Friday, March 19, 2010

Vivianne's Tips for Paris -- Part 1

Some friends have asked that I write up some of my tips for travel to Paris, so I thought I would post them here.  This is the first of a series.  The next post in the series will address transportation.  Many of you who read this actually live in Paris and/or have visited many times, but many others have not.  I know that some of you are planning a visit soon, and I hope these posts may help you.

I am sure that you have heard that Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.  In my humble opinion, people say that because it is true.  Besides its lovely architecture and lights, there is much to do there.  A month would not be enough time.  I am not sure what you like to do, but I have written down some of the things a person might like to do on a first visit and some things that we do on our return visits.  

The Sights

E.T. –
Probably the most famous monument in the world
View from:
1.    Trocadero Metro Stop (junction of  Line 6 and Line 9) (more on the Metro in a later post)  Just get out at the stop and turn left. You will be on a hill looking over at ET.  Great for photo ops
2.     Pont (Bridge) Alexandre – Great photo op here with stone lion and the Seine in the forgeround
3.    Walking along the Seine on the Right Bank

Going up the ET.  I don’t think it is worth it (the money or the wait), but you be the judge for yourself.    You cannot SEE the tower when you are in it. There are better views of the city from Sacre Cour and from the Montparnesse Office Tower.  But go early if this is what you want to do.  

Started building it in 1138.  It took over 200 years to build it.  Napoleon was coronated emperor here (not the other kings though – they were at the Cathedral in Rheims – a city about 4 hours north of Paris, which is lovely – near the Champagne Valley)  Notre Dame is one of our favorite places in Paris.  

There are many cathedrals in France (and all over Europe), but there is something special about Notre Dame de Paris and its place on the Seine on the Ile de la Cite (island in the middle of the Seine)  And it is the setting for Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame de Paris (English Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame) Check out the Knitlark Lane Podcast, where you can hear this classic read aloud.  Free at (also free on Itunes)

Free entrance.  Take your time inside to see the gorgeous rose windows and all the side altars.  Don’t miss the garden in the back, and enjoy looking at all the gargoyles on the outside.  Terrific view of Paris if you climb to the top, but stairs are narrow and there are a lot of them.  Not for the faint of heart.  

Named because St Denis was martyred here by the Romans (mount of the martyr).  It is on a hill overlooking the city.  The can-can shows near the Moulin Rouge are known tourist traps filled with Brits and Americans, so buyer beware.
There is a good park with sidewalk artists, but we have found better prices from artists along the walkway by the Seine between Notre Dame and the Louvre,  but this may depend on when you go and the artists you talk to.

If you have seen the film Amalie, you can visit the Bistro that is in the film.  (If you have not seen the film, you should try to do so before you go.)  Also try to view the films Paris Je T’Aime and La Vie En Rose (The Life in Roses) about singer Edith Piaf.
Restaurant Chez Catherine here has good onion soup.  
Note: Because there are so many tourists here, beware of pickpockets.

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Good view of city.  You can also look at the inside of the cathedral
Lots of Steps to get to the cathedral
Watch out for this scam here:  A young girl will smile and ask in English if she can give you a friendship string bracelet or ring. Then her friend will ask you for money. He might be joined by others, and they could get very insistent. 
DO NOT get involved with these folks.  If any one approaches you with anything like this, just say NO or NO MERCI.   A friend I know calls these folks the "String Mafia." 

In fact, if anyone comes up to you and asks, "Do you speak English?" you should be careful.  This is most likely not a person in trouble but a come-on for some kind of scam.  Just don’t get involved.  They will leave you alone.  

Lots of famous people buried here from Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf to Jim Morrison.  It is very pretty, and there are maps to show you how to find the graves of those you are interested in.   

You can view the Arc d’Triomphe and walk down one of the most famous streets in the world.  Streets near here (like Rue Honore) have the high-couture fashion stores etc.  There is a museum in the Arc, but you get to it underground.  
The traffic in the circle around the arc is famously wild.

Yes, it is called Peaceful Square now, but it was not always so.  This was where the most famous guillotine was (there were many) and where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their head.

Where the King and Queen were kept prisoner.   But don’t go looking for LA BASTILLE.  Although there is a section in Paris called LA BASTILLE, the building  where the French Revolution started no longer exists.

There are many wonderful churches to see in Paris.  This one is very cool and on the Ile de la Cite  Built in 1242 to house the supposed Crown of Thorns. The stained glass here is really gorgeous.

If you are a fan of The DaVinci Code, you will want to see this one, as it was featured in the book.   Even if you are not a fan of the book, it is well worth a visit.  Great fountains outside.  

There is a palace here, too, that is now an art museum with exhibits that change every month or so.  This is where many Parisians go to enjoy a sunny afternoon.  There is a puppet show and a carousel.  You can read more about this in Adam Gopnik’s book Paris to the Moon.  

(Left Bank) a lovely area to stroll the streets and drink in the sights and sounds.

same as above on the Right Bank.  
The Jewish Museum here is very interesting.  This was where the round-ups occurred during Nazi occupation.

The Museums

We love art and history, so Paris is nirvana for us.

You can get them at the Paris Tourist Bureau or at any museum.  Get one at the first museum you go to.  They have passes for 2,4 or 6 days.  Not only do you save a bit of money when you have the pass (assuming you are going to a few museums) BUT (this is big) you do not have to wait as long in line.  It is wonderful when you get to bypass the lines and get right in.  You might wish to go to a museum that is less likely to be crowded (perhaps L’Orangerie) get your pass and then use it after that.  You have to use it on consecutive days.

The Louvre   
Formerly the palace of the King and Queen (one of their many palaces) and it is HUGE.  You could spend a week there.  GO EARLY, as it gets very crowded.  Plan your attack.  Go see La Gianconda (Mona Lisa) and Aphrodite (Venus de Milo) first.  Don’t miss Winged Victory and Louis David’s painting of the Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame (see above for visit to ND).  The Egyptian exhibit is terrific here. 

Watch for artists learning their skill as they paint from the old masters.  There is also a beautiful indoor sculpture garden.  Outside is the Jardin de Tuilleries (Tuillery Garden) where Marie Antoinette used to stroll.  It is now a lovely outdoor sculpture garden.  You can buy sandwiches and drinks and sit out on a bench and enjoy Paris.

Musee D’orsay  
If you like French Impressionism, this is the museum for you.   Lots of Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, etc.
In an old train station – really cool.

Don’t miss this.  Huge panels of Monet’s water lilies.  He painted them for this room.  Wonderful.   Nice art exhibit downstairs, too.  The building used to be where they grew orange trees so the royalty could have fresh fruit in the winter.

Rodin Museum  
In the sculptor’s house.  Good exhibits.  Nice garden where you can see his most famous sculpture (The Thinker)

Cluny Museum
This one is my favorite.   -- It is a museum about the Middle Ages set in an old abbey.  Terrific tapestries, stained glass, etc.  

Musee Carnvalet  Free.  In a lovely house in Le Marais.  History of the City of Paris.  

Musee Pompidou – modern art – cool building with colored pipes around the side

There are many, many others and many traveling exhibits, too.  Just a wealth of things to do if this is what you like.  More later.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going French in Denver, Colorado

Okay.  I hear you.  You are skeptical.  Denver?  Maybe a good steak or delicious Mexican food, but French?
Trust me.  I have just the place. 

In my view, you can "go French" just about anywhere -- as long as you have the right esprit (spirit). 
Hub and I had the opportunity to visit Denver last weekend.  It is a terrific city.  We stayed in the Brown Palace Hotel, a lovely downtown fixture that has been in continuous operation since 1892. 

We walked to everything or took the free trolley that goes up and down the 16th Street Mall.  

Going French with Food in Denver 
We found a fantastic French restaurant called Bistro Vendome.  Denver was celebrating Restaurant Week which meant that many restaurants had specials where 2 people could eat three courses for $52.80.  (Denver is the Mile-High City -- 5,280 feet!).

Our meal started with a roasted yellow beet salad (beyond delicious), then we each had cod with brussel sprouts (so yummy) and finished with a crisp that had cranberries and apples with rum ice cream.  

We paired this with a lovely Viognier wine, and I had the French press coffee with dessert.  Our meal was made even better because of the wonderful service of wait staff Kimberly, who seemed to take joy out of the fact that we were having a good time. Good wait staff can make or break a meal.  Bus person Julie was super also.  Bistro Vendome was fantastic, and  I recommend it to anyone who visits Denver. 

Going French with Fashion in Denver 
There is a lovely boutique called Eve near Larimer Square (almost across the street from the Bistro Vendome restaurant) that had a wonderful collection.  The owner Sabine is German, not French, but she had wonderful items from Paris, Brazil and Italy.  She also had a gorgeous jewelry selection from local artists.  Sabine was super friendly, without being pushy, and her shop would not look out of place in any French city. 

Going French with Art in Denver
Yes, this was a bit harder to do, if one insists on defining art narrowly.   
But loving art is something that is universal, n'est pas? 
The Denver Art Museum has a fabulous collection art from the American West.   There is some European art -- even Monet -- but the focus is on art from the western United States.  
But there is French espirt here, too. 
Enjoying all kinds of art is something that we should learn from those French Impressionists who were determined to break the mold that was set for them at the time.  
We spent four hours at the museum and had a wonderful time. 

if you like food with a Mediterranean flair, try Rioja -- same chef as Bistro Vendome. 
And if Russian food and vodka is your fancy, Red Square Bistro has both.  Try both the beet and the fig vodka.  Yummy and fun.

So.. if you get the chance,  give it a try -- Go French in Denver!

We are headed to London next week, so I will be reporting on how to Go French in England next. 
Stay tuned.