traveling and meeting other cultures: ideas, destinations, reviews and tips
Paris Vacations: One Week of Fulfilling Dreams
Lightbox (66) Tags: europe france hotels museums paris Posted: Sept. 1, 2007 by Javatina
Coming to Paris
I am French only by this great city: the glory of France and one of the noblest
ornaments of the world.
-Michel de Montaigne
The Seine from the Eiffel Tower.
Photo by Ben Godfrey (http://aftnn.org/gallery) licensed
under Creative Commons
What can I possibly write about Paris? List of places to visit with brief description of each of them? Or, some blurb about restaurants and bistros that are allegedly better than others? Hardly, there is any motivation in doing this - so much reference material has been published - just choose from a variety of colorful guides the one that appeals to you more and buy it and find in one place enough information not for one trip to Paris but for a dozen.
And nowadays you do not even go to a bookstore. Type amazon.com in your browser and, voila, you have access to all guides in the world at your fingertips! Even better (since you would not pay money this way), just "Google" on anything you want to know about Paris - for example, type the name of the city, and the search engine will be ready to spit out "about 435,000,000" pages for "Paris" and even will offer you conveniently a link to the definition of Paris on Answers.com. That's at least what happened a minute ago when I did it. And indeed, the page on "Paris city, France" is just unbelievably informative - travel information, history, museums and all other attractions, geography, climate, interactive street map (provided by Google), economy, education, statistics, and this list goes on and on ...
But getting back to where I started - if there is no interest for me in creating another Web page with obligatory laundry lists of best hotels and restaurants in Paris, does this mean that there is nothing I can (and should) say about it? I think it does, unless I am prepared to tell you something else - something that you cannot find in any other place other than this account of our personal experience in planning and visiting Paris. So, let's start.
Our guide book on Paris turned out to be the one from the Fodor's "see it™" series. No special considerations here other than while browsing through hundreds of various reference publications on France in Barnes & Noble bookstore, Fodor's attracted us by colorful photos inside and many thematic city maps with all key places marked. I think this guide is a good compromise in an attempt to squeeze into 350 pages a wealth of information about almost everything regarding the city.
The guidebook ended up being an intense and interesting reading, and with page after page we managed to get more specific ideas about Paris. That was really a fascinating process - if you have at least some familiarity with the history of France and some general ideas about the city, when you tackle a guide like this, suddenly all your theoretical knowledge starts taking shape. You are involved with this captivating exploration that has more sense now - all at once, there is no more a king that happened to have a certain name, say, Louis XIV - you realize that there was such a king, that there were musketeers at the service of Louis XIV like the ones you read many years ago in Le Vicomte de Bragelonne ou Dix Ans Plus Tard by Alexandre Dumas. May be not exactly d'Artagnan and his friends, but some one like him used to stroll in Tuileries Gardens, the place you are about to see in a few weeks…
Our second useful resource was Frommers.com (see the side bar) - not so much pages about hotels and restaurants, but its Paris online message board . It's rather active and is frequented by nice people willing to help and share experience. Some of them are local folks and because of this, their input is very helpful.
While loading yourself up with more and more information and juxtaposing it with whatever previous knowledge you had before, you inevitably create expectations. They are tricky things and result in small and big surprises (which are actually very good if you think about this - how boring would it be to come and find everything you already anticipated). This especially true with what is good and what is not. I guess we are all obsessed with finding best hotels, best restaurants, best places, best everything. Our rational minds burdened with access to modern tools like Internet and various databases are in constant search of the best. But we forget that most often than otherwise the best is very personal, and, as such, is often a relative concept.
We realized fully the latter when we arrived to Charles de Gaulle International Airport. While browsing the Web, we found so many horrific stories about this airport that at one moment we were even considering to go to Paris via London (which could be also interesting, and we could take the new tunnel to come to our final destination). No, I am not going to try to convince you that Charles de Gaulle airport is the best. But you should not be afraid of it, believe me - at least our experience turned much better than at Washington D.C Dulles International Airport where we started our journey. No crowds, relatively clean, our baggage appeared quickly; passport control was quick as well; we did not even notice how and when we passed customs, and off we were going to find a taxicab.
Terminal 1, Charles de Gaulle
Airport. Image published under
Creative Commons 2.5, Dmitry
By the way, discussion forums on the Web are full of questions like "Tips on quickest way from CDG airport to…" or "Can anyone recommend a reliable shuttle from CDG to Paris?" or "Would I be foolish to take the RER from CDG Airport to Luxembourg station?" and so on. Our approach was simple - whenever possible, use taxi. Usually, it turns out more expensive, but the cost is not the only consideration. For example, a shuttle from CDG costs roughly from 15€ to 20&euro per person and taxi 50&euro - 55&euro per trip. Thus, for two passengers, the difference is 15&euro - 20&euro, but for three passengers, the cost is already approximately the same. However, waiting for shuttle (often for an hour or more), waiting for other passengers being picked up and dropped off is a frustrating experience always associated with cheaper alternatives.
But there are other benefits associated with using taxi that go beyond this frustration or lack of it. For instance, when you get into a cab, especially when you are the first time in a country, you obtain together with a means of transpiration your first travel/city guide. And to start with, this is also a person with whom and on whom you can try whatever knowledge of French you have. And if you do not have any, most taxi drivers in Paris have enough skills in English and willingness to communicate with their passengers.
We found that many taxi drivers in Paris are immigrants (we had one from South Korea, from Romania, from former Yugoslavia), and they were really open to talk to us - perhaps because they felt some solidarity with just arrived foreigners? I do not know, but equally, we discovered that native French drivers are also very friendly. What's important, drivers can reveal for you the aspects of actual life in Paris which you would never pick up on any message board or travel guide. From one of them we learnt a lot about what it takes to be a taxi driver in Paris (not an easy life, I should say), another one happened to have a brother immigrated to the U.S. - what an interesting conversation we had with this person!
And while we are on this subject, I should add that taxi had become during our staying in Paris our primary means of transportation within the city. It's fast, safe, reliable and cheap enough to afford it during several days. In fact, we estimate that during six days in Paris, our extra cost on taxi amounted only to 40€ - 50&euro - not that much taking into account the total cost of vacations like this (also, in Western Europe, Paris taxi is one of the cheapest). Our preferable way of learning the city became getting a cab at the hotel in the morning (where concierges are always willing to get one for you) which would quickly take us to the area of the city planned for the next exploration. And then, we would walk and watch and visit museums and other attractions.
To give you full disclosure, there is one potential problem associated with using taxi - it takes most often seconds to get one at the hotel. However, during evening hours, especially after an excellent dinner (and anyway, after a full day on feet) when you want to get back to your hotel as soon as possible, it may be not so easy to find a cab (and even more difficult at night on Friday or Saturday). In some restaurants (and not necessarily the most expensive ones), calling a taxi is a courtesy the restaurant is willing to do. In others, this courtesy is limited to explaining directions to a taxi station or rank. At times like this, you can also try to flail your arms and throw yourself in front of oncoming cars when you see a cab approaching - we found that this way of hailing a cab most likely is not going to work (actually, it never worked for us). Perhaps, just not a French or, better to say, Parisian way of doing this?
Part I - Coming to Paris
Part 2 - Our Hotel: First Steps
Part 3 - Day Two: Musée du Louvre, Notre Dame de Paris and La Conciergerie
Part 4 - Day Three: Versailles and Musée d'Orsay
Part 5 - Day Four: City of Paris - Right Bank
Part 6 - Day Five: City of Paris - Left Bank
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