Trip report: Paris in January

Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:01 PM
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Trip report: Paris in January

Our trip to Paris in January went very well and I would like to share our experience with future travelers. I was able to gather a great deal of information from the boards for our trip planning. Thanks to everyone for the questions and answers, they are invaluable.


We had a direct flight from Wash Dulles to CDG on Air France. They did ask if we had locks on our bags, and were ok with our use of the plastic locks I purchased from Magellan’s online. Since our bags were light on arrival we opted to try taking the RER B train to the hotel near the Arc de Triomphe instead of the Air France bus to see how it would go. We walked a few minutes to the train station area from the arrival terminal, purchased a 5 day, 5 zone pass for 47 euro a piece. Navigating the metro system was very easy, however navigating myself and an average size piece of luggage on wheels up and down the multiple levels of the metro stairs was not. The passageways of the underground do not always have escalators in the direction you are walking and so the stairs were a bit of challenge for me and the bag. We arrived around noon on Saturday and I was surprised how full the train cars were, so it was a bit of struggle moving in and out of a train full of people. After a few days of shopping there was no doubt we would try the Air France Bus service back to the airport. The bus is available immediately outside the baggage claim at the Air France terminal, returning to the airport they drop you off on the curb, it’s a no brainer, take the bus. I did the math for the 5-day metro pass and included the extra zone for the airport versus a metro pass and paying for the bus as well. Although it was economical to take the train to and from the airport, it was much more efficient and convenient to take the bus. The ride and service were very nice, for 10 euro each, one way to and from the Arc it’s a real bargain!

I had a hard time finding specific info for the bus on the Air France website, and even called Air France to verify the drop off points, which the customer service person was not 100% sure off. Here is the contact information off the bus brochure:
Bus 1 (red): Orly – Montparnasse – Invalides
Bus 2 (green): CDG Airport – Porte Maillot – Arc De Triomphe
Bus 3 (blue): Orly to CDG Airport
Bus 4 (yellow) CDG Airport – Gare de Lyon – Gare Montparnasse

The 5-day metro pass was really handy to have. Our friends opted to buy packs of tickets. However they kept buying packs of tickets during the course of the trip and during rush hour you have to wait in line to buy packs of tickets with everyone else. Go for the metro pass.
Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:02 PM
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The weather was fabulous! I had been watching the weather via the internet for several weeks, consistently mid to 40’s to 50’s, overcast or light rain. To avoid the high prices and crowds January is a great time to visit. We carried mini umbrellas which we barely used, and had a day or two with blue skies. The temp was comfortable to walk around and ride on top of the open-air bus.

What to wear
I was concerned about wet feet, even when it did rain I would have been fine with sneakers or regular shoes, probably not low profile flats for women. If you are not used to walking all day on pavement, don’t be afraid of standing out in sneakers, lots of people wore them, especially the sneakers that look more like light trail shoes, very few bright white Nikes or Reeboks. Everyone carried backpacks and messenger bags, and attractions either scanned your bags or asked you to open them for security check. I had no problems with pickpockets but there was significant begging around the churches. I’m always a bit concerned about standing out too much. I did not allow my husband to wear a baseball hat, no one was wearing baseball hats, and a few men wore knit hats. Very few people wore ski parkas or jackets, mostly wool or leather coats in dark colors. People do wear blue and black jeans, sweaters and lots of scarves!

There were four in our group, we are not small people, however I never felt unsafe or at risk in the main tourist areas at night. People are out at all hours, and I did see lots of police officers on foot in most of the hot spots.

Most people spoke English, and for those who did not it was no big deal to get through the conversation to order meals or find the bathroom. I did carry a pocket language book, which I never opened. I memorized a few key words and phrases, and looked up the translations of specific items I wanted to shop for at

We stayed at the Marriott on the Champs Elyssess near the Arc de Triomphe. I was able to get a significant employee discount through a relative. It was a treat to stay at nice hotel in a great location; unfortunately it’s probably not a realistic place for most people to stay best on the price of the rooms.
Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:03 PM
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Our trip:
We purchased a 3-day museum pass for 30 euro each. Includes most of the major attractions except the Eiffel Tower. The only attraction I wanted to visit that was not included was the Monet Museum, which we swapped for D’Orssay. We never had to wait in line to purchase tickets, went immediately to the entrance and we were in. In January the lines were pretty small, I would imagine in summer it would be horrible, plus it’s nice not to have to dig out your wallet everywhere, go for the museum pass!

Saturday night we toured the area of Montmarte and Sacre Coure church. Great night views of the city. There were not a lot of artists out but there were a few. Some followed you around to do your portrait. We ate at La Cremaillere at 15 Place due Terre, Montmarte, 01-46-06-58-59. The prix fix menu offered a nice selection and the food was excellent. I was a bit surprised to find live music; I would have thought it was jus a summer thing. But they had two acts, first piano player doing show tunes, then an animated guitar player.

Sunday we conquered Notre Dame’s crypt, cathedral and towers. The crypt was interesting. I’m not sure if it would be worth a single admission price but it was included on the museum pass and was nice to see. The view from the towers was incredible and worth the climbing the stairs! Afterwards we went to St Chapelle, to view their amazing stained glass windows, definitely worth a visit.

We toured and dined in the Latin Quarter, probably the best place to find restaurants for the novice traveler. We also walked through the St Severin Church (free), modern stained glass designs, interesting, don’t be startled by the homeless keeping warm. We ate dinner an early dinner at La Grand Bistrot, 7 Rue Saint Severin, Paris, 01-43-25-94-21. The fondue was intriguing, but we opted for a low price prix fix dinner, less then 9 euro per person. We walked around the outside of the Pantheon, former cathedral now tomb. The view of the Eiffel Tower from the Pantheon was pretty good, since it was clear night, we decided to make our way to the Tower. Short lines at 8:30PM we were at the top in no time, beautiful night views from all angles. The top observation deck was fun as we swayed in the wind; you could actually feel the movement of the tower as we walked about.
Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:04 PM
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Monday we walked through the Pere Lachaise cemetery were Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried. It was a bit comical to see the American teenagers visiting Jim’s grave, I did not realize he was still popular with today’s teenage girls. The overcast day and black cat added to the aurora of walking through Paris’s largest cemetery, over 100 acres packed with crypts and monuments. Its free to tour the cemetery and there are even bathrooms there. It was very easy to find off the metro and there are maps at the entrance for locations of famous people, I did not think it was necessary to buy a map. For lunch we went to the Bon Marche (dept store) Food Hall, (as recommendation on the top 100 things to do in Paris post, buy sea salt, which I did, thank you very much). This is a place for any person who loves food, you could easily spend hours wandering the aisles. We stocked up on cheese, olives, bread, wine, chocolate, sea salt, spices and soap. That night we walked through the Louvre Museum and said hello to Mona Lisa. There were no museum staff in the room with her and so lots of people were taking flash photographs despite all the signs not to. After the museum we walked around the Arc de Triomphe. While we were there the police locked down the underground walkway. If you go late at night beware. Even at 11PM the traffic is the circle was heavy and it was a bit scary running across slick paving stones at night.

Tuesday we went to the Arc de Triumph in the morning but it was closed due to some delay. Since it was great day, warm and clear we opted to take the hop on, hop off bus tour around the city. It provides a great opportunity to see everything and take pictures while giving your feet a rest. We purchased lunch and ate on the bus. It takes a little over 2 hours to complete the route of 9 stops. It was 21 euro per person for a 2-day pass. We walked through the Museum D’Orssay (former train station n turned museum dedicated to the Impressionists) to see Monet and Renoir. Next was Hotel Des Invalides, home of Napeleon’s tomb. I enjoyed walking around monument and thought it was worth the visit. We walked around the corner to the Rodin Museum, not on our list, but it was so close and included in our museum pass program we decided to check it out. My friend wanted to see the “Gates of Hell” bronze wall sculpture featuring the famous “Thinker”. The museum was a wonderful surprise, a former residence with a large walled garden filled with his sculptures. Great outdoor presentation of his work, the garden was nice to walk around, boxwood borders, fountain and a large lawn. The café was all glass over looking the lawn, large outdoor seating area, a great place to sit and hang out, they served large cups of coffee! Intrigued with the Pantheon from the other night we went back to see the inside. The tombs located in the basement were a wild maze of passageways and rooms. An awesome place to rent out for your next Halloween party.
Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:05 PM
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For my husband’s birthday dinner we went to the oldest house in Paris, Auberge Nicolas Flammel the former residence of Nicolas Flammel, the alchemist, perhaps you’ve heard of his name from the Harry Potter books. The house was built in 1407, small and cozy, the food was excellent, a true French meal, the featured wine of the week was very good, and I believe by the end of the night we drank the week’s worth of inventory. Not a cheap place to eat, but the food was outstanding and the environment was enjoyable, the host, Natan is awesome and speaks perfect English. I made reservations through the website and he confirmed quickly. I suggest reservations as it’s not a big place, and it was full on a Tuesday night in January. With the next Harry Potter book or movie, Flammel is mentioned in more detail so the restaurant is becoming more popular.
Auberge Nicolas Flamel : 51 rue de Montmorency 75003 Paris
Wednesday we rode the bus again, exited at the Eiffel Tower and walked the Seine River, over Princess Diana’s tunnel and back to the hotel. There are no longer flowers left for her, but it was nice to read the inscriptions written on the overpass at street level.

Thanks again to everyone for all the information.
Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:42 PM
Sharon Frahm
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Thank you so much for your observations on Paris. I don't know when your return date is, so I don't know if you'll get this before I leave for MY January 31st trip.
If you do return in time, and if you're not too swamped with questions and messages, would you mind emailing me with a little more information about auberge Nicolas Flammel?
Where is it, and would you mind telling me approximately how much we might plan to spend on a dinner for two?
I visited Paris for the first time last spring with my tweny one year old daughter, and we concentrated more on shopping and museums than gastronomie. This time I'm going with a girlfriend and we plan to splurge on one good meal. This sounds like it might be a special place.
Thank you again for sharing your trip,
Sharon Frahm
[email protected]
Old Jan 24th, 2003, 12:51 PM
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Hi Alicia,

I really enjoyed your trip report! I'm going to Paris for the first time in March so I'm just devouring every thread with "Paris" in the title. Thanks for the recommendation for the restaurant at the Nicolas Flamel house. One of my travelling companions was just saying to me a few days ago that she wanted to find and photograph the building--now we have another reason to go there!

Old Jan 24th, 2003, 02:22 PM
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Great report! I will be traveling to Paris for the first time in April. Plan to try some of your suggestions.

Old Jan 25th, 2003, 06:52 AM
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Once I was able to locate Flammel's website I was able to get the directions and make reservations right off the site. After looking at again after returning, I see there is more press info about the restaurant.

I made the January reservation in mid November. Natan confirmed pretty quickly via email. I brought a copy of the email just incase, but did not need.

It’s less then a five minute walk from the Rambuteau Metro stop. We had to use the large street maps (the ones the city puts up in various locations, very handy) twice to find the street, two minor zig zags, to make sure we were headed in the right direction. The restaurant door was locked, we had to knock, it didn’t seem like a insecure area at all.

The menu featured 5-7 starters for around 8-12 euros each. The main courses ranges from 14-22 euro each. I don’t recall the desserts being on the menu, (a large chalkboard in a gold frame) and my friends paid for the dinner so I'm not sure what the dessert prices were. We picked the wine of the week, which was 34 euro per bottle. The wine list was extensive and had wide range of prices.

We also had a pre dinner drink while we looked at the wine list. Champagne and raspberry currant liquor, very tasty!

There were four of and we each had something different.

Starters: Fois gras (sp?) was fab! Someone else got it and I was sorry I did not, but I did like my avocado / blue cheese au gratin dish, very good.

I had sea bass, excellent the sauce was incredible, the beef entree was also very good.

Desserts, there 5 or 6 selections, someone had this coconut concoction with raspberry sauce which was awesome, another had the cheese platter, I had the soft chocolate cake, very good. The offered us various after dinner drinks, coffees, etc, but the wine of the week was so good, we stayed with that.

There are two dining rooms on the first and second floors. Low lights, lots of candles, really added the effect. The host was great, talked with everyone; we had our table all night and really enjoyed ourselves.

I hope you are able to go, enjoy!
Old Jan 25th, 2003, 07:00 AM
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Great report Alicia. I'm green with envy. I visited Paris in October 2002 but I'm never satisfied.

Old Jan 25th, 2003, 08:03 AM
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Hi Alicia,
Thanks for your report. Brought back lovely memories.
You wrote
>We also had a pre dinner drink while we looked at the wine list. Champagne and raspberry currant liquor, very tasty!<
I believe that that is called Kir Royale.
Old Jan 25th, 2003, 08:20 AM
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Alicia, I really enjoyed your trip report! You're correct about the Marriott; unless you've got a great discount as you did, the rates are really high regularly. But it is a nice hotel; I prefer the St. Germain area better.

Anyway, I'm glad you had a nice time; Paris is really special.
Old Jan 25th, 2003, 08:25 AM
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Here's a link to Auberge Nicolas Flamel.

It looks nice.
Old Jan 25th, 2003, 11:35 AM
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Thank you for the tips. I'm going this spring and what you mention is helpful.
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