getting real about paris: logistics

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Back in the days before the magic of apps and smartphones, I traveled to Paris with a trusted copy of Paris Arrondissements, Red Cover. Available only in newsstands in Paris, this is the insider guide used by Parisians to navigate the city by foot + metro. My friend lent it to me and swore that she would disembowel me should I lose it, break it, tear it or throw it out a random window. Considering my life was being threatened, I guarded the book with my life and it was my saving grace during my first trip to Paris.

Over a decade later, I’d like to welcome you to the INTERNET. Ah, what a joy it is. When I travel I like to be as respectful of a city’s culture and denizens as much as possible. To this end, I’ll learn simple, common phrases, find quick navigation tools and understand the rules of the proverbial role with regard to cultural snafus. To avoid any gaffes, I came to Paris PREPARED like you wouldn’t believe, and I’m tickled that my Type-A personality has finally paid off. Here’s the scoop:

Applications: I downloaded the following smartphone (iPhone, check to see if they’re available for the Android) applications, which have saved my life:

  • French++ ($3.99): Yes, this isn’t free, and yes, it’s worth it. A considerable amount of applications relying on a wireless connection, and this amazing offline tool gives you over 300 common words/phrases used to navigate dining, traveling, shopping and hitting the streets. Not only do you see the French translation of a phrase, you can, like me, replay the voice activations 1.5MM+. All of the phrases are organized by category for ease of use.
  • Paris Metro: PHENOMENAL. Although the free app requires wireless, it has geo-location built in so I can find the nearest metro and how to make all connections between stations. Super easy to use and I’ve found that I’ve used this REPEATEDLY.
  • iTranslate (free) + iTranslate Voice (.99): This app made life REAL, you guys. You can record people speaking in their native language and instantly view the translation on your iPhone (Voice, $.99, while text is free). I’ve used this to translate menus I’m viewing (text type) or to speak into my phone to have my English translated to French. Worth every penny, and apparently available in multiple languages
  • Paris Maps (Offline): I downloaded this map + the WIFI-enabled version, and both allow me to navigate a city, by foot, while having a map in my pocket. PERFECTION.
  • I’ve downloaded many other apps, however, I found the above most useful. I also relied heavily on Google Maps (yet another reason I won’t download iOS6 or purchase the iPhone 5) to help me get to where I’m going.

    Language: From the times I’ve been to Paris, I’ve often compared it to New York. We both like Americans, but we don’t like DUMB Americans. So the notion that you would walk up to someone and start speaking English is curious to me. What if someone walked up to you and started speaking French? Try to learn some common phrases (make an attempt!) and the French will be completely accommodating. Most people know English (or enough to get by). And while there are rude people, there are rude people EVERYWHERE. Perhaps I’m unfazed by all of this because I’m from New York, where my tolerance for idiocy is pretty low. I have noticed, strangely, that once I tell people I’m from New York they are INFINITELY nicer. I’ve been in Paris two days and I’ve had multiple conversations about New York, and how it is different from Paris (it seems as if the Parisians with whom I’ve spoken compare the cities too).

    Tipping: I honestly don’t get the concept of NOT TIPPING. Yes, I understand that service workers are paid much more than their counterparts in the U.S., but I always, always tip. If you’re doing a great job I’m going to let you know and give you a little extra. I’ve ignored this custom even if it is confusing to the taxi drivers and waiters I’ve encountered.

    Hotels: I’m OBSESSED with Trip Advisor and Hotels.com. I don’t go ANYWHERE without consulting both websites, and I always defer to “real people” reviews rather than editorial reviews. I’m the type who will pontificate the detracting reviews, much to my chagrin, for HOURS. This has made deciding where to stay in Paris + Provence a probable nightmare. Yes, hotels are smaller than Europe. Yes, the photos are never really real. However, I still obsess, and so far I’ve been pleased. For my first day I booked a room at Grand Hotel Francais. Although the hotel is very modest looking, the rooms are clean, quiet, well-appointed, and cozy. My bed was completely comfortable and the shower was unexpectedly large. The views from my window are pretty lovely (see below) and I’m within minutes from all the metro lines and some yummy boulangeries (see below for today’s breakfast!). Also, the host was very friendly and helpful in terms of helping me on arrival. If you’re looking for luxe, this isn’t it. However, if you’re looking for a good value for your money, you’ve hit the mark. Today, I’m staying at Hotel Original, based on the recommendation of a work colleague and great reviews on Trip Advisor. In Aix en Provence I’ll be staying at Hotel de Gantes. I’ll keep you guys posted on both spots.

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