International Writers Magazine: France
Time You Go to Paris and you dont have to be rich
A lot of Americans disparage France
these days, but many have never been there, which doesnt
seem quite fair. My American-born husband is half French and a
devoted Francophile. He first took me there on our honeymoon in
2000. Weve made many trips since then and always meet people
with such joie de vivre. We always feel welcomed since individuals
do not judge us by what our government leaders do nor do
we judge France by what its leaders do.
The French are different
from us, and they should be. Thanks to books like French or Foe by Polly
Platt, Ive come to understand and appreciate the French. My mother-in-law
is a Mayflower descendent and her 57-year marriage to her French descendent
husband has found a whole new meaning since we introduced her to the
book French Toast by Harriet Welty Rochefort. We laugh together when
we see the traits of father and son explained with such clarity and
On our first trip together we did a lot of the usual tourist stuff,
and so should any newcomer. Museums and such require an entrance fee.
Many sites are free. We toured Le Louvre and will always know weve
been eyeball-to-eyeball with Mona Lisa, as well as many of her famous
associates. The museum is overwhelming in size and requires careful
planning to fully enjoy your visit. The Cathedral Notre Dame makes for
a great photo-op on the outside, and is poignant beyond compare on its
interior. La Tour Eiffel can be seen from all over the city. As you
finally get near it, be ready to be awestruck. The view from above is
breathtaking. Even if you fear heights and stay below, the view "looking
up" is nearly as magical! You also must stroll the Champs-Elysée.
Its the boulevard that offers the pulse of the city with its energy
and cornucopia of nationalities. Shopping ranges from affordable to
outrageous, but theres plenty to see without buying a thing. The
scenery is also extra special during the Christmas holiday season. At
one end of the boulevard is the Arch de Triomphe. Its another
landmark photo-op and you can climb the hundreds of stairs to the view
from the top. You can also get a charge out of watching the infamous
Parisian drivers navigate its circle.
The Palace of Versailles is a train ride away. Its extravagance is incredible.
I personally appreciate The Biltmore in North Carolina more. But, it
represents an important time in Frances history and has to be
seen to be believed.
On this our seventh trip weve reserved two nights up in the old
artists colony of Montmartre, which many tourists think of as the "real"
Paris. From the Timhotel, a charming place and reasonably priced at
around sixty euros a night, we follow a maze of steep and crooked little
streets looking much the way Renoir, van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and
the other Impressionists saw them. On the highest point of Montmartre
is the Basilique le Sacré-coeur. This church dominates the area
and is a major landmark of Paris. Its another great spot for photographs
and a panoramic view of the city, day or night. A short walk from here
is Place du Tertre, a neighborhood square filled with street artists,
retail shops, restaurants and cafés. Even though this area has
become "very tourist" we still like the feel of it and enjoy
people watching. On our first afternoon, we sit outside one of the cafes,
and I feast on my favorite French dish (even though it sounds Italian)
We carefully study the artists strolling around in hopes of seeing Jean-Claude
Maxim, a local artist we met who reminds me of the American actor Kelsey
Grammar, and wears a distinctive red coat. For unique portraits youll
be proud to take home, hes your man.
Down the hill from Montmartre, at 82 Boulevard de Clichy, is the famed
Moulin Rouge. The bright red neon windmill provides another great backdrop
for photos. The
shows are spectacular, but you can get a better quality meal elsewhere,
so we dont recommend the dinner show.
In France, breakfast (petit déjeuner) is between 7:30 and 9:30
am. In hotels it is usually buffet-style, offering boiled oeufs (eggs),
sliced jambon (ham), dry cereals like Corn Flakes, an assortment of
pastries, milk, orange juice and coffee (or tea). Lunch (déjeuner)
is from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. Except for large retailers, most businesses
close during this time so that the proper commitment can be made to
the mid-day meal. Plan your day accordingly. Dinner (diner) will not
be offered until around 7:30 in the evening and serving will stop around
10:00 p.m. Because the French usually work until 6:00 or 6:30 p.m.,
they typically dine after 8 oclock.
Late-night eating places can be surprisingly difficult to find, but
if in need watch for the bright red logo of Hippopotamus. A national
chain, open until 1 a.m., its what the French consider fast food,
but you would never confuse this place with McDonalds. The atmosphere
is upscale and modern, the menu vast, the food delicious, and the price
If you want to stick out like an American tourist, wear shirts and caps
with American brand logos or statements. Also be loud and aggressive.
If you prefer to blend in a bit, wear neutral colors, especially black
in winter. Ladies, wear silk scarves around your neck, tasteful jewelry,
and fashionable walking shoes. If you plan to shop, being "dressed
up" shows respect to the shopkeeper. In winter, everyone wears
long wool scarves wrapped around their necks, and most wear hats for
warmth. Speak softly, especially in restaurants and close quarters.
And, always, I repeat always, be polite. When asking for directions
or information, first say "Excusez-moi de voous déranger,
monsier (or madame)
" ("Excuse me for disturbing you,
Sir, or Madame
").When you enter an establishment, always
say "bonjour" (hello, good day), and when you leave "au
revoir" (goodbye) or "bonsoir" (good evening/night).
To make it even better, add "monsieur" or "madame"
and their name, if you know it. So many Americans have accused the French
of being rude and cold when actually they are compassionate and helpful.
They simply dont respond well to what they consider bad manners.
Warren also reminds me that walking down the street smiling at strangers
is fine for downtown Charleston, but not for Paris. The French public
face is closed.
On our second day, we tour the Musée dOrsay. Its nationally
owned collections originate from three main institutions: the Musée
du Louvre, the Musée du Jeu de Paume, and the Musée National
d'Art Moderne. The Musée d'Orsay concentrates on a given period
(1848 to 1914) and includes collections of furniture, architecture and
photography in addition to its paintings, sculptures, and graphic and
decorative arts. Were able to see the fabulous collection within
Afterward, we walk over to 76 Rue Rambuteau and find sanctuary from
the drizzling rain in the Restaurant Salon de The Glacier. There we
indulge in totally decadent desserts of Fondant Au Chocolate and Tarte
Citron, with espresso for Warren and Cafe Au Lait for me (yes, Im
We decide to take the Metro back to our hotel. The underground railway
system is a wonderful way to get around Paris and always interesting.
Sometimes a reincarnation of the late torch singer Edith Piaf performs
La Vie en Rose for us. This time, unfortunately, its a man with
a synthesizer singing American hits from the 60s. I recommend
that you learn about the Metro before you go. The key is getting on
the right train for the direction youre going (experience speaks!)
You can take the train from the airports and you can also purchase passes
for frequent use. Of course, there may be times when taking a taxi is
a convenient, if not adventurous, idea.
Later for dinner we cross the courtyard from our hotel to Relais De
La Butte. The atmosphere is very romantic with soft lighting and interior
walls of ancient stone and rustic wood. The menu offers a range of sophisticated
choices and the quality of our meal met my husbands picky gourmet
palette. Enough said.
On our last day we do a quick shopping spree in one of the citys
largest shopping areas, Forum Des Halles. In the Halles district are
pedestrian walkways with shops and stalls and kiosks, plus a large underground
contemporary shopping mall. This is where you belong if haute couture
is not in your budget. If your schedule permits, you should also check
out the Parisian flea markets; and, if you want antiques, its
a necessary trip!
All of these incredible places are now as close as your keyboard, as
the Internet offers both the photography and the necessary information
to make planning a visit easier than ever before. You can type in the
subject or official name of anything Ive mentioned and your favorite
search engine will deliver. Your local book store also carries many
wonderful books that are extremely helpful in planning your own successful
trip. Just remember and expect to do a lot of walking!
As I bid au revoir to France, Im anxious to feel my feet on Charleston
sidewalks. But, I know that one evening soon Ill need to walk
down to my favorite French bistro, order a glass of Bordeaux and call
out "bonsoir" to all who walk in the door. A trip to Paris
will affect you in a similar fashion.
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