I’m a little late with this post…but I have a good excuse. Penny (our Frenchton) was really sick this weekend with an awful cough that required an urgent trip to the vet’s office. And so Andy and I spent our entire weekend taking care of her leaving little time for blogging (or even sleeping). Now that she is better and we resemble humans again, I am sharing with you my post about our thoughts on Paris.
Andy and I finally took that trip to Paris I had mentioned a few weeks ago that was meant to be a late anniversary celebration of our first year of marriage. This was Andy’s first trip to Paris and my second (the first time was for a weekend as part of a study abroad program back in 2006). Although I previously shared the post “Paris in Pictures” with you, I thought it’d be fun to also share our thoughts on Paris – what we liked and what we didn’t like. These opinions are based solely on this past trip. And since I’m a woman, I have the right to change my mind later :-p
Things to know before you go
If you do anything before your trip to Paris, my suggestion would be to learn some French. I’m not saying that you should enroll into a formal program and become proficient in the language, however I am saying that you really should take the time to learn basic phrases. Bonjour (good morning), bonsoir (good evening) and merci (thank you) really won’t get you far in France. Learn how to ask “Do you speak English?” (Parlez-vous anglais?). Learn your numbers – 1-20 would be helpful. Learn to say “where is?” (où est?). Learn how to ask for help and learn how to say that you are not feeling well – because your safety and well being while traveling in a foreign country are really important.
Once you have those basic phrases down, I’d suggest familiarizing yourself with practical phrases you’ll hear when out and about. “Can I help you?” and “Do you need anything else?” are common phrases you’ll come across when shopping and eating out in Paris.
My last “before you go” suggestion would be to read up on French culture. Learn a thing or two about the people whose country you are about to visit. For example, the French do not appreciate any sign of impatience when dining out. They think of it as an experience – not something you should rush through. If you’re in a hurry, just politely tell the waiter prior to ordering so that you both understand your time constraints.
To get to Paris from London we took the Eurostar train. Obviously if you are not coming from London your mode of transport would be different. However, if you are traveling via train, I’d suggest getting your tickets in advance as the prices go up as your intended date of travel gets closer.
Andy and I boarded our train and arrived in Paris 2 hours and 15 mins later at the Gare du Nord train station. It’s a very busy station (think Grand Central in NYC or St. Pancras in London) so you need to pay attention to where you are going or get out of the way while you figure it out.
We stayed at a hotel close to the Gare de L’Est train station which is about a 5-7 minute walk from the Gare du Nord train station. The area felt perfectly safe to walk around in – day or night. It also offered many bistros so there was never a lack of food or wine. While there are definitely more glamorous/touristy areas to stay in, it’s a good area to stay in if, like us, you prefer to be closer to the train station.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, Andy and I are big fans of those hop on, hop off buses. It’s a really great way to see the city you’re visiting from a “high level” perspective without having to take public transit (or worse, cabs!) to each of the areas you’d like to go see. And since it’s a hop on, hop off bus, you’re free to get off at any of the bus stops and get back on using your validated bus ticket. It’s also a great way to see alot without exhausting yourself.
So, of course, we started our trip with a ride on one. We opted for the Big Bus company although I noticed that the L’Open Tour bus company goes to areas Big Bus does not – including the area we stayed in. L’Open Tour is a bit more expensive than Big Bus but, as I said, it also covers a lot more. Both allow flexibility with their tickets meaning that once you purchase your tickets, you have one year from date of purchase to use them and don’t have to purchase them for a specific date.
We purchased our tickets online and printed our vouchers at the hotel. Then, we went to the Big Bus company office and quickly exchanged our vouchers for printed tickets. The process was very quick as the office had four agents available to help that day.
On our bus ride, we saw the usual suspects: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the river Seine, Notre Dame, Champs-Élysées, and the Grand Palace. We also went to Trocadéro which offers really nice views of the Eiffel Tower since it’s directly across the river from it. Our on last day there, we visited the Bastille Market which is a large outdoor market. It’s mainly produce, meats, fish, bread and cheese with the occasional vendor selling magnets or scarves. It was nice enough but I still prefer London’s Borough Market to the Bastille Market.
Andy and I have mixed opinions about the food in Paris – we didn’t hate it but we also didn’t love it. We both agree though that the bread, croissants, chocolate and macaroons are amazing. Even better is the butter. Yes, the butter. I’m not sure what they do to the butter in France but it is unlike any other butter you will have tasted anywhere else. It’s amazing.
We had a couple of hits and misses with our dining experiences in Paris. I should mention that some of the restaurants we visited had English menus but some didn’t and you should not expect to be accommodated when visiting a foreign country.
I ate a lot of beef and Andy ate a lot of fish. The flavors of French food are very different to what I like (Indian, Turkish and Mexican flavors are my fav) and, sadly, I can’t say I had one amazing meal there. Andy has a more expansive palate than mine but still agrees that the meals in Paris were just ok.
Quick tip: prior to your trip, it’d be a good idea to figure out which restaurants you’d like to go to and make reservations ahead of time. Some of the places we wanted to try were reservation only and booked weeks in advance. Also, research the menu ahead of time in case an English menu is not available.
Apart from a few souvenirs, I did not do any shopping while in Paris. I noticed that scarves are very popular there with both the women and men wearing them and most vendors selling them. Had I not already owned a trillion beautiful scarves from places like Italy and Turkey, I might have bought one. But I already have a bunch and really don’t need another one.
If you’re into high-end shopping, I’d imagine Paris is the place for you. But I’m not into that therefore I don’t have much to report on in regards to the shopping there.
Prior to going to Paris, I read that one should not wear sneakers/trainers as the Parisians don’t wear them. I’m here to tell you that is a lie. I saw plenty of Parisians wearing sneakers (Converse Chuck Taylors seem to be most popular right now). I can also tell you that most Parisians don’t spend their day sightseeing and, therefore, don’t need to wear comfortable shoes that they’ll walk miles and miles in. If you’re going to Paris as a tourist, wear your sneakers. You probably won’t stand out that much and, more importantly, your feet will thank you after those long days of walking!
If you’re coming from the US, you will obviously find Paris expensive as the dollar’s value continues to drop so be prepared to spend.
I have to be honest, the metro in Paris was disappointing compared to New York and London. The M7 line we went on looked like a NYC subway train from the 1990’s (I’m not even kidding!). We also rode a newer car on the M4 line which was better but still not as nice as some of the trains in London and New York.
Living in London, I’ve learned to appreciate how quickly trains come (thank you TFL!). You’re never waiting on the platform for longer than 4 mins (and even that’s a long time!). And when the trains arrive, they move fast. Like NYC express train fast. Trains in Paris don’t run as frequently and don’t move as fast as the ones in London. They are, however, better ventilated than the ones in London so there’s none of that tunnel air breeze which is a nice change.
The system is easy enough to understand and you can purchases tickets either at a vending machine (chip and pin cards or coins only – no bills) or at the teller (so learn your numbers).
As I said before, Paris can be expensive but there are some ways to save a few euros.
If you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower , you should purchase your tickets well in advance through the website for €15. Andy and I did not buy ours in time so we were faced with the next two options: stand in queue for an undetermined amount of time to grab an elevator up, or get on the shorter line which requires you take the stairs to the second level.
For some reason, on the day we went the top level was temporarily closed and there was no information about when it would open again. So, since the top floor was closed and the lines were crazy long, and since we’ve been hitting the gym again, we thought we’d save both time and money by purchasing a stairs only ticket for only €5 each.The stairs only option allows you to take the 704 steps up to the second floor and then, from there, purchase another ticket to get to the top.
If you really want to get to the top, pay the €15 but note that Paris isn’t really a tall city. The view doesn’t exactly get better as you go up – things just get smaller and further away. We found that the view from the first level was perfect for picture taking. So if you want to take some great pics, save some money and get a little exercise in, pay the €5 to take the stairs to the second floor instead of going all the way to the top.
Notre Dame is another money-saving attraction. It’s absolutely free to enter (although donations are appreciated). There’s really no reason to miss out on it – even if you’re not religious. As my friend Elle said “I’m not religious but that place made me want to get down and pray.” Enough said.
The Louvre museum is another big tourist attraction that can empty your pockets. Entrance is around €12 per adult. However, if you are under 18 years old (with proof of age) your entrance is free. If you are under 25 and a resident of the EU, your entrance is also free. If you are disabled or accompanying someone who is, you too get in for free.
I do not think it’s worth buying advanced tickets to the Louvre. I found that some websites sell you advanced tickets but charge extra for these services. So, instead of paying €12 you could end up paying around €14 for your ticket. Instead, if you take the M7 line to the museum and follow the sortie (exit) labeled “Musée du Louvre” you’ll find a shop that sells museum passes for the correct €12 (just follow the signs).
Andy and I both agreed that while a beautiful city, Paris is not in either of our top 3 favorite cities. It is definitely a place we’d suggest people visit – one of those “must see” places – but just not either of our favs. While I’m sure I’ll be back to Paris while living in London, I’m also sure the next time around will be en route to one of France’s wine regions