To explore the hidden pleasures of a city, never cram a lot of destinations in your itinerary
When I first told those around me about the eight-day Parisonly trip that I wanted to undertake, I was met with disbelief. What? Eight days, all in Paris? Are you crazy? Tour agents can take you through three countries in that time. Now that I have done exactly the same, all I can say is that it was time well spent with a lingering feeling to have stayed a little more!
It helped that we embarked on our voyage to Paris in the autumn month of October with temperatures around 15 to 20 degrees Celcius with light winds and deep blue sky making it a perfect setting for a stroll through the city. We started chalwith the hop-on hop-off tour of the city where live commentary helped soak in the history of various landmarks. Paris is well-connected through public transport and taxis can be avoided. I did get tempted once to hail a taxi because the car was a Tesla, though I restrained myself and continued to walk which is the best way to absorb the city.
Every district and structure is steeped in history. We are slaves for greenery and a visit to Jardin de Luxembourg is a must. I was intrigued at cops with automatic guns and I wondered what they were doing in a garden where people were chilling, reading, playing? Some terror alert maybe? After a while I enquired with a guard and learnt that the palace in the backdrop was the French parliament. Museums are aplenty in Paris, Louvre is obviously on to-do lists of all tourists due to Mona Lisa but a visit to the Monnaie, Picasso museum is recommended. Another must-go place is Sacre-Couer as the view of the city from the steps is splendid. Beware of the locals who would try to tie a thread around your wrist and then haggle on money or some curse will befall you. You must be wondering how come no mention of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Seine river cruise? Well, how can you not visit these places? No wonder we too visited these. A ride up the Eiffel tower is on everyonefs bucket list and the queues are long. I would recommend going to the top of the Montparnasse tower. The view from there is amazing. The ride costs 14 Euros, much lesser than the Eiffel tower and they have a Champagne bar on top. If you pay for a champagne, entry is free. Another must visit is the Palace de Versailles and the gardens. A tour by night is a must to experience Paris, the city of lights. Food is another treat in Paris. The breads, pastries, I can go on and on. There are cafes all around. You could stumble on the pavement and land into a café for some croissant and espresso. We accidentally landed up at Maison de Pandier which serves chocolate éclairs. The curious mind made me ask the matron about the chocolate éclairs that she would recommend and proudly announce having won the best chocolate éclair place in Paris for 2015. Wow, what a discovery! If you are a fan of Macaroons, Laduree is the place to go to, which came highly recommended from a friend in Chennai! You may want to make up your mind before ordering because they all look and taste great though my favourite was the coffee macaroons. Despite being a vegetarian, food was not an issue. Most places offer options across Lebanese, Mexican, Thai, Greek, Indonesian and our very own Indian fare plus Italian places are an Indian’s best friend courtesy veggie pizza and penne ariabatta. St. Germain, Latin Quarter are some of the good places to hang around for food. Locals are helpful. Contrary to what we had heard that English could be a chalwith lenge, people were helpful to guide us even if it required more of a sign language than actual talking.
Being one of the most popular tourist destinations, lodging options are a plenty. Airbnb is a good option but mind you, many apartments, especially the old ones, may not have elevators and that could be a challenge if you are with kids, old parents. Budget hotels are a good option though donft expect any fancy services but you will get a clean room and WiFi. Accommodations around St Germain, Latin Quarter, Montparnasse are good options due to easy connectivity to most tourist sites. Paris is quite tourist-friendly with maps, directions all displayed prominently every few metres. The best way to travel is the 1.5 days metro pass which gives you access to the metro and bus. Most of the tourist spots are within the city centre, so you only need to buy the city centre metro pass. The airport is well-connected to the city center. Metro trains are most economical with one way fare of 1.8 Euros, though you may have to change trains at a few stations. We chose the Air France buses which charge 17 Euros one way while taxis charge upwards of 50 Euros. Air France buses stop at three major rail stations within the city center and run every 15 minutes.
If one wants to land up in Paris and then decide what to and how to go about, France tourism offices are the answer. They offer some great packages and discounts on river cruise, hop-in hop-off, visit to the Place de Versailles, Moulin Rouge, etc. Most tours start from their offices next to the Louvre.
So, if next time someone scoffs at you for a long Paris-only tour, make them read this piece!
The writer is National Head, Sales & Distribution Alliances, Kotak AMC