5 Days In Paris

Old May 10th, 2010, 05:01 AM
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5 Days In Paris

WARNING: If you are one of those Paris lovers and fanatics who thinks that it is the greatest place on earth and everything is perfect there, I advise to stop reading right here. I wouldn’t want you to go into a seizure.

***********************

This is a brief trip report of out 5 days in Paris. There is so much written and spoken about Paris that I will only talk about the things that surprised us. This is the most valuable and informative part of any trip report – the reality that you don’t get in the guidebooks or from the pollyannas who write those trip reports where everything is perfect, nothing ever goes wrong and there are no disappointments. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never been on such a trip.

I also think it important to state up front where your goals and biases lie. Too many reports fail to say whther they are backpackers or luxury travelers, 20 something or adult travelers, art lovers, seriouss foodies, etc. It makes all the difference on how a reader should interpret the opinions expressed in the report.

We are more, ahem, mature travelers who are semi-serious foodies. We prefer seeing lots of new turf and the stuff that you have read about all your life. We not the types who sit around in parks or in cafes and meditate on a trip. We know that it is the one trip we are ever going to make to the place, so we want to see as much as we can. I am very interested in history but not much paintings. I never go to art museums at home, so why should I do it on a trip? My wife is more of an art person and less of a history person, however, so we always include a bit of each. Eating and drinking well is also big part of a trip.

I should also say up front that the poor weather likely affected my impressions. While we liked it, it was not the magical, romantic place that many people describe. The Paris we experienced is not the Paris of guidebooks or this forum where you take long walks, picnic by the Seine in the sunshine, and sit in cafes drinking espresso. It was too cold, windy, cloudy and often rainy for that. I’ve never had to wear a parka, hat and scarf on a European trip before.

Positive Surprises

Although you can read about the Versaille, nothing can prepare you for the immensity and the richness. It makes all other royal palaces seem like shacks. The same can be said about the Louvre – there is the Louvre and then there are all other art museums. Each is at least a full day visit, the Louvre could take you as long as you want it to.(Perhaps I have special fondness for the Louvre because we got right in. We couldn’t find the entrance through the shopping center, but did find another double super secret entrance that I had read about. While the line through the Pyramid entrance stretched most of the way across the courtyard, the place we entered had a line up of exactly 8 people in front of us. Of course once in, the crowd made it almost unbearable.)

My favorite museum was the Cluny. Medieval art and in a Roman bath. It doesn’t get much better. You can have the Mona Lisa, Venus Milo and the Van Gogh self portrait; give me the Lady and the Unicorn. I found myself humming “The Hunting Song” as a strolled around.

My wife’s favorite museum was Musée Cognacq-Jay. These smaller museums have a charm and intimacy that the big boys lack. They are also not mobbed by hordes of tour groups, so can visit them will relative peace and tranquility.

The Parthenon was big surprise, only because it does not get top mention in most guidebooks. It should. It is huge and far surpasses the original in Rome. I’d rate it as one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen.

The Paris Metro is both a positive and a negative. It gets you around, is easy to navigate and is well marked. From this viewpoint, it is far superior to the London Tube. However, it is not as easy and fast as the Metro maps suggest. What looks like one station can actually be several distinct stations that are widely separated and connected by passageways. There can be a 10-15 minute walk to get from one platform to another. You walk up stairs, around a corner, down stairs, along a walkway, up stairs, etc. It uses up a lot of time, walking and energy.

Paris had both more style and less style than we expected. The stores and little architectural details have a flare that you don’t see at home. Things seem designed, not just for function, but for aesthetics as well. It's nice to see the special care taken with the olittle things. On the other hand, the locals didn’t seem to dress especially stylishly. I expected to see a lot of high fashion and haut couture. The average Parisienne looked much like the average American, just not fat. (Virtually, everytime we heard a fat person speak in Paris, it was an American with a Midwest accent.)

Monoprix. Great place to get whatever you want, from pastries, cheese and wine to toothpaste and a scarf. It's aslso a good place ton meet some locals.

Diwali. It's a small chain of botiques with about 5-6 stores in Paris. My wife loved it for a place to shop for very nice, unique and reasonably-priced jewelry. By contrast, we found nothing reasonable in any of the big department stores.

Museum pass. It’s been frequently said, but it can't be said enough - a museum pass is a must in Paris.

Negative Surprises

It is quite possible to eat so-so or even poorly in Paris. Out of 5 dinners, two were good, 2 were mediocre and one was outright horrible. That was at Relais Gascon, which I had read to be a good place for cassoulet. OK, cassoulet is not a Parisian dish, but all the food was dreadful. We struck up a conversation with people at the next table. That had ordered different dishes but were equally dismayed by the food. We also tried Allard when the hotel conciege refused to keep trying to make a reservation at the place we wanted to go. Allard, perhaps the oldest bistro in Paris, serves so-so French comfort food which was OK. The price of $150 was not. Even by Parisian standards, it was ridiculously overpriced. Anyway, we fared better than the people at the next table who took two bites and walked out in disgust. Of course, they had ordered the weirdest dish I’ve ever seen: a big bowl of undercooked duck covered by a thick layer of 100’s of olives. Overall, we were really disappointed by the food. Five meals is a small sample, so it could just be bad luck. In contrast, however, we have never had anything except excellent food in London and Rome.

We were underwhelmed by the Marais. Rue des Rosiers was nothing more than a few uninteresting blocks of falafel places. Lunch at L’As was good, but hardly exceptional falafel. I had read this opinion in some quarters, but was persuaded by the hype. Place Vosges was nothing special – just a square surrounded by a few nice old buildings. All in all, the Marais was a bust except for Musée Cognacq-Jay.

In fact, we found that there was relatively little neighborhood ambience anywhere in Paris. I attribute this to the architecture. Paris doesn’t look or feel like an old city with a lot distinct areas. All of central Paris looks essentially the same – tall, off-white buildings 5 or 6 stories lining the roadway. Sure, there is some variation, but it is small relative to the overall uniformity. Parts of the Latin quarter are the exception.

Montmartre. Again we expected much more. Apart from Sacre Coeur, it was a largely a tourist trap. The view is nice, but Paris, despite what I had read, is not particularly scenic, at least not when seen from afar from Montmartre. Individual buildings are hard to discern at that distance. It is a flat sea of those tall white buildings, broken only by the Eiffel Tower. Anyway, perhaps if it hadn’t been so cold and late, we might have walked around more and be less negative about Montmartre.

Conclusion

It was a nice but not great trip. We enjoyed London, Rome and Venice much more, despite seeing some spectacular things in Paris. The mobs, disappointment in the food and especially the poor weather probably had a big effect. It is hard to feel romantic about a city when your main goal much of the time is to get out of the wind. Or maybe it was exaggerated expectation from all the hype generated on discussion groups like this one. .
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Old May 10th, 2010, 05:23 AM
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Thanks for the info.

Not to defend Paris, but some of your negatives are hardly surprises. I did find it ironic that you favor London over Paris, because I believe most of your criticisms of Paris probably apply two-fold to London (bland architecture, crowds, hit and miss food). Oh, well, to each his/her own.

Obviously, the weather can make a difference. On our recent trip, Paris was cloudy and chilly part of the time. Perhaps it is the proximity to the river, but it felt much colder than the actual temperature, and Paris does lose some attraction when the sun isn't shining. Indeed, I was a little let down (compared to previous visits), but then the sun came out!
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Old May 10th, 2010, 05:23 AM
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Prejudice meets reality...

Obviously, you travelled with a certain image of Paris and you have been disappointed because this wonderful city did not match this image. Now, you are bashing the poor city and the guidebooks.

>>>Paris doesn’t look or feel like an old city with a lot distinct areas. All of central Paris looks essentially the same – tall, off-white buildings 5 or 6 stories lining the roadway. Sure, there is some variation, but it is small relative to the overall uniformity.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 05:23 AM
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Hi IM,

>It was too cold, windy, cloudy and often rainy for that. I’ve never had to wear a parka, hat and scarf on a European trip before. <

Just one more example of how the French hate Americans.

>The Parthenon was big surprise.....<

I'm sure it would be. (You did mean the Pantheon, no?)

>What looks like one station can actually be several distinct stations that are widely separated and connected by passageways.<

You would have known that had you been paying attention to the Fodors posts.

>the locals didn’t seem to dress especially stylishly. <
Just one more example of how the French hate Americans. On days when you are not there, they all were clothes by Armani, Gucci, etc. - even at the beach.

>It is quite possible to eat so-so or even poorly in Paris.
You would have known that had you been paying attention to the Fodors posts.

Dear colleague,

Sorry to hear that you were so disappointed.

>It is hard to feel romantic about a city when your main goal much of the time is to get out of the wind. Or maybe it was exaggerated expectation.......<

I suggest that it was both.

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Old May 10th, 2010, 05:39 AM
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I'm glad to see something of a positive post from you, hornet. At least there were some good points during your Paris visit.

I find that Paris has some wonderful small museums that don't get a lot of attention from tourists nor from guide books and that's too bad.

Ira took care of the Parthenon/Pantheon bit. Did you enjoy Foucault's pendulum? I spent a lot of time watching it and trying to understand it.

And Echnaton took care of the Haussmann bit. Those buildings give Paris a delightful symmetry.

Yes the metro gives you a good work out! Most of the time I just walk from place to place as it takes almost the same amount of time as the metro. There have to be so many connections to make it a good transportation mode. You obviously connected in one of the larger stations. You could walk for miles in some of the connections.

Don't agree about the museum pass but some folks think it's worth the money.

Montmartre - you have to get away from Place du Tertre - that's where the tourist bucks are sucked in! There's lots more do see in Montmartre.
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Old May 10th, 2010, 05:46 AM
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YOu should have marked this a trip report, not sure if you can change it.

I'm not a typical tourist in Paris as I've been there many times for extended stays and never stay in the most popular tourist areas now -- I like good food, but am not remotely a "foodie". So my comments on your report are that I agree with some things (I am one who doesn't understand why so many tourists on Fodors adore the Marais, although I think place des Vosges is special), but I guess if you are serious foodies, you could have picked better restaurants.

I don't agree with some of your comments about all of Paris looking alike and no neighborhoods that are different, but I think that's because you really didn't see that much of Paris, and that is normal for a first-time tourist. Of course a place is touristy right around the main tourist attractions (like Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur), I think it is unrealistic to expect otherwise, and that is true in any major city in Europe. Montmartre is different if you get away from that a few blocks but again, most tourist don't bother to do that. Fine, you have limited time, but don't expect a pristine authentic place at a major tourist attaction.

I don't know what you mean by the Parthenon, which is in Greece (not Paris or Italy). Do you mean the Pantheon? Or do you mean some Greek-looking building, like the Madeleine which is a church. But that wouldn't be bigger than a Greek building in Rome. Since you recommend it, it would be nice if one knew what you were talking about. Now they do have parts of the Parthenon in the Louvre, so maybe you mean that.

well, I appreciate your report, don't get me wrong, I don't want to say everything about Paris is perfect, and I find your observations interesting, but there might be some lessons here. Your big complaints about the weather are due to when you went, which I preseume was early spring. You shouldn't have expected it to be consistenly warm and sunny during that time. Maybe you haven't traveled that much, but your expectations were unrealisitic for major tourist sites, I think. And while I think you should have done more restaurant research since you call yourself serious foodies, I can't imagine how you spent $150 for dinner at Allard where the prix fixe is around 35 euro. Now I imagine you meant for two people (should say when stating costs), and maybe the 35 euro doesn't include some expensive wine you bought, then I could see it as I think your price was around 100 euro when you went ($150).

I always find it odd that people think it would be impossible to eat poorly in any city. You seemed surprised that every meal wouldn't be fantastic in Paris. Well, why would it be, there are bad restaurants in any city, and certainly many mediocre ones.

I would find your comments more expected from unexperienced travelers, but I am a little surprised since you describe yourself as experienced European travelers that you had some of these expectations or didn't realize some restaurants can be bad and it will be touristy around major tourist sites and that weather in early Spring won't be ideal.
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Old May 15th, 2010, 03:31 PM
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Final note. My wife made an interesting observation yesterday that touched on something that was tickling the back of my mind and accounts for some of our vague disatisfaction with the trip. She said that she likes Rome much better because it is far less serious. The French are very serious about their wine, their food, etc. Italy is a bit disorganized and looser. People don't seem to take things so seriously and are more fun and relaxed. I think she's on to something here.

In response:

"but I am a little surprised since you describe yourself as experienced European travelers that you had some of these expectations or didn't realize some restaurants can be bad and it will be touristy around major tourist sites and that weather in early Spring won't be ideal."

Considering that we had eaten so well in the past in Europe, it was very surprising to find such poor food, especially considering if you read about the perfection of everything Paris in these forums.

"but I guess if you are serious foodies, you could have picked better restaurants. "

What an incredibly stupid comment.
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Old May 15th, 2010, 04:38 PM
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I haven't been to Paris in over 20 years, but I do remember that my favorite activity, if you can call it that, was sitting in cafes in residential neighborhoods , so I can see that if that is not your cup of tea Paris could be disappointing. I remember many small museums too, and taking boat rides on the Seine, which provides a different aspect of the buildings.
Any I remember the cheese, especially a many course tasting at Androuette (sp?)
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Old May 15th, 2010, 05:43 PM
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A couple of notes:

If you had read the guidebooks and weather sites carefully you would have learned that May in europe north of the alps is often rainy and can be quite chilly (Don;t know about parkas - but don;t know where you are from. We had a niece visit from FL and she kept wanting to turn on the heat if it went below 72 degrees.)

French food is often over-rated IMHO. We have had quite a few mediocre meals in Paris - even 1 or 2 in upscale places. (We have found that in Paris trendy sometimes overpower actual quality of food.) I think Italy overall has better food on a casuale level - and IMHO Belgium has the best food in europe bar none. If you are truly foodies I would have expected you to get a lot of recos before going to Paris. Food in many of the casuale cafes is not much better than diner food in the US (good diner food).

Also - agree that any guidebook would discuss what Haussmann did to central Paris in the 19th century - meaning that truly historic places are limited to areas that managed to avoid his "improvements.

As far as style is concerned I would suggest that the average Parisienne dresses much more modishly than the average american you will see at the local mall. However, they are not all wealthy or high fashion models - and you not going to see nothing but designer originals.
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Old May 15th, 2010, 05:55 PM
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So sorry Paris didn't cast its magic spell on you. I was there for my 5th visit this past March and found it as enchanting as ever. Usually go mid-March and the weather is sometimes lovely, sometimes terrible. This time it was mostly lovely, very springlike during the day. Other times it has snowed but I still loved it. Agree that the smaller museums are often more fun. Can't say I've had any bad meals in Paris, some are naturally better than others but I've never walked away from a meal disappointed.

Hope you give Paris another chance, maybe in better weather?
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Old May 15th, 2010, 11:27 PM
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If I wanted to comment on Imhornet's account properly, I would actually had to have read it. I could have guessed what was in it, but I accidently saw the word positive.

Commenting on another's preconceived notions is like a discussion with a teenager who has seen nothing but knows the world or a bigot who would rather be enraged than be educated.

In any event, I am sure he had his own wonderful time and wonder why he leaves his mind at any time.
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Old May 16th, 2010, 12:01 AM
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Really interesting read. This will only be our second trip to Paris this August, but I'm hoping to enjoy it even more this time. It was January last time and bitterly cold, who cares, its Paris, put a jacket and scarf on and harden up.

As for food, I sometimes describe us as foodies on this site (our last trip was to Hong Kong for a week, just to eat!!!!) and the couple of 'bad' meals we had in Paris, we completely blame ourselves for. I'd researched a lot but when it came to it, we found ourselves in very tourist driven Bistros, which were poor at best.

This time I'll be much more careful plus we plan to eat in a lot with food we've sourced from local markets.

While I had a chuckle at your 'report' it just confirms what we've always found to be true, American travelers (some not all) expect it all there own way. But at least they are easy to spot, you do usually hear them before you see them.

I LOVE PARIS.
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Old May 16th, 2010, 12:32 AM
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I wish you had told us where you had these poor meals.
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Old May 16th, 2010, 01:04 AM
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Enjoying reading some of the replies. Going to be a lot of chuckles with this thread!!

Joan
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Old May 16th, 2010, 01:44 AM
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I think all this proves is that everyone's tastes are different. Knowing that many of the readers of these posts are lovers of Paris ( I, myself, am that category), I might have phrased those comments a little differently, but - believe it or not - Paris is not everyone's cup of tea; even some non-American travellers don't like Paris. Even when my wife and I travel, we have significant differences of opinion when it comes to food. There are dishes that I have loved that my wife didn't think were fit to feed to the hogs! Vive la difference!
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Old May 16th, 2010, 03:13 AM
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Having read some of Imhornet's other posts, I had a vision. After a week in heaven, he is asked how he likes the food, the architecture, the people and the culture. He answers,"I expected it to be much more unique - it's just like Paris!
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Old May 16th, 2010, 03:17 AM
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I'm intrigued by the underlying notion that somehow the point of the forum is to decide whether a particular destination is "worth it" or "not". For me, travel is about experiencing a bit of the world, not giving a particular destination a grade.
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Old May 16th, 2010, 03:32 AM
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I appreciate you taking the time to write a trip report, although when you start a missive with a disclosure, I wonder if the purpose of the report is to inform us or to try to impress us with what you apparently feel is a higher level of taste and expertise than the ordinary folk. Between your post and others replies I have learned things about Paris that will be helpful to me if and when I travel there. I sincerely hope your future travel will be a much better experience than this. As I travel in the future no matter where I go, I’ll always have one thing that will bring a smile to my face, I don’t have to travel with the negative likes of you.
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Old May 16th, 2010, 03:52 AM
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Thanks for the report. I do hope you give Paris a second chance as I didn't enjoy the city until my second time visiting. I'd agree with you that the restaurants aren't all fabulous, that's why I loved staying in an apartment. The food at the outdoor markets was cheaper and tastier than most restaurants we tried and was fresher than most items in the US.

Secondly, the Louvre is best seen when it opens or when it opens late and map out what objects you want to see, otherwise I agree, the mobs are horrendous.

I'm shocked that you thought the Parisian Metro was better than London, since the Tube seems more well-light and the train cars are a bit cleaner.

Finally, if you come back, take a guided tour of the neighborhoods. We took a Paris Walks tour of Montmartre and after climbing the hill away from the main street, we found a wonderful, village-like atmosphere, like the Paris of old.

Sorry you had such a bad time but it's nice to have a different perspective.
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Old May 16th, 2010, 06:07 AM
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"I should also say up front that the poor weather likely affected my impressions. While we liked it, it was not the magical, romantic place that many people describe."

I think that is very likely. Five days is not much time in Paris and your expectations were high. I was not that impressed my first five days either, but since have grown to love Paris. Now the weather has little effect on my visits, I especially like November when it's chilly and less crowded.

After several trips I now limit my museum visits and often wander aimlessly (almost) down side streets in the left bank, stroll through the Luxumbourg Gardens and sit and watch children play, chat with waiters when they have the time, sit on a bench along the Seine eating gelato from Amorino, always visit Notre Dame and the Deportation Memorial at least once and go into smaller churches and sit and relax.

There's nothing wrong with sitting "meditating" in a cafe. It's a good break and a way to reflect on what you've seen and done. One year I had an agenda and was dashing around from one sight to another and passed a cafe. People were sitting looking so relaxed with their wine or coffee and thought I want to do that too, so I slowed down.

One November evening a friend and I were drinking wine in a cafe near the St Michel metro stop. There were only a few other people in the cafe and we were all people watching when a gust of wind blew leaves up the street. A man near us began singing "The autumn leaves drift by the window ..."

I found the "magic" happened when I slowed down and looked and listened.
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