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Welcome to Paris!
Orientation

 


A charming little creperie on the streets of Paris

Among many people in the West (and the East) there are are a few unshakable ideals of Paris. That it is the most beautiful and romantic city in the world. That the city is oozing with art and culture. That a restaurant meal in any other city can't compare to spending an afternoon in a cafe watching people walk by and engaging in idle conversation with a friend. That this is one place you simply must visit before you die.

Well, to set the record straight, all of that is pretty much true. There is beauty in Paris, music in the streets and lovers walking hand in hand along the River Seine. There is also traffic, rude Parisians, and people willing to take you to the cleaners for a few postcards and a cheesy souvenir made in China. The "City of Light" can be everything you want in a vacation, and everything you ever thought Paris could be, if you take a few precautions, do a little preplanning and some research and reading before you go.



First the good news. There is more art and culture confined to a small expanse of city here in Paris than just about anywhere in the world. Paris' network of subways, numerous taxis and wide boulevards make navigating to each of these wonderful sites fairly easy. Recommendation: walk between sites close together. You'll be treated to a host of warm cafes, charming brasseries, and tasty bakeries that would have been missed if you just took a cab.


The Blanche subway stop, where someone tried to
"snatch and run" my girlfriend's camera
The bad news. Parisians are rude, in general, and there are quite a few of them who won't speak English to you even if they know it, just to make your life more difficult. Before you go, study a good phrasebook, take it and a dictionary with you to Paris. There is also quite a lot of petty crime. Don't carry a w allet in your pocket or a camera in your hands. Wear a money belt around your waist or your neck and make sure your camera is concealed or covered with a coat or sweater when out in busy streets or in subways. You will pay a lot for accommodation and unless you get a hotel far away from the city center, you may hear a good amount of traffic so bring earplugs for sleeping, just in case.


When planning a trip to Paris, you want to make sure you hit all the main categories: popular tourist sites (e.g. Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe), art and architecture (e.g. Louvre Museum, Notre Dame) and traditional French culture (e.g. good restaurants and marketplaces). You could spend all your time in excellent museums... you would learn a lot and enjoy priceless works of art, the likes of which aren't found anywhere else in the world, but if you didn't eat a crepe at a sidewalk cafe and relax for an hour while peoplewatching, you might not feel like you were really in Paris.

Many shops are the same as those that are in your home country. A McDonalds fast food restaurant
and a Louis Vuitton store occupy prominent places on the Champs-Elysées.

The best time to go to Paris is late in the summer and spring, when you miss most of the rain, the cold weather, and the throngs of tourists. There are always tourists in Paris, though, which is one of the reasons most Parisians dislike them, but there are the most between May and August.

Paris is best explored at a leisurely pace, so don't use tours. Tours, as a rule, don't show you any of the real France that is in Paris. Plan to spend at least one week in Paris. I spent 10 days there, myself, and there were still a small list of things I didn't get to see before I left.

Be prepared to spend more than you think you will. Buying things at the large monuments will be expensive; if you get thirsty at the Eiffel Tower, you'll probably pay $6 US for a Coca Cola and if you buy a small tuna sandwich at the Louvre Museum you'll spend about $11 US. Cost of souvenirs vary from place to place. The cheapest place I found to buy souvenirs was on the small street leading up to the Sacre Coeur church. They have all the normal touristy stuff there.


The charming little breakfast room in our hotel basement in the Montemartre district.

A walking tour of the city will reveal a lot of Paris' eccentricities, like the mini-car below. Paris is practically bursting at the seams with respect to art and history. The Egyptian obelisk, at left, is in a simple resting park next to a fountain.

Museums and art galleries are left and right as you walk down the city's central streets. Duck into one or two of them. Try to maintain between spontaneous distractibility and a balanced itinerary during your stay in Paris.


Churches are something you cannot help but see everywhere in Paris. Notre Dame is probably the most famous, but grand cathedrals are in abundance here. Two churches you cannot miss while here are the Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle.

 

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