Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Love Paris In The Springtime, I Love Paris In The Fall

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Have you ever heard someone complain about Paris? Traffic and flat landscape, other than Montmartre aside,  most people become enchanted by the City of Light. It’s been that way for me since my first visit. I was nervous to go, having heard that Parisians were rude and disliked Americans. I found the simple act of attempting to say one word in their language was enough to warm what I expected to be a chilly encounter. Parisians like most people are open to politeness and a show of respect and react very positively if you just give them the chance. Address everyone as madam and monsieur even if they’re wearing jeans, because the French are formal in their dealings with strangers, no matter how casual they appear. The American “friendly puppy” casualness is foreign to them and seems insincere. If you don’t believe me, make an observation the next time an American asks “How are you?” We generally do not expect any answer other than “fine”. How many times have you noticed the person asking that question appearing distracted after the first 3 seconds, if you choose to respond with more than one word? For now, let’s just take a look at some of the interesting places this city has to offer its visitors.
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Is there anyone who can’t identify Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, The River Seine, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees or the Louvre?
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How about the Pantheon, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place De La Concorde, the Place de la Contrescarpe, one of the great train stations Gare De Lyon (your gateway to Italy), or one of the grand cafes like Le Deux Magots? These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to iconic Paris.
There are so many reasons to love this place, even McDonald’s could draw me in and I’m emphatic about never going to American businesses when traveling. Take a look at how they would make me reconsider my point of view. Think we could use some of these at home? I do.
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Every corner seems to have a boulangerie, brasserie, wine bar or café and if not, then an open air market is close by one or two days per week. If that’s not enough, there are many “shopping streets” in each neighborhood that provide all the fresh food one could want, as well as take out meals.
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Speaking of open air markets, Paris is rich with them and they play a great part in strengthening the fabric of their society. You see neighbors greeting one another amidst the stalls or on the fringes. Everyone seems to know the vendors by name. The French do not have small refrigerators because they take less energy or are less expensive, they choose them because they want fresh, more nutritious food. And it’s easily available through these farmer’s markets. The French have made me very happy to participate in them at home. Here is a very brief photo essay of just three of the larger markets. I  intend  on seeing all of them before I’m through.
What about the fashion that Paris is so famous for producing? It’s everywhere, but there are several streets with small boutiques that make window shopping an activity worth pursuing.
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Of course, Paris also has very famous department stores and some of them are worth a visit just to have lunch. Galleries Lafayette offers a bird’s eye view of the city with your entrée. Bon Marche has an entire store devoted to food and you can pick up some nice gifts to bring home to friends who like to cook. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Where To Stay When In Paris?

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A simple question, but a complicated answer. I've stayed at many small hotels over the years, in several different arrondissement and would go back to each and every one for very different reasons. This question becomes complicated by finances and location, but after many trips to this charming city it has become a matter of "comfort in location" first and foremost for me. Since I prefer to travel frequently rather than lavishly, cost has to be a consideration, but even if there were more disposable income, I don't think I would dispose of it by overpaying for a place to sleep. That's how each room is viewed, merely a place to sleep. My true comfort is at home; during travel a roof over my head and a clean room will suffice. Big or small, it doesn't matter, so 2 to 3 star hotels are fine. The two hotels in the photos above are three star hotels on Rue de Ecoles in the Latin Quarter.

We wandered into HOTEL SULLY SAINT GERMAIN early one evening during our honeymoon, and snagged a top floor room for very little money. If you're adventurous, this approach works well. Since you will be the last hope for the hotel to rent the room, they very likely will offer you a lower price. Our little hole in the stone wall had a tub half a normal length, that required knees tucked to chest in order to fit into it. We still laugh about it. We are now priced out of this establishment and are no loner willing to risk a night on the street, so we book ahead these days. We did go back once, when they were offering lower rates for three or more nights. HOTEL CLAUDE BERNARD was discovered the same way on our next trip, and we are also unwilling to pay their regular rack rate, so if we can find a special we would go back, but not until then. Both hotels were comfortable, clean and had their own distinctive style.

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HOTEL FAMILIA is also on Rue De Ecoles in the 5th and becomes a convenient location for exploring the Latin Quarter and Contrescarpe, as well as Le Cite and Ile San Louis . HOTEL PALYM is half a block from Gare de Lyon, the train station we use for traveling to Italy from Paris, and has been a great hotel to stay in when exploring the Bastille and Marais areas of Paris. LE 300 is also good for exploring those same areas and offers one added bonus, it has a kitchenette. Rather than being a classic hotel, it is a building of short term rental apartments. That is a wonderful opportunity for those of us who go to the markets, and dream of trying some of the specialties that must be heated or cooked. Finally there is HOTEL DES GRANDES ECOLES, located on the Contrescarpe. We had tried to book it on several occasions, but they were always fully booked. We got lucky in our last effort.

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At 114 euro per night for a double, Hotel Familia provides good value. Outfitted with a desk, luggage rack, air conditioning and television, their double rooms are cozy and many have either stone walls or hand painted murals of Paris. Their breakfast is an additional 9 euro for the standard croissant, pain au chocolate, juice and coffee, tea or hot cocoa. You can save money and not overeat by going across the street to a patisserie and just having a croissant with your coffee for almost half of that price.

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Hotel Des Grandes Ecoles has a lovely garden courtyard with two large buildings encircling it with a loving embrace. Some of the rooms in the main building that houses the breakfast room can be small, but all are quaint and charming and meticulously clean. Views onto the courtyard are especially nice, and the garden is furnished with tables and chairs, offered to guests to use for impromptu picnics. The cool shade from the garden is also a natural means to cool the rooms on hot days. They offer neither air conditioning nor televisions, setting the stage for daydreams of Paris in an age gone by. They had rooms I actually wanted to spend time in, writing my travel journal.

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We, along with many other guests, took great advantage of the courtyard, bringing in cheese and wine that we found along Rue Mouffetard, the hotel provides the glasses and corkscrew. They also serve a nice breakfast for 9 euro, but with all the cafes, brasseries and patisseries in the area there were many other options. I paid only 6 euro for basically the same breakfast at Le Petit Cardinal a block down the street.

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While Le 3oo had the least appealing look with a very thin lime green bed cover and flat pillows, they made up for the lack of ambience with that little kitchenette. I intend to go back there on a subsequent trip and make better use of it. Their bathroom was spacious and the shower was large with plenty of hot water. It's located just yards away from a lovely elevated park built along old railroad tracks, no longer in use. There are also many restaurants in the immediate area and you can easily walk to Chez Paul from this accommodation.

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Hotel Palym came as a complete surprise to us. The room was much larger than we had hoped for with the low price of 105 euro per double. Like the others, the location was convenient, especially for anyone traveling to Italy, but mostly because it was only half a block from the metro. It is a great example of why one should not rely solely on booking agencies and websites for hotels. It was found by accident on the Internet and it was not from a popular booking site.