Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Travel Tips to Paris

I am just a rookie here but I have learned a few things in visiting Paris six or seven times in the last year for a total of about 10 weeks in country. There are those who know much more and it will take years to figure out all the nuances, but this is a first pass for those that have asked recently. I will try to keep this updated if major discrepancies develop.

  • Getting there -- Delta has a direct flight from CVG which lands at 7am. From Charles De Gaulle you can take a taxi for about 60 euros into the center of Paris or take the RER to Gare du Norde for about 10 euros but you will have to hump your bags around during rush hour on little sleep through temperamental turnstiles. Your choice. And when (not if) there is a transit strike, all bets are off, and you had better have arranged a car before you leave home.
  • Hotels -- I stay in an apartment which is an option maybe, but did have luck with landing the Hotel du Louvre for about $250 a night. (The rack rate is 500 euros.) It is in the 1st near the Palais Royal and yes, the Louvre. If you want to go upscale you can stay at Le Meurice, the Ritz, or the Crillon for about 700 plus per night. I prefer saving money and sliding into the Hotel lobby bars and pretending I'm elite. I have not yet tried the Plaza Athenee, and I hear it's swell, but in my opinion Le Meurice bar outshines the others. A Martini will set you back 25 euros. Grin and bear it, and be grateful that you are saving about 500 euros a night.
  • Getting around -- Except for very late at night I skip the taxis unless you like watching the meter spin during gridlock. Take the Metro and then walk. Bring comfortable walking shoes, an umbrella and a carry bag. Paris is the best people watching in the world so why not dive in shoulder to shoulder. On average I walk 2 to 3 miles a day. Get in shape.
  • The facilities -- The toilets and the kitchens are small. Get used to it. This isn't Indian Hill.
  • The food markets -- Well, this is an interest of mine and a few locals. Whether you think Findley Market is quaint, or not, walk through a local food market and be amazed at how most Parisians shop for their food everyday. The produce, meats and seafood are fresh. Very fresh. There are internet sites listing the 75 markets inside the City. It will make your next trip to Kroger very uneventful.
  • Shopping -- I can't help you here but if you want to drop $175,000 on a watch and some other fashionable accessory, then you are in the right place. I buy clothes at Bon Marche. Remember when you were a kid and Shillito's downtown impressed you. Well, try not to stare with your mouth open and embarrass yourself. There are many tourist department stores on Opera, but Bon Marche is where Parisians shop.
  • Manners -- Paris is a major city (10 million total) but in the stores and restaurants, it is a small village. On the street they are distant and won't make eye contact, and will pretend that they don't understand your bad French. But when you walk into a store or restaurant, it is imperative to say hello. For gods sake don't launch into questions about prices or tables before saying bonjour. I have seen a local Parisian chastised by street vendors for not saying bonjour before asking for simple directions. A street vendor. She grovelled profusely and was somewhat pardoned. And once you do get a table expect to wait a good 10 minutes plus before anyone approaches you for a drink or food order. They are not ignoring you or being rude. It's Paris. Don't take it personally.
  • The museums -- I can't help you here. Go for it but be prepared for lines. The Louvre is open some nights so keep that in mind.
  • La Tour Eiffel -- I see it everyday and have no interest in waiting hours to ascend, but have fun.
  • Printemps -- I skip the Tour Eiffel and get my views by going to the top floor and having lunch. No waits and the food isn't all that bad though the wine selection sucks. There is no selection. But on a sunny day it is hard to beat being up 7 stories outdoors with a 360 degree view of central Paris while snacking and sipping an indifferent Red wine. Bring your camera. You did pack your camera?!
  • Restaurants -- I will list below the places I like. I prefer bistros and wine bars. If you want the 3 star treatment, have fun and get ready to throw down 200 to 300 euros per person, before wine -- if you can get in. And be prepared to stand by while the 'money' drops 10,000 euros without blinking. It's a different world over there at the high-end. The other irony is that you also can't get into the new hot 20 seater by the 'Chef du jour'. And get ready for attitude and not gratitude. Go figure. I like to go to places where they will at least pretend to like your business. And the other trick I have learned is that many times you can actually get in at lunch whereas dinner reservations are booked months out. Hey, you're on vacation. What's wrong with having a three hour lunch with a few bottles of wine. You are allowed to take naps in Paris. Google 'cinq a sept'.
  • Spring -- Good luck getting in. I've been twice and dropped 500 to 1,000 for a small table. There is a wine bar downstairs that you can walk in and sample some apps and go crazy on the wine list. Say hello for me.
  • Willi's Wine Bar -- After thirty years you think Mark knows what he's doing? Great wines and food. A 'must stop'.
  • Maceo -- Mark's 'real' restaurant with a colonial feel and upscale food. Try the seasonal fixed offerings.
  • Isse -- For a change of pace try this sushi/sake spot in the 1st in a part of town they are starting to call 'Little Tokyo'. Great food and enough sake choices to dazzle your head.
  • Le Villaret -- A little secret that a friend found while wandering her grandparents' old neighborhood, and then upon further research we find that the New York Times liked it as did Alex Lobrano. Alex called it one of the best little secrets in Paris. I agree.
  • Le Square Trousseau -- In the 12th off the beaten path. I usually stop in after oysters at Le Baron Rouge. Old school bistro with very good food and nice service.
  • L'Avant Comptoir -- Stand up wine bar for 15 people max. Always mobbed. Some of the best treats available. Keep snacking until you fill up. Short but solid wine list by the glass or bottle. It's an ex-pat scene so watch your swearing. And there is no phone but just head to the Odeon station and sniff around.
  • Le Suffren -- Off the Champ de Mars by the Tour Eiffel. Mostly locals and UNICEF workers with few tourists. Solid seafood in a classic setting.
  • Le Minzinque -- In the 15th, this is my favorite spot in my neighborhood, if you don't count home cooking. But if your French is weak, good luck. This is for locals only and very old school. Solid food and let the owner pick the wines. And there is no listing on Google, so good luck. It's off Rue Commerce by the Charlie Birdy bar.
  • Tipping -- Service is mostly included for your meals but I throw down a few euro coins to say thank you. Though I have been known to throw Eric at L'Avant a 20 because I hate waiting in line. It does get noticed if you plan to return a few times during the week.