Food, Coffee, and People

Eating in Paris, or anywhere in France, in many ways can be an experience just like eating anywhere else. You can get a great waiter or a crummy one, a fantastic meal or one you'd rather forget, 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, especially 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, there's no 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 not friendly, 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, hot, strong cup of steamy dark buzz.

Cafè au Lait: Similar to Italy's caffe latte, in France the cafè 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.

Cafè Americano: Yeah, that's what they call it-one shot of espresso with some hot water added. And you don't get a little piece of lemon peel, either. But it's not bad.

Cafè 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. Yes, you'll run into the occasional jerk, but you'd do that anywhere. Many people in Paris are busy and maybe 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 a little and appreciate a little about 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 Paris0France0Travel0Guide

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

· Getting Around Paris
· Around Paris
· Food, Coffee, and People
· Top Ten
· If You Have Time
· You Can Probably Skip It

First Things First

There is only one Paris, which is why so many have visited, and why so many more dream of being here, even for a little while. The French have centuries of history, a rich culture, exquisite cuisine and wine, and live in one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Parisians are deservedly and representatively proud of all this. After a few days, you'll easily see why.

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, you should always attempt French. It's a very sexy language, and if you learn a little, your hosts will be very appreciative that you've taken the time to do so, and you will then learn just how warm and friendly the French can be.

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Where to Stay

You'll be able to move around Paris with ease using the Mètro. The rest of the Continent can be reached via the city's major rail stations. If you like the convenience of staying near a rail station, choose the very comfortable, 3-star Minotel Francais in the 9th arrondissement. The Minotel Francais is just a short walk from the Gare de l'Est and Gare du Nord rail stations in a pleasant and lively part of the city.

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Getting to Your Hotel

...From Charles de Gaulle International Airport
One of the best ways to get into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport is the RER-B line. This is a commuter rail line, not a Paris Mètro line. The RER station is beneath Terminal 2. It can be cumbersome getting to the rail station and it can be crowded there once you arrive. Trains leave every 15 minutes for Les Halles, St.-Michel, and Luxembourg (see Mètro information below) and cost about $11. If you have a lot of luggage or if you're not prepared to stand, walk, and carry much, opt for a terminal bus or taxi downtown.

Directly outside each terminal are the Roissy and Air France buses (the latter available even if you have not flown Air France) to Place de l'Opera and Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysees, respectively. They may not stop at each terminal bus stop, especially at rush hour, so you'll have to flag them down. Depending on traffic, this very popular mode of carriage takes up to 50 minutes and costs roughly $13 each way. (Ask for a return trip schedule when you board; plan on picking up the bus where it dropped you off.) From there, hop in a taxi or use the tres Parisienne Mètro (below).

A taxi will take anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes, depending on traffic, and cost about $65 dollars per ride. Some drivers charge extra for more than one or two riders. Agree on a price with the driver before climbing in.

...From Orly International Airport
From Orly, one of the easiest ways into the city is the RER-C line. This is a commuter rail line, not a Paris Mètro line. The RER station can be reached via a free shuttle bus from the terminals. The fare is about $8 and takes about 35 minutes. Once in Paris, use a taxi or the Mètro (see Mètro information below).

You may opt for the Air France bus to Les Invaldes, even if you're not an Air France passenger. The fare is roughly $10 and the ride takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

A taxi will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic, and cost about $45 dollars per ride. Some drivers charge extra for more than one or two riders. Agree on a price with the driver before climbing in.

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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.

Check in, freshen up, and, with your bags unpacked, your room key in your pocket, a city and Mètro map, and a few spare euros, Paris is all yours!

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Getting Around Paris

Ahh, the Mètro. The city's subway system is one of the cleanest, safest, and most efficient on earth. Many stations are works of art themselves, as are the decorative (some say tacky) "Metropolitan" signs and railings that signal the entrance to many stations. Purchase a Paris Visite (check, link) or a carnet (book of 10 tickets) for an even more economical ride. The system is set up so that you can get from almost anywhere in the city to almost anywhere in the city without more than one connection.

Pick up a Mètro map at your hotel, or look for a combination city/Mètro map printed by Printemps or Galleries Lafayette (with locations of the sponsoring department store conveniently printed on both sides). *Note: There are two things you must keep in mind when using the Mètro. Metro directions are given using the name of the last terminal (in the direction you are headed) for the line you are on. Always know the name of this station. More importantly, always keep your validated card or ticket with you until you are well out of the station at your destination. If a Mètro official or police officer requests to see your validated stub at any point along your journey, until you leave the station, and you cannot produce it, things can get unpleasant.

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Around Paris

Some have spent lifetimes experiencing all that Paris has to offer. Before you set into seeing the big things, remember that there are little things around every corner, down every street, hidden in restaurants, churches, and parks throughout the City of Light. Of course, there are some things everyone should do, a few you should make time for if you can, and a few others you can skip. Here they are:

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Top Ten:

Eiffel Tower: If you're interested in visiting Paris, then you already know quite well what the Eiffel Tower looks like. Still, it is very often first on the list of things to do, so make a little time for it. A ride to the top will set you back about $14, but you can take great pictures and get a snack. At night, the views of the tower and from the tower are fantastic and the lines are shorter.

The Louvre, Jardin Tuileries: It could take weeks to see it all. You'll have to limit yourself. If you're determined to see the world's most famous smile, be prepared to join the throngs oohing and aahing the Mona Lisa, and at least glance at the other great works by the artist that are just next door. Otherwise, the crown jewels, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Michelangelo's Slaves, and so much more are at home at the world's largest museum. The general entrance fee is about $11, but it's half price on Sundays and most late afternoons. The lines to get in, then the lines to get screened, then the lines to get a ticket can be long. Be patient. Tuileries, adjacent to the Place de la Concorde, is ideally situated for a post-Champs-èlysèes rest en route to the Louvre. They were designed by the same landscape architect that completed the gardens at Versailles.

Pompidou and Museèe d'Orsay: The energetic Centre National d'Art et de Culture, or Centre Pompidou, as it is commonly known, is a sight itself, with its guts (utility pipes and structural support) on the outside, painted in vibrant primary colors. Inside is a vast collection of Modern art, some of which complements the building itself. The Musèe d'Orsay, one of the city's star attractions, houses an impressive collection of French art from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries as well as a model of a Paris neighborhood, which you can view from above standing on a glass floor. Admission is about $8-$10 for each.

Sacre Coeur and Montmartre: Like many famous attractions in Paris (Eiffel Tower, Centre Pompidou, I.M. Pei's thing at the Louvre), Sacre Couer was the subject of some controversy when it was built because of its Byzantine design. But it's a favorite among tourists (who flock for the view and spectacular interior) and locals (who hang out on the steps in front and be Parisian). Walk up or ride the funicular railway to the highest point in Paris, then climb the steps of the dome for even better views. Admission to the basilica is free; expect to pay a few dollars for a funicular ride or admission to the dome and crypt. Around Sacre Coeur is the Montmartre neighborhood (you've heard of its crêpes, oui?). The enlightening Musèe Montmartre will fill you in on a great deal of the history of the neighborhood, Sacre Coeur, and the city.

Rodin Museum, Picasso Museum: Thank heavens for taxes. The Picasso heirs owed the French government some dues upon the death of the master, but donated hundreds of little-known works by the artist in lieu. The government, in turn, opened a fantastic museum in the Marais. (And it actually looks like a museum.) In a quieter part of town, the Musèe Rodin is home to scores of sculptures by the father of Modern Art. Outside is a wonderful rose garden-set aside some time to sit and Think, it's a wonderful atmosphere out there.

Cathedrale de Notre-Dame: For years, guidebooks had a note warning readers to be extra careful of pick-pockets inside. The situation seems to have been cleared up a little, but you can get stuck in a very dense crowd once inside. So use caution, just the same. Join the masses outside taking photographs in front of the now, nearly completely restored, façade. Heading up to the take in the view from the towers? You may consider it Quasi-impossible, but you move up the stairs faster than you might think.

Latin Quarter, Montparnasse, Jardin du Luxembourg: The neighborhoods are each quintessential Paris in their own way. The Quartier Latin can be something of a tourist trap in the shops and cafès, but the atmosphere is authentic. Montparnasse has a similar selection of bookshops and cafès on the other side of the Luxembourg Gardens. Former Queen and ever the Florentine, Marie de Medici had the Jardin du Luxembourg built to remind her of the most elegant gardens of Florence, the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery: Finding Jim Morrison can be a fun game. People watching is even better. Or, just grab a baguette and some cheese and have a picnic in this, the largest park in Paris. Admission is free, but you'll want to spend a few dollars on a cemetery map, which can be purchased from a kiosk on one of the surrounding streets

Les Invalides: The star attraction, Napoleon's ornate tomb, is at home in this imposing 17th-century military hospital. Constructed by the (normally selfish) Louis XIV for injured veterans, the hospital was once home to thousands of former soldiers; it cares for only a few hundred. The Musèe de l'Armèe is one of the largest military museums in the world. Admission is about $8.

A Good Meal in Paris need not be a major event. You might treat yourself to one of the more expensive restaurants or brasseries, or enjoy a simple but authentic meal at bistro or cafè. Either way, make sure you have given yourself enough time to linger and enjoy the meal, even if it's a small one. Order dessert. Sip your coffee slowly. The French take pride in every meal they cook, serve, eat, and share; these are events that should be savored.

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If You Have Time:

Palace of Versailles: It's a relatively short RER ride from the city out to Versailles. There is good signage indicating how to get from the station to the palace, which is very close by. The gardens, rooms, dècor, and teeming narcissism of Louis XIV are all on display. You could spend hours wandering the gardens. Look around corners, over hedges, and beyond walls for beautiful views. Entrance to the park starts at about $9 and goes up from there, depending on what part of the palace and gardens you want to see.

Opera Garnièr: Once the largest theatrical venue in the world, the Opèra Garnier is still superlative. There are no endangered damsels, no mysterious phantoms, but the place is still wildly entertaining, both during shows and otherwise. Don't miss Chagall's famous painted ceiling, which surrounds the chandelier.

Picnic: If you've planned ahead (you brought plastic cutlery with you from home and stuffed a small blanket in your knapscak) you can do entirely on a whim, whenever the mood strikes you, whenever a good location presents itself, and whenever you find a warm, crusty baguette just waiting to be broken in two. Find some nice, soft cheese to spread on it, then an inexpensive bottle of wine or some mineral water. A little fresh fruit and some chocolate rounds out your snack. Ooh la la!

Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe: From the Place de la Concorde, walk up the Champs-Elysees past the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile station to the stairs near the traffic circle. This is the entrance to the underground passage to the monument and tomb of the unknown soldier. Although you should see the avenue and monument during the day, take the trip under the traffic circle at night. Hop up on one of the giant "legs" of the monument, admire the lights, and with traffic whizzing by and the Champs-Elysees ahead of you, you'll feel like you're at the center of the world. You may also enjoy the small museum at the far end of the tunnel.

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You Can Probably Skip It

Galleries Lafayette : Well, don't skip it entirely. Many of the stores are very beautiful, and the displays, especially at Christmas time, will be worth a few snaps and flashes. But don't give in to impulsive purchases right away. There is fine shopping throughout the city, and although you may find the occasional bargain item at Galleries Lafayette, chances are you could save a few Euros by picking it up elsewhere.

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