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Good Practical Tips When Visiting Paris
From queuing for hours for the Eiffel Tower to overdosing on 12 per cent beer, here are the things to avoid in the French capital.
1. Going to the Champs-Élysées
Beloved by hordes of prattling foreign teenagers, Parisian are careful to avoid this thoroughfare - and with good reason. Full of international chains and overpriced restaurants selling dreadful food, as well as car show rooms and the Paris headquarters of Iran Air, it is a cursed day that one finds themselves wandering in these Elysian Fields. If you have the money, or want to pretend you do, you would be far better off heading to the other two streets that make up the “Triangle d’Or” – the Golden Triangle – Avenue Montaigne and Ave George V, to the south of the Champs. Here you will find shamelessly shiny outlets of the best Parisian fashion houses – Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, to name but a few – all manned by even brassier security guards. Or for shops where you might actually be able to afford something, head east into the Marais, Bastille and Belleville districts, for boutiques and bric-a-brac. Failing that, head to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, the tower that stands at one end of the strip, for the most impressive thing about it: the view of the 12 roads that stretch out from beneath it, in the glad knowledge that you are not in the bunfight below.
2. Queuing for the lifts at the Eiffel Tower
There is no doubt that every visitor to Paris must do what most of the locals never get around to: ascend the Eiffel Tower. The views from Gustave Eiffel’s 1887 construction are always impressive – seven million visitors a year are unlikely to be wrong. And yet fools only attempt to make the ascent in the lifts without pre-booking: the queues can be hours long, and the area underneath the tower is full of touts, screaming children, and, potentially, pickpockets. Pre-book your ticket online in advance: although there may be bottlenecks here and there to enter the lifts, you won’t have to queue to purchase. Failing that, you could even walk. Stair tickets cannot be purchased online in advance, but most visitors find it too daunting a prospect, meaning the queues are much shorter.
3. Joining the Mona Lisa scrum
Even the most dim-witted luddite has heard of the Mona Lisa, therefore every Tom, Dick and Claude who walks into the Louvre makes a bee line straight for it. Consequently, the room which houses Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece becomes a cross between Harrods on the first morning of the sales and the weigh-in at a Ricky Hatton fight. I can't see what the big fuss is myself, and don't think the fact that the subject’s peepers follow you around the room is anything special – the same illusion occurs whenever someone is painted eyes forward. The painting itself is also smaller than a postage stamp, and you can't see it without some grinning buffoon poking you in the temple with their thrusting smartphone. There are some 35,000 pieces of artwork in the museum: you need not see this one.
4. Taking children anywhere
Paris has a reputation of being "a city that is terrible for 'les enfants'". How bad can it really be?
In contrast to London Underground's big, buggy-friendly gates, there was no obvious space for our pushchair on Paris' Metro. And so within minutes of descending at the Gare du Nord, I found myself in the faintly ridiculous position of trying to wrestle a buggy through some unaccommodating automated sliding doors, in front of a bemused series of commuters. My first lesson parenthood in Paris: expect to fold your buggy every time you go in and out of the metro. Lesson two was not far behind: brace yourself for the stairs...
5. Quaffing one too many "Demon" lagers
Heaven knows if they still serve it, but should you ever stumble upon "La Bière Demon" – slogan: "12̊ de Plaisir Diabolique" (translation: 12 per cent of devilish pleasure) – run for the hills. For my 21st birthday, a girlfriend treated me to a weekend in Paris. We arrived in time for lunch, and – bristling with naive joie de vivre – I sank four or five of the hellish creations. Needless to say, I was soon escorted back to our hotel, where I slept through the remainder of my big day.
6. Being the victim of a pickpocket
Incidences of “Vol à la tire” have increased in Paris in recent years, with Russian and Chinese tourists, for whom it is more usual than visitors of other nationalities to carry large amounts of cash, being targeted in particular. Last year, Paul Roll, director of the Office du Tourisme de Paris, said that he hoped tourists would not be put off visiting the city, but admitted that action was needed: “It is a subject that we shouldn't hide from and must take seriously.” The US Embassy in Paris has a long list of tips on how to avoid being a victim, including carrying handbags with zips, never having on your person more than you are willing to lose, and knowing that most pickpockets operate around the main tourist attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. I was once the victim of an attempted pickpocketing in Paris, as I withdrew cash from an ATM. I was concentrating so hard on my crutches, and the pain in my foot – I had fallen badly a few days previously – that I did not notice the little boy who tried to swipe my purse. Only afterwards, when I was approached by several policemen, who asked me to fill out an incident report, did I realise what had happened.
7. Paying the bill at a five-star hotel
Paris hotels are among the most expensive in the world – according to the latest Hotels.com Hotels Price Index survey, based on 2013 figures, a night at a hotel in the French capital cost an average of $A230, ahead of London ($A219) and notoriously expensive St Petersburg, in Russia ($A204). For example, one night in a classic room on Friday September 19 at Le Meurice, one of Paris’s “palace” hotels (and admittedly one of the most fabulous in the whole city) is sold at a “best available rate” of €880 ($A1,271) per night – upgrade to a “prestige suite” for a mere €5,800 ($A8,382) per night. These rates don’t include any meals, of course – you will pay €34 ($A49) for a club sandwich.
8. Joining the queue for Burger King (Don't)
This may well have improved since I saw it last (it MUST have improved). But when I stopped by last year, I couldn't believe the queue I saw for one particular Parisian restaurant. Having just opened in Saint Lazare station, which serves commuters to Paris's western suburbs, the Burger King - the only one in the city - had created a buzz to make any chef of a trendy pop-up eatery envious. Snaking round the shopping centre, it was at least an hour long, and had, apparently, been worse. The question I kept asked myself: why?
9. Asking someone the way
Don’t do so unless you're prepared for a cold shower of Parisian scorn. Locals will either ignore you completely, look at you as if you've just crawled from under the nearest kerbstone or answer in impenetrable rapid-fire French – then walk off before you can ask them to repeat it. If you do get lost, look for another tourist to help you.
10. Being there when there’s a strike on
Some French are proud of their ability to stop working whenever possible: when it’s too hot, when it’s too cold, when the generous state pay and holiday allowances are deemed insufficient… When I lived in Paris a few years ago, I got used to walking or cycling instead of relying on the public transport networks – and there is little point in trying to hail a cab in Paris, where they are few and far between. To be fair, this problem is not limited to the City of Light: French air traffic controllers like to decide not to work too, causing flight cancellations and delays on flights across its airspace, as do workers on the nationwide SNCF rail network. At least in the capital, you can hunker down with a coffee and a croissant and do as the Parisians who work in the private sector do: raise your nose in the air and ride above it.
with Joanna Symons, The Telegraph, London
p/s don't put any more locks on the bloody love bridge, its weighing the bridge down ...