My brother in law works for an airline and is working to get my wife and I on a cheap flight to Paris next week. We would leave Jan 5 and return on the 9th. This will be a complete surprise to her and it would be our first visit to Paris.. We will be standby, so that makes it a bit hard to book hotels. I have emailed a few for information but haven't heard back yet. The Abbatial Saint Germain hotel in the Latin quarter was recommeded by a friend. I am a bit worried about being unprepared for the language as I haven't had any time to even look at a phrase book. Also worried about weather, I know Paris has been hit with snow recently. Temperatures look pretty mild, so I'm hoping that most of that will not be an issue. This could be a great surprise, hope I can pull it off. Seems a bit crazy to do it all last minute.
I agree with Ed above -- go and have a great time. I have been to Paris several times and would do a last minute trip there anytime! Only thing I recommend in preparation is to buy the Rick Steve's Paris guidebook if you can. It will tell you everything you need to know. As for the language, it is polite to learn please, thank you, hello and do you speak English at minimum -- all of these are in any guidebook, or online at google translator. If weather is bad, spend time in museums, churches cozy cafes, or shopping! If it's nicer, get out and stroll the Seine or an interesting neighborhood.
Ben, Sounds like a great opportunity! I have a few comments to add to Ed's great reply: > Don't worry too much about the language, as most of the people you'll be dealing with can function in English to some extent. However, it's "polite" and a good idea to at least try some of the common greetings in French. Check your local bookstores to see if you can pick-up a copy of Rick's French Phrasebook. You can "brush up" on the language during the flight! > Check your local Libraries or bookstores to see if they have a copy of Rick's France or Paris Guidebooks (which also contain a few language tips, as I recall). Make a list of Hotels that fit your budget and other criteria and pack it along, ranking them in order of "most preferred to least preferred". When your travel date is confirmed, start contacting the Hotels on the list via E-mail or phone (if necessary). Don't limit yourself to the Latin Quarter (many here prefer the Rue Cler area, sometimes facetiously referred to here on the HelpLine as "Rue Rick"). > Hopefully the worst of the weather problems is past for now. However, it would be a good idea to make "contingency plans" in case either of your flights is delayed due to weather (ie: if you're not able to get back to work on the 10th, will that be a problem?). Although I normally prefer precise planning for my trips, I will occasionally take a "spur-of-the-moment" holiday. A number of years ago, I arranged a trip to the U.K. in four days, and it was one of the best holidays I've ever had! Bonne Chance et Bon Voyage!
1. Don't worry about the language. It won't be a problem. 2. Don't worry about hotels. Venere.com can find you a slew in the latin quarter - - probably an ideal spot for a first visit. Make your sort by price and then go down the column until you find one with a guest-rating above about a 7.7 with a bunch of reviewers and you'll be fine. Don't wast time emailing, just pick as above and book. 3. Don't worry about the weather, you'll work through it and it shouldn't be that rough anyway. 4. Don't worry about last minute. My record is six hours notice and I had a ball. 5. Don't worry about spending all your time in art musesums, there's too much else to see. 6.. Don't worry about anything else.
Hi Ben! Going to Paris on short notice is a wonderful idea and your wife will love it! Sometimes it's better to be spontaneous without too much planning so you can take things as they come. It should be a less touristy time to be there so hotel rooms shouldn't be difficult to find. The area you're looking in is great - if that doesn't work out hotels in the Marais area are well located for seeing the main sites with easy access to the Metro. If you don't have one, Rick Steves' guide to Paris tells you most everything that you need to know. Take warm clothes, be flexible, and don't worry. You'll have an amazing time!!
Ditto to all previous replies. I'll add just a few points: So it's cold! Most of the world is freezing at this time of year and people seem to live - and actually thrive! Never in my multiple trips (with very little French) have I not had scores of people come to my aide, English speakers or not. Some just smile and point. I have often tried to convince friends and family that the French/Parisians are warm and helpful to travelers. You'll soon find out for yourself. Truth be told, we had more trouble in Washington DC this fall than in France on our previous 3 trips. Go figure! And Bon Voyage! Sharon
Hey Ben, I'm envious, and you'll have a blast. I notice that you're from minneapolis, so anything that Paris in January can throw at you should be laughable. Don't sweat it. Definitely get a copy of Rick's French Phrasebook and his Paris guide. These will serve you well. I always try to get my wife to memorize the following phrases when in foreign countries (she won't commit to learning more of the language, and you don't have time for it either): Hello excuse me do you speak english please thank you I'm sorry
goodbye Get a handle on these, and the french will love you. In fact, they'll probably realize that their english is better than your french, so that's how you'll converse. Good luck!
Hello Ben, Do you plan to use any cabs while you are in Paris? While I agree with the above posters that most of the people you will need to talk to speak a bit of English, most of the cab drivers don't speak any English. For our trip last summer, I wrote a couple of basic phrases on file cards (use google translate)-things like Bon jour, please take us to this location: ______ and then I could point to the location on the map. You will have a better time in Paris if you learn the basic polite phrases (it only takes an hour or so to do that).........Be sure you have a good map of the city I recommend the Rough Guide Paris one don't rely on the free one that is available at many locations, because it doesn't show most of the side streets. We got really lost in the Marais trying to use that map. However, as long as you know where the Seine is, you can usually find your way around the central tourist core. Have a lovely time Paris is a magic place.
I did a quick trip to Paris in November and left my phrase book in my London hotel room, and we were still fine. Being polite will go far, even when you don't speak a word of French. Just one quick recommendation... you can make a reservation online to go up the Eiffel Tower... it'll save you a couple hours in line. I'd recommend trying to go around 5pm... I did this in November with my boyfriend and we made it all the way up to the top just as the lights were coming on all over the city... really romantic and a great view! Enjoy your trip!!
I've stayed at the Abbatail Saint Germain 2x, once with my husband and once with my motherit is a gem. Like most hotel is Paris the rooms are smallish, it is charming rather than luxurious (ie no bell boy), but very nice. You will really feel as if you are in Paris, such a civilized, homey size hotel (perhaps 4 stories tall) in the heart of Saint Germaine. Very safe. The location cannot be better....a few blocks away from Notre Dame, in the Latin Quarter. The batobus (hop on/hop off Seine river cruise boat) has a stop just a few blocks away, and it is fun simply to walk the main street. There is a metro stop 1 block away, a bakery across the street, and on certain days there is a farmer's market. Excellent atmosphere. The hotel has a lovely breakfast in their own cafe, well worth the price. Everyone always talks about grabbing a croissant on the go in Paris, but myself, I like to sit down when I am having breakfast, and this is one of the few onsite breakfast offerings that I thought was worth it. You cannot go wrong with this hotel. Go! Enjoy! Feel free to contact me if you wish.
Thanks to all. It looks like we are set to leave today!!! I found a great hotel deal near Rue Cler at the Hotel de la Tour Eiffel. $80/night. It seems like a great location to explore. A lot of sights look to be within a mile or two of the hotel. It looks like a relatively short walk from either the La Tour Maubourg stop or the Ecole Militaire stop. I have the RS book and audio tours. Some Piaf and Trenet on the ipod. Here goes nothing! Agan, Merci to all for the encouragement.
Sounds like you're prepared! Bon Voyage! Report back!
I loved reading your report Ben, thanks for taking the time to write it! I particularly liked this line "Had no encounters with that mythical rude Frenchman." I'm so glad you enjoyed Paris!
Well we made it to Paris for the weekend. (That still sounds ludicrous when I say it.) It was amazing. I'm so very lucky to have a bro-in-law with buddy passes. Post trip report Day 1
Stared off a little rough with a long airport delay. We basically lost most of the first day but finally got to the hotel around 5PM on Thursday. We stayed at the Tour de la Eiffel near Rue Cler. Good price, nice staff, great location. After getting checked in we headed to the Orsay. We a walked from the hotel to the museum. The Grand Palais and Invalides were massive and impressive as we walked Rue St Dominique. Nice 15-20 min walk. We got to spend about 2 hours at the Orsay that night because of the later hours on Thurs nights. We tried to use the RS audioguide but renovations to the top floor have the Impressionists and post impressionist spread out. Still an enjoyable visit but felt like we were all over trying to find things. Walked to Palace de la Concorde and then walked the Champs Elysees. Holiday light displays made up for the drizzle. All the trees up the Arch were strung with lights and it made a very cool visual from the bottom of the hill. It was an interesting contrast to be standing in the spot where the guillotine was used in the light of a giant ferris wheel. Walk up Elysees was great people watching and window shopping. Pugeot had a store with a riduculous display of spinning cars and sleek motorcycles. The display was some sort of Christmas gift to Paris and said something very philosophical about art, dreams, and beauty. We stopped for wine and small dinner at a random cafe that I can't remember. all the RS recommendations had just closed as we got to the area. It was fun to relax and people watch.
Did Notre Dame Cathedral and Historic Walk in the morning. It was soul stirring. I am not a very religious person, but when we went into the church a choir was performing. I got chills hearing the Ave Maria fill that massive building. Very very cool. Used the RS audiotour and it added some nice insight to thing we might have missed in the building. We waited to climb the top in the rain and got to see the gargoyle waterspouts in action. Something creepy about seeing those things "drool" down on you. Very glad we went to the top. Great views of the city, great statuary and gargoyle spotting, and some fun Quasimodo impressions in the belltower. We followed most of RS walking tour and headed to the Left Bank. Found a nice little rotisserie café/restaurant for lunch while wandering around the Latin Quarter. I had a wonderful Beef Bourgeone. Hit up the stunning St Chappelle. Conciergerie was closed, so we did not do that tour. We then toured the Louvre that afternoon. I could not believe how big it was. I knew it was big but was still not prepared for its size and grandeur as a building. We enjoyed just being outside in the main courtyard. Went inside and spent about 2 hours (which I think is my limit for trying to appreciate art). We followed the RS tour but didn't use the audio b/c ipod batteries were dead. I appreciated hitting the highlights of Venus de Milo, Winged Vicotry, Mona Lisa, Italian Renaissance, and French Neoclassical. There were several works that I recognized and felt like I got a decent sense of that wing of the museum and small understanding of those periods and how they were influenced by each other and by historical factors. The RS tour helped me gain some perspective rather than just walking into rooms a guessing what was happening. .....
Day 2 con't
Bro-in-law got the Louvre audio guide and it had three options. 90 min Italian tour, 90 minute French Tour, or 45 minute Masterpiece tour. We didn't use those but it was nice to have it to pull up extra info on other works we were interested in. After the tour we came outside to see the Louvre courtyard illuminated. So more pictures had to be taken. I really really enjoyed this tour. Personally, I like it more than the Orsay. We headed to Marais neighborhood that night. We walked around a bit and then headed to try to find one of the RS restaurants for dinner. We didn't make a reservation and were extremely lucky to get a table at Les Bonnes Soires. They had a cancelation and were able to fit us in. We had tried Chez Janou but it was packed also. Thankfully BS squeezed us in. Great food, very friendly staff, and not killer prices. We felt like we had stumbled into a nice comfy local hangout. They seemed to have several Best of Paris stickers on their door. Great meal. We walked around Marais after dinner and saw the nightlife scene a bit, but were too tired to join in. Obviously all other sights were closed so the walk didn't allow any depth, but we did get a little sense of Marais.
VersaillesGood Lord. Massive, opulent, staggering, just a great place to see. There are no pictures or words that can really capture the monumental nature of this place. We caught the train from Paris, an easy 30 minute ride, and then walked the three blocks from train station. As soon as we turned the corner, the entire horizon was full of palace. We literally just stopped in our tracks. We decided to get a guided tour, which turned out to be a private tour since no one else signed up. Our guide took us into several room that were not open to the public and gave us some great insight into Louis XIV-XVI1. We also go to see a model of what the original entryway looked like before some remodeling...wow. We also got to sit in a box in the Opera House. That was excellent. After that the tour ended kind of suddenly and we didn't tip our guide. Oops. Not sure if we were supposed to or not. Then we did the free audio guide tour to the public parts of the palace. They were really good. I would say you would have a great visit with just doing that tour and not getting the extra guided tour, but we enjoyed both immensely. We then went out into the gardens and just marveled at the grandeur. I cannot imagine what it looks like in the Spring or Summer when things are in bloom. We walked the main route down to the grand canal and then headed over to tour the other palace, we didn't go as far as Marie Antoinette's Normandy Village and were losing steam at that point. We made the long walk back to the Chateau and grabbed a sandwich for the train ride back. So much walking, but we really enjoyed the visit. If we get the chance to go back we would definitely hit Versailles again just to see the gardens and fountains.
Day 3 con't
After arriving back in Paris we did some shopping on Rue Cler for souvenirs mostly chocolate, wine, and cheese. It was great having all of that close to our hotel. We ped off the goodies and then headed to the Arc de Triomphe. We went to the top for some great nighttime views and traffic watching. We came down to find the flame lighting ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a very nice surprise. We then headed to the Trocadero area for dinner and a 10PM slot at the Eiffel tower. Again no reservations, bad idea. We tried the Café de la'Homme but they seemed to be booked even though it looked relatively empty. The hostess/staff weren't very helpful, and seemed to be stressed out or annoyed by the flow of people they had to turn away. Looked like a nice place though. So then we decided to go find something in the area for dinner. Tons of people around and it looked like lots of places were either full or very expensive. We found a place on the main square, that had room and semi decent prices. Food was definitely mediocre, but service was fast and we got out in plenty of time for a leisurely walk across the river and plenty of time for picture taking. We had about 20 minutes to kill before our trip up the tower so we grabbed coffee from the concession stand and enjoyed watching the vendor try to hawk their wares. I have no idea how anyone can make money selling the same products as 50 other people for 1€, but they were kind of fun to watch. The top deck was closed for all of January, so we only got to the 2nd deck. It was great view though and a nice way to finish off the trip looking over the city and seeing the places we had visited. We wandered back to the hotel for much needed sleep.
Overall wonderful time and I would highly recommend Paris and RS books to anyone considering a trip. We could have easily used another day or two to explore Paris, but you can see a lot in a short amount of time if you really go for it and have good walking shoes and a bit of stamina. A few things I learned or experienced from my whirlwind tour. -The train ticket booklets (carnays) do not work for trips from the Airport to Paris or from Paris to Versailles. Those destinations are in different zones and require more expensive RER tix. This wasn't clear in RS books or I completely missed it. I think it was like 8€ one way. -Everyone we encountered spoke English and was very accommodating. I felt thankful and a bit guilty that they were all so willing to speak our language and help us navigate menus, maps, wines, stores items, admissions, ect. We had no encounters with that mythical "rude Frenchman". Most people seemed fairly warm and at least somewhat friendly.
-The metro and RER is fabulous. We were able to jump on the train and get everywhere we wanted even if it required a transfer. It was easy to navigate with the system maps and helped save our legs a bit when we needed a break from walking. I do think that some people might enjoy the sightseeing buses more because you can see Paris while being transported to your destination. Also those buses would probably cut down on walking even more. But the metro worked great for us and was a cheaper more flexible option. I was amazed at how quickly trains ran for just about every line we tried. The only time we had and "long" wait was on Sunday trying to get back to CDG airport. Otherwise we didn't need to look at train schedules at all, we just went to the metrostop and jumped on the next train, usually within 5 mins. The batobuses were not in operation while we were there
-Meals take a long time. We definitely enjoyed having some long meals to rest our feet and relax, but we could never figure out how to get the waiter to come back to bring our bill. They were in no hurry to turn the table over. We didn't want to be rude so we tried to just relax and wait them out, but once or twice we went to find them to get the bill. -Generally we really liked the RS walks and free audioguides. It would have helped to read them through a bit more before we went, but they were great to use as a basic guide with some nice context to what we were looking at. Bravo Rick! -If we did it again we would definitely try to make reservations at a restaurant for dinner one or two nights. We didn't this time because we had no idea how long the activities were going to take us. I think we missed out not eating at one of the RS recommendations for dinner on our last night near Rue Cler. We could have gotten something really enjoyable for less money, but c'est la vie. -Navigation was relatively easy, even if most of the buildings look similar. The landmarks and river really help to keep you oriented. So except for a few moments of uncertainty looking for a specific street, we never got lost lost. One tricky thing was that street changed names at certain points, but overall it wasn't hard to find our way around.
-Beautiful City with something for everyone, foodies, history buffs, art hounds, photography nuts, and just people that want to see spectacular sights. Thank you Paris, Rick Steves, and big thanks to my brother-in-law for the buddy passes to get there. So much more to see in France I want to go back!
Wow, Ben, what a fantastic trip report! You are so enthusiastic! Next time you go to Paris, you must see Monet's house and gardens at Giverny - talk about things being in bloom! The gardens are encircled by mature trees and all the tall flowers (lots of roses) are underplanted with shorter ones. I went at the beginning of May and the only thing that wasn't blooming then were the famed water lilies. At that time, nothing much was flowering at Versailles but everything was green. Are you familiar with www.parisdailyphoto.com - fun to check out....
I'm so glad you enjoyed Paris and did not feel overwhelmed by it. I know you were anxious about it. I think Paris has something for everyone. You certainly covered a lot of ground. You were very smart to have a game plan. I hope you have a chance to go back and see even more. I've spent 15 nights in Paris over two trips, and am returning in October for another 6. I can't get enough!!!!
What a great trip report! Sounds like a fabulous couple of days. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for sharing your trip report. It brought back wonderful memories of Paris.
Very nice review! And great find for the hotel, I'll save it for future reference! ;)
How come it's a 2 star hotel? It seems awefully nice!
Great review! :). Thanks for sharing!