November in Paris: Velib’, Paris Walks, and Great Food
My wife and I just returned from an extended Veterans Day weekend in Paris. We spent a total of five nights — November 8-13 — in a small studio apartment in the Latin Quarter quite close to Place Maubert Mutualité. This was our fourth trip to Paris, but our first in an apartment. On previous trips we had stayed at the Hotel Fleurie in the 6th and at the Hotel de Varenne in the 7th. As our French has improved, so has our confidence to become a little more independent, though frankly most shop owners and restaurant staff we met in Paris spoke pretty good English.
We found our studio apartment through Vacation In Paris (www.VacationInParis.com). The agency offers a very nice selection of apartment rentals at very reasonable prices. And because the agency is located in New Jersey, all our financial transactions took place by credit card in dollars. The apartment we finally settled on met our expectations, and was fairly and accurately represented on the Vacation In Paris website. And all the arrangements for accessing the apartment and receiving instructions for its use were handled perfectly. (Sorry, we may rent this apartment again next year, so I’m not going to divulge which apartment we stayed in).
Place Maubert Mutualité
The apartment couldn’t have been better situated. We were just a few steps from Place Maubert Mutualité where there’s a Métro stop, several open marketplace-type food shops (and a full Saturday outdoor market), a couple of nice cafes (we particularly liked the Café du Metro), and a fabulous boulangerie, Maison Kayser (14 Rue Monge), where we bought a baguette and several croissants every day (on one visit they literally handed us a baguette right out of their oven).
Because we were staying in an apartment, we saved a lot of money by buying market fresh meat, fish, cheese, bread, and vegetables — and of course wine — and eating in a couple of nights. We shopped at a few small markets, and spent more than an hour at the expansive La Grande Epicerie (38, rue de Sèvres), which is packed with goodies from every corner of France.
We also had excellent meals on our nights out:
Le Petit Prince de Paris (12 rue de Lanneau, 5th Arrondissement).
This small restaurant on a pedestrian side street between Place Maubert Mutualité and the Pantheon has received rave reviews here on Fodor’s. The raves are well deserved! My wife and I each had the 22€ menu, from which you can choose one of about six entrées and one of the same number of plats. By adding a dessert (7€) and ½ bottle of Cotes du Rhone wine, our dinner total was 72€. For our plats, we both had white fish (we think it was Cod) stuffed with mushrooms, vegetables, and some wonderful spices. Very, very good!
Les Bouquinistes (53, quai des Grands-Augustins, 6th Arrondissement)
This well-known Left Bank restaurant along the Seine near Métro St-Michel is owned by Paris superstar chef Guy Savoy. The food was quite good, well prepared, wonderfully presented, and not entirely inexpensive. An entrée, a plat, a dessert, and ½ bottle of Pinot Gris for the two of us totaled 160€. For entrées, my wife had Brittany cab ravioli, lobster, and fennel in a lemongrass juice. I had escargot, gnocchis, and “Bouchot” mussels in a cream sauce. For plats I had the day’s special, which was lamb. My wife had sea bass cooked “à la plancha” with Brittany vegetables. For dessert we both had Montelimar nougat crème brûlée, which was exquisite. We’d go back here in a heartbeat!
Taverne Henri VI (13, Place du Pont Neuf, 1st Arrondissement)
This small, old-style Paris wine bar on the Île de la Cité at the entrance to Place Dauphine has also received raves on Fodor’s. This was our second visit here, and let the raves continue! Here you will find excellent, inexpensive, café-style food simply prepared, and an assortment of wines available by the glass or bottle. We each had the plats of the day: my wife had the salmon with ratatouille; I had the mushroom and morel ravioli (no entrées and no desserts). With a bottle of Bordeaux blanc, the dinner (actually a late afternoon lunch) came to just 44€. The proprietor is one of the friendliest people we’ve met in Paris, and both French and English are spoken here.
Angelina (226, rue de Rivoli, 1st Arrondissement)
You can’t beat Angelina’s signature rich hot chocolate on a cold November day. Along with our hot chocolates we enjoyed a nice lunch of quiche Lorraine and a delicous salad.
We finally made our way to La Maison du Chocolat (19, rue de Sèvres) for some of the most delicious chocolates in all of Paris. I think we ended up spending about 57€, which included gifts for back home.
We visited La Derniere Goutte (6, rue de Bourbon le Chateau, 6th Arrondissement), a small but well-known wine store that has been mentioned several times here on Fodor’s. Our goal was to buy some wines that are difficult to find in our corner of the U.S. (rural Virginia): a couple of nice Rieslings from Alsace, two Cotes du Rhone reds from Gigondas, and a pair of Provencal Rosés.
The last shop we visited was the Paris outlet of Huilerie J. LeBlanc (6 rue Jacob), where you will find some of the finest olive oils in Paris. Among the oils for sale in this tiny shop are olive, walnut, hazelnut, pistachio, almond, pine nut, and quite a few others. We stuck with the olive oil, and left with a rather large bottle of it!
We had read so much about Velib’ — the new bike rental system that has become omnipresent in Paris — that my wife and I were determined to try it (the two articles we read appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post). There are Velib’ stations seemingly on every other street corner. We were a little nervous about how the whole interface would work as we waited at a touch-screen kiosk behind a pair of Frenchmen near the Pont Neuf. We got even more nervous as the two of them repeatedly punched buttons, walked over to the bikes, and unsuccessfully tried to remove them. Finally, after their third try, they realized that you must press a button on the top of the stanchion that holds up the bike to release it. Voilà! They were off, and we had learned a key step in the process.
As it turned out, we really didn’t have much trouble figuring the whole thing out. There is an English touch-screen menu available, some “Validate” green buttons to push as you proceed through the menus and instructions, and everything is pretty well explained. One of the articles we read said that most American credit cards that lack “chips” won’t be accepted at the Velib’ kiosks, but that American Express cards would be. Sure enough, our AMEX card worked fine.
We ended up buying two one-day subscriptions, agreed to a 150€ charge should we run off with the bikes and never return them, selected our own unique 4-digit ID code (we used our two debit card PIN numbers so we’d remember them easily), received a numbered ticket, and that was it. With ticket and PIN number in hand, you can then withdraw a bike from any Velib’ station by inserting your ticket and typing in your corresponding PIN number. As an indication of just how popular Velib’ is in Paris, between getting my ticket and getting my wife’s ticket about 4 minutes later (based on the sequential ID number on each ticket), 65 Velib’ subscriptions had been issued across Paris!
After a total of about 15 minutes, we withdrew two bikes and were on our way. We biked halfway across the Pont Neuf, turned up the Île de la Cité, crossed over to the Île St Louis, and crossed over the Seine to the Latin Quarter. The first Velib’ station we arrived at on Rue de Ecoles was completely filled with bikes, so we had to ask where the next closest station was. Fortunately, there was a station two blocks up Rue des Carmes next to the Pantheon (up a fairly steep hill), and it was completely empty.
We weren’t exactly certain how we should return our two bikes (did we have to punch in our code at the kiosk again?), so we waited just a few minutes until someone else rode up and simply slid their bike back into one of the stanchions. A light on the stanchion turned yellow, then green, and the person just walked away. So that’s what we did. Apparently each bike has an embedded ID code that is recognized by the system, and it was able to “log” our bike back into the system (at least, we hope so!!!)
The system’s best feature is that if you return your bike within one hour, the rental is free! Our bike ride cost my wife and I nothing—and saved us two Métro tickets! And on a cool, sunny November day, it was really fun.
One of the most interesting highlights of our visit was a walking tour with Paris Walks (ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/pariswalking/). We joined our guide outside the Musee d’Orsay for a 2-hour walking tour about “Jefferson’s Paris.” Since my wife and I live in Virginia, since I’m a graduate of the University of Virginia, and since my daughter is Second Year at U.Va., the walk couldn’t have been more interesting. Jefferson spent about five years in Paris as U.S. ambassador from 1785-1789. We learned where Jefferson got his inspiration for Monticello (the Hotel de Salm that still stands along the Seine); we visited the former French mint where Jefferson learned about the manufacturing process for coins; we saw the same bookshop along the Seine where Jefferson bought so many of his books; and we even saw a café which had been frequented by Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson.
Paris Walks conducts a variety of walks in English, the cost is 10€ per person, and our guide really knew his stuff. Highly recommended!
Let me finish with our choices for airport transportation. When we arrived, we took the RER (train) from CDG to St-Michel Notre-Dame—about a 40-minute train ride. At just over 8€ per person, this is one of the most economical ways for one or two people to travel from the airport to downtown Paris. Interestingly, the automated ticket kiosks, which are everywhere in Gare TGV at Terminal 2, accepted our U.S. MasterCard, which I’m sure does not have a “chip.” Also, the automated ticket kiosks have English menus and were quite easy to use.
For this year’s departure, which was Tuesday, November 13, we decided to play it safe because of the impending transportation strikes and arrange an airport shuttle. Our apartment rental agency had recommended Airport Connection Services (www.airport-connection.com), which cost 45€ for the two of us. The driver arrived almost exactly on time at 6:15a, picked up two other couples after us, and still got us to the airport by 7:15a. “Peace of mind” does have a price, but we were quite happy with this shuttle service.
Merci to everyone on Fodor’s who have contributed so many tips and treats that have really enhanced our love for Paris!
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November in Paris: Velib’, Paris Walks, and Great Food
November in Paris: Velib’, Paris Walks, and Great Food