I'm not exactly sure how to post this as a trip report and hope this works!
Writing this Trip Report has been very hard for me. I have this thought that my husband and I travel differently than most folks. He’s claustrophobic, can’t tolerate crowds or waiting in line, and doesn’t like anything too structured. So, if you’re reading this to find out our favorite restaurant or attraction, don’t go any further. There are none listed here. Instead, this is our experience, as two people who don’t speak a lick of French and who haven’t ventured out of the USA in 23 years. But before you go, please know this. The smartest thing I ever did in preparing for this trip was to ask what I thought to be a simple question on a Fodor’s blog. I received a wealth of information and instructions which turned our trip from being froth with disaster to the best trip of our entire lives. I thank every person who took time to help guide us and encourage everyone to participate in these blogs, either to give or receive travel advice and information from the real experts, the people who have nothing to gain by their recommendations except to enhance your travel experience. Now on to the details of our trip to Paris! Many of you may know much of what I’m going to write, but I’m gearing this to people similar to us, the inexperienced international traveler.
My husband made the arrangements for our plane tickets. We had enough frequent flyer miles to cover both tickets to Paris in full. However, he chose to use our mileage for one and pay for the other. After calling in several times to both the regular reservation line and then the frequent flyer line, he found the frequent flyer personnel to be more receptive if he was paying for one ticket. This may have been an anomaly, but using that approach gave us the opportunity to book a direct flight each way during the hours we preferred to travel. The in-flight experience was exceptional. It was so much different than air travel within the USA. My husband packed a small, collapsible cooler bag with snacks and six sandwiches, which turned out not to be necessary for our flight, but came in handy while we were getting our bearings during our first day in Paris.
Meals, beverages including beer and wine, and movies were all included as part of the plane ticket! I took this opportunity to watch “Midnight in Paris” on the way to France, which definitely put me in a great frame of mind! The flight was quick and uneventful, which was also wonderful!
Travel from Charles de Gaulle airport to our Hotel
I had written down all the information provided by Fodor bloggers regarding public transit travel. I am happy to report, with some assistance from a Transit employee, we bought our ticket for the RER and Metro. We knew where to get off the RER, walked through the tunnel to the Metro and arrived at our hotel within an hour. All for about 9 Euros each! My husband felt I was being much too detailed when he saw me printing out all this information at home, but without it, we would have definitely been lost. Once again, my sincere thanks to everyone for your patience and exactness in providing this information!!
Ice—a precious commodity in Paris
We take ice for granted in the USA. It’s available for purchase in convenient and grocery stores and there are ice bins in most hotels. We found this not the case in Paris! During our trip, we often bought cold cuts and a loaf of French bread to snack on in the evening and to have as breakfast in the morning. To safely hold the cold cuts in the cooler, we needed ice. Our hotel was very accommodating in providing ice from two trays in the freezer of their small refrigerator after we found we couldn’t buy ice at the convenient store across the street! While having a beer at a local bar, my husband even asked if they could spare some ice (I had a baggie in my purse to hold it!) They said they would be happy to provide us some ice if we could come back after 11PM so they could be sure they had enough to use for their patrons during the evening. This was a surprise to us because we live in a tourist town and the establishment next door goes through over 4,000lbs of ice in a single weekend! We then started noticing drinks in Paris weren’t packed with ice as they are here. And displays of food didn’t rest on a bed of ice but rather were cooled from beneath by refrigeration. Different and interesting!
As the Fodor bloggers are aware, we left the USA with only two of our six nights in Paris booked into a hotel. We never make reservations when traveling in the USA. We simply go to our destination and find a room to our liking in our price range. We thought that would be the case in Paris. We didn’t heed the bloggers’ warnings that we should book a hotel every night prior to leaving the USA. They were absolutely RIGHT.
One blogger recommended trying the “New Orient Hotel” on Rue Constantinople. We were fortunate they had a vacancy for our first two nights in Paris, but were filled the rest of the week.
Our plane landed at 7:30AM and we were at the New Orient by 8:30AM. They were extremely gracious (in so many ways I’ll mention later), and held our luggage until our room was ready at noon. We decided to walk around Paris for a few hours to see if we could find accommodations for the rest of the week. This was a mistake because we were extremely tired making us easily discouraged. We found out that it was “Fashion Week” in Paris and most of the hotels were booked. There seemed to be available at two ends of the spectrum, low end where we wouldn’t consider staying and high end, starting at $350/night. We decided to get some rest and try again on Thursday. Fortunately on Thursday, the New Orient had an opening which extended our stay through Sunday, leaving us with only two nights (Sunday and Monday) to fill!
While walking around Paris on Thursday, we noticed many people with their baggage in tow. We started chatting with one such couple who had asked us for directions. They had made and provided their credit card for 4 evenings in a Paris hotel 3 days prior to their arrival. The hotel didn’t have a phone number listed and although he had sent several e-mails attempting to confirm their reservation, he never got a confirmation. I’m bringing this up now so you all benefit from these two points: 1) Fodor bloggers wisely advised us that we had best call hotels directly rather than relying on the internet for confirmation. 2) Without a written confirmation of your room, some hotels may actually re-book your room if they get a higher price from someone who is there in person.
And most importantly, those two points allow me to elaborate on how hotels such as the New Orient demonstrate high standards and how incredibly helpful they really are.
The New Orient Hotel, 16 rue de Constantinople, 75008 Paris. Tel: 01 45 22 21 64 [email protected] ; www.hotelneworient.com
We called the New Orient from the US to place our reservation. They immediately e-mailed us a printed confirmation with the details of our stay. Upon arrival, they were very pleasant and accommodating. They provided a secure place to keep our luggage, and put our luggage in our room when it was ready. Our room was very comfortable, clean and affordable. The location was wonderful because it was within walking distance to anywhere we cared to go. The Managers, Catherine and Josef Wehrle and staff spoke English and were very helpful with directions and advice. Needless to say, for all these reasons we highly recommend this hotel. But our recommendation goes deeper.
We took the couple mentioned earlier who were in search of a room back with us to the New Orient to see if perhaps they had a vacancy for Thursday night. They did not. However, Catherine started making calls to hotels to help the couple find a room. This couple wasn’t staying there, and since the New Orient was full for the rest of the week, the New Orient had nothing to monetarily gain. Monetary gain wasn’t her motive. She is a kind hearted, good person who simply wanted to help. After about an hour of calling every hotel she knew, she called them a cab and gave the driver instructions to quickly take them to the official Tourist office to help them find a room for the evening. This type of service is what elevates the New Orient to an exception hotel.
This level of service extended to the weekend staff as well. I specifically wrote down the name of the gentleman at the front desk who helped us so I could personally acknowledge him, but have unfortunately since lost my slip of paper. I thought his name was Michael, but the only male name I could find on the hotel website was Amar. I do apologize if I’ve acknowledge the wrong person, but I am confident that no matter who sits at that front desk, the exceptional service remains the same! We had hoped that there would be an additional cancelation to enable us to stay at the New Orient through Sunday. We had already decided to stay at the airport on Monday to take the stress out of getting to the airport for our flight Tuesday morning. On Saturday, Amar helped us select and book our Monday night reservation at the IBIS PARIS CDG TERMINAL ROISSY
http://www.ibishotel.com/gb/hotel-1404-ibis-paris-cdg-airport/index.shtml. This link will bring you to a review of this hotel written by a Fodor blogger which may be helpful: http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/hotel-roundup-hotels-near-charles-de-gaulle-airport-paris.cfm . I will only add that they had an abundance of ice!
With Monday night handled, we and Amar focused on Sunday night. We chose 3 hotels from some business cards of hotels we had discovered during our wanderings around Paris. He was successful in booking Sunday night at a hotel one block away from the Seine and Pont de Neuf. However, I became very nervous when they said they didn’t need our credit card. My husband and I decided it best to immediately walk to that hotel to check it out again and confirm our room in person and in writing. Once in the area we knew we were close but couldn’t find the street, so my husband spotted a beautiful hotel and suggested we go in to ask them to direct us. The desk clerk was very helpful and while she was looking the address up on Google, the hotel owner came to see if he could help. He asked if we already had a paid reservation at that hotel and when we said we didn’t, he gave us information about his hotel, the Hotel Saint Honore. Complete renovations were finished 10 days prior, and because of that, they hadn’t begun to fully advertise yet. Thus, although their standard rate for Sunday evening was about 270 Euros, he offered us a special rate for that night of 120 Euros. We were completely impressed when we looked at a room and immediately booked it! We then walked over to the original hotel. It was 20 Euros cheaper and fine, but definitely not close to what we had at Hotel Saint Honore. I am not sure what their current rates are, but I would recommend for anyone to consider calling to find out. The accommodations and location are amazing! Hotel Saint Honore information: 85, rue Saint Honore, 75001 Paris, France. Phone: 33 (0) 1 42 36 20 38, [email protected] , www.hotelsthonore.com.
Our Wanderings Around Paris
After leaving our luggage at the New Orient on our first day, we set off, map in hand. You see lots of people like us wandering around Paris trying to figure out where they are on the maps. It’s not easy. First thing to realize is the street signs are on buildings and not only tell you the street name, but also which arrondisement you’re in. We walked to the Arc de Triomphe,, crossed the Seine and started walking toward what we believed to be the Latin Quarter. No matter how far we seemed to walk or how hard we tried, we couldn’t get out of the 7th arrondisement. We’d ask which way to the Latin Quarter and were repeatedly told it’s not really a defined area, but keep walking and we’ll run into it. Frustrated with the map and very tired, we returned to our hotel determined to do better the next day when rested. We stayed up until our normal bedtime and awoke at 8AM Paris time, fully rested and ready to start our adventure. Eventually we figured out a system for figuring out how to get where we wanted to go: I’d ask my husband which direction would take us to the Seine and then I’d figure out which street we needed to take in order to get to our intended destination. Our destinations only included general areas, not specific locations or attractions, which I believe made things easier for us. I’d take a picture of buildings or sites that we found to be amazing and not be concerned with formally knowing what it was. Since I took over 300 pictures, it’s safe to say there were many amazing sites to behold! We’d see a structure at what seemed to be the end of a narrow street only to discover it was a hugely impressive building that often covered an entire block, if not more! My husband and I live in Maine now, but we both grew up just outside of Boston and have spent a great deal of time in Boston and NYC. We have also traveled to Rome. We’re used to large, beautiful structures. But nothing we’ve seen ever seen comes close to what we saw in Paris. Amazing, beautiful, spectacular structures are everywhere!!
We typically left our hotel each morning around 8AM and walked the streets until after 9PM, stopping along the way for a dessert here, lunch there, to sit by the Seine to eat a sandwich, etc. The weather averaged a perfect 72 degrees with absolutely no rain. We couldn’t ask for more!
My favorite parts of the trip
The Latin Quarter. I love this area of Paris! The quaint streets are filled with cozy restaurants with reasonably priced meal selections. There are also many different tourist shops with a good selection of trinkets to bring back to friends and family.
The Sunday morning open market. I wish I could tell you where this was, but I can’t because we accidently happened across it while walking from Constantinople to our hotel on Honore Street. It reminded me of a similar thing we have in Boston’s Haymarket Square area on Saturday mornings. Street vendors were set up (probably for the morning or day) offering fresh fruits, meats, poultry, pastry, bread, olives and seafood. We picked up a fresh loaf of bread, some of my favorite olives, cooked large crab (in the US we call them Rock Crabs) cut in half and some fruit, all of which we ate for breakfast!
Walking to La basilique du Sacre-Couer. I spotted a white structure which seemed to be up a hill while we were walking. We started walking in its direction only to have it disappear. My husband convinced me it wasn’t on a hill at all and to change focus, which we did. However, I was more determined the next day when I spotted it again. I started walking in its direction until we came to several sets with many stairs, which we climbed. Not only was the view of Paris spectacular, but the streets looked like they came out of an old black and white movie! Yes, it was touristy, but then, we’re tourists!
Streets closed to traffic near the modern building housing the Hotel Novotel. Once again, I can’t tell you exactly where this is, but we saw a spontaneous “flash mob” break into song and dance! I’ve never had the opportunity to witness this in the US, and it was great!! There were lots of little bars and restaurants, and of course, we were forced to stop to sample some beers in a few of them. Lots of fun and laughs.
The Parisians. If we had lived in Maine our entire lives we may have considered them a bit standoffish, but in reality, their attitudes were similar to natives of Boston or NYC. They were very helpful when approached to help with directions, but cautious if you attempted to just chat with them without a purpose. The fact we didn’t speak any French wasn’t a problem at all. They did their very best to communicate with us partly in French and English. I would honestly say I felt welcome and respected by all we encountered.
rue St.Honore gourmet shop and my dessert!
There were two fantastic shops we frequented while at the Hotel Honore. The first was a gourmet shop diagonally across the street from 85, rue Saint Honore. Its exterior is beautiful, and the homemade products delectable! I tried looking at the location on Google maps but the store isn’t the same, which tells me the space must be newly renovated. Trust me, it is worth the walk to find this place. And save room for a dessert at La Boulangerie Julien @ 75 rue Saint Honore. Not only was the pastry the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere (and believe me, I know my pastries!), it was reasonably priced! My mouth is still watering!!
There’s so much more I could offer, but I think this hits the major points. We both fell in love Paris and are already speaking of our return trip when we’ll be ready to venture outside the city by rail! Thank you, again to all the Fodor bloggers!! If ever in Maine, please let me know so I may be of service to you!!
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Getting around Paris and France: Trip Report
I'm not exactly sure how to post this as a trip report and hope this works!