Is there any better choice of a city than Paris to kick off a new series? We're going to be exploring travel destinations that make for an easy trip from somewhere in Florida... and some of you might be surprised to find the city of light on the list. I jetted there with the husband for a pretty amazing five days last month, and here's what I found.
American, US Air, Delta, Air France and British Airways all have nonstop flights to Paris from Miami - 9.5 hours and you're there. It will take you a bit more time from other cities in Florida, but you should be able to get there within one stop through Atlanta or Charlotte.
Tickets can be pretty pricey during the summer (upwards of $2K), but if you go in the early spring or later fall, they are much more reasonable, and in the sub-$1,200 range. I like using Kayak's Explorer to find the cheapest months, weeks and days of the week to travel.
Getting Around & Getting By
While doing my pre-trip planning, I found the Paris neighborhoods pretty confusing; three things helped me put it all in perspective.
1. The city is divided into numbered sections, called Arrondissements. They radiate out from the center in a spiral, from 1 to 20.
2. You can determine which arrondissement an address is in by the last two digits of the postal code: so a location with postal code 75001 is in the 1st arrondissement.
3. Named neighborhoods, like the hip Marais, aren't necessarily within just one arrondissement; Le Marais is in the 3rd and 4th... and maybe even a bit into the 11th?
Hôtel du Jeu de Paume: Like so many first-timers, I looked for something 'typically Parisian' when choosing a hotel. We got that with this quaint boutique hotel on on Île Saint-Louis, a small island in the Seine smack dab in the middle of the city, and one of the oldest parts of Paris. The setting was picturesque, the convenience of the location couldn't be beat, and yes - the beams were quite charming. Next time, though, we'll probably venture a little farther out - maybe the 11th? - to gain a little more space and a more neighborhood feel.
Plan de Paris: Once you hit the ground, pick up a Plan de Paris (like this or this) from any of the streetside newsstands - they include street and metro maps, and are the best way to find your way around. Tourists and locals alike use the little blue or green books, so no need to feel embarrassed when you pull it out!
Walking: You will do a TON of it. Be prepared, and enjoy it.
On Proper Etiquette
Parisians tend to have a reputation for rudeness towards tourists, but after being there and seeing the way visitors act in the city, I can definitely understand their view. It's not that hard to learn a few key French words and phrases that will help you get around, and there are definitely a few points of etiquette you should follow to show you have respect for their way of life.
Duolingo: We used this free app for a few months before our trip to help us learn a little French. I can't say that we retained everything (it's not an easy switch from Spanish!), but even knowing proper pronunciation was a huge help and confidence booster.
Bonjour / Bonsoir: It's considered rude to enter a shop without announcing your presence; all you need is a simple "bonjour" in the morning and afternoon, and a "bonsoir" after 6-ish. Do this whether the shopkeeper greets you or not. And please, keep the those cameras in check... it's a place of business, not a tourist attraction.
What to Bring
Paris is a walking city; you will walk, a lot, so be prepared for that. Gym-style sneakers will make you stick out like a sore thumb, so I'd opt for something comfortable and stylish. Also, bring tons of layers, especially in the summer - the city is notorious for its variable weather. While we were there, mornings were crisp and we donned our jackets, but they were soon off and we were pretty warm walking around in the noon sun.
A Few Ideas
Navigating Paris: We kicked off our stay with a fun few hours with Anne of Prêt à Voyager. As a freelance designer, blogger and world traveler, she isn't your average ho-hum tour guide. Anne gave us a foundation for making our way around the city, and showed us some fabulous places to explore in what became our favorite neighborhood, Le Marais. We had a blast, and I found her designer/blogger background to be perfectly suited to our interests.
Bespoke Bar: There are so many fabulous cocktail and wine bars in Paris that it's hard to find a bad choice; we found something to love everywhere we went. If you get a little overwhelmed with all the options, though, and are in need a friendly face, head over to Bespoke Bar in the 11th. It's a hip, beautiful space with amazingly good cocktails and light bites, and - the best part - the friendliest owner/hosts you could ask for in Nico and Matheo. French, English, Italian all happily spoken and accepted, too.
The Paris Kitchen: If you're a foodie, you will want to take a tour with Wendy Lyn. Definitely the highlight of our trip, Wendy took us to the top fromagerie and boulangerie on the left bank, and followed it up with one of the best experiences I've had, period, at tapas/wine bar spot L'Avant-Comptoir. I was ridiculously inspired, and learned more than I thought possible in four hours.
Ô Chateau: If you have a decent amount of time in Paris, and want to see a bit of the country, I can highly recommend taking a tour out to Champagne. The landscape is stunning, exploring champagne caves is a really unique experience, and the wines will knock your socks off. The Ô Chateau tours are small and intimate, and you get the chance to meet boutique winemakers, in their own family homes, with true roots (some going back 7+ generations) to their land.
Hope that made the idea of a trip to Paris sound a little easier to you. Merci, et bon voyage!