May 20, 2009
Just returned from 8 wonderful days in Paris. First time there and thought we would pass along some thoughts from our experience that might help other first-time visitors.
Used the Blue Van service to get from CDG to our hotel. They were prompt, courteous, spoke English and the driver was excellent. I booked them online two days before our arrival. I would use them again for a reasonably priced, no hassle ride right to our hotel door. The cost was $36 for 2 people.
Arrived at our hotel in the 7th Arondissment before noon. Our room was ready. We were in the Rue Cler area. It was perfect for our needs and I would definitely stay there again.
Bring good walking shoes. My husband and I both used Ecco’s. I also invested in good walking sox bought at REI. We walked miles every day and our bodies got tired but our feet stayed in great shape. A compact umbrella is also a good idea.
I also brought along a keychain compass. Saves a lot of trouble when you know which direction you are headed when looking at a street map.
We used cash machines for Euros, first at the airport, then the ones on the city streets. They worked every time with our Visa card.
We used a cell phone for local calls and for calls to the U.S. We installed a sim card for France that we purchased over the Internet before our travel. We used Roam Simple. It was about $30 with shipping with $10 free calls. When you mail the sim card back they give you another $10 credit. We then had a French phone number to give to family members. We purchased an international phone card at Costco and gave everyone the number and the pin. We also used the Skype program on our laptop to make unlimited calls via the Internet—also worked fine. The cost for one month is $12.95. Most of your electronic chargers will work with the French 220 V outlets, but you will need an adapter—which can be purchased from a local store if you forgot to bring one. Our hotel supplied ours. (Make sure you check the label on whatever you intend to plug in to be sue it says it works with 240 V service.)
Bought “Le Petit Parisien 3 Plans Par Arrondissement” map book at a corner bookstore. It has a street map, a metro map, and a bus route map for each Arrondissment (district) of the city. It was invaluable. We also bought a larger map of the city which helped tie the Arrondissment plans together.
We arrived on a Monday, which was the perfect day to buy the Pass Navigo Dècouverte, as it is good for use from Monday until Sunday (it must be recharged for the next week). This is an unlimited electronic card-pass that is used by placing it in contact with targets on the metro turnstiles or targets just inside the bus entrance. We purchased it at the sales counter at our closest metro stop, Eco Miltaire. They require an ID photo and I brought along two small headshot photos (about ¾ inch by ¾ inch) which worked fine. The metro clerk did everything but paste the photos on. For the dozens of trips we made, this was a far better value and a lot less hassle than using tickets
Using our map book we quickly learned the metro and the bus systems and had no problem getting anywhere we wanted to go quickly and easily. The metro runs every few minutes and there is little waiting time. It helps to know the end-point stations on the metro, as this is how each line identifies which direction they are headed. The large city map had a metro map showing these end stations (which we had mostly memorized after a few days)
The first day, we had lunch and then took bus 69 to the end of the line and back to get ourselves oriented to the city. It gives you a quick tour of Paris. We then walked around the area where our hotel was located and then to the Eiffel Tower.
What do the local people wear? Just about everything—mostly casual wear like in the U.S. You would feel comfortable wearing what you would wear in your own hometown. Darker colors are more prevalent with black the apparent color of choice in women and men’s wear. For the younger people, skinny black pants or jeans (both women and men). Black tights with skirts (short) are very popular wit the girls. A lot of the girls wear boots, black or brown, about 12” in height with flat heels. They also wear ballet shoes of all colors.
Women, and some men, wear scarves everywhere. The Grand Lafayette department store had more scarves than I have ever seen in one place in my life. They were available at all prices. You can also buy them on the street for 4€ or 5€.
We decided against the museum pass. They have to be used on consecutive days. Because it was rainy, off and on, ‘ we wanted to use the good days for some of Rick Steeves’ suggested walks, and the rainy days for the museums. We found the ticket lines were short or non-existent. It worked out fine for us and I thought the extra flexibility was well worth the slight extra cost.
Almost without exception, the French people were gracious, helpful and kind. They would stop us on the street while we were looking at a map and offer help. A lot of the people speak some English. The only French words we really needed were “bonjour” (good day), “au revoir” (good by), “merci” (thank you), and “la toilette?” We learned to always say “bonjour” to anyone we met before saying anything else.
Sunday evening we attended Jim Haynes’ Sunday dinner. It was my husband’s favorite event in Paris. What a great host Jim is. Many interesting and friendly people as well as great food. I would estimate 60-70 people were there from all over the world.
Paris has many good and inexpensive restaurants. We had several in our neighborhood. Some of our favorites: Café Du Marche, Tribeca Italian Restaurant, Le P’tit Troquet, which was across the street from our hotel, and Café Constant. It’s not in our neighborhood, but we would especially recommend Willis Wine Bar—the food was simply wonderful. Many of these have menus in English, and all have waiters that can help non-French speaking customers. The listed prices for food (and everything else) are the total price you pay. It includes a 15% gratuity and all taxes. You can tip a little more for exceptional service, but it isn’t required.
The famous restaurant “Chartier” is closed for remodeling until July 9. We found out the hard way when we went there. Fortunately, there was a great seafood restaurant just around the corner.
We did one-day trip to Giverny. It was easy to do on the train and very beautiful. It takes about half of the day.
On our return the hotel booked a van for us. It was good too and $34 for 2.
Hope this helps someone. We had a terrific time.