After living in the city of lights for a month and a half, I've learned a few things along the way. Today I'm sharing 10 tips you may or may not hear anywhere else. Either way, it will make your trip to Paris that much more enjoyable.
1. Baguettes are a way of life in France. They are cheap, delicious, and eaten daily. Alas, there is such thing as a bad baguette here. In fact there are tons of them! They are called simply "baguettes" and they will cost you under one Euro. What you are looking for is the baguette "tradition"(tra-dish-ee-on), the kind they used to make before the government put price fixes on bread. When they could no longer make a profit on baguettes with the rising cost of ingredients, they made a cheaper alternative to satisfy the government but continued making the good stuff at a higher price. The baguette tradition will only set you back ten to fifteen cents more so the choice is a no brainer in my opinion! One other note on baguettes. Never....ever...buy a baguette from a grocery store! Boulangeries are the place to buy bread. Period.
2. Bring a bottle opener in your bag at all times. The wine in France is generally not made with screw tops. You will be hard pressed to find anything and it will limit your selection greatly. The wine here is cheap and you can drink it anywhere. Don't miss out on this opportunity and be prepared with an opener for an impromptu bottle of wine along the Seine!
3. If you are going to visit the Eiffel Tower, sit on the grass at the very back of the Champ de Mars (the large park behind the eiffel tower) at sunset with a blanket and a bottle of Champagne. The area directly under the tower is insanely busy and to be avoided unless you are actually going up the tower. The grassy area at the back of the park is much less busy, has the best quality grass, and offers a great view of the tower. Every fifteen minutes after sunset the tower sparkles and I will admit that it is magical at night. If you happen to forget drinks, there are people walking around with buckets of champagne, beer, and wine. Barter them down and it ends up not being too bad of a deal. If you want to go up the tower, and you probably should once in your life, be sure to avoid peak hours.
4. There are many crepe stations to be found on the streets of Paris. The first few times we ate one, they made the crepe to order on a large circular cooktop, added our desired toppings, and folded it neatly into a paper pouch. They were amazing! We learned our lesson when we ordered a crepe in a tourist-trap area and they pulled it from a stack of pre-made crepes, slapped it on the grill for a few seconds and folded it into the paper pouch. The problem is, that as the crepe sat there it became soft and sticky which caused it to permanently weld to the paper wrapper after a few minutes of contact. This rendered it nearly impossible to eat and the quality of taste was much worse. You see, what you need is the golden crust of a freshly made crepe to act as a barrier between the paper and the crepe. The lesson here is, if you see a stack of pre-made crepes walk away and find another stand.
5. In my opinion, the most charming neighbourhoods for a stroll in Paris are The Marais (3rd Arrondissement), Montmartre (18th Arrondissement), and St. Germaine du Pres (6th Arrondissement). If you have a limited amount of time, and you always do in Paris, walk through these neighbourhoods first.
6. Avoid visiting Paris is August. First of all, a large amount of shops, restaurants, and services are closed down as the Parisians escape to the South for Summer vacations. Secondly the weather is quite temperamental and can be rainy and cold one day and blazing hot the next. Last but not least, it is peak tourist season in the most touristy city in the world. One walk down the Champs Elysees in August and you'll know what I mean.
7. The coffee scene in Paris is much different then at home. If you order a cafe in Paris you will get a shot of espresso. If you want a latte, you must order a cafe creme and if you want an americano, you should order a cafe allongee. Drip coffee will be hard to come by as espresso drinks are the norm. If you're looking for a coffee shop where you can get great coffee, sit with your laptop, and get free wireless, stop in to KB Coffee in the 9th Arrondissement. It is Australian owned and is the closest thing I've found to a great Canadian coffee shop.
8. When buying groceries at a supermarket, you have to bag your own items and usually have to buy bags. If they don't automatically give you a bag say, "un sac s'il vous plait" which means "a bag please". if you plan on cooking some of your own meals and are staying in an apartment, bringing a reusable bag is a good idea.
9. Be careful when purchasing cheeses here. The brie you have come to know and love at home is much more pungent here and takes some getting used to. I would say brie is my favourite cheese at home and I have yet to try one I liked here. I'm still going to keep trying different cheeses but I have bought a few that smell so bad in the fridge it makes you gag and don't taste much better. The French are known for their cheese and of coarse there are many fabulous selections here. The best one I've had so far was a round of goat cheese with fig jam on top. Don't be surprised if the selection you choose is the best or worst cheese you've had in your life.
10. There are three main categories of restaurants here (Cafes, Brasseries, and Restaurants) but they often look the same so it can be confusing to know what to choose at any given time. Cafes are primarily where you want to go for breakfast and afternoon coffee, Brasseries are where you want to go for happy hour, drinks only, and light snacks, and restaurants are where you want to go for set meals where you will likely have an entree, plat, and dessert accompanied by wine. Just in case you were confused, entree here means appetizer, not main course like it does back home. Cafes and brasseries often have lunch and dinner menus as well but it will be more casual and probably less expensive. When going to a restaurant for a proper meal you should know that generally lunch is served from around 12-30-2:00 and dinner from 7:30-10:00. Often restaurants won't be serving menus outside of these times.
I hope that what I have learned in my time here so far can be helpful to you on shorter trips to Paris. It always takes experience, time, and research to find these things out on your own so I'm happy to share what I have learned and will continue to post tips as my journey goes on. Paris is a wonderful city but a bit of planning can go a long way for the best possible experience. As with any city, you have to sift through some trash to get to the magic!