Pedaling through Paris on a hybrid rickshaw

Written by admin on August 16, 2008 – 3:13 pm -

Can the vehicle above become a new icon of emission-free transportation in the City of Love? Perhaps, as Paris now has a small fleet of hybrid pedal rickshaws, similar to those in Rome and Valencia.

The rickshaw service, called Urban-Cab, is defined as an “intermediate non-polluting solution between a bus and a taxi.” The rickshaws operate on a route that passes along the Bastille, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame — basically where tourists want to go.

The rickshaws are powered not only by pedal power, but also a battery and an electric motor that assists on steep grades. Urban-Cab claims that these are a completely carbon-free means of transport and they expect to have more than 100 units around Paris by the end of this year.

Karen Fawcett is the editor of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Playing Tourist in your own City

Written by admin on August 13, 2008 – 4:29 pm -

After living in Paris for twenty years, you develop a shell and refuse to play tour guide. Why can’t houseguests and visitors get it into their heads that people who reside in Paris actually work? And if they don’t go to an office or cyber-commute, they have done the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame—and will never again stand in line to see them.

After long experience and painful experience, I have learned to hand visitors a subway and bus map, a carnet de Métro (ten subway tickets, with my compliments), and say à plus tard (see you later).  And yes, there will be a glass of wine awaiting you when you return after 5 p.m.  Does this make me a bitch?

No, but then it hits you that tourists are more knowledgeable about your city than you—because we did all those things years and years ago and now we’re sitting behind a desk or staring at a computer. Very few people who come to Paris on business see half of what I’ve been seeing since they would need to pack sports attire.

I mean, have you rented a Velib’ and taken your chances biking from here to there?  Do you know that on holidays and weekends some streets are closed for bike, pedestrian and skating traffic?  Maybe it’s time to try.  I did.

I did Paris by Segway (a motorized scooter) when the tours were first introduced. Don’t be deceived by how easy it looks. Developing a sense of balance isn’t a slam-dunk and do wear a helmet and knee and elbow pads.  Better be safe than sorry.

The Open Bus is also a kick. If the weather is nice, be sure to head to the top of this double Decker brightly painted coach and see Paris from on high.  Even though the Métro is faster, visitors don’t get a bird’s eye view of the city plus an English language description of what you’re actually seeing. Passengers will get the grand tour of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, (of course) Montparnasse, Saint-Germain, the Bastille, Bercy, Montmartre and the Grands-Boulevards.  Purchase a one or two day pass and climb on and off the bus when the whim strikes you. Make sure you don’t lose your headphones or you’ll be out of luck.  La vie est dure.

Suffering a bit from claustrophobia, the idea of being cooped up on a boat even though it’s cruising up and down the Seine is not my cup of tea. I’m good for an hour and hopped on a barge moored at the Pont Neuf (Paris’s oldest bridge in spite of the name) and get my water tour fix in an hour. There are numerous boats cruising the Seine and seeing it by night is romantic.  Many people opt to take dinner cruises but mass feeding is mass feeding. I’d rather eat in a restaurant and cruise either at sundown or after dark.

I’ve spotted some pedicabs, but have yet to gleaned very little information. There are so few in Paris that finding them is a challenge. Ah, there’s a reason. There are currently only a few Urban-Cabs.   They’re powered not only by pedal power but also a battery and an electric motor that assists on steep grades. Urban-Cab claims that these are a completely carbon-free means of transport and they expect to have more than 100 units around Paris by the end of this year.

But the newest phenomenon is renting a tiny Mercedes for 9 Euros an hour. Check out Mobizen and see where you can rent these cars – in the event you want to take a fast tour of the city and aren’t terrified of driving.

Now that I’m in my tourist mode, I’d love to take a 30-minute helicopter ride over Paris. They can be booked for approximately 150 Euros and leave from the “old” airport, Le Bourget.  I’m even up for an excursion in a hot air balloon.  The problem is that no one will go with me.  Finding a partner will be my next challenge.

Posted in Around the World |

Paris – While Parisians are away on Vacation

Written by admin on August 13, 2008 – 4:26 pm -

Just when they think the Parisians aren’t looking, the merchants have at it.  First, they raise prices just a few cent as if the natives won’t notice when they come back from vacation in September.  If you think Americans are the only ones complaining about prices, you’re so wrong.  The French are also feeling the economic pinch.

But, second, walking the streets of Paris will reveal other changes, and some are definitely for the better.  There’s a lot of construction taking place as boutiques are either undergoing renovation or have lost their leases and new ones move in and upgrade the space.  Unlike American stores getting a makeover, few signs are visible about what will occupy the redone premises.

That is why there are some new-to-the-scene places that have had soft openings and have yet to make a splash. They’ve opted for a shakedown period to make certain the staff is ready for the (hopeful) onslaught. One is Baboto, a new restaurant.

Montpellier native Daniel Alauze wanted to introduce a très Mediterranean, very hip- feeling-and-then-some restaurant in the Forum des Halles/Châtelet area. He spent two years gutting the interior of this building that’s classified as a monument historique.  Now it’s anything but traditional and serves very good food from 11 am to 2 am but never on a Sunday.

You can eat standing up at the Lucite bar or sitting at one of the higher or lower tables and, during good weather, on the terrace. And there’s free WiFi in the event you’re bored or want to hang out and work (or surf) during the day.

At night, the restaurant takes on a new persona. The bartender shakes up some mean drinks made of faux absinthe since the real thing was banned years ago for being highly addictive, unlike whiskey or cigarettes, evidently. He has an entire repertoire that will leave people who sample them feeling no pain. For non-drinkers, there is an extensive menu of non-alcoholic cocktails.

Shake it up, baby, on Friday and Saturday nights when there’s a DJ between 8 pm and 2 in the morning. Don’t wear your go-to-church clothes if you go at night.  Opt for something a wee bit sexier.

Another soft opening, but this is the right time of year when people are the most receptive. After a three-month renovation period, Raimo opened its salon de thé in a very charming boutique that’s located at 59/61, boulevard de Reuilly in the 12th Arrondissement. Created in 1947, Raimo is undoubtedly the oldest continuing ice-cream maker in Paris. Now his son is assuming the reins.  Some people swear the ice cream is better than Bertillon’s, founded in 1954. Besides Raimo is open in August, and Berthillon is closed.

Another newcomer is Pierre Herme, maker extraordinaire of macaroons—you gain five pounds just walking in the store, ten if actually eat a couple in his new boutique on the Right Bank at 4, rue Cambon, 75001. The store is so new that it’s not even listed on the web site.  But if you happen to be shopping on the Right Bank and have a craving for undoubtedly the best macaroons in Paris, voilà.

Don’t turn your back long in the City of Light and love. There are always changes!

Posted in Around the World |

Wine Bars Have Become the Rage in the US Capitol City

Written by admin on August 13, 2008 – 4:24 pm -

It’s not news in Paris. Residents or people passing through the City of Light usually visit (at the very least) one wine bar. They’re great places to taste selections of two or three wines without falling on your face. Knowledgeable bartenders will tell you a bit about what you’re drinking and if their English isn’t the best, your neighbor will fill in the linguistic gaps. And probably make a suggestion or two.

In addition, wine bars are ideal when it comes to meeting others. If nothing else, you have wine in common and that’s always worth discussing. If you speak zero French, Anglophones should head for Willie’s Wine Bar, Juveniles or Fish located in the 6th arrondissement at 69, Rue Seine (33 (0) 1 43 54 34 69. Expats own all three establishments and attract both English and French speakers.

But the trend has hit Washington big-time. Perhaps it’s because there are so many foreign tourists. Undoubtedly it’s “in” to appreciate wine and know something more about them and what you’re drinking. Long gone are the days when bottles of “plonk” (sp) are acceptable offerings. We can rejoice over no longer even being able to buy Ripple.

Wine bars (no matter where) always serve food. Some is basic cheese and meat platters. Other wine bars serve very very good food and frequently will offer food and wine “pairings.” Singles won’t feel alone bellying up to the bar. If they happen to meet someone with whom they want to spend the evening…. continuing their conversation about wine, all to the better.

In Paris, you’ll have a chance to improve your French. In DC, who knows, you might find yourself seated next to a high-powered lobbyist. No matter whether you’re a tourist or on business, you may find this an ideal way to spend some time while improving your palette.

A true wine bar should have a system for keeping wine fresh once the bottle is opened unless they’re doing a land-office business. There are many fancy systems that use gas now; several wine bars in Washington have them. Some don’t even require a bartender’s help since the client is issued a plastic card that records each wine pour. When you’re finished, you’ll be presented with a tab detailing each wine you’ve tasted.

This insures clients can sample fresh, light whites and expect the wines to taste as if they just came out of the cellar. At far too many wine bars, wines are simply re-corked. That isn’t a problem if the wine bars serve these open bottles very quickly. But too often, the bottles have not been poured quickly enough causing the wine to oxidize. Don’t hesitate to ask for another bottle to be opened. Remember, you’re the client.

Mark Kuller, a tax attorney who opened Proof, said he paid $50,000 for his Italian Enomatic system that dispenses 32 wines. These machines usually pay for themselves within months since they minimize wine spoilage.

There’s a new in-the-mode way to sample wine termed “flights” which generally are 2 ounce pours that cost less but give oeniphiles the opportunity to sample a group of wines that have something in common- maybe Sauvignon Blancs from around the world.

Please take note: Many tend to be noisy since even though the clients may worship wines (or want to know more about them) they are definitely not houses of prayer. All of below listed have dining rooms as well. Many offer bottles of wine at 50% on specific nights. It’s worth checking. Some of the establishments offer free tastings with a representative of the distributor presiding over the evening and being on hand to answer any or all questions.

3311 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC

Bistrot Lepic & Wine Bar
1736 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
Free WiFi

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC

1720 14th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.

3238 Wisconsin Ave. NW,
Washington, DC
60 wine selections (predominantly American)

Mendocino Grille & Wine Bar
2917 M St. NW
Washington, DC

Proof Restaurant
“Wine is Proof that God Loves Us” by Benjamin Franklin
775 G Street NW
Washington, DC
(202) 737-4463

Sonoma Restaurant & Wine Bar
223 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, DC
(202) 544-8088

Veritas Wine Bar.
2031 Florida Avenue NW
Washington, DC

1919 M. Street, NW
Washington, DC
202 659 1990

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Posted in Around the World |

Paris by Wheels

Written by admin on July 13, 2007 – 3:57 pm -

If you live in or are visiting Paris, you’ll have a new choice of transportation. As of July 15th, 2007, the same mayor who introduced the Paris Plage enabled people to hop on extremely sturdy bikes to get from here to there. Bertrand Delanoë, who’s responsible for widening Paris’s sidewalks, bus, taxi and bike lanes, would like nothing more than to see people ditch their cars, diminish traffic and hop on the eco-friendly “green” band wagon.

The program has been dubbed Velib’.  Paris is the first major capital to introduce this “grab a bike and peddle plan,” although it already exists in Lyon. Many city planners and transport officials are eager to see whether or not it succeeds. It just might be the way of the future — much in the same way Zipcars have made inroads in the US and a few cities in other parts of the world. FYI: Zipcars are currently available in London and there are plans to introduce them in the City of Light.

To find a bike, all you’ll need to do is look around. As of the day after Bastille Day, there are 10,648 bikes available at 750 stations. By the end of the year, it’s projected there will be 20,600 vélos awaiting riders at 1451 stations that will be spaced only 300 meters apart.  The docking stations form a dense grid across the city; cyclists can use the Internet or a mobile phone to check on bike availability. Bikes will be stationed for riding 24 hours a day/seven days a week.

Parisians and tourists will able to use and/or swipe credit cards 24 hours a day to rent cycles for short trips around the city, dropping them at any of the bike points to be picked up by the next rider. Users will be able to order rechargeable cards by clicking onto Velib’and enrolling as customers. For now, a yearly subscription costs 29 Euros, plus additional fees if you rent by the hour, the half-day, or more. For people who want to make a fast trip, the first 30 minutes are free.

As is the way with anything that’s newly introduced, there’s bound to be confusion. Would tourists be required to plunk down the annual 29 Euro subscription fee before grabbing a bike? These bikes are by no means anything a serious biker would ever be caught dead riding. No ten gears and built never go at more than a few miles per hour; they all have baskets so people can accomplish fast chores.  They will never allow you to climb a mountain.  Not even Lance Armstrong would be able to succeed.

One the concerns was whether or not people would be able to liberate the bikes with credit cards that lack puces or “smart chips.”  After numerous tries (and with the help of an extremely patient Parisian gentlemen), we were triumphant in pulling off the deed. I am now the proud possessor of a card and only hope I can remember the four-digit code. The central machines have an option for people who want instructions in English. It’s not operative on day #1 but it’s surely a matter of a few days … if that.

People who tell you that riding a bike comes back naturally are optimists.  My first foray had a Laurel and Hardy appearance, as if I were drunk, whipping and weaving. After twenty minutes, I climbed off the bike and securely locked it into its new home adjacent to my apartment. One of the reasons was because the first 30 minutes of usage is free. The other reason is because I was exhausted and needed a gather additional strength in order to make another run.

There are guides as to where stations are located but it doesn’t take much looking. The City views these bikes as being available for everyone and don’t anticipate riders will keep them out for more than a couple of hours.

Riders will be able to buy cards at metro stations, tabacs, and some bakeries and (bien sur) on line. Paris residents can now bike to gyms and do myriad other chores that don’t require heavy lifting.

I’m an instant convert. Not sure how I’ll feel come January when it’s cold and rainy.  But, more importantly, will this be the transportation of the future? If so, people will enviably have better legs and won’t have to worry about piling on kilos.

To be sure readers and other visitors to Paris will be gleaning an entirely different perspective.  And, undoubtedly a few scratches.

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Posted in Around the World |

It's A Brand New World

Written by admin on June 13, 2007 – 3:54 pm -

In mid-June, the city of Paris introduced free WiFi connections. There are 260  Municipal WiFi Connections where you can take your laptop and work away. Imagine being able to surf the Internet while sitting in the Luxembourg Garden, other parks, museums, libraries and so many more locations.  Surfers are no longer delegated to sitting in McDonald’s, the first place in Paris that offered free on-line access.  But, if you’re in a park, be certain your laptop’s battery is fully charged.

There are numerous cities in the US and in Europe that are WiFi-enabled and more than friendly. There are an increasing number of free Hot Spots in the US and many paid and free WiFi Connections throughout the US and the world, including Japan, Asia and the majority of cities in the EU. It’s amazing when you consider that not so many years ago, people depended on faxes and overnight mail delivery, if they were really pressed.

This relatively instant interconnectivity has dramatically changed the way business can be done. People can and do cyber-commute. “File-sharing” is the norm in companies so that numerous people can work on the same project around the clock. One Washington, DC lawyer I know doesn’t even tell his clients when he’s gone to Paris. His cell phone has a DC area code and he answers it night and day. The Philadelphia set a goal to be the first US city with free WiFi.  The city’s mayor felt it would be important for both the private and public sectors, attract tourists, and enable students to compete in a more level playing field when it comes to academic studies. With the development of computers that cost less than $100 each, perhaps it’s feasible. ”Wireless Philadelphia” has completed testing its wireless service in a 15-square-mile test zone and plans to expand access to the city’s 135- square- mile radius by the end of 2007.

But, that’s the US where many people had computers (or were been exposed to them). It’s amazing Paris has taken this extremely aggressive Internet connectivity initiative considering personal computers were a rarity among the French who, not so many years ago, were addicted to the Minitel.

FranceTelecom distributed millions of free “dumb” terminals in lieu of phone books. Anyone with a phone line could access a phone number and other services such as train schedules. As a result, the Minitel was often considered an impediment for a fast deployment of the Internet in France as it already provided safe and easy online access for many useful services without requiring personal computers.

There are (marginal) advantages of the Minitel over the Internet: it doesn’t require subscribing to a service or buying and maintaining a costly personal computer, plus there are fewer security issues with respect to credit card payments and other personal information.

Also, because the Minitel follows well-defined standards, there are hardly any compatibility problems that often crop up with Internet services.

Some contend that thanks to the Minitel, the French are used to doing transactions online and have embraced the Internet since it offers more value and convenience than its predecessor. Plus, the cost of computers and other hardware have dropped and consumers can buy them on-line, at electronics stores, and in nearly every hyper-marche.  FranceTelecom has essentially phased out the Minitel after France’s Internet czar degreed that it was time for the country to start tapping and typing into the 21 st century.

When Bonjour Paris launched thirteen years ago, the main response when discussing the Internet among the French was, “C’est quoi ca?”   Educated people, including graduates of the Grand Ecoles, with whom I discussed the Internet refused to believe it would make any inroads among the French.

Neighbors in Provence couldn’t understand why I spent so many hours sitting in front of a computer screen.  Work was done over a very slow phone line. To add insult to injury, phone bills were akin to the National debt and weren’t anything to be taken lightly.

France has come a long way since then.  High-speed Internet connections are available practically country- wide. The speed of connection in Paris is faster even than what’s normal in the US – to the point that the speed of some IP providers is essentially equal to a T-1 line.

So why should it be shocking that Paris has hopped on the cyber bandwagon?  If Paris’s Mayor Bertrand Delanoe can introduce the Paris Plage (beach), why wouldn’t he go full-steam ahead and make the city WiFi?  The city government will undoubtedly do the same when new technology is introduced.

Tourists can carry a tiny computer or PDA with them and access web sites about France on the go.  Can’t wait to see what will be next!

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Posted in Around the World |

Hit the Skies, Jack & Trying for Comfort

Written by admin on June 13, 2007 – 3:48 pm -

As an increasing number of people are hitting the road, they’re devising tricks and tips so traveling feels less akin to drudgery. Unless you have a private jet, there’s little to no way to lessen the pain of getting in and out of airports in these days of heightened security.

Unless you’re sitting in the front of the plane, (and even then), you’re going to notice lots of cutbacks and occasional grumpy members of the crew. Who can blame them? They resent senior management is banking bigger bucks at the end of the year, while their salaries and pensions decrease.

I’m not referring to occasional tourists who are winging their way to a week’s vacation at someplace wonderful and exotic or a spa stay. Even though they may be impacted by bad weather, canceled flights and other aggravations, it’s not a way of life that has a domino effect in impacting personal finances at the end of the month. People who count on commissions have been known to want to set their hair on fire and vow never to book a flight with a layover in Chicago in the midst of winter.

A vast number of  visitors to France travel in order to conduct business, and if they’re lucky and choose to do so, tack on a day or two of vacation at each end of the trip.  Food is food but there’s something special about a dinner in a stellar Paris restaurant.

Many business people want to parachute in and out of business destinations and get home as rapidly as possible. But, what a shame not to see Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal if you’re in that part of the world.

Travel warriors, whose careers depend on being on the go, invariably have developed routines of their own. Many people wear essentially the same clothes whenever they travel, add or subtract items depending on the weather, social functions and what they have on their agendas. Frequently people keep a bag packed in the event that they’re called upon to be on the next plane.

Once, I spent 14 nights in different beds during a 21-day period. The rooms were less than glamorous and I found myself awakening in the middle of the night befuddled. Where was I and what was I doing there? I started freaking out when I realized I didn’t know in which time zone my body was existing.

Finally, I compiled a list of must-take items that helped me feel a bit less disoriented as I jetted around the world.

It requires a bit of space in your suitcase but take your own pillow. I even use it on longer flights when I’m trying to catch a few winks. This pillow has become more essential to my travel comfort than an extra outfit or a fourth pair of shoes. Besides, a woman can never go wrong if she wears black accompanied by scarves and other accessories with a bit of color. Men always look right at a business dinner if the wear a dark grey suit, a white starched shirt and an appropriate ties. You can never go wrong in Paris if you opt for Hermes.  There’s nothing wrong with wearing a tie from this designer even if you’re in London or in Rome.

A picture of your children, family or even your dog or cat to give your room more of a feeling of home. Cell phones are a boon.  Just make certain you’re not calling your children, (much less your spouse) at 2:00 a.m.

A facemask. Different rooms have different levels of brightness and one will aid in giving you a uniform sleep. There are ones scented with different smells to which many people become habituated. There’s lavender scented one that reminds me of Provence and has a cooling and soothing effect.

Pack an alarm clock to which you’re accustomed and can actually see. There’s nothing more disconcerting than awakening in the middle of the night and having to look for a clock or, more often than you’d think, not find one. Scrambling to locate your watch so you’re able to ascertain the time of day or night can throw off your biorhythms.

There is no one answer as to how to beat travel fatigue and or displacement. A key secret I learned was to visibly prop a sheet of paper that included the following information. The name of the hotel, the CITY in which it’s located and the room’s telephone number.   There are a lot of cookie-cutter looking hotels, most especially ones that are targeted for the business traveler.

The Bonjour Paris mantra however, is to try to leave a few extra hours for a mini-vacation.  Go to an art exhibition, a concert or a walk in the park.  They are there for enjoying in every European city in the world.

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Posted in Around the World |

The Dollar has Never Been Weaker

Written by admin on April 13, 2007 – 3:46 pm -

If my memory serves me right, and unfortunately, it does, the dollar has never been weaker vs. a vs. the Euro. Each time I go to convert money via this conversion site; I’m nearly felled by cardiac arrest. It’s one thing if you’re an Expat who’s working in the EU and being paid in Euros.  It’s quite another if you’re living in the EU and your income is dollar based.

In spite of this monetary nose-dive (if you’re an American), the Maison de la France, (the French Government Tourist Office) states  that France is still the world’s #1 tourist destination. Seventy-eight million foreign travelers visited France in 2006, an increase of 2.7% over 2005. Statistics cite there were 3.1 million American tourists and France remains the second most popular destination for Americans who are boarding flights headed to the EU.  Not bad considering how the cost of airline tickets has shot up and with the dollar tanking.

Bonjour Paris readers are continually asking whether or not they should come to France or other countries in the EU. Our resounding response is oui. Bonjour Paris is filled with tips about how to make your travel dollar go further. I’m amazed over the great bargains that are still available.

Your greatest expense will probably be where you stay.  We’re great advocates of renting apartments and/or sneaking some drinks into your fridge. I’ve known friends to buy an EU current electrical warmer so they can have a cup of coffee or tea before heading out for a day and sightseeing or just walking. Many people book last-minute “remaindered” rooms on hotel booking sites that are omni-present.

If you plan to see different parts of France, Buy a Eurail pass that fits your needs. It’s the most efficient and cost-effective way to travel throughout Europe. Don’t forget to specify if you’re senior and or a couple (or more) who plan on taking the same trains at identical times.

There are definite ways to save money (rather, Euros). Mass transit is generally better in European cities than in the US. Do your homework and unearth what pass you should buy the minute you hit foreign soil.

It’s hard to impossible to forego a car in Los Angeles. Having one in Paris is a mega headache. The traffic can cause anyone to waste hours stuck in traffic, looking for a parking space and then buying the car out of hock should you park in a lot.

Locating a street parking space is hard to do – and if you should be so lucky, plan on having to move the car every two hours. It’s not a question of adding extra Euros in a meter (some people have been known to bribe a kind soul to do that) but getting a printed ticket from a machine and placing it on the dashboard of the car.

Always pay parking fines should you be ticketed, because sooner than later, the rental car company will find you and your credit card will be automatically debited – no questions asked.  Paris’s mayor Bertrand Delanoe isn’t a fool when it comes to collecting easy revenue.

Watch those elegantly dressed parking meter minders hit the streets with pads and pens in hand. They appear from nowhere and voila, within minutes, you owe the city government more than a few Euros. No matter how quickly you run to rescue the car, should you be parked illegally while picking up something in a store, these folks write faster.  Some even appear riding bicycles.

OK – you’re in France, where are the bargains?  More than likely, you’ll find them in the grocery stores.  Try to get out of central Paris and hit a hyper-marche (mega supermarket) in the suburbs. You’ll me amazed by what you can buy from the most adorable babies’ clothes, sexy underwear at a fraction of the price found in regular department stores, children’s clothing and clothing for adults. They may not be the best quality ….but they’re more than fine for most people. Plus – wrap them elegantly and these clothes and other articles make great gifts.  People even buy shoes that are comfortable and come in a full range of sizes.

The other week, a friend wanted to buy French clothes for his teenage daughters. We headed to a very unglamorous strip mall (constructed out of aluminum) and raced from one store to another. We happened on and within minutes, we’d made a ton of purchases these girls swear look very French.  I’m not so sure – but their father was only 80 Euros poorer and his three daughters were delighted by their cache. The adage is shop where the French (or natives) do – and remember the majority of them live on moderate incomes.

Many people have the idea that coming to Europe is so expensive as to be prohibitive. If you take hints from natives of your host country, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. In addition, you’ll have a wonderful time. Europe isn’t filled with exclusively three star Michelin restaurants.

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Posted in Around the World |

Tasting a Bit of France and Other Countries in the National’s Capital

Written by admin on February 13, 2007 – 4:18 pm -

One of the things French residents miss most when they’re in the US is getting their fill of French wines and cheeses. Washington’s Steve Silver is one of the people in the industry who’s impacting and educating customers’ palates. In addition, he’s stopped print advertising and uses the Internet as his only marketing tool. He saves $200,000 to $250,000 per year on print advertising.

At least three times a week, subscribers receive e-newsletters announcing special promotions and tastings. Silver won’t say how many people are on his list but admits he adds approximately 200 email addresses per week.

No longer does he concentrate on hard liquor sales (where there’s a $1-$2 margin per bottle) but now focuses on wine. Steve (or others at Pearson: Larry and Mike) orders some wines in huge quantities; but other purchases would be considered “boutique” vintages that frequently sell out the same day the e-newsletter comes out. Every Saturday afternoon, plan on forging your way into the store to sample (remember – spit – this is NOT a remake of the movie Sidways where the protagonists get rip-roaring drunk.)

When sipping at Pearson’s, put your learning cap on.  Be prepared to taste wines from many parts of the world.  You’ll learn about a wine’s bouquet, nose and the types of grapes, which give wines their specific flavor. You might even have a very Capitol Hill discussion about politics. I gravitate there to practice my French since some of the customers and many of the wine reps are French and/or Francophiles.

Over the past 20 years, California wines have become the number one seller, with French wines clocking a close second. Americans (at least, Washingtonians) tend to drink 75% red, whereas the ratio in France is 80% red versus white wines.  Has the weakness of the dollar impacted sales when it comes to French wines?  Silver says not really, “Unless it’s a Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild Grand Cru where the prices have gone out of sight.”

It wasn’t so long ago when it was nearly impossible to buy a respectable Côtes du Rhône wine from the region of Provence, where I’ve lived part-time for more than a fair number of years.

Fifteen years ago, when I’d make periodic visits to Washington, DC, I was constantly amazed by how few bottles representative of  the area where our country home is located, were stocked on liquor store shelves. In recent years, that’s changed as Pearson’s owners Steve and Rae Silver and importer Robert Kacher have made it their business to stock the best of the region.

Yes, you could choose from a decent selection of Bordeaux, Beaujolais and bien sur Champagne.  But where were the Côtes du Rhône wines?  During my recent extended time in Washington, I’ve discovered a store I’ve come to think of as my home away from home.  Pearson’s (, located in upper Georgetown, is an institution. In 1933, Pearson’s Pharmacy had the right to sell liquor by prescription in addition to drugs. The liquor division was so successful that Doc and Sarah Eisenberg made the plunge and opened a liquor annex a few doors down Wisconsin Avenue from the store. Not only was it substantially larger, but it had a parking lot, which in subsequent years would be a blessing, as upper Georgetown came into its own and parking became a premium.

I’d been spoiled. In Provence, we could drive any direction and within two miles, fill up a 5-10 liter plastic vrac with wine pumped from what looked like (and undoubtedly is) a gas hose. Wine was always on the table and we didn’t feel guilty about not recycling bottles that tend to accumulate while waiting to be taken to the trash dump. Even though the French are recycling conscientious, it’s invariably a drive to dispose of glass. This phenomenon has always been a mystery to me.

Some people would appear at the cave-cooperative or their favorite vintner (we’re talking about those  who bought many, many more liters), fill up mega jugs, load it into vans, bottle it and let the wine “rest” until its time had come.  This preceded what’s now known as the “bag-in-in box” carton (yes, the French call it the same thing but with a tres charmant accent, where there’s an interior collapsible plastic bag to preclude the remaining wine from becoming aerated. These boxed wines last a minimum of three months – not that any lasted that long chez nous!

Was Steve Silver always a wine connoisseur?  Not at all. He and his wife took over the store in 1976. Steve was an accountant and an insurance salesman.  He came into help his father-in-law with the books and found he had a new career. Now Pearson’s stocks 2000 labels, and receives and sells 400-500 cases per day, totaling a $6 million yearly business. Pas mal.  Even though Steve does travel to see the areas from where he’s purchasing wine, it’s more for background (he needs and wants to experience the area that he’s writing about in his e-newsletters) rather than buying trips, Rae, his wife of 40 years, has sworn off flying.

None of his team has to leave Wisconsin Avenue since 30-40 representatives of wine importers come and call on this eclectic wine store one to three times each week. Being stocked in Pearson’s as well as four or five other DC liquor stores gives wines a caché. It’s not unusual for Pearson’s to buy out an entire stock.

It’s really a family business. Employees come and stay. They know the majority of the regular customers. Some neighborhood residents stop in daily while other clients never miss a Saturday tasting unless they’re traveling.

Even though Pearson’s has an importers license, they don’t use it since Steve likes to buy in smaller quantities and finds it more efficient. Pearson’s doesn’t even deliver. If you don’t want to pick up your order, the store has a courier service which will deliver within the DC limits for $25.

Are all DC liquor stores like this?  There are a few, but Pearson’s is special. Perhaps after this article is published, I’ll get my very own tasting glass (without a stem, merci), rather than a tiny plastic goblet.  In France and when I’m touring for Bonjour Paris : Travel,  Hotels, Food, Wine, Restaurants, Paris France, tasting wine out of plastic would be considered a veritable sin.

Information and Directions to Pearson’s

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Commuting & Romance – and Marriage

Written by admin on January 22, 2007 – 3:22 pm -

The in-box of Bonjour Paris is beginning to resemble an advice to the lovelorn column. We never purported to be “Dear Abby” but we’re delighted to try to come up with ideas (and hopefully) solutions, for our readers.   In this age of cross-cultural, trans-Atlantic relationships, anything goes.

A long-distance romance used to be when couples were commuting between New York and Washington, DC or Boston. Many people were such constant regulars on flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles that it was almost a club of people who frequently greeted one another by name.

Life has certainly changed.  More than a few of our readers commute between NYC and the City of Light.  The same goes for other cities in both the US and in Europe. Some people affirm this doesn’t produce the ideal partnership and creates added strain; this is most especially true when there’re children involved.

Can mommy or daddy get home to see Junior’s recital or sporting event?  One parent may feel that he or she bares the majority of the responsibility, while the other feels cheated that he/she is missing a major part of their children’s evolution.

Many parents are able to make personal and professional accommodations. Other couples decide that being married, without being day-to-day partners, isn’t for them and tell it to the judge.

Others couples claim their marriages and/or relationships are increasingly exciting and they’re appreciative of their time together. Some people need their own space. One couple I know explains they can focus on their individual careers without having to worry about being home at a specific time to prepare dinner much less eat it. These couples also cherish their time together and attempt to make the most of each minute.

Some couples on the commute TRY not to combine work and family time. This is harder said than done and takes incredible discipline. Between cell phones and PDA’s, a person can be anywhere. There are those of us who remember when the Internet didn’t exist much less fax machines. We wouldn’t return to that era, even though, it may elicit moments of nostalgia.

Some hints when it comes to long-distance commuting:

If one member of a couple is working for a multi-national company, chances are that there’s a clause in the employment contract specifying conditions for home-leave.  The more “essential” you are, the more generous it will undoubtedly be.

If you’re involved in a romance, keep your weekends flexible. Register on every last-minute Internet site that (usually on Tuesdays) announces remaindered seats.  When you see a reasonably priced fare cross your screen, (and I know people who stay up until midnight ET), grab it.   If fares are at parity, opt for the same airline so you may accrue frequent flyer points.

Redeem those points for tickets during peak seasons. Summer and Christmas holidays are when prices are generally at their highest. Reserve these flights as far in advance as conceivably possible since airlines would rather sell seats than give them away. So much for fidelity. Airlines are out to enhance their bottom profit and loss line.

Don’t dismiss package deals. Some are less expensive than just the airfare. Don’t worry if you don’t check into the hotel – although it’s only polite to call and say you won’t need the room.

Invest in an Internet phone. Just because you’re geographically separated doesn’t preclude your being in communication. Talking every day diminishes some of the nitty-gritty realities of life that need to be discussed and not put on hold until you see one another.

Web cams cost next to nothing and are a great way to have children see and talk to you. They lessen the loneliness factor  — not that a picture in this case can replace your being together.

Numerous parents with whom I’ve spoken say they bring one child at a time to the city where he or she is living. They line up daytime activities and focus on him or her before and after work. It demystifies the assignment (so far away from home) more of a reality.   Plus, it makes that child feel ever so special. Don’t forget family vacations in Europe. They’ll add to everyone’s intellectual memory banks for the remainder of your lives.

Communications have evolved so rapidly in the past few years.  Use them to your advantage. Sure, there are downsides of being apart– but consider the benefits. They’ll last forever.  And, perhaps your relationship will actually be stronger and on a more solid footing. The days of being a “Stepford” wife or husband are becoming ancient history.

The in-box of Bonjour Paris is beginning to resemble an advice to the lovelorn column. We never purported to be “Dear Abby” but we’re delighted to try to come up with ideas (and hopefully) solutions, for our readers.   In this age of cross-cultural, trans-Atlantic relationships, anything goes.

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