My Favorite Neighborhood and a Few of its Hotels

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:15 pm -

People are constantly asking me where they should stay in Paris.

If they’re friends, I suspect they’re angling for an invite. Who they are and whether they’ll need a tour guide will influence my answer. Then there are times when there’s no room in the Fawcett Inn.

My guest room is also my office. Need I say more? Some people find it unnerving to sleep surrounded by flashing lights. Yes, I know for the sake of energy conservation I should unplug modems, routers, phones, computers, the printer and all of the electronics that comprise command central of Bonjour Paris at night.

I’ve learned better: first, because I may find myself sleepless and typing until sleep overtakes me, and second, I have zero tech skills. The chances of rebooting each day (in a timely fashion) are next to none. As a result, EDF is making extra euros and I’m not being green.

So pointing to a nice hotel nearby has been my traditional solution. How times have changed, though. When people used to ask me to book a hotel rooms for them, it was a pain in the neck. It entailed making numerous calls and, if hotels were filled, I’d have to walk from one to another to see if I could use my charm and snag a room.

As no-shows burned hoteliers, I’d have to plunk down my credit card in order to reserve the digs. If the person forgot to cancel, I’d be stuck for a night’s deposit.

With the advent of the Internet and hotel booking sites, my life has changed. People can make the choices based on what’s available for their specific dates. If their hearts are set on a specific hotel and there aren’t any rooms, the site will suggest alternatives in the area that have space.

Hotel booking sites offer all types of specials. What the consumer pays with them is less than the rack rate or even what I can negotiate. Individuals simply don’t have that type of buying power and when I ask hotel managers for their best price, their response (sometimes) is that they’re listed on the Internet and I should look there.

Being someone who tends to be dubious, I wonder if people who book over the Internet receive the worst rooms. I’m told that’s not the case, but if I can afford it, I try to book the slightly bigger room—usually termed deluxe rather than classic.

If your travel dates are set in stone, pre-paying the total amount can save you substantial money. But these reservations are not reimbursable. If you’re unable to make it, you’re in for the dollar, the euro or the yen.

I’ve identified some of my favorite hotels located within a fast walk of my apartment. No, they’re not the Renaissance Paris Vendôme with an indoor swimming pool and a spa, or my favorite hotel, Le Meurice, or The Crillon. These hotels are located on the Right Bank and are a wee bit out of most people’s price range.

Some of my personal favorites are only moments away from the Luxembourg Garden. There are many other wonderful areas in Paris, but these are ones I know in my sleep. My choices tend to be boutique hotels that have charm and where you don’t get lost navigating hallways. The rooms tend to be small, but as the French would say, très correct. Do look at the photos carefully and keep in mind the wonders of wide-angle lenses. Think small!

Each has its own personality, and even though they lack hot and cold running staff, you’re taken care of and the hotel’s personnel don’t look at you as if they’ve never seen you before. Because these hotels are small, they rarely have dining rooms that serve anything other than breakfast. That’s not a negative since you can’t walk more than a few steps without being surrounded by restaurants of every type.

My criteria: Good design, renovated rooms and bathrooms that may be small but have a new look and feel, and FREE Wi-Fi. My taste tends not be be as traditional as many people’s—so please don’t jump at one of these selections since there are thousands of hotels from which to choose.

Here are some of my Parisian choices, but I use this specific booking site—Booking.com—any and every place I need a hotel room throughout the world:

Apostrophe

La Villa des Artistes

Le Six

Hôtel Des Académies des Arts

Hôtel De La Paix

Hôtel Le Chaplain Rive Gauche

Hôtel Le Sainte-Beuve

Chances are more than good that we might bump into one another if you stay in one. Paris neighborhoods are villages. And if you’ve ever stayed in any of the above, please post your impressions.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World |

Getting Legal

Written by kvfawcett on July 12, 2010 – 4:35 pm -

Mention the phrase “French bureaucracy,” and most residents tend to break out in a sweat. Navigating the system feels more daunting than it should be, could be and frequently is. Talk about wanting to get a carte de séjour, you will hear horror stories, arguments about whether it’s even worth applying for one, and a year’s supply of misinformation—enough to drive you to drink, provided it’s decent French wine. But for that matter, it could be Plonk. When desperate, people aren’t necessarily selective.

Bonjour Paris receives so many emails about these subjects that I wish I’d been admitted to the French bar. But the reality is that even if I were, the laws, regulations, what’s needed and what’s not seem to change every few months and certainly when there’s a new administration.

And that’s not taking into consideration which clerk is reviewing your paperwork and whether or not he or she is in a good mood that day. Some friends have been asked to furnish supplemental documents only to return to the local préfecture and not be asked for them. Go figure.

Obtaining a French driver’s license for an American is a major undertaking and who cares if you’ve been driving in the U.S. for 25 years. Unless you come from one of the fifteen (Texans are now eligitable) states with which France has reciprocity, there are definite rules and regulations about how long you may be in France without obtaining a permis de conduire.

Don’t think you can set up house with a friend or a relative who lives in one of those states because, unless you did so more than a year before entering France, trading that license for a French one is a no go. I was going to try that route until I read the fine print.

If you import a car from the U.S. or any other country where taxes are lower, don’t fantasize you won’t have to pay the French taxman and be sure the car conforms to E.U. standards.

I’ll never forget the hours I spent in Paris’s préfecture de Police on Île de la Cité, watching a French executive nearly self-destruct because he’d purchased a Volvo station wagon when he was posted in the U.S.

He had to jump through hoops (not to mention spending a substantial number of euros having the car’s headlights and emission controls regulated to conform to E.U. standards). Since I was obviously an American, we struck up an instant and intense (albeit brief) relationship since we didn’t exchange business cards. For that matter, I’m not sure we knew the other’s name.

We were both frustrated, and he was so happy to have someone to whom he could vent. Did I realize how many hours he was having to take off from work and wasn’t this ridiculous? Plus, his dilemma was further complicated because he’d bought a Swedish car in the U.S. and had it outfitted so he could bring it back to France without having to have the car inspected yet again by yet another government entity.

I was simply trying to have my car’s registration changed from Provence to Paris but even though I thought this would be a no-brainer, I was missing some paperwork. We sat and waited for our numbers to be called (and called again) because we’d have to go to anotherguichet to collect more papers and instructions and please sign everything in triplicate. I do remember that I was able to exit the offices before him—all I had to do was pay a hefty tax and advise the insurance company that my car would be housed in Paris. Oh yes, then there was the cost of having new license plates made. C’est la vie and it’s only money—in this case, mine. When I sold the car (who needs a car in Paris, merci?) I had to supply additional papers.

Well, life goes on. It’s time to renew my ten-year carte de séjour and my lawyer is assembling all of the papers so I won’t spend weeks trying to accomplish something that I could easily mess up by not including one required document. Paris is my chosen home and it’s essential that mon statut juridique est en ordre (meaning I’m legal, please).

I’m also going to be dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles in Washington, DC next week. I keep a car here and was shocked the first time I pulled into the parking space adjacent to mine in the apartment building where I was staying, to see a car with the license plates “Bonjour.” The tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet” echoed in my brain.

The owner and I became friends and he promised that when he decided to give up driving or sell the car, those plates would be mine. I’ve spent hours on the DMV website, called the insurance company here and no one has been able to supply the information as precisely what’s needed to transfer the plates. I’ll spend half a day in that office next week so I may return with the needed data. But, why isn’t there a phone number for that department? I feel pretty confident my English is good enough to understand!

Let’s face it, no matter where you go, there are bureaucratic irritations and sometimes you simply have to bite the bullet. But, they do feel more daunting when you’re in a different country. Well kinda.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World |

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City, or to many, Saigon

Written by admin on November 9, 2009 – 4:22 pm -

Karen Fawcett, our intrepid traveler, is back in Asia. On this trip she has decided to head to Vietnam. Here is her report on the road, so to speak. She has just landed this weekend.

Welcome to Vietnam. It’s now possible to get a visa when you arrive at the airport rather than doing it before leaving home. Definitely try to avoid this unless you’re in a pinch or have no other choice. An E-Visa can be a savior if your trip has been re-routed.

This kind of visa would have been the perfect solution last year when the airport in Bangkok was closed and my traveling companion and I were forced to go to Singapore rather than eternally be in transit. However, getting a visa at the airport is cumbersome and if the paperwork isn’t in order, you’ll be out of luck. The Vietnamese government really wants visitors to get visas in advance from a local consulate or its embassy prior to boarding the plane.

Our 100-percent-full flight arrived after 10 p.m. One would have thought it was mid-day in Miami. Besides being hot and humid, there were thousands of people greeting friends and family. Even though it costs extra, it was a godsend to spot someone holding a sign with our names waiting to shuttle us to the hotel.

There are taxis. But since last year’s airport renovation, locating them is chaotic and forget finding  an organized taxi line. The confusion is compounded after traveling for hours and sagging from jet-lag, which is probably the case if your trip originated in the U.S.

Collecting checked luggage is a challenge. Those coming to visit family, or returning to Vietnam, don’t appear to worry at all about excess luggage fees. Bags and boxes come rolling, one after the other, off the conveyor belt. People appeared to be transporting everything including the kitchen sink.

Even though most locals probably speak minimal (if that) English, one woman was fast to ask if I wanted cold water. “One dollar.” she said with a heavy accent. Clearly a capitalist, she had a good gig going. Locals generally accept dollars to such an extent you don’t need to change much money into the local currency. Good thing too, since the local currency has so many zeros one would have to be a human calculator to figure out the exchange rate. Even with a calculator or a currency cheat sheet conversions are mystifying.

What a difference three years makes. That was the last time I was here. Saigon felt like a quiet French Colonial city then. It’s now assumed more of a boomtown feel. What else is new in Asia? At least, there’s no Starbucks, McDonald’s or Baskin-Robbins – yet. There are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants galore and places with free WiFi reign supreme.

Motor scooters whiz by (and don’t be surprised if you see a family of four perched on one) but progress means more cars as well. Not that driving here could be compared to driving in Paris. It’s not that scary – yet. Mind you, that’s not a recommendation to rent a car.

When taking a taxi, be certain to get the driver’s number.  If he takes the scenic route, inform the doorman at your hotel and he’ll spring into action. We were amazed when the guilty driver returned the majority of the fare after we showed the concierge the circuitous route we were taken. We felt more guilty after discovering it was the driver’s first day on the job and he was lost.

The newest hotel destination is the Asiana Intercontinental. The 300-room hotel is barely open and it’s already known for having some of the best restaurants in the city. Asians like buffets and it has one (for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Sunday brunch) that goes on longer than the eye can see.

Don’t expect to encounter solely quantity rather than quality. The hotel’s largest restaurant, Market 39, has seven open kitchens. Diners can choose from French, Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cuisines.

At the Sunday buffet brunch, shellfish lovers, will think they’ve hit the jackpot when they see the mounds of oysters, crayfish and other choices. This is just the beginning. The pastries and breads would put any French baker to shame. All of this (and much more) is served with luscious Laurent Perrier champagne. While you’re if Vietnam, learn to like local beer to quench an alcoholic thirst. Wine costs a small fortune since there’s a 50% import tax on liquor and wine.

Shopping in this city runs the gamut. Visitors can bargain for nearly anything in some of the outdoor or smaller stores that are frequently in alleys.  Don’t miss Ben Thanh, the city’s central market.

Many upscale stores such as Louis Vuitton have opened recently — there, expect to pay the asking price. I haven’t been here long enough to get into serious shopping but have had a quick overview. I did bring a few clothes to be copied in silk for next to nothing – especially compared to French prices.

One of the city’s most respected tailors, Lam Couture, said a custom-made man’s suit including top quality fabric would cost $300.

There’s much more to Vietnam than shopping and eating. The country is full of culture and history that’s especially meaningful to many Americans. In a short vacation, don’t expect to do more than scratch the surface. But any visitor can try and should.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

(Photo: Primetravels.com)


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Tipping while traveling — more questions than answers

Written by admin on November 2, 2009 – 4:25 pm -

With so much information easily accessible on the Internet, most travelers are still clueless about tipping. Many have no idea of how much they should tip and to whom? If you’re on a tour or a cruise, travelers receive guidelines and some of the tips are automatic. But, for travelers on their own, a sense of local tipping rules are need-to-know facts. Otherwise, travelers may come away leaving locals with the impression that they’re rude, condescending or stupid tourists.

One purported resource is: The Conde Nast Tipping Guide. It’s a start. Tipping rules vary by country, by region and by the scenario. However, many locals feel this Conde Nast chart is out of whack as well. If you are not totally confused after reading this post, add your own tipping stories.

Tipping gaffs are international — foreigners don’t know our rules, just like we don’t know theirs. One of the reasons many Europeans receive bad raps in U.S. restaurants is because the tip is already included in the tab at home. They may choose to leave a few extra coins to show their appreciation. But, it’s no where near the traditional tip of 15% U.S. waiters expect to receive.

Because of this, some restaurants in areas that attract a lot of foreign visitors, note on the menu that tips aren’t included (or clearly state they are included). It’s not unusual for the management to state an 18% tip will be included on checks when six or more people are dining. (Of course that can happen anywhere, even in non-touristy spots.)

If the service has been less than satisfactory, it’s up to the clients to make their feelings known. First, you have to find the manager on duty.

Note: For Americans used to tipping 15-20 percent and traveling in areas frequented by foreign tourists, check your restaurant bill carefully. Often the tip is unexpectedly included. Nothing is more irritating that finding that you unexpectedly tipped again on top of the original tip.

Even here at on American turf, tipping rules are somewhat confusing. Travels don’t have to be international to be confusing.

Americans tend to tip the service people with whom they do business including the person who brings you your car (you do want to see your car again and relatively quickly) if you frequent that garage. Tipping is expected at the hairdresser, barbershop, the person who grooms your dog and the list goes on. Are you supposed to tip the owner of a hair salon if she or she does your hair?  The technical answer is no. But have you ever seen your “thank you” turned away?

Hotel guests frequently overlook tipping the maids who take care of their rooms. Who does what and when may be a mystery and how do you know the correct person is collecting the money? Either you can tip as your go if you see the housekeeper or you’ve made a special request for extra towels or more. If there’s a day crew, a night staff and then there are weekends, you might want to leave an envelope at the front desk for the head of housekeeping and hope he or she passes on your monetary thank you.

Do you tip the concierge? I always do if he or she has done something special, such as making a restaurant reservation.

How much do you tip the bell-hop for dragging suitcases to your room?

Are you expected to deposit something in the doorman’s palm each and every time you leave or enter the hotel? Or do you save your money for when a  taxi appears because of his magic whistle or wave?

Don’t necessarily do as the locals do. Yes, they’re definitely a good frame of reference. But there may be different rules for people who live in place rather than visit it. And you won’t always get a 100% accurate response if you ask a waiter whether or not the tip is included. Some waiters in the E.U. have an interesting way of interpreting that question that ends up with the diner forking over some extra money.

Read what it says on the bottom of a check before making up your mind as to whether or not an additional gratuity is expected. If one is, it’s more appreciated if left in cash rather than on a credit card. Not that I’m an authority but it has something to do with the tax man.

Most people have made gaffs when it comes to tipping. When I insisted on giving a taxi driver in China something more than was shown on the meter, the tip was quickly and audibly returned. I wasn’t aware taxis are equipped with with microphone and tipping isn’t allowed. Live and learn.

A group of us are still  feeling (somewhat) guilty over our not tipping when we were having a drink recently. We waited 20 minutes before our drink orders were taken as we were bellied up to the bar. When a table freed up in front of it, we grabbed it taking our Martinis with us. No one bothered to clear or clean the table so we were sitting among glasses and dirty napkins and empty dishes. We were hoping for a second drink but we were invisible.

When the check arrived, our host forked over a credit card but omitted adding a tip. The bar’s owner marched right over and chastised us for not adding a tip or making a slash in the tip amout line and insisted it be done. One of our group decided to write a summary of everything  that was wrong and we exited quickly.

We were fine with that decision because we had zero service. Our host wasn’t, because it’s the only place in her tiny town that has a bar and she might need to return there.

Everyone has tipping stories of when they’ve tipped too much or not enough and when they’ve regretted it. Add yours to the comment section and add to the confusion. Some are even worth a few giggles because cultural differences are precisely that.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Breakfast on the road — Go native or bacon and eggs?

Written by admin on October 16, 2009 – 4:35 pm -

When you’re taking a trip, whether it’s business or pleasure, what foods to you want to see at the first meal of the day? There’s a reason, it’s called break fast.

Do you prefer buffets over menus? How much time do you usually allot? Do you eat and run or do you find it’s a good time to conduct business?

Some hotels offer breakfast as part of the room rate. How much does that impact your housing decision? Do you have lower expectations if breakfast is included in the room price?

If you’re in a foreign country, e.g., Japan, are you ready, willing and able to eat steamed rice, miso soup, and side dishes such as broiled/grilled fish, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), onsen tamago, tsukemono pickles orseasoned nori (dried seaweed)? Or do you want Corn Flakes? How local are you willing to go?

Some people don’t want to eat the same breakfast they would were they at home. If they’re in another country, they consider eating what the natives do a cultural experience. The most extensive buffets I’ve ever seen have been in Asian hotels. If you have the fortitude to eat just a few of the selections and don’t appear at the crack of dawn, you can make the meal breakfast, lunch and (almost) dinner. Dim sum anyone? That’s only the beginning if you want to pig out.

American travelers do appear to have expectations no matter where they’re staying.

Coffee – and plenty of it. Some people like it stronger than others so if there’s an espresso machine, so much the better (milk, cream, sugar and a low/no calorie sugar substitute).

Decaf coffee

Tea – there should be a selection from which to choose

Juices – and could the orange juice be fresh please

Fresh fruit and yogurts

A selection of hot and cold cereals

It goes without saying there should be a copious selection of breads, bagels, muffins, croissants and pastries. Bring on the butter, cream cheese, jellies and jams

Eggs, glorious eggs and they shouldn’t be too hard or too runny. Ditto for sausages and bacon. Undercooked, overcooked – it’s all so subjective.

Bob Murphy, a senior software engineer from the San Francisco area, is an authority when it comes to breakfast. He has personal favorites and isn’t hesitant about sharing them.

• “The Lotte Hotel, Seoul. Go to the big restaurant underground for breakfast and get the buffet. It’s insane – every major world cuisine is represented. One of my favorite combinations is American bacon and link sausage, croissants, Norwegian smoked salmon, oshinko (Japanese pickles), and kimchi. He eats this accompanied by a cafe latte.

• German hotel breakfast buffets are also great. A half-dozen different kinds of bread, cold cuts and sliced cheese, muesli, and fresh juice. For a change, skip the coffee and try Trinkschokolade. Or grab a cold cut sandwich and a coffee from a vendor at the train station.

• French hotel continental breakfasts range from sucky to marginally okay. They really haven’t figured out the breakfast thing the way the Germans have. A croissant and a cafe au laitare decidedly are too small for me. However, if you stay in Paris in the Quartier Latin, go wander around the streets just off the Seine. There are all kinds of little boulangeries with fresh cold-cut sandwiches that make a great breakfast, plus innumerable Turkish, Moroccan, Greek, etc. cafés. If you can find a restaurant with Breton food, try a galette complète (buckwheat crêpe with egg, ham, and Emmental cheese) and some cidre (hard cider) for breakfast.

• Continental breakfasts at British hotels, range from awful to merely okay. However, if you leave the hotel, you may be lucky enough to find a restaurant serving a traditional English breakfast with eggs, streaky bacon, beans, grilled tomato, chips.”

I guess I’ve lived in France too long and only want very strong coffee and (possibly) a slice of baguette to begin the day.

Bob is clearly a man who looks forward to breakfast. What do you crave? Will you select one hotel over another because it puts on a better spread?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What’s in a five-star hotel? And do you want such digs?

Written by admin on September 21, 2009 – 4:50 pm -

In these days, where many people are watching their pennies, are über deluxe five-star hotels become memories of the past? You know, elegantly decorated hotels with a staff available 24-hours-a-day to satisfy every whim?

Well, yes and no. Would you pay for such service? As the famed financier JP Morgan said, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” He was probably right.

Let’s face it – there will always be the very rich and famous (or wannabees) who aren’t going to go without. They’re probably just not us. Or if they are, it’s because we’re getting special deals.

Many hotels are offering promotions to keep their room occupancy nights high since they don’t want to let the employees go during these challenging economic times, when unlimited expense account travel is down and even well-to-do tourists are being increasingly cautious.

Other hotels are cutting services, which some hoteliers say is the way to go. Others feel there’s no turning back when the financial crisis is over.

But why does a hotel merit a five-stars and what how are hotels classified?  The global rating system is supposed to be consistent.  In reality, five-star hotels in Paris and New York City are inevitably jazzier and offer more service than hotels in Tunisia. In parts of Asia, hotels are often more sybaritic, as well as service-oriented, because the service personnel’s salaries are substantially less.

What’s the definition of a five-star hotel?  According to Hervé Novelli, Secretary of State for French Tourism, five-star hotels should have most of the same services as the revered Meurice Hotel in Paris:

A multi-lingual concierge staff that can perform miracles and access tickets for events and reservations at restaurants that are ‘impossible’ to come by.
- A gourmet restaurant
- A bar with food service.
- Room Service – 24 hours a day
- A spa or health club
- Laundry and dry-cleaning facilities
- Air-conditioning, individually controlled
- Rooms for non-smokers and ones that are handicapped accessible and equipped

Technology in all Rooms

- Multi-channel TV (LCD and plasma screens)
- High-speed Internet access
- DVD and CD players
- Video and music on demand
- Multi-line telephones
- Dual-voltage power supply
- iPod radio-alarm-clock

Business and Entertaining

- Fully equipped Business corner with Internet access
- Fax machines/ printers in the room on request
- Wi-Fi access in public areas- Private dining room
- Ballroom and banqueting suites

Additional Amenities

- Car or Limousine service services
- Babysitting on request
- Courier services

It goes without saying, bathrooms should be worthy of being featured in “Architectural Digest” and all linens should be perfect, including robes. There should be complimentary bottled water, lavish bathroom amenities, evening turn-down service and a well-stocked mini-bar.

The above services don’t come cheap. But many hotels essentially offer much or many of the same ones.

How do you choose between one hotel and another? Some people may prefer high-tech modern décor opposed to traditional (and often opulent) silk, satins fabrics exuding a more formal look and feel.

The Meurice Hotel has 200 years of tradition and service to differentiate it from this year’s high-rise hotel a block away. There are plenty of five-star hotels that are wonderful but may not be as charming or elegant. It’s up to clients to decide what’s right for them and what they select is very subjective.

Which brings me to my questions. Even if you’re not planning to spend big bucks (Euros or Yen) on a room, what essentials do you require? How do your decisions differ if you’re on business versus pleasure? Do you take advantage of a hotel’s facilities (e.g. a fitness center) or do you just like knowing one is available in case you’re motivated?

When do you decide to splurge on a hotel? If you’re traveling on business and are staying in a big city, how much latitude do you have in deciding where to reserve? If your company has a corporate travel department, do they make housing decisions without your input?

And last but not least: When you’ve check into a hotel that has promised the sun, stars and the moon and find that it’s not delivering what it promised, do you complain? Do you ask to change rooms? Do you check out?

Please post what a five-star hotel experience signifies to you – and whether or not you’re willing to pay for it and when? If you are, which hotels are the ones to which you love to return?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Ask Karen — And People Do

Written by admin on September 16, 2009 – 7:41 pm -

E-mails to Bonjour Paris are a good barometer as to what readers are thinking and doing. No, we’re not a branch of the French Tourist Office, but, come to think of it, some days, we’d be hard pressed to deny we’re not doing some of its work.

Because we answer all e-mails (some might even accuse the B.P. staff—or me—of being compulsive), people fire off at all hours and expect an immediate response. And more than likely, they’ll receive one within twelve hours. How we wish we could be online 24 hours a day, but it simply isn’t realistic.

One thing that’s glaringly apparent is that people are going to France. Contrasted with a few years ago, frequently it’s last-minute travel. It’s almost as if people can’t stand it anymore and are being seduced by last-minute deep-discounted airfares and hotel-booking sites that are offering rooms at affordable prices.

Business travelers are coming to France now and want information about less expensive digs or where to rent an apartment if they’re staying for a week. Even though the economy is in the tank, executives appear to be realizing that occasional face-to-face contact and shaking hands is a necessity if you’re going to get a job done. Can we suggest less expensive restaurants where to take clients? Make reservations? And yes, they’re leaving for Paris tomorrow afternoon.

Examples of emails we’ve received—and these are the tip of the iceberg:

A recently married woman is coming to Paris and realizes her passport hasn’t been changed to her married name. Theresa sent an email asking, “Didn’t I think she’d be OK if she showed up at the airport with a marriage certificate and a driver’s license that have her ‘new’ name in addition to her passport.”

I shot back an “absolutely not.” She could chance it, but I’d be a nervous wreck getting in and out the US and into France. Perhaps she’d succeed, but my stomach would be tied up in knots. Theresa called the help desk at the airline and, since they’d yet to issue the ticket, they were willing to issue it in her maiden name. Whew.

Another reader sent an e-mail from a man who realized his passport would expire in three months and he’d be fine? Again, off went a reply he didn’t want to hear that included the names of a few companies that expedites visas and new passports.

During my recent travels, I’ve noticed when I’m traveling from one country to another, the person checking my ticket against my passport always looks at the expiration date. Even though this passport and visa site includes all of the information any American traveler could want and need, people don’t always want to take the time to do the research themselves. Who blames them?

Some airlines may allow you to check in online (United does for a fee—at least for U.S. citizens departing from Paris), but since I’m a French resident and my plane tickets originate in France, every time I return to France I have to show the ticket agent my Carte de Séjour, because no one is legally allowed to remain in France without a visa for more than three months. I live in fear that I might misplace that plastic card because I’d be persona non grata.

Another notable e-mail: Susan and John sent one telling me they were planning to bring their miniature Yorkie to Paris since the city is so dog friendly. That’s true. But they assumed they wouldn’t have any trouble sneaking Fidoette on the plane since she’s so tiny and never made a peep buried in Susan’ purse.

I literally called this couple to tell them that they’d better find a puppy sitter or they might be faced with having their baby confiscated while going through security in the U.S. or in France. All animals are required to have specific vaccines, tests, I.D. chips, and a clean bill of health issued by a veterinarian who’s authorized to complete an international health certificate.

On top of that, they’d need to make a reservation for their canine companion and pay between $200-$250 each way (depending on the airline) for the privilege of allowing Fidoette to come to the City of Light.

Some readers probably think I’m exaggerating. How I wish I were.

Now it’s your turn to ask questions. Please register HERE if you need a user name and password and ask away.

There’s no such thing as a (really) stupid question. It’s better to appear silly than end up in another country not knowing what to do where.


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Posted in Paris |

Smoking? The French take no prisoners

Written by admin on August 25, 2009 – 4:57 pm -

Sacre bleu! No one thought it could ever be done but they were wrong. The French government passed a no-smoking law that took effect in early 2007, which banned smoking in public spaces. Now it has spread to restaurants, bars and hotels.

Today, groups of people now huddle together outside of office buildings, looking like refuges, sharing a lighter and puffing away. A definite sense of ‘us against them’ solidarity has developed.

Offices are no longer allowed to have a smoking area for the addicted. Smokers are out fresh out of luck — even in the rain and frigid weather, they are forced to brave the elements come hell or high water.

The French restaurant lobby fought mightily and the ban wasn’t enforced in cafés and restaurants until January 2008.

Some chefs and restaurateurs opted to go non-smoking earlier, for the sake of their food and attracting a clientele who felt strongly about not having their taste buds deadened by the smell of tobacco.

Well – it’s come or is coming. Many Parisian hotels have decided to ban smoking and no longer even have one or two smoking rooms. Even though large hotels may have some designated smoking rooms, many smaller hotels have gone the non-smoking route and the management is serious. If you’re caught smoking on the premises, they are entitled to fine you.

Soon Paris may be like Boston where smoking inside any hotel room is forbidden.  Katherine Johnstone, Media Relations Manager of the New York Office of ATOUT FRANCE (the France Tourism Development Agency), says that’s definitely the trend and projects all hotels will be non-smoking in the very near future.

Not believing this could be possible in a country where so many people still smoke (albeit a diminishing number since cigarettes cost approximately $7.50 a pack) I popped into a number of hotels in Paris and confirmed that smokers are out of luck. If they have a nicotine attack in the middle of the night, if they don’t have a room with a balcony, (and shut the doors to the room) occupants will have to go outside in their pajamas.

Look at the fine print of many hotel registration forms; it’s frequently noted that if you smoke in the room, there will be a substantial fee to have it deep cleaned and you might even be responsible for buying new curtains and more.

In an informal survey, people responded they have zero tolerance or sympathy for smokers and feel they should be fined and made to pay for a complete deep cleaning of the room.  Opening up an Air-Wick bottle or spraying L’eau de Cover up doesn’t mask the odor.

Smokers said they didn’t want to stay in smoking rooms. It’s one thing to smoke— it’s another to have all of your clothes and hair permeated by cigarette smells.

Having stated the above, it’s interesting that many cafés have extended their terraces because they’re considered exterior space, and awning companies and space-heater suppliers have never done brisker business.

If there’s only a narrow sidewalk, expect to see a few tables and chairs butt up against the façade of many restaurants.  If the restaurant is adjoining a business that closes early for the night, weather permitting, you’ll see tables migrating down in front of them. And it’s not because everyone is dying to eat al fresco.

Does anyone have any sympathy for the addicted? Smoking is harmful and if you read the literature, it has no positive effects. Still there are smokers. Should they be treated as lepers?

As someone who has kicked the smoking habit more times than I care to admit, should I start smoking again, will I be a social outcast and have to move to China where smoking is accepted? I look forward to reading your responses.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

7 basic standards of excellence needed to merit 5-Stars

Written by admin on July 27, 2009 – 5:13 pm -

There’s no one answer. The 5-Star hotel and restaurant standards varies for different people depending on personal requirements and expectations. There’s no question that some part of a 5-Star ranking is subjective. But here’s a summary of a few musts and there are additional criteria.

1 – Service that makes people feel like stars and important. It’s when the staff gives you the feeling they love their work and it’s not simply a job — that’s 5-Star. They genuinely want to please guests and if it means going out of their way and doing something extra, the client won’t know if it’s an imposition.

2 – Hotels where the staff is impeccably dressed and caters to clients’ needs and wants. For example, high tea being served using silver and perfectly white pressed linen. Cocktails should be served on a tray accompanied by cloth cocktail napkins and well-presented hor d’oeuvres.

3 – Cleanliness and décor are big 5-Star factors plus total attention to detail. There’s nothing like a room with a wonderful view where the bed linens are ironed and there are flowers. The bathrooms should be elegant and you shouldn’t have to grope for the soap or be confronted by scratchy towels. Noise from the hall or adjoining rooms should not be heard.

4 – Five-star service requires an effort on the part of the staff to understand the individual being served and to specifically tailor the service so that he or she feels completely at ease.

5 – The 5-Star service is uninterrupted by negotiation or by the customer having to explain or educate the personnel about their expectations. A five star establishment has already calibrated its service to the highest level.

6 – Every 5-Star restaurant is flawless when it comes to food and service. A large staff serves the courses but they’re choreographed to make it seem as though only one person waiting on you. There is no noise or bumping into other dining room personnel as wine is poured or during the meal. Guests aren’t rushed but when they ask for the bill, it should be processed in a timely manner.

7 – With 5-Star service the staff is more than gracious, always smiles, is willing to go more that all out to please clients, anticipates their needs and follows up. For example, I was bowled over when I returned to one hotel after a two-year hiatus and it had a VERY soft pillow in my room when I arrived. Plus, there was a yogurt waiting for me each night because I take a medication that requires it at bedtime. I didn’t have to ask because it was entered in the hotel’s data bank. I call that impressive since how could they know I’d ever return. And even more amazingly, I was treated as if I were a regular.

Now it’s your turn to add what makes a hotel or a restaurant a 5-Star experience for you.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

9 rules for very senior travelers planning vacations

Written by admin on May 5, 2009 – 5:51 pm -

Just because you may not be running as fast as you used to, or possibly never did, that’s no reason not to travel. Here are nine rules for travelers who might need more time or assistance when traveling.

Check with your doctor
Before booking your trip, sit down with your doctor and discuss what you should and shouldn’t be doing. In addition, you may need extra inoculations plus copies of your prescriptions (generic please) and a summary of your medical records. He or she can contribute valuable advice as to where you should and shouldn’t go.

Use a travel agent
Many people opt to use travel agents whose specialty is planning trips for very senior citizens and those with disabilities. They know which places are more appropriate than others and have the contacts to make your trip less fraught with anxiety.

For example, there are numerous cruise companies that have boats with rooms specifically designed to accommodate people who are less mobile. More than likely, they offer land excursions where the disabled traveler will be able to participate.

If you’re making your own plans, make advanced preparations and think out every possible contingency. Leave as little as possible to chance.

Depending on your situation, there are some countries where you’ll do better than others in the event you encounter problems. There are some cities that are more senior-citizen-friendly than others. Even Paris is trying to retrofit many of its ancient buildings and public spaces to accommodate wheelchairs and those with mobility problems.

You aren’t going to want to book biking, hiking or a trip that’s physically taxing. But there are many other places to go and things to do. Don’t confine your travels to sitting on a porch in a rocking chair.

Inform your airline
If flying, inform the airline of wheelchair needs for departing and upon arrival. Some people don’t think they need this service but airline terminals and connecting ramps feel as if they are expanding every year. Don’t let a false sense of pride cause you to board the plane tired and frazzled.

And there’s a plus. You’ll be ferried through security and if you’re traveling internationally, you won’t have to wait forever to clear customs because the escort will take you to the front of the line. I realized this one time when I was accompanying a friend who had a broken leg. That’s when the bonus of being expedited through the security process dawned on me. I considered faking an infirmity the next time I was traveling alone. How I hate waiting in lines. But, who doesn’t?

Use a porter
When traveling by train, always reserve a porter. For the few extra dollars (and do tip), he can make your life easier by escorting you to your seat and doing battle with your luggage. Do not expect to necessarily find roving porters in the station. In many European cities (and elsewhere to be sure) they must be reserved in advance.

Request accessible rooms at hotels
When making hotel reservations, specify you need a room that’s easily accessible from the main floor and if there are stairs, there’s an alternative way of getting from here to there. Not every facility has elevators (or big enough ones to accommodate a wheelchair) and it’s up to the traveler to do the homework. Many older properties don’t have ramps or places without stairs. Better to know before you arrive than find yourself trapped. It’s no sin to decide to stay at a different hotel because of its layout. If you use a wheelchair, make sure the doorways are wide enough to accommodate it and there are appropriate bathing facilities

Think before you dine
Restaurants may or may not present a challenge. In Europe, it’s amazing how many of them have restroom facilities on another floor. As they’re renovated, restaurants are required in many places to install WCs on the main floor — but it’s prudent to check before sitting down to eat.

Carefully plan public transportation
Check your destination’s public transportation system. In some cities such as Washington, D.C., the subways are required to have elevators so seniors and the disabled may may more easily use the metro trains.

In Paris, it’s illegal for taxis not to stop for a passenger who is wheelchair bound. Not only that, the driver is responsible for folding up the wheelchair and not charging to transport it in the cab’s trunk without charging a supplement.

Many cities have buses with ramps that can be lowered or that “kneel” to make entry easier. They many not be on every route but are being added as vehicles are being replaced.

Bring an special items
Pack needed items such as special pillows, bandages and anything that will make you more comfortable during your trip. You may need to check and pay for an extra suitcase. But the additional cost is comparatively nothing compared to searching for something specific in a foreign place — even if it’s a two-hour flight away from you live. Don’t expect drug stores to have what you need or necessarily even be open.

Buy travel insurance
Travel insurance is generally a good investment, especially if you have any type of disability. Better to spend the extra money and be able to be repatriated to the medical facility of your choice. You’ll travel with increased peace of mind as will family members left behind.

Other considerations: Are you comfortable traveling to a destination where you don’t speak the language? Some people are, while others aren’t. Know your limitations and comfort level.

These are a few suggestions and certainly the tip of the iceberg. Please add yours. People learn from each others experiences, mistakes and oversights.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |