Thursday, June 12, 2008

28 Good Value tips in Paris

Over four years old, this list of 28 Good Value tips in Paris was originally posted in Fodor's on our only (so far!) trip to France. As you can see here, it generated some heat. I am posting them here so that it is available to others. However, some things may be outdated.
When we went, it was in May 2003. The Iraq war had just begun and there was plenty of Franco-American friction and anger. Now, of course, it is all water under the [Pont Noeuf!] bridge. Those of us who supported the war, now oppose it - and many in France now support the American view.
Someone emailed me asking for tips about our visit to France.
Here are a few 'value' tips from our experience. We visited in May 2003.
In general, France is more expensive than America - forget Walmart, SAMS Club, Costco, and their prices. Bring an umbrella. We paid $12 for a cheap umbrella which would have been worth $3 here.
The euro is even more expensive today, so consciously try to forget the exchange rate
and avoid comparing too much with the great deals at home.
Anil Philip (with help from Rita!)
Kansas City, KS

0. We stayed at the Comfort Inn Abaca which was a good value as part of the Europe Express package tour, but more expensive ($80/night) if you try to extend your stay. It was extremely clean, rooms were small and their breakfast very good. The front desk staff are helpful.

1. Pickpockets: Avoid them (heh-heh!). I never met any perhaps because I do not look like a rich American tourist. Walmart sells a $7 money belt which was useful. However the best thing to do is simply put your wallet in your front trouser pocket and then when entering crowded places, put one hand inside the pocket, directly and firmly gripping the wallet. Avoid getting in the subway when there is a crush - you're on holiday and can take the next train, so sit around and watch the people.

2. Guidebooks: If you follow them too closely, then your trip becomes a canned Rick Steve's or Fodor's or Frommer's tour. However I found Rick Steve's detailed museum tours very useful (though my wife didnt like his book too much). Frommer's has a detailed map. Borrow all (and videos) from the public library to get a feel for them before you decide to buy any of them.

3. A picnic lunch on the lawns of the Rodin museum is nice. His work was In My Humble Opinion, over-rated and the sculpture of Balzac was disgustingly silly and vulgar. However his mistress' work of the threesome in a struggle for Rodin was poignant and touching.

4. Perhaps the best site (and the least well known) for me was the Holocaust memorial directly behind the Notre Dame cathedral. Remembering it still gives me the goosebumps. You go down a spiral staircase as though into a dungeon and inside, it is as though you are in prison, in Hades, in the pit. You can see the rays of light streaming in from above, but cannot go to it. A plaque on the floor reads, (paraphrase) "they went down into the earth, were swallowed up and were never seen again".

5. The War memorial Museum at Caen was good but for me the American section in the gardens outside, was unforgettable. There is a spring (actually a pool) that goes over a waterfall and the water flows over a plaque that reads "From the heart of our land flows the blood of our youth, given to you in the name of freedom.". President Chirac needs to see this.

6. Do not use your credit card - use an ATM. I found that Visa charges a processing fee and on top of it, they skim off (cheat) by charging a higher exchange rate than what the market rate is.

7. When you are out, you can get great sandwiches at charcuteries (deli) places that are good value.

8. Ed Epicier is a great grocery store with very cheap foods and wines. It is next to the supermarket (forgot the name but do not go there) at the Convention terminus (near our hotel).

9. If you are visiting other places, stay at Etap (a clean Motel 6)

10. Ask specifically for the Carte Orange in french, they will try to sell you the tourist pass, but resist it.

11. try to attend one of the Sunday concerts at the cathedral at Notre dame - it's free and wonderful.

12. Read the "Hunchback of Notre Dame" before you visit France, and then go up the towers.

13. My wife and I are from India but my wife speaks reasonably fluent french, so people were bewildered when I wore my USA T-shirt about. At the cathedral, I gave one frenchman our camera to take our picture and he seemed very upset and irritated - only because my wife asked him, did he agree. Much later on, I realized I had been wearing my USA stars and stripes T-shirt!

14. Take film from here. One roll over there costs over $5 - here, walmart sells a pack of 4 rolls for that price!

15. the Seine river cruise is worth it. at night it is romantic.

16. Avoid Rue Cler - there was absolutely nothing worth seeing - it has become yet another touristy spot after thousands of favourable reviews. However, the crepe stand is nice with delicious Grand Marnier crepes for $3 - but you can get that most places.

17. Get used to seeing dog poop, pee on the streets and the smell of human urine in the subway station.

18. One of my most memorable memories was listening to the poor street musicians at the subway play so superbly. the French are not generous (to put it mildly) so even if we gave them just one euro ($1.25), they were happy.

19. My wife liked the Louvre a lot perhaps because she could understand french. I did not. Because they are rather chauvinistic, all titles, everything almost, is in french which was annoying - since it is designated as a UN monument - so I had to get her to translate everything. If you are ever in Kansas City, visit the Nelson Atkins museum - it has more and better art by the great masters, Monet, Rodin, Van Gogh and it's free.

20. Be patriotic, support your troops in Iraq - dont apologise but dont argue either - simply explain the righteousness of our cause.

21. Strike up conversations in the subway - we did meet nice people this way!

22. Emmanuel Baptist Church is a nice church in Paris We were unable to visit.

23. Near the hotel, there is a laundry. It is about $7 a load.

24. Other places we liked. the creme brulee at Le Colimacon was out of this world! It is near the Hotel de Ville at the Pont Noeuf bridge. Chartier is cheap but the food is bland and tasteless to cater to the tourist. Not worth it.
Thanks to editor Pauline Frommer for pointing us to Le Colimacon - formerly habited by President Pompidou.

25. Go to Notre Dame for the view. Also Sacre Coeur. Samaritaine roof-top was closed and they charge a fee to go up there. However if you buy anything from their store, they will let you to the roof with your receipt.

26. Get the Insider's good value guide to France free from the french embassy website. Get it now - it takes about a week to arrive.

27. At Saint Chapelle, try to recognise and pick out the Bible stories from the stained glass windows. It is fun. I was even able to recite the story of Esther to the entire tourist group there - to applause - and the official Cathedral guide (who did not know the story) took it very well!

28. Take one of the week-long package trips from gotoday or Europe Express or whatever. While booking it, ask them to extend the return date. This way you can travel on your own to other places in France and then come back to Paris on the last day to catch the plane back home. However, dont let the package tour people make travel/hotel arrangements for your extended stay. They will typically charge much higher rates piecemeal.

(to: Patrick, Margie, HowardR, )
Nelson-Atkins Museum (Kansas City)
Here is an article by Business Week columnist, Thane Peterson "...the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has a marvelous permanent collection that includes everything from works by Claude Monet and Georgia O'Keefe to native American art to one of the nation's finest collections of Chinese artifacts."
Even the gardens at the KC museum are beautiful, interspersed with sculptures by Henry Moore and Rodin's Thinker gazing down (the shrewd businessman! he made 27 of them).

(to: HowardR)
The "poignant sculpture" I was referring to was "Maturity" by Camille Claudel, Rodin's mistress.

(to: Patrick, Margie, HowardR)
Balzac IMHO, was disgustingly silly and vulgar because it depicts the honorable gentleman with a large you-know-what through his pants when he is aroused. A schoolboy's joke perhaps, but hardly in good taste, let alone good art.

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