Paris Treats and a Few Tips
There is something about being in France that makes me want to eat the most unhealthy food I can find, and lots of it. Dave has already shared the wonders of the French baguette, but I have a sweet tooth so my interests lie mostly in sweets rather than savories.
Our few days in Paris were mainly under grey skies and rain clouds. Perfect weather for finding the best treats in town.
The Great Crêpe Challenge I have come to adore crêpes for so many reasons. In three days in Paris, I ate at least eight of them (eek!). We made our own a few times at home with crêpes bought at the grocery store and we also attempted to find the best crêpes in town. Since we were in Paris primarily on a Sunday and Monday (see the tips section below), our choice for crêperies to make the list of our great crêpe challenge was limited. Even so, we still managed to find a couple tasty spots for savory and sweet crêpes. Both in the 11th arrondissement near our rented flat, these shops are small, quaint and off the normal tourist route.
Crêperie Bretonne, 67 Rue de Charonne - An old school shop with a traditional menu. It felt like we stepped back into time when we walked in here. The lunch menu included a savory and sweet crepe for 9 Euros.
West Country Girl, 6 Passage Saint-Ambroise - West Country Girl is a newer restaurant with a retro feel, the staff here was incredibly nice and the crêpes were heavenly. The lunch menu included a salad, break, savory and sweet crêpe, along with a glass of cider or wine for 12 Euros. Trust me, the cider is the perfect accompaniment.
Liquid Chocolate The Louvre is closed on Tuesday, which made it the best day to stop by Angelina for a cup of their miraculous hot chocolate. At 5 Euros, it is not a bargain, but it is heavenly goodness. It is like a melted Godiva chocolate swirling around in a cup. We didn't have time to eat in the tearoom so instead we salivated over the desserts in the shop while happily sipping our hot chocolate. It is typically packed with tourists, but there was hardly anyone there on a late Tuesday morning.
Paris Travel Tips As probably the most popular city in Europe, Paris can be overwhelming (and expensive) for most visitors. We learned a few Parisian tips during our visit worth sharing.
Know your arrondissement - Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements. They are essentially the different neighborhoods that make up the city. Most of the main tourist attractions are located in the 1st, 3rd and 7th arrondissements and those areas can be crowded and full of the typical tourist shops and restaurants. For a more local experience, try staying in an outlying arrondissement that provides a better color of working-class Paris life. Once you know where you are staying, start to research restaurants, cafes and museums in your arrondissement. Most articles written by people living in Paris usually break down their recommendations by this designation. We found some great recommendations near our apartment by researching things with our arrondissement in mind. Airbnb has a wide selection of reasonably priced studio apartments across all the arrondissements.
Ask a local - Our Airbnb host told us about European Heritage Days when we arrived that helped us have a fantastic day touring some lesser known Paris sites. We also got a tip about discounted standing room tickets at the Opera Bastille when arriving the day of the show before the box office opens. If interested in catching an opera for just 5 Euros, find the "standing tickets" line under the main stairs around 5 p.m. Typically, a local will be there handing out numbers for the queue up to 32. At 6 p.m. when the box office opens, up to 32 people can buy 2 tickets each at the lobby ticket machines. The night we saw the premier of Vek Makropulos we were able to sit in actual seats before the show started due to a number of open seats in our area. The ticket machines only take coins or credit cards with a chip so come prepared.
Speaking of cards with chips - For some reason, the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the developed world with our credit and debit cards. Across New Zealand, Australia and now all over Europe, everyone has a credit card with a special chip in it that requires a PIN number when paying for an item. A much more secure way to pay rather than just signing a receipt. Our cards issued in the U.S. don't have the chip and it is a huge inconvenience when traveling in these countries. Our cards don't work in machines to purchase things like train tickets and other things only available using cards with chips. We have learned to be prepared with cash and especially coins for riding the metro and taking trains.
Mealtimes - Lunch can be a great value in Paris. Most restaurants will have menus of the day for around 10 Euros, which often include an appetizer and a meal (and sometimes dessert). For bigger menus, sharing your meal with someone else is a great way to safe a few Euros for the other snacks you will eat, or wine you will drink, throughout the day. We were able to share great lunches for 9-12 Euros and be completely satisfied with our meal.
"Fermi" - Unlike the States where stores and restaurants are open every day, Paris establishments shut their doors on Sundays and often Mondays too. If you will be in town on a Sunday and Monday, do some advanced planning to find out what may or may not be open before you make the cross-city trek to a restaurant and find its doors closed.
Get lost? No thanks! - All the advice I read about Paris said to just get lost in the city and wander around. I like to wander and find interesting things, but don't care to be "lost," especially when walking 10 kilometers a day on concrete. I use the maps app on my smartphone constantly when we are in big cities to see where we are in relation to where we want to be. Even if you don't have cellular service on your phone when traveling to another country, you can easily use the GPS capabilities in apps like Google Maps and iPhone Maps. When you are somewhere with Wifi, go into your maps app and have it find your current location. At that point, zoom in and out of the map to get the app to recognize the streets of the city you are in. Later, when you are walking around without Wifi or cellular service, the GPS in the app will still be able to locate where you are. You won't be able to search for directions, but you can get an idea of where you are in the city, where the closest Metro stop is, etc. Significantly better than standing on a corner with a huge paper map trying to figure out where you are.
Paris surprised us in so many ways. We typically don't like to spend much time in big cities and were not prepared to love Paris as much as we did since we had both visited years before. It is a city with A LOT going on if you can do the legwork to find a few hidden gems.