Monday, July 21, 2008

Seeing Paris on the Cheap: Where to Eat and More

I travelled to Paris a few weeks ago to attend a conference at Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV) and my wife and I were on a tight budget. We wanted to enjoy Paris's best eats and see some of the attractions we missed on our previous visits, without having to declare personal bankruptcy when we returned home. Here are some lessons we learned from meandering around the famous French capital.

Eating: The ethnic food in Paris provides the best value for money. The restaurant business in Paris is very competitive and only the best survive. And, since non-traditional Parisian food sells at a discount, it has to be popular to survive (hint: busy=good). If you are into, or have never tried lamb couscous, here are two recommendations: (1) Chez Jaafar, 22, rue Sommerard, Latin Quarter, and (2) Chez Omar, 47 Rue de Bretagne, Le Marais ( a review ). Avoid tourist trap Rue de la Huchette, or as the French all it "bacteria alley". Besides not knowing its alias, many foreign tourists who eat here are under the impression that this is the celebrated Latin Quarter. A shame. In this case, busy with other tourists.

Sleeping: Hotels in Paris are very expensive and often booked well in advance during the peak summer season. Going to Paris in April or October seem the ideal times to visit. We used to rent a apartment for 6 days ( see here ). It was small, but in a nice location and was only $94US per night, which for July is a good rate. A more centrally located place is Hotel Paris Rivoli (many reviews here . The rooms are a bit small, but the location is great (near St. Paul's Metro). When checking into a hotel, always see the room first and check for signs of bed bugs (yes, I am very serious).

Notes to the first time travelers to Paris:
(1) Read a good travel guide: we love the Lonely Planet. It is well written and has a fairly good map. It's not perfect, but one of the best.
(2) Unlike Canada, this old city is not friendly if you have mobility issues. There are many stairs, and older buildings (including hotels and apartments) don't elevators. If you have mobility problems, plan extra time and make sure to ask the usual questions before booking.
(3) Don't act like a typical American tourist: (a) Before ordering something or asking a question, always begin with "Bonjour Madam/Sir". (b) Gratuities are included in the price of your meal (most servers get paid (often 15%) no matter how the meal goes from your perspective). So don't double tip (although many believe this is the only reason the French let Americans into their country).
(4) Don't keep all your money in one place, lock your luggage, and hold your purse close to your body. Your white sneakers, fanny-pack, map or guide book, and incessant stop-point-and-click, blows your cover too easily making you easy prey.

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