Paris Week: the End (for now)

Notre Dame de Paris by Natalie Parker

Well phew.  That wraps up a week of posts dedicated to Paris, my favorite city.

I hope you enjoyed it and it helps on your next trip.  Even better, I hope it inspires you to take a trip!

A Week of Paris Tips

In case you missed anything, here’s a recap from the week:

Everyone’s Paris is Different
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre

How to Eat Out in Paris: 11 tips
How to Ride the Paris Metro
Where to Eat the French Classics in Paris
The Best Walking Tours in Paris
Paris Champagne Tour
How to Pack Champagne Home from France
Map of My Paris Recommendations

Just the Beginning

I’m finished with this week and I already know I need more posts on Paris.  There’s still so much I haven’t shared with you!  Like where to sit and get champagne and ham, or my favorite place to read or fall asleep — this is important stuff, people.

Ah, Paris.  There’s always a reason to go back.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about your trip to Paris, please feel free to reach out and I’m happy to answer.

Map of My Paris Places

Paris Map by Natalie Parker

Did you know I am married to a geographer?  And he can make really cool maps?

We worked together and put together this really cool map of my Paris recommendations.  Any place that I’ve mentioned this past week is marked on the map for easy reference.

Click here to view my Paris map

I’m not done writing about Paris.  Not by a long shot.  As I write more, any new places I mention will be added to the map.  Don’t worry if you lose this post.  You’ll always be able to get to the map by scrolling to the France section of my travel page.

Bonne journée!

How to Pack Champagne Home from France

How to Pack Champagne Home from France

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about visiting Champagne, how many bottles can you buy?  And more importantly, how are you going to get them home?

Don’t worry, I’m here to help.

There are two issues here: how to pack it and how to get it into the country.  I’ll handle each separately.

I’ll always remember very fondly the other Americans and Aussies in our group that were buying 1-2 bottles when Mr. P and I were trying to figure out the most we could possibly buy.  I looked up the rules on my phone on the spot and then we became the proud new owners of 7 bottles.

The rest is history.  Every time  we visit Paris, we bring home a case of champagne.

How to Pack Champagne in Your Suitcase

Step one, acquire several bottles of champagne.  Or just one.  But I’m using myself as an example, so several.  Moving on.

How to Pack Champagne Home from France

I’ll never forget the moment, near the end of our time visiting Jean-Claude Mouzon in Champagne, when I asked the retired champagne maker about bottles breaking in my suitcase.

He took two empty bottles, started slamming them together and said something like this: “Zher are seeex atmospheres of pressure in zhese bottles!  Zhey weeel not break!”

Fair enough.  In case you couldn’t tell through the French accent, his point was this: there is a ton of carbon dioxide in a bottle of champagne.  There are six atmospheres of pressure (thereabouts) while it ferments, then it goes down to five when they disgorge and add the corks.

The bottles are made to handle that pressure and will probably not break in your suitcase.  The lesson?  Toss ‘em in!

How to Pack Champagne Home from France

I don’t wrap the bottles at all.  We space them out among our clothes in our suitcase and they do just fine.

Note: this does not apply to wine.  Wine bottles are made from a different type of glass and are much more breakable.  Be much more careful — we usually put wine bottles in sealed garbage bags and make sure they have plenty of padding.

No, you can’t ship champange home.  That’s another post, but let’s just say that you have to get it in your suitcase if you want to get it home.

How much champagne can you bring into the u.s.?

This information only applies to Americans.  I claim zero knowledge of any other nation’s customs laws.

Let’s dispel a big fat myth: Americans think they’re only allowed to bring in 1 liter of alcohol per person.

Wrong.

Let me be clear.  There is no limit in the United States on how much alcohol you can bring in for personal use.  Don’t believe me?  Read it from the horse’s mouth.

Now, your state may have some laws that limit the amount, so do check on that.  If you’re bringing in an absurd amount, you may raise some suspicions.  For the sake of this post, I’m talking about bringing in 6-10 bottles between two people.  No biggie, right?

How to Pack Champagne Home from France

Americans are allowed to bring in 1 liter of alcohol duty free.  Anything above that is subject to duty, like a tax.  For wine, that’s currently around $1-2 per liter.

Think about that again, at worst, that’s $2 per bottle.  See what I mean?  Not that bad.

So, bring your case of champagne home.  A case of champagne is 6 bottles, by the way, not 12.

How to Declare your Champagne Purchase

Here’s the short answer: fill out your customs form and give the information that the form asks for.  Never lie about it.

The US Customs Declaration Form does not ask for how much you are bringing in.  It asks for how much it costs.  Repeat that to yourself.

When I fill out my form, I list “Champagne” and a total dollar amount.  Period.

Now again, there’s nothing to lie about.  If a customs officer asks how many bottles you have, be honest.  I’ve never ever had someone ask me that I’ve done this several times.

If they ask, tell them.  The worst that happens is you are paying a handful of dollars duty.  If they don’t ask, you’re done!  Yay champagne!

Do not attempt to pack alcohol in your carry-on luggage — you will not get them through security if you are flying back to the US.  If you buy alcohol at the duty free shop, you can carry it onto the plane, but if you have a connection to make within the US, you will have to put your duty free alcohol in your suitcase after you clear customs and before you go back through security.

One more thing . . .

Drink your champagne.  It’s not going to age like a red wine.  Once the champagne is disgorged, it’s really only good for a year or so.  Stop looking for that special occasion and just drink it!  Champagne is the little black dress — it goes with everything.

MORE IN THIS SERIES:

Everyone’s Paris is Different
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre

How to Eat Out in Paris: 11 tips
How to Ride the Paris Metro
Where to Eat the French Classics in Paris
The Best Walking Tours in Paris
Paris Champagne Tour

How to Pack Champagne Home from France

Paris Champagne Tour

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

Let’s take a day trip from Paris, shall we?

Although Paris gets millions of visitors a year, only a tiny percentage of them visit Champagne, the region responsible for, you guessed it, champagne!

Why You Should Take a Champagne Tour

Mr. P and I aren’t tour people.  We like to do things on our own and only ever book a tour when we know it will get us an experience we can’t get ourselves.  Champagne is one of those places.

You can take the train to Champagne and visit some of the large champagne houses.  It’s like going to Napa and tasting only at the big box wineries.  Champagne is very insular, so if you want to go inside a mom-and-pop operation, you need to be on a tour.

If we have to take a tour, we research it like crazy so we’re not in one that screams “hi, we’re in a tour group!!!”

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

We Recommend Paris Champagne Tours

We booked a day trip through Paris Champagne Tours our first time in France back in 2010.  It was just fabulous and went way beyond our expectations.

Since then, I’ve recommended them to friends and coworkers.  No one has come back disappointed — everyone loves it!

It’s a little pricey: 175€ per person as of this writing.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  There are cheaper options out there but you will get a better experience with this company.

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

Why we Love Paris Champagne Tours

Small groups.  You aren’t with a busload of people.  They keep groups to 7 people max.  When we went, it was Mr. P and I plus two other couples.

Pickup and drop off at your hotel.  The guide will drive to your hotel and pick you up.  Most of the cheaper options we researched required you to meet somewhere in Paris very early in the morning.  A Champagne tour is a long day and it really helps to get door-to-door service.

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

Snacks in the car.  Our guide had English newspapers, coffee, juice, and croissants for us during the car ride out.

Lunch is included.  The price includes a multi-course lunch in Reims.

Tasting fees and tours included.  All tasting fees are included plus a cave tour at one of the larger houses.

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

Visiting a small producer.  This is the best part of the trip.  You get to visit a very small champagne operation that you simply wouldn’t see if you DIY-ed it.  Tasting there isn’t like wine tasting where you get a small pour.  Our host opened several bottles and we drank as much as we wanted!

The best champagne you’ve ever had.  The small producer we visited served us the best champagne we’ve ever tasted.  Plus, it wasn’t that expensive so Mr. P and I were furiously checking customs rules to see how much we could carry home (more on that later today).

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

Tour of Reims Cathedral.  After lunch, the guide takes you on a tour of the Reims Cathedral, where all French Kings were crowned.  Outside, you can visit the statue of Joan of Arc.

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

Knowledgeable guides.  We stopped first to look at the grapes and learn what makes the land so special for making champagne, then we visited champagne houses and learned how champagne is made.  We learned a lot about World War I history — you drive by battlefields on your way to Reims.

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

This is not like wine tasting.  And I mean that in a good way.  It isn’t about driving around, jumping out to taste, and then moving onto the next place.  While this totally includes champagne tasting, it’s a much bigger experience and  you learn quite a lot about the industry, history, and the area.

No fee to reserve.  Simply book your date and you pay by credit card at the end of the day.

If You Go

If you go, make sure to tell them I sent you!  You will visit the smaller house in the morning and the larger ones after lunch.  Buy all of your champagne at the smaller place in the morning — it will be an unbelievable deal!  You must buy what you want there: the smaller places generally do not sell their champagne outside the property.  You won’t find it back in Paris.

Click here to visit and reserve with Paris Champagne Tours

This may sound like an infomercial.  I’m not getting compensated to endorse this company, I just think they’re awesome.  I’ve given this recommendation so many times I finally decided to write it down.  If you’re spending several days in Paris, take a day out to do a Champagne tour!

MORE IN THIS SERIES:

Everyone’s Paris is Different
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre

How to Eat Out in Paris: 11 tips
How to Ride the Paris Metro
Where to Eat the French Classics in Paris
The Best Walking Tours in Paris

Visiting Champange in France by Natalie Parker

The Best Walking Tours in Paris

Best Walking Tour in Paris

If we have a bit of spare time in Paris, Mr. P and I will take a walking tour.  It’s fun to get to know a new area or learn some history.

Paris Walks:  I can’t recommend them enough.  They’re good for first-timers or experienced travelers.

Why we Love Paris Walks

No reservations required, just show up.  All walks have a set meeting point and time.  Just show up, pay the guide, and you’re off!  All walks are in English.

Extensive topics and schedule.  Paris Walks has a huge variety of options and schedules are posted online.  There’s something for everyone whether you like literature, history, food, etc.  We usually pick whichever one works with our schedule and we’ve never been disappointed!

Guides are very knowledgeable and nice, but not over the top.  The guides are very experienced and know a ton about the topic.  You won’t find anyone who is guiding while in college to pay the bills.  I describe them as “not over the top” because they’re not too gregarious or loud.

Best Walking Tour in Paris

See inside private locations.  On some of the tours, the guides have agreements with residents or business owners and we get to go inside places we never would have seen following a guidebook.

Generally inexpensive.  It is 12€ for adults, less for students and children.  Have cash ready to pay the guide.

Food and Fashion walks.  They have special walks that are a bit more expensive than the normal ones.  I haven’t taken one of their food walks yet, but a friend did he said it was amazing!  And he didn’t need to eat dinner later that night — ha!

So, if it’s your first time or fifteenth time in Paris, Paris Walks is the way to go.  You can plan your trip around their schedule, or just wake up and decide to take a tour.  We love them!

Click here to visit Paris Walks

If you’re in London, the same people also run London Walks which we highly recommend too.

Best Walking Tour in Paris

Where to Eat the French Classics in Paris

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Now that you have some great tips on how to eat out, let’s put it to some good use.

I prefer cafe dining in Paris.  Yes, we’re big foodies, yes, there are some fabulous restaurants, and yes, we do eat at restaurants when we visit.  But whiling away my time in a Parisian cafe sipping wine and eating classic dishes is my idea of heaven.

Remember my hamburger analogy, not every cafe will do these dishes well.  Here are my absolute favorites.

Soupe a l’oignon – Le Comptoir des Saints-Pères

This was my first meal ever in Paris.  Looking back on it, I’m so very lucky that I happened to find a cafe serving soupe a l’oignon and it happened to be done very well.  More than other dishes, soupe a l’oignon can be mediocre at cafes.  Finding a good one is a treasure.  I’ll never leave Paris without stopping at Le Comptoir for soup.

Le Comptoir des Saints-Pères closes early (except when they do live jazz on Thursdays but we’ve never been).

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Le Comptoir des Saints-Pères, 6th Arrondissement
29 Rue des Saints-Pères, 75006 Paris, France

Steak Frites – Café des Musées

This is another dish that can be mediocre if you’re not careful.  I read about Café des Musées from David Lebovitz, then dragged Mr. P and our expat friend there when they were only semi-hungry.  The smell of cooking steak hits you when you walk in the door.  You can’t not order a steak when you smell it.  Reservations are recommended, but they do have a large downstairs to handle overflow if you walk in.

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Yes, I know Le Bistro Paul Bert is supposed to be the place for steak frites in Paris.  Every time I try to go there, something happens and it never works out.  Someday I’ll eat there and report back!

Café des Musées, 3rd Arrondissement
49 Rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris

Salade au Chevre Chaud – Le Saint-Séverin

Tucked in a lane with a ton of touristy, not-great eateries is this little gem of a cafe.  Mr. P and I first found it when we needed a place to duck out of the rain.  You can sit outside under the overhang, eat some excellent food, and watch throngs of people move about while you relax.

French Classics by Natalie Parker

What’s a salade au chevre chaud?  The best thing ever.  It’s a salad with warm goat cheese.  Le Saint-Séverin does theirs with an excellent vinagrette, tomatoes, two big pieces of ham, and two huge wheels of chevre.  Mr. P loves it when I order it because he always gets to have some of the cheese.

Le Saint-Séverin, 5th Arrondissement
5 Rue Saint-Séverin, 75005 Paris

Omelette Mixte – Le Comptoir des Saints-PÈres

Mr. P says this is one of the better omelettes he’s ever had in Paris and always has a tough time deciding whether to get this or the soupe a l’oignon.  It’s cooked perfectly, it’s buttery, and has excellent ham and cheese.

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Le Comptoir des Saints-Pères, 6th Arrondissement
29 Rue des Saints-Pères, 75006 Paris, France

Crepes – Creperie Oroyona

Crepe stands are everywhere in Paris and it’s fairly easy to find a good one.  Every so often, you’ll happen upon a great crepe stand.  There are a ton of creperies on Rue Mouffetard, but this one is our favorite.  We tried it late one night because it had the longest line.  The jamon et fromage (ham and cheese) and citron sucre (lemon juice and sugar) are always what we order.

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Creperie Oroyona, 5th Arrondissement
36 Rue Mouffetard, 75005 Paris

Boeuf Bourguignon – Le Nazir

Boeuf Bourguignon is not as ubiquitous on cafe menus.  I was thrilled when I found it on the menu here and even more thrilled when it was excellent.

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Le Nazir, 18th Arrondissement
56 Rue des Abbesses, 75018 Paris

Extra: Salads at Le Relais Gascon

I had to add this even though it’s unique and I haven’t seen salads like this elsewhere in Paris.  We were looking for a casual dinner one night and stumbled upon this place.  I was in the mood for chicken, but everyone was eating salads out of these huge earthenware bowls.  We got with the program and each ordered one.  There are a variety of salads on the menu, but they all come topped with potatoes.  So so so very good.

French Classics by Natalie Parker

Le Relais Gascon, 18th Arrondissement
6 Rue des Abbesses, 75018 Paris

You won’t find Salade Niçoise on the list.  We don’t like olives, so there.  I’m still on the hunt for a good sole meuniere so I can pretend that I’m Julia Child having her first meal in France.

Do you have a favorite place to eat in Paris?  Please share!

French Classics by Natalie Parker

How to Ride the Paris Metro

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

I love me some public transportation.  I swoon over good public transportation.  Maybe it’s because I live in a major metropolitan area with a sub-adequate system.

The Metro is the best way to get around Paris.  I’m also a fan of the bus and walking but that’s another post.

To my American readers who may not ride public transportation that often: yes, you can figure this out, it’s fairly easy, and it’s wonderful.  Public transportation isn’t scary and thousands of people ride the Metro every day.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

This post covers travel within Paris on the Metro.  This does not cover the RER, which is the regional train system that also serves Versailles and the airports, or the national and international train services.

Buying Tickets

Ah, France: where everything is slightly more difficult than it needs to be.  In other major world cities, we can buy the same rechargeable subway card that commuters use.  Not possible in Paris.

Short version: it’s quicker, easier, and usually more cost-effective to buy packs of individual tickets instead of a pass.

We buy packs of t+ tickets, which are good for Zone 1.  Zone 1 will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in Paris.  T+ tickets will go to the airport or Versailles, but you can buy a single ticket for those zones if you need them.

A single t+ ticket costs 1.80€ and is good for a single ride on the Metro (or bus!).  If you buy a book of 10 tickets for 14.10€, the cost per ride is 1.41€.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

Buying a Book of Tickets: A book of 10 is called a carnet (“car-nay”).  You can buy a carnet at automatic ticket machines, tourist information stands (including the TI at the airports), and at most tabac stands.  People at TI’s speak English but if you go to a Metro ticket window or tabac and say carnet, they’ll know exactly what you want.

I love the carnet because you only buy what you need and you can split it between people if you aren’t taking that many rides.

You can buy a carnet at ticket machines but use cash.  Most Americans have credit/debit cards that will not work in ticket machines in Europe.  Stay tuned next month and I’ll cover this issue in detail.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

There are two pass-type options that I don’t like:

The Navigo Découverte is a week pass for 24.40€ plus a 5€ fee.  The kicker is that the week runs Monday-Sunday.  If you don’t buy it on the right day of the week, it isn’t cost-effective.

The Paris Visite is a pass you can get for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days.  A 1-day adult pass costs 12.30€.  You would need to take 9 trips in that day for it to be more cost-effective than single tickets.

Planning Your Route

Look at the Metro map.  Print this map or pick one up at a station.

Each Metro line has a color and number.  Find the station closest to you and where you want to go.  Pay attention to the color and number of the line, plus the name of the terminus station in the direction you are going.  This is important: you will find your train platform by knowing the name of the last station at the end of the line where your train is going.

Example: If you are traveling on Line 1 (yellow) from Bastille to the Louvre, you want a Line 1 train going toward La Défense.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

If you need to transfer, look for the white circles where the train lines intersect.  You’ll need to know what direction your first train is going, plus what direction your second train is going so you can find the transfer signs in the station.

If you are in a busy part of Paris, odds are there are multiple stops within a few blocks of you.  If you need to make a transfer, consider whether it’s better to start your trip a couple blocks further than the closest stop if it means a shorter ride or fewer transfers.

Taking a Ride

Many Metro stations have multiple entrances.  Get yourself to the general area and you’ll see signs.  They vary wildly and I love taking pictures of them.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

Be Prepared for Stairs: Lots of them.  In bigger stations they may have escalators, but most don’t.  You’ll hop up and down multiple short and long flights of stairs to find your platform.  Pro tip: if you Metro to Abbesses station, there is an elevator from the platform to the fare gates.  It’s there for a reason — don’t take those stairs or you’re in for some serious exercise (it’s the deepest station in the Metro).

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

Riding the Metro is just like navigating an airport: just look up and follow the signs.  In some stations, you’ll pass through the fare gates and then find your train.  Some stations are huge and have multiple sets of fare gates.  Just look for signs.  You will see the color and number of your train plus the name of the terminus station.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

Using the Fare Gates: stick your t+ ticket in the little slot, printed side up.  It’ll pop up from another slot.  Pull it out and pass through the gate.  Keep the ticket — a fare inspector on the train may ask to see it (it’s only happened to me once).

Don’t Mix Used and New Tickets: A used ticket will have a date printed on the back from the fare gate.  It’s often really hard to see these.  Keep used tickets in a different pocket.  After I use my ticket, I give it a little tear so I know.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

On the PlatformThis is why the Metro is awesome.  Unlike other cities, each direction for each line has its own platform.  When you get to your platform, you don’t have to worry about whether the next train is your train.  It is.  All the hard work is done!

Using the Train Doors: Most of the Metro trains have doors that will not open automatically: they have to be opened with a lever or button.  This goes for entering or exiting a train.  Older trains have a lever (shown below).  Just lift the lever and the doors will pop open.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

Getting off at Your Stop:  All train cars will have a map of the line.  Some of the newer cars have maps that light up showing the next stops, some just have a sticker.  Find the map and pay attention to the stops.  All transfer stations are clearly marked with the color and number.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker

Transferring or Exiting:  Step off the train onto the platform and look for signs.  If you are transferring, look for a sign with the color, number, and terminus of your new line and repeat the process again.  If you are exiting, look for the blue and white sortie signs.  Exits are numbered.  If you are in a big station, look for a map outside the fare gates to show you which exit will get you closest to your destination.

Happy Metro-ing!  If you need help, leave a comment and I’m happy to answer questions.

It’s a two post day today, scroll down!

MORE IN THIS SERIES:

Everyone’s Paris is Different
Best Tips for Visiting Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre

How to Eat Out in Paris: 11 tips

Click here to view all of my travel posts.

How to Ride the Paris Metro by Natalie Parker