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Paris&#59; Hindsight is 20/20: any tips before we go?

September will be our first time to visit Paris. Hindsight is 20/20 for those of you who have already been. Is there anything you wish you had done to prepare your visit to make it better? Such as you thought you ordered something pork, but presented was rolled pig face (snout and all, yum... but it's served with sauce to lessen the gag), you wished you had honed up on your cuisine vocabulary.

Posted by
2030 posts

If you see "sausage" on the menu, realize it may be andouliee (or tripe) sausage -- this is a popular item. Beware.

Posted by
1446 posts

I had purchased the Rick Steves' French phrase book which included ordering in restaurants, but neglected to take it. I'm sure I would have eaten differently if I'd had it with me.

Posted by
403 posts

Before my first trip (a long time ago) there were tons of things I didn't know. You probably know them all, and they are in RS books, but anyway....
When you need a bathroom, find a cafe. Order Evian or another cheap beverage, and then head straight back to back where the toilets are. When eating in a cafe, study the menu (posted) before sitting down. Waiters are very busy, and dithering gets them angry. Don't try to eat in a restaurant before 7:30 pm. A brasserie or cafe, no problem. Use a moneybelt or otherwise hide your valuables. Greet the clerks/owners of small shops when you enter and leave. Don't automatically expect smiles from service people and don't assume that a serious expression means the person is angry or hostile, it's a different culture. Memorize the key words for food items to avoid: brains, tripe, feet; there are fewer things to avoid than to eat with pleasure, so concentrate your study on what needs to be rejected (unless you are Tony Bourdain). Take time to sit and watch the world go by on a boulevard or in a little square.

Posted by
194 posts

For resources: I took the Marling Menu Master for France on our first trip to France.
We were happy to have it, since neither of us had the slightest idea what many of the items were even about! However, that said, it made ordering a slow and tedious process as we looked up every food word. :) I've heard good things about "Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris," although I haven't used it myself. I also get a daily blog from "Paris Breakfasts" and there are always great ideas for sweets (macarons mostly and the best places to tr them). You can sign up to receive her email on her blog (I think). She visits Paris several times a year, but right now she's in Maine. Not food related, but it's nice to have a compass when exiting the Metro. There are usually several exits and knowing the direction you're heading in is helpful. I LOVE Paris! And I really love it in September. Enjoy...

Posted by
6 posts

Try to use basic French words as a greeting in restaurants, shops, etc. Bounjour, merci and au revoir go a long way. The locals really love if you try to say a few key phrases, and I have found that I get great, warm treatment when I do this. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
1068 posts

I regreat having WORRIED so much about accidentally eating tripe, snout, brains, liver, etc. I'd been to Paris several times before I unclenched my American mistrust of organ meats, snails, interesting shellfish, and other delicacies and just plunged in. I have never regretted eating boudin noir (blood sausage - so delicious!) or cockles or anything else that I have tried. Seriously - the French have a reputation for excellent cuisine for a very good reason. If it's on the menu - try it! Don't know if you have planned a minutely detailed itinerary, but if you have, don't be afraid to dump it and try an unexpected adventure if it comes your way. A tip from a bartender or waiter or book store owner can lead you someplace wonderful. Just because something is NOT in a Rick Steves book doesn't mean it might not be wonderful. Paris is a walking city. The trip when I thought I was going to be a gorgeous, chic Parisienne, so I only packed heels? GAH! Your shoes can quite literally never be comfortable enough. And if you haven't thought about (a) the heat and (b) inner thigh chafing, do so now. Paris can be TOASTY in September, and nothing ruins a day quite like achy feet and/or chafing thighs. Take advantage of the books of tickets for the bus and Metro. Saves a bunch - worth it! Have a GREAT time! But heck - it's Paris. You won't be able to avoid it!

Posted by
75 posts

Had I known, I would have avoided the B&B we stayed at. Be cautious, as in ignore, the scam that the Eastern European/Romany gypsies pull at every tourist and other site. They approach you with this paper on a clipboard claiming to be mute, etc. Two seconds later, you will see them talking to their friends/co-workers. Never pass up on an opportunity to use a bathroom! The Paris Metro is great. The Museum Pass is very, very helpful. Versailles was very, very crowded when we went. And we went on a day that's not meant to be that crowded. I honestly think that it's likely that way every day, mainly in the summer. I would have likely just stayed in Paris. But the rest of my family enjoyed it. So to each his own. We LOVED, LOVED, LOVED going on a Seine River Cruise on our very first evening. Such a nice way to get acclimated to the city and various landmarks. Have fun!

Posted by
263 posts

I actually had the tripe sausage.... twice. When I ordered it in a local bistro, the waitress said no, no but I said yes yes..... it was not that bad, but I should have listened. I would have studied the metro and RER systems more. I think I would have benefited from using the Paris by Train site and entering different excursions I might have taken. Seems if maybe I had been a little more aware of destinations I would have been a little less anxious about using the Metro and buses. And I agree with others.... learn some basic French phrases and don't be afraid to use them. I love walking in Paris also, so bring comfy shoes. I also carried a pocket phrase book that had a pretty good food section.....that helped. The sausage was an adventure..... strangely, after having it once, I actually had it again even knowing what it was.
But I draw line at snouts and feet!

Posted by
15675 posts

If you are going to be in Paris on the 3rd weekend of September (17-18), check out the Heritage Days (Les Journees du Patrimoine). Many sites are free, some are open to the public ONLY on those two days. I saw theSenat, Assemble, Hotel de Ville, all were amazing and worth the 30-60 minutes in line. Government offices and embassies open their doors and put on special exhibitions.

Posted by
2023 posts

Be very careful to know exactly what you order in a restaurant. I love Escargot but no organ meats for me. Once I ordered duck at an upscale restaurant and the dish turned out to be sliced duck hearts. Fish is a safe choice. The rotisserie chickens are great-available at street markets. Ask for a carafe of water if you don't feel inclined to pay for the pricey bottled water. You may assume it may be two euros or less but we have paid as much as six euros which is ridiculous IMO. Have a great trip!

Posted by
61 posts

Don't go to the cafe right next to Notre Dame unless you want to pay 13 euro for a coke. The Paris Metro is wonderful, but I thought we spent too much time underground and didn't see as much of the city as I would have liked. Next time I'd walk more or take a taxi at least. I'm ok with eating offal so no problem there but in reality I ended up eating mostly ham & cheese baguettes (wistful sigh) and a lovely 3 course dinner that included escargot, filet with roquefort sauce and creme brulee for 25 euro.

Posted by
251 posts

We had ordered a platter of seafood at a restaurant. We did not realize that most of it would be raw, but that was not an issue we ate it anyway.. only three days later we had lunch with a friend and he told us that the shelfish wasn't just raw, it was live! The waiter didn't have sufficient English and we were too inexperienced(dare I say raw:) to realize that we should used the lemons or the sauces to pour over our food and kill it before eating!

Posted by
2876 posts

The first time I went to Paris we wound up in a no-English restaurant. I couldn't translate the menu and ordered the plat du jour. It was Cervelles d'agneau. Lamb's brains. Now I never go to France without a menu translator. The IPod app 'Escargo' is a particularly good one.

Posted by
44 posts

Watch the bus and metro schedules. Sun goes down later there than I was used to, and buses quit running before we did! Learn the buses and metros right away, because they go everywhere! That being said, don't be afraid to walk a'll get there faster on the metro, but will see nothing (except some colorful characters); you'll see more from a bus, but you'll see the most on foot. Get a combo ticket/pass that works on both the metoro and the bus. Also, try out a cruise on the Seine. Batobus cruises are like a water taxi, and you can get a two day pass and just jump on and off at one of six or seven scheduled stops. Boats come by about every 15-20 minutes.

Posted by
39 posts

The Paris Museum Pass is a must. Studying some guide books, I discovered there were alternative entrances to the Louvre besides though the Pyramid. With the Museum Pass, there was NO wait at the Passage Richelieu entrance, other than a quick bag check. The Louvre map is now online. Shop for cheese, bread, fruit, etc. in the neighborhood shops or a grocery and have impromptu picnic lunches. One of the best was on a bench outside the Louvre entrance we drew a lot of jealous looks from tourists who wish they had thought to do that. Or any park bench will work. We carry a small cutting knife, a few napkins, plastic spoons, zip lock bags, etc. to use on our picnics. Much more economical than restaurant meals all the time. Most museums are closed one day a week. Plan your visit with those in mind. Also, some museums are open one or more evenings a week. Plan with those in mind. And some even have a free day, if that fits into your plans. Have fun!

Posted by
672 posts

On our first trip to Paris in the mid-1990s, we made a big mistake staying in a (2-star) hotel on Rue Cler that was recommended in Rick's Paris guidebook. At that time, Rick was championing this pedestrian-only street as a 'must see' on his 'Travels in Europe' t.v. series, and we were looking to save on hotel costs, so the price was right. However, as young and inexperienced European travelers, we weren't savvy enough to realize that all of the merchants started setting up their shops early in the morning at about 4:00 a.m.! Since we were staying in a room facing the street (mistake number 1), the noise was quite loud. You will note above that I mentioned that the hotel was a 2-star (mistake number 2). Unfortunately, the recently renovated bathroom did not trump our room's disgustingly stained carpet and walls, which Rick failed to mention in his guidebook. Recommendations or not, we have never stayed in anything less than a 3-star hotel since! My wife still reminds me about this experience (we can laugh about Fortunately, in subsequent European trips, we have fared much better hotel-wise. So, my advice is to thoroughly check out your hotel choice, request a room that does not face the street, and avoid cheap hotels if at all possible. I realize that there are probably some nice 2-star or even 1-star hotels in the world, but we eliminate them immediately from consideration. Unfortunately, the internet was in its infancy 16 years ago when our trip occurred, but today there is lots of good information available on websites such as this one, Trip Advisor, etc. So, do your research, avoid others' mistakes, and have a great trip!

Posted by
9110 posts

A common misconception is that star-ratings have anything to do with subjective criteria (charm, location, ambiance, cleanliness, etc). Star-ratings are based solely upon qualitative factors (so many points for a fax, on-site parking, restaurant, bathrobes, air-conditioning, elevator, twenty-four hour front desk, en-suite facilities, and so on). It's been a long time since I've seen the chart, but essentially you can have a parking lot and a diner, but everything else is a dump, and be at three stars in an eye blink. Over-laying the above is the fact that, in some countries, stars are only an indication of the tax basis of an establishment. Confounding the issue is that there is no universal rating system and many hotels are self-rated. Plus many on-line travel engines increase their stars on a place to make it seem like more of a bargain. I've stayed in three-star joints that would gag a maggot and four-star ones that had a lot of plastic, but nothing that added to my enjoyment. Conversly, I've got a bunch one-star places that I go back to repeatedly. Plus a bunch of no-star places that don't participate in the madness, have never been in a guidebook, and cost like the dickens - - but are worth the splurge.

Posted by
1806 posts

The only regret I had after my 1st time in Paris was that there was so much to see and do, that I was constantly in go, go, go mode and later felt like I didn't really spend enough time relaxing and enjoying the cafe culture, people watching, etc.