Monthly Archives: April 2015

Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

Bonjour et bienvenue !

Looking at all the messages you left on the blog or on the French Girl in Seattle Facebook page, you have enjoyed last week’s French dining tips! Here is part 2 of our Travel Tips Series: Getting around Paris, another popular topic. You think you have heard it all? Read on, and join me for another informative and fast-paced pictorial visit of la Belle France.

Deux CV
La vie est belle, from the seat of a Deuche (2CV)

Tip #1: Driving in Paris.

Just don’t. You do not need to; there are more transportation options in Paris than in many other cities. Parisian drivers follow their own rules (creativity and anarchist leanings are prerequisites,) and they will test you. Parking is nearly impossible to find and expensive, except in August when locals flock away, and the whole city seems to fall into a heat-induced torpor.

DrivinginParis
Trying to get in/out of a parking space can be taxing
ParkingBornes
Concrete or steel posts all over the sidewalks make parking nearly impossible

If you need to rent a car to explore other French regions, pick it up on the outskirts of the city, or better yet, outside of Paris (for example, to visit Normandy, you could ride a train to Rouen, then rent your car there.) Even if you live in Manhattan or Los Angeles and love driving at rush hour, familiarize yourself with French rules of the road. “La priorité à droite” (giving way to vehicles coming from the right) is a concept you will be well advised to study before driving in France. Find more info here.

Tip #2: Riding a bicycle in Paris.

Unless you are an experienced – or at least habitual – cyclist, stay away from bicycles in Paris. Bicycles are everywhere, and they will tempt you. Parisians make bicycle riding look so romantic and so easy, don’t they? It’s not.

Bicycle

Bikes

BikesinParis

There are private bikes, and there is Velib, one of the largest bike-sharing systems in the world. All over the city, the grey bikes beckon, and you can rent one for a few Euros. Many visitors do (read about their experiences here.) Be aware Velib bikes do not come with helmets, or a guide to the rules of the road. Use them at your own risk, and never on the sidewalks, (it will help if you have the peripheral vision of a fly.)

Velib2
Velib: A familiar sight in many Parisian neighborhoods

If you really want to experience Paris by bike, there are a couple of companies out there who organize guided tours of the city in English. They would be a fun and safer option.

FatTire
Fat Bike Tours

Tip #3: Riding the Métro.

A favorite mode of transportation in the French capital, and the most efficient. Of course, it is not perfect. Avoid riding the Metro during rush hour to avoid displays of the famous Parisian (short) temper, as locals try to get home. It gets hot and occasionally smelly in the summer. There are pickpockets. There are tourist with huge backpacks hitting you left and right. They are people begging for money. There are strikes. My take on this: Try and live in an area with inadequate public transportation for years, as I have. You will beg for a chance to ride the Paris Metropolitain again, even in the summer, even at rush hour.

Metro

Metro3

The Paris Metro works, and it is easy to use. You only need a little planning, and the observation skills of a 10 year old to get it. The logic is directional. Know the name of your stop, the number of the line you have to ride to get there (there are 16 total,) and the name of the last stop on the line (it indicates the direction of the train.)

Metro4

Tickets? Navigo Découverte is a popular option for out of town visitors. The pass replaced the beloved Carte Orange years ago. Getting one is a bit of a hassle unless you always travel with a passport-size photo in your wallet, and you will be spending enough time in Paris to maximize the pass. Details about Navigo Découverte are here. I prefer Metro tickets, and purchase un carnet (10 tickets) when I arrive. I can use those tickets in the Metro, the RER train (commuter train) as long as I travel downtown (referred to as Zone 1) and even in the buses. When tickets run out, I purchase another carnet. Cost of a single ticket: 1.90 Euros. Cost of a carnet (10 tickets:) 14.50 Euros. You do the math. The little Ticket-t+ will be one of your best friends in Paris, whether you prefer riding le Metro or buses. More information about public transportation rates here.

MetroTicket

Tip #4: Walking the sidewalks of Paris.

This one may not come naturally to visitors used to spending several hours a day in their car. It remains the best way to experience Paris. (Disclaimer: This French Girl may be biased. Speed walking has always been her favorite form of exercise, and she ranks cities and neighborhoods based on their walkability.) Parisians love walking. Many stay fit by walking miles every day. They walk fast, and with a purpose. On Sunday afternoons, they revert to strolling.

Parisiansonfoot
Monsieur et Madame, somewhere in the 16th arrondissement

This means your shoe choice is one of the most important decisions you will make before visiting Paris. We have all heard the jokes about the conspicuous, brand-new white sneakers that immediately identify you as a tourist (not a good thing in a city plagued by pickpockets and other scam artists.) Always go for comfort first. You will walk miles every day. Leave fancy shoe options to (some) Parisian women, or save them for elegant dinners on the town when you can ride a taxi. I have news for you: Colorful sneakers have been a hit in Paris and in France, for many years. Over the past two years, logo sneakers, (yes, the types you see all over American suburban malls,) have been popping up everywhere. They include white ones (mostly on ladies, that’s true.) To be on the safe side, choose neutral or dark colors, with no patterns.

Sneakers
“Les Tennis,” Monoprix, spring 2015

Walking in Paris can be hazardous. Be aware of your surroundings. This means you can’t be walking while holding a giant, unfolded map of the city, looking for the Eiffel Tower or your favorite macaron shop. Most free maps are incomplete and don’t show all the streets. Your best friend? Le Plan de Paris par Arrondissements, (titles may vary) a small book with detailed neighborhood maps, showing even the tiniest streets, Metro stations, and more. Best money you will ever spend in Paris.

PlandeParisParArrondissement

This French Girl never leaves her homebase without it: My blue book is heavily highlighted before I explore corners of the French capital. In an emergency, it always gets me back on track.

ParisPratique
Mon ami et moi, chez Cream, Belleville

Hazards to look out for while walking on Parisian sidewalks include: Hurried Parisians (who will bump into you then glare at you as if you had hit them,) Parisians grocery shopping with their sacs à roulette/caddies (these can prove as lethal to the tibia as the steel and concrete posts illustrated at the beginning of this story.)

LaPoussette
Monsieur fait les courses

There are cyclists (who should not be there unless they are pushing, instead of riding, their bikes,) mopeds, (see previous comment,) and dogs. In Paris, dogs rule. They are not confined to cars, or to their suburban yards.

Dogs
Chien du Haut-Marais
Dogseverywhere
Chien de Belleville

Dog poop is a classic Parisian sight. The city has spent millions to try and convince locals to pick up after their dogs. Communication campaigns. Check. Fines (currently 68 Euros.) Check. Watch this hilarious video of a young Parisian, Antoine, asking one of city’s éducateurs canins du chien citoyen, (Canine Educators of Citizen-dogs,) how to use poop bags. You see what we are dealing with, here. Changing cultural habits can prove an arduous task.

Truth be told, I noticed during a recent visit that things have improved drastically. Parisians dislike dog poop as much as visitors do. I smile when I read stories about “les gross Paris sidewalks,” (if nothing else, it gives people something to talk or write about.) In my corner of American suburbia, I occasionally spot signs like this one on the local trail, (if not abandoned dog poop around my apartment complex.)

DogPoop2
Dog poop: An international conundrum
NoDogPoop
Spotted on the Left Bank: French dogs don’t speak English, folks!

Getting around Paris: An adventure, always. Whether you drive, ride a bike, use the Metro, a city bus, or just walk, be aware of your surroundings. Prepare, but be flexible too. Bonne visite !

A bientôt. 

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Additional reading: 

Get a chip+pin credit card before you visit Europe this summer! This is why.

Biking in France: Rules and tips.

Biking in Paris: Know your street signs. In general, a square sign indicates something is optional. A round sign indicates you have to follow instructions. Article in French.

New fines for people who don’t pick up dog poop or litter Paris with cigarette butts.

The sounds of Paris (a video by French Girl in Seattle.)

Visit my YouTube Channel for more.) 

21 Responses to Getting around Paris (Travel Tips Series)

  1. When we got our Navigo Decouvert cards we arrived in Paris with passport sized photos taken at Walgreens for about $14.

    • Preparation is essential, I like to say, and it looks like you were prepared for Paris, Sandy. Good for you! (Who wants to line up at the Photomaton – that small photo booth inside the Metro – then line up again to get a Navigo Découverte? Bringing your own photo saves a lot of time!

  2. During my last visit to Paris I wanted to use the Autobus as much as possible. Not as fast as the Metro but you can look around. We caught the 95 bus at Porte de Vanves all the way through town to the Place de Clichy. Great sightseeing all along the way. I took the Montmarte bus from Abesses north… think Toads Wild Ride at Disney World. East on number 60 to Place des Fetes. Saw all kinds of places and people most tourists miss.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Danna. Buses make a lot of sense if you have time to sightsee. You see more of a city from the window of a bus, than you do inside the Metro. You picked interesting routes, and you got to see a more authentic face of Paris, a multi-ethnic city, a far cry from the stereotypes in old Hollywood movies.

  3. Excellent article! I have a question about the Metro tickets. If my destination includes two Metro lines, will I be using 4 tickets total for the roundtrip?

    • Bonjour JoAnn. No, you will not be needing 4 tickets, as long as you keep transferring inside the Metro (or from the Metro to the RER suburban train in downtown Paris) to reach your destination. You will use one ticket each way. Look for orange signs indicating “Correspondance” when you reach your first stop. They will take you, via long corridors, to the Metro line you have to take next. Bon voyage!

    • Bus travel is great, and enables you to see the city “from above,” which the Metro doesn’t. You can use the same tickets for both. Buses do take more time, because of traffic, so if you are trying to pack a lot in a day, they may not work. A combination of Metro/bus/walking is perfect, I think. Hope this helps.

  4. It is a good suggestion to cycle in Paris with a tour group. It gave my wife and I a good sense about how to get around by bike. It gave us confidence to use the Vélib’ service on our next visit to Paris. We rode Vélib everyday for two weeks. We are daily bicycle commuters in Seattle and found cycling in Paris enjoyable and very memorable. All things considered, the cars and truck were considerate of cyclists and many routes have dedicated lanes. Following a route was our biggest challenge and our biggest thrill. Apps and paper maps were essential.

  5. De parisienne à parisienne ,rien ne manque dans votre blog Véro , pour arpenter Paris dans les conditions les plus agréables et les plus sûres .

  6. Just was referred to your blog. If you need passport photos for a Navigo Decouvert card or a real passport, and have a smartphone, you can use a free passport photo app. I did so for my US passport and they were accepted, the printing cost at a Walgreen’s was 31 cents including tax.

  7. Hi ! Thank you for this blog, so interesting and useful ! 🙂 Segway is another great option for getting around in Paris. We had a wonderful tour last month with this company, they were pro, friendly and very well informed about the city, we learnt a lot: https://parisoriginaltours.com/ Try it, it is really great 🙂

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58 Responses to French dining tips (Travel Tips Series)

  1. Though I will never be able to travel to France, I love reading your blog and learning about the culture! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Thank you, this is appreciated-very much. There are so many places I would like to try. I need to just jump in and “do it”! Your description of the various steps will give me courage

  3. Love your tips…and your photos! We will be traveling to York, London and Paris mid-September so your tips for Paris are invaluable! We bought a couple of french language CD’s but not sure if taking a class is better….perhaps both! I will have 5 days in Paris so I’ve got to make good use of my time and we will be photographing as much as we can! Thanks so much for your lovely blog! Dj

  4. So much enjoy all of your posts and tips…I long to be back en la belle France…soon, I hope…merci tellement…

  5. Merci! Two questions: 1)does one wait to be seated at a café (whether inside or outside), or is the customer expected to find his/her own seat? 2)Is there such a thing as “un déca crème,” or “déca au lait”?

  6. Bonjour !
    Je vous suis déjà sur Facebook avec ma page “La Bourgogne de Nathalie”, aujourd’hui je suis ravie de m’abonner à votre blog ! Les photos sont belles et il donne envie. Je ne suis pas sûre d’avoir toujours le temps de le lire, mais c’est pas grave. C’est amusant de voir décrit des détails auxquels on ne fait plus attention mais tellement vrai !
    Très bon week end !
    Nathalie

    • Merci de votre visite, Nathalie. Je reconnais votre nom pour l’avoir vu sur ma page Facebook. En ce qui concerne le blog, vous n’aurez aucun mal à le suivre, car je n’ai plus trop le temps d’écrire depuis que j’ai changé de travail il y a deux mois. La page Facebook, en revanche, est mise à jour quotidiennement. A bientôt.

  7. What valuable tips we found here! My daughter Kathleen and I enjoyed our meals near Beauvais, where our meals included lively conversation and informal French lessons. We have much left to learn so we feel we must return!

  8. If is so refreshing to hear someone speak of French waiters and not end the sentence in swearwords. I spent part of my youth in Orleans and have returned to France many times. I am so tired of people telling me the French hate Americans. Too many Americans do not appreciate that eating should be an experience to be savored ( no pun intended). Many wait persons in this country will hover over your table, interrupt your meal to see if you are satisfied, refill your water and generally make pests of themselves to prove their efficiency. When I tell them a good French waiter will come to your table when you indicate a desire for further service, not before. One of my most pleasant experiences with my wife was a spring afternoon and wine with a cheese side on the Rue De Rennes that lasted two hours. Great people watching. We are looking forward to an upcoming visit to Bordeaux l’ete prochain.

    • Merci beaucoup James. I recently posted a couple of articles about French and American waiters on my Facebook page, and it was obvious most people felt very strongly about the differences in service. I do enjoy my French waiters, indifferent or attentive, and even the occasionally surly one (but that’s probably because I miss France, and Europe ;-))

  9. My ‘boyfriend’ and I are traveling to Paris, Montpelier, Perpignan and Barcelona in September. He sent me a link to this blog post and I am delighted to have your advice to ‘study’ before our visit. It is a first trip to France for both of us.

  10. Love your practical information.
    After an ill afted trip with an American pal who
    was let’s say not receptive to French culture, I may travel alone next time.
    I really love the culture and the cuisine!
    My french is not to great,but I can improve with practice.
    I want to know how to make friends in while France?
    Sometimes I do see when waiter or shop worker finds out Im American
    the attitude is somewhat mean(not all the time ofcourse)
    Any tips??
    Merci

    • As a young man I lived in Orleans. I’ve returned to France on numerous occasions over the years. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “the French hate us. French waiters are mean” I’ve found this not to be true. Yes, we’ve had our differences with the French government. Thats the government, not the people in general. I think the perception that waiters are mean is a mis-understanding. The French enjoy eating. They appreciate good food. There is an understanding in France that dining is a pleasure, it is an activity to be thoroughly enjoyed. The idea that you rush in and consume a meal in less than twenty minutes is a catastrophe. The typical waiter fully understands that dining is an experience. They do not constantly interupt your dining experience by refilling your water, emptying your ashtray, taking away empty plates or asking how your are enjoying the meal, or if you want anything else. They will wait and watch. When you indicate you want service, they will come. They are not mean, they are leaving you alone.

  11. Great blog!
    We’re excited, but feel helpless when communication is an issue.
    My tongue is all twisted now from practicing my very limited french.
    It would be a perfect trip if only we can take you!
    😉

    • Well, merci beaucoup. I would love to tag along and be your interpreter 🙂 You will be fine if you learn a few greetings and basic expressions. Many people in Paris and on the French Riviera speak English quite decently. What matters is to make them *feel* like speaking English to you. A friendly attitude and a respectful greeting usually do the trick.

  12. What a wonderful & thoughtful idea! Thank you. I hope to receive, by email now, all additional blogs from you. My goal is to head to France next year(2017) for an extended stay. What time of year do you find the weather to be most suitable for travelers use to desert climates? I am thinking perhaps April, May, June?

    • The weather can be unpredictable, like everywhere else in the world right now. June is the busiest month in Paris so plan ahead if you are staying in a hotel. Spring and fall tend to be popular, because there can be fewer crowds then; and the weather is more pleasant than in the summer or winter. Still, I have been hot in Paris in June; and other years, I had to wear my trench coat and run between raindrops. I truly believe there is no bad time to see Paris. For a first visit, I’d go for spring or fall. Happy planning!

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La Mouzaïa: Secret Paris

La Mouzaïa: Secret Paris

Mouzaïa. Here is an unusual name for an unusual Parisian neighborhood. If you think you know Paris; if you have visited the landmarks, the best museums, (large or small,) the iconic neighborhoods, this small corner of the French capital may still surprise you. La Mouzaïa has a rich history, born in the second half of the 19th…

9 Responses to La Mouzaïa: Secret Paris

  1. I love reading your blog & looking at the photos you include. We went to Paris in October 2012 and I absolutely love Paris. We will be going back again.
    Your blog will help me determine where I would like to go see next time we go.

  2. How fun! Reading this was truly like being there. I did visit this neighborhood, years ago when I lived in Paris, but had forgotten all about it. Thanks for the reminder. And for the mini vacation…..

  3. A very interesting post of a quiet and old part of Paris. As always, thank you for the computer chair trip to Paris, smile.

  4. WHAT A GREAT READ!! so very interesting -AS ALWAYS!! I have missed my time spent here-been hectic with a couple different things here and didn’t want to read and comment half baked if you will. so I waited until I could fully disappear into your wonderful posts. off to read the next one!

    • I do appreciate your taking the time to visit and comment on each single post. Merci, g. I have missed you. I hope all is well in Philadelphia. Spring has finally arrived in Seattle. It’s been a mild winter, granted. Not sure about the time of my next trip, but you know me: I will return to France and Europe as soon as I can make it happen 😉

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Le Haut Marais, Paris

Le Haut Marais, Paris

So traditional, yet so modern. So predictable, yet so surprising: How does Paris do it? Every year, once I have returned to favorite neighborhoods, I need not look far to discover something new to get enthusiastic about. Last summer, I loved my stroll in SoPi (South Pigalle,) and wrote a story about the newly gentrified area around la rue des Martyrs. In…

15 Responses to Le Haut Marais, Paris

  1. Bonjour Veronique!
    It is wonderful to read your post about the Haut Marais!
    It would be lovely to meet and chat. Perhaps at Macrina Bakery on Queen Anne next to my current gallery show of Impressionist oil paintings from France, which opened this past weekend? On April 18, there is a second ooening for the Union des Francais a L’Etranger de Seattle, from 530pm to 730 pm.
    Would you like to come?
    Best regards,
    Valerie

  2. Absolutely wonderful photos of my favorite place on earth. Try to make it over to the Brasserie il st loui…ask for Paul Kapp, owner…such a great place to eat and watch the world go by.

  3. I love this neighborhood-the Moroccan meal looks delish-and I first enjoyed their delicious mint tea while eating in a very small restaurant in Tangier-on the second floor with sweeping views of the entire port city-loved it-Paris and it’s diversity-all close at hand GOTTA LOVE IT!! another wonderful informative post-love seeing Paris through your loving heart and eyes!

    • Merci beaucoup, g. I spent two days in le Haut Marais. I loved the area. The Couscous was probably my favorite part (that and finding that great boutique where I purchased the pretty natural fiber sweaters.)

  4. Nice exposition and photos and nostalgia-inducing because I lived at the southern and northern edges of this area. But I have mixed feelings about this kind of thing, i.e. a type of gentrification of another area of Paris. And the nerve of those in the 3rd trying to steal the Marais name so some of its hipsterdom magic rubs off 🙂 It inevitably means the property prices and rents go up. On the other hand, everything must be allowed to evolve …. I suppose.
    When I lived a bit further north–a few blocks from Republique just off the Canal St Martin, this area was not very hip at all, almost anti-hip. Now the Canal is apparently hipster central with canal-side picnics and pop-up restos on the weekend. And Place de la Republique has undergone a big renovation with one side of the Place closed to thru traffic.

    Earlier this year I read about the latest Paris foodie experiment that happens to be here in the Haut Marais: “La Jeune Rue” (The Young Street) on rue Vertbois along the side of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers. A whole street of 30+ restaurants and shops using biologique and locafood ingredients to present something a bit different from the usual. In April it was running late in its official opening. Perhaps it has been inspired by the nearby weekend marché Richard Lenoir which I think is one of the main ones for produits biologiques?
    …….
    Ooops. I thought before posting my comment I better Google it to see the latest news on La Jeune Rue and it doesn’t look good:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/10/world/europe/an-audacious-project-and-its-founder-slide-toward-failure-in-paris.html
    La Jeune Rue Project, and Its Founder, Slide Toward Failure in Paris
    By LIZ ALDERMAN, JUNE 9, 2015
    …………..
    Curiously, the man behind this ambitious project, Cédric Naudon, also owns the restaurant Le Sergent Recruteur on Ile St Louis. This is in the building I lived in for many years. Back then it wasn’t a Michelin starred restaurant like today, but a bit of a dive, frequented by mostly German and English tourists (I think it had one of those all-you-can-eat deals.)

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