I'd like to thank everyone on the Helpline who answered my questions and paved the way for me to have a wonderfully uneventful (for the most part) trip. I've been on here for over 2 years and until I planned and went on my own trip, I didn't realize how much I learned just by reading others' questions and answers. This board is an invaluable resource. My sister and I enjoyed our visit to Paris very much. We stayed in 2 different hotels, the Hotel Cluny Sorbonne in the 5th for the first 4 nights and the Hotel Londres Eiffel in the 7th for the last 4, to get a taste of two different neighborhoods. The Cluny Sorbonne is next to the university so there are a lot of young people around. It's also around the corner from Boulevard St. Michel which is a very busy street with shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. The Hotel Londres Eiffel is on a quiet one-way street with fromageries, patisseries, and some cafes and restaurants. We liked our hotels and the staff very much. Both hotels were recommended on this board. I suggest requesting a room on the courtyard in both hotels (which we did) if you are sensitive to noise (which I am). We were there for 8 nights, which is a good amount of time to get to know the city and also to have enough time to see things on our list. We bought six-day Museum Passes, an incredible value because it allows you to skip lines; we about broke even in terms of admission costs vs. the cost of the pass. We went to the Cluny Museum, the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, the Jewish Museum, the Pompidou, and Versailles, all covered by the Pass. We also went to Sainte-Chapelle the day after our passes expired, but that was all right. The admission isn't too pricey (around €10) and everyone had to wait in the security line regardless of passes. The security line was longer than the ticket line.
The Louvre is very confusing and the maps don't really help. Some staircases on some floors only go down, while others only go up; not all elevators are in service and of those that are, some only go up and others only go down from the floor where you are. It was very frustrating and time-consuming just figuring out how to get from one level to the next. The collections are fabulous, though, and you have to prioritize. We went to the Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern art wings, and of course the Italian Renaissance section to see the Mona Lisa. The crowd in front is more interesting than the painting. I find it funny that people want to see it only because they're told it's interesting, not because it's necessarily more interesting than any other Italian portrait. I highly recommend the Jewish Museum. Very few other people were there which was too bad, since the museum has a lot of interesting objects and historical focuses (Jews in medieval France, Jews in Amsterdam, and 20th-century events like the creation of the State of Israel and the Dreyfus Affair). Versailles wasn't what I expected at first. I thought it was out in the country, not in the middle of town. And it was PACKED. We got in with the pass and only waited a couple minutes at security. But we went from room to room, shoulder to shoulder like a herd of cattle with all the other tourists. You couldn't appreciate the palace like that. Even the Hall of Mirrors was hard to enjoy. There was a lot of bad contemporary art in the palace, such as giant high heels made from IKEA pots and a hideous pink feathered helicopter.
The gardens are stunning and seem to go on forever. We went to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, which were beautiful and exactly like they were meant to be when they were built – retreats from the Chateau! We took a late afternoon / early evening boat cruise with Bateaux Parisiens, which was nice. We wanted to go with Vedettes de Pont Neuf but we couldn't find where to catch the boat. So we walked down the river to Bateaux Parisiens but found that we couldn't buy tickets at the boat dock. We had to go to a ticket window near the dock. The boat was leaving in 3 minutes and the line was long so we left and came back the next evening. We wanted to have a picnic on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower but all the lawns are fenced off. I didn't know that was the case and hadn't heard anything about it. We didn't go up the tower because it was cold and windy at night. I enjoyed Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We ate at plenty of creperies and patisseries. Every place was good. My sister wanted to walk down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe so we did that, starting at Place de la Concorde. She bought macaroons at Laduree on the Champs-Elysees, which are amazing. I'd never had French macaroons before. We spent a couple hours at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. There are "street" names within the cemetery, such as "Avenue Thirion – 1er Division" but no signs telling you which famous person's grave is where. I guess they do that on purpose so you have to buy the map. We didn't buy the map because we thought we could figure it out ourselves, and I guess we managed. We found Jim Morrison's grave because we asked a cemetery employee, and we followed other people to Heloise and Abelard's grave, Oscar Wilde's grave, and Gertrude Stein's grave.
I think the most special thing for me on the trip was seeing the apartment building in Montmartre where my grandmother lived. Her parents came from Romania and lived in Paris for 12 years before coming to the U.S., and my grandmother was born in Paris. We have her family's address on their immigration documents and it was really extraordinary to see the apartment. On the ground floor is an Islamic bookstore and a bar, and above are apartments. That area of Montmartre is still an immigrant neighborhood – 100 years ago it was Eastern European Jews and artists; today it's primarily Africans and Muslims. We didn't feel unsafe but we were careful not to stick out as too-obvious tourists. We wrote down street directions so we wouldn't have to get out the map, and took some quick pictures of the building. We went to the Jewish Quarter which has lots of Judaica shops, delis, and falafel places. I was glad to see that this area survived in some form after World War II, and is coming back. I also highly recommend going out to La Défense to see the Grande Arche. It's impossibly huge and photographers can have a lot of fun taking pictures of it at weird angles. It's right there when you get off the Mètro. You can see it from the Arc de Triomphe and you see the Arc from the Grande Arche. The Mètro is fabulous, easier than I remembered. We each bought a carnet and for our last full day in the city, we each bought 3 more tickets and that was the perfect number.
Forgot to mention the scams we saw. The petition scam people were around the touristy areas like Pont Neuf, Notre Dame, and the Pompidou and seemed to be kids and women, no men. All of them pretend to be deaf - they wave at you like they can't hear or speak - but when we said "No, no," they understood and left us alone. We also saw some of the kids talking to each other when they walked way from us. We encountered the bracelet guys at Sacre Coeur but there were so many people around that the guys couldn't hone in on any one person, so we didn't worry about them. Another thing to watch out for is foreign men (meaning not native French people) handing out newspapers as if they were free. This wasn't a scam per se, but they were trying to get money out of unsuspecting tourists. I took the paper, thinking it was free, and turned to leave but the man who gave it to me demanded payment. I said I didn't want the paper and tried to give it back but he wouldn't take it. He wanted money. I put it back on the stack of papers on his arm and walked away. This happened two buildings down from Notre Dame, on the rue d'Arcole. Don't take anything from anyone - keep your hands down, keep walking, and don't acknowledge them.
Sarah - sounds like you had a wonderful trip and that all your planning and foresight paid off! How amazing that you got to see a bit of your family's history, that is super cool!! I feel like you do about Versailles they keep having these modern art exhibitions out there. I think it would detract so much from the beauty of the place. Yuk.
Kim, you're exactly right. The art does detract from the history of the place. If it provided historical commentary or historical significance, that would be better. It's hard enough to get a feel for the history with the hordes of tourists; the art doesn't help!
I agree Sarah, I hated those modern art installations, I found them distracting, I wasn't interested in thinking "oh , how ironic, fashion shoes made of a tool of womans slavery to the kitchen " etc.. and all that baloney, lol I just thought get this stuff out of here , I came to see Versailles, and the helicopter was stupid.
Really enjoyed your trip report, thanks! Which of the two neighborhoods did you like better... If you could only stay in one of the two next time, which one would you choose?
Pat - I wish I could "like" your post like on Facebook! My thoughts exactly! The helicopter was the second most hideous piece, next to those awful gigantic knitted monstrosities in the War Room! Susan - thank you! I think I liked the Cluny-Sorbonne neighborhood better. I liked all the people and the vibrancy of the university so close to the hotel.
Great trip report! My comment isn't about France, but about "contemporary art exhibitions" - I was at the Accademia in Florence in July and as I was leaving, saw a monstrosity of a parody of Michelangelo's "David" in the courtyard. It was so horrifying that I had to tunnel back through the crowds into the gallery to see the real David again!
Sarah - Loved your report! Just want to mention to others that Rick's Paris book has a walking tour of Pere Lachaise and is helpful in finding the graves of famous people.
They also have a free map at the entrance that shows where the famous people are.
That free-newspaper problem may have an explanation. Paris, like some other cities, has papers offered by persons who otherwise would be begging, on the assumption that a "donation" will be given in return. These are easily confused with the daily Metro and other publications given away to commuters.
Sarah, I meant they have maps at the entrance to the cemetery.
Zoe, Grier and Andrea - thanks for your comments! Andrea - I knew that the RS Paris book has a map and tour of the cemetery but I didn't bring it to Pere Lachaise. I didn't know how the dynamics of the place would work in terms of difficulty finding graves. RS also recommended starting at the top of the cemetery and working your way down. I understood why when we were hoofing it up to the top to find Oscar Wilde's grave! But you live and learn. Southam - thanks for your post. We have these newspaper donation systems in the US too, in which homeless people are paid (I think) to hand out papers about homelessness awareness in exchange for donations. The problem was that it was a misunderstanding on my part and the guy didn't want the paper back; he wanted money. If he had taken it back I wouldn't have thought anything of it.
We didn't see any free maps at the entrance, probably because we were so distracted by the beauty of the cemetery. But we saw what we wanted and now I know how it works.
Sarah, thanks for the terrific report on your stay in Paris. I was there in September too but for only two nights (end of my Italy trip). Next time I go, a visit to Montmarte is top on the list. How wonderful you were able to find the apartment of your grandmother. I loved the Musee d'Orsay and Sainte-Chapelle. Another beautiful moment for my friend and I was having a Midnight in Paris drink at the top of the Tour Montparnasse to see the Eiffel twinkle at the top of the hour. Again, I loved reading your report. It is important to give feedback and fun to get your thoughts down and to share. Happy future travels, Linda.
Thanks, Linda! How much did it cost to go up the Tour Montparnasse? We should have considered that. I wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower not necessarily because of the view but because of the height. I love heights and looking down on a city.
The tour Montparnasse is free if you go to the restaurant. The drinks were pricey ($15 for one). It was all about the view. Absolutely gorgeous.