What cinched it for me was watching a video of a train ride from Paris to Torino and Milan on YouTube. I'll have the chance to see a great deal of France as we head south and east, and cross the mountains to Italy. If you watch the video, I think you'll agree that this route is a winner. I'm in no rush to get to Florence, so I might as well enjoy the view on a long train ride. I was able to buy the train tickets online and print them out to take with me. Planning in advance allowed me to find some good bargains, both in France and Italy. To watch the video, here's a link:
Paris to Milan by TGV train
I had another stroke of good fortune this week. While chatting with a friend about traveling to Paris, a woman overheard me and joined the conversation. Turns out that she and her husband are retired French professors who have lived in Paris and know the city well. She's invited me to her home for a crash course about Paris. Should be fun! I'm also finding many videos on YouTube that are getting me acclimated about what to expect and what to avoid.