Paris is lovely any time of year--and we learned that the best way to see it is to take it slow!
by GreenMermaid on February 25, 2006
Unpretentious, yet elegant, and of the highest quality, the newly renovated Renaissance Vendome (a Marriott property) was the perfect choice of lodging. We used Marriott points for 5 of our 6 night stay, and were upgraded to a prestige room for no extra charge. For our extra night they charged us the same rate as for a deluxe room, €269. The prices vary seasonally, and for certain weekends within the winter season. I have heard that if a lower price is found through another agency, Marriott will honor it.Hotel décor is modern and understated. Bathrooms are glass and marble; in the prestige room it was roomy with a shower separate from tub, and an awesome heated towel rack that came in handy for drying out wet clothes. Toiletries by Bulgari, in large sizes that last a few days. Turn down service included chocolate lollipops from a local chocolatier—yummy! The included a fridge with well-stocked mini-bar, and room service from hotel the restaurant was available.A unique feature of this hotel (and the reason I chose it) is the basement spa, which includes a pool, steam room, and sauna. We wore the robes and slippers provided in the room, and were able to take the elevator directly down to the basement spa area. The pool, though heated, was still a bit chilly for us Floridians, but the space was gorgeous—balmy air, and relaxing meditative music piped in. We used the steam room with the starry ceiling, the sauna, the huge showers down in the spa, and always had the place to ourselves. There are some exercise machines (treadmills, etc.) that looked nice, but who needs these when you're climbing all those stairs in the metro? The hotel staff used discreet separate entrances/elevators from guests—on the upper floors and in the spa they were invisible most of the time, and we felt like we had the hotel to ourselves.The staff was wonderful—friendly and ready with a "Bonjour Madame", or "Bonsoir Monsieur". Staff supplied us with a power converter, and if there was anything we needed in the rooms that maid service had forgotten, it was cheerfully supplied to us "tout de suite"!There is a coffee/cappuccino/hot chocolate machine just off the lobby that makes a delicious hot beverage with frothy milk! No need to have coffee maker in room.The hotel is in a great area—near shops on Rue de Rivoli and close to the Louvre and the Seine. It was the perfect location for our exploration of Paris, and a relaxing place to come back to after a rigorous day of walking and sightseeing!
We ate dinner once at Pinxo, the Michelin-rated restaurant adjoining our hotel, the Renaissance Paris Vendome. The meals are in tapas portions. Even though the food was creative, juxtaposing unusual ingredients, I still wasn't sure what I was eating, even though our menu was in English. The only thing that was clear was the pricey bill at the end--and that we were still hungry. We didn't even have any wine (only sparkling mineral water).
Not recommended, unless you have money to spare and a small appetite, and like such creative cuisine.
We ate at Chez Flottes at the recommendation of our hotel's concierge, when we requested a bistro that was reasonably priced with typical hearty French country cooking. We were quite pleased with the cozy atmosphere, the simple yet elegant and tasty food, and the friendly staff. There were lots of local people here too.
They had an English menu as well, and it was funny to see escargot translated as "snails in sauce!" I ordered off the prix-fixe menu and had three courses, including duck and a flaming Crepe Suzette for dessert. And yes, I also had the snails in sauce!
Built in 1875, the Palais Garnier is a gem. It's very worth taking the tour if you cannot get tickets to a performance. It was the sole opera house before the Opera Bastille was built in 1989. Now it mainly has ballet performances; however, we were able to catch an opera here on our trip, and what a beautiful setting it was.
The season tickets had been sold out since the summer; however, it is possible to get last-minute tickets by going to the box office on the same day. Instead of purchasing the 130€ seats that were left, we stood in the line that was forming outside the box office and found that right before the performance, seats would be sold at deep discount rates. After waiting in line for 1 1/2 hours, we got tickets for 7€ each; unfortunately, these were seats that had a very limited view of the stage. They were so high up, we could touch the ceiling! The music was beautiful (it was a performance of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" cleverly staged in a modern-day setting that really worked for the story), so even though we could only see one corner of the stage, it was still very worth it to be in the theatre and hear such a fantastic opera.
The opera building itself was incredibly ornate: gilded carvings, columns and statues, various kinds of colored marble in the grand foyer, and a gorgeous ceiling fresco that was repainted by Marc Chagall in 1964, featuring figures from famous operas.
The Catacombs in Paris is a huge maze of tunnels dug under the city. In 1786, all the bodies from the main cemeteries (something like 7 million) were exhumed and moved into these tunnels. At first the bones were just thrown in, but later they were arranged neatly and artistically as interest spread about this fascinating yet morbid attraction.
It is easy to find--directly across the street from Metro station Denfert-Rochereau. But be aware of the limited opening times--when we went, it was only open from 2 to 4pm.
The tunnels are unexpectedly extensive, and we were walking through rows and rows of bones--you walk for approximately 1km! Also, there are a lot of stairs when you first descend into the tunnels, and then when you leave, you have to climb up them again.
BRING A SMALL FLASHLIGHT—the lighting is very dim and it is hard to make out details, but the flash on your camera will illuminate your photos.
The Rue Mouffetard (called "la Mouff" to the locals) is one of Paris's great market streets. We found this while following the directions of a walking tour book.
This is a pedestrian street with one great little store/food stall after another: produce, meat, cheese (ooh, those fantastic cheeses!), seafood, and desserts. The food and delicacies are so beautifully arranged against a narrow cobblestone street backdrop winding through the Latin Quarter towards the Seine.
You'll also find some interesting little bohemian shops (we found a tiny music store where, with the help of the artsy staff, we found some great French chanson music), as well as a lot of little cafes and ethnic restaurants.
by GreenMermaid on February 26, 2006
Topped by the alabaster Sacré-Coeur basilica, Montmartre is the highest hill of Paris, and is the last village in this big city. We had heard it was really touristy but decided to go anyway. We are so glad we did, because it is utterly charming!
When you take the Metro, you'll find one of the only elevators in the station--be sure to take this up to the street level, or else you'll be climbing 105 steps. Save your energy for walking around the quaint and narrow streets!
Another energy-saving tip: take the funicular up to Sacre Coeur rather than climbing the endless steps. If you have a week Metro pass (as we did--a Carte Orange), you can use this at no extra cost. When you ascend the hill in the funicular, Sacre Coeur emerges huge, white, and lovely against a blue sky.
In the village itself you will find Place du Tertre, an open square with artists painting and selling their work. Watch out for the artists who will harass you to try to get you to sit for your portrait! You can find some of the same kinds of paintings in the shops for somewhat less--yeah, it's the "Joy of Painting"-type stuff, but it is still very cool and captures the essence of your trip to Paris. We bought a couple of small paintings and love them.
In Montmartre you will also find the cemetery where Jim Morrison's grave is--along with many famous French people, of course!
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