February 21, 2008
Paris Travel Summary (Details to Follow!)
Our overall approach to Paris was to try to do it on foot as much as possible. Our fallback was the Metro (subway), which is very good here. I was imagining thoughtful strolls down wide boulevards and narrow streets, with the sound of classic French music lofting through the air, with the smells of baguettes and croissants not far behind.
Um, Paris is a big, modern city. Big.
We have walked a lot (primary mode of transport), which has been *fantastic* for learning our way around. We’ve gotten to see little small things that we’d miss if underground – smaller shops, architecture, small gardens and just people living their daily lives. I wouldn’t trade these things or change our approach at all.
We also had the fortune of having one of our friends refer us to her sister in law who is a Parisienne, who had dinner with us on Monday and Wednesday. We asked her to pick the places, and at the restaurants, we left the ordering to her and the waiter/sommelier. This was an awesome way to experience dining in the city. We were super fortunate that Marie-Pierre knows food, wine, and the local dining scene. She was amazing.
But yes, all of this goodness of foot travel comes at a cost. We have this independent, squirming, heavy (25 lbs+), brilliant, inquisitive little being that travels with us. We call him the Samwich. He needed to be carried – everywhere. Again, we used the Baby Ergo carrier, which I’ve written about before – its awesome – can be used as a front or backpack. Well, you dummies, why not use a stroller? Well, Paris, like Rome and most of Europe isn’t exactly stroller friendly. The streets can be narrow or crowded (or both), with lots of cobblestones, curbs, steps. The only people using strollers that didn’t look like they were about to go insane were those using the big-wheeled jogging strollers.
Because of the carry issue, my legs and feet (and Anh’s too) feel like we’ve done a long week of hiking (because we have!). This is not a complaint at all – but a tradeoff – see more, walk more, but your range is limited.
The other kid issue that we have had is around finding reasonable open spaces for Samwich to play. He now walks, but in that Frankenstein, crazy car (car that moves forward till it bumps into something, then turns briefly and repeats), uncommandable way. Our hotel room is small, as you would expect in a European city, and this being winter (Wednesday it rained as well), the outside parks aren’t always the best choices. We found that the best place to let him roam reasonably was in the Louvre. Its so big that he can walk around, but also the crowds are dispersed, and you can find a room w/o a lot of people so he doesn’t bug someone.
One little annoying thing that he discovered this week is the concept of an echo, and where said echo can be used to great effect. The parent in me both cringed an applauded this mini-science breakthrough. He’s Brilliant! He’s Annoying! He’s both! Walk into a big room – e.g. Pantheon, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and he starts echo-locating like a bat, except audible. Yes, very audible. “BAH!” Samwich, “Shhh….” “BAH!”. He’d get a big grin on his face, as he realized the ability to control his surroundings, but wow, it was annoying. We moved on from these places quickly. (Or in the case of the Pantheon, he found stairs to go up and down and up and down – that was his other major discovery of the week – Stairs. The subtitle for this whole vacation has been “Stairs – who KNEW how cool they were!”)
Oh the food – we’ve had *great food* (more on that later), but as in most major cities, there’s a lot of not-great food, and without a lot of research, and trust-able sources, its hard to find the gems within the non-gems.
A couple of Samwich related eating items for reference. First off, high chairs or boosters – we only saw them one time all week – the café at the Musee D’Orsay. I almost took a picture of them – there were five, all different, all bedraggled. Every single other place we went to – and these were not just high-end shi shi places – nothing. He sat on one of our laps. This was made more complex by the fact that given his developmental stage (reaches for everything and “Can’t control… fists of death!”) (oh, and that nice hot coffee felt SUPER good in my lap Sunday – love and kisses Samwich!) a large two foot diameter “Zone of Destruction” must be cleared in front of him or unintended merriment will in fact, ensue. The tables in general are also very very small. This means that when the waiters come with the food – they see this nice big open space to put it in, and Anh and I quickly would have to do the big shuffle to move plates before Samwich did. Lastly, on the Samwich front, no kids menus… we just gave him our food, and this was fine (he eats all kinds of foods at this point).
This is noted in virtually all of the guidebooks, but I’ll reiterate here. There are a number of types of restaurants in Paris. There are cafés, which are mostly coffee/snack/drinking places. There’s an interesting phenomenon here, as these places have both inside an outside seating. The outside seating is *packed* – even in the winter, in the rain, no matter. Inside seating – empty. Why? Recently passed indoor smoking ban. The outside tables aren’t covered, even if they are under cover, with the sides having plastic walls, and only the front open. As a result, the sidewalk cafés are very busy, and full of people enjoying their Galoises. These are NOT food places…
There are chains, brasseries, counter service places, etc.
There are the ever-present creperies – which do have very yummy crepes, made on demand (don’t even try the premade ones…). Great for a snack. We also saw a lot of gyro stands, advertised as “Grec’ or “Turkic” samwiches. These looked, as you would imagine, of varying quality.
Bistros or (Bistrot en Francais) are more food oriented, and the variety here is amazing. We went to one (La Regalade) Wednesday night with Marie Pierre and it was *fantastic*.
Then there are the “Chef” or “Gastromic” restaurants. We went to one, again with Marie-Pierre on Monday (Pierre Gagnaires’s, 6 rue Balzac 75008), and it was an experience (more later).
Even if you go to a counter service restaurant – a carafe of wine with lunch is enjoyable (if you like wine!). It’s a great way to find less expensive wines, and to try them out. Virtually every table will have one on them – even businesspeople at lunch!
Which bring us to the lovely state of the euro v. the dollar. Euros are expensive. Paris is expensive. Expect to pay New York city prices (in euros) for virtually everything. Then add 40% for the exchange rate, and viola! No money left!
On the language side, Anh and I both can speak some French, so we can at least be polite. However, we get “read” as English speakers instantly, and generally get replies in English – not because the people are rude, but because they are being helpful. Sometimes though, we start in French, and ask what we think is a simple question, the answer to which that we can understand, but then get blown away by a wave of French that we have no hope of understanding.
We try very hard to be polite in French, and start that way out of politeness. Compared to Italy, where we found people to speak less English than even Japan or China, Paris has been amazingly language-friendly for English speakers.
That’s the short summary… I’ll fill in some more details shortly.
Oh, and the whole trans thing – it’s a total non-issue here. I still get “Mademoiselled” here most of the time, and the Crappy Look Counter hasn’t budged. If you are polite, people are polite back!
Today is our last full day in the city, and we have one more nice meal planned – L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon, which looks virtually identical to his place in Las Vegas at the MGM (which we love), so I’ll report on that when we are done! (plus detailed day-by-day info about what we did…)