Long Paris Trip Report: Part I

Old Nov 24th, 2005, 04:35 AM
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JB7
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Long Paris Trip Report: Part I

First of all, thanks to all the dedicated Fodorites for their help. Iíve been lurking on this site for a while and received valuable tips for our first-ever trip to Paris (November 9-14). This report, broken down into three parts, is directed to first-time travelers to Paris. Itís just my observations; others may have entirely different experiences. Bottom line: We loved Paris!

Part I: The Basics

Flight: Husband and I traveled on Air France round-trip between Washington Dulles-Charles de Gaulle. We were pleased with the flights. Air France weighs luggage. If itís over 26 pounds, youíll have to check your bag. Our luggage weighed 15 pounds each, so we were able to take them onto the plane.

CDG: Huge and very modern. If you can find your way through JFK, LAX, DFW and ORD, however, youíll have no trouble with CDG.

Taxis are plentiful. You get into a line and a dispatcher directs you to the next available taxi. Traffic from the airport into Paris was bumper-to-bumper during morning rush hour. Budget about 60-80€, including a 10% tip, if you take a taxi into the city during rush hour. (Normally, we take trains from the airport into cities because itís much cheaper. But RER operated sporadically during our trip due to rioting, so we took a taxi.)

Riots: We didnít see any rioting. We noticed on Saturday evening, however, a larger than normal police presence on the streets. According to the news, demonstrations were expected on the streets of downtown Paris that night. None materialized.

Weather: Cold, partly-cloudy with rain on two days. The weather didnít stop us from exploring Paris, nor did it mar Parisí beauty.

Pretending to be anything but American: Some people on travel message boards recommend that Americans pretend to be from somewhere other than the U.S. Thatís nonsense. We never pretend to be anything but what we are. We look at maps when we had to, take pictures, and speak to one another in English with American accents (what other language or accent would we use?). No one is ever hostile to us.

Talking out loud: Americans havenít cornered the market on this one. We heard loud French, German and English with British accents on the streets and in bistros. One morning we were awakened at 2:30 by a group of French-speaking people on the street below, clapping and singing at the top of their lungs.

Pickpockets. We werenít bothered. Husband wore a pouch that looped around his belt and tucked into his pants. I wore a neck pouch.

Clothing: We didnít see haute couture on the Parisians Ė we obviously didnít associate with the beautiful people! Most people wore what weíd define as business or business-casual clothing. We did, however, see jeans and (gasp!) white sneakers on some French-speaking people.

You sometimes read on travel message boards that the Parisians laugh at how Americans dress. We didnít witness this type of rude behavior. When we mentioned it to our hosts, they were appalled. The Parisians appear too busy to care what anyone is wearing, although Iím sure there are some who have nothing better to do.

Wear what you like, what looks good on you, and whatever feels most comfortable. We packed slacks in neutral colors, and shirts and sweaters to match. Indispensable items included hooded black rain coats, scarves, gloves, comfortable shoes, and fold up umbrellas.

Accommodation: We stayed in a bed and breakfast accommodation rather than a tourist hotel. We made the arrangements through a Paris-based booking agency called Alcôves & Agapes. We stayed with a couple in their beautifully decorated apartment in a building constructed in the 1600ís. It was located in the 4th Arron. The cost was 146€ per night, including a bountiful continental breakfast. Our hosts were wonderful. They treated us like friends instead of paying guests. We had a bedroom with all the comforts of home, including a private bathroom (with amenities) and WC in the hall.
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 04:55 AM
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In time, the various parts of your report will become separated and hard for your readers to follow. Posting all the parts as replies to this original post would be helpful.
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 05:22 AM
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JB7: Great report (I haven't read the entire 3 installments yet - on my way there now)

But just one thing - I definitely agree w/ jed. If you add the other 2 segments to this one it will be a lot easier for folks to follow. The 3 will get separated and somepeople will see part 3 but not part 2 and so on.

Since you are a first time poster -- BTW an AMAZING report for a "newbie" -- you might not know how that works. After you post your first entry, click on the thread and then click on post a reply and add the next installment.

If it is OK w/ you, I can copy paste your other reports onto this thread. Or do you want to try it yourself?
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 05:37 AM
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Janisj and Jed, thanks for your suggestions. I thought breaking up the post would make it harder to read. Live and learn! Yes, Janisj, you may fix my post.
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 05:52 AM
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adding part II:

Author: JB7
Date: 11/24/2005, 08:37 am

Speaking French. French is not our second language. We learned the basics, however, and simple sentences and had no trouble (French Phrases for Dummies was helpful). Most Parisians responded to us in English.

Hand and facial gestures sometimes came in handy. Husband developed a slight sore throat. We went into a pharmacy and I said to the saleswoman, ďBonjour Madame, siíl vous plaitÖĒ then pointed to my throat and grimaced. She said, ďAh, oui, Madame,Ē reached under the counter and produced a box of throat lozenges. Another time I purchased rotisserie chicken in a butcher shop. I was able to successfully convey my request in French. I wanted, however, to tell the butcher that the chicken smelled delicious, but didnít know how. So I pointed to the chicken, crossed by hands on my upper chest, inhaled and said, ďAhhhh.Ē The butcherís face lit up, and he began speaking to me in French, pointing to the chickens and the oven. I have no idea what he said; perhaps he was explaining how he cooked the chickens.

Are Parisians rude? Not to us. With very few exceptions, everyone we encountered went out of his/her way to help. No one laughed at our feeble French Ė not even the waiter in a brasserie when I asked, in French, for a table for God instead of a table for two (he gently corrected me in English). A man in the Pont Marie Metro Station was bound and determined to help us, even though his English was as bad as our French. Between the two of us, and lots of hand gestures, we communicated.

The way to some Parisiansí hearts is definitely through their dogs. A lot of people had the small, fluffy kind that they took into bistros and shops. When we showed interest in petting their dogs, the owners stopped and allow us to do so. Some even picked up the dogs and held them out to us to pet.

Food and Wine. Husband and I eat in restaurants only on special occasions. We love to cook and enjoy our meals at home (we watch our fat and salt intake, but made an exception for Paris). So, we were very interested in learning about French food and wine during our trip. When our hosts discovered this, they were thrilled. They taught us a lot, especially about cheese (France produces over 500 different kinds) and wine. They even made dinner for the four of us one night. One day, after a long day of sightseeing, we found a bottle of wine from their impressive collection in our room.

Most bistros and brasseries have a prix fixe menu of 3-4 courses (entrée, plat, cheese course and/or dessert) for about 11-100€ per person, depending in the time of day, type of establishment and quality of food. A 15% tip is usually included; look for ďservice comprisĒ on the bill. For good service, we always rounded up.

We didnít eat in many bistros. We did not want to eat 3-4 courses at one meal. In addition, all the prix fixe menus began to look alike after a while. The interesting choices were on the carte, but they tended to be more expensive than the menus. When we did eat in bistros or brasseries at lunch, however, we usually chose a salad and plat from the carte, with wine and espresso. ďChefís specialsĒ tended to be good deals.

You can find pizza, spaghetti sushi, fried chicken and hamburgers in Paris, but why bother traveling all that way for this type of food? Street vendors sell Nutella crepes, hot dogs, Croque Monsieur, and hot dogs smothered in cheese. We didnít purchase food from the vendors. If you want ďfast food,Ē try a jambon and brie on a baguette from one of the boulangeries (about 2,5&euro.

We wanted to eat like Parisians Ė or at least as close to Parisian as possible. For us that meant shopping for dinner in street markets and food shops. Every night we picked up rotisserie chicken or jambon, bread, cheese, olives, sometimes a small fruit tart to share, and wine, and picnicked in our room (it was too cold to eat outside). The two of us ate well this way for about 10€, depending on our cheese and wine selections.

I donít believe thereís a bad bottle of wine to be found in Paris! The vin maison rouge in the bistros/brasseries/cafés was a great deal for about 2-3€ per glass depending on the quality (even less if you order a jug). Monoprix sold bottles of good table wine for as little as 2€ per bottle. We brought home three bottles of superior wine and champagne, purchased at Dépôt Nicolas, at prices that are considered ďstealsĒ in the U.S.

Our hosts recommended that we see the Marché Richard-Lenoirat on Sunday morning, thinking that weíd enjoy a street market that was large and local. We did. Located on Blvd. Beaumarchais, just off the Place de la Bastille, it had over 200 vendors that sold fresh meats, fish, cheeses, breads, olives, fruits and vegetables. You can also purchase prepared foods like rotisserie chicken, paella and bouillabaisse.

Gaining Weight: Not us. We actually lost weight in Paris, even though we ate very well. Viva la Mediterranean Diet!
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 05:59 AM
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Welcome home JB7 (sounds like James Bond! ). Interesting that you stayed in one of our few B&Bs à la française. I read that there are only 300 for the whole of Paris, and that our mayor wants to give a boost to this type of accommodation by federating under one label the 4 or 5 companies that currently offer B&B rooms. Sounds like a good 3rd way between hotel and apartment. Maybe foreign tourists are reluctant to try it because of language problems. Could you please tell us why you decided to try a B&B over a hotel or apartment?
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 06:03 AM
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And part III ((A wonderful report JB7 - welcome aboard BTW)

Author: JB7
Date: 11/24/2005, 08:38 am

Paris is a beautiful city best seen above ground and on foot, whenever possible. The buildings and monuments are magnificent Ė and constructed on such a grand scale Ė that most are truly breathtaking.

Our hosts suggested we take a tour bus, something we never considered before. That turned out to be a good suggestion. Paris is a very large city; going from one sight to another within a limited amount of time is an exhausting challenge. We purchased a two-day pass on the LíOpen tour bus for 28€ each. The tour bus made over 40 hop on-hop off stops throughout the city. We made very good use of our passes.

We walked a lot, too. The Left Bank and the Marais were especially interesting to explore on foot. There are many little side streets with tiny food shops and cafés patronized mainly by the locals.

Our favorite sights were the Louvre, Eiffel Tower (especially at night), Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, and Saint Suplice.

We walked right into the Louve at the Pyramid and waited in line no longer than 3 minutes for tickets. The Louvre is so large that you canít possibly see even a small part of it in one day. Decide ahead of time what you canít miss, and save the rest for other trips. The Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and Venus de Milo were the most crowded exhibits. We also enjoyed part of the Italian painting collection, the Ancient Egypt collection, and a small part of the Persian Collection.

There is no way to accurately describe the Eiffel Tower. Pictures donít do it justice, either. From a distance, the tower looks delicate, almost as if it couldnít withstand a stiff wind. Up close, however, itís massive. Husband, despite his (and my) aversion to heights, wanted to go to the top. But the line was so long that we gave up.

One night we stood on the Pont de la Tournelle (connects the Ile St.-Louis with the Latin Quarter) and watched part of the Eiffel Tower sparkle for 10 minutes on the hour. Right in front of us, too, was Notre-Dame, illuminated for the evening. It was quite a sight standing there, with the Seine below and two of Parisí most recognizable monuments before us Ė one of those unforgettable moments that no camera can capture.

Notre-Dame was magnificent Ė the ribbed Gothic vaults, sculptures, flying buttresses, gargoyles and rose windows. We attended Mass, celebrated in French, on Saturday night. The music (organ and cantors) was beautiful.

After Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle is one of Parisí most significant monuments. Itís outstanding feature are the spectacular stained glass windows that relate the books of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. We never saw anything so beautiful as those windows.

Saint Suplice. This church is actually quite dramatic. Holy water stoups are made from enormous shells from Venice. The organ contains 6,588 pipes, making it one of the largest in the world. The most popular attraction is, however, the Rose Meridian Line, marked by a metal strip that runs across the floor near the altar. Three times a day on the equinoxes and winter solstice, sunlight strikes the line so precisely that light runs along the metal strip, glances off the obelisk and globe at its top, and illuminates across the church. It must be an incredible sight.

We saw many more sights, but in the interest of time and space, Iíve omitted them. If you have questions, please donít hesitate to ask.
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 06:26 AM
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JB7 - Wonderful report. Thanks for sharing. We'll be in Paris for 8 days next April and your suggestions/observations are very helpful. We don't speak a lick of French. When I was last there 20 years ago, that was a problem, esp in restaurants where the waiters were anything but helpful and the menus were largely in French. Has that changed? How did you come up with the B&B? Were there others you considered? Was it in a good location and quiet notwithstanding your being awakened one night? Lastly, if one doesn't want a 3 course meal for lunch, what do you recommend? Thanks.

Dave
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 07:56 AM
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Thank you for this report! We are going to Paris in 2 1/2 weeks (and counting) and I was getting tired of all the practicalities I needed to address. Your report reminds me of the Paris I know and love!

Welcome back and Happy Thanksgiving!
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 09:19 AM
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What a cheerful report to start this special day. You have enhanced it.
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 09:31 AM
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dcd and gambader, you will love Paris. cigalechanta, youíre one of the people who helped me with our trip. Thanks!

dcd, most of the waiters we encountered spoke a little English. When they realized that we were struggling to speak French, they switched to English or a mixture of French and English. Most menus were written in French, but the only French we speak fluently is ďfood FrenchĒ so we didnít have a problem.

With respect to lunch, bistros/brasseries/cafés post their menus outside, making it easy to choose where to eat and what to order.

One day we ate at a restaurant called Leonís at 131 Blvd. St. Germain (near the Church of St. Germain-des-Prés). Leonís is a chain, and we usually avoid chains. But the restaurant specialized in mussels Ė and it was such a cold day that steamed mussels sounded good. They were. For 7,5€, I was given a La Cruset iron pot with what had to have been 80 mussels steamed in white wine, shallots and garlic. Husband had a dozen mussels baked in butter and garlic for 11€. That, a salad and a small bowl of French fries (included in the price) and a glass of Muscadet made for a very satisfying meal.

In most brasseries you can order just a plat (what Americans call an entrée), or an omelet, or onion soup. That with a basket of bread, a salad, wine and espresso was enough for us. Donít forget to poke around in the food shops and street markets, too. Youíll always find something delicious to take away.

We made arrangements for the B&B through Alcôves & Agapes, a Paris-based booking agency that we read about in a book called Great Sleeps Paris. The web site is www.bed-and-breakfast-in-paris.com. We prefer B&B accommodations when we travel because itís a great way to see how the locals live. Weíve always found B&Bs to be comfortable, quiet and safe (you donít have to lock up all your stuff when you leave for the day). The only criteria we had for a B&B was our own bathroom and WC, and that the hosts speak good English. Our location wasnít always quiet, but husband and I are urban dwellers

Happy Thanksgiving!
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 12:26 PM
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Thank you, JB7. for a great trip report!
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Old Nov 24th, 2005, 02:56 PM
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ditto and topping.
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Old Nov 26th, 2005, 08:50 AM
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In response to DCD, you will survive just fine in Paris if you know only the basics in french, i.e bonjour, merci, sil vous plait. But, in on my recent trip I was the only one of the four in my family that understood more than the basic (only a little more) and it helped a lot! So, you will be fine, but if you can listen to a set of CDs before departure, I recommend it. Menus are largely in French, so bring a small French phrase/dictionary with you. Ask for an English menu. Once, after struggling for about 15 minutes, a waiter brought me one and I wondered how many times they had been available at meals to that point!
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Old Dec 6th, 2005, 03:28 PM
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Thanks for the advice! Dave
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Old Jan 16th, 2006, 10:12 AM
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ttt for new to Paris group.
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