Food, Coffee, and People

Eating in Paris, or anywhere else in France can be an eye-opening experience. You can get a fabulous waiter or a crummy one. It's possible to score a fantastic meal, or consume one that you'd rather forget. You may get a great deal or pay too much. Here's the trick: Stop outside the eatery before going in and check out the menu. Many menus in Paris are printed in French and English, but if not, study a few of the common words (chicken, vegetables, etc.). Prix fixe on the menu means that there is a selection of set meals for a certain price. Many menus may also offer a la carte, in which case you'll pay for each item individually. In France, tax is included in your bill, and tipping is a little different. Leave a few Euros to round up to the nearest five or ten-Euro mark.

As for the great/crummy waiter challenge, there's no universal tip we can offer you here, but remember this: serving food in France is taken very seriously. Waiters are trained to be quick, attentive, and out-of-sight. You may think your waiter is aloof, when in fact he or she is trying to be as professional and discreet as possible.

At home, there's coffee ("You want cream and sugar with that?") and then there's coffee ("I'll have the triple Madagascar coconut almond crème skim latte!"*). In Paris, you have several options, many more than what is listed here, but this list will get you started.

Espresso: One small, concentrated cup of steamy dark buzz.

Caf au Lait: Similar to Italy's caffe latte, in France the caf au lait is served as brewed coffee, rather than espresso, with equal parts of steamed milk.

Cappuccino: Traditional espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk, in equal parts-with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top for kicks.

Caf Americano: Yeah, that's what they call it-one shot of espresso with some hot water added. You don't get a slice of lemon peel either, but it's not bad.

Caf Mocha: Sometimes served in oversized cups, real mocha has no chocolate but equal parts roasted coffee, espresso, and steamed milk.

Chocolat au Lait: This is for chocolate lovers-just hot chocolate, but a little creamier, popular in the morning.

Now, disregard the old notions about the French or Parisians being rude. It's simply not true...well, it's no more of a reality than it is in any other large city. Anyone who has been to France will give you this advice: if you know any French, use it. If you don't, learn a little. Simple phrases will do just fine. Smile. You'll catch more abeilles with miel. Many people in Paris are busybodies and may seem a little stressed out. Moreover, they're not on vacation like you. They simply might be short on time. Overall, if you make an effort to learn and appreciate the language and culture, you'll win new amies, honest!

*Editor's Note: We're not at all sure whether they have coconuts in Madagascar.

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European France0Travel0Guide

· First Things First
· Where to Stay
· Getting Around
· At Your Hotel

· Getting Around France
· Around France
· Food, Coffee, and People
· Musts
· If You Have Time

First Things First

France is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. It offers every conceivable attraction imaginable, from world-class art collections, exotic cuisine, to picturesque villages and vistas. You'll find unsurpassed shopping and enough history to exhaust your brain. From the Atlantic to the Riviera, from the Massif Central to the Alps, from Paris to the Pyrenees, France is packed with hidden and easy-to-spot treasures.

France is a member of the Eurozone, the group of countries that uses the Euro currency (€). Prices below are expressed in U.S. dollars for convenience; check the rate of exchange prior to arrival in Europe. Although English is common, in Paris you should always attempt French. It's a very smooth language, and if you learn a little, your hosts will be very appreciative that you've taken the time to do so. Attempting just a few French words will get a great response and you'll see just how warm and friendly the French can be. In Provence, Italian may get you somewhere, and English is not as common, though you still shouldn't have too much trouble communicating. In out-of-the-way places or remote towns, keep your phrase book with you. Spanish or Catalan is spoken in the extreme south near the border with Spain and some towns along the German border are, effectively, bi-lingual French and German.

Where to Stay

Make reservations well in advance during peak travel periods (primarily summer). Most hotels fit nicely into the one-to-five-star rating system, so you'll almost always know exactly what you're going to find once you step inside your room. Air conditioning is not as common in France nor in the lower-rated hotels, so you might choose to pay a little more for the coolest of creature comforts. Otherwise, hotels in France are, as a rule, modern and almost always clean and well kept. Expect to pay up to 20% bed or room tax anywhere in the country.

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Getting to Your Hotel and Getting Around

Public transportation throughout France is generally modern, punctual, and comparatively inexpensive. Larger cities, such as Nice, Marseille, Lyon, and Paris, have an advanced network of buses, trams, and/or subways that can easily whisk you from place to place. For smaller places, or for exploring lots of places in one region, a rental car or a railpass is a popular way to move around.

Driving in France is a little tricky till you get the hang of it. In larger cities, expect lots of tiny, fast-moving ojects whizzing by here and there. Sometimes they're scooters, other times they're little bitty Smartcars. Driving in Paris can be a challenge, especially around the massive intersection that circumnagivates the famous Arc de Tiumphe, which is the nucleus and origin of the main avenues. Be careful. Out on the open road, the highway system is broken down into autoroutes (major highways), national thoroughfares, and regional roads. Obey the speed limits, as fines can be stiff, and look out for fast-approaching traffic circles and (sometimes) expensive tolls.

Using the extensive rail network of France is easy, efficient, and economical. Speedy, modern trains can whisk you between London and Paris, Paris and Nice, or other cities in no time. Other trains serve just about every city, town, and village in France, most of which have a tourist office right inside the station, which makes making last-minute decisions a worry-free excercise. Railpasses offer either a set or flexible amount of travel days. There are also different classes of service at varying rates.

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At Your Hotel

Free city maps and other information can usually be obtained in hotel lobbies or from the front desk. Once you're in your room, take a moment to reflect upon where you are...Paris, the city of romance!

Travel Outside Paris

You'll be busy, no matter how much time you have. However, to properly experience France you must begin in Paris, and then leave it behind for the chateauxs, beaches, riverside towns, mountaintop villages, vineyards, resorts, lakes, forests, castles, and country roads that make France such an incredibly beautiful country. People have spent lifetimes exploring the rich fabric of French culture and it's history, but perhaps we can assist you in maximizing your time to include those sites that are on the "checklist of places to see before one dies!"

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Places: Everyone goes to Paris, and you shouldn't miss it, although skip it if you don't have at least two full days set aside to explore this marvelous city. There's simply too much to see and do to tackle in a day. Besides Paris, the beaches of the Riviera, the villages of Provence, and the coasts of Normandy and Brittany are some of the most visited hangouts. Mountaintop towns in the Massif Central, lakeside villages in Savoy, and riverside spots in the Loire Valley are right up there too. And the list goes on and on...

Cathedrals: Notre Dame is France's most famous, but those in Rouen and Strasbourg are among the most beautiful.

Chateaux: Versailles and Fontainebleu, just outside of Paris, are very worthwhile day trips from the capital, while Chambord and Cheverny in the Loire Valley impress even the most jaded wonder hunter.

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Outdoor Adventures: Bike tours are very popular, especially through vineyards and along rural roads past old villages. Of course, skiing, surfing, and hiking take on new meaning when done in the Alps, on the Atlantic Coast, and along the nation's numerous marked trails.

Back to School: Countless language and cooking classes, as well as water sports instruction, are available in cities and villages throughout. Many offer lodging and a little sightseeing along with instruction.

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