clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


The French cry of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was always a little weak on the "fraternity" side.

If you were an American in Paris, chances were good that you'd be treated like an pesky annoyance to be endured with Gallic contempt.All that has changed. It is a kinder, gentler Paris than the one we remember from 15 years ago.

People not only tolerate your bad French, they speak English to you and go out of their way to help. Maybe the new generation realizes that the Atlantic is not that big a puddle.

But whatever it is, it makes springtime in Paris the dream that painters, songwriters and lovers have been describing for centuries.

The bad news is that Paris is still not cheap. But there are ways of circumventing the high costs by traveling the subway, buying museum passes and shopping at smaller boutiques without the Paris labels.

You can purchase a museum pass at major subway stations, museums or the National Tourist Bureau. A one-day pass costs $14, for three consecutive days it's $28 and a five-day pass costs $40. If you plan to visit a few of the 65 museums and monuments in Paris, it's worth the price.

While you're in Paris you'll be compelled to follow all the "tourist" rituals, there's no way around it. You could spend weeks just stalking the museums.

A guided bus tour is handy for a quick overview, which might help determine what you'd like to visit later. But find out if the tour offers a live person giving the talk or a recording. The recordings are difficult to hear and often sketchy. Prices vary according to duration and destination, but a four-hour coach tour of the city starts at $54. A full-day's tour costs $140.

You'll undoubtedly want to visit the Louvre, the oldest museum in the world, on the Rue de Rivoli. Open from 9 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. on Wednesdays, and 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Entry is $9 until 3 p.m., then falls to $5.20.

The Eiffel Tower, which was called "ungodly" by the city fathers when it was first built in 1889, can offer a breathless view from what seems like the top of the world for $11.20.

Hotel des Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, is not a hotel at all, but a monument built by the spendthrift Louis XIV as a hospital for veterans. The church there is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., a military museum is also on the site.

Ambling the winding streets of the artists' colony at Montmartre is something not to miss. You can ride the subway across town for about $1.50, and subway tickets will take you to the top of Montmartre aboard the cable car.

If you buy subway tickets in multiples, you save. And the Metro is the only way to fly in Paris. Taxis are expensive (starting at $2.60 before you've gone an inch) and the Metro system is easy to figure out.

The classic example of Gothic architecture, Notre Dame and its flying buttresses, is situated on the island, Ille de la Cite, in the middle of the Seine, the one-time center of Paris.

The towers - where you'll come eye-to-eye with a gargoyle - are open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays from 2-6 p.m.

If you can afford the time, take a side trip to Versailles, the one-time hunting lodge that Louis XIV made into a monument of the grossest consumption. (They later had to melt down his silver to help pay for it).

You can travel the 12 miles via the RER, the suburban express line. Versailles is open Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., $8 admission.

The happening place in Paris is the Left Bank. Here the shops are funkier, the restaurants are more relaxed and the attitude is more festive.

You can rent a suite on the Left Bank for the price you'd pay for a single room on the Right.

On the Left Bank perch dozens of fashion boutiques and antique shops for hours of shopping.

The Bon Marche, Paris' oldest department store, is on the Rue de Sevres.

If major shopping is your mission, the famous Parisian designers are situated around the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore in the eighth district of Paris (there are 20 designated by Napoleon III).

Galeries Lafayette - the famous department store - markets designer labels and one whole building devoted to men's wear. The store was built in 1912 and is now a historic monument.

If you really want to experience Paris the way the Parisians do, try visiting Marie-Anne Cantin's cheese shop on 12 Rue du Champ de Mars in the 7th district where she sells 130 kinds of cheeses from 33 areas of France. Cantin herself is warm and funny and she speaks English with a little coaxing.

The Parisian takes great stock not only in his cheese and wine, but his bread. P.J. Poujauran's tiny bakery on 20 Rue Jean Nicot is purported to be the oldest bakery in Paris.

You'll see citizens lined up around the block in the morning and late afternoon hours picking up their day's baguette for 50 cents. Poujauran still makes all his pastries by hand, even though he supplies 60 restaurants in the city.

Paris is known for its cuisine and the choices can give you an Excedrin headache. But locals recommend Hippopotamus, a medium-priced chain, for good meat entrees, the Leon de Brussels for mussels, Scossa on the Rue de la Pompe and Victor Hugo Avenue, the more-expensive L'Arpege on Rue de Varenne, the Paris Restaurant at the Lutetia (try Chef Philippe Renard's morel soup), or the Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon with its wonderful pictures of old Paris.

For a French-country lunch try La Ferme Saint-Germain at 5 Rue du Dragon on the Left Bank. For $20 you can have all the trimmings and not see an American in sight.