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Thread: See Paris, if You Get Around to It

  1. #1

    Default See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    January 19, 2003

    See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    SOMEHOW, in many years of traveling, I had managed to miss Paris. This was more a matter of circumstance than plan - when Europe has been on my agenda, I always gravitated to places such as Britain, Spain and Italy, where I had friends or business, knew the language or felt a strong personal connection.

    When I started to travel professionally, my no-Paris status became something of a running joke among my friends, most of whom had been there several times. At some point, just to be ornery, I decided to see how long I could hold out and how many exotic destinations I could add to my list without setting foot there.

    On one of these trips - was it in Buenos Aires, the "Paris of Latin America," or in Vientiane, Laos, the "Paris of Southeast Asia"? - the silliness of this began to sink in. I remember losing my way in a web of Laotian boulevards arranged like spokes in a wheel, undoubtedly by homesick French colonial civil engineers, and taking a photograph of yet another public monument meant to evoke the Arc de Triomphe, and thinking, "Isn't it about time you took a photo of the real deal?"

    And so, last November, I finally ended my no-Paris streak. Before leaving on my six-night trip, I managed to work myself up into a unaccustomed frenzy of preparation. I didn't know anything about Paris and I didn't speak French, and as my departure approached I began to recognize that lurking behind my lifelong avoidance of Paris was a certain trepidation.

    So I called everyone I knew and asked for help. Friends and colleagues rallied to the cause; Pavia downloaded her Palm Pilot files of favorite boutiques in St.-Germain-des-Prés, Wendy sent her list of favorite little hotels in the Marais by e-mail. By the time I boarded the taxi to Kennedy Airport, my notebook bulged with enough addresses and tips for three weeks of exploring. And just in case I might get lonely, the girlfriends had come up with telephone numbers of two Parisian men-about-town, one a concert promoter, the other a tango dancer.

    Leaving for Paris with the number of a tango dancer does wonders for your confidence. And it increased exponentially after I landed at Charles de Gaulle and managed to negotiate the Métro all the way to my hotel, the Résidence Monge, in the Latin Quarter, without missing a beat - speaking very basic, atrociously pronounced French that nevertheless seemed to get me where I needed to go. (And won approving smiles from the Parisians I'd always supposed would laugh disdainfully at such incompetence. So much for that canard.)

    The Résidence Monge, at $68 a night, hadn't been my first choice, but with two weeks' notice, every other hotel under $100 that had been recommended by guidebooks or friends was full, even in November.

    Not expecting much, I was happy to find spotless premises, a smallish room with a real double bed (not twins pushed together), pretty Provençal print curtains and a bathroom with a shower stall and toilet. My room faced the street, but the double-glazed French windows kept the noise down, and I was comfortable. The low price at the Monge (in the Fifth Arrondissement) doesn't reflect a lack of creature comforts, but rather its location a Métro stop or two from the tourist haunts around St.-Germain and the Sorbonne.

    I settled in. I called the tango dancer. Alas, he was out and always would be, but when I tried the number of the concert promoter, Enrique Nalda, I got a warm invitation to meet him in a few hours at Les Éditeurs, a cafe near the Odéon on the Carrefour de l'Odéon.

    At Les Éditeurs, the banquettes and chairs were red velvet, and the tables modern, against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. "This is a real Parisian cafe," Enrique said, welcoming me to his corner table. "The Americans all go to the Deux Magots down the street, and you certainly should visit it, but I think that here is more local."

    In the next few days, following his example, I made Les Éditeurs my office-cum-pit stop, staking out a banquette table and observing the bookish types who frequented the nearby tables (the cafe hands out its own literary awards each year). Soon I understood that it didn't matter if my hotel was outside the center of Paris action - better to save the money on lodging and spend it on more-important things like hanging out over espresso (about $3 at Les Éditeurs), restaurants, shopping and sightseeing.

    Which wasn't so expensive, at least when I followed Enrique's advice on how to spend a perfect first day in Paris. His suggested itinerary, carried out on a brilliantly sunny Sunday - the only time I'd see blue skies for longer than 15 minutes during my trip - began with a stroll across the Pont Neuf, and then along the banks of the Seine to Notre-Dame. As I entered the cathedral at about 1 p.m., light flooded through the stained glass windows, flickering pink and purple on the Gothic stone walls.

    Crossing the next bridge, over to the Île St.-Louis, I paused to listen to organ grinders, and then made my way to the Berthillon ice cream kiosk at the other end of the bridge, ordering Enrique's recommended choice: dark chocolate with bits of glaced mandarin orange.

    Enrique's Paris, I decided, sucking the last chocolate and orange bits from the cone, was pretty perfect.

    Still, I had other Parises in my bulging notebook waiting to be sampled. For Day 2, I followed the Palm Pilot instructions of my shopping maven friends, first to the boutiques in St.-Germain-des-Prés, too expensive for me, and then to the big department stores in the Ninth Arrondissement, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

    I was thrilled to learn that these department stores, as friends had told me, indeed give a card good for a flat 10-percent discount to foreign shoppers who visit their welcome desks and show a passport. That discount, plus the 12 percent V.A.T. rebate for purchases over $175, means that it is possible to buy just about anything in the stores for nearly a quarter less than the marked price. Even better, I found that the department stores stocked the same designer items as the boutiques, but also in larger sizes (12's, 14's and even some 16's) in many cases.

    I had lunch ($20) in a cafe under Printemps's gorgeous Art Nouveau stained-glass dome, and tea at the end of the day at nearby Fauchon, where the waitress brings a silver egg timer to let you know the precise moment to pour your tea.

    Day 3 found me following yet another acquaintance's Parisian trail, one that led to the restaurant of Pierre Gagnaire, famous for breathtakingly complex and pricey cuisine. I'd wanted to experience haute cuisine in Paris, because it seemed to me an essential thing to do, like going to the theater in London. Thus I'd budgeted myself one fabulously expensive lunch, which came in around $150 (dinners are upward of $400) with two glasses of red wine, and was served with Japanese precision and grace.

    Sitting at my corner table, attended by a team of waiters who silently and soundlessly removed and replaced round after round of dishes, glasses and silver, I felt as if I were a player in a Noh drama. Courses came and went, some astonishingly delicious (a Catalan seafood stew with baby squid stuffed with a spicy mixture of coriander and peanuts), and some rather scary (an amuse-bouche of a strange double-layered jiggling jelly, one made of squid ink, the other a clear cardamom infusion).

    It was almost too much to take in, and I realized that for the rest of my time in the city, I needed to slow down and to find my own Paris, instead of trying to do a crash course in everyone else's.

    And so, on the fourth day, I moved to an even more remote and "unfashionable" location, to the Hôtel La Manufacture, near the Place d'Italie in the 13th Arrondissement. I'd pulled La Manufacture at random from a list of discounted lodgings at; it was a three-star boutique hotel with a great price, $80. Once again, I was in for a nice surprise - if anything, my new room was prettier and more pleasant than the one at the Monge. I found high ceilings, a cheerful color scheme of muted yellows and a large French window with a faux balcony. The bathroom had both shower and tub and even a towel heater.

    Although farther from the center, my new location had access to a wider selection of Métro lines and to a real Paris neighborhood virtually devoid of tourists. So devoid that on at least two occasions on my way to the Métro, I was asked for directions in French (which I attributed to the fact that my gloves and handbag - thank you, Printemps! - now matched perfectly).

    From the Place d'Italie, I looked again for Paris, this time without lists or suggestions, on my own. And I found it, in a sweet little Vietnamese restaurant, Foyer du Vietnam, where the pho noodle soup had a depth and richness of flavor that I had never before tasted. It was part of a two-course dinner, with a carafe of house wine, that cost $8.50. Around the corner from the Musée d'Orsay, behind an undistinguished front with no window, I stumbled into a find for me, although a classic name in Paris: Androuet, affiliated with the small chain of fine cheese shops. There, for less than $40, I luxuriated in a lunch of beef stew with a wine and cheese sauce, then worked my way slowly through a plate of 12 cheeses chosen from a groaning cart of more than 30 varieties.

    I found my own special places, too: the small room at the end of a long corridor in the modern art gallery of the Centre Pompidou hung with the classic black-and-white photographs of Paris of Brassaï, and the room, in the Picasso Museum in the Marais, hung with the masks from West Africa that belonged to the artist, and helped to inspire "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." And my favorite, the main floor of the Musée Guimet near the Trocadéro, where many priceless works of art from Angkor Wat are displayed in a serene home.

    Late one afternoon, on a day when the big museums had closed off entire floors or closed down altogether because of a labor strike, I cut my losses and dived into the Métro; the Louvre would still be in Paris when I came back. In my subway car, a crowd of men wearing identical bright red berets and holding tattered posters and furled banners, sang boisterous songs - marchers on their way home from demonstrations at the Bastille, I figured. The scene was like something out of a historical movie, and it felt stirring to be surrounded by Parisians on their turf, actually practicing liberté, égalité and fraternité.

    I was still humming the song as I exited at the Champs-Élysées to take that picture of the Arc de Triomphe. The real deal, this time, and definitely worth waiting for.

  2. #2

    Default See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    Visitor Information

    I spent $159 a day on food, lodging, local transportation and activities during six days and nights in Paris in November, with the dollar and the euro on par. My ticket from Kennedy to Paris, returning from Brussels, cost $491 on Delta, (800) 221-1212,

    Using, a free booking service, I reserved three nights at the two-star Hôtel Résidence Monge, 55, rue Monge, telephone (33-1), fax (33-1); The smallish single room cost $68 a night with tax. The hotel is in the Fifth Arrondissement, near the Cardinal Lemoine Métro stop.

    I used, a discount booking agency, to find the three-star Hôtel La Manufacture, 8, rue Philippe de Champagne, 13th Arrondissement, (33-1), fax (33-1), on the Web at My single cost $86 with tax. Starting Wednesday, rates will be about $133 most nights through March 22.


    Foyer du Vietnam , 80, rue Monge, Fifth Arrondissement, (33-1), is a tiny informal place popular with students. Pho soup, chicken curry and a small carafe of house wine was $8.50.

    Dinners at the haute cuisine mecca Pierre Gagnaire , 6, rue Balzac, Eighth Arrondissement, (33-1), can run upward of $400 a person; I went at lunchtime and ordered judiciously (you can order either an appetizer or a main course and be well sated; each consists of a single dish with multiple side dishes, meant to be savored all at once). My meal - an appetizer, two glasses of red wine, mineral water, assorted sorbets and a parade of amuses-bouches - cost about $155.

    At Androuet, 51, rue Verneuil, Seventh Arrondissement, (33-1), part of a well-known small chain of Parisian cheese shops, my rich beef stew and selection of 12 cheeses came to $38, with two glasses of house red and a mineral water.

    The boisterous, stylish 404, at 69, rue de Gravilliers, Third Arrondissement,(33-1), a Moroccan restaurant, turns into a dance party after midnight. Two friends and I enjoyed appetizers, couscous and lamb and chicken tagines, a bottle of Moroccan red, mint tea and a plate of homemade sweets for $105.


    Les Éditeurs, 4, carrefour de l'Odéon, Sixth Arrondissement; (33-1), An excellent full breakfast with eggs, juice, croissant and cappuccino costs $15. Open daily, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.

    Fauchon, 26, place de la Madeleine, Eighth Arrondissement; (33-1) A pot of tea and a plate of petits fourswas $15.

    The Champagne bar at Galeries Lafayette, 40, boulevard Haussmann, Ninth Arrondissement, (33-1), serves bubbly for around $9 a glass.

    At the Café Flo at Printemps, 64, boulevard Haussmann, Ninth Arrondissement, (33-1), a plate of cheese and glass of wine is about $20.


    Musée Guimet, 6, place d'Iéna, 16th Arrondissement, (33-1); open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Tuesday. Admission is $5.50.

    Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou, off the Rue St.-Martin, Fourth Arrondissement, (33-1); 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Tuesday; $5.50.

    Musée Picasso, 5, rue de Thorigny, (33-1), Fourth Arrondissement; 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except Tuesday; $5.50.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  3. #3

    Default See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    Great story Fabb!

    I cannot get enough of Paris, it really is my favorite city on earth (tied with NY). Americans have such a wierd stereotype of the "rude Parisian" but in all my visits I've rarely found that to be true. In my experience Parisians have gone out of their way to be friendly and accomodating. The author is correct, one needs to find their "own Paris" to truly enjoy it.

    Ahhhh, wish I was there right now. My next trip is February though so I'll be patient.

  4. #4

    Default See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    Great !
    I hope you'll have a good time.
    Business or leasure ?

  5. #5

    Default See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    Leisure, I have friends and family scattered throughout the city (and Boulogne-Billancourt). What arrondissement do you live in Fabb?

  6. #6

    Default See Paris, if You Get Around to It

    14e arrondissement. Within walking distance of the cimetière Montparnasse. And the tower of course.
    Sorry for my late answer, I spent the week end at the beach.

    Looks like you're a connoisseur of Paris. That's great !
    I know many people who are fond of Paris and NY at the same time even though the two big cities look so different.
    There must be a reason besides architecture.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    New York City


    The Parisians are quite nice, it's just the whole political stuff getting out of hand.

    I vacationed to Paris and Italy in the Summer of 2001.

    We got lost, and asked a Parisian directions.

    After deciphering his french with the little I knew, and Him deciphering my English with the Little He Knew, He got in his car, and we followed him to our location.

    Nice Guy.

    My question is: Would an American go that out of their way to help a tourist in trouble?

  8. #8
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002

  9. #9


    I was in Paris a couple of weekends ago. If you're interested, here are some of my pics:

    The Eiffel Tower (as if that needed saying)

    The Champs Elysees

    The Arc de Triomphe at night (photographed with a slow shutter speed)

    Hope you enjoy...


  10. #10

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    And so, on the fourth day, I moved to an even more remote and "unfashionable" location, to the Hôtel La Manufacture, near the Place d'Italie in the 13th Arrondissement.
    Wow, thats a coincidence. Exactly the same hotel me and my family are staying when we go to Paris tomorrow.

  12. #12
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City


    Quote Originally Posted by drunknmunky
    And so, on the fourth day, I moved to an even more remote and "unfashionable" location, to the Hôtel La Manufacture, near the Place d'Italie in the 13th Arrondissement.
    Wow, thats a coincidence. Exactly the same hotel me and my family are staying when we go to Paris tomorrow.
    Have fun!

    ::secretly jealous :x ::

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  14. #14


    My pictures won't show! :cry:

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