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
Cafë au Lait: Similar to Italy's caffe latte, in France
the cafë 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
Cafë 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.
Cafë Mocha: Sometimes served in oversized cups, real
mocha has no chocolate but equal parts roasted coffee, espresso, and
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.
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
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
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
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
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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