Volume #23, Issue #3
By Toni A. Brown
Paris…just the name conjures up images of history and romance. Even the legendary French “attitude” has done little to discourage tourists from visiting the city. Last year, over 6 million people, more than the city’s population, visited.
Plan in advance and take advantage of special deals offered by the airlines. You’ll want to save your money for when you arrive—Paris is a very expensive place to visit (and live!).
With its winding labyrinth of streets, quaint cafes, innumerable statues, working fountains and daunting architecture, Paris is best seen on foot. Use a guidebook and be prepared to wander.
Note that the 6-hour time difference (from the east coast) can wreak havoc with your plans. Try changing your lifestyle gradually to adjust to their time before you travel. You’ll hate waking up in Paris at noon, realizing you just missed half a day. Also, plan your trip to be no less than 8 days.
So, you don’t speak French. Don’t give it a second thought. Arm yourself with a French/English dictionary. You’ll need it to figure out some key phrases like entrance/exit, push/pull, water, waiter, etc. Many restaurants offer English menus. When taking a taxi, it’s usually best to write down the address of where you’re going—our pronunciations are Greek to the French.
There are so many museums, you can become overwhelmed trying to select which ones to visit. Of course, the Louvre is a must. The Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa are there to greet you. The endless array of art and history in this museum alone may deluge your senses, but take it in small degrees. The museum offerings in Paris are endless. Consult guidebooks for collections of interest to you.
French food has a world-wide reputation, but be aware that not everything is going to be to your liking. Food in Paris is very expensive. Unless you have a taste for the truly cholesterol-loaded, watch out for things like confit (a dish that uses up the leftover fat of ducks or geese). Read up on foods in your guidebook before traveling. It will help steer you through the maze of foreign edibles. You may even get by just sampling the delightful pastries offered in the many patisseries. Just looking at these sweet treats is a sensory experience. Bread will likely be your main staple. Bakeries offer delicious fresh breads daily and all you need to complete the meal is some cheese (France boasts approximately 340 types).
Paris is made up of 20 districts. Don’t miss the Jewish district. Jo Goldenberg’s Restaurant on Rue des Rosiers is a unique experience—a little bit of Greece and Israel with a French flair.
Pizza in France becomes a culinary delight with the incredible topping selections. The proprietor of La Dolce Pizza on Boulevard du Temple makes ordering simple with his excellent English.
Don’t be surprised when a glass of soda in a restaurant costs 25 French Francs ($5.00). Seek out eateries away from the main tourist thoroughfares. Sitting outside a little café with a glass of wine, watching the day go by, is delightful.
Obviously, there’s a vast selection of wine available everywhere you go, so be prepared to taste away. The French palate tends toward heavier wines and those that are affordable may still be too young to enjoy. Champagne is a good alternative for those looking for something a little lighter.
If you happen to be traveling with children or if you just feel like tasting a bit of home, McDonald’s is a decent choice. Believe it or not, their Chicken McNuggets are of better quality than what we get in the States. You’ll also run across the occasional Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Eating in France is a major part of the cultural experience, so enjoy.
WARNINGS: Non-cigarette smokers beware—you can’t take a step in this city without a cloud of smoke hitting you in the face. Everyone smokes…a lot! Restaurants are required to offer non-smoking sections, but many are so small that it doesn’t make a difference.
Drink bottled water no matter what it costs!
Don’t rent a car! Driving in Paris is somewhat like driving bumper cars at amusement parks, only not nearly as much fun. Even a taxi ride is a breathtaking experience. Not for the faint of heart.