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Trip Report Paris in the Springtime: Brrr!

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After reading recent lively and comprehensive Paris trip reports including the post by egwright10 and the reponses from travel snobs, spirited defenders and the feisty traveler herself -- I'm slightly apprehensive about still another report on Paris. But only slightly.

DFW to our Heathrow transfer point was a new sensation. My wife and I sensed something was different when we boarded -- then it dawned on us that we were on American's new 777-300ER. Leg room in coach! What will they think of next! After a hop on British Airways to Paris we took a taxi from Charles de Gaulle; 58 euros to our hotel on the Left Bank and worth it at our age. We had taken the Metro once before. It's cheaper but more involved, and too often Metro escalators don't work -- important to note if you have luggage. Then there's likely another Metro or taxi to your hotel.

In getting around the city we gained confidence in using not only the Metro but the bus as well. We enjoyed taking the bus because it's a great way to see the city. It's easy! Buy a carnet of 10 tickets for a discount on the regular fare. Every bus stop shows the route map. While the Metro can take you where you want to go in a hurry, its maze of pedestrian tunnels can sometimes be disorienting and frustrating, especially if you need to change trains. We took it twice for longer trips but our main modes of transportation were by bus and foot.

April in Paris! We froze. I won't divulge what we had on under our heavy coats, caps, sweaters, mufflers and winter tops, but it helped. We still froze. It can get COLD in Europe in the springtime. Yet, on our last day we moved indoors from our sidewalk cafe because we and our ice cream couldn't take the heat. As I write this I see spectators are still wearing coats, sweaters and mufflers at the French Open a full month later . The old advice for Europe holds: dress in layers. In Germany once we had record heat in July followed by sleet the next day.

Major "likes" this trip were the Rodin museum, the stunning stained-glass windows of the Sainte Chapelle near Notre Dame, and the panoramic view of Paris from the cafe deck atop the Printemps department store. Some windows of the chapel were walled off due to repairs. Expect this in Europe: The church or monument you look forward to seeing may be/will be covered with scaffolding or drapery, on which may be a faint depiction of what you had hoped to see. We also liked shopping in the Marais district (Right Bank), at Zara and at the big department stores. (I like the men's socks at Bon Marche.)

We had been concerned about what to do on May 1, a French national holiday when "everything is closed." That's what your hotel front desk will tell you on the plentiful national holidays, but check it out for yourself. Most retail stores close, but, for example, not on the Champs-Elysees, which was bustling and open. So was the American Hospital in Paris, where we spent the day. Long story short, irregular heartbeat, English-speaking doctor came to our room and sent this guy to the hospital, where all was resolved favorably. It took all day, taking care of what to do on May 1. It was cold and raining when we had to dash madly both ways across the Champs Elysees to find a pharmacy and then catch a taxi back to our hotel.

SOS Médecins will get an English-speaking doctor to your hotel in less than an hour, even on a national holiday. Our cost was $170. (For dental emergencies call SOS Dentistes.) Your hotel will do it for you. The American Hospital of Paris was great. A day spent there, in an examining room with an emergency doctor, then a cardiologist, with full blood test, was $540. I shudder to think what my day would have cost in America. Yes, we did have travel health insurance (still waiting to see what kicks in). Medicare does not apply abroad.

Our hotel near the church of Saint-Sulpice led us to have most dinners nearby, selecting among the small restaurants on and around Rue Guisard. The dining scene there has received a dismissive sniff from some, but we found variety and good food at La Boussoule, Bistrot d'Opio and Le Machon d'Henri among others. This from the standpoint of people who appreciate a tasty dish but who do not seek out Michelin-starred restaurants. I know, our loss, but that's the way it is. We found a 7-8 p.m. arrival to be just fine and never needed a reservation.

The first time we went to Paris we knew no French, had no idea of where to stay so made a poor choice, and strolled casually into shops like the Americans we are. The second visit we still knew no French but had researched a fine little Left Bank hotel (l'Abbaye), and had grasped that the French are an immensely courteous people. We never stepped into a shop without saying brightly, "bonjour," and, when leaving, "au revoir." On this third visit our French had improved little, but we did keep trying. Learning some French is definitely good, but don't fret about it. We got lost a lot, and almost every time an English-speaking Parisian or expat stepped up to help. We also carried a cheat sheet of useful phrases and menu items and used it often.

We used a U.S. credit card with both an embedded microchip and magnetic stripe and had no problems dining, at ATMs, or anywhere else. Plus, we incurred no foreign transaction fee; most issuers charge 3%. At this time only a few U.S.-issued cards currently have the embedded microchip now standard for Europe, especially in automated uses such as Metro ticket machines or toll booths.

Coming: A Trip Report on Mainz and Frankfurt, Germany, which we reached via train from Paris. A different scene altogether; hard to combine with a Paris report.

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