John took the week of Aug. 13 off, but where to go for our vacation? Most vacation spots in France were booked long ago, not to mention the crowds and high-season prices (this being the middle of the grandes vacances). In the end, we decided just to rent a car and see the region around Paris, known as the Ile de France, while spending every night at home. It turned out to be a great idea.
Many of these places were virtually deserted: the Parisians are out of town and the foreign tourists mostly stick to Paris (and Versailles). Plus, during August it's free to park on most Paris streets. The emphasis was on parks and gardens. In 7 days we saw: the Jardins de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne (twice), the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes, the chateau at Malmaison (where Napoleon and Josephine used to hang), the lovely town of Maisons-Lafitte (including its chateau), the Chevreuse valley (especially the chateau and park at Dampierre), the park and forest in St. Germain en Laye, and the park in Sceaux. We highly recommend every single one of these places. For the record, we also visited the shopping mall at La Defense and the IKEA in Plaisir (note: the cheapest meal you can get in the Paris area is the hot dog special at IKEA, 1 euro for a hot dog and soda). For pictures of these scenic locales, see the photo album to the left entitled "Ile de France."