FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Paris: Vive La France

Jan 1, 2005
2005 / December-January 2005

City of Light. Some say Paris earned its nickname as a result of the way impressionist painters captured the light of its landscape on canvas. Others say it’s because Paris was the first city on the European continent to install gas lamps on its urban streets. These days, tourists are inclined to believe the term refers to the fact that the city’s stunning landmarks — Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur among them — are beautifully illuminated at nightfall.

Whatever its origins, the moniker is accurate. Paris, the City of Light, sparkles day and night.

I first visited Paris just days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (I’ve since returned several times.) Traveling as a lone American, I was a bit concerned about the anti-American demonstrations I had read were prevalent in Paris during that tumultuous period. I feared my worst expectations were about to come true when I hopped into a cab after an overnight flight and the driver greeted me with a heavily accented, “So, your Mr. George Bush wants war?”

I responded in my own heavily English-accented French, and within minutes the driver and I were enjoying an interesting — and friendly — conversation about world politics. I encountered that same welcoming demeanor throughout my visit. Whether I was roaming through a flower market, visiting a Parisian landmark or enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe, the Parisians I met were warm, friendly and eager to share their city.

Paris is an easy city to navigate — on foot or by subway. Tourist maps are plentiful. Pick one up from your concierge before heading out for the day. You won’t be the only visitor on the streets with a map at the ready. If you do get confused, don’t hesitate to ask a local for assistance — but at least make an attempt to speak in French. While most Parisians speak at least some English as a second language, a simple “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (“Do you speak English”) is only polite — even if your accent is horrendous — before you launch headlong into an English monologue. Consider the reverse. How would feel at home in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago if a Japanese or Russian or even French tourist approached you on the street and started belting out questions in his native language, totally oblivious to the fact that you speak only English?

But back to plotting your course of exploration. Subways are identified by the very last stop on any particular line — the No. 7 line toward La Courneuve or Villejuif; the No. 12 toward Mairie d’Issy or Port de la Chappelle. Points where lines intersect are clearly marked on maps, and most stations feature interactive “light-up” maps that will illuminate the most direct path connecting two points. Pick up a carnet de billets (package of 10 one-trip tickets) at any station for about $13.

Deciding how to spend your time in Paris is a matter of personal preference. While some visitors can roam for hours through the city’s myriad museums (days or months in the case of the Louvre), others are most interested in shopping or dining or simply strolling. For a quick introduction to the city, head for Pont-Neuf (on the No. 7 subway line). Halfway across the bridge, there are steps leading to a boat dock on the tip of Ile de la Cité. Les Vedettes du Pont-Neuf is one of several companies that run narrated boat tours (about $11) up and down the Seine River passing by most major landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Notre Dame Cathedral. A word of advice: Weather permitting, wait until you’re sure you can board and find a seat on a vessel with an open top deck. The open deck is definitely better for viewing and photographing the sights.

Paris is a gorgeous city with historic and scenic landmarks galore. Don’t miss the food markets where you can pick up a fresh baguette, fruit and cheese to enjoy in one of the city’s many parks or while seated in the sunshine on the bank s of the Seine. Flower markets with their colorful displays are a kaleidoscopic delight for the senses. Visit the high-end (and ultraexpensive) designer boutiques, but don’t miss the tiny shops crowded with bargain-priced, yet oh-so-chic merchandise (Oh, this little bag? I picked it up in Paris.) where you’ll find items you’ll treasure for years to come.

Above all else, get to know the people who inhabit this magical place. The City of Light? Now that I think of it, that nickname readily describes the sparkle in the eye of the shopkeeper who plopped just one more chocolate truffle into my bag — a “thank you” for my feeble attempt at speaking his native language in his city.


LODGING

INTERCONTINENTAL LE GRAND HOTEL PARIS A Parisian landmark since 1862, the InterContinental Le Grand Hotel Paris is perfectly situated overlooking Opéra Square and neighboring the Opéra Garnier. Following the recent completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation, the hotel now boasts 477 guestrooms, in addition to its exclusive Club InterContinental floor offering enhanced accommodations. Home to the renowned Le Café de la Paix, onetime stomping ground of literary great Oscar Wilde and his compatriots, InterContinental Le Grand also boasts a new spa, I-Spa by Algotherm. Amenities include high-speed Internet access, on-site health and fitness center, nonsmoking rooms, concierge service and a business center.

InterContinental Le Grand Hotel Paris
2 Rue Scribe Paris
75009 France
tel 33 1 4007 3232,
fax 33 1 4266 1251
www.ichotels.com

HÔTEL DE CRILLON Overlooking Place de la Concorde and just a short walk from the Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, Hôtel de Crillon is also convenient to the renowned boutiques of the Faubourg St.-Honoré and within walking distance of the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. Commissioned in 1758 by Louis XV, the palace was acquired by the Count of Crillon in 1788. It remained in the prominent Crillon family until 1907 when the Société des Grands Magasins et des Hôtels du Louvre transformed it into a palace hotel. Through the years, the hotel has hosted royalty, statesmen, artists and entertainers. Its 90 guestrooms and 57 suites have been restored in Louis XV style. All of the rooms have been recently redecorated and soundproofed. High-speed Internet access is available.

Hôtel de Crillon
10 Place de la Concorde Paris
75008 France
tel 33 1 44 71 15 01,
fax 33 44 71 15 03
www.crillon.com

HÔTEL MEURICE Reopened to rave reviews in 2000 after an extensive two-year renovation, Hôtel Meurice is a five-star hotel located just across the street from the Tuileries Gardens and a short walk from the Louvre. The renovation, conducted under the direction of two of France’s most distinguished architects, Jean Louis Roubert and Nicolas Papamiltiades, included maintaining and in some cases restoring the hotel’s elaborate mosaic floors, friezes, paintings, hand-carved moldings, cornices, columns, pediments and pilasters. The property’s 160 guestrooms feature fine furnishings and luxurious fabrics. Some rooms have hand-painted ceilings depicting the sky, others have canopied beds, and some, marble fireplaces. Modern amenities include a minibar, two direct telephone lines, Internet access through the television (with a wireless keyboard) and bathroom telephones. Stereo equipment and fax machines are available upon request.

Hôtel Meurice
228 Rue de Rivoli Paris
75001 France
tel 33 1 4458 1010,
fax 33 1 4458 1019
www.meuricehotel.com

FOUR SEASONS GEORGE V A Paris landmark since 1928, the 245-room Four Seasons George V is a study in elegance. Many of the city’s most exclusive couture shops are just steps from the front door of the hotel. Services and amenities include 24-hour concierge, 24-hour in-room dining, nonsmoking rooms, 24-hour business center and high-speed Internet access.

Four Seasons
George V 31 Ave.
George V Paris
75008 France
tel 33 1 4952 7000,
fax 33 1 4952 7010
www.fourseasons.com

PARK HYATT PARIS-VENDÔME Located in the heart of Paris on the prestigious Rue de la Paix within walking distance of the Place Vendôme and the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme is also convenient to other major Paris landmarks, such as the Opéra and the exclusive shops at Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré. The hotel’s French classical style features symmetrically balanced spaces, high ceilings, colonnades and interior courtyards to create a residential feel. The hotel’s 178 guestrooms, including 35 suites, feature up-to-date technology. Hotel amenities include a spa with three treatment rooms, mahogany walls and stone showers.

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme
5 Rue de la Paix Paris
75002 France
tel 33 1 5871 1234,
fax 33 1 5871 1235
paris.vendome.hyatt.com


DINING

LES AMBASSADEURS Award-winning Chef Jean-François Piège (see “Bon Vivant,” page 25) heads up the kitchen at Les Ambassadeurs, one of the most renowned restaurants in Paris. The formal dining room at Hôtel de Crillon recently underwent an extensive renovation. Décor is now a pleasant blend of warm tones highlighted by crystal and marble. Dining at Les Ambassadeurs is an expensive venture — but well worth the cost for people who enjoy a dining experience. Even lunch is a three-hour orchestration of fine wine, fabulous food and extraordinary service. A fixed-price luncheon menu (approximately $100 per person) is available. A la carte menu items include lobster from Brittany with coconut curry (approximately $130); and venison and pear poached in wine (approximately $110).

Les Ambassadeurs Hôtel de Crillon
10 Place de la Concorde Paris
75008 France
tel 33 1 44 71 15 01,
fax 33 44 71 15 03

www.crillon.com

ROYAL MADELEINE Tucked away on a side street just steps from La Madeleine, an ornate church dedicated to Mary Magdalene, Royal Madeleine is a true find. The tiny, dark and cozy dining room features banquette seating, a zinc-topped bar and heavy velvet draperies. The staff is friendly and accommodating. I enjoyed grilled lobster while my dining companion splurged on the filet mignon. For dessert we opted for the créme brûlée. It was a meal we talked about for the rest of our trip, even going so far as to recommend Royal Madeleine (a gesture that made us feel quite worldly) to a tourism official we met the following week in Vevey, Switzerland, who was looking forward to a visit to Paris. Total tab for two, with wine, was about $150.

Royal Madeleine
11 Rue de Chevalier St. George Paris
75008 France
tel 33 1 4260 1436

LA CITROUILLE A tiny hole-in-the-wall on a side street off Boulevard St. Germain in the St. Germain des Prés neighborhood, La Citrouille is a cozy dining venue. The simple menu includes an assortment of traditional French fare, but it’s the fixed-price menu that’s the real draw. Three courses for less than $15 per person. We opted for onion soup, boeuf bourguignon and chocolate crêpes accompanied by French table wine.
La Citrouille 10 Rue Grégoire de Tours Paris 75006 France tel 33 1 4329 9041

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