Untours Cafe

A few notes from our Paris Untour

1. Rick Steves' Paris Guide Book, the Michelin Paris Guide and the Idyll Guide Book

One of the nice things that Idyll does for its travelers is to provide them with guide books appropriate to their destination city or area. For Paris the main sources of information (other than the orientation session after you arrive) are the Rick Steves' Paris guide book, the Michelin Paris Atlas pas arroundissements, and Idyll's Untourist's Guide to Paris.

The Rick Steves' book has excellent maps and his museum tours highlight the important works and guide you to them, plus his style of writing adds an extra note of humor as well as insight into your museum visit. The walks in his book - there are five - are excellent guides that highlight all of the major points of interest and suggest places to shop and eat along the way.

The Michelin map book is compact and easy to use. After orienting yourself with the map you can easily determine your location on the map and plot your course to any place in Paris. Don't waste your money buying maps before you arrive.

Another excellent guide is the Metro map (and bus routes too) that is available from the ticket seller windows at most Metro stops. There are two sizes of maps - ask for or point to the larger one - usually it has advertising on the cover. The larger size is really helpful - all of the subway and bus maps in the guide books are really too small for accurate reading.

The Idyll on-site guide is full of useful information. The Paris guide contain a lot of stories written by Idyll staff and other writers offer their guidance and observations about day trips away from Paris. It also contains the kind of information that comes from years of experience in traveling in and around Paris. It is invaluable in planning your itinerary.

2. Metro Musicians

Besides offering easy travel around Paris the Metro offers travelers entertainment in the form of traveling musicians. They work the hallways and tunnels connecting the different train lines and also the individual subway cars. Everything from a string quartet to accordion can be found. Some are pure and offer only the natural sound of the instrument, while others work with a battery operated music machine to offer accompaniment to their instrument or voice. When working the trains the musicians will play in one car for a couple of stops, then pass the cup for donations and move on to the next car in the train. Experienced Metro musicians can spend the whole day underground just transferring from train to train. The quality of the entertainment varies greatly, but some are really very good and of course some make you want to change trains. One day we saw the same brass quartet we had seen on the train playing their way up our street. People listened from their apartment windows and tossed coins to them in appreciation.

3. Taxi rides to and from the airport

The ride to and from the airport is an experience that one will not soon forget. The taxi driver makes sure that the car goes as fast as the traffic will allow - and just a bit more. The driver manages to squeeze the cab into spaces not large enough for the cab as it merges into traffic - never once letting someone get the best of him. It is not so much aggression as it is finesse when managing to get in and out of the flow of traffic at a difficult intersection. Idyll travelers hold on to the arm rests and their partners and whisper prayers for safe delivery. Our van ride back to the airport at the end of our stay surely set the new land speed record for such a trip.

4. How to park a car in Paris

Parking is scarce in Paris and so drivers become inventive to the point of breaking the law. It seems that in unmarked areas you can park at any angle and at intersection corners blocking the sidewalks without getting a ticket. But if you park in an area that is marked for no parking by signs or paint on the curb you will likely find your car gone when you return.

Most of the cars are small and fit into small spaces, but we always wondered about the cars parked in the middle of the block pinned in by the other cars parked bumper to bumper. The only out of place vehicle we saw on a Paris street was a Ford F150 pickup truck which, when compare to the French cars around it, looked really out of place!

5. Picardie and its Environs

The Picardie Apartment - and I suppose many others that Idyll contracts with - is located on next to a wonderful shopping street, Our street was the Rue de Bretagne.

Every classification of food has its own shop - fish, meat, bakery, cheese, wine, vegetables, etc. There are also a couple of super market type stores - with the narrowest aisles you have ever seen. The size of these places and lack of storage meant that the sidewalks were always crowded with goods ready to go into the stores. The most interesting event took place early in the morning when trucks would arrive full of fresh produce to unload into the yet to open stores.

Banks seem to be on almost every corner, so one is never far from a cash machine. News shops also abound so you are never far away from the latest edition of the International Herald-Tribune. Restaurants are also plentiful, so one never lacks a new and interesting place to eat.

Metro stations are within easy walking distance, as well as a number of bus lines.

6. Metro tips and maps

The metro maps available at the Metro ticket windows are bigger and better and free. Pick one up - get the large size. Every Metro line has a beginning point station and an end point station. Follow the signs that direct you to the station that is in the direction that you want to go. Hang on to your Metro ticket after you go through the turnstile - you will need it to get out after your trip. Sometimes there are Metro police waiting to see your tickets and to catch those nimble folks who jump the turnstiles all the time. Do watch your valuables, but if you have taken the right precautions you will have no trouble. And do a lot of people watching - that is fun too!

7. The black and white cat

The very narrow street the Picardie apartment faces allows one to become acquainted with your neighbors across the street. One young man owns a black and white cat who would come out of the open window to stretch and perhaps catch a few rays of sun.

The cat would somehow keep its balance as it worked its way around the window ledge and window grill work - all the time offering a meow to let you know that she was out and about.

8. Keeping Paris Clean

The city of Paris has been spending millions of dollars to keep the city clean for its millions of visitors. The campaign is working. We watched the almost daily (including weekends) pick-up of trash and recyclable materials in front of our apartment. We also found the city to be almost entirely free of doggie do. This used to be the number one complaint of tourists visiting Paris. There are bins to dispose of this waste on every street corner and dispensers for bags to do the job. In addition there are trucks and crews that travel the streets with the assignment of cleaning up what others fail to do. The trucks have a cartoon picture of a dog on the side. Paris also does a lot of street washing and there is even a system for flushing the curb gutters.

9. Monet’s Home and Gardens

Go to the St. Lazare train station to buy tickets and catch the train to Vernon and then the bus to Giverny and Monet’s home and gardens. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare and found that by buying two tickets we got a nice discount – good deal! As people had warned us, they don’t post the train track number until the very last minute and then there is a mad dash of humanity for that track! Soon we were off – a bit late but no worry. As the train moved away from Paris following the Seine river the fog grew thicker and we began to worry. But it turned out to be a boon to our sightseeing. An hour and we were in Vernon – found the bus and 15 minutes later we were in this beautiful French village where Monet made his home for over 40 years.

You enter through his original and very large studio (think of those wall size paintings of water lilies) which is now a gift shop. Then you exit into the gardens and even in October the colors are spectacular. A path through all of these flowers leads you to and then around the Lily Pond and over the Japanese bridge that is the focus of many Monet paintings. There was a mist and fog in the air that gave this area a special light – the light kept changing. One could easily see why an artist with Monet’s philosophy and vision would love to sketch and paint here – it was just lovely beyond words – all for the eye!

We went back through the gardens – rows and rows of flowering plants in full bloom and getting such tender care from a gardening staff. This led us to Monet’s home (all of this and the land was donated by Monet’s son). It was a very interesting house – especially the rooms painted in bright single hues and the massive collection of Japanese prints. In the living room was a large photograph of Monet in this room --- and the room today matched the photograph, well, of course, minus Monet and lots of paintings that now hang in museums all over the world!

We just had to go back to the Lily Pond. We found a bench and just sat and watched the changing light. We sat and absorbed and drank it all in until we were full, but like a good French meal there always seems to be room for just a bit more!

10. Paris Art

Of course you can find art museums in Paris - from the very famous to the obscure and out of the way gems. And all types of art.

From that famous lady that everyone clamors and strains to see

to the masters

to that most modern

11. A "Must See" and "Hear" - The Church of Saint-Eustachie Pipe Organ

The Church of St. Eustachie was constructed beginning in 1532 and consecrated in 1637. When the well known market "Les Halles" was removed to Rungis in 1969 the life of the neighborhood completely changed and the building of a cultural center on the market site put the church in a prominent position as a place of worship and a place for people of the world to admire its architecture and the quality of its famous pipe organ.

the famous pipe organ and keyboard

Its famous pipe organ (in its present configuration) was completed in 1854. The organ has five keyboards and a sound that is magnificent. If you get a chance to hear a concert - do it! We were privileged to hear one on our visit that showed the complete range of this instrument.

The church has a reputation for musical tradition. Wolfgang Amedaus Mozart's mother's funeral was celebrated in the church in 1778. In 1855 Berlioz conducted the first performance of his Te Deum accompanied by 950 musicians and in 1868 and 1868 Liszt conducted conducted his Gan Mass.

St. Eustache Courtyard

That is Paris - she is beautiful inside and out!

Views: 357

Comment by Marilee Taussig on July 19, 2007 at 4:10pm
wow, Pete -- I am sure glad the tech goblins didn't get this one. It is excellent. I can tell we have the same gut response to Paris....wonder and a sense of cherishing the beauty.
Comment by Marlene Hench on July 19, 2007 at 5:57pm
What a great blog, Pete! Love your photos also especially Monet's garden. When did you and Maggie go to Paris?
We just got back a couple weeks ago and I am having such fun sorting thru some of my thousands of photos and trying to write a trip log.
I can see why everyone loves Paris!!!!
Comment by Powen Shiah on July 20, 2007 at 11:34am
An excellent post, Pete. If you are the type to want to go back and fix things, I think your font changes (gets larger) halfway through the post right before section 6. and then goes back smaller again at the sentence "We went back through the gardens..." Not sure what's causing it but I thought you might want to know.
Comment by Louise Walls on July 20, 2007 at 1:48pm
Pete, I loved your Blog. Lots of good tips and great photos. Wish I was there now.
Comment by Sara and Christopher on September 4, 2007 at 3:39pm
Pete and Maggie - I enjoyed reading about your Paris trip, and enjoyed the photos too. I'm so pleased to hear about the "Keep Paris Clean" campaign - when we were there 6 years ago, some areas were in need of some tender loving care. It's such a fabulous city, I hated to see that.
Comment by Mary Ann Miller on September 21, 2007 at 7:03am
I loved reading about your trips - especially Paris and Monet's garden. I have been there several times to paint. The first time was so crowded and commercial I vowed never to go again. Then I learned that artists can apply 6 months ahead to go into the gardens to paint on a Monday when it is closed to the public. We stayed in a B&B in Vernon so as to be there early, but what we didn't know was that EVERYTHING is closed on Mondays there as well, restaurants included. Thank goodness we found a lady who took pity on us and gave us some bread and cheese - and of course, we had wine with us!


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