Paris Metro: Every city should have this mass transit system.
As our quick trip to Paris draws to a close, we came up with a list of survival tips to help you should you ever visit Paris. Many of these tips reflect what makes Paris different, charming, and even lovable.
Here they are in order of importance, sort of:
1) Don’t drive. Streets are a maniacal mess with no place to park. Not even Parisians should drive in Paris. We’re shocked we didn’t see fatalities. In fact, we saw only five minor fender-benders.
INSTEAD: We love the Metro. It’s interconnected. There are 14 lines plus 4 trains reaching every part of metropolitan Paris with extensions to such places as Versailles, Giverny and Disneyland. It’s on time. Other than Bastille Day, there is a train every two minutes, 20 hours a day. It’s fast. You can get nearly anywhere within 20 minutes.
2) Don’t wear clunky running shoes. That means you’re a tourist. You won’t get service. Pickpockets will target you.
YET: We love walking. Yes, you will walk to your destinations and climb stairs at the Metro stations. Escalators at Metros and some buildings are few. Elevators nearly non-existent.
So get in shape now. And buy fashionable walking shoes. My Sofft high heels, Josef-Siebel gladiator sandals with 1-inch heels and Cole-Haan Mary Jane flats with Nike Air soles were my favorites. We walked at least five miles and climbed 100 steps a day. Our legs still are sore. But we lost weight!
3) Don’t bring a small purse. And don’t bring a backpack. You will buy and carry lots of stuff. Yet a backpack shows you are a tourist. One of our fellow students did not feel the pickpocket’s hand as he slipped her wallet out of the zipped pocket facing her back. It’s his job. He does it 24-7. A backpack is an open invitation to him.
INSTEAD: Carry a shopping bag purse. They are big, roomy and zip at the top. You can wear them over the shoulder or across the chest. You clutch them close to your side when you walk and on your lap when on the Metro. It’s very Parisian. Never put them on a chair rung or on the floor. Men should bring messenger bags.
4) Don’t expect consistent temperatures. During our visit, we had Arizona sunbake temperatures and Portland winter rains.
INSTEAD: Wear layered clothes. Bring an umbrella and a couple of weights of jackets. Do plan on bringing knit lightweight sweaters and cardigans. When the weather warms up and stops raining, you can put them in your shopping bag purse.
5) Things will cost more than you expect. The euro runs 1.65 more than the US dollar. And most stores and museums want cash. Bring a charge card for purchases more than 10 euros at larger stores. Bring a debit card to pull cash out of an ATM. A typical restaurant salad costs 11 euros 50 ($19 US); a Coke costs 4 euros 50 ($7.50 US). Water at the store costs 1 euro 20 ($2 US). And it goes up from there.
INSTEAD: We love to scrounge. If your hotel offers breakfast (= petit dejeuner), bring a ziplock bag and pack lunch (= dejeuner). Bring a water bottle and fill it up at the hotel. Bring protein bars to tide you over when you need a snack. Go to the grocery instead of the restaurant. Our favorite: a natural food store with the most immaculate produce we’ve ever seen: Seva Natura on Boulevard Arago. It’s run by Lidie and her son, Pascal.
6) Parisians don’t believe in air circulation. We went to the Fondation Yves St. Laurent on one of the hot days. Here we were, in a small room with all the doors and windows closed. And there were the workers in long sleeves and jackets. We thought we were going to pass out. They didn’t seem to notice.
INSTEAD: Use the local “alimentation” stores. Paris is a city of walkers, not drivers. France is a country focused on full employment. So every block has a fruit stand and a pharmacy. Many of these also carry hardware. So if you come here in July, immediately stop by an alimentation and pick up a fan for 16 euros. The good news: windows have no screens. That means no bugs! And you get instant air circulation with your fan.
7) Don’t assume anything and be prepared. If you need batteries for an appliance, bring extras. Get plug adapters for French electrical outlets. Bring an extra memory stick for your camera; you will take lots of pictures. Buy a museum pass card and plan to go to museums early – or late on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Louvre – to avoid crowds. Franklin-LaRousse makes an electronic French-English dictionary. Buy one; it’s smaller and faster than a dictionary. Bring a map of Paris. Learn a little French before you go.
The only thing you can assume: The French are fabulous people. Especially our friends Agnes and Peter. In general, the French you meet will tell you they can’t speak English. But the minute you try to speak a little French, they suddenly come out with full sentences in English. And they are helpful when you are lost or trying to find something.
If I can convince you of anything, it is that you must come to Paris. If you are interested in fashion, food or culture, you must experience this city. This is my third trip and I’m coming back next year with my niece, my cousin and a friend. A bientot, Paris, mon amour!