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Trip Report: Four Great Days in Paris (long)

Trip Report: Four Great Days in Paris (long)

Old Sep 30th, 2007, 01:48 AM
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Trip Report: Four Great Days in Paris (long)

My husband, 17-year-old son, and I just came back from a great first trip to Paris, thanks in large part to the great info I got off this board. If you’re planning your first trip to Paris, here are some tips, suggestions, and info:


Invest in a super-detailed map of Paris, the kind that shows every street and site. We got the Michelin map, which was perfect. It was so big that I cut off the sides (parts of Paris we weren’t planning to visit) and used just the center part. I marked it up with highlighters and stickers before we left.

Invest in two travel books—they’ll each give a different perspective—and get at least one with lots of colored pictures—they will help you figure out what you want to see. I got the AAA Paris and Fodor’s See It Paris and they were terrific.

Invest in a large tote or handbag, large enough to hold a file folder, tour books, and umbrella and with a zippered compartment for your wallet and passport. I kept my map, brochures, restaurant info, etc., in the file folder which made them easy to access.

A little high school French goes a long way (see Surprises below). Take the time to learn how to pronounce at least a few key words such as “bon jour” and “merci.”

While the big sights are in a relatively compact area, Paris is still a big city, so allow plenty of travel time (either Metro or walking) to get around. Everything will take more time and energy than you think!

When you plan your “must see and do list,” divide it into two lists: the absolute “must do”s and the “things we’ll do if we feel like it.” Then cut down the “must do” list to a bare bones minimum. That way you won’t get frustrated if you don’t see everything on your list. Someone on this board suggested planning on doing just two things per day. We ended up doing just one thing per day (partly because my son came down with a bad cold and his energy flagged), plus another outing for dinner.

The Paris Museum Passes are extremely worthwhile, even if you only expect to visit a few museums, because you get faster entry and don’t have to lose time buying separate tickets. We probably spent more on them than we would have on separate admissions (we only went to the Louvre, d’Orsay, and St. Chappelle), but they were worth it for the time saved and convenience. We bought ours in the airport as soon as we arrived.

The L’Openbus tour and Vedettes du Pont Neuf boat rides are also well worth the money, especially for a first-time visitor. They gave us a good orientation, and we saw a lot of great sites that we wanted to see but didn’t want to spend a lot of time at (e.g., the Eiffel Tower).

The Metro subway system is extremely easy to use, especially if you’ve ever used the Metro in Washington DC, which was designed on the same principles. We used it a lot when we got tired of walking.

I can’t overstate how huge the Louvre is, and how important it is to have a plan for what to see so you’re not overwhelmed. It could days to see just the most famous masterpieces. Before we left home, we printed out, off the Louvre web site, two “thematic trails” (self-guided tours of just a dozen or so works each). One was “Masterpieces of the Louvre” and one was “The DaVinci Code.” We followed the first one, then added a couple of things from the second (the two tours had a lot of overlap). This worked out great for us—we saw a number of terrific and famous works without exhausting ourselves. The Mona Lisa was great fun—not seeing the painting, since you have to stand about 15 feet back and look through plexiglass—but seeing the crowds. My husband took a picture not of the Mona Lisa but of the hundreds of people taking pictures of her!


The biggest surprise of our trip was how pleasant and cordial everyone was. Every single person we encountered was as nice as anyone in any other big city. Compared to other European cities I’ve visited recently (Rome and Budapest), I was a bit surprised at how few people seemed to know any English, especially people working at shops and restaurants in the tourist areas. A little high school French helped a great deal.

I was also surprised at how clean and relatively graffiti-free Paris was (at least the central tourist area) compared with other large cities.

We had heard that Paris restaurants are dressy and require reservations for dinner, but every place we ate required no reservations and everyone was in relatively casual dress.


I had a business meeting in the Montparnasse area, so we stayed at the Ibis Tour Montparnasse on ave Maine near Tour Montparnasse and Gare Montparnasse. Ibis is a no-frills chain owned by the same company that owns Motel 6 in the United States. We were very satisfied—it is a great value, reasonably clean, and provides a very good, reasonably-priced breakfast. This hotel is in a renovated older building, and we snagged a room on the top floor with a small balcony and nice view. We liked the location—near a major Metro stop, not too far from the sights, but in a residential neighborhood with shops and restaurants that felt like “real” rather than touristy Paris. (I think we were the only Americans at the hotel.)

The only downside was that the hotel was indeed no frills. There was no hair dryer or alarm clock, only 2 towels, a tiny sliver of soap (not replaced daily), and a bottle of combination body wash and shampoo. And neither the room nor the lobby had comfortable chairs for relaxing. We were fine with all this, but others might not be.


The day we arrived, we did a short walking tour (inspired by the Heart of Paris walking tour we got off these boards) up through St. Germain des Pres to Pont des Arts and Pont Neuf, along the Seine to Notre Dame, then through the Latin Quarter and Luxembourg Gardens back to our hotel. The next day, we did the L’Opentour bus tour and the Vedettes du Pont Neuf boat ride. During the remainder of our trip, we visited Notre Dame, St. Chappelle, the d’Orsay, and the Louvre. We also walked to Pont Alexandre (which my husband especially wanted to see close up) and took the Metro to Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysee, because there was a bike event the day we took the L’Opentour so the bus had to detour around them. We also walked to Ile St. Louis for ice cream at Berthillon’s (which is indeed very good—less sweet than American ice cream). We also did a lot of walking along the Seine and through the Latin Quarter. Good, comfortable walking shoes are a must in Paris!

Needless to say, while we saw tons of stuff, there is plenty more to see on future trips!


My husband and, especially, my teenage son are classic picky meat-and-potatoes eaters (no salads, no fish, no veal or lamb, no cheese for my son, but I love them both dearly anyway), so we knew eating in Paris would be a challenge. We ate mostly in the Latin Quarter and near our hotel in Montparnasse, both of which have plenty of inexpensive cafes serving simple foods. It’s great that the menus are posted; we simply walked around and checked out menus until we found one that we all liked. Here’s where we ate:

Hippopotamus: A chain featuring steaks and other grilled meats with a family atmosphere. A great choice if you’re traveling with kids—our son loved being able to get a hamburger and fries. We wouldn’t get the steaks again (when they’re about 15 euros, you get what you pay for, and they were tough), but the other dishes (chicken, brochettes, burgers) were great.

Chez Clement: A chain featuring rotisserie meats and mashed potatoes. The meat portions were very small, and I wouldn’t get beef again (again moderately priced and tough), but otherwise this was very good.

Rim Café in the Latin Quarter: A good Italian restaurant with wood-oven pizzas (pizzas in Paris are Roman style—very thin crusts and served whole, not sliced into wedges)

Le Fenelon near place St. Michel in the Latin Quarter: A café with a light menu (sandwiches and salads). We had croques monsieur for lunch and they were great.

La Marinara on rue Dauphin, between St. Germain des Pres and the Latin Quarter: Another good Italian restaurant with wood-oven pizzas

Café Georges V on Champs Elysee: A large menu with a mix of French and Italian foods. Given the location, I was afraid this might be an overpriced tourist trap, but the food and service were great (I had a delicious boeuf bourguignon, my husband had an omelette, and our son had spaghetti) and a good value.

The café on the 3rd floor of the d’Orsay: We were pleasantly surprised at the quality and value of the food. The setting is great—the room has one of the big see-through train station clocks. Get there before 1 p.m., as a long line developed after that.

Hard Rock Café: A treat for my son!

We also treated ourselves one evening to crepes from a little take-away crepe stand on blvd Montparnasse. Fresh-made before our eyes and delicious!

If anyone has questions I’ll be happy to reply.
Linda0515 is offline  
Old Sep 30th, 2007, 02:19 AM
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Thank you for your report. Glad you had a good trip. I went last Nov. with a good friend (love him dearly) and he was so picky. I think he had pasta 90% of the time. The last night we had Tex-Mex after he could not find chinese that suited him. He was a great sport and watched me shop. We all enjoy what we enjoy and consideration is the name of the game for families and anyone traveling together. I love Paris.

ggnga is offline  
Old Sep 30th, 2007, 02:48 AM
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Good report. I always hope that picky eaters will break down and discover something totally different to eat in a foreign country, but apparently there are too many reliable international dishes available to appease them. Too bad.
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Old Sep 30th, 2007, 11:16 AM
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Thanks for the great tips Linda.
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Old Sep 30th, 2007, 11:30 AM
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Linda, thanks for the nice report. You managed to do a lot in spite of your son not feeling well.

Like ggnga (hi, ggnga!), I too love Paris and am looking forward to going back next September with my sister, who has never been there.
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Old Sep 30th, 2007, 01:16 PM
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hi, linda,

glad you had such a nice trip and thanks for posting your very thoughtful report.

perhaps you could post another one headed "parisians nice to americans" to allay the fear of some other posters!

regards, ann
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Old Oct 1st, 2007, 06:05 AM
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I have a GREAT tip too. Me and my wife went on that 2CV (you know that old typical French car you see in the movies)car ride and i strongly recommend it to everyone. The driver was an authentic parisian (except he was actually really friendly ahah) who told us random stories about the city and France in general. They stopped in front of every main monument to let us take pictures or sometimes even took the pictures for us and the view was just breahttaking. We could stand up (even though the car is so cosy you don't feel like standing up) to take advantage of the view on the Champs Elysees etc... I mean it was such a great typical experience we actually decided to do it again. So the next time they picked us up from the restaurant and drove us around (Moulin Rouge, at the foot of the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame,...), with all the night enlightments etc..+there was litteraly no traffic,we definitely appreciated that bottle of Champagne they let us took in the car. Finally they drove us around Montmartre in some tiny streets and places only locals know so i WON'T hop on any of those touristy buses ever again.

PS: for the tip the name of their web site is parisauthentic.com but don't trust the web site's bad quality it doesn't reflect the quality of the service
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Old Oct 1st, 2007, 08:52 PM
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That last post? Must be an ad. Ignore it.

I enjoyed your trip report Linda-I'm heading back to Paris in January and I'm so excited.
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Old Oct 1st, 2007, 09:14 PM
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great report! thanks!

and i'm glad to hear that high school french will suffice!
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Old Oct 2nd, 2007, 05:25 AM
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Good pickup, rose...

Another <i><b>guerilla advertiser</b></i> thinks that he has made the &quot;discovery&quot; of using various fourm web sites on the internet to promote something or the other!

See http://www.topix.net/forum/music/jazz/TQ4P4T829TTAIFHTL for the exact same verbiage.

Sent to [email protected] with the usual request: delete the postings, and cancel this weasel's registration.

But nice report all the same, Linda...

Best wishes,

rex is offline  
Old Oct 2nd, 2007, 05:32 AM
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Thanks for the info! Karen
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Old Oct 2nd, 2007, 07:12 AM
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Thanks for the report Linda. A big HI to ggnga and Travgina as well! This time two years ago I was with you guys in that beautiful place they call Paris ( I call it Parisdise!)
ggnga - hope you are having just the greatest time: Are you going with your friend this time? if so, About a decent Chinese, try Dragons Elsees, just of the Champs Elysees at 11 rue de Berri. Tel. - they have tables for two up on a raised section and one table is right next to the Koi pond - As you walk in the entrance you walk on glass with fish swimming underneath! I thought the food was lovely. Looking at my bill printout right now and see I had 2 aperitifs, a starter of crevettes phenix en beignets
and a main of Boeuf a` l`imperial with Riz nature. A total of 47.90euros. Not a cheap meal but then I am absolutely mad about oriental-style food! There are two or three chinese places next to each other just at Place de Costa Rica &amp; Blvd.Delessert.
One can either walk up from the Passy metro or up Delessert from The Trocadero. We like having dinner first and then walking down to Trocadero to watch the Eiffel Tower light up.
All the best!
Travgina I too am trying to get back to Paris next year!
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Old Oct 2nd, 2007, 07:36 AM
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Old Oct 4th, 2007, 11:49 AM
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Just wanted to say thanks, Linda, for steering me to the self-guided tour info on the Louvre website. I printed out the Masterpieces one (all 13 pages!) and plan on using it when we go for our first time to Paris (and the Louvre, of course) in about a month. Wonderfully useful trip report for first-timers like us!
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