Cafe Creme from the place that would become our usual.
Day two in Paris we rose early-ish to eat Pain au Chocolate and use the (yes!) coffeemaker in our apartment. We were pokey in getting ready, though, so we decided to head out for a second breakfast. Thus our collective love affair with full fat dairy products began.
Growing up in the US one might not expect butter to be so worthy of being the primary breakfast ingredient. It so is.
Even the apricot jam was amazing, and I’m not a jam person.
Then we were off. We spent the day walking first down towards the Seine where I spotted my first Invader just outside the St. Paul Metro station:
Over to one of the islands, Ile Saint-Louis, where Maggi (lucky girl!) used to live.
Then to Notre Dame, this is the back, notice how Scott appears to be texting while not staring in awe at the great cathedral?
Note: There are public restrooms on this side of Notre Dame. This can be a good thing to know.
Then to the front, to confront our first crowd and go inside.
I liked a lot of the designs I found inside:
As we were slowly winding our way around the interior of the cathedral with hundreds of others the PA system came on and a voice boomed the following message:
It was hilarious. Then he did it again. A small mass was starting and apparently the talking among the visitors was too much.
When we went outside again I took a picture of my feet at Kilometre Zero, the point considered the official center of Paris.
When the French cover a building to do some work, they make it look nice like:
Next we walked West along the Seine, up by the street. It was cold and rainy and vehicles rushed by and our view of the water was blocked by souvenir sellers and I was not at all happy. When we got to the Louvre we stopped to gawk at the exterior.
Then we walked through the Tuileries and it was only a few moments before we came across Jessie Oleson of Cakespy, her husband Danny who is a musician extraordinare of Speaker Speaker (rip) and Exohxo, Nicole of Immortal Dog and her favorite boy Ramone. I tried to get the Eiffel Tower in the background there, you know for proof. Cakespy’s Paris reports have been fantastic, you’ll learn so very much about French pastries. Start here and move forward in time to find all her Paris entries (at the point this entry goes up I believe she’ll still have lots more to post). Later we talked about the idea that none of us are the type of people who just run into friends while in a foreign city. But I guess now we are?
Jessie told us that Cafe Angelina was not far away so we went over to get lunch and hot chocolate:
The waiter never brought our change, meaning he thought (knew?) we were stupid Americans. (More on tipping below.) We called it a life lesson and left.
My feet, feeling dejected and ripped off, outside Cafe Angelina. Not far away Jeff was taking a photograph of a French man wearing a bright orange suit arguing with the traffic cops.
Next we did something smart, we headed to the tourism office and bought museum passes. It’s a little pass that gets you into many Paris museums for a stretch of consecutive days (two, four or six). If you’re dedicated to seeing museums it can save a whole lot of money. And, there is often a separate line for pass holders so you save a lot of time and get to just waltz inside and flash your pass as you enter.
We started walking East towards the Marais and home. We passed so many of these Velib bicycles, and saw so many people riding them, that I stopped to take a picture. The official Velib site is here and you can download the information in English, look for the British flag in the upper right hand corner of that page. We did not rent bicycles, partly because it never stopped drizzling while we were there, and partly because we were terrified of French traffic. But, it would have been lovely had we had sun and a route we knew would be nice.
Living in a hilly city I don’t really consider bicycles a mode of transportation that is right for me, though I have a lot of friends who bike all over Seattle. But Paris is mostly flat, something I hadn’t know beforehand, so walking and biking around it is really easy. Despite the crowds on the weekends I loved how people were out, everywhere, all the time. It was energizing and I really wish more cities in the US had car-unfriendly streets and such fantastic public transportation infrastructure that would allow for this much being out and around. I found the same to be true in Nottingham (which we visited a few days later into this trip).
I photographed invader #2 while standing in a crush of people.
Somebody needed to pee so we found our way down into Les Halles. Les Halles is a shopping center located inside a very old market, and most of it is in the three below ground floors. It is a terrible place and we recommend you avoid going there at all costs. Later we found one of our guidebooks call it a “pit of humanity” (or something equally dramatic). I mean it’s just a shopping mall but it’s a cramped, dark shopping mall underground. And underground in Paris means the whole place smells funny. We eventually did find the restrooms only to discover that it costs 0,50 Euros to use it. We only had 20 Euro bills. One of us (the Hero Maggi) went to buy something and get change while the rest of us attempted to get the attendant to make change for a 20, then just stared sadly at all the people going in an out. It feels not good to be blocked from a restroom by a pittance that you don’t have.
These pay restrooms are apparently common, though we never came across another one. While they may seem unfair to us Americans often they are a far preferred alternative to older hole-in-the-floor style toilets. Knowing this it’s easier to hand over your change and be grateful for something that flushes.
Invader #3 is close to the Paris Muji.
Afterward we set out to find a Philips head screwdriver somewhere on the way home. I suggested Muji, and nearby spotted my third invader. Muji Encounter #1 was disappointing, they were renovating the Paris store and had a smaller selection and, gasp, no kitchen items. We couldn’t find the screwdrivers (we did find them on a return visit, though a whole set would have had to be purchased). So we consulted the Lonely Plant Paris iPhone app, about $15 and very worth it more details below, and found that the nearby BHV, a large department store with, essentially, a Home Depot in the lower level. At this point it was crowded, we were hot, our feet hurt but we still needed groceries.
So we went to the grocery store and had fun examining strange new foods:
Strange trivia: The very next day Maggi and Jeff returned to the same Franprix grocery store to find it completely gutted, empty of all but shelf brackets. The shop showed no signs at all that it would be closing.
We took our ailing feet home, bought a few ingredients at the corner shop and cooked dinner in. The boys fell asleep on the couch:
We brought an extra down comforter out to the living room to use as a big blanket. I now always want a down comforter in my living room.
The stuff I learned the hard way
Tipping: You don’t tip in Paris the way we do in the US. The 12 to 15 percent is included in the bill (either as a separate item, or it’s rolled into the price of each menu item already). So, tipping isn’t necessary. According to both Maggi and the Lonely Planet Guide “many Parisians will leave a few coins on the table in a restaurant… they rarely tip in cafes and bars when they’ve just had a coffee or drink.”
Saying hello: Mary-lynn gave me some good advice before we left, when you walk into or out of a store or cafe take the greeting sincerely and respond. Unlike many places here, the Parisians mean the greeting (it’s not simply mandated by corporate guidelines). Ignoring this can hurt their pride and just like that you’re an Ugly American. For the sake of us all please don’t be an Ugly American! Clotilde Dusoulier from Chocolate & Zucchini gives the same advice in her (well worth it) book Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris.
Buying Museum Passes: We bought ours in the very tidy and not busy at all Paris Tourism Office, which we stumbled upon suddenly after wandering around looking for it. Here you can find city maps in all languages, buy transit passes of all sorts and buy museum passes for 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days (the attendant dates your pass the first time you use it). The passes are well worth it as most museums have a separate entrance for pass holders that is far speedier. We didn’t wait at all to get into the D’Orsay or the Louvre. The pass unfolds and lists, in French and English, the museums it can be used at with a short description as well as their locations and hours.
Renting a bicycle: Velib is the company that has rental bicycles all over Paris. You see the stands everywhere and we saw people of all sorts using the bicycles. Like I mentioned above Paris is mostly flat so getting around is easy, though dodging cars and people might be less so. One warning, the automatic stands might not take creidt cards without the chip and pin system, but they do take cash. You can also pre-order online. The Velib site is in French with an English download (British flag, upper right), and you can read more at Wikipedia.
Groceries: We bought Bonne Maman brand yogurt at the grocery store, it’s comparable to buying Dannon for us, but it was so good. We kept buying it. And nearly brought our uneaten ones on the plane. I now weep at runny, skim milk, sickly sweet yogurt.
Lonely Planet Paris iPhone app: The Lonely Planet Paris app is, in my opinion, worth it for the Paris noob. It’s gotten a bunch of disappointed reviews because it doesn’t contain all the information and recommendations in the travel book itself. It does, however, have an offline GPS aware map. Meaning, you don’t use any data usage at all (and no data roaming) to find yourself on it’s map, which also gives you nearly restaurant/shopping/attractions. It’s well designed, you can click through a recommendation for, say, Laudree to find it on the map. Or just read the basics on neighborhoods and etiquette in restaurants and Paris history. Additionally, I felt like it may have made me look like a bit less of a tourist when staring at my phone instead of trying to orient a paper map (reality check: I wasn’t fooling anybody). And, it was nice to read about Paris as I was waiting in lines for the Eiffel Tower, or resting my poor feet inside a museum. There are a few other GPS aware maps and less expensive standalone apps which I bought, but only ever found myself using the Lonely Planet one. Some of the other maps were too low resolution, or didn’t have enough street information to be worth it.
Using your iPhone while traveling: I answered this question in the comments yesterday so please allow me to quote myself here. Megan (not myself!) asked if we used our iPhone in Paris, my response:
Yes we did use our phones, but sparingly. After researching it we decided that the best option was to pre-pay for a chunk of both voice and data roaming. You can keep track of your usage under Settings – General – Usage. Right when we arrived I reset that number so I could keep track of what we’d used. You can also get the international number from AT&T and phone them up to add data roaming mid-trip if you find you really need it. They add it to your bill.
Very important, whether you prepay or not, is to turn off Data Roaming, this is one of the things that gets people in trouble. Settings – General – Network – Data Roaming on/off switch. If you do need to use your phone to check a map/IMs or the internet go in and turn that on just for the period of time you’ll be using it. If I needed a map or an address, I often took a screenshot, then turned off Data Roaming again.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The pre-paid voice and/or data package is only good for your monthly billing cycle, not the actual month. So, while we paid for 20 MB of data roaming usage, our trip and our billing cycle overlapped in such a way that meant we could really only use up 10 MB. update: Jennifer in SF reports in this comment: “FYI – You can get the data international data package backdated to the start of your billing cycle, and thus get the full 20mb. Just don’t forget to call and have it taken off after your trip before it gets added to next month’s bill (not that that happened to me or anything!).” Thanks Jennifer!
For us the pre-paid stuff was useful, we did need it a few times and overall prepaying probably worked in our favor. But you can get by without it. One of the things we found out were GPS aware offline maps. Even though your phone isn’t on a network, it still knows where you are. The Lonely Planet Paris map used this feature and there are standalone GPS aware maps you can buy for a few dollars (some we found weren’t high enough resolution to be worth it). Depending on where you’re headed you might find them. Paris also has an offline Metro and RATP map that is free and so helpful.
Another option suggested to use was to buy chunks of wi-fi time from Orange Wireless and use them at any of the cafes that offer it — essentially you buy an hour or so and they give you a login. We had wi-fi at our apartment and that was all we needed, we researched before we left for the day.
There are lots of internet cafes with computers, at least in Paris, that can be useful and cheap.
One note, on the occasion when we did use our data roaming we found that opening up Twitter to pull down an update used a LOT of data, more than you’d expect. We think it was all the little people icons being loaded over and over.
Later Nazila (super fabulous woman and frequent world traveler) gave us a tip about using Skype:
Skype on your iphone is a lovely thing. I preloaded my phone with 10 bucks at the end of January, have been to London and Paris twice since then and still have five dollars in credit. I never turned on my data plan and very happy my hotel had free wi fi. The skype was key to reconfirm restaurant reservations while traveling.
Thank you Nazila!
Previously: Day One arrival and beating jet lag.
Next up: Day Three The Metro, a museum, and French onion soup.