Tips from Paris, reporting live...

Jul 8th, 2008, 02:07 AM
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Tips from Paris, reporting live...

Hi Fodorites!

Way back when I discovered this forum, I was embarking on what turned out to be nearly seven lean years, as far as travel went. Now I finally have something to post about - hooray!!

I am writing to you from Paris. Yes, RIGHT NOW. Ask me anything!

In some ways this is not your typical Fodorite trip, if there is such a thing:
- I have a lot more time than money, this time around the block, which means cooking-and-walking rather than restaurants-and-taxis.
- There are few major attractions on the agenda (insofar as I have an agenda), due to a combination of having been here before, and just being more of a "flâneur" type. The goal of the trip is just to soak up this place; it's been many years since I was here and it will probably be another five before I'm back.

The following are a smattering of tips from my adventures so far. They relate to each other in no way, except that they're all Paris tips and they're focused to some degree on an on-the-cheap kind of trip. I'll be updating it as I think of things. (Please forgive me if any of this duplicates other posts; I confess I don't have the time to be as avid a reader as I once was.)

1. Sainte-Chapelle windows

If you go to Sainte-Chapelle consider taking a pair of opera glasses, or a good telephoto lens, especially if you're an art or history buff. Pick up one of the laminated cards inside the upper chapel explaining the imagery in the windows. English ones were hard to come by the day I was there but, based on how much I enjoyed the French one, I think it's worth hovering by the stand where they're kept until one is returned. I am a shameless history nerd and I was fascinated by the way the windows tell a story. (Nerdy insert: they seek to establish continuity from the Biblical house of Judah to the French kings, and they focus on the evils of idolatry, setting the stage for the Seventh Crusade. Note the way they combine fleur de lys images with those of a gold tower on a red background, which represents the house of Castile - the king's mother's lineage). Several of the interesting panels singled out in the text are up very high, but with your opera glasses you'll be in good shape.

Also, those COLORS. Obviously, go on a day when there's at least some sunshine, if you can. When the sun burst through the clouds, it took my breath away.

2. View from the Pompidou

It strikes me that the west-facing terrace on the 5th floor of the Pompidou (enter at the 4th floor and take the stairs up to the 1905-1960 permanent collection) would be a magnificent place to watch the sun set, if you were there at a time of year when sunset came before the announcement to clear out the rooms at 8:30 p.m.

Though you won't catch the sunset in early July, I was still amazed by the view to the Eiffel Tower to my left, the Palais Garnier to the near right, and all of Montmartre spread out to the far right. And if you're there on the first Sunday of the month like I was, then you're in for free, too!

3. Covered Picnics

This one's a tip-in-progress and I hope others will chime in. We penny-pinchers love our picnics, but it's such a downer to forego your lovely packed lunch in favour of a restaurant just because it's pouring. So, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for outdoor, covered spaces where one could eat under these circumstances. What's hard to find is a covered bench - suggestions please! - but here are some places you could eat if you feel like perching on a step or windowsill, or spreading your jacket out on the ground:

- 1eme: In the Palais Royal gardens, I noticed some young travellers doing exactly this on the rue de Montpensier side (west), where there's a large covered space before one exits onto the street. Maybe less than ideal as there are no steps or anything - it's a spread-your-jacket-on-the-ground spot - but it's spacious and a bit shadowy, so they were inconspicuous and not in anybody's way.
- Ile de la Cité: Hôtel-Dieu Garden, on the covered steps. Of course, this is not a spot to be raucous, as there are people in the building who need their rest! (I'd never been here before and I found it remarkable how a handful of tourists mingled peaceably with the occasional patient out for a promenade in his dressing gown, wheeling an IV.)
- Saint-Germain: the passage Dauphine has some low, deep windowsills where I think one could perch for a while without being rude. Correct me if I'm wrong on this point.

Any other ideas?

4. "Be Prepared"

I'm ashamed to admit this one, but hey, we can all use an extra dose of humility, right? If you are self-catering, remember that this is not the land of the 24-by-7 *anything*. Especially on Saturday, you need to think about whether you have all the food and wine you'll want before Monday (not impossible to find on Sunday, but a good deal harder than at home and really, wouldn't you rather just be ready than pound the pavement?) Chains and department stores tend to be closed, too - if you need a coffee press from BHV or a USB cable from FNAC, you're not getting it on a Sunday. Not that I would know! How embarrassing.

Oh, and this isn't a 'tip' like the other ones, really, but L'As du Falafel in the Marais, 34 Rue des Rosiers, actually lives up to the hype. I was sceptical, and then I went there and it was so good I almost cried.

More to come. And if you have questions, ask now--I have a few days to find the answers for you while I'm still here, and hopefully if I help some Fodorites out then my good travel karma will come back around!

- Quicksilver -
quicksilver is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 03:28 AM
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Thanks, quicksilver! I've added your info to my 'Return to Paris' file . . . please keep the great tips coming.

Happy travels, Di
di2315 is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 05:55 AM
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I am enjoying your trip so much - living vicariously through Fodors - a very good thing.
cynthia_booker is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 06:49 AM
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this is not the land of the 24-by-7 *anything*

I am amused every time I pass by the McDonald's at Porte des Lilas which is marked "open 24 hours" with an asterisk that says "except between 6am and 8am."
kerouac is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 06:53 AM
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Oh, please get to the IMPORTANT STUFF: what you are WEARING LOL and if you are fitting in.
Dukey is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 07:53 AM
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So glad you are back, excited and enjoying the fact that your dry trip spell is over!!

I will definitely stop at L'As du Falafel in November. We stayed just around the corner in January and passed by it nearly every day. Always wanted to pick one up, but there were always lines! I'll be more patient next time.

Continue to enjoy!!!
MelJ is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 07:55 AM
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Thoroughly envious here.

Is the Plage set up by the Seine this year? I'm so out of the loop.
SuzieC is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 08:21 AM
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Ah, quicksilver - totally understand the reaction to L'As du Fallafel. We visited a couple weeks ago and were blown away by the lemonade as well as the food. There are crowds for a reason.
Seamus is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 12:43 PM
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SuzieC: I happened to notice today that the sand and beach houses for Paris Plage are starting to come in. I think it opens July 20. Cheers!
quicksilver is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 12:55 PM
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Great post. Thanks for the tips. If you're in the areas, check out the various other passages to see if they don't afford some hidden covered picnic spots.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 05:12 PM
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We enjoyed eating at L'As du Falafel. It was a convenient stop after our visit to the Picasso Museum.

Woody is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 05:25 PM
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quicksilver, your vitality captured me!
cigalechanta is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 07:38 PM
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I so agree re Sainte-Chappelle .The windows are a wonder to behold -simply breathtaking .

As for picnics may I recommend to everyone a park that we were referred to last year by a friend who described it as " very unfrench ". It is in Bercy which is a easy train ride up past Place Bastille to give you some idea of its locale .It is set by the old railway viaduct and adjacent to it is a nice collection of cafes .But the park , which is new , has duck ponds , walkways with lots of benches but most remarkable is the huge rose garden and herbaceous borders that one rarely sees anywhere in the world these days in public gardens because they are high maintenance . In June last year the roses had passed their first flush of flowers but there were long beds of holly hocks of all colours and sweet peas in flower .There is a community garden of vegetable plots and a little kiosk in the park near one entrance where you could buy a filled baguette and go and sit and enjoy . It is a place I would always return to in Spring , Summer and Autumn as it has such variety to enjoy .
JohnFitz is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 08:15 PM
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What fun! Where are you staying? If you walk by L'as du Falafel and there is little/no line, please tell us the time of day - I will plan to be hungry at that time. What are you packing for your picnics? I'm assuming le vin is still fairly common with picnic fare?
arewethereyet2 is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 12:29 AM
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Thank you, everybody, for your comments and questions. Sharing this with you, and hearing how much you enjoy it, is like a virtuous circle that's making *me* enjoy it even more!

kerouac, re. so-called 24-hours:
Really, that's just too funny! I actually belly-laughed.

Shucks, blushing here. I've always been a big fan of your posts. (And of your name, which evokes two things I love: old, minority languages of all sorts, and the gorgeous South...)

arewethereyet2 re. accommodation and picnics:
I'm actually staying in a bachelor in the 6eme. I've had near-embarrassing good luck in that an expat friend offered me the use of his apartment during an extended absence. It's tiny but well laid out, incredibly sunny and 'à deux pas' from the Seine. Unbelievable. He may have to let it go soon if he can't make it back, as rent in two countries is not so sustainable, which is a pretty cryin' shame!

As for picnics, everyone else seems to bring wine but I actually haven't; been saving it for the pop-back to the apartment after a day on the town, I guess. (By the way, if you've never seen the Pont des Arts on an early, early Saturday morning, it's quite the scene of post-picnic detritus including a ridiculous number of empty wine bottles. Unsightly, you might think, but the thought of all the fun that must have happened the night before brought a smile to my face!)

MelJ and arewethereyet2 again, re. L'As du Fallafel:
For what it's worth, there was barely a line there yesterday, a Tuesday, around 6:15 p.m. (With tongue firmly in cheek, let me say I've been debating whether to pretend I merely walked by yesterday! It's pretty rare I would eat at the same place twice when there's so much else to try, but then, how in the world am I supposed to argue with five euros for a heart-rending falafel sandwich?)

Honestly though, just go, regardless of the line. It must have been fifteen feet long the first time I went and I was through in less than five minutes. Those guys are falafel *machines*. I should also tell you about the ordering system, which is highly efficient but a little unconventional, so you won't be mildly concerned as I was:

A random guy in a leather jacket is going to come to you in line and ask what you're having. When you tell him, he'll hand you a slip of paper with an unintelligible loop of pen on it, which apparently means 'x number of falafels', and will tell you how much you owe.

So far so good, but if the rue des Rosiers is roiling with people, and you're still ten feet back in the line, you may raise an eyebrow when he wants you to pay him a-waaay back there. I probably spend too much of my life being wary, but I confess I thought, the falafel guys can't even *see* me from here. And this street is full of random guys in leather jackets, so what makes this one legitimate? Will I be met with a blank stare when I hand up this loop-on-a-piece-of-paper at the front of the line? Then I thought, well, it's only five euros, and the clincher was that most reliable of bases for decision-making: "everybody else is doing it". So I coughed up.

Of course, it was fine.

Now you can order like a pro and not feel like an a** du fallafel for doubting the nice guy in the leather jacket.
quicksilver is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 02:31 AM
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There is a wonderful market on the Left Bank, I believe near the St. Germain area, that is open on weekends. My wife and I bought bread, cheese, strawberries, and wine there, and at them sitting on a park bench near Notre Dame. Priceless.
64driver is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 04:48 AM
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Currently one of the biggest (and longest) picnic spots in Paris on a nice evening is the entire length of the Canal Saint Martin and even more the Bassin de la Villette continuation after Stalingrad -- it is so full every evening at the moment that it is not even easy to find a open spot along the water for those who arrive after 8pm.
kerouac is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 05:28 AM
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Great post! I'm saving the information for my first trip to Paris next May. I'm looking forward to lots of picnics!
sherhatfield is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 06:02 AM
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quicksilver, I've just posted a comment to the "budget forum" thread saying that fodor's "big bucket" concept is what makes this site my place to browse. Well, your dandy thread is the perfect example. I'm presently addicted to Swiss travel, but you've captured my travel heart. Tell me, please, what is the translation of "flaneur"? I have a feeling it describes my own travel MO. Looking forward to reading more. Best wishes, J.
jmw444 is offline  
Jul 9th, 2008, 06:56 AM
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I believe "flâneur" means someone who wanders about without any fixed destination or agenda and notices/absorbs whatever (s)he happens to come upon. There seems to be no exact one-word translation in English, perhaps because Anglophones seldom engage in (or even consider) behaving that way--too goal-oriented.
d_claude_bear is offline  

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