personal recommendations… it was like a private pharmacy tour.

Armed with all this info, we used the opportunity to stock up on Christmas gifts, etc. The staff was so nice, one woman ran upstairs and returned with arms full of free gift sets, samples, etc. to thank us!

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youthful, bright, beautiful, wrinkle-free, blemish-free skin here we come!

Dinner was at Dimanche in Paris (Sunday in Paris)… a little restaurant we had passed many times in other visits to Paris, tucked in this little passage way.

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We had walked by earlier in the day so we grabbed a reservation for that night.

I was hoping to take the girls to this great pizza place, Margherita, but when we got there, it was closed!

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Dinner was good but we didn’t spend too long at the restaurant.

Believe it or not, there was still something left on our list. We hopped in a cab and headed up the Champs-Élysées, past the Arc de Triomphe..

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But we wanted to see the lights sparkle, which they do every night on the hour. We parked ourselves in a dark park, right underneath the tower, along with many others sitting on blankets, waiting for the clock to strike 11 o’clock…

img_4648While we were waiting, we began noticing little images moving quickly in the dark, darting across the grass, in and out of bushes… RATS.

We could barely stand it, to stand there and wait and not freak out.  But then this happened..

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It was such a beautiful night that, even though it was almost midnight, we wanted to walk the 30-40 minutes home. There’s nothing like Paris at night, especially along the river!

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Back to our hotel and off to sleep. The girls had flights to catch the next morning!

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The next morning, as they climbed into their cab, I was sad to say goodbye but so happy for them to get home to their families.

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I took the hop! flight back to Clermont, reflecting back over our time together and all that we got to do and see in just 5 days! I felt so thankful to have such fun and energetic friends, who I was now sure would sleep all 9 hours home on the plane.

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