Late last year, my wife and I had the chance to visit Paris and northern France for a week, courtesy of the wonderful all-business-class airline L’Avion ― which now is part of the British Airways all-premium-class transatlantic subsidiary OpenSkies.
If OpenSkies has anything of the service ethos of L’Avion ― and from what I’ve heard and read, there is every reason to believe it has ― it is an airline well worth flying, particularly at the bargain-basement business-class fares that OpenSkies and all other airlines are offering across the Atlantic in the summer of 2009. (Basically, you can fly business class between North America and Europe this summer for about the same amount that you needed to pay to get an economy-class seat last summer.)
Our trip last November was the first time in many years that either of us were able to revisit a city that we both had loved since long before we were married. Indeed, we had never been there together, and each of us had favourite things that we wanted to see and do in Paris, as well as wanting to sightsee in a few places neither of us had been before. Even though we were in Paris in a cold and fairly grey week in mid-November, we still found the city absorbing, beautiful and magical.
So, together, we were able to pack in several interesting little sightseeing itineraries in Paris in just a few days ― as well as visit some good friends of ours in their weekend home in the delightful fishing village of Wissant, on the English Channel (or La Manche, as it is called in France). Our visit to Wissant also gave us chance to take the TGV for the first time, and we were quite impressed. I’ll be writing more soon on Wissant, the beautiful “Pays des Deux Caps” area in the heart of the Pas-de-Calais district in which Wissant lies, the nearby resort town of Wimereux ― in which we had one of the best meals of our lives ― and the beautiful old city of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
For now, however, here are just a few tips ― without much adornment ― on accommodation, dining, and things that we found worthwhile to see and do on our recent, memorable visit to Paris.
1. If you haven’t already seen it, beg, borrow or steal a DVD of the French film comedy ‘Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis’ ― ‘Welcome to the Shticks’. A huge hit in France, and a big international breakthrough success when it was released in 2008, the film is a hilarious but touching send-up of life in ‘Le Nord’ ― the far north of France, in the Pays-de-Calais area. It’s one of the most entertaining films I have seen in years.
2. Fly to Orly airport rather than Charles de Gaulle and buy yourself an all-inclusive ticket to take the automated people-mover train to the RER commuter rail station about 3 miles away so you can take the RER train into town. It’s cheap and will get you to the major Chatelet-Les Halles Métro hub station, or other city-center RER stops, within half an hour of leaving Orly ― which is much more pleasant and less confusing to use than Charles de Gaulle. (And do the return trip on the way back.) Another transportation tip: Ride the Métro as much as you can: It’s cheap (particularly if you buy a multi-day, unlimited-use pass), goes everywhere throughout the center of the city and is generally a pleasure to use, with rains arriving every two or three minutes on average and running silently on rubber-lined wheels. But beware of pickpockets: Paris is full of them and most of them are children. Seriously: Don’t have your wallet anywhere accessible and women should keep the straps of their purses or handbags diagonally across their bodies.
3. Although the rack-rate prices are anything but what people in the U.S, would regard as cheap, it’s worth staying at the boutique four-star-plus Hotel l’Empire Paris, in the tiny, ancient Rue de l’Arbre Sec ― ‘Street of the Dry Tree’, which really means ‘Street of the Gallows’ ― yards from the Rue de Rivoli, the Louvre and the famous Les Halles area. The hotel ― which only has 42 rooms and suites on six floors ― is very centrally located for sightseeing and has absolutely beautiful, comfortable rooms and suites. Some of the rooms only have (very large) shower rooms, but ask for one with a bath: The French-style, two-level baths are deep enough for you to lie and luxuriate in for hours. The hotel is prepared to offer special promotional rates and packages: Contact the hotel through its website at www.lempire-paris.com.