First, I want to say thank you for all the great advice and information posted on this forum. For new readers, I found it to be quite accurate and very helpful. And for the record, I don't recall smelling urine, I never stepped in any dog doo, and I started feeling the Post Paris Depression amoung entry into the US customs office at OHare.
Paris, well, I just loved it. It was my first time and I have to admit as much as I didn't want to, I turned into a typical tourist the minute I arrived. There is just something beautiful to look at on every corner and you can't help being overwhelmed at first glance.
Arrived via Gare du Nord and previous posters are correct, it is kind of a zoo. The Thalys from Brussels was comfortable and on time. Great way to travel. Fortunately, our biggest problem in GDN was finding the toilettes, which to our suprise was called McClean. If that's a reference to what the French think of McDonald's, I love it! Gave us a great laugh while we were searching for .50 to pay.
Took a taxi to our hotel in the 7th. More about the hotel in a minute. Getting a taxi was no problem, but, the taxi driver did not speak english, and I didn't expect him too. I pulled out my handy Rick Steves French phrase book, my high school french, and a map of where we wanted to go and we were off. Consider this a cultural experience and you won't get stressed out.
When you use a taxi, you must have the exact address of where you want to go, and, if possible a map to point to the driver. Apparently, Paris has over 15,000 streets and the taxi drivers simply can't know them all. I was told they are required to know 5,000. They have maps in the cars in case you don't have one. I needed to do this in both cabs I used, and it was very helpful.
Before I go on, I must add that I was in Paris to join a tour through Rick Steves company, Europe Through the Back Door. Yes, I am a fan, or a Rickie or whatever you want to call it. The phrase book is geared towards tourists and has many phrases for situations like usiing taxis.
Our taxi drive to the 7th was magical. Suddenly, it was real- I was really in Paris! We made a turn and drove through the Louvre and that was when I first spied the Eiffel Tower. My jaw dropped and I think I actually gasped because the taxi driver got a smile on his face. Some things are understood in any language.
We stayed at the Hotel Londres Eiffel, Rue Augereau, in the 7th. It is a smaller, two star hotel but was clean and comfortable. Two blocks from the Champs du Mars which was AWESOME on Bastille Day. The hotel has breakfast for an additional 12 euro per day, but I would recommend a walk to a local cafe or bakery for a better value.
The room had a bed a little larger than a double but I couldn't swear it was as big as a queen. We were comfortable. The windows opened fully and had a quaint wrought iron gate with plants growing in the window box. There was a mini fridge stocked with drinks, but at 2,80 euro per can of soda, you are better off purchasing your own at the Super Marche on the corner. The room had a TV and the bathroom had hair drier on the wall. The bathroom was typically tiny, and we were fortunate to have a shower stall with glass door enclosure. It was tiny- about 3x3 square. But it was clean and appears to have been recently renovated. Most importantly, it was airconditioned, which was great because it was HOT when we arrived.
In the lobby, you can get a free Wall Street Journal Europe in the morning, and Cedric and Arnaud are at your service. You are asked not to eat in the rooms, but, you can use the breakfast room if you want to. There is a telephone closet with a computer that you can use for free to access the internet which we personally thought was great. I used it to email home, check hours on sight seeing, etc. I didn't know that the french keyboard was different than the ones we use in the US. That took some getting used to.
Everything you need is in walking distance. There is a supermarket around the corner, several bakeries and restaurants and two laundromats on the street. Do your laundry there- it's another interesting cultural experience. I had a blast having a conversation with an older French lady. She spoke as much English as I do French but she was very nice and tried to help me when I couldn't figure out how to use things.
I said earlier I turned in to a typical tourist immediately. The first thing I wanted to do was go to the Eiffel Tower. We walked over around 10 am on a Sunday and only waited about 30 minutes to get on the first lift. Looked around the second level and then waited another 30 minutes to get on the next lift to the top. All in all, we spent about two hours there. I did send some postcards from the post office on the second level. They have a special cancellation stamp, but it is no extra cost. Post cards cost .90 to send to the US.
Walked back towards our hotel and had a cafe lunch at Cafe Le Dome. It was a good lunch and we quickly learned that sodas and iced tea were expense by our standards. You will pay 4-5 euro for a 12 ounce can, or just a glass. Better to get a wine, beer, coffee or tap water if you are on a budget.
Met with our tour group and took a two hours bus tour of the city for an orientation. We were able to stop at the Trocedero and take photos of the Eiffel Tower. In my opinion, this is the best place to view the tower and take photos. Unfortunately, the fountains were not on on, but, it appeared to become a swimming pool since it was so hot. People were everywhere in it! It was probably 90F that day.
Our day ended with a walk down the Rue Cler, which is a pedestrian street market with wonderful vendors selling just about anything you need. I was so impressed with the fruit vendors in Paris. The apricots, nectarines and berries were abolutely delicious. I'm sorry I can't remember the name of the restaurant where we ate. I suppose that's a comment in itself.
Day two began with a surprise. Pouring, pouring rain and it was COLD. Having read this forum for several weeks prior to leaving, I must admit I had not packed for cold. In the US, we say "It's raining cats and dogs". Our tour guide said there is a French expression that loosely translates as "It's raining like a pissing cow." Frankly, it was. That gave us a good laugh.
When you take a Rick Steves tour, they aim to teach you how to travel in addition to showing the sights. The first thing we did was learn how to really use the Metro. What passes to buy, how to determine the trains, etc. The guide also told us that the french are typically quiet on the trains, and that was true. American tourists stuck out like a sore thumb by being loud and rowdy. Be prepared, the metro is very crowded at times. Hold onto your things and protect your money for there are pickpockets. I wear a money belt for safety.
We toured the Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame, Sante Chapelle. All were worthwile- the Notre Dame being a highlight for me. Also saw the Deportation Memorial which was very moving. Worth a stop if you have time while visiting Notre Dame. Walked along the Seine, through the Latin Quarter and toured the Cluny Museum. The Cluny was interesting but I was shocked that it was not air conditioned. This was our first Paris museum and I was surprised to see that artifacts are for the most part not under glass or protected in any way. (except for small and/or very valuable things) It was very odd to be standing so close to things that were centuries old and you could literally walk up and touch them. Although, you know that you cannot do that because it wouldn't be appropriate. US museums are all climate controlled and everything in under glass with humidity protection. Are we too cautious?
I'm afraid I'll have to add more on another post. I'm still recovering from some time zone changes. I hope this isn't too lengthy already.