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-   -   Any info for first timers abroad in Paris? (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/any-info-for-first-timers-abroad-in-paris-21273/)

Bob and Theresa Feb 4th, 1998 07:54 PM

Any info for first timers abroad in Paris?
 
First and foremost, any info will be greatly appreciated. My wife and I will be taking advantage of the low airfares and off season rates . We plan to be in Paris in mid November, for three days. We have never been abroad before, so any info regarding hotels,places of interest,restaurants, weather, would be welcome. We are not looking for luxury accomodations, as we plan to spend little time in our hotel room anyway! Does anyone know about the Hotel Burgundy? Their rates appear to be very affordable, but nothing speaks like experience!! We would also really appreciate any input on dining as this appears to be the most complicated ordeal we have come across. We would hope to dine in small, out of the tourist path facilities, getting the Paris experience without going broke!
Again, any help will not go unnappreciated! You can E mail me direct if you like. Thanks!Bob and Theresa

Donna Feb 5th, 1998 01:04 AM

You are so very smart to begin planning this far in advance! First, do enough research to figure out which neighborhood you prefer for accomodations. Those generally recommended are the 5th, 6th, and 7th on the Left Bank, but opinions vary widely. Our favorite is the 7th (where rue Cler of Rick Steves fame is located, but not for that reason). Here, you will find accomodations in all price ranges and lots of charming and affordable restaurants. Rue St. Dominique is quintessential Paris. This area is also quiet and especially safe. Then, peruse a copy of Cheap Sleeps in Paris, probably the best guide for selecting a hotel ever published. A new edition is due out in March. On the other hand, not listed in that book is the Duquesne (metro Ecole Militaire) which is reasonably priced and raved about on the AOL travel boards. All of Rick Steves recommendations receive extremely favorable reviews (and no bad ones) there as well. Having done this myself, whatever you do, do not waste a lot of time obsessing over which hotel. Just pick one with price, amenities and location suitable to you and go on to your other plans. And, book early. The best ones fill up fast way ahead. Another absolutely fantastic reference is Cheap Eats in Paris. I think I have every restaurant guide ever published for Paris and this one is definitely one of the best. Those we visited from this book were among our favorites. Then, get yourself at least two good tour guides. My favorites are Access (for shopping and dining and the maps) and Eyewitness (for the photos and walking tours). Both are organized by neighborhood and excellent for planning. I have learned to read tour guides with a highlighter in one hand and a pad of tiny post-its in the other. And, take them with you. Get a copy of Barron's French at a Glance (best because it has phonetic pronunciations and lots of other useful information) and learn the phrases you think you'll need. Study the food glossary and learn the foods you love and the ones you don't. It is well worth the investment and time and effort to get a large Michelin Paris par Arrondissement. Then, photocopy the maps of each neighborhood and highlight the places you want to visit. Plot appealing restaurants. Not only are these single sheets ever so convenient to have once you get there (each and every street is included), you can just hand it to the taxi driver when he can't understand where you want to go. And, you will not waste valuable time criss-crossing the city. Even so, get the CityFlash Paris. Everything on one map and a metro plan you can actually see to read. If you plan to do two or more museums per day, the Carte is a real bargain. Not to be missed are the Louvre (of course, even if you just walk around the outside and breeze through the inside), Musee d'Orsay and Musee Rodin, just to name a few. Buy metro passes in a strip of ten. Hang onto your ticket until you are back on the street. You can share them. They are also good on the busses, which are much better than the metro. No hallways, stairways, pickpockets. Stops much more conveniently located and you get to enjoy all the fabulous scenery along the way. And, read up on how to protect yourselves against pickpockets. If you heed the advice, you'll never know they're around. If you don't, you will, well after you've been grabbed. Take a boatride on the Seine. Go to the Eiffel Tower at dusk, ride to the top, stay until after dark when the lights have been turned on all over the City. Unforgettable! (And, you'll miss the tour busses.) Be sure to go to the rooftop terrace of La Samaritaine. The 360 degree panoramic view of the city is spectacular! Be sure to have someone snap your photo with the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, etc. behind you. Take a moonlight stroll along the Seine and over the Pont Alexandre III. Sit and enjoy a nightcap at one of the outdoor cafes at the St. Germain Church intersection. Best souvenirs (good stuff, good prices) are on the same Quai as the Eiffel Tower toward the Bir Hakeim metro stop. Since you have only three days, highly recommend that your first stop be Paristoric, a multi-media presentation located in a theatre at 11bis rue Scribe (around the corner from Opera Garnier). Having seen this, you'll know what most appeals to you and what not to miss (and what to make a note of for next time). Take twice as much film as you think you'll need. While three days in Paris is splendid, you will definitely want to return, so keep your eyes open and make a list while you're there for next time. While in an appealing neighborhood, drop into hotels and pick up brochures for future reference. There are mucho websites on visiting Paris. Do searches. You'll be absolutely amazed. One final tip. Even though you're on vacation, dress appropriately for a large city. There's no way to avoid "looking like a tourist", but how you present yourself definitely determines how you are received. While I'm sure many will argue that it really doesn't matter and "anything goes", you will be responded to accordingly. Remember that we Americans tend to forget and/or forego our manners, but the Parisians hold etiquette and rituals in the highest regard. It's disgraceful that some American visitors reinforce the idea that we are loud, demanding and intrusive. Your warmth, consideration and a smile will prevent you from concluding that the Parisians despise American tourists. If at all possible, extend your trip to five, seven or more days. Since you're paying for the airfare and going to all this trouble, you may as well stay long enough to really explore the most romantic city on the planet. Keep in mind that Princess Diana's fondest dream was to spend the weekend in Paris someday and that Katia and Sergei planned to return.

Lisa Brown Feb 5th, 1998 07:40 AM

Well, how do I follow all that! I would just reiterate that the carte musee is a good idea of you are planning to visit museums. It is available form metro staions and not only will it save you money, but you can jump the queue at the Louvre (where the Mona Lisa is incidently). From the Louvre you can go to the Musee de l'Orangerie (just a short walk away) which is small, but good if you like impressionists. It has a room of Monet's "Waterlilies" downstairs. Of course, the Musee d'Orsay is the most popular though.

I would also point out that there is a restaurant on the Eiffel Tower which is surprisingly reasonable, so you can eat and watch the sunset over Paris...

I would also recommend Montmartre. Although is is popular with tourists, it gives you a different atmosphere of Paris, and again, wonderful views.

Finally, I would say wear comfy shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking! The monuments are actually not that far away from each other, so you might not need to go on the metro much, just to places like the flea market (in Clignancourt if I remember rightly). I would recommend getting the bus or metro at night though as there are some dodgy areas, but there are usually lots of people around.

Above all, have fun and enjoy yourselves.

Paul J Feb 5th, 1998 11:39 AM

I am in total "awe" of the people who will spend so much of their time and effort to respond to inquiries on this forum. It's really great to see people like Donna and Lisa share their personal experiences with others. ..... And they have given sound advice!
Great Job!!!

Bob and Theresa Feb 5th, 1998 07:48 PM

Just want to briefly thank everyone who has written so far! THANKS!

Sharon F Feb 8th, 1998 09:29 AM

The previous respondents have done an incredible job covering it all! A couple comments-I too agree that Rick Steve's Paris info. is most accurate! The RUe Cler area is charming and convenient. We really liked the Montmartre area-though a bit touristy, it has abundant charm. The movie Forget Paris has a great scene at the end at a cafe in Montmartre! There is also an incredible sorbet/ice cream place in the Ile de St. Louis (spellng?) area, I believe called Berthillion. You can't miss it-ask anyone as it truly is the most incredible sorbet I have ever eaten! If the weather is warm enough, get a cone/cup outside as it is half the price! We also found very Pere LaChaise cemetary very interesting. Numerous celebrities are buried there including Chopin and probably the most visited, Jim Morrison of the Doors. The cemetary had unusual tombstones and was really worth the trip. We took the subway there and other places and found it very safe! You will love Paris and we found most of the people to be very helpful-have a wonderful trip!!

Lynn Feb 8th, 1998 05:03 PM

You've received so much advice, and good advice at that, so i was a bit hesitant to respond, but what's one more opinion?! I've been to Paris twice and could go six more times, there's just so much to see.
We stayed right in Paris, at a reasonable place called Hotel du Pantheon. It's right near the Pantheon, and you can walk to small cafes, and nearby sites.
It was small, charming, friendly staff, clean rooms and included a small breakfast.
Noone has commented on the weather in Paris. Let me tell you, it will be cold. The wind which blows thru the Champs-Elysees can be quite chilling. Dress warmly for November! We went to Paris in June and it was still quite breezy and cool.
Sounds like you are planning well in advance, so you'll have a good idea of what you want to see ahead of time.
We spent a lot of time dining in the Latin Quarter - many restaurants, cafes, at reasonable prices. You can walk alot and just pick the place you want to eat it. It's quite charming.
The subways in Paris are great - they go everywhere and are easy to use and understand.
IF you have time and want to do a one day excursion, I recommend the Palace of Versailles. Take the train there and then board a bus for a short bus ride. It's quite interesting and the opulence and history is great. There's so much to see in Paris though, that i recommend this only if you want a change of pace from the city.
Either way, you won't be disappointed.
Good luck, and bon voyage!

Helen Feb 16th, 1998 11:30 AM

You have gotten some really good advice in here. I have been to Paris 4 times and do not speak the language at all. I found many instances when I need ed help and was surprised by the overwhelming assistance given by the French as long as I remembered my manners and used excuse me, good morning etc. They really do know their english! Also a warning about going to the Sacre Coeur...go during the daylight hours because it is not in a good neighborhood for afterdark. On my last trip I met a woman coming back to the states who had her purse snatched in the afternoon there. I don't know it you're into French skin care products but if you are take advantage while there because you will find new lines of perfumes, makeup etc. that are not sold in the states yet and are at good prices. Have a great time because it is a beautiful city!

Leslie Feb 16th, 1998 12:56 PM

Donna - You give *excellent* advice as always! I just have to comment, though... you completely surprised me when you added that 'Princess Diana's fondest dream was to spend the weekend in Paris some day!?!' A little morbid and sad, don't you think?

dave Mar 23rd, 1998 11:55 AM

My wife and I honeymooned in Paris nearly three
years ago and made a pledge to return one day.
It is a good idea to make an effort to learn a little of the language. I didn't even go to the
bathroom without a Berlitz pocket sized dictionary
with me, it's handy, and the Parisians seem to
respond well if you make an effort, it seems to melt away any natural caution. You don't have to be
fluent, and you'll be surprised by the number of
people who do speak English, particularly younger
people, and how many restaurants have English
speaking waiters and menus written in English
A great thing to do is just walk into a sidewalk
cafe, all the menus are posted outside, a Paris
law I believe.
I also recommend Montmatre, and I highly recommend
the Musee d'Orsay. the Louvre is a must, but factor
in a ton of time, it is huge!
I have very fond memories of a pub called
Pub St. Germain de Prix, I'm not sure about the
last word, have a Belgian beer there called
La Guillotine!, but do not have beer in the lounge
downstairs, it will cost about $45 US.
Walk everywhere, head into a grocery one afternoon,
get a large baguette, some cheese and a bottle of
wine and have a picnic. The Metro is excellent and
very often has some bizarre but harmless characters
on it.
I could go on, but I think you've gotten the point, plus some other excellent advice. Also, why not
have at least one "blowout" dinner at a cost be
damned restaurant?!

Monica Mar 23rd, 1998 12:28 PM

I'd like to add a few comments (the above ones were terrific!!!) I was in Paris last October when the weather was cool and I dressed in layers so I could take off my sweater in restaurants/museums, etc. when it got warm. We stayed on the left bank on St. Germaine (sp) and it was a great location. Only a few minutes walking distance from many restaurants near the Saint Michele metro stop. Notre-Dame is also close by and we enjoyed seeing it at night. We too visited the famous cemetery and visited Chopin's and Jim Morrisons grave, to name a few. I really enjoyed Museum d'Orsay. Go to the top of the Arch de Triomphe for a great view of the area and the Eiffel tower. Of course the Eiffel tower is higher (I missed my chance to get to the top - will do so next year!) We bought a Barron's French language book and that helped us a lot. I'm now taking Italian lessions at the community college for our trip to Italy in May (10 lessions with grammar and basic conversation; so far so good). I think any person would appreciate anyone giving another language a try! We had no problems with "rude" French, in fact, several people helped my Mother with her suitcase up/down the metro stairs! We really enjoyed our trip and I know you will too! Read as many books as you can to become familiar!!!

Arizona Mar 23rd, 1998 12:41 PM

Times change, people change, Paris adapts. Get yourself a copy of Michelin's Green Guide to Paris.
Try to find it on Amazon.com -- the electronic book store. It will open many doors for you, answer most questions, and serve as a constant guide and companion. It's skinny enough to slip into your pocket.

Sharon Mar 26th, 1998 10:00 AM

Well, I can't add too much because you've already received excellent advice! Donna knows her stuff! Contrary to the popular belief that the French are rude, the are really quite friendly and helpful. If ever you need to ask someone for assistance, simply begin by "Excusez-moi de vous deranger, mais..." ("Excuse me for disturbing you, but..."). Also, when offering salutations, always include "Madame" and "Monsieur" (i.e. "Bonjour, Madame."). To simply say "Bonjour" is considered a bit too familiar and something of a slight. You would be surprised at how much simple courtesies are appreciated. Also, you will rarely see a Parisian in jeans or tennis shoes. We always wear slacks and nice, but comfortable shoes. It helps to be dressed nicely enough to go into any restaurant or boutique you encounter. Sales girls will size you up by what you are wearing the minute you walk into the store and will give you service accordingly (one big difference between France and America: stores definitely do not operate on the "customers come first" basis)! We always stay in the 7th arrrondissement because it is close to so many of the museums and monuments, but isn't as touristy as a lot of the other areas. We use the Formule 1 pass that allows unlimited travel on the RER, Metro, and bus system for one price all day long. I think it costs about 30F per person. This may or may not be a better deal than individual tickets - it depends on your schedule. If you can extend your stay by a few days, you should! There is so much to see and do that you will want all the time you can get! Good luck and have a great time!

kam Mar 26th, 1998 05:27 PM

There's a new book out entitled "French or Foe" which covers the topic discussed in so many of these posts. I have run into rude Parisians and kind ones, and almost always kind people outside of the big city. I speak a little French--just enough to get in over my head--but always begin with apologizing for my poor French--that seems to appeal to people and then they appreciate my trying. As a very close French friend says "You Americans will never speak French well enough for a bartender, taxi driver, or government official but the rest of us appreciate your efforts!" (His English is perfect) I haven't read the above book but will do so before our trip to France in October. Also agree with it might be chilly--we've been there in October and froze! Also, you will be on the cusp of the rainy season, so I always bring a black, lined raincoat.(black looks dressier to me for evenings)

B.G. Mar 26th, 1998 08:19 PM

I enjoyed reading all the responses, too. I have been able to visit Paris about a dozen time in about as many years. My first visit was especially very exciting for me. It was almost enough just to know I was really there - a city I had heard about all my life! I stared at the Eiffel Tower. I stared at the Arch of Triumph (love this monument). I wandered through the Louve seeing the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus Di Milo. I had very rich hot chocolate at Angelina's on the Rue di Rivoli. I stared at the Impressionists at La Orangie and Musee D'Orsay (I think it was finished then if not, I did so later).I looked up in awe at Notre Dame. I took a Bateau Mouche ride on the Seine. I saw the cell where Marie Antoinette awaited execution at the Palace of Justice. I rode the Metro. I walked down the Champs Elysees from the Arch to the Place de Condorde. I ate bagettes, cheese, pastry and drank some wonderful wine. I gazed at the wonderful Rodin sculpture at his museum. I visited Mommarte (how do you spell this?) and bought a small painting from a young Spaniard who was an art student. I saw Verailles. I sipped expresso at a sidewalk cafe. And I did more. In later trips I branched out to Giverny, Rouen, Chartres. Visited the chateau of Chennonceau. Went to St. Denis where royalty is buried. Also went to Pere La Chaise Cemetery. I visited the Pantheon and marvelled at the names I saw of the famous French people buried there. I saw in Victor Hugo's house. I saw the Picasso Museum. I saw the Museum Carnavalet. I saw the town house called Nissam Columbe (had belonged to Holocaust victims). And more and more as I came back.each time. I also took CityRama Tours to places outside of Paris. I would suggest you might want to do what I did on my first visit and that is to soak up all the things you've already heard about Paris, even if they are where all the tourists are doing the same thing. Enjoy your trip.

Linda Mar 28th, 1998 01:37 PM

If you can handle one more reply, I have been to Paris twice and am still in awe of the 12 streets that converge at the Arc De Triomphe and the traffic that navigates and circles the monument, finds their exit all without traffic lights or accidents. I too stayed at the Hotel Du Panthen last year and heartily recommend it. Walking back a few blocks behind the hotel will take you to the St. Germaine De Pres area which is lovely for strolling and soaking up that wonderful Paris atmosphere. I echo my fellow travelers and recommend learning the basic French phrases to use when approaching someone. After all, what do we Americans do when someone walks up to us and speaks rapidly in their native tongue?

Donna Mar 28th, 1998 05:30 PM

The original post mentioned three days in Paris. What I meant by the Princess Diana comment was that there is so much to see and do in Paris that you will want to return, and you just never know when or if that will be possible! We had planned to return this May, but have had to postpone it.

Lidia Apr 7th, 1998 12:31 PM

Well you now have some great advice and some tough choices to make. Myself I am a Right Bank person. I like to be close as in walking distance to the Palais Royal the Louvre and the Opera. Also within walking distance is the Tuileries gardens. As Donna stated it is preference. I like the Right Bank. So good luck in making a choice with the info you now have it will be a great time. I have been to Paris over 30 times to visit my grandmother and also went to college in France and also worked as a waitress in my college days. So follow everyones advice and Bon Voyage!!!!

clay Apr 11th, 1998 04:27 PM

So much good advice! The only thing I can add is that if you plan to take Metro, and it really is the best way to get around Paris, be forewarned that to enter/exit, you walk up and down stairs - so many stairs like I have never seen before! Stay limber, get the museum card (if you plan to go overboard with museums) and your Formula One metro pass or a carnet of metro tickets. Hope you fall in love with Paris and have to return soon!

carol May 3rd, 1998 06:59 AM

We also are planning our first trip to Paris in July. we have already booked our trip. we are staying at the Concorde St. Larzare. we have injoyed
reading all the suggestions from everybody. Has anybody stayed at this hotel? How is the weather in July? We have a package with some things included, like the museums passes, dinner on the Seine River ect. We will be back to read more so any information will be helpful.


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