News from France: Sarkozy, Afghanistan, Bastille Day, Syria, DSK, Tour de France, Air France

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:58 pm -

FP photo of French soldiers in AfghanistanFrench soldiers killed in Afghanistan

President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Kabul last week. He announced a troop withdrawal program in Afghanistan following U.S. President Barack Obama’s mandate to withdraw U.S. troops.

The day following Sarkozy’s surprise visit, five French soldiers and one Afghan civilian were killed plus another four soldiers and three Afghans were seriously injured in a bomb blast in eastern Afghanistan. Another French soldier was killed in a skirmish with Taliban insurgents on July 14, Bastille Day.

This placed a pall over the military march down the Champs-Elysées for La Fête Nationale/Bastille Day. President Sarkozy wore a black tie and paid tribute to these most recent military fatalities.

The majority of the French have not been in favor of troops being sent to Afghanistan. To understand more, Foreign Policy is an excellent resource.

More sanctions against Syria

France and the US are expanding sanctions against Syria, including ones impacting oil and gas. Syria. The country’s President Bashar al-Assad has lost credibility. This policy shift will have a lasting impact, including bringing to an end a strategy of U.S.-backed peace talks between Syria and Israel.

Pro-government crowds attacked the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus Monday. This was the most recent demonstration of Syrian government’s anger over foreign moral support for the country’s pro-democracy protesters.

Since the uprisings began last March, it’s been reported that al-Assad’s security forces have killed more than 1,700 people. Up to 15,000 people have been arrested and many have been subjected to systematic torture while imprisoned. It’s estimated 350 members of the security force have died. To read more about the volatile situation in the Middle East, access the Global Post.

France in negotiations with Libya, still arming rebel fighters

France’s parliament voted to extend funding. Foreign Minister Alain Juppé says the French government has had contacts with the Libyan regime about Gadhafi’s possible departure. Juppé says a political solution may be in the works.

France was the first NATO member to launch airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime this year. It was also the first country to recognize Libya’s Transitional National Council. Authorities confirmed that France has supplied light arms to the rebels.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Socialist Party

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s saga continues as Tristane Banon filed her complaint eight years after DSK allegedly tried to rape her. She unveiled a tattoo on her arm saying “Never flee, pursue.” According to the Telegraph, the French police are investigating her allegations.

With DSK apparently out of the presidential race, Sarkozy has caught up with Socialist Party candidates who want to limit him to a one-term president. According to a recent poll, the CSA survey found that Sarkozy and Socialist presidential hopeful François Hollande would both receive 26% of votes if the elections were held today.

And while opinion polls in May put FN candidate Marine Le Pen ahead of Sarkozy, CSA’s latest survey reports her support has slipped to 17%.

Tour de France

Still far too early to predict a Tour de France winner, but most impressive so far has been Thomas Voeckler of France. The 32-year-old cyclist is wildly popular in France, but even a “home-town” advantage shouldn’t take away his multiple Yellow Jersey wins in the grueling Pyrenees section of the Tour, including his Bastille Day win. Voeckler is riding with the big boys Contador, Brothers Schleck, Evans and Basso, and others and is expected to retain the Maillot Jeune for the next few days. The event wraps in Paris next Sunday.

Air France launching low-cost flights in October

Air France has confirmed it plans to get into the low-cost airline business and launch 54 budget routes from regional airports in France. 

Marseille will be its first base. AF seeks to win back four million passengers a year from budget airlines. 

Thirteen new Marseille routes will launch in October: Biarritz, Brest, Athens, Copenhagen, Milan, Basel, Eindhoven, Prague, Dusseldorf, Moscow, Beirut, Istanbul and Casablanca. 

Prices will start at 50€ one-way. Other existing routes, such as Marseille-Lille and Marseille-Alger will start at 80€. This is clearly to compete with airlines such as easyJet.

And the world goes on.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Paris Reasonably Priced Hotels: Jardin Cluny, Duquesne Eiffel, Paix, Marronniers, Mama Shelter, Turenne

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:55 pm -

Don’t expect thicker than thick Terrycloth robes and amenities by Hermès, but the following hotels are more than correct, as the French say. Rooms tend to be small, so if you’re traveling with three suitcases for an extended trip, you may want to consolidate your Paris clothes into one and leave the others in the hotel’s locked storage room. If you have anything of value, please place the items in the safe.

Please note: Prices aren’t listed since they change according to the time of the year, and sometimes, there may be last-minute specials.

Hôtel Turenne Le Marais, 3-star, Paris 4th

When I moved to Paris 23 years ago, this hotel was more than tired. Even though it was two minutes from our apartment, there was no way I could book a friend in it and not even an enemy.

As is the case with so many hotels, it’s undergone renovation and in this case, it was done in 2009. The 41 rooms are still tiny (oh, the wonders of a wide-angle lens) but its location, on the side of the Place des Vosges, is ideal for people who want to stay in the Marais.

For those who can’t live without air-conditioning, a new system was installed in 2010. The rooms have free DSL, flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi in the lobby. The hotel has gone from one to three stars and most people give it good reviews.

Mama Shelter, 3-star, Paris 20th

This is one of the newer in and hip hotels that’s winning awards right and left and where the beautiful gather. Located in the up-and-coming 20th arrondissement, it’s a fast walk to Père Lachaise.

The 170 rooms are sensually decorated and each has an iMac, microwave and free Wi-Fi; included in the deal are free movies (even XXX-rated). Philippe Starck designed the hotel, so if you’re looking for traditional, this hotel isn’t for you. On most weekends, there’s live music. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of models who’ve chosen to make Mama Shelter their Paris home.

Best Western Le Jardin de Cluny, 3-star, Paris 5th

When some Americans hear Best Western, they don’t jump up and down to reserve a hotel room. You shouldn’t come to the same conclusion in Paris, where Best Western is a well-respected booking chain.

If you want to be in the Latin Quarter and near the Cluny Museum in the 5th arrondissment, you should consider staying here. Yes, the rooms are small, but they’ve been redone and are eco-friendly. It’s a quick walk to Notre-Dame, the Pantheon, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Seine. The hotel has 40 rooms; book a superior room if you want one that’s been most recently renovated. All rooms are air-conditioned and yes to free Wi-Fi. Guests say the hotel’s staff is very accommodating.

Hôtel de la Paix, 2-star, Paris 14th

This is a hotel I hesitate revealing but will since it’s a favorite where many of my friends and guests stay. Renovated less than two years ago, the lobby has a dark club-like feel, but the 39 rooms are light and airy and the bathrooms are comme il faut.

What some people don’t realize is the 14th arrondissement is across blvd. Montparnasse from the 6ème. Just crossing the street means prices tend to be lower and in this case, we’re talking a few meters.

Yes, you can be at Le Dôme, Le Select and many of the cafés where the artists and writers drank, including some featured in the film Midnight in Paris.


Hôtel des Marronniers, 3-star, Paris 6th

For people who wouldn’t stay anywhere other than Saint-Germain-des-Prés and don’t want to spend a fortune, this hotel is a jewel, not to mention, a find. The décor is very old fashioned but the hotel was upgraded with the addition of air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. If you love antiques and art galleries, the rue Jacob is your kind of street. Enter the hotel’s courtyard and you feel as if you’re in a different world and there’s no bling. The rooms are tiny but all overlook the courtyard or the garden, where you can have breakfast or a drink weather permitting. The hotel is a favorite with so many people who knows it’s the best value in this “chic-er than chic” quartier.

Duquesne Eiffel Hotel France , 3-star, Paris 7th

If you like the 7th arrondissement, this hotel may very well be for you. Located near the Invalides and UNESCO, it was renovated from top to bottom in 2008. It’s elegant and inviting and the standardiste (person who answers the phone) makes no bones that if you want to snag one of the rooms with a view of the Eiffel Tower, you should book at least six months in advance during high season. The 40-room hotel offers three sizes of rooms. The standard room will feel very small if you’re staying more than a couple of nights. Therefore, you’re better off booking a comfort room or even the larger one if you want to have a bit more space. Six rooms have balconies and they’re highly sought after. The best room in the hotel is #55 since its birds-eye view of the Eiffel Tower is nothing less than spectacular.

This area isn’t as central for metros (not to say there aren’t plenty) but generally, you’ll need to change trains. Buses to and from the area are first rate and the Rue Cler Market is a favorite.  If you’re feeling language challenged, most vendors and restaurants speak English.

People frequently ask in which area they should stay and there’s no right answer. One of the pleasures of Paris is that each neighborhood is different and you should “sleep around” until you find the one that feels as if it’s yours.

If you’ve stayed in any of these hotels, please share your experience below—your feedback is important.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Stones

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:53 pm -

When I’m in Washington, D.C., a strange thing happens: I find myself becoming incredibly sentimental over Paris. Not that there aren’t wonderful things to do and see in the Nation’s Capital, it doesn’t play my song. My heart simply doesn’t sing here.

Seeing the glass half full rather than half empty is something everyone should strive to do. Each morning I look out of the kitchen window on the 14th floor of the Washington apartment where I stay and see the 36-meter-tall trees. They’re beautiful and right now it’s a blanket of brilliant green. It’s nature at its best in a semi-suburban corner of Washington; the building is surrounded by parkland. Most people would kill for this view; it is stunning and you don’t see even one parking lot.

But there’s a feeling of isolation on any day. Where are the people, the signs of life and the signal it’s another day with people doing things they normally do? I miss seeing the kitty across the Paris courtyard and her family getting ready to leave the apartment. Over the years, the daughter’s backpack has changed from pink to black. Clearly, it’s loaded now with more demanding books and probably an iPod. I watch her working at the table looking incredibly serious as she attacks her assignments.

When I think romance, thoughts of Paris race through my mind. I miss its rooftops, being able to look through neighbors’ windows, simply walking up the street and passing a building where the façade is adorned with angels. I miss feeling the city’s vitality while sitting at a café nursing a glass of wine plus the conversations that frequently accompany it.  As a French friend calls them, I crave “old stones” and their emotive feelings of history.

Not being able to stride to the bakery and buy a still-warm baguette is such a negative. When I spend even a few minutes in the Luxembourg Garden—and yes, I take my thermal mug filled with coffee—it’s impossible to resist tearing off the heel of the loaf and sharing it with the pigeons. A bite for me, some pieces for them, and so it goes.

Should I pass a clochard (street person) and he or she asks for money, I’ll fork over the remaining piece of the bread because no one should go hungry. My brain always does an immediate flashback to when I first moved to the neighborhood, when it was still the world of French francs.

A man sitting in the entryway of the grocery store asked me for money. Rather than forking it over, we agreed I’d buy him a wheel of Camembert because subsidizing a probable alcoholic isn’t my thing. When I came out and handed him the cheese, he chastised me for not buying one that was sufficiently ripe. He was right. I hadn’t bought the best one and learned it’s important to maintain certain standards even if you’re down and out.

When I take a walk in Paris, it’s always an ongoing learning experience. Frequently, there are formal plaques or just street signs fastened to the building that tell me that someone whom I’ve read about has lived in a specific building or was worth naming a street after. Just walking through the Montparnasse neighborhood is a combined literature and art lesson. The quartier was home to so many American expats, including Hemingway, Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and so many of the literati and members of the art scene, who moved there when digs in Saint-Germain-des-Prés became too expensive.

Walk into La Coupole and you can see where so many of the (then) starving artists painted to pay their restaurant and bar bills. Whatever and however much they consumed, La Coupole got the best of the deal.

So what do I do in Washington? I see family, friends and work as usual. And even though I went to see “Midnight in Paris” in Paris the day after it opened, twice I have driven to the Cineplex in the Washington suburbs to see it again, spending too long looking for a parking space. What’s worse, I cry when I see the Paris scenery. I can’t wait to return home to see the stones—the stones that have come to mean so much to me.

Someone suggested I write a book about being an American in Paris. First, it’s been done and done again. Second, I will always be l’Américaine. But one who will always yearn for France and or other cities filled with history, where people walk and live life as one of my college heroes, Jane Jacobs, would have wanted. I do that in Paris and consider myself so very lucky.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Soupe de carottes a la Karen: Karen’s Carrot Soup Recipe

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:49 pm -

Soupe de carottes à la Karen

(Karen’s Carrot Soup)

If you have someone in your life who hates vegetables, here’s a solution. Don’t think this recipe is only suitable for carrots. When zucchinis were invading the garden in Provence and they couldn’t be beaten back with a stick, I could even sell it (OK, give it away) to our neighbors in soup form. Another plus, this soup can be served hot or cold.

INGREDIENTS:

1.5 pounds of carrots (washed & cut into ½” pieces)

1 medium onion, quartered

1 medium potato, quartered

1-2 fresh lemons, juiced

2 large chicken bouillon cubes (or chicken stock, for purists)

dollops crème fraîche or sour cream

2-4 drops Maggi ® Liquid Seasoning

½ pint non-fat half & half

fresh dill or chives to taste

salt, ground pepper & seasonings to taste (some like curry or ginger)

water for boiling vegetables (cover vegetables in water plus some extra water)

PREPARATION:

Bring water containing chopped vegetables to a boil & cook until the vegetables are really soft.

Remove from heat, do not strain & cool to room temperature.

When the combination is at room temperature, put into a blender and add the juice of one to two fresh lemons—do not cheat by using commercial lemon juice.

Add 2-4 drops of Maggi® Liquid Seasoning.

Add ½ pint of non-fat half and half.

Blend.

Add chopped-up fresh dill (or chives) to soup to taste.

Chill in the refrigerator & allow enough time for the flavors to blend. (The day before is okay.)

SERVE:

Before serving, test to make certain the soup is the consistency you like. Soup may be thinned with milk, chicken stock or even ice cubes (don’t tell). Taste again—you may want to add salt, more lemon juice.

Pour into pretty bowls, mugs (I do this when I have people for parties) or even glasses.

Add a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream. Garnish with some fresh dill or chives.

Voilà.

Some secrets: this soup can be a last chance for vegetables a day or two older than optimal.

Don’t be afraid to experiment: Even people who hate cauliflower and broccoli have been known to like these soups. My fennel soup won second prize in the soup contest in Séguret. The judges couldn’t believe it was made by l’américaine.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Saint-Sulpice Hotels: Senat, Perle, Recamier, Abbaye & Villa Madame

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:47 pm -

What a difference a few blocks makes when staying in Paris. You can easily access all the must-see museums and monuments from anywhere. If you normally stay in one area, moving to a different hotel just six blocks away will show you sights you may not have seen when based in the other location.

For example, even these Saint-Germain-des-Prés hotels in the 6ème offer a different perspective on the city than staying in the area of Saint-Sulpice in the same arrondissement. It’s almost a question of whether or not your orientation is to the south or the north of the tiny part of a city that’s composed of micro-villages.

This may be a strange concept for those accustomed to “same old, same old.” Paris is always full of surprises and things such as hotels and stores tend to change when you turn your back.

About the Paris 6th

Many Left Bank hotels advertised as Saint-Germain-des-Prés hotels are not actually in former Village Saint-Germain-des-Prés. They’re not trying to be deceitful; today all of the Sixth Arrondissement is often (incorrectly) identified as Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The area gained legendary status as the place where now-famous “Lost Generation” writers and artists lived and played after World War I. Gertrude Stein’s infamous literary salons attracted Hemingway, Picasso, Ezra Pound, and others who immortalized the area in their writing and paintings.

Place Saint Sulpice    Photo credit: Miguel Camillo

After World War II, Saint-Germain-des-Prés drew more fame from association with existentialists, philosophers and African-American jazz artists like Sartre, de Beauvoir, Beckett, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie.

The Sixth Arrondissement is very different depending on variables such as proximity to boulevard Saint-Germain, the Seine and the Luxembourg Garden. And then there are the tiny streets in the Fifth Arrondissement where the students hang near colleges.

The Saint-Sulpice area in the Paris 6th

Within the Sixth Arrondissement, the area surrounding église Saint-Sulpice is one of my Left Bank favorites to recommend as a base for Paris visitors. Even though I live only about six blocks away, I’m usually racing through it, ever passing new stores, small restaurants and other sites mentally added to my “To See and Do Later” list.

Forgive me, but while I don’t consider the Saint-Sulpice church façade designed in 1732 by Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni one of the most beautiful in the city, I appreciate that finally scaffolding has been removed from the church after years spent repairing the bell tower and cleaning.

Saint-Sulpice interior.  Photo credit: darekrusin

If you’re in the area, you may want to drop in for an organ recital. During really hot weather, the huge airy space is a place to cool off; walk in and you’re in a different temperature zone. While there, take note of some significant frescoes by Eugène Delacroix.

Fairs and festivals frequently occur on the square in front of the church; the book fairs and antiques markets are some of my favorites. An organization called Joel Garcia schedules most of them—see this website to register for a newsletter or to watch videos of past sales.

If you’re in an haute couture mood, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and neighboring boutiques will be delighted to help you part with your money. I love cruising the beautiful clothing boutiques and household emporiums. Even if you’re not a buyer, window-shopping may elevate your taste. If things get tough, you can always console your woes at pâtisserie Gérard Mulot on the rue de Seine while exploring antique map and print shops that can make your walk more like a history expedition than a shopping adventure.

So, those are my reasons for recommending a stay in the Saint-Sulpice area of the Paris 6th and here are five glorious hotels in the area:

La Villa Madame

Entering this 28-room hotel is like walking into a friend’s very elegant home where you’ve been invited to stay as a guest. How you wish. There’s a living room where people tend to mingle and an enchanting tiny garden. Rooms are small but perfectly appointed with real thought and care. Jazz combos perform some evenings and the clientele has an elegant je ne sais quoi. The hotel attracts international guests who prefer to be nestled on a quiet side street steps away from the action in the middle of the Left Bank.


Hôtel Récamier

Designer Jean Louis Deniot recently renovated this wonderfully intimate and elegant hotel 24-room hotel. If you’re looking for a hotel that feels ever so Parisian, the Récamier may very well be for you. Twelve rooms overlook St. Sulpice. Guests are offered complimentary tea or a cocktail in the lounge; and the hotel has a tiny fitness center. Unlike most other small Paris hotels, room service is available until 11 p.m. Faithful clients say they wouldn’t stay elsewhere.

Hôtel Le Sénat

If I were being 100% honest, I’d classify this hotel as being just across from the Luxembourg Garden. But since it’s on the garden’s north side, I’ll cheat and say it belongs in the St. Sulpice category. Not surprisingly, some of the hotel’s clients conduct business at the Sénat after a morning run in the Luxembourg Garden. Try to book a room with a balcony. What a pleasure to be able to sit outdoors if only for coffee.

Hôtel de l’Abbaye

This is one of the most charming hotels in the area and was one of the area’s first boutique hotels to exude un charme fou. When I first moved into the neighborhood, it didn’t have a lot of competition. But after numerous write-ups in many travel magazines, reserving a room became nearly impossible.

The entrance is set back from the street, so entering the hotel is always a treat. The former abbey was loving converted; rather than opting for the beige and “greige” look, its décor is a combination of overstuffed jewel-tone upholstery coupled with charming accessories. People who love the Hôtel de l’Abbaye tend to be faithful clients who always book there and nowhere else.

Hôtel La Perle

Situated on a busy street, this hotel has wonderful stonework and exposed beams plus a landscaped interior court where you can sit when the weather is cooperating. If not, you can head to the bar.

The rooms tend to be small but the bathrooms have been upgraded. As is the case with all of the above hotels, there’s air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi and it is, as the French say, très correct.

If you’ve stayed in any of these hotels, how did you like them?  Your feedback is important.

© Paris New Media, LLC

Karen@BonjourParis.com

Photo credits:

Place Saint-Sulpice by ©Miguel Camilo

Saint-Sulpice interior by @DarekRusin


Posted in Paris |

What’s Open in Paris in August?

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:41 pm -

It’s nearly August when most well-to-do Parisians flee the city like lemmings, leaving others behind to allegedly suffer. But, for the past 23 years, I’ve opted to stay here. To be truthful, August is my favorite month in the City of Light. You can veg out and, yes, restaurants are open. Perhaps not each and every one, but how many places can someone eat in a finite period of time?

For a calmer pace, choose Paris in August, not the countryside

Even though my husband and I owned a wonderful house in Provence, situated in the midst of the vines—with a pool and all—I’d rent it out during July and August and hightail it to Paris. I didn’t like the crowds or having to place an order for the next day’s bread unless I planned to be in town at 7 heures précises.

If I wanted the International Herald Tribune, it had to be ordered because the papers were snapped up by Anglophones passing through the region. And during the Tour de France, there were quite a few.

When we bought our house, it wasn’t in a chichi area. There was one design store and next to nothing for those hunting for bling. A butcher selling horsemeat didn’t qualify. After it was discovered, Vaison-la-Romaine assumed the characteristics of anything but a quiet village. Thank you, Patricia Wells, for writing At Home In Provence and so many other books that were researched or written from her mas overlooking the town.

Our area of the Vaucluse became so crowded that locals stopped going to the Tuesday market except if they could run in and out before the masses convened. You’d have to watch out for your feet and shoulders, and wrap yourself around the sack of fruit you had purchased since it would invariably end up squished while you were trying to exit the market. Some Tuesdays, it really felt as if shoulder and knee pads were necessary to run interference.

Ah, welcome, you busloads of tourists and when busloads of disciples of Rick Steves would come and go ooh, ah and isn’t this charming?

So much for the summery charm of Provence.

Paris in August is laid-back

If anyone tells you Paris closes during the month of August, that’s nonsense and someone is giving you outdated information.

Yes, “my” bakery will shut down and I’ll simply have to walk a block further if I’m craving a croissant in the morning. Or, I can get terrific frozen croissants at Picard. They’re open during August (even on Sundays) and if it’s a hot day, spending time in a store is a great way to lower your body temperature. It’s even cooler than the movies with their air conditioning—and you don’t have to buy anything.

Paris tourism numbers seem to be made of Teflon, especially when it comes to visitors from China. Hotels keep opening and  after a slight dip in 2009, tourism in 2010 and so far in 2011 has been good. Where there is business, there must be workers and they, too, want to dine out, shop and do many activities that travelers do.

The French also take vacations differently today than in the past.  Instead of using a month at once, workers today take more 3- and 4-day weekends throughout the year.

French workers in industries other than tourism are staying home more this year in particular for economical reasons according to The Connexion.

One of the things I love about being in Paris during August is that everyone who is here is very much more laid-back than when business and work are in full gear. Gatherings happen spontaneously and people you might never have met appear to turn up where you least expect to find them.

You may also notice more European tourists are spending their holidays in Paris.

Plenty is open in Paris in August

So, the answer to the title question, “What’s open in Paris in August?” Plenty.

First: perspective. There are about 8,000 restaurants in Paris and the great majority will observe normal business hours.

There are over 250 museums and galleries in Paris; some of the smaller operations may close, and the majors may show only permanent collections, but there will be plenty to fill your time.

Do check our Paris events calendar listings for August when published—you won’t lack for something to do.

Flea markets and farmers’ markets will be open and a visitor likely won’t notice that some vendors are away on holiday.

Switching back to restaurants, counter-intuitive as it seems, some restaurants popular with travelers close for part or all of August. For example, one of my favorites, Fish la Boissonnerie in the Paris 6th, will close the week of August 15th. That’s the only one I’ve found with a posted notice of a holiday break.

Before leaving for Paris, check your copy of the Michelin “Red Guide” to create a list of dining choices, then check restaurant websites for your favorites to see if August closure notices are posted. Make advance reservations if dining at a specific restaurant is important to you.

Advance reservations are always a good idea for dinner in Paris year-round, especially if you want something more elegant than a casual bistro or neighborhood restaurant. Remember, Paris chefs often shop at markets and buy only what is needed to cover two dinner seatings.

Don’t feel like you have to settle for dining at unimaginative chains or fast food restaurants. Ask your hotel concierge or apartment host for suggestions. Get suggestions when at museums and destinations—the locals are eating out still and they’ll know where to send you.

Businesses that are closing typically post signs on their doors or windows with closure dates. Note some are only closed for two weeks of the month; you may find your favorite is open only for a few days when you arrive or not until the last days of your stay. Again, checking in advance will help.

If it’s ice cream you want, work your way down our current list of Paris ice cream shops.

Some boutiques will take August breaks; again, check before leaving or call the moment you’re in Paris.

Here’s some good news for our many readers who love Pierre Hermé in the Paris 6th: his shop will be open regular hours.

That alone is justification for some to cross the pond.

How do you feel about being in Paris during August or any big city where people (if they can afford it) take off for the country?

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Why I Fly OpenSkies

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 2:39 pm -

story images courtesy of Open SkiesAs a dedicated flyer who never wants to fly in the back of the plane on long-haul flights, I’ve finally torn up my frequent flyer plastic and no longer do mileage runs hoping for an upgrade.

This may sound foolish or out of step with the times, but the days of upgrades have come to an end as far as I can tell. Being squeezed into a middle seat made me want to set my hair on fire: I’d rather buy a ticket from a consolidator than stand waiting for my name to be called in the event there’s a place still available in business class. By the time I boarded in the past, I was in a sweat after forking over miles plus $450 each way for the pleasure of more legroom. And forget about buying the least expensive fare because those tickets don’t qualify for upgrades.

Because I commute between Paris and Washington, it feels so good to have found my airline: thank you, OpenSkies. And the other passengers, be they French, American or Brits who take a connecting flight to Paris, say they like the airline because it’s more laid-back and with fewer passengers.

OpenSkies is an all-business class airline that feels like a club. A subsidiary of British Airlines, it currently flies between Newark (EWR)  and Washington, DC (IAD) and Paris’s Orly-Sud (ORY) airport. The planes are Boeing 757-200s retrofitted to accommodate far fewer passengers than the aircraft can handle when they’re shipping cattle—about eighty-six, I think. You get on—and off!—very quickly. Oh, there are also twelve flat “Biz Beds,” as they call them, that recline 180 degrees. Some people book the trip to Paris in the Biz Bed and fly back in the biz seat that reclines 140 degrees.

The pampered experience begins once you check in. The personnel welcome you as if you’re a VIP; the baggage allowance is three bags. You receive your boarding pass and a lounge admit slip, so you don’t have to sit in the corridor or go shopping to fill your time until the flight departs. Why would you? The lounges offer snacks, wine, spirits, coffee—all on the house—or included in the cost of your ticket. You can make a meal and then go right to sleep on the plane. You can place phone calls, use the WiFi or be left alone. There is also priority security clearance in Paris if you’re flying Open Skies.  Paris’s lounge is an Icare one and (because) it’s Paris, there’s an outdoor smoking area for those who need a last fix.  There’s also very good French champagne.

If you enjoy duty-free shopping, plan to do it at the airport because you can’t on the flight—and so much the better so there’s more time for the crew to cater to their clients’ whims.

Dealing with snarky flight attendants has become tedious for frequent flyers, who don’t want to hear about the crew’s personal problems or that their pensions have been cut. Please don’t think I’m not sympathetic, but that’s not why I board a plane. I fly to go somewhere, not to be a stranger on a plane or a shrink. And yes, I talk to the crew (when I’m not sleeping) because I was destined to spend much of my life “Up in the Air”  à la George Clooney.

The flight attendants are some of the most enthusiastic anywhere. They really feel as if they’re a family and considering there are generally four per flight, they really are. During layovers on both sides of the Atlantic, all of them whom I queried said they tend to hang together.

Flight attendants go out of their way to make you feel welcome. On one flight when I was upgraded to a biz-bed seat, I fully expected the steward to tuck me in under a white cotton duvet. Was I comfortable? You bet. If you ask if you can eat your more-than-decent meal (served on china with an eye for presentation) earlier or later, no one tells you it’s now or never.

When you fly OpenSkies, you’re rested even if you don’t sleep as most passengers appear to do. Some people watch movies on the mini-screen TV or work throughout the trip. Those who are cramming for business presentations are happy to see electrical plugs in the console so they don’t have to count the minutes until their computer battery fades into the dark of the night.

Even if your final destination isn’t Paris, OpenSkies supplies first-class tickets on the TGV to other parts of France. It’s part of the deal and a darn good one.

OpenSkies should also be considered a feeder airline and I don’t mean that as a pejorative. If you want to go further afield there are many low cost airlines in the E.U. that make it easy for you to go where you want to be with minimal wear and tear. For example, if Milan is your final destination, a round trip ticket on easyJet can cost less than $100 depending upon when you reserve. Anyone can tolerate sitting up straight and not being served more than water when the trip is only an hour and a half long.

OpenSkies has just celebrated its third anniversary, and may there be many more.

There are lots of changes taking place at OpenSkies. Dale Moss, who’s been head of the airline since it launched, is retiring. He’s made 145 transatlantic trips and feels it time to spend more time with his family. It’s not surprising that all the flight attendants with whom I’ve spoken feel as if they actually know him, because they invariably do.

Patrick Malval, Regional Commercial Manager Western Europe for British Airways (BA), took over as Managing Director of OpenSkies on June 30.

Malval (who happens to be French) has been a board member of OpenSkies for over three years and with British Air since 1990. He’s held various roles within the commercial organization before being appointed in 1999 to Business Sales Manager for France.  On my most recent flight, the flight attendants said they’d met their new boss and were excited over the prospect of being one of his team.

Price: OpenSkies has had numerous promotions and if you’re flying between Washington or New York City (ok, Newark) and Paris, it’s important to get on the mailing list and book seats when the prices are right. When they are, you’ll pay only a couple of hundred dollars more than coach on other carriers. One caveat: if you need to change your date, expect to be hit with a hefty change fee. But that’s no different from other airlines. For example, there are special offers for less than $1900.00 round trip from Newark and $200 less if you’re originating at Washington’s Dulles Airport.

OK, I’m a convert and so are many of my friends.  I would have made the leap sooner had it not been the airline didn’t accept animals on their flights. But, now they do and I know Kitty (or a canine companion) would have liked the airline as much as I do.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Around the World |

Berlin – Time to Plan a Return Trip

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:23 am -

Berlin, Café Kranzler on KurfürstendammIt’s entirely your fault. You voted to read more about my Berlin trip. Once again, it wasn’t the usual “three days here or there” because we skipped so many must-see sights.

To be sure, it’s a luxury when you can get from one EU capital to another so quickly and don’t feel you have to do and see it all. You don’t need be afraid you may never return, since it’s not a long way from where you live. And if you’ve fallen in love with another city—Paris, in my case—you can always work out a little thing on the side.

Your input:

Readers sent comments and suggestions about the many things I missed during my whirlwind trip. A couple of Berlin residents offered “insider tours” on my next trip. Thank you, and the answer is yes.

There was even an email regarding transportation. Ken Dole suggested, “Splurge and take an overnight train. Book a private sleeper car. You board at the Gare de l’Est. Arrive early because it leaves at 20:20 (8:20 p.m.) Read, socialize and turn in.”  For those who miss dining cars, the overnight train has a real one. Ken continued, “At 9:00 a.m., the train arrives in central Berlin at the Zoo or Hauptbahnhof (near the Reichstag). Passports and tickets are collected on the train at the beginning of the trip, so you won’t be awakened during the trip. They will be returned to you before you arrive in Berlin. You’ll have a porter who serves only a few passengers. Take the train one way and fly back or vice versa.”

That’s a great idea for train aficionados and the full-fare price is just over $400 for a single cabin. If you book a ticket through Rail Europe, it costs approximately $270. Remember, prices are always subject to change.

Hotels:

If you’re into luxe and history, the Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin is considered by many to be “the” hotel. It’s classic and has an indoor pool, a spa and a one-star Michelin restaurant. Located across from the Brandenburg Gate, it opened in 1907. Emperor Wilhelm II was its most loyal (and demanding) guest. No one was permitted to put a foot in the door before him and he treated the hotel as one of his palaces. You can make it yours.

It quickly became the hotel for the nobility, the rich and the famous and even some of Germany’s intelligentsia. Embassies moved their offices to the premises and used its reception rooms.

If the hotel, which was renovated for approximately 245 million euros and reopened in 1997, has a familiar look, it’s because the movie “Grand Hotel” was based on the property. It’s where Greta Garbo whispered the phrase for which she’ll always be remembered, “I want to be alone.”

A friend recommended the Bleibtreu Berlin Hotel. Since Barbara is a German architect, who worked on my apartment, it seemed only appropriate to see where she stays. The hotel was renovated in the early ’90s by an artist and is near Kurfürstendamm. Barbara reports the hotel serves great breakfast (no, not just coffee and a croissant, but one that sticks to your ribs—for weeks) and, contrasted to the Adlon Kempinski, is a veritable bargain. It’s a short walk to the subway—great when exploring a city that has an excellent transit system.

Palaces:

Thanks to all of you who sent messages about the palace that’s been classified a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.  No, I didn’t go to Sanssouci in Potsdam. I know it’s near Berlin and is a smaller-version Versailles constructed à la Rococo. It will be on my to-do list on my next trip. When we were in Berlin, it was too cold and too far to go and who needed to worry?

Shopping:

If you’re into labels and expensive, Berlin is definitely a buying center. Your can head here if you need to stock up on Louis Vuitton, Gucci and designers who make a statement when you wear their clothes and when you receive your credit card bill.

According to Toma Haines, the Antiques Diva, “The other place in town to shop is in the West on the Kurfürstendamm, known locally as the Ku’damm.  There’s rarely a crowd, even on Saturdays.” Certainly not like Paris or Amsterdam.

Toma raves about Berlin for its antiques shopping  and says, “Berlin is a treasure trove. First, there is the Suarezstrasse that has thirty antique dealers clustered together. Thirty doesn’t sound big, but this district packs a punch: you can find anything you want and you’ll want everything you find. Vintage everything is HOT and cheap, especially when compared to Provence and Paris.” Clearly, there was no way we could go to all of Toma’s secret sources and have signed up for one of her antiques tours.

More shopping and eating:

Don’t miss the mega department store KaDeWe. Not only is it 60,000 square meters large with an enormous selection of clothes, accessories and more but also on the top floors, there’s food, glorious food. For my money and calories, this one beats London’s Harrods in a heartbeat. People must go wild deciding what to buy, much less what to eat. If you’re language challenged, head to the top floor where there’s a cafeteria like none you’ve ever seen. All you do is have to point, pick up and pay.

Berlin is filled with ethnic restaurants and choosing isn’t easy. Not everyone craves heavy food all of the time and if you’re coming from Paris, you might really want to opt for good Italian food.

Adman in Charlottenburg is definitely worth a visit in addition to a walking tour of the neighborhood. If you miss sushi, voilà. This is a first-rate and fun restaurant.

Monsieur Vuong was the surprise of all surprises. You would have thought it was haute cuisine. When we arrived, there was a line long enough that we considered going elsewhere in the Mitte neighborhood. We stood with the gang and were given tea (and shawls) to keep us warm. A camaraderie among those left out in the cold formed and it was actually fun to wait together. Good thing too. When we were seated, we sat wherever there was a place and were served sensational Vietnamese food. This restaurant has a very limited menu but what it does offer, it does well. If you’re going for a huge wine menu, forget it. You have the choice of red, white and rosé. If I remember correctly, you could choose from three or four beers. By this time, it was very late.

Walking back to the hotel, we decided to cruise the Mitte area the next day. There was so much to see. Yes, there will be a return trip. In the meantime, I’ll be studying Time Out Magazine, planning which exhibits to see in this edgy and happening city.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Around the World |

Berlin Musings & Travel Tips

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:22 am -

After another week of thinking about Berlin, it’s more than clear there was no way we could do the city justice with a fast in-and-out trip. Living in Paris has so many advantages including being the ideal jumping-off place from which to travel. If you’re a travel junkie and find it enriching, it’s heaven.

Don’t get me wrong: I had no illusions or delusions we were going to see and do it all. Berlin is approximately eight times the size of Paris. There are plenty of neighborhoods here in Paris with which I only have a nodding acquaintance. I’ve designated specific days when I pretend I’m a tourist, with the conviction there’s no place like home. And, I want and need to explore it, especially if I’m going to maintain my being considered a Paris expert.

People who go to a place of any size, spend a day sightseeing and think they’ve seen it amaze me. That’s one reason to steer clear of tours where travelers are whisked from here to there with an agenda like “if it’s Tuesday, it must be Brussels… or maybe Berlin?” How about seeing the city? How about seeing what’s in between this city and the next?

You probably read the “three days here and three days there” articles as do I. If you have unlimited energy, an infallible sense of direction, don’t get confused or take the wrong bus or subway, perhaps you can do and see what’s on the must-see list. That’s simply not the way I travel since I like to wander and invariably do, since I was born without the sense of direction gene and find myself exploring whether or not I’d planned to do so.

OK, here are some suggestions, which does not mean we did them–we certainly did not get to all of them!

For a 360-degree overview of the city, the Visit Berlin Tourist Office suggests you go here. It is a TV Tower 680 feet high (270 meters) where you can get an stunning overview of the city; you can see many of its tourist attractions from here, including the Reichstag (Parliament building), the Brandenburg Gate and the Main Railway Station, as well as the Olympic Stadium, the Museum Island (Museumsinsel) and the Potsdam Square (Potsdamer Platz). This makes sense.

We didn’t go. Instead, because of a recommendation, we ate at Solar, located at the summit of a high-rise building. Our source assured us it’s a local hangout where we wouldn’t encounter tourists. She was right. The food was more than decent, portions were huge and could be split and the prices were moderate especially compared to Paris. As guaranteed, the view was incredible and the decibel level could blow out people’s eardrums.  Décor-wise (all-black and glass), it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s the type of place you either love or hate, and you know darn well there’s a whole lot of shaking going on after midnight.

We went to Checkpoint Charlie (and yes, there’s a kind of cheesy feeling that comes from being besieged by people being able to buy a piece of the Berlin Wall) and other relics of the Soviet era. We walked through The Brandenburg Gate and studied the exteriors of Museum row.

I’m embarrassed to admit we didn’t go to the Jewish Museum. You need to dedicate three days to do it justice.

But, contrary to what you may think, this is not a to-do-and-what-to see article. It’s more about the very superficial conclusions I came to. If you’re looking for tourism information, the Berlin Tourist Office has a first-rate site.

My way of learning is to interview people and ask lots of (often, too many) questions. One of the pluses of living in Paris is I know I can and will return to Berlin. And, sooner than later.

I grilled Toma Haines, the Antiques Diva, a Bonjour Paris contributor, who lives in Berlin and commutes to Paris. She shared her insights and said, “I can’t emphasize strongly enough is that Berlin is a poor city. It was flattened in WWII, isolated by the Wall, and it’s never recovered. In 2004, Klaus Wowereit, the mayor, said in an interview, “Berlin ist arm, aber sexy.” (“Berlin is poor, but sexy.”)

Beginning with the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall in November 2009, investors have been building non-stop, so construction is always visible. I love the quote from Jack Lang, former French minister of culture, when he talked about Berlin’s growth and how quickly it’s changing. “Paris is always Paris and Berlin is never Berlin.” Of course, Lang missed Baron Haussmann.

“Literally every week a new store opens up, a new building is being built… fueling the economy with the hope it will pay off. People, especially Americans, are investing in Berlin, but you have to think long-term to make it worth your money,” Toma said.

Some things I learned:

Even though Berlin and Paris are so close (by plane), it’s an eight-hour drive and an overnight (12 hour-long) train trip between the two capital cities.

Think BIG. Streets are wide, stores are big and the city feels quasi empty.

Don’t expect people to speak English. It’s a plus if they do if they’re of a certain age. Younger Germans will, but they’re not necessarily the ones who are manning information booths in the train or subway stations. Use transport maps, or a smart-phone application if you have one.

Many Germans steer clear of making eye contact. I hate generalizations, but that tends to be the norm if you’re passing by and through. If they know you, it’s something else.

Waiters are professional and appear to do their jobs well. But, they’re not as friendly as those in the U.S. nor as professional as waiters in France. Tips are not included. Supposedly, 5% (more or less) of the check is the norm.

Taxi drivers don’t necessarily speak English.  Be sure to have the address in writing of where you’re going plus your return destination. If you find the “right” driver, however, you’ll learn a lot. The one we snagged when we went to the airport was full of information and was happy to share his sense of how the city and housing demographics have changed. When we thanked him, he thanked us, remarking that passengers usually treat him as if he’s invisible.

People aren’t supposed to cross the street when there’s a red light – even if there’s not a car in sight and it’s 6 a.m. Moi?

Even though graffiti is an art form, don’t toss your trash on the sidewalk including a napkin that happens to fall.

If you happen to have a car and park illegally even for a minute, even if the police don’t arrive in time to give you a $5 ticket, other drivers and passersby will reprimand you.

Berlin is a safe city as long as you use big city smarts. At the same time, some younger Berlin residents buck the establishment. Don’t be surprised if you see storefronts that have been bashed in and because it’s non-shatter glass, you might mistake it for being an art statement. It’s not. One shop owner told me it’s frequent and perpetrated by Berlin punks.

Compared to Paris, it’s cheap. If only it weren’t so expensive to check luggage, it would have made dollars, cents and euros to have bought drugstore and grocery items and so much more and brought them home.

Food and More:

Berlin is the land of coffee here and coffee everywhere. The first café in Berlin was opened in 1670. Between Einstein and Starbucks, fast, good and moderately priced carryout coffee to go is available whenever you’re in the mood. And you can sit down in the shops, inside or out, no matter how cold it is. Bring on the lattes and the “white coffees” that are made with condensed milk. The majority of these places have free WiFi and are enormous compared to those in Paris.

I’m told women with curves are appreciated…it’s a bit of a culture shock after living here where Parisian women are forever on a diet and are seemingly born without hips and thighs.

Come to think of it, you’ll see relatively few French women drinking beer contrasted to those in Germany. Yes, there some very good wines produced there, but nothing compared to the amount of beer. On nearly every block, you’ll see a restaurant with a cheery rosy-faced (wooden) man beckoning you in for beer and local cuisine. If you like heavy and copious, you’ll be in heaven. Expect to be served bratwurst, other sausages and foods that don’t leave you craving for another meal within two hours—or maybe two days. Portions of Wiener Schnitzel are enough for two people if you aren’t into super-size-me portions. Head to Ottenthal if you want to taste the real thing perfectly prepared.

Berliners are crazy for organic and you can get organic almost anything for same price as nonorganic.  Go figure…

Clubs and more:

There’s an enormous club scene in Berlin and, generally, it doesn’t get going until late and not every night. We were advised to go to Cookies Club in Berlin, which is hot and heavy on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but were told it didn’t really get swinging until 2 or 3 a.m. and stays open until 6 a.m. Even though it was practically in the Westin, there was no way I was going to make an appearance. Although I awakened at 2 a.m., wearing a terry cloth robe to a hip hang-out isn’t comme il faut.

There’s a super jazz club, but hey, tired is tired. Badenscher Hof is by reputation a crowded hole in the wall in West Berlin that reminds you of what a night out in Berlin would have been like in the 20s. For a more modern feel, and perhaps bigger names, there’s also A-Trane.

Neighborhoods and shopping:

The reason we weren’t museuming is because we were exploring neighborhoods trying to decide why the city is so über hot and hip.

OK, I am way over the word count. If you say you’d like more, I can write about so many shopping revelations. Some are ours, others are Toma’s. Few (if any) are boring.

C’est à vous to decide yea or nay.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Around the World |

Berlin – Only Two Hours from Paris

Written by admin on April 15, 2011 – 11:21 am -

Welcome to Berlin. It’s so close to Paris, but so very different. It’s going to take a long time to digest what we experienced. This isn’t a city where you can see and do all and get a feel for its history in a long weekend—but many might work.

Things not to do: Don’t take a flight that requires you to leave the apartment at 5 a.m. unless you’re really hale and hearty and are given to being able to sing arias. Traveling within the EU requires fewer security checks, but airports are airports and, by the time you get to your destination, if you’re like me, you’re going to be pooped.

Traveling on no-frills Easy Jet Airlines was perfectly fine. The planes were clean, the flight attendants professional. One flight steward even had the courtesy to laugh when someone asked if there were a charge for a glass of water. In his very British accent he replied no, but there was one for coffee. Best of all, the flight was cheaper than cheap and, once in the air, it took only 90 minutes.

We decided to train it to the hotel rather than spend money on a cab. That was possibly a mistake since it was a 15-minute-long walk to the airport station and a subsequent 30-minute wait for the next train, which was the slow train into the central station. No RER that whisks by the outskirts of the city and we immediately spotted the considerable graffiti that’s considered an art form there.

By the time we arrived at The Westin Grand Berlin (thank goodness for Starwood points), we weren’t feeling so perky. But, that wasn’t going to deter us, come hell or high water. Nor was the bone-chilling cold weather that had us wearing so many layers that I felt like Charlie Brown. A friend, who lives there, says there’s a reason the city is called Buuurrrrrlin. And the summers tend to be hot. OK, one doesn’t travel for the weather unless you’re off on a beach vacation and then, you can only hope.

The hotel was very, but very nice, albeit without free WiFi, one of my pet peeves on my hotel list, but I won’t go there. Its location is ideal if you want to get around by public transport. The Welcome Pass is a real bargain for tourists. Myrna and I spent hours on the hop-on-and-hop-off City Tour bus and were impressed by how much we were able to see and how comprehensive the narration was and in impeccable English, thanks to earphones.

Our M.O. was to do a complete tour and then decide where we wanted to spend time. Berlin has incredible museums and there’s no way you can see a fraction of them and do them justice. The Jewish Museum consists of three buildings and is more than 3000 square meters in size or about 32,000 square feet.

We were forced to make an executive decision. Were we going to see the city, which is known for being the hip and happening place in the EU, or spend all of our time in a museum or two? We opted for the former, vowing we’d return and do only culture.

Contrasted with Paris, it’s huge and the German capital takes a lot of exploring in addition to a more than superficial knowledge of history. The more we saw of Berlin, the more we realized people can spend weeks sightseeing and only get a glimpse of the city and its many layers. It still has the feeling of an Eastern Bloc city where so much was leveled during WWII. Its architecture is a tribute to the many architects who rebuilt the city after the WWII and after the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, when there was another massive wave of construction.

What We Did:

After the city bus tour, we took a boat trip on the Spree. Because it was before the season began, we couldn’t find a barge with English narration. We followed a map noting where we were and drinking hot chocolate laced with rum. It was an eye-opener that there are approximately as many canals in Berlin as there are in Venice.

On the banks, there is nothing but restaurants and even though it was frigid, people were eating outside, bundled in blankets the restaurants supply. If you spy a red or bright yellow fleece blanket with fringe, chances are people have helped themselves.

Residents of Berlin so love the sun they’ll seize every opportunity to sit outside. Rumor has it that there are more convertibles there than in any other European city. This may reflect the fundamentally optimistic nature of Berliners, who concludes that putting down the top means the weather must really be nice and warm and sunny, even if they’re wearing clothes appropriate to hit the ski slopes.

We walked throughout the city, not always precisely certain where we were going. Always a believer in leaving time for serendipity, we explored streets and came to one conclusion: living in Berlin costs substantially less than it does in Paris. That gave me pause and more of an understanding as to why Berlin has become a center for artists and writers. Before going any further, I am NOT moving there for so many reasons including that fewer people speak English and there’s no way I’m ever going to learn another language even if I took total immersion classes. At my age, life is too short.

I just looked at Bonjour Paris’s writers’ guidelines and realize I’ve already surpassed the word limit count. Well, it’s my website. But here’s a question. Should I continue writing about our sojourn in Berlin next week? Or, should I stick to my Paris adventures? Tell me what you think. C’est à vous

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Around the World |
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