Comments on Paris

Old Oct 4th, 1999, 03:37 AM
  #1  
Bob Brown
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Comments on Paris

With a lot of help from contributors to this forum, my wife and I just returned from a sucessful visit to Paris, with an extension to Switzerland. I would like to offer my observations in hopes that my experiences will help future visitors and, perhaps, people visiting Paris again. (I hope this is not a duplicate, because my first attempt appears to have been eaten. I thought that monster had been sated before I left.)

1. The pickpocket threat is real; it is not the figment of some alarmists' imaginations.
I was targeted while boarding a Metro train, but for some reason, the attempt was not carried out, probably because my wallet was very thin. My passport, credit cards, drivers license, and "big" money were in a pouch hanging around my neck, slightly under my belt, and buried under two shirts. Here is how it happened: As I boarded, a young man was pretending to read the route map, which is posted up over the doorway. He was running his finger along the map and, as I boarded, stepped directly into me, thus forcing me to detour and causing physical contact with my shoulders and chest, while he exited the train. A young man, quite fluent in English (probably an American) asked me if everything was still in my pockets. Fortunately, nothing was missing. The act of stepping into me under the pretext of reading the route map was the distraction that many pickpockets use.

2. The comments I read by some posters that Parisians are unfriendly, etc. was only partly true. Several times on the bus younger people offered me a seat rather than taking it themselves. I guess they figured I was an old codger and needed help. Several times fellow bus riders offered to help us, even if they knew only a few words of English. (I speak very little French.) I also found a willingness by most store clerks to use what English they knew to help us make purchases.

3. We found that we preferred the bus to the Metro. The Metro requires walking in long tunnels, walking up and down steps, and sweating because of the heat. The cars were always crowded and the pace was both frantic and frenetic. We grew to hate the Metro and took the bus whenever we could. Paris bus routes are posted on comprehensive maps at most bus stops, thus making it relatively easy to identify the bus you need to take.
Although slower, buses gave us a chance to view while we rode. By buying carnets of 10 tickets, the cost per ride was 5.5 francs. One caution: some bus routes do not operate on Sunday. .

4. My acquaintance of many years, a guy named Charley, has strange tastes. Before we left, he told me that could not find any good bread in Paris. I concluded that his tastes are bizarre. We found it hard to pass a bakery without going in to indulge ourselves.

5. Finding good places to eat is easy. One need not pay $40 per person to have a very good meal.

6. If you want to call the States, we found that the best bet was to purchase a telephone card, available at Tabac Shops and the Post Office, and use a public phone. Just shove in the telephone card, dial 00, 1, area code, and phone number, and you soon have a ringing sound.

7. If you are a classical music buff, as I am, attending a concert at Sainte Chapelle is a rewarding experience. We heard the Violins of France, under the leadership of Frederick Moreau, play Mozart's "A Little Night Music", and Vivaldi's "Four Seasons". Moreau is a great young player. And hearing beautifully played chamber music in that jewel box setting was cathartic. The email reservation system worked well; my name was on the reservation list when I arrived to purchase my tickets.

8. The website/email method for making reservations on the SNCF does not work very well. I made the reservation before departing, and printed the confirmation. The ticket agent had no idea what is was all about. .

9. I cannot recommend the hotel we stayed in: the Acacias St. Germain on rue des Rennes. The room was tiny, awkwardly laid out, and hot. The part owner/manager was moody and quicky earned the sobriquet of the Dragon Lady. (She chained smoked, blew the smoke out her nose, and was generally unpleasent. I think one could do about as well if not better for less than the $100 plus per night we paid.

10. Although the Louvre is large, getting lost was no problem. But along with some recognized masterpieces, the museum has an incredible amount of junk. If you want to see Mona and Venus, go early or late, because they are otherwise mobbed. After walking the necessary miles to see the place, I was in full agreement with Rick Steves' concluding line about the Louvre: "Ou est la Sortie." We liked Musee d'Orsay much better.

11. Versailles is easy to reach, and by mobs of people. We got there so early that we walked right up to the ticket booth as they were opening. Before we got out, the rooms were packed.

12. The metro, buses, many shops, restaurants, and museums are hot. It rains a lot in Paris, but a raincoat just makes you hotter. Have an umbrella -- even if you donate it before leaving.

13. Carry a 2 franc coin just in case you have a sudden urge and need the sidewalk facilities.

14. The Fodors map of Paris is adequate for most uses. It is small enough to be easily carried, but detailed enough to be useful. But nothing I saw beats the big Michelin foldout map that I from One Map Place in Dallas.

15. ATM cards worked. The card and PIN went in and money came out. Never took a travelers check out of my pouch.

16. CDG airport is a large, disorderly, and confusing place. Also, I strongly recommend that if you have to make a connecting flight in Europe, that you allow more than 2 hours of scheduled connecting time. Flights in Europe are often delayed by the air traffic controllers because of crowded skies..

17. I will never willingly fly Delta Airlines again. Our flight over was on an MD-11 aircraft operated by Delta for Air France. Leg room was skimpy to the point of misery and I am barely 6 tall and 180 pounds. (One fellow, who stood 6'8" flew standing up because he could not sit.) But such abominable seating in "cattle car class" is the rule on Delta flights; and business class is 6 to 8 times the price of "cattle class", therefore prohibitive in cost. At least the flight home was on an Airbus 340 and I had a little more space. Not much more, but every inch in such tight confines is vital.

Well this has gone on long enough. As Rick said: Ou est la sortie?
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 04:35 AM
  #2  
Mary Ann
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I concur with your comments, we just got back Saturday night. We found almost all parisiennes to be helpful, including when our battery was dead on trying to leave for the airport. Driving to CD was not as bad as we anticipated. The museum pass really helps. We did use both the metro and the bus. Had no problems with pickpockets fortunately, in Paris or at our other 9 locations including eastern europe. Cannot wait to go back again. Our hotel, Champs de Mars was also very good, small clean rooms with helpful staff. It is hard to get back to reality this week. Cyber cafes helped to keep in touch with home. And the packet of tickets is good on the bus, RER and Metro so you cannot lose in getting them, otherwize it is 8FF a trip. Also picnicing in the park was great fun. Too bad Rick does not have advice for Australia where we want to go next year! happy traveling!!!!
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 06:39 AM
  #3  
Brian in Atlanta
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What a coincidence, Bob! On our trip to Italy last week, my wife and I took the Delta MD-11 over to CDG and returned on the AF A-340. I was amazed at the difference (and thought of your comments on this forum) as I wedged myself into the seats on the MD-11.

I figured we had a good 2-3 inches extra leg room on the AF flight (which means a lot), there are fewer seats in a row (2-4-2 vs 2-5-2 on Delta), there was much more room in the overhead bins and the food was much better. I'll only fly on AF or Sabena Airbus planes to Europe from now on.
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 07:16 AM
  #4  
elvira
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Just returned last night from two weeks in London, Paris and the Dordogne Valley.
In all my trips to Paris, I've NEVER had the pickpocket problem we had on this trip. Fortunately, we were alert, so nobody was robbed, but several attempts were made. 1) on an escalator coming up from the Metro by the Louvre, a man stopped at the top of the escalator, forcing one of the women with us, who was behind him, to try desperately to keep her balance. She shoved his back and yelled at him, and he bolted. She looked down and saw her fanny pack partly unzipped. She was the only one of us who wore a fanny pack, and nearly paid the price. 2) the Barbes-Rochouaurt (sp is bad, sorry) stop should be avoided at all costs. It is dangerous; we were nearly mugged, except for the intervention of 2 metro workers who yelled at the 4 guys to go away and leave us alone. 3) I think the body snatchers have taken all the French and replaced them with pod people. No way are the French that nice. In every restaurant, store, museum, whatever, we were treated wonderfully - no attitude - and everyone tried to be helpful. We even got SMILES that weren't aimed at us, but included us. Hmmm...

We flew BritAir both ways, and though the seats weren't roomy, we weren't too uncomfortable. Obviously, we will ixnay Eltaday for any overseas flights - thanks, Bob, for saving us THAT horror.

The museum pass is a godsend; whipped into the Louvre as it opened, and saw the biggies (girl with no head, girl with no arms, girl with no lower extremities). Had time to see the jewels, some of the Egyptian stuff, French and Italian paintings - the Renaissance room and Napoleon's apartments were closed for renovations - and get out just about the time the busloads of Yokos, Changs, Helgas and Bubbas arrived. Ditto going to Versailles - the girls walked right into the chateau, no waiting, and were pretty much ahead of the crowds (I was laid low with a stomach flu that day). They also went to Giverny, that even in early fall, was still beautiful with flowers. I'd ordered them a limo (cost for 8 women was only slightly more than screwing around with trains) to take them to both places, and they caused quite a stir (the people on the street thought that surely someone famous would step out).
The metro pass, combined with carnets, worked well also. I've never used the busses, but I'll try them the next time I'm in Paris (I'm so comfortable riding the Metro I've never considered the busses). We took the chunnel from London to Paris - and since our hotel is on the RER B line, it was easy to get from Gare du Nord to our hotel.

There's lots more, but was glad to find out from Bob that our experiences in Paris were not hallucinations!
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 08:22 AM
  #5  
Eileen
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My parents and I go on a yearly vacation to Paris. Last July, it was the first time that we experienced something really weird.
Having just come from the LV boutique, we were walking on Champs Elysees when suddenly, a Japanese lady approaches us, asks if we spoke English and said that she needed our "help" to buy something from the Louis Vuitton boutique. She was asking us to accompany her! We pretended not to understand what she was saying and continued walking.
We felt that it was a modus operandi of some sort because I was using my LV rucksack that time, and we were thinking that she was probably observing the boutiques that people came out from,etc.
I mean, Japanese people are normally shy and if she really wanted "help", she could enter the LV boutique anytime since 90% of the customers there were Japanese and even if she spoke limited English, she could still get by because the staff could speak Niponggo.
Did anyone have the same experience that my parents and I had?
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 08:47 AM
  #6  
Gina
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I give up. What's "Niponggo"?
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 08:54 AM
  #7  
Maira
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Eileen,

What exactly is "Nippongo"? I will hate to think that you are being derrogatory; usually the posters on this forum are intelligent, tolerable people with 21th Century mentality...
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 10:34 AM
  #8  
Ray
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Also just returned from Paris last week.

I thought the metro was great. Never waited more than 2 minutes for a train.

Made the mistake of buying a 3 day Carte Musee. It locked us in to going to the museums for those 3 days. Price is the same on a day-by-day basis ( 80 FF). Also, if you plan on only doing 1 museum such as Orsay on a particular day, don't buy the pass. Its cheaper to buy a ticket at the door.

Do Versailles on your own. Very easy by RER. The 4 hours allotted by most tour operators is not long enough.

 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 10:51 AM
  #9  
Bob Brown
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We, too, did everything on our own, even Giverny. The bus from Vernon, where the train stops, was packed, so we ended up with a cab which we shared. Just make sure you get a firm agreement to be picked up and taken back to the train in time to catch the return to Paris.
I agree that the Metro is fast, but I
sweated up all my clothes just using the blasted thing. The 5 day museum pass is a bargain if you are a marathon museum goer who reaches the first one at the opening bell and goes hard to take in other museums until the whistle blows.
My main enjoyment, other than the opera and the string chamber music performance, was eating. French cooking is unbeatable in my opinion except maybe in Italy. It all reminds me of that joke that was told on this forum earlier: Heaven is where all the cooks are French, the engineers are German, the cops are British, the lovers are Italian and the Swiss run the show.
Hell is where the engineers are French, the cops are German, the cooks are English, the Americans bake the bread, the lovers are Swiss and the Italians run the show. Perhaps a creative person could work the Spanish into the picture.
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 10:51 AM
  #10  
Bob Brown
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We, too, did everything on our own, even Giverny. The bus from Vernon, where the train stops, was packed, so we ended up with a cab which we shared. Just make sure you get a firm agreement to be picked up and taken back to the train in time to catch the return to Paris.
I agree that the Metro is fast, but I
sweated up all my clothes just using the blasted thing. The 5 day museum pass is a bargain if you are a marathon museum goer who reaches the first one at the opening bell and goes hard to take in other museums until the whistle blows.
My main enjoyment, other than the opera and the string chamber music performance, was eating. French cooking is unbeatable in my opinion except maybe in Italy. It all reminds me of that joke that was told on this forum earlier: Heaven is where all the cooks are French, the engineers are German, the cops are British, the lovers are Italian and the Swiss run the show.
Hell is where the engineers are French, the cops are German, the cooks are English, the Americans bake the bread, the lovers are Swiss and the Italians run the show. Perhaps a creative person could work the Spanish into the picture.
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 11:34 AM
  #11  
dan woodlief
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The Spanish set the hours to go to bed, but the Americans set the hours to get up for work - everyday would feel like a Monday.

Bob, I am sorry that you did not enjoy the hotel in Paris. We had a better experience than that in the two nights that we spent in that hotel, but really we spent so little time in the room and at the hotel in general that I can't remember much beyond the location, the room was ok but nothing special, and the hot chocolate was pretty good. The staff was helpful enough when we encountered them but not particularly friendly.

I completely agree about the metro tunnels. My feet have never hurt more than they did after a few days in Paris, and those tunnels could be torture at times - beat the heck out of walking everywhere though. Maybe I will try a bus next trip.

My brother and his wife just returned from Paris on Delta yesterday. Seems like everyone returned from there this weekend. Wish I had. It will be interesting to here their opinions of the flight, but since it was their first time abroad, I don't know if they will have much information for comparison (except they did fly Air France within Europe).
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 11:34 AM
  #12  
dan woodlief
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The Spanish set the hours to go to bed, but the Americans set the hours to get up for work - everyday would feel like a Monday.

Bob, I am sorry that you did not enjoy the hotel in Paris. We had a better experience than that in the two nights that we spent in that hotel, but really we spent so little time in the room and at the hotel in general that I can't remember much beyond the location, the room was ok but nothing special, and the hot chocolate was pretty good. The staff was helpful enough when we encountered them but not particularly friendly.

I completely agree about the metro tunnels. My feet have never hurt more than they did after a few days in Paris, and those tunnels could be torture at times - beat the heck out of walking everywhere though. Maybe I will try a bus next trip.

My brother and his wife just returned from Paris on Delta yesterday. Seems like everyone returned from there this weekend. Wish I had. It will be interesting to here their opinions of the flight, but since it was their first time abroad, I don't know if they will have much information for comparison (except they did fly Air France within Europe).
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 01:09 PM
  #13  
lisa
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Thanks for the updates from Paris! I had heard the French government was running some kind of a "Smile!" campaign to get Parisians to be more polite to tourists -- it must be working...

Things on this forum are always nicer with Bob and Elvira around. I knew something had been missing lately.
 
Old Oct 4th, 1999, 01:22 PM
  #14  
Bob Brown
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My blushes at the above comment. But you are dead right about Elvira. She has given me the right direction on more than one occasion.

I will have to tell one funny story about our stay in Switzerland at Lauterbrunnen. We were shopping along the street (singular in that town) when a local toddler, male, came up to my wife and handed her something, as children of that age are prone to do.
My wife, who is tall, and experienced with kids, having been a pediatric nurse at one stage of her career, leaned over and accepted the little boy's "gift" and said "Thank you" in English. It turned out to be a cigarette butt. The little boy's mother, who spoke enough English to know what was what, was mortified.
My wife is a cool type and just laughed it off and assured the lady that it was no problem.
By the way, any of you who may be going to Switzerland and want to bury yourselves in the "real" alps, let me suggest Zinal in the Val d'Anniviers.
We stayed at a 2-star hotel called du Trift. The owner and manager, Nicolas Guillhaume and his wife Evelyn, are really nice. Nicolas prefers to speak English over German. The hotel is quaint. Just don't get a room under the roof unless you are a midgit. I did not bang my head but once, even though the ceiling slopes. We had a shower in the room but had to cross the hall for the remainder of the facilities. Don't recall that before. Nicolas does have a few rooms with all facilities, but the standard room has neither. The bath and shower rooms are quite nice, however.
Scenery around there and up the road at Grimentz and at Barrage de Moiry is excellent, but to really see it you have to hoof it.
 
Old Oct 5th, 1999, 04:33 AM
  #15  
Sandy
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My husband and I also returned from Paris this weekend. Our first trip and it was more than could be hoped for. All the advice I have read on this forum was so useful. We stayed at the charming Grande Hotel de Ecoles in the 5th. The Parisians were friendly and helpful - all the time! We discovered that a small restaurant that had been mentioned here "Le Tire Bouchon", was right around the corner and we ate there a few times and enjoyed every meal. The lamb was delicious. The information I received on this forum about the Metro, museum passes and timing of visits to places was invaluable and nearly always correct. We flew Northwest which was better than I expected on the way to but a nightmare on the way home. Our plane had mechanical problems and, after sitting on the ground for 4 hours, we had to deplane, fetch our baggage and stand in line for 2 hours to get hotel vouchers etc. We decided it was a gift of an extra day in Paris (even though we were staying at an airport Holiday Inn with no way to get back to the city) and made the most of it, visiting with people standing in lines, inviting a large group of people from various places, including France, to join us for dinner etc. The Northwest staff was overall very helpful and friendly but they were a little stressed too. We love Paris!
 
Old Oct 5th, 1999, 08:04 PM
  #16  
Cruz
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Wow!!All of you has helped me so much!!!!I'm planning a trip to Paris on Nov.4. I will be travelling alone(single girl-well actually I'm 27, so that should make me to be a woman) and Honestly-I'm a bit nervous. I've been to Scotland and to England last March and I found that experience to be the best so far. That was the only time I was ever outside the state of Texas-(I know, poor me), and I was in awe of everything that I saw!! But this Paris trip is just a "last minute" thing. I got the ticket very cheap. I'm flying Northwest/KLM and I just didn't know what to expect: But since you all have posted some very good information, I feel like I know a little bit more. The only thing I am a bit afraid about is the accomodations. I've been researching places and the best thing on my budget is the Hotel Esmeralda. It's located in the Latin Quarter, close to the Seine, and well, I heard it's cool to go to. If any of ya'll(Texan slang) know of any budget hotels, let me know. When I mean budget, I mean BUDGET. I didn't quite save alot of money, so this has to be the "CHEAP PARIS TRIP OF ALL TIME"!!!!! Thanks ahead for all of your time and valuable information...I will keep this in mind...WISH ME LUCK!!!!!!?????
 
Old Oct 5th, 1999, 08:29 PM
  #17  
Diane
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I don't know if $75 a night for a single room is your idea of cheap, but if it is I highly recommend Hotel Daguerre. I stayed there in May and thought it an excellent value. It's in a charming neighborhood, although not in heart of activities. My friend just returned several days ago, and he was delighted with it. We both booked on http://www.hotelboulevard.com
If you book with them, be sure to request a back-facing room which will be very quiet.

I, too, thought the buses in Paris were better than the Metro. It's good to finally hear someone else voice that opinion. There's just too much walking and too many stairs in taking the Metro.
 
Old Oct 6th, 1999, 05:13 AM
  #18  
Bob Brown
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Hi Cruz. I am not sure a 67 year old man is the right person to give suggestions to a 27 year old woman. My son is 13 years older than you are and my grandchildren are considerably younger. And my wife of 41 years is my comrade-in-arms when we travel. But I will be happy to share my thoughts on the subject.

Our hotel was on Rue de Rennes, which is a busy street that tended to fold up when stores closed, yet there were many pedestrians because apartments were in the vicinity. If you out after 9 PM alone, I think you will be OK if you are in a lighted area and KEEP MOVING fast like the locals. As for riding the buses at night, we had no problems because they were fairly crowded even after 10 PM. Of course this depends on where you go.
As for cutting expenses, we took a shuttle service from the airport to our hotel. Here is the address:
http://www.paris-anglo.com/clients/ashuttle.html
The RER might be a little cheaper, but after an overnight flight, the shuttle might be better. We of course shared the ride and were the last stop, but while riding I observed. We drove right through the Louvre area and I got a chance to size up the layout and spot the bus stop we ultimately used. So the delay was not wasted. I don't think a taxi would have made it much faster, unless it could become airborne.
As for food, we always sized up the menu before going in. And Paris has many, many bakeries that offer delicious sandwiches, which is a viable lunch option. I would suggest saving your money and not buying the Cheap Eats book. I have a copy and the worst meal we had in Paris was at a place listed in that book. After that, we just freelanced it by sizing up the menu and looking at the size of the crowd. If packed, it can't be that bad!!
For transportation, by a carnet of tickets for 55 Francs. They come in preprinted books of 10, and they are valid on both Metro and buses. When you board a bus, there is a little gadget into which you insert your ticket for cancellation. And keep your ticket until the end of the ride, then discard it. If you change buses, you use another ticket; no transfers issued as I could detect.
Get a French phrase book and learn a few basics. A couple of times we ended up pointing to the book. But most of the time someone spoke enough English to bail us out when our French failed. And believe me, it did not take much for failure to happen.
If you go to the Louvre, prepare ahead of time. It is a huge place, full of masterpieces and junk. I don't think one trip can do it justice for several reasons: 1. you get saturated after about 3 hours and 2. learning about all phases of art is not a trivial task. It can take years actually. I am conversant with Impressionism, but art from the Middle East is not something I have studied.
If you want to ask my wife some questions, she will be happy to answer. Use my email address, but I will turn any inquiries over to her.
One final note: as I indicated above, the pickpocket threat is real, even though someone on another thread said it was over rated. Well, it like an infection; the chances may be less than 5% for the population as a whole, but if you are the victim, the chances are 100%
No need to be panicky about it, but tuck your valuables well away. For men, hip pockets are vulnerable. My wife and I each used a neck wallet that hung on a cord. Keep the cord out of site as well.
 
Old Oct 6th, 1999, 06:15 AM
  #19  
Sally
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We just got back from a lovely visit to Paris. We stayed on the charming market street of Rue Cler at the Hotel Leveque- web site-http/interressa,ca/hotel/leveque/fr
email [email protected]
phone 01 47 05 49 15
fax 01 45 49 36
It would be perfect for someone who is not familar with Paris- the hotel personel is very helpful and all speak English.It is close to the Eiffel Tower and to a Metro stop.
The cost is 270 F ( under $45 ) for a single with a bath. You get a very nice breakfast free if you have Rick Steves Paris( that is a very helpful book - $12.95). Also there are several other inexpensive hotels on the same street- check Rick Steves or email me.
I agree, don't eat at restaurants. You can walk up this market street getting food to go at the most wonderful places- a veg/fruit market, cheese market, several bakeries, a charcuterie where you can take out cooked dishes or sandwiches. We tried some of Rick Steves ' inexpensive restaurant choices, and we weren't that impressed. We ate better just buying things at the market, also there is a supermarket close by where the prices are especially cheap, much less than at the market.
Get a carnet of tickets at the Metro. Get Museum passes one day at a time, it doesn't cost anymore and you will be sure to use them up that way.Have fun. We met lots of young people staying on that street.
 

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