It Is Time To Bring Trust Back To Vacation Rentals. It Is Time For Scertified.

 

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I have always loved the world of vacation rental apartments.  They represent a healthy holistic alternative to hotels, a chance to experience life as locals do, to enjoy neighborhoods you might not otherwise see and to relax as if you were at home while on vacation.

In 2006 I rented out our Yellow Flat, a simple and wonderful 1-bedroom apartment in Paris, for the first time.  We had a mortgage to pay and I had rented similar apartments in the past before I purchased one. Why not give it a try?

It worked.  We enjoyed many years of warm and happy relations with our guests.  By focusing on the quality of professional service and real personal interaction, we guaranteed that the experience they had when renting our apartment was a good one. As I look back I am grateful to those who rented our apartment and shared our vision.

But times changed in the vacation apartment rental market and not for the better. Over the past few years, I witnessed a slow death of professionalism and caring in apartment owners accompanied by a steep decline in the quality of apartments available to rent.  The reason?  Too many vacation rental apartments on the market, too many websites and too few controls.

Let me illustrate this by sharing a recent experience with you:

On a trip to Paris, our Yellow Flat was booked, so I rented an apartment through Airbnb. Now in the spirit of fairness I did not pick the most expensive flat in our part of Paris. Instead, I went for a reasonably priced flat of similar size located just a few blocks away. What could possibly go wrong?

When I arrived at the building entrance, the door code that I had been given did not work. It went downhill from there. It took me over an hour to get into the flat which was a disaster. In the coming days I exchanged 30+ text messages with the host of this apartment on a variety of subjects that started with botched arrival and continued with no internet service (which was not and could not be fixed), screaming babies, broken coffee makers, trash cans filled with garbage, a complete lack of linens, and on and on.

It is not that the host was a bad person. He was trying to help as best he could. But he was clueless as to how to be a good host. I ended up spending my vacation trying to fix problems that could not be solved.

The vacation rental market has become focused on price and quantity, and unfortunately, not on value and quality. This is the harsh truth that host companies hide behind as they advertise cute images of happy renters eagerly sharing breakfast together in a cozy kitchen.

These websites do not screen their hosts, nor do they disclose what is behind the apartment front door. There are quite simply no standards.  What you do have are subjective guest reviews and worse, there is no way of telling whether a review is real or fake.

More importantly, there is no one to talk to. No help line, no 800 number and not even a way to send a message or to communicate except with the owner him or herself, and if he or she is not there or is incompetent, you are basically screwed (if you’ll pardon my French).

Yes, you on your own.   A cog in a system that creates experiences like this one.  Look at these poor people. They are lost, it’s late, and they are tired after a long trip.

This should not happen.

It is time for a change. Time to bring trust back into the vacation rental world.  And trust does not just happen; it is achieved by hard work and attention to detail. It is built by people with passion, enthusiasm and great care. That is why I spent the last two years creating our new vacation rental business: Scertified. To ensure that your vacation apartment rental is safe, secure and satisfying.

Here is how we do it:

We inspect every apartment that we offer. If an apartment does not meet our standards we will not offer it. Period. Our inspections are rigorous. We use a combination of web-based technology, on-site and virtual inspections, along with the plain old-fashioned instinct of our experts’ decades of experience to Scertify each and every one. We assess everything that we can get our hands on!  We cull through local statistics, evaluate interior noise levels, examine the neighborhood, review accessibility and look at every other factor that we know matter to our guests.

We are transparent. We will always highlight the pros, cons and idiosyncrasies of each rental so that you can make an informed choice and be assured of a perfect Scertified stay.

We are on your side. We are here to help you 24/7 from booking, to questions before departure; from the moment you arrive, throughout your stay, and after departure. If there is a problem, we will fix it for you.

We choose only the best apartments in top vacation spots. We have selected Scertified apartments in top vacation destinations including New York, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona, Lisbon, Los Angeles and San Diego as well as many others for you to choose from. All of our apartments are professionally managed locally by our partner agencies in each destination.

Our goal is simple: To change your choice of travel accommodation from a gamble to a guarantee.   When you are ready to experience a better way to choose your next vacation rental, don’t just stay, stay Scertified.

Thanks for letting me bend your ear and if you would like to reach me, drop me a line at jules@scertified.com.

Jules

Jules Kragen,

Founder Scertified, Inc.

jules@scertified.com

1.860.222.0001

Scertified vacation rentals are now available at www.Scertified.com or by calling +1 860 222 0001 or +44 (0)20 8123 0009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter In Europe Is Not Necessarily That Cold.

Christmas in Europe is different.

For those of us that are sometimes overwhelmed by the Christmas holidays, Europe is a refuge.  The holidays are understated, there is less in your face materialism and perhaps it is closer to the way it was in the past before the world carried it away into the search for bigger, better and more. As this photo of a local restaurant at Ecole Militaire in the 7th in Paris shows, the decorations are different too.  Much more subtle, restrained, refined.

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You have to look to find the christmas trees.  Imagine those in the US.

Chestnuts are everywhere both in the markets and roasting in carts on the streets.

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And they are delicious.

The weather is cooling quickly and its starting to feel like the holidays.

This is also a very good time to travel.

Air fares are ridiculously cheap, I flew round trip from San Francisco to London for under $600 and then on to Paris for under $60 each way.  And here is the best thing of all, this is how aircraft are looking right now, at least mid-week.

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Its pretty comfy even on transatlantic flights.  Plenty of room in coach for your stuff and to sleep.  Both ways.

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When was the last time you saw a check in line like this?  It is pretty nice.

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Does this have you thinking of a last-minute trip to Paris?  Contact us now.

A neighborhood story.

Urban living is sometimes seen as cold and indifferent.  And that is because it often is.  The neighborhood that the Yellow Flat is located in is typically Parisian, baker, butcher and until recently an old man who spent his days in a stairwell next to the grocery store smiling, smoking and panhandling.  But this time when I returned to Paris the space where he sat was empty and instead I saw this:

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A small makeshift memorial and flowers where he had sat and held court every day.  As you can see from the poster he had died.  A mass was held in his memory at the local church.

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And these words in his memory.  Even in Paris, in this most busy urban area, the world stopped for a moment to pay respects to him.

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And the Euro? Wow.

I can’t remember the last time that the Euro was at 1.06 to the dollar making travel to Europe a great value.  Take a look at this meal for two that we enjoyed at the Bistro Balhara or Rue Duvivier about 10 minutes walk from the Yellow Flat:

Start with a fricassee of crispy snails (yes I did it) and wild mushrooms.

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Follow with perfectly prepared wild caught that morning scallops.

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Finish with a soufflé finished with Calvados and flambeed at the table.

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Including a bottle of delicious Gamay from the Loire, this lovely dinner cost us a grand total of 110 euro, 116 dollars.  Perfect neighborhood cure for a cold Paris night.  And next time I am going for the 6 course tasting menu at 52 euro each.

Yum.

The Bistro Balhara is located at 23 Rue Duvivier, Paris 75007.  www.bistrotbelhara.com

We hope to see you soon in Paris at our Yellow Flat.

In Paris, Long Leisurely Lunches Are Sublime. We Enjoy the Artistry of David Toutain.

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Cod with foraged greens and morels

Why do I believe that lunch is the best way to enjoy a gourmet, i.e. michelin starred, meal in Paris?   Consider this.

  • It is easier to get a reservation.
  • You are awake.
  • For those of us that don’t eat as much the courses tend to be smaller.
  • It is a steal.  That’s right, compared to dinner, a steal.

On each trip to France we try to eat at least one outstanding meal and this one featured a visit to David Toutain.  His one star Michelin restaurant, opened in 2014, is located at the border of the 7th and 6th districts.  The chef, who trained under Allain Passard and worked at great restaurants such as L’Arpege, brings the food of his youth, spent in the lush farms of Normandy to your table.  And for our palates this means something that we are now used to but can be lacking in Paris: an ingredient driven tasting menu. The ingredients, fresh and often foraged, are the stars of his show.  Throw in some minimalist sensibility, a fine sense of design and a coastal emphasis and you have a winner.

On arrival around 12:00 we were seated upstairs.  Florence immediately caught the slight, we were steered away from the every day local lunch crowd. Put the tourists out of sight.  I didn’t care, in fact to me it felt like a private dining experience for the two of us tucked away from the noise in the library.

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I am not going to give a detailed review of every plate that we enjoyed. I will let the pictures talk and note that the meal was incredibly balanced, thoughtfully plated, beautifully designed and innovative.  Service was professional if a bit stiff.

Afterwards think about this meal and what you would pay for it including a 1/2 bottle of Saumur red for me and two glasses of Sancerre for Flo.

The menu at lunch offers three tasting options, we chose the least expensive (55 euro) and the middle one (80 euro) and they took it from there.  What followed was a show of flavor, texture and color.

Amuse?  Beet carpaccio

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The most amazing brioche nest.

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The menu started.

Black sesame soup with seaweed roll and juniper.

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Cod without the morels for Flo (don’t worry we shared them).  Even the darn foam was delicious.

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Eel.

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And a savory egg custard in shell.

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Mains.

Lamb two ways.

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Haddock.  Two kinds of carrots.  Eggplant.

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Even the crackers impressed.

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Desserts.  Many.

Coconut mousse.

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Mixed fruits and ice cream over vanilla cream.

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Espressos were needed.

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But they were not done with us. Look carefully at the bowl, those are tea smoke infused macarons. You see them, the light grey circles.

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Two and a half hours later we walked into the 7th and back to the Yellow Flat via Rue Saint Dominque laughing.  The sun was shining and the Eiffel Tower gleamed.   Paris was perfect.

Oh yes, the cost for two including the morel supplement was $216.  That is with tax and tip.

Worth every centime.

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Reservations were relatively easy by email, staff was very responsive.

Address 29 rue Surcouf, 75007 Paris

Phone +33145501110

Email reservations@davidtoutain.com

Website: http://www.davidtoutain.com

Le Bon Marche’ Paris. A Stunning Food Hall In A Historic Department Store In A Great Neighborhood.

The area around Metro Sevres Babylone in the 6th arrondissement  does not always come up on the radar of a trip to Paris.  That is a pity.  It is home to good food, a great hotel which has been under renovation for who knows how long (over 2 years actually) and one of the finest if not the finest food hall in Paris located in the historic department store Le Bon Marche.  You can plan a walk, a visit to a wine bar after your walk or lunch at a number of good restaurants. Or just go shopping.

 

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On exiting the metro station you will see a non descript park, more of a square.  From there walk onto to the intersection of Rue de Sevres and  Boulevard Raspail.  Looking across the street, you will see the Hotel Lutetia.  This famous landmark has been under construction since 2014 and should reopen this year. Now looking the other way down Rue de Sevres, you will see a monument to the world of shopping, Le Bon Marche. Well you won’t exactly see all of it because it too is being renovated.

 

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Le Bon Marche is the world’s first modern department store. It was founded over 100 years ago in 1857 and it too is being completely remodeled to highlight its beautiful stately architecture.  The interior is simply stunning.

 

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But we weren’t there for the architecture.  As I have often written, eating in Paris is about a lot more than the restaurants.   European produce is exceptional in quality and look.  It is a cornucopia of this part of the world,  French salads and chicories, Spanish asparagus and squash, Belgian endive.  And rather than trying to list them, just all look at their beauty and the way they are presented.  We can all learn.  Lighting please American grocery stores?

 

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This food hall has everything you might need to cook a very very good meal including a full service butcher and fish monger.  Or do what we did.  We stayed at the Yellow Flat and enjoyed a simple dinner featuring artisan quality Italian pasta and pesto with shaved parmesan, steamed asparagus with Normandy butter and a salad composed of butter lettuce and chicories.    For Flo a cold Sancerre for me a dry Chinon.  Dessert two pastries from their bakery, a coffee eclair and a strawberry tart.  Why go out?

And all of this from a true temple of food.

If you need a little refreshment or lunch after shopping try these local establishments:

For lunch an old favorite, L’Epi Dupin, Address: 11 Rue Dupin, 75006 Paris, France. Phone:+33 1 42 22 64 56.  Very tourist friendly without sacrificing food quality.

For a glass of wine Le Sauvignon.  You can order light food there as well,  80, Rue des Saints-Pères – 75006.  Just past the Lutetia.  Phone 01.45.48.49.02. An honest simple establishment.

To reach Le Bon Marche from the Yellow Flat take the line 10 direction Gare D’Austerlitz.  Its just 4 stops.

Bon Appetit.

Jules and Flo.

10 Things We Love About Our Yellow Flat.

It’s rather amazing but it has been ten years since we finished renovating our Yellow Flat Paris and began sharing it with our guests.  Along they way we have gotten to know a wonderful community of people who enjoyed our pied a terre as much as we did.  So to celebrate the 10th anniversary Florence and I took a moment to think about what makes this place so special and why we enjoy it so much every time we visit Paris.

Number 1. Something new! Our comfortable queen sized bed. We sleep well after a day of enjoying a day in the city.  Good reading lights too.

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2.  Our living room couch.  We love the wonderful late afternoon light on the corner seat of the couch reading or just relaxing and taking it in.   It makes a great second bed for our extra guests.

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3.  The third thing that the we love about the Yellow Flat is our remodeled kitchen, efficient as hell and fully stocked. And our new espresso machine.

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4.  Our shower. It has so much hot water and great pressure. Perfect for relaxing after  a day of touring or walking.

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5.  The two-minute walk to the Champ De Mars park to look at the Eiffel Tower. We never get tired of looking at.  It is spectacular at any time of the day.

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Or night.

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6.  Walking to Poilane bakery for their amazing breads and morning pastries. Yes those are some amazing apple ‘chansons’ that make a perfect breakfast.

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7.   Two glasses of rose’ on the terrace enjoying the afternoon sun.  No comment needed.

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8.   The views of the Parisian skyline from our floor to ceiling sliding glass windows in the living room and bedroom.

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9.   Buying a salad at the Grenelle Marche bringing it home and enjoying it with a plate of artisan cheeses and a fresh baguette. And perhaps a lightly chilled Chinon or Bourgogne Aligote to go with it?

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10. The 10th reason to love the Yellow Flat is that we are celebrating our 10th anniversary. So please take 10% off of any booking of a week’s stay during July or August 2016. Just mention our 10th anniversary celebration when you book. And enjoy this shot from 2006 when we were finishing construction.

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As well as that wood paneling from the old kitchen.  It seems so dated in style.

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As a further thank you to everyone who has stayed with us over the years I am happy to send you an 8 by 10 print of any photo that has appeared in this blog  Just tell us your story on our Facebook page and mention the photo you have in mind.  Or ask me to pick one.  Like this one for example.  I think its pretty cool.

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All the best.

Jules and Florence

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www.yellowflat.com

Don’t be scared, it’s only French cheese.

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Going to Paris and not enjoying French cheese is a sin. There are hundreds and hundreds of kinds to choose from, a cornucopia of taste, texture and color. But finding the right one is often confusing as they vary by age, % of butter fat, region and the animal that produces the milk to start with.

Cheese lovers traveling to France can be divided into the aficionados, the scared and the curious.   This article is for the latter two groups. Hard core cheese lovers have plenty of books and blogs to enjoy (for example, look at: (chezlouloufrance.blogspot.com).

For the rest of us, French cheese is often a daunting subject.  Just look at this one ooze out of its skin.

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Now I have a confession to make.  I like mild cheese.  White cheese.  Mozzarella.  Jack. Queso Fresco. Always have and will.    And I am here to tell you there are plenty of French cheeses even the timid amongst you to enjoy.  Cheeses that are flavorful, delicious and very accessible.  And better yet, unpasteurized.  No soap box here, those cheeses taste better.  Period.

Still scared? Look at these little squares of fresh goat cheese covered in finely chopped chives.  How could anything so cute hurt you?

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Better yet, with the current exchange rate, cheese in France is a good deal.  Remember, you are buying in grams, so 200 grams (about 7 ounces so almost half a pound) is a good portion and what seems like an expensive price of say 25 Euros a kilo is only $12.80 a pound).

There is really only one place to buy cheese in Paris and that is the local cheese shop.  Take the time to find one close to where you are staying as every neighborhood has one.  Some have special owners that have passed the strict French regulations and been awarded the title of  ‘affineur’.  Affineurs are a part of the process of finding and creating great cheeses as they play a roll in the aging process as well.

In the 7th district there are two affineurs that we enjoy:

Marie Cantin (www.cantin.fr).  Marie and her husband Antoine’s shop has sold fine French cheeses since 1950.  They offer cheese classes as well.  The shop is located at 12 Rue Champ De Mars, metro Ecole Militaire.  Tel: 33 (0)1 45 50 43 94.

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On the other side of the Champ De Mars is Fromagerie Laurent DuBois.  (www.fromageslaurentdubois.fr)  There are three shops, the one we go to is located at 2 Rue De Lourmel, Metro Dupleix.

To get a sense of how an affineur views cheese, here is a quote from the Laurent DuBois website:

“The quality of a cheese depends on a complex series of steps. First, the search for good producers with whom we need to create a lasting partnership, and the selection of the cheeses. Then comes the aging in our cellars, keeping in the mind that the talent of the ripener lies in bringing the product to the point of excellent flavor. This precise moment also defines my taste for cheese, the particular time at which I think the cheese has the reached its peak of flavor. Then you need to know how to sell the cheese at the right moment, and thus advise clients who share our curiosity and our pleasure in the taste of good cheese.”

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Here are some basic vocabulary that you will need to know to select cheese.

Goat:  Chèvre.  Cow:  Vache

Sheep:  Brebis.  Made on a farm: Fermier

Made by a coop. Cooperative.

Artisanal is artisanal.  No surprise there.

Soft.  Doux. Aged: Gardes

Fresh: Frais

Which brings us to a list of five choices for you to try:

Goat cheese is chèvre.  Look for chèvre that is soft and fresh and when in doubt in a restaurant it is always good on a salad. Unless you know what you are getting into stay away from the ones called crotin, they are aged and strong.

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Tomme de Savoie.  Mild semi soft cheese from the French Alps.

Ossau-Itray  Semi soft sheep’s cheese from the Basque Country.

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Comte.  Unpasteurized cows cheese from Eastern France.  Slightly sweet nutty taste.

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Brie. Brie has a reputation for gummy soulless cheese that lack character.  But if you can find an unpasteurized versions of this creamy cows milk cheese in Paris, it will change your mind.

And last but not least, stay away from the Epoisse.  Avoid this stinker at all costs.

To my way of thinking, if you take the time to make a meal out of 30 euros of cheese a baguette and a good bottle of wine you can’t go wrong. It has always worked for us.

Jules and Flo. www.yellowflat.com.

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The Eiffel Tower Is Paris. Photos, Reflections And Meditations.

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The Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris.  Built in 1889 to celebrate the Worlds Fair, it contains a combination of history, engineering, location and visual power unmatched by any other urban landmark.

It is the sense of visual dominance that amazes during a visit to Paris.  It seems to pop up wherever you whether you are walking near the Seine, taking an elevated metro ride or looking out from a balcony.  When you see it, the Eiffel Tower commands your attention more than 125 years after it was built.  And for bonus points it sparkles every hour at night once in a show of thousands of small lights reflecting against the dark sky.

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It starts with a massive base.  Powerful yet delicate, an erector set gone mad.

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It rises in a lattice work of metal.

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Up into the sky.

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It is beautiful in the day.

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And night.

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Winter.

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Spring.

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Summer.

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Fall.  (Well sort of this was shot in August when it is really quiet).

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Even though it has been photographed a million times, it is often not any easy object to shoot.  It has a sense of scope, size and shape that make it a challenge.  But that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying.  Indeed, it the subject of millions of poses.

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And selfies.

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It is a scene. The scene of numerous weddings.

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And bike rides.  With a stop for coffee of course.

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It peeks out from behind buildings.

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And trees.

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Or just plain dominates the skyline.

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You can enjoy the view from the left bank on a foggy night.

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Or the right bank on a sunny day.

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From the deck of a barge.

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Or the splendor of the Trocadero.

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And many times it is simply a great place to chill on a sunny day.

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The Eiffel Tower is much more than a tower.  It is what makes Paris Paris.

The Eiffel Tower is the subject of our new Yellow Flat fridge magnet.  If you would like one, just drop me an email at jkragen@prodigy.net and I will get it right out.

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Want to dig deep? Here is a link to some history: http://www.history.com/topics/eiffel-tower

The Yellow Flat is a vacation apartment located 5 to 10 minutes from the Eiffel Tower, a very easy walk.  We look forward to hosting you there and seeing your photos of the Eiffel Tower.

Jules and Flo.

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