Transportation: To get around Paris, David and I relied on the Metro (subway system). We bought tickets for it at the airport and rode it all the way into town. We used it to get anywhere and everywhere we needed to go. It is a very convenient and economical way to travel around the city (102 euro for a 5 day pass). There were only a couple minor drawbacks. For starters, if you have never navigated a metro/subway system before (like me), it can be a little overwhelming to figure out. I would suggest you get someone experienced (like David) to tutor you a bit beforehand. Also, before we went, David put a Paris Metro app on his iPhone. It only cost $.99 and it was VERY helpful. You did have to know the actual station you wanted to reach, but then, you just punched in the starting station and the ending station. It told you exactly which trains to take. Another option would have been taking taxis, but this would have been very expensive and, I'm telling you people, NYC traffic has got nothing on Paris traffic. There are some crazy drivers!!! As a tourist, you could also do a Hop On Hop Off bus. We did do a double decker bus tour, but we only got a one day pass. You can, however, get a 2 or 3 day pass and they stop at most of the major tourist attractions. The disadvantage, though, would be that they stop much more infrequently than a metro and a multi-day pass for 2 or more people can be a little pricey.
Money: Of course, they use Euros in France. We exchanged currency at the airport. We mostly used credit cards to pay for things, but occasionally cash is necessary. Everything more expensive in Paris (even when you do the conversion to US dollars). For example, a Coke at a restaurant will run you about 4,50 euro (= $6.00) and it comes in a 12oz. glass bottle, so no refills. We did get a plastic bottle of Coke at a crepes stand once for only 2,50 euro which is about $3.30 US dollars. Hotel rates are higher, restaurant menu prices are higher, and store price tags are higher. Two positives, though: 1) We learned that the service fee/tip is already included in the ticket at restaurants in Paris. You can leave extra for exceptional service if you desire, but usually just 1 or 2 euro and it is not "required" like it is here in the US. 2) In my opinion, the ticket prices for all the tourist-y things were less than it would be here in the US. For example, it only cost me 9 euro to get into the Orsay (about $11). The price of adult admission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is $25.
Food: I have to say that, for me, the food was the only disappointing part of the trip. When you think of Paris or France, you think of culinary excellence. However, a lot of what we saw on the menus was just gross (in my opinion anyway). For example, on Wednesday while we were there, which was our actual anniversary, we went to a very tiny, very authentic French restaurant with a couple of David's business associates. Thank goodness one of them was a Paris native and spoke French as his primary language. He was able to translate the menu for us and we discovered some of the entrees included:
- Pig's feet
- Foie gras (duck liver, served like pate)
- black pudding (made with pig's blood)
Needless to say, we were very happy to find a McDonalds and have some good 'ol greasy American food!! In fact, after that lunch on our anniversary, we had cheeseburgers and Coke from the McDonald's in the food court at the shopping center under the Louvre for dinner and I couldn't have been happier! :-) We also made a few too many stops at Starbucks. And, one good point about the food is that dessert is pretty much part of the meal - it is basically assumed that you will order dessert and we were happy to live into that expectation!
Language: We found that most cashiers/waiters/etc speak enough English for simple exchanges and didn't see too terribly annoyed by our American tongues. It would be helpful, however, to learn some basic French, especially proper pronunciations. For example, the restaurant I mentioned above with the super
Where to stay: After doing A LOT of research, we decided to stay at a hotel called Hotel Le Six and it was wonderful. I would definitely recommend it to others. In fact, you can read my review here. From a Paris local, we were told that you should absolutely never stay at anything with less 3 stars and even some of those can be questionable. Most of the hotels are called "boutique hotels" meaning they are all individuals and not part of a chain. There are, however, some familiar chains including Best Western, Holiday Inn, and Hilton. If you were planning a trip, I would suggest you do lots of research through sites like Trip Advisor and Hotels.com. Just read the reviews and focus on the things that are important to you. You should certainly consider transportation and, if you plan to use the metro, make sure the hotel is close to a couple stations. Of course, you also have to consider your budget. Just remember that everything is more expensive in Paris, so a decent hotel room will not be inexpensive! (Remember, though, the published and/or negotiated rates already include taxes.)
What to do: I think this is a very personal decision and depends on your time. Since it was my first time in Paris, I wanted to see as much as possible, so we did a lot, but nothing in depth. For example, we went to Notre Dame, but did not do the guided tour up into the tower, etc. We spent about 2 hours at the Louvre. If you really love art and/or wanted to do the audio tour, you could spend MUCH longer there. Also, the Louvre and the Orsay are the only museum we visited because we are just not "museum people." However, you could spend a week (or more) there doing nothing but visiting museums. You just have to prioritize the things that are most important to you and budget your time accordingly.
There you go - my Paris travel tips and tidbits! I am certainly no expert, but I learned a lot about traveling outside the US. Overall, it was a great experience and I hope to travel to even more places in the future!