21 March 2011, 10:12
As you may have gathered by now, Nubby & I had an incredible time in Paris! We’ve taken a fair few trips together, & this was our favourite, hands down.
Here, I’ve compiled a few tips & tricks to make your next Parisian jaunt 100% fabulous! I hope it helps you out!
Hôtel du Petit Moulin
We stayed at Hôtel du Petit Moulin in Le Marais. I did a lot of hotel research — I am a travel geek & it is one of my favourite things to do — & we were all set to book The Five Hotel, but then Nubby alerted me to the existence of the Petit Moulin. A friend of hers had stayed there years ago, & a quick browse of the hotel website had me hooked. Petit Moulin it was!
Hôtel du Petit Moulin was designed by Christian Lacroix. Do you remember him? That extremely outlandish, brash fashion designer whose company has been on the rocks for years because his designs are simply SO flamboyant that most people cannot possibly wear them? Yes. That guy!
As you can imagine, the hotel was incredible! It was fabulous for two girls like us, fans of bold design & brave personal style. Holiday Inn, it ain’t! If you’re looking for a relaxing all-white room which reminds you of a cloud, the Hôtel du Petit Moulin is not for you! (Sometimes that’s what I want. It’s what we got in Iceland. But in Paris, we wanted something LOUD!)
Our room, 204, was a lurid green colour (which I am sure contributed to our weird, interrupted sleep) & there was an immense mural on the wall behind the bed. It was a flamboyant mix of watercolours, sketches of women, collages of enormous jewels & a very Michael-Jackson-on-the-cover-of-Dangerous-esque image on the left-hand side. (They must have known we were coming!)
The carpet in the hallway was black with white polka-dots. The bathroom was bright red, like fresh blood had been splashed about, with an enormous, amazing heart-shaped mirror hanging above the sink.
It’s a tiny hotel, only three floors, but every room packs a walloping punch. Room 201 down the hall, which I managed to get a gawk at, looked like it had been decorated by a demented housewife in the 1960s — all PeptoBismol pink, with polka-dots & flowers. Needless to say, next time we go, I want to stay there… !
It was a wonderful place for us to stay. The room was downright large, with a little seated area, coffee table & desk. The bed was huge, too, & the bathroom was immense. The room was also extremely hot at all times (!!!), which was extremely unusual, especially since it was the middle of winter. We tried turning on the air conditioning, but it made no difference. Eventually, we resigned ourselves to keeping the windows open at all times!
If you decide to rest your head at Hôtel du Petit Moulin, please tell Olivier we say hello!
The best thing about Paris is that their tourist industry is enormous. It is one of the most-visited places in the entire world, & of course this means that there are hotels to suit absolutely everybody’s tastes! Even a cursory glance at Tablet’s selection of Parisian hotels will quickly wake you up to the fact that you can do Paris any way you want. Glamorous? Elegant? Cutting-edge? Eclectic? Neon?! Take your pick…
Even though I recommend the Hôtel du Petit Moulin extremely highly, if you don’t stay there, I would really recommend spending some time in Le Marais, the Petit Moulin’s neighbourhood. It’s a huge, old, beautiful area — one of the first in the city, actually — with grand doors & entrance-ways, cobblestone streets & gorgeous buildings.
Like all neighbourhoods, Le Marais is constantly transitioning. It has been transformed into a hip, young, gay district, with a fun, laid-back feel. The shopping is some of the best in the city — especially if you’re looking for small, independent boutiques as opposed to chain stores — & the whole area has a youthful, cool atmosphere.
There are some weird, fun surprises too. Princess Crêpe is a bright pink crêperie staffed by Japanese girls wearing bunny ears (& has a line of old French men out the door!). There are beautiful carved wooden doors (& behind them, strange men who ask you if you’d like to come inside!). One of the cafes we went into had Michael Jackson memorabilia on the wall! It’s a great place to explore.
There are plenty of tourists in Le Marais, but for the most part, you wouldn’t know it. One of the things I love the most about Paris is the lack of “Disneylanding” that has gone on. It looks just like it did hundreds of years ago, it’s not plastered with tacky knick-knacks for tourists, & it has a very authentic feel overall.
I spent a lot of time in Le Marais last time I was in Paris, too, but I was mostly walking around by myself. It was so much more fun wandering around with a girlfriend! I recommend!
Have some photos taken in Paris! Nubby & I worked with fantastic photographer Juliane Berry & it was such a fun way to commemorate our trip. One can only do so much with a remote control, or by holding your camera out & pointing it back at you! Juliane met us at our hotel, & walked us all over the city, showing us her top secret locations. It was splendid, & definitely a high point of our trip!
Spend some time walking around Paris & soaking up all the street art. I prefer doing that to standing in line for the Louvre for a million hours! The graffiti in Paris is awesome & very different to what you see in the rest of the world. It’s cute, clever & funny.
Go to Crazy Horse. Nubby & I didn’t make it there this time, but I went last time I was in Paris & it was brilliant. It’s a little hard to explain… Essentially, it is a strip show, where all the girls are the same height & build, & wear matching wigs of bobbed hairstyles. They dance & perform, & the whole time, these bright, colourful geometric shapes are projected on them. Did I mention that Christian Louboutin designs all their shoes? It sounds nutty, but it is truly fabulous. The cheapest tickets are about 50 Euro, which isn’t cheap, but I swear you’ll adore it & think it’s worth the coinage. (You can pay a little more & get champange & dinner service if you want, you big baller!) I Crazy Horse!
Gorge yourself on pastries. It’s France, after all, & you only live once! (Well, depending on your view of such things… Even if you’re reincarnating on the regular, French pastries are worth it!)
Go to Fauchon. Nubby & I absolutely loved it. If you’re into design, packaging & merchandising, it is a feast for the eyeballs. The food is pretty fantastic too! It was one of our favourite parts of the trip.
Don’t miss Manoush! They have stores all over Paris, & we went into a couple of them. I think their store on rue du Vielle de Temple is the best, though! It’s very large & they have a huge sale area in the back (bonus!). If you love Betsey Johnson, bright colours & fabulous feminine shapes, you’ll be in heaven. My friend Amanda — who was in Paris a week before I was — & I both spent small fortunes there!
Don’t be afraid of the Métro. It is extremely easy to use, even if you don’t speak the language, & it’s cheap. (P.S. The ticket machines have an English option! Fear not, young adventurer!)
Rock your own style! It will make for better photos! I also secretly think that Parisians enjoy seeing some colour in the street.
Take a taxi from the airport. Look, I know that a lot of people take the train, including me in the past, but I am going to take a bold stand & say that it is totally not worth it. Who wants to try & navigate a train system after five thousand hours on an airplane? Not me. I prefer to just pour myself into a taxi & arrive, somewhat miraculously, at my location!
Questions & answers
Are the French as rude as everyone says they are? Will they be mean to me? Will an elderly woman beat me with a baguette just for being American?
Parisians get a really bad rap for being rude to tourists, but I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, people in Paris treated us extremely well… & I don’t believe in coincidences.
You know what the secret is? Be polite & charming! Above all, don’t act like a tourist! Don’t be that poorly-dressed, loud, bumbling, “vulgaire américaine”.
Dress well! This means: leave the baseball cap, “fanny-pack” & sneakers in your hotel room. Don’t yell at one another in the street or stuff your face in public! When you’re getting dressed in the morning, you don’t have to go over-the-top (though it is always more fun when you do). Just wear something nice & a pair of shoes you can walk in. Simply MAKE the effort! You get out of life what you put in, after all!
Don’t be ignorant or rude, & instead, treat people — & their country — with respect. Don’t expect a city with a population of 17 million people to bend to your whims, just because you happen to be in town!
France is different to America (or Australia, or England, or Canada). Don’t expect it to be the same! I think this is one of the keys to enjoying travelling — you won’t enjoy it if you’re constantly hoping for it to be something it isn’t!
Will someone steal my camera?
Probably not. Just don’t flash it around like a ninny in heavily crowded tourist areas!
In fact, I am not really into taking photos of tourist attractions. Let’s face it, the Arc de Triomphe & Tour Eiffel have been shot millions of times by everyone, from clods with their fingers over the lenses of disposable cameras to the very best photographers in the world. You are probably not going to get an epic shot of these things, & it’s futile to try. You would also probably have to murder several tourists to get the perfect shot, & it’s just not worth it. (If you want a good picture of these things, try Google image search, or a postcard shop!)
However, I do believe in taking photos of things which are important to you. In Paris, I photographed Nubby’s first espresso experience (& the ensuing muppet face), some amazing street art, the inside of a beautiful florist’s shop, & of course, lots of pictures of ourselves in various locations! Those shots are far more interesting & evocative to me!
Be sure you know how to use your camera before you get there, pack extra memory cards, & of course, your battery charger!
Espresso can be a cruel mistress!
How should I behave?
Don’t worry if your French-speaking skills aren’t amazing. If you can show people that you’re willing to try & meet them halfway, they will love you for it. I think what really grinds their gears is when you show up & expect them to speak English to you immediately.
After all, why should they have to speak YOUR language in THEIR country? It would be like if you worked in a shoe store in California, & a German woman came into your shop & expected to be able to converse with you entirely auf Deutsch. You would surely be put-out & confused. But visitors to other countries seldom think of this! So, think before you speak!
In Paris, it is expected that when you walk into a store, you look at whoever is working & say, “Bonjour mademoiselle/monsieur”. If you don’t, they will think you are an ill-behaved slob. So, say it! Smile! They will say it back immediately! I think the service in Paris is wonderful, but like I said, you really have to show them that you’re trying.
Once you’ve said hello, you can always ask, “Parlez-vous anglais?”, & most will say, “Oui, un peu” (“Yes, a little”) or even better, “Yes, how can I help you?” Then you can speak to them in English. Pretty much everyone in Paris speaks English. We didn’t meet a single person in Paris who didn’t have at least the basics down! So don’t be afraid!
Even so, I always think it is nice to throw in as much French as you know, just to make it easier on them. When I am speaking to a stranger in English, I will still say little things like “D’accord” (“Okay”), “Très bien” (“Very good”), “Merci beaucoup” (“Thank you very much”), etc. All the Parisians I have met have been wonderfully receptive to this & also extremely friendly. So yay!
What should I wear in Paris?
American women are constantly being told that French women are oh-so-stylish, & so I think a lot of Americans are intimidated when they’re trying to pack a suitcase for Paris. I have to tell you, I wasn’t threatened!
Parisians are smart about things a lot of Americans leave to chance (or impulse purchases), like coats & shoes. Their coats are generally of excellent quality & they take care of their shoes. But beyond that, your average Parisian dresses pretty conservatively. Most of them don’t want to stand out or make a sartorial splash. They are happy to wear black & fade into the background a little bit. Seeing a pop of colour on the street is a rare thing!
Parisian women love miniskirts, boots, low heels & patterned stockings. (Well, let’s face it, Parisian men do too, but they are less likely to shimmy into them!) Both men & women get a little more dressed up for everyday life than most Americans. Even at low-key cafes & restaurants, we didn’t see any men wearing t-shirts, it was more of a collared shirt situation.
If you want to fit in, wear well-tailored pieces in black or shades of grey. If you don’t give a fig about fitting in — comme moi — just wear whatever you please! This was my fourth trip to France, & I always set off for Paris feeling like I am going to be inspired by their sense of style. It never happens. Returning to New York City is a delight, because people here really push the envelope & dress to make themselves happy first & foremost!
I want to go vintage shopping in Paris. Do you have any suggestions?
We wanted to go vintage shopping too! We decided we would devote the last day of our trip to exploring the vintage clothing stores in Le Marais. After fuelling ourselves with crepes, we found ourselves at Coiffeur, Free P Star & a handful of other local vintage stores. I had done my research & by all reports, these were the best vintage stores in Le Marais.
Unfortunately, we were not wowed! We thought the vintage selection in Paris was a little underwhelming & the prices were very high — not what we expected at all! I also thought the vintage was very “American” in appearance: lots of colourful polyester dresses & flannel shirts. It was a surprise, for sure!
I’m sure there is some wonderful, amazing vintage clothing in Paris — maybe at the flea markets (which we didn’t make it to) or in other, secret locations. I mean, Dita Von Teese lives there, so you know there has to be some good stuff somewhere! What I would tell you is to avoid the vintage shopping in Le Marais, or at least, don’t make it a priority!
Isn’t Paris really expensive?
I suppose that all depends on where you come from & what your expectations are! Nubby & I were astounded by how little money we spent in Paris, but then, we’re used to New York City, the capital of capitalism!
Our biggest expense was the hotel, but once that was settled, I feel like we kept our wallets mostly in our handbags! Paris is full of wonderful tourist attractions but the majority of them are free — they can’t exactly charge you to walk down a street or look at a monument. The Métro is very inexpensive & extremely efficient, & you basically spend your day alternating between walking & catching trains, stopping in bakeries for lunch & staring at everything within sight.
I’m pretty sure we spent more money in Los Angeles last year than we did in Paris! I withdrew $200 & converted it to Euros at JFK, & with the exception of using my card for a couple of meals, our hotel, & my little splurge at Manoush, still had 50 Euros left over to pay for our taxi back to the airport! I couldn’t believe it!
I really want to go to France, but I don’t speak the language! What do I do?
Look here, lovely. Don’t be afraid of travelling to Paris. Your lack of language skills is such a small thing which could put you off having such a wonderful adventure! Like I said, as long as you make a little effort to speak French, people are extremely kind & helpful. Listen to some language CDs or take a class, & you’ll pick it up in no time!
Fortune favours the bold, so grab the bull by the horns & get your toosh over there!
P.S. Nubby wrote A Beginner’s Guide To Paris, which makes for excellent supplemental reading!