I started thinking about this trip over five years ago and invited my wife to go to Paris for our 25th Wedding Anniversary. She said 'No', believe it or not, becasue she was afraid to fly after the events of 9-11 and the aftermath in air travel.
I asked her again and again each year after, but she kept saying 'no' so I figured if I was ever going to get her to see Paris I was going to have to act. I made the decision to get the tickets to Paris and just let it be a 'surprise'. How could she say 'no' now? Well, it worked and we're finally getting our anniversary trip for our 30th!!
I got the plane tickets a full year in advance (as soon as the airline could book the dates I wanted) to insure we would be in Paris on our anniversary day. I felt like 2 days of travel with 10 days in Paris would be enough to see everything and also still be affordable. I decided we should get to Paris a couple of days early so we could wake up in Paris that day and just enjoy our milestone without any fuss. Now that I have discovered the amount of interesting places in Paris and all there is to do, I'm not sure a month would be enough time! Since then I threw in a day in London, a day trip to Normandy (how can you be in France and not see that?) and discovered what Versailles is all about (pretty much takes up an entire day) and I have really crammed a lot of stuff into the remaining days!!
Next I spent weeks looking for the right hotel-something with the feel of Paris, not the Holiday Inn!! Since my wife was then let in on my little surprise during our beach vacation, I already had a ton of hotels for her to review that fit my criteria and I asked her to help decide what kind of hotel she would like to stay in. I felt like even though it was a surprise, I wanted her to enjoy the anticipation with me and also share in the decision making and planning. This is OUR trip, after all, and she needed to be part of it so we would be doing this together! We discussed the option of staying in more than one hotel, to try different ones out, but decided to stay in one hotel the entire time so we wouldn't have to keep packing up and moving-what a waste of time. So it had to be the perfect place in the perfect location. I know the location of Hotel Mansart is perfect (the secret is out!), and price was no object for this trip, but Hotel Mansart is certainly within reason (the Ritz is right next door, but we're not rich). But it was the reviews from other folks who had discovered this hotel that really sold me! It's supposed to be 'roomy' for Paris with really nice bathrooms, so I'll let you know if it turns out to be the right place.
In the months leading up to this trip I have been brushing up on my high school French, learning about the history of France and it's kings and reading about french culture. A book recommended by a friend is "French or Foe" by Polly Pratt. It gives great insights into why the french are the way they are, and what you need to know to get along with them better while in their country. I mostly want my wife to really enjoy our trip, so I'm doing everything I can to insure a good time, instead of coming away from the trip with her feeling like the french were "rude" afterwards. I prefer for her to remember how wonderful everything was.
I have also started looking at what they eat over there by looking at french menus, so we have an idea of what to expect. I don't want to look at a french menu and feel totally lost, unprepared and ignorant! I think it's better to know ahead of time what we're going to encounter in the restaurants, what meals cost, how to order and most important what to order and what not to order. They eat some strange stuff (see Fois Gras!!). Wine is a different story-but just more to learn.
I'm convinced that good planning makes for a much better trip and it's lots more fun when you already know what your doing and what's next (Rick Steves is an inspiration). It also insures the best use of your time so you can pack as much sightseeing and fun activities into the time you have, instead of wasting time running around in circles, backtracking and getting lost. I don't like wasting my precious vacation time.
The day trip to London is to show my wife the sites, since she only got to see Gatwick airport on route to Spain last year-her first time in Europe. (But, it's really so I can take the EuroStar train through the "Chunnel"--something I think is really way cool!!)