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Newsletter #9: May 2001

vintage Paris photo

***Secrets of Paris Newsletter 9: May 24, 2001***

From the Home Office
Someone who read my glowing, frothy review of Mappy.fr in the 7th issue of this newsletter asked me how much it would cost to give a similar review to their lingerie website. First of all, I don’t get paid at all, for any of this. If anyone wants to pay me, I’d be more than thrilled (and perhaps the quality would improve if I didn’t have to sandwich this newsletter between my translation work and my travel writing assignments). All of the recommendations given here are from my own experiences and research. They are, essentially, my own opinions. Hopefully all of you find them useful. When living in Paris, I had an endless stream of friends, relatives, and alumni from my school that I never really knew come stay with me. They’ve tried and tested all of my recommendations, and I haven’t had an angry guest yet (then again, when you’re saving on hotel costs, what are you going to complain about?). Back to the lingerie website. It was an American site, only delivering in the US. I couldn’t find anything even remotely French about it. Too bad, because I could have added it to the Secrets of Paris shopping links at the Suite101.com site. But this is about Paris, and only Paris, and that’s why you’ve subscribed. So if anyone has any Parisian links to recommend, I’ll gladly look them over. For free. Unless they’re really bad. Then it will cost you 2,358,224,540 francs to get "Heather’s Special Glowing, Frothy Review". Until next issue, à bientôt! -H

* Driving Crazy *
I finally got my driving license (the French one) after starting French driving school last August. Am I thrilled? You betcha! Now I can drive like a maniac along with the rest if the French nation (if you learn anything here, it’s to steel your nerves on the autoroute). If you plan on driving during your visit to France (highly discouraged if you’re prone to heart attacks or road rage), try and arrange the rental from your home country, which is usually cheaper, and you can ask stupid questions. Some things to ask when booking:
Manual or automatic transmission?
How many adults can it seat (and how many suitcases)?
Will you need a roof rack, snow chains, baby seat?
Do I need an International Driver’s License? ($10 from any AA office, used with your own DL)
What kind of gas (essence) does it take?
How long will a full tank last?
Can I cross national borders?
Also, check out these websites for helpful info on driving:
And finally, European traffic signs translated – VERY helpful:

* Bullfrog Bike Tours *
For those who want to see Paris from a more interesting perspective, don’t miss the Bullfrog Bike Tours. Cruise around Paris on comfortable beach cruisers with your friendly English-speaking (mostly American) guides. They do day tours and night tours (includes a boat cruise), rain or shine (they provide rain gear). Children’s bikes/kiddie seats/helmets available. You can also meet the guides for the weekly Saturday night flag football games near Invalides! As someone who has done Paris on a bicycle, I can wholeheartedly recommend this mode of travel (and they keep to the bike paths and sidewalks, so don’t worry about those crazy drivers). And it’s a great way to burn off all those French pastry calories! Visit their slick website:

*Three Perfect Days in Paris*
I wrote my own article about what I think people should do in Paris if they only have a few days, and many of my own recommendations are aimed at the budget or ‘going crazy within limits’ travelers:
But some readers have reminded me that sometimes it’s worth going all out if you’ve only got three days. And I agree! But I could never give you a better recommendation than the one from Hemispheres Magazine "Three Perfect Days in Paris". It truly is a step-by-step guide to getting the best out of the City of Lights, very romantic, for those enjoying the strong dollar exchange rate. And just to toot my own horn, look for my article, "Three Perfect Days on the Riviera" in Hemispheres’ April 2002 edition (online or on every United Airlines flight):

* Question of the Month *
Big Question from Secrets of Paris reader Christine: "We are going to make reservations for restaurants before we arrive. We are looking for a restaurant avec tres ambience, bon vin, gourmet-gourmet tres bien cuisine, not too touristy, cuisine de francaise. We were warned that some are expensive, but not worth the money. We are willing to splurge for the elegance."

Answer (well, a shortened version of what I actually sent Christine): Reserving a restaurant ahead of time is always a good idea if you have a limited amount of time, you’re in Paris during the high season (April until August), and you’d like to dine in a popular restaurant. If you’re staying in a very nice hotel, have the concierge make the reservation. Otherwise call and book directly yourself (and confirm, if possible, by fax). As far as value for money goes, it’s true that many places can be overpriced tourist traps, especially the middle-priced places (150-350ff/person). The foolproof way to go is to stick with the Michelin or Zagat Restaurant guides. The French Gault Millau is also a good indicator of high quality.
My own personal recommendations:
Le Train Bleu Restaurant at the Gare de Lyon (gorgeous and romantic; listed as a national treasure for its Belle Epoch artwork)
Brasserie Balzar at 49, rue des Ecoles, near the Sorbonne (great French Left Bank intellegista ambiance, definitely reserve)
Tour D’Argent is still considered to be worth the price (lunch is more reasonable, less than $100, book months ahead of time)
Karen Fawcett, the editor of Bonjour Paris, recommends Laperouse, here’s her article:
Keep in mind that trendy doesn’t always mean high quality, but it definitely increases the price (Asia, Buddha Bar, Barfly, etc.).

If anyone else has any recommendations, send to me and I’ll pass them on (no fair keeping all the good ones to yourselves, now…)

* Jazz in the Park! *
If you happened to miss the wonderful jazz concerts at the Foire de Paris earlier this month, no worries, because the Paris Jazz Festival lasts from May 19 until July 29th at the Parc Floral de Paris (near the Château de Vincennes). There are some big ticket names along with some lesser known musicians. Concerts will be held at 4:30pm every Saturday and Sunday in the park, and it’s FREE (except there’s a 10ff park entrance fee). Bring a blanket and picnic lunch, and enjoy some good jazz in the open air.
Parc Floral de Paris, Bois de Vincennes; Metro Château de Vincennes, Information 01 55 94 20 20
http://www.parisavenue.com/ (click on the British/American flag, the Jazz Festival is the lead English article)

* New at Suite101.com *
The latest article from Secrets of Paris is about the action over in the Bercy neighborhood, "East Side Story Part 1" (next month is about the developments across the Seine from Bercy, the new Rive Gauche):

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