New Year's in Paris 2009

Jan 7th, 2010, 05:58 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 134
New Year's in Paris 2009

Back from our first winter trip to Europe and wanted to share a few thoughts with my fellow Fodorites. Thanks to all who posted Paris trip reports before me, I didn't post many questions on this one because there was already a great body of knowlege to pull from.

Since I'm not sure there was anything terribly unique about our trip, I'll summarize the info rather than the day by day account and hopefully offer a helpful tip or two along the way.

Background- DH & myself in our early/late 40's, I had been to Paris in college but husband had not. We only had a week, so like to stay in one place and use public transportation. Figured if weather was really bad there were plenty of museums. And we got a good deal on airline tickets ($850 each from Iowa).

Transportation - Des Moines to Chicago to Paris via American Airlines. Amazingly on time considering the holidays and midwest winter weather. The only thing slightly disappointing was the lack of the entertainment systems in the seat backs. Once you've had that on a transatlantic flight the overhead TV's seem soooo yesterday. Oh and then there was the bawling kids for 7 of the 8 hour flight. Now I know as a parent you really don't want your kid to bawl either, but do the rest of us a favor and act like you give a rip, ok? Moving on...once in Paris we took the RER from CDG to the Chatelet metro station and then another short meto ride to the Marias. Thanks to Kerouac for his pictoral tutorial on using the RER, it was a snap! Once in Paris we purchased metro passes and used it or walked the entire time. So easy! Metro/RER tip- if this is your planned mode of transportation just be aware that you will likely need to navigate steps and metro turnstile gates with luggage, so consider that when choosing luggage and packing. The smaller, the better. T

Lodging - We stayed in the following VRBO apartment:
which we located from the Paris apartment string on this site. Let me start by saying that this is a very nice apartment in a very good location, but our stay wasn't without problems. The owners of the apt live in California and we were provided names of two invidiuals in Paris as our contacts. Upon arrival at the airport I called the first person to arrange to pick up the key. No answer, left a message. So we went ahead and went to the apt thinking that it was about check out time for the previous occupants and could at least stow our luggage and get the key. Arrived at the apartment, no one there. So called the person again. Still no answer. DH gives me the "you don't have these problems when you stay at a hotel" line as we contemplate hauling our luggage around in the rain all day. I try the second contact, no answer. So I decide to call the owner in CA, not really thinking that it was probably 2 am in the morning. Well, I got an answer there...and was informed that both of the people were "on holiday." Umm, ok, so I'm supposed to get the key how? And just as I say that, a young woman comes flying up the stairs to the apartment to clean it. She was apparently the back up. So initial problem averted. We are able to stow the luggage while the place is cleaned. Fast forward to the end of the week...11:30 pm on our second to last night and we lose all electricity to the apartment. Seems like we've blown a fuse. We locate the fuse box, but can't seem to do anything to fix it. And again, nobody to call. So I call the owner in CA again. No answer. Leave a message and then start figuring out Plan B by candle light (naturally the one thing I told my husband he could take out of the luggage was the flashlight, arrgh!). Determined we would go ahead and sightsee the following day and if it wasn't fixed by late afternoon we would just get a hotel by the airport. Finally talked to the owners Saturday morning and again Saturday afternoon and determined that it wasn't going to get fixed so we ended up at the Holiday Inn, which was actually fairly nice. We did receive a credit for the last night of the apartment and the owners did apologize. Other than some international phone calls , some lost food we couldn't prepare and one short metro trip back to the apartment to put the key under the mat in case an electrician could arrive it didn't really cause us much inconvenience, but it was another opportunity for DH to say "doesn't happen if you go to a hotel..." And I'm starting to wonder, should I give up on the apartments and just go with hotels or just make sure there is on-site management/ownership? Any thoughts fodorites? Should I have asked for an additional refund for the phone calls, food or is that just the risk of an apt? On the apt topic, one tip: using Google Earth's street level view, find your apartment doorway from home beforehand. It's great to have a visual of what you're looking for since they are not as obvious as a hotel.

More to come tomorrow....
sferguso is offline  
Jan 7th, 2010, 07:33 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I wouldn't give up on apartments. I haven't had the type of problems you mention with any of the several rental apartments I have used in Paris or elsewhere. But I have generally gone to apartments that had been used by others and recommended. It is certainly better if there is a local manager or owner who can be contacted at any time.

Looking forward to the rest of your trip report.
Nikki is offline  
Jan 7th, 2010, 09:14 PM
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I know I'm in the minority here, but I am a die-hard hotel person. I did some research once after so many people raved about apartments, but they all seem to require a deposit? No thanks.
ruedebuci is offline  
Jan 7th, 2010, 10:08 PM
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Gee, I'm sorry to hear of your bad luck with the apartment. So it wasn't entirely "a Paris Dream" after all! Your rate was 200euros higher than our quote for a week, but we will be in the 11th near Place Leon Blum. We are about to rent for the first time ever, and I am crossing my fingers!!
You would have thought the 'holiday makers' would at least leave a message with the back-up's number instead of just being unavailable??

I have used PagesJaunes Photos de Ville to locate our apartment and take a walk around the area. Thanks for the Google Earth tip as well - will check it out.

Looking forward to more about your week in Paris -
tod is offline  
Jan 7th, 2010, 10:50 PM
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Looking forward to reading more! My hubby and i were in Paris over new years too!!!
jamikins is offline  
Jan 8th, 2010, 02:43 AM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report. I'm a middle of the roader where apt vs hotels are concerned. I like the space, but don't like having to make the bed, clean the shower, I do that at home!

ruedebuci, try Vacation in Paris apts. You get the key before you leave , pay in US dollars by CC and the only deposit you pay is for the key, which is returned very promptly when you mail it back to them.
avalon is offline  
Jan 8th, 2010, 07:20 AM
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I think there are always risks with renting an apt. (unless you found one that you like and go back to it or have experience with the owner/mgt a lot), and you encountered some of them. So many people just book blindly from total strangers from VRBO, etc., it surprises me, as I wouldn't do that. But I'm just kind of cautious by nature. Yes, I've rented several Paris apts and never had the things you had, but I only rent from reputable agencies, registered with the city of Paris, with local Parisian mgt. offices.

I also don't rent an apt. for every minor visit and sometimes don't even when I'm there 10 days, as I like to try different neighborhoods and hotels, and am not really interested in housekeeping, so to speak. I dont' spend much of my time on vacation inside wherever I am (hotel or apt.), so don't really understand the big attraction this is to so many people given all of the potential problems, and the major outlays/deposits required. I see people on Fodors going on and on about checking apts and trying to book them for just a few days, this amazes me. I can understand it better for longer time periods when you may get tired of a hotel or its smaller space. I don't understand it for short stays. A weeks' stay is on the borderline for me, but I"ve never rented one for that time as it just doesn't seem worth the trouble for little benefit. I don't want to cook, eat in or do laundry, so what's the point of it. I like having people at a hotel arrange for cabs, etc, which they do a lot better than I do, also (as they have connections -- last time I rented an apt, I could not get any cab company to come as they were all booked up when I needed to leave, and there were none at the nearby taxi queue point--but no hotel has ever had a problem getting one for me within a half hour).

I can understand an apt. better for people with kids and things like that, but for one or two people on a short stay, I don't see the point myself. I've been in Paris a lot many times, including long terms attending schools, and speak French fairly well, so I don't have the same desires many people do, though, in trying to pretend I live there or whatever people talk about.
Christina is offline  
Jan 8th, 2010, 11:16 AM
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I think the appeal of an apartment is that you are left alone, at least it is for me. I can stay out late, sleep in, come back and take a nap, all without either having management bat an eyelash, or have a maid bust in on me despite the "do not disturb" sign. Personally, I don't want to be bothered by staff at all, I can get a cab on my own, book a reservation, etc.

I like having laundry in the apt as I don't in my apt at home, I like having a refrigerator to keep things chilled. Besides, most hotels are ugly and depressing to me, an apartment is certainly cheaper than a "design hotel" which is what I always gravitate towards when having to stay in a hotel.

Apt v. Hotel is a to each their own thing. And renting from an owner who is around/lives in the city is preferable!
cherrybomb is offline  
Jan 8th, 2010, 04:57 PM
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Good points noted by all re: the apt situation. I think I need to try a hotel next time just to compare the experience. One note, we paid 128 Euro per night.

Ok,on to part 2:

What we did: This being my husband's first time to Paris, we hit the major attractions. I won't bore you with the details since they are pretty common, but will provide a few tips. First of all, I was shocked by the size of the crowds. I had read on this site that winter was a great time to visit due to the lack of crowds, but they must not have been talking about the week between xmas and New Years! That being the case, I have one major piece of advice -- if you plan on doing the major attractions get a Museum Pass. We bought a the two day one for 32 Euro. Even if it isn't advantageous financially (which it probably will be if you visit just 3 or so places on the list)it will allow you to avoid the line for individual tickets to the attractions. I would say that the line for the Louvre on Wednesday the 30th was easily 3 hours long and the d'Orsay 1 1/2 to 2 hours. So we decided go to the Pompidou that evening and buy the museum pass and then the next day we arrived early and sailed right in to each one. Louvre was crazy crowded, I look forward to the day when I can go back and really do it right. We loved the d'Orsay and hated the Pompidou, and enjoyed the exhibition of the portrayal of children in art at the l'Orangerie along with Monet's famous Water Lilies. I personally love churches and distinctly remember Sacre Coeur as one of my favorite places during my first visit. Not near as much fun this time around. We, along with every other tourist in the city, decided that since all of the other attractions were closed on New Year's day, we would go to Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame. It actually took 15 minutes in line to get OUT of Sacre Coeur. At one point I actually had to tell the guy behind me to stop pushing me, it was kind of scary. And can anybody explain why people insist on taking pictures inside churches when the signs clearly indicate not to? I digress...headed down to Notre Dame after Sacre Coeur to find a line of probably 2 blocks long, so quickly abandoned that idea and went back early the next morning and walked right in. We actually were able to observe a morning worship service which was neat. Another church we really enjoyed was San Chapelle. I suggest you get there early and be prepared for "airport style" security due to it's proximity to the Palace of Justice (I think that is what it is). But it was worth it...the stained glass is amazing, even with 7 panels currently under restoration. Also visited St. Merri's, St. Madeline's, St. Genevieves,another one up by Sacre Couer whose name escapes me. Did I mention I love churches? In addition to that we went to the Pantheon and the Opera, both worthwhile in my mind. And of course, we had to check out the holiday decorations in the Opera district -- the windows at Printemps the tree at Gallery Laffayette. We were in the area three times and it was wall to wall people every time. On New Year's Eve we headed down to the Eiffel Tower with a million of our closest friends to ring in the new year. Don't get me wrong, it was a once in a lifetime experience, but for some reason I had it in my head there was going to be a big fireworks display and instead it was just a light show on the tower itself so it was actually a bit underwhelming, but still glad we did it.

Food - This will be the most pathetic report you have ever read about French food. I was coming off of a case of the stomach flu upon arrival so ate very tentatively the first couple of days. And then our last few days we were just hungry at odd times (10 am & 3 pm) so ended up at cafes most of the time. As you're probably aware, food is more expensive. Steak,fries & a Coke will probably run you in the neighborhood of 23 Euro. I did have some killer pastries and french onion soup. If anybody can tell me how one is supposed to gracefully eat french onion soup it would be much appreciated! If you stay in an apt and are trying to save a few bucks on food, I saw several locations where you can pick up a rotisserie chicken and roasted potatoes for 11 Euro or so.

Other info - As noted in other posts, be prepared for cold, wet weather. Waterproof shoes, a hat and gloves are essential. I think the sun shined/shone? for about three hours in the 5 days we were there and although it wasn't terriby cold by Midwest standards, it did rain the first three days. The thing about wet weather that is a real bummer is that it takes away the ability to just sit and people watch, one of my favorite activites. Get yourself a good street level map with Metro stations and use the Metro or bus wisely to maximize your time. Take along your favorite travel guide and if you can bear to, tear our the pages of the sites you plan to see that day and only carry those with you so you're not lugging the heavy book around.

It was a whirlwind trip and we know that we barely skimmed the surface of this amazing city. We'll definitely go back someday, but I can tell you that it will be in the off season. Hope you can find something useful in this report for your Paris trip!
sferguso is offline  
Jan 8th, 2010, 05:37 PM
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sferguso, thanks for your trip report. I remember my first few times to Paris were also a bit disappointing. Fortunately, this city never ceases to bore and that's why I continue to return. You're definitely right about the food being expensive there. ;-)
nancicita is offline  
Jan 9th, 2010, 07:33 AM
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thanks sferguso for the report - and you've certainly set me thinking about the pros and cons of apartments v hotels.

like christina, we would not rent when only in a place for a few days &/or travelliing without our kids. but as they are now quite large [ie adult] we found renting gave us a lot more room for a lot less money, and the freedom to eat what and when we liked. plus i love cooking when I'm away, trying new foods and ingredients, and feel very frustrated when I can't buy things at those lovely markets and delis.

when we have rented in europe, we've either used an agency or if it is a private rent, somewhere with a resident owner. [we have a holiday property that we let out ourselves, so we know how important that is when things go wrong].

so far, so good, especially with private rentals, funnily enough. our only two bad experiences have been in england, where the kitchen was filthy and the agency would do nothing about it, and in the US where we were unable to find the agency office in Orlando to get the key to our rented house and ended up in a hotel for the night.


exactly - renting an apartment does at least give you the choice to eat some meals "at home" and thereby cut down costs.
annhig is offline  
Jan 9th, 2010, 08:54 AM
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Really??? Sure, I know what you mean - it's all those dull places to visit...nothing to do but sleep!

(Something tells me that's not quite what you meant!)

Thanks for the trip report,sferguso. My husband and I rented an apartment for a week last May after 4 prior visits staying in hotels. There's definitely more of a risk in taking an apt, as you don't know who you're dealing with - but I think, overall, most people find it a great way to feel more a part of the city, and it does allow one to have food around and prepare one's own meals. We were very happy we had the apartment, although I can see the advantages of having the on-site care of the hotel staff.

progol is online now  
Jan 9th, 2010, 09:33 AM
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Sferguso: Arriving in Paris with no one to hand me the keys to the apartment also happened to me.

Last October, as requested, I called the contact for our apartment in the 11th as soon as we arrived at CDG. No answer, so I left a message. Called again 10 minutes later, still no answer. Left a second message. We took a taxi and arrived at the given adress to find that no one was there. Umm... A little worried, we went to a nearby café, had a drink, called again and left a message letting the person know where she could find us. Half an hour later, since no one had come, we called again and bingo! she was there.

We too wondered if we wouldn't have been better off staying at a hotel. However, once we were well ensconced in the apartment, we were happy to be there and not in a hotel.
travginny is offline  
Jan 9th, 2010, 01:52 PM
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Enjoyed your report. Interesting insights on here re hotel v. apt. I was in Paris for the last 2 weeks of Oct. and had considered an apt.,
but decided on an hotel which I knew very well.
I might try an apt. next time, but know I would freak out if the "key" people didn't answer!
I usually travel to Paris solo, so don't really mind the small quarters in an hotel, and I certainly don't want to do any cooking (or laundry, for that matter). I DO like to have a little refrigerator (or minibar) in the room, though. I agree a lot with what Christina said about apt. rental - I'm cautious, too!

Glad you enjoyed your trip, in spite of the crowds. I have found that October is a great time to go, as the crowds have somewhat thinned out by then (maybe not at the Louvre!)
Sue4 is offline  
Jan 10th, 2010, 09:01 AM
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Thanks for the report. Sounds like the crowds were so big at the major tourist sites that it was hard to enjoy them. I have been lucky enough to be in Paris mostly in the off season when it was not such an issue. Big crowds would keep me away from the major museums and churches, but since I have been to Paris several times, that would be easier for me than for a first time visitor.

Sainte Chapelle is inside the Palais de Justice, which contains the court house, so all visitors have to go through security and you can not avoid that line with the museum pass.
Nikki is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 07:36 PM
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Very nice trip report - thanks for posting it.
Sue, October is also my favorite time to visit. I love the October weather and while there are still crowds, I is not like the really high season.
cynthia_booker is offline  
Jan 11th, 2010, 09:22 PM
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I'll add my 2 cents about an apartment.
We had one in Paris last March.
It was very "posh" (although discounted at the last minute), but nothing worked well and we were told we would have to wait for the repair people if we didn't want to be electrocuted by the dishwasher or put up with the horrible smell in the bathroom.
Our baggage didn't arrive on our flight but, because there was no front desk, we lost the whole of our first afternoon and evening waiting for the delivery.
And the morning after our arrival, as I was sitting in the living room in my robe and nothing else, waiting for my husband to return with breakfast the woman who owned the agency based in Boston opened the front door with her key without knocking and with a client she wanted to show the apartment to for a future booking.
There was little in the way of an apology.
I won't rent an apartment again.
welch is offline  

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