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Newsletter #31: November 2002


***Secrets of Paris Newsletter #31: November 20, 2002***


* From the Home Office
* A Sofa in Paris
* Get Out of Paris
* Shopping Indoors
* My Favorite Paris Tourism Office
* Breakfast Bliss
* Water!
* A Parisian Everyone Should Know
* Resources for Students and Young Residents
* A Hidden Hotel next to Notre Dame
* An Authentic Coffee House in Paris
* Shopping St-Germain-des-Pres
* More Tea
* On the Town
* Getting to/from the Airport
* Airport Confusion
* My Paris Calendar

* From the Home Office *
En retard! Yes, I’m late this month with the newsletter. I meant to send it before going to Paris for ten days, but various “home improvement” projects (and near-disasters) have been taking longer than anticipated. On the plus side, there’s so much great stuff I found on this trip! Aside from the work I do (visiting hotels, the tourism office, the library, reading all the Paris press, etc.) and hanging out with my pal Claire, I got to test out my “guide” skills on an old friend: Michelle and I met at the Alliance Français in Minneapolis years ago, and since she’s working in London for the year, decided to come down to Paris so we could hang out for a few days. I think her feet are still angry at me (my idea of a short walk is a bit longer than most people’s), but we had a great time test-driving Paris. All of this edition’s secrets are from this trip…a bit longer than normal to make up for the delay. Enjoy! -H

* A Bed in Paris *
On this particularly long trip I stayed four nights at a friend’s while she was on vacation, one night with my friend Claire, and three nights in a double at the Hotel du Marais with my friend Michelle. We picked this hotel (on Eurocheapo.com) because it was in the Marais (safe) and it was cheap (€33 night). What do you get for that kind of money? A sink, a bulb, and two beds (mine was dubbed “the hammock”, not for those with bad backs). There was a Turkish toilet on the floor above us (which Michelle called “The Squattérie”) and a shower on the floor below which costs €3 to use. The only true bummers: no outlets to plug in our cell phones (but you can do it in the café downstairs if you sit there with it), and the 2am curfew, which we almost missed. Being youngish chicks on a budget, we had a good laugh and promised ourselves something in the €50 range for the next trip.

People always assume because I’m a travel writer that I get to stay in swanky hotels for free. I wish (and if anyone could tell me how to pull that off, I’m all ears). I actually crash at my friends’ places, which is great fun, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome. So if any of you Paris-dwellers are looking for a free place to stay on your Riviera vacation this winter, I’d happily host you in exchange for a sofa in Paris (I’m up almost every month).

* Get Out of Paris *
You don’t have to go all the way to the Loire Valley or Normandy for a good day trip out of Paris. The Ile-de-France has plenty of chateaux, historical villages, and outdoor activities to keep the whole family busy. Don’t know where to start? Go to the Espace Tourisme Paris-Ile-de-France (PIDF) at the Carrousel du Louvre (the shopping center under the Louvre Pyramid, enter at 99, rue de Rivoli). They also have info on Paris that’s handy. Browse the brochures or just ask for the great free booklet called “Le Guide” (available in English).

* Shopping Indoors *
November in Paris can be beautifully sunny and crisp or windy and wet. When it’s too soggy to window shop on the little streets of Saint-Germain or the Marais, you’ve got a few options. Most people head to the Grands Magasins like Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Bon Marché, Samaritaine or BHV. These can be madly crowded this time of year (although the decorations sure are nice). Michelle and I checked out the covered passages starting from the Place des Victoires in the 2nd all the way to rue Montmartre in the 9th. Lots of interesting shops and galleries, and the historical interest, of course. For something in between, try the Carrousel du Louvre (mentioned above) or Bercy Village. Strangley, they seem to have a lot of the same shops (Resonances, Nature & Découverts, Museum Store, etc.). Bercy Village has more outdoorsy shops, trendy bars and dining options, a cinema and an adorable pet shop, all on a pedestrian-only street directly on line 14. The Carrousel du Louvre is completely enclosed, has more upscale shops, a Virgin Megastore, and direct access to the Louvre Museum (while the suckers line up outside in the rain). In any case, stay away from Les Halles, no matter what you’ve read (unless you’re going to the Espace des Jeunes Créateurs on level -1).

* My Favorite Paris Tourism Office *
I used to be a big Bullfrog Bike Tours fan when I lived in Paris, so I always recommend them whenever I get the chance. Over the past few years, they’ve merged with companies in Amsterdam, Munich and Barcelona and are now called Mike’s Bike Tours – Paris. On this past trip, I decided to go check out their new HQ over by the Eiffel Tower and say hello to the owner, David (who thinks he’s disorganized, but was still able to find an e-mail I’d sent over a year ago). November is pretty quiet for tours (they take their own holidays in the winter), but I got to hang out with Baily (David’s big fuzzy dog), drinking Starbucks (nowhere else in Paris!), watching CNN and perusing the pile of guide books and brochures for Paris. You can also check your email, buy tickets to Disneyland and other attractions, and, of course, book a bike tour. Unlike the official Paris Tourism Office on the Champs-Elysées, there’s a restroom (and it’s free, go figure). Whether you’re up to pedaling around Paris or not, stop in and say hi to David and the gang. For more info and a map of where to find them (and when they close for winter): http://www.MikesBikeToursParis.com

* *Michelle and I took advantage of a lovely sunny Friday to wander around. Here’s what we found:

* Breakfast Bliss *
It’s a chain, but I don’t really care, Le Pain Quotidian is a great place to stuff your face “Continental Style”. You sit at large antique pine communal tables where pots of honey, butter, hazelnut spread, praline cream, and other yummy things are shared (look for the glass full of little spoons for each pot). Then you order from the menu. You can get salads or sandwiches, etc. We ordered the basket of fresh breads, poached egg, and tea, and proceeded to stuff our faces. We couldn’t manage to finish all of the bread (or eat the egg in the glamorous Parisian fashion), but we enjoyed ourselves. A gentleman across from us tried speaking with us in English, but all we understood was that he was in theatre and he was Frankenstein. You can buy all of the Pain Quotidian products off the shelves: the delicious spreads, olive oil, flavored vinegars, dried tomatoes and tapenades, etc. We ate at the one at 18 rue des Archives in the Marais. They still served us breakfast at 11am, so maybe it’s all day (sorry, didn’t check that). It’s a great place to eat alone because you’re not at a lonely table and there’s the International Herald Tribune to read if you don’t want to talk to anyone else.

* Water! *
Michelle was feeling sniffly (London weather, no doubt), so after breakfast we got some cold medicine at the pharmacy. We’re on a budget, so instead of buying a bottle of water somewhere, we just crossed the street to BHV department store and went up to the first floor where I had spotted a water dispenser with cups earlier that week. It’s located right on the aisle in front of the framing counter (look for “Encadrement”). Toilets are on the 5th floor. BHV is loved by Parisians for its Sous-sol (basement) where you can get all sorts of hardware stuff). I also really like the stationary department on the first floor (great papers, fountain pens, notebooks, etc.)

* A Parisian Everyone Should Know *
The Hôtel de Ville is a lovely building (look for the free ice-skating rink outside from mid-December), and if you enter the Salon d’Accueil (at 29, rue de Rivoli) you’ll find some Paris information (for residents and visitors, all in French) and the latest free exhibition. We got to see the “Paris Chante Montand”, all about the beloved actor/chanteur Yves Montand (1921-1991). He was the Cary Grant and the Frank Sinatra of Paris in one. A pretty suave guy, to say the least. The expo had all of the movie posters, the press photos, the music and film clips (three separate “movie rooms”) and the chronology of his career. Michelle and I left wanting to buy an Yves Montand CD. The exposition was supposed to close in October, but has been extended until the end of November. NB: Not that I’m obsessed, but there’s also a free restroom here in the back of the exposition rooms.

* Resources for Students and Young Residents *
For three days there was a giant tent outside the Hôtel de Ville hosting the Etats Généraux Vie Etudiante (General State of Student Life). Inside were grouped all of the resources for students living in Paris from sports and culture to student housing and health issues (free condoms…I felt like I was back in university…). The event is over, but you can check out the new website for young Parisians: http://www.jeunes.paris.fr or stop by the Hôtel de Ville’s Salon d’Accueil (see above) and ask forthe thick booklet “Le Guide 2002-2003 Etudiant à Paris” (free). Co-sponsored by Zurban Magazine (cool events in the city), it has everything from choosing a study program in Paris to financing and where to live. There’s also info on where to get school supplies and books, where to go out, and how to join sports and social groups outside of classes. I wish I’d had this when I was a student in Paris (even though back then I probably wouldn’t have understood the French!). Another handy — and bilingual — website is http://www.ciup.fr (Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris). For anyone 28 years old or younger, the Kiosque Paris-Jeunes are places where you can get info on discounts for travel, sports, cultural events, free tickets and artistic internships. Three locations: 25 blvd Bourdon, 4th; 101 quai Branly, 15th; and 91 blvd St-Michel, 5th.

Free nights at the Louvre! If you’re under 26, you can visit the Louvre for free on November 20 (today) and November 27th from 6pm-9:45pm. For more info: http://www.louvre.fr

* A Hidden Hotel next to Notre Dame*
Michelle and I did the tourist thing and wandered through Notre-Dame. While we were there, I thought maybe we’d check out something I’d only read about: the secret hotel in the Hospital Hôtel Dieu. If you stand in front of Notre-Dame, the Hôtel Dieu is on your left. It’s been around since the plague, rebuilt several times, and is still a working hospital. When you go in, ask at the welcome desk for info on the “Hospitel” a real hotel located inside the hospital on the 6th floor (with great views of Notre-Dame, of course). Rooms for tourists are €85-95 and include breakfast in your room, TV, private bathroom, phone and safe. If you’ve got a relative in the hospital you get a discount rate of about €55. Even if you don’t stay in the hotel (or hospital), you can take refuge from the Notre-Dame crowds in the Hôtel Dieu gardens. Turn left when you walk in the entrance from the Parvis Notre-Dame, and the door going outside to the courtyard is on the right just before the Urgences (in any case, you’ll see it through the large windows). It’s a nice place to sit and read or eat your sandwich in peace. For the “Hospitel”: http://www.hotel-hospitel.com

* An Authentic Coffee House in Paris *
I really miss American-style coffee houses. If you’re just visiting Paris, you might think this sounds odd, but the long-time residents will understand. French coffee may be nice, the terrace at Deux Magots classic, but nothing beats a tall mug of Caramel Latte, a comfy couch and plenty of reading material. I was walking down Boulevard Sabastopol one morning while in Paris, thinking I’d grab a croissant somewhere, when I saw Autour d’Un Café. Or rather, I saw the couch and paperbacks through the window. Inside is a relaxed decor with (so far) one couch and tables, books and magazines, mostly French, but also the France US Contacts (FUSAC). You go to the counter to order and pay before you sit down: lattes, mochas, frappés, iced coffees, warm flavored milks, fresh fruit smoothies, home-made muffins and cookies (I’m a bit of an expert on these, you know), and soups and sandwiches. I got my muffin and Caramel Latte, and it tasted just like home. (As I write this back in Biot, I’ve got my Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House mug from Northfield, Minnesota on my desk…my benchmark for all good coffee houses) The street may not be so welcoming, but if you’re anywhere nearby (Beaubourg/Les Halles), make an effort to check it out and support the tiny coffee houses of the world!
55 blvd Sabastopol, 1st, Metro Chatelet/Les Halles or Etienne Marcel. Open 9:30am-7pm. Tel: 01 42 33 76 31

* Shopping St-Germain-des-Prés *
I was early to meet a friend at Deux Magots, so I had a wander around to see what had changed since I last worked in the area (circa 1998). French pastry addicts will be delighted to find that Ladurée now has a tea room and bakery on the corner of rue Jacob and rue Bonaparte (formerly a famous antique gallery). If you’re not familiar with the particularly Parisian history of Ladurée, check out their website: http://www.laduree.fr The packaging of their chocolates and sweets is so elegant, like haute-couture pastries – great gifts! Down the road at 35 rue Jacob is the garden passage leading to the Galerie Triff. They specialize in rugs and carpets from around the world (American Indian, Afghanistan, Morocco, etc.) But even if you’re not shopping for an Oriental rug, pop in for the lovely interior fountain and to get a close look at the courtyard gardens.

* More Tea *
Something about cold, wet days that make me want to hide out in tea rooms (and coffee houses) all day. Michelle and I went to the tea room at the Mosquée (a real Mosque) across from the Jardin des Plantes. I’ve been going there since I was a student for the sweet mint tea (€2 today, up from about €1.50 in 1996). I think it’s beautiful and interesting, but there are so many new tea rooms opening up that are worth a try. While walking around a quiet back street in the Marais, I saw a tea room with no name (no sign at all). Inside I could see red velvet chairs around tables, just below street level, fashion and decor magazines in a pile, and high quality teas displayed artistically in the window. Intimate and hip at the sam time. I took Michelle back at about 10am on a Friday and they weren’t open yet. Having a good peek at the display in the window again, I could see the name “Appart’thé” on the menu. No hours were on the door, but I gather this is an afternoon tea kind of place (with a €20 Sunday brunch menu). Maybe on my next trip….(if any of you go visit, let me know how it is). Appart’thé, 7 rue Charlot, 3rd, tel: 01 42 78 43 30.

* On the Town *
Despite our 2am curfew, Michelle and I were hoping to get in a bit of nightlife. We didn’t feel like sitting in a bar where the music is so loud we can’t talk, or go to a club where we’d have to dress up and pay to get in (neither of us had packed the disco shoes). So we were looking for some entertainment. I’ve always wanted to go to the Flêche d’Or, an old train depot converted into a bar-club-“space” where live music, poetry readings, and other events keep things from getting stale. Unfortunately, it’s out at the end of Line 3, which was closed at night for construction (and we couldn’t risk the Noctambus getting us back to the Marais on time for curfew). So we tried De la Ville Cafe at Metro Bonne Nouvelle, an old bordello transformed into a bar with top DJs and industrial-baroque decor. And it was closed for a private function. Third attempt, by now 10:30pm, was the Atmosphere, across the Canal St-Martin from the Hotel du Nord. This is a classic neighborhood bar with live music at 8pm on the weekends (so we arrived in time to see them pack up). We had a drink and chatted with a regular, but since there was no room to sit we made our way back towards the Marais. I was going to take Michelle to see the Pure Malt (which replaced her old favorite, the Hairy Lemon), but her feet gave out just as we approached the Klein Holland, one of the city’s Dutch bars. We sat at the bar and after just one half-pint of beer, I catch Michelle stealing the glasses. Okay, just one glass, and only because it had a beer logo on it, Korenwolf, which looked like a hamster (we confirmed this with the nice Indian-Japanese DJ sitting next to us). So Michelle took the Hamster Beer glass home as a souvenir. We convinced our new DJ friend to sample the Muppet Show song in his next psychedelic-trance mix.

On Saturday night Michelle and I were marveling at the way the newly cleaned Opéra Garnier statues looked so shiny it was if they were made of gold lamé, when a group of Italians asked us where the Marais were. So we took them with us to the Petit Fer à Cheval (a tiny, tiny restaurant and wine bar with a zinc counter in the shape of a horse shoe; 30 rue Vieille du Temple) and then to the underground bar/club of the Lizard Lounge at rue du Bourg Tibourg (where we met the Parisian barman and Texan DJ from the D’Artagnan Youth Hostel). It was almost empty when we arrived, then swelled so the “can’t breathe-can’t-move” numbers it’s known for. We got hungry after midnight and all went to the Low Rider’s heated terrace (just at the bottom of the street in the square) for huge Croque Monsieur’s on Pain Poilâne (and French pronunciation lessons from the waiter). At quarter to two, Michelle and I said goodbye to our new friends (who are visiting from Rome for the weekend) and arrive back at our “squatterie” just in time. In all, not too bad for two mellow nights out in Paris.

* Getting to/from the Airport *
Here’s how I choose between the bus, the RER, taxi and shuttle bus: the taxi only if I’m traveling with someone, am in a hurry and don’t mind blowing up to €40 if there’s a traffic delay (I don’t trust them to take the shortest route, so I don’t recommend them to newcomers); shuttle bus if I’m traveling with someone, not in a hurry, have a lot of luggage, and don’t know where I’m going (I think all newcomers should reserve a shuttle); the RER only in case of early morning or rush-hour travel times and if I don’t have more than a carry-on (so many stairs!) I never take it at night, too many thugs; the Roissy Bus or Orly Bus are great if you’re not in a hurry and know where to go from the drop-off points (a Metro ride or taxi — if you have luggage — are more reasonable from these drop-off’s).

* Airport Confusion *
In the last edition I whined about the outdoor walk and lack of shopping at the ugly T-9 terminal at Roissy/Charles de Gaulle Airport. This terminal, as far as I can see, serves easyJet and Togo Air. Well, it has a new, more logical name: T-3 (terminal three). Of course, half the signs still say T-9 (particularly the signs you see when exiting the RER and looking for the right shuttle). So make sure you (and anyone to whom you’re giving directions) don’t get confused: T-9 and T3 are the same thing. Happy flying.

* My Paris Calendar *
Check out the Paris section of this website for easyjet’s inflight magazine (FYI: easyjet is the inter-European discount airline that just started service to Paris in June). I’ve updated the December Diary of things to see and do, with hotels, dining, nightlife and shopping, too.

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