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4 days in beautiful Paris

Day 1:

My 31 year old daughter and I visited Paris for the first time during the first week of August and it definitely surpassed my expectations. It’s such an interesting blend of a beautiful, historical yet vibrant, modern city.

We flew Air France ( economy) and I was very impressed by the comfort and level of service. It was the best flight experience I have had to date and I would defiantly fly with them again. We arrived on a Saturday morning and I had planned to buy a SIM card when I got off the plane, but the only option available was an Orange kiosk where you had to insert the card yourself. Jet lagged and without the required pin, I decided to get one once we got to our hotel. That was a mistake.

We took the RER into the city (St.Michael metro). It was not entirely clear which of the 2 possible trains to board, but once we asked a local, it was a pleasant enough 45 minute trip. I spent the trip worrying about pick pockets (from everything I have read), but it was totally fine. Carrying our luggage up multiple flights of stairs at St. Michael station due the escalators being out of service, however, wasn’t fun. Fortunately, a local man saw me struggling and carried mine most of the way. This happened a few times during our trip, so although Parisians aren't warm and fuzzy, the men are certainly chivalrous.

We used an online map to walk to our hotel in the Latin Quarter, but made a few wrong turns as the wagon wheel layout of the streets there makes following maps somewhat challenging.

Our hotel (Hotel Familia) was perfect. We paid $160 CAD/night and it had a lift, shower, A/C and a balcony. It was also a 5 minute walk to the metro (Jussieu). The room was tiny (could barely hold 2 average sized suitcases), but clean, quiet and comfortable. The front desk staff are very helpful, and there is a bank machine, boulangerie and cafés right across the street, as well as a supermarket around the corner. Rick is quite right when he says that this area is very quiet until the late afternoon, then comes alive.

We spent our first day walking along the right bank ( the plages were not as happening as I had expected them to be. I had read that it's set up like a beach with lounge chairs, swimming and games), the Ile St. Louis, passed by the Hotel de Ville and was disappointed to see that the Stravinsky fountain was not operational. We walked through the Marais (think I would stay in this neighbourhood next time) and Les Halles looking for a place to buy a SIM card. Tip for anyone wanting an Orange card, buy it at the airport, or get it through amazon beforehand. Once we finally found the only store that sold them we were told they were sold out. I was finally able to buy another brand that was only good on France at an electronics store in Forum des Halles for 40 EUR.

We walked all over St Germain des Pres, and went to Jardin de Luxembourg. My daughter tells me her step counter showed 37000 steps that day!

I can't remember which cafe it was near the Luxembourg Gardens that we had lunch at, but we had a croque monsieur at a cafe that had a bunch of teddy bears seated around a table outside. The waiter there, as we found the case everywhere, took a long time to bring us glasses of water, take and bring our orders, and never checked on us to see if there was anything we needed. We are not demanding diners, and maybe it's because we didn't speak French, but everywhere we went to eat, the waiters had an attitude of being put out. It wasn't a big deal once we knew what to expect, and we learned not to wait until we were starving to sit down somewhere to eat.

Posted by
1653 posts

Great report, can't wait for the rest!
As for waiters not actively checking on you: that's perfectly normal, nothing to do with being a foreigner. French diners (myself included) also have to try to catch someone's attention when they need something. North American-style proactive service is an oddity for us!

Posted by
225 posts

Day 2:

We did a pre booked guided tour of the Louvre (offered by the museum) on day 2. Getting in and through security was quick and painless and I can't imagine doing it without a ticket booked in advance. Once inside, you can only pass through the gates at each wing 3 times, so it was not ideal to have to go out to return the audio equipment when the tour was done, as coming back in ate up one of those entrances. My daughter desperately wanted to see Mona Lisa, so we went through the long process of waiting to see her, then being herded like cattle through the exhibit. I was far more taken with other pieces, but it’s not Mona’s fault, the Louvre just isn’t set up to allow you to appreciate her. “Nike” ( Winged Victory) is breathtaking to behold in person and I really enjoyed basking in all the sculptures.

We then took the metro to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We had brought some wine ( I found a great travel wine casket and travel wine glasses at a camping supply store), and stopped to buy sandwiches in the area, then wandered around that beautiful, peaceful place. We were in awe of the grandiosity of the tombstones and had a lovely picnic at the base of a few of them. It closes early ( 6 pm) and we were sad to be kicked out, as we hadn’t yet found Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf or Heloise and Abelard. If I return to Paris, I will look for a guided tour of this place.

We chose the Polidor restaurant for dinner that night based on the guidebook suggestion, but found that it was closed ( ? for August) when we got there, so ate at the very touristy, crowded St. Germain des Pres area.

Side note re: pick pockets, I had read a lot about the risk and am not sure if we were just successful at making sure we weren’t good targets, or the risk is exaggerated. We both live in a big city, so maybe it’s just that we’re used to having our guard up, but this is the second time my travel companion to a European city has told me that I was making waaaaaay too big of a deal about it. I have a Pac Safe purse and my daughter used a fanny pack worn around her shoulder and carried in front of her. Maybe we jusy got lucky?

Posted by
4078 posts

The risk of pick pocketing is greatly exaggerated.

Posted by
22 posts

You’re staying in the Latin Quarter.
Look for small cafes advertising specials.

We found wonderful cafes with very good food and even friendly service. And reasonably priced.

I travel to meet people. I apologize for not speaking French. I respect people not having time to talk. Many French did not appear friendly. Costa, a British coffee chain, provided great coffee and friendly staff.
Other tourists, immigrants, and foreign residents are helpful with information . Be ready to help others too.

Any pointers on begging for mercy from the French? I’d like to get to know them better.

Posted by
679 posts

I am looking forward to your last two days and how you proceeded. Enjoying your report

Posted by
1653 posts

@Tom Sherwood, the OP isn't in Paris anymore (alas). As for the French being unhelpful, well, two things:
- "Be nice/friendly" isn't in the job description of most wait staff, store employees, etc... so folks are nice only if they feel like it. And it's hard to feel like being nice when you are waiting tables at chronically understaffed places in high season in a country where people basically don't tip.
- Similarly, especially in Paris, people are rarely outside for the sake of it: they have things to do, errands to run, a workplace to get to... For instance, if you try to stop me on my way to or from work, I can't guarantee I'll feel like helping out.

I could go on and on, BUT I suggest not to digress from the thread any further!

Posted by
577 posts

Wonderful reports! Not to be greedy but looking forward to days 3 and 4 when you have time. I’m so impressed and grateful that you are doing these reports so soon after the trip!

Posted by
1958 posts

Thanks for the report. I'm enjoying reading it. Before a visit to Paris in October 2016, I had been told by multiple people that I would hate the city due to its unfriendly, unpleasant inhabitants. I found the people (including servers) lovely and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the city.

Posted by
12103 posts

Hi,

Thanks for the interesting report. My French is limited, I have to speak slowly after it's processed and I'll try with the language first but I don't apologize for not knowing it better. When flying Air France I always choose their cheapest Economy.

It sounds that you were in a good hotel. My hotel has a lift, shower, no AC and the reception closes at midnight.

On the pickpockets in Paris, it's a matter of luck or bad luck and prevention. My friend since grammar school days and his wife were in Paris one time,/ first time(?) at Gare du Nord, which is where I stay in a 2 star hotel. His wife was picked at Nord. I don't like mentioning that with him.

Posted by
349 posts

Tip for anyone wanting an Orange card, buy it at the airport, or get
it through amazon beforehand. Once we finally found the only store
that sold them we were told they were sold out.

I laughed when I read this because on my most recent trip to Paris (not my first time either!) the same exact thing happened to me -- I went to a number of Orange stores and were told they were sold out. I ended up being told that the Orange store at Opéra (at 10 rue Halévy) was the best place to go to get one and indeed they were in stock there.

I'm really enjoying your trip report so far! Having stayed in the Latin Quarter and very close to the Marais, I agree with you that I personally prefer the Marais as well.

Posted by
225 posts

Day 3:

My daughter’s 31st birthday. We unfortunately over slept and got a later start to the day that was supposed to encompass Montmartre, Galleries Lafayette and the Eiffel tower then we had planned. We took the metro to Monmartre, where we encountered the biggest crowds so far on our trip. The street leading up to Scare Coeur was lined with souvenir shops and what were either buskers, or hustlers playing shell games that I was shocked to see people interested in. We stopped and I had my first crepe - Grand Marnier flavor, and my daughter had what she says is the best sangria she’s ever had. I think everything just tastes better in Paris…..

I had my one and only encounter with an aggressive street person at the base of Sacre Coeur – a man who literally grabbed my arm to put a bracelet on it. Again, maybe it’s because we’re from a big city, but my response and reflexes were quick and I looked him in the eye and pulled my arm away and said a firm “Non!”. I kicked myself for not having taken the opportunity to use my limited French to add “Ne touché pas” instead. He backed off right away.

We walked up the many steps to the church, which we enjoyed from the outside only as the line to get in was pretty big and it wasn’t a priority for us. I had hoped to walk around the Place du Tetre, but we were short on time if we wanted to see the Gallery Lafayette and make it to the Eiffel tower, where we had timed tickets for 5:30. We wandered around Place du Tetre quickly, which was charming, if busy and picked up some souvenirs before jumping back on the metro to go to the Gallery Lafayette.

When we got off at our stop, our jaws hit the ground at the beauty of that neighbourhood. The Opera Garnier is a stunningly beautiful building, and that’s just from the outside. I wish we’d had time to do a tour of the inside. We walked to the mall and my daughter took many pictures of the interior and ceiling, which is pretty stunning. There is a spot that people can line up to get photos from a “lookout point”, but we just found an unoccupied corner of a shop and took ours there. I had read that no trip to Paris is complete without having a hot chocolate and mont blanc at Angelina, so we located that, but decided against it when we saw that the hot chocolate was something like 11 EUR each. We decided to head up to the rooftop patio, "Creatures", and have a drink there instead. The line up for a table was about 25 minutes, but the view and experience were totally worth it in our opinions.

Next we took the metro to the Eiffel tower, which was a bit of an adventure as the machine that you feed your ticket into wasn’t working and there was no staff around to help, so we, like everyone else, hopped the turn style, which isn’t easy given the solid, heavy doors on the other side of them. We made a bee line for the Trocadero, which offered an amazing view of the tower. We then hurried to get in line to pick up our tickets (access to the summit) and it was painless. Looking at the others who didn’t have timed tickets, I can’t imagine the precious vacation time wasted. The ride to the top was tightly packed and I can’t say it was thrilling for me, but my daughter really wanted to do that and it was her birthday. As the guidebook says, the views are much better from the second level and we got some great pics of the city from there. We walked down to the bottom and looked in the book for an Italian place nearby for dinner and ended up at Ristorante Gusto. The food was delicious, and the prices very reasonable.

Lastly, we headed to the Champs de Mars, picked a spot to sit down, poured ourselves a glass of wine ( or 2...) and sat in awe of the show that was the setting sun and tower being lit up. I don't have words to describe the magic of that.

The walk home along the left bank of the Seine was highly entertaining, which I will have to write about in another thread, as I am out of space.

Posted by
225 posts

Day 3, continued:

I read in the guidebook that Quai Branly area was lively at night so we walked over there and then down to the Siene. We walked along the left bank where young people sat along the edge of the river hanging out, drinking, listening to music, dancing and playing games. There were people selling bottles of wine, so we bought one and continued strolling, encountering musicians playing jazz and classical music, and then not one, but two latin dance parties! They were all very skilled dancers, so I suspect that these were locals who meet up here on scheduled dates. It was so much fun watching them and I was even politely asked if I wanted to dance, but declined. It inspired me, however, to suggest to that my husband when I got home to take up dance lessons this winter.

Our next stop along the Siene was a party boat at the Quai D’Orsay called the “Rosa Bonheur sur Seine”. We heard music playing (old school dance and disco- my favourites) and stopped in for a drink (my daughter had just discovered her fondness for Aperol spritz), and some dancing. The crowd seemed to be a blend of locals and tourists. We walked a bit further along the river, then grabbed a cab back to our hotel.