Results tagged travel from David Lebovitz

10 Romantic (and Sexy) Things to Do In Paris

For those of you who have The Perfect Scoop, you may already be familiar with my friend Heather Stimmler-Hall, who writes the popular website, Secrets of Paris. She’s the one who attempted to seduce her Parisian neighbor with a batch of my ice cream. Not that she needs my assistance (I didn’t ask her how it turned out since I’m such a gentleman, and she’s the model of discretion). But for the rest of us, I tend to take help whenever—and wherever, I can get it.

Heather is the author of Naughty Paris, a guide to the sexiest and most romantic things to do in Paris. Because so many people come to Paris looking for a little romance, on our recent dessert date, I asked Heather for a list of her favorite, most sensual things to do in the city…just in time for Valentine’s Day. So here is Heather’s list of Ten Romantic (and Sexy) Things to Do in Paris. Merci ma chèrie! -David

heart-shaped tart

A lot of people ask me advice on romantic things to do in Paris, and if they’re visitors, I usually reply, “It’s Paris, what’s not romantic about it?” After all, you’ve got a gorgeous setting of historic monuments and scenic bridges over the Seine, a fashionably-dressed cast of Parisians sans baseball hats and “Who dat?” emblazoned sweatshirts, and some of the most mouth-watering cuisine on the planet.

Well, that is if you know where to go.

I can already hear the locals and Paris habitués groaning that they’ve already done all of the Valentine’s Day clichés: a show at the Moulin Rouge, a cruise on the Seine, dinner on the Eiffel Tower, macarons at Ladurée…and I think everyone should try all of those things at least once in a lifetime (okay, once a week for the macarons). But then what?

Then you ask me, the woman who wrote Naughty Paris, for a few ideas—of course! Some of these are obvious, others less so, but all are perfect for a romantic rendez-vous when you’re hungering for more than just a kiss. ; )

1. Oysters and Wine at Le Baron Rouge

Candlelight, soft music and a quiet table in the corner? Please. There’s nothing more intimate than being crammed against each other in a cozy wine bar, jostling with the friendly locals and market stall-holders from the neighboring Marché d’Aligre for a glass of Burgundy and a platter of cheese and charcuterie.

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Thanksgiving in Paris…and above & beyond

olivier winetasting instructions

When folks ask me what the French do for Thanksgiving, I don’t think the word they’re expecting to hear are “Um, nothing.” And why should they? It’s not as though America shuts down for le 14 juillet.

Still, a few places around here do get into the spirit and you’ll see a few bags of cranberries at the market, a few more sweet potatoes piled up, and smart volaillers stocking whole turkeys, normally a rare site in France.

wine taster

Since it’s pretty much life-as-usual around here on the fourth Thursday of November, when a message from Olivier Magny of O-Château popped up in my Inbox earlier in the week, asking if I’d like to go to a wine-tasting, at 30,000 feet that day, I said, “Sure!”

So there I was, stepping out of my apartment, at 7:15 am Thanksgiving morning, heading to Orly airport to meet up with Olivier and his team of sommeliers.

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Coasting la Côte

When I heard there was going to be an inaugural voyage for the recently refubished Club Med 2 sailboat, I was so excited to go, that I actually invited myself to come along. Since the trip was a press preview, with a sprinkling of the rich and perhaps famous to rub elbows with, and since I lived so close, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be able to easily race down to catch some sunshine, and participate in the buzz—cruising past St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice, and Portofino.

Portfino

So after spending a few days on land in Provence, I was ready to set sail and meet my travel mates. Having not gone on many press trips, I wasn’t sure what to expect and happily, our rag-tag group was from all over the map: Japan, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Italy, and, of course, France. We boarded boat and set sail eastward.

sailboat

I’d been on one boat before, a medium-sized cruise liner, and was less-than-impressed with that one. It was freezing cold from the boat being severely overly air-conditioned, so I was wearing sweaters indoors, while sunny Mexico was right outside. Not only was it cold physically, it was also uninspiring and I felt like I was on a floating hotel, it was so big and impersonal.

But this was a small vessel, a 5-masted sailboat, with less than two hundred rooms and sure enough, it was just the right size and pace for cruising the Côte d’Azur.

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Renting an Apartment in Paris

building

The other evening I was having dinner with a group of folks from out of town, and not one of them was staying in a hotel. Each had rented an apartment and were having a great time—and saving money, while doing so.

There are scores of websites and companies that rent mid- to high-end apartments, which are great places to stay if you’re looking for more plush surroundings. But while many owners will rent a short-term vacation apartment from an agency, the most economical way to stay in Paris is to find an apartment that’s for rent by owner. (FRBO). These deals may require a bit of digging, as residents will often post to online bulletin boards or send out e-mails to friends to pass on rather than listing them with agencies.

Aside from being less-expensive than a hotel, a benefit of renting an apartment is that you can save big-time by skipping hotel breakfasts and get your own freshly-baked pain au chocolat from that charming little pastry shop on the corner.

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The Pâtisseries of Paris: A Paris Pastry Guide

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There’s a nifty guidebook to the bakeries, chocolate shops, and tea salons, called The Pâtisseries of Paris. This handy little book is full of great addresses and tips, and is just small enough to slip in your shoulder bag when hitting the streets of Paris, should you come to Paris on a mission for sweets.

I was surprised at how in-depth this guide takes you. Naturally, the usual suspects, like Ladurée and Stohrer, are in there. And chocolatiers like Jean-Charles Rochoux and Patrick Roger are always a stop whenever I’m on the Left Bank, so I was happy to see the nods toward them.

There’s few places that aren’t quite worth the calories. Such as Au Panetier bakery, where the pastries don’t make up for the glorious art nouveau tilework, although it is gorgeous.

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Lisbon

If anyone of you has been planning to go to Portugal, I’d say “Don’t walk…run!” to get there. Except that’s perhaps only possible if you live close by, in Spain. And in which case, you’d probably take the train.

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Here’s some various and sundry impressions and images from my trip. Apologies to any Portuguese folks for mangling their language. And thanks to the readers who offered ideas for places to go and things to eat. I would agree that Lisbon is a terrific place to spend a few days, but if you go, it’s worth either renting a car or taking the train to explore some of the beaches and small towns outside of the city.

And if you don’t learn any other word in Portuguese, the most important word in the language is churrasquiera….or ‘barbeque’.

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What I love most about Lisbon is that there’s still plenty of relics from the decades of the recent past, namely bits and pieces of art nouveau and art deco everywhere. And the tilework, which you can find all around the city is marvelous, constantly surprising and very colorful.

Equally marvelous, and edible to boot, are natas; small custard-based tartlets meant to be consumed en masse. Believe me, if I could’ve fit all three into my mouth at once I would have. No one is shy in Lisbon: you simply belly-up to the counter and order a plateful.

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Although they vary in quality from place to place in Lisbon, some of the best natas and other pastries are at Pastelaria Versailles.

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Tipping In France and Paris

l'addition

One of the most confusing things for visitors to Paris is figuring out the tip system. Unlike the US where tips are expected (and considered part of the wages paid), in France by law a 15% service compris is always included in the price wherever you eat or drink. No matter what anyone says, a service charge is always included. Guidebooks often underscore this fact, reminding you that the service is included. But also they add that it’s okay to leave extra.

But Paris has many international visitors, and it’s pretty common to leave something after a bite to eat or drink (leaving a few coins, or some bills, is called the pourboire, which roughly means “for something to drink.”) But it’s never expected and is only given for good or attentive service, or at a place you habituate frequently.

Other circumstances where a tip is common: In restaurants if you have a baby or children that require special attention, if you don’t speak the language and the server is particularly patient and helpful, or if you stand up and spill red wine all over the place and broken a couple of glasses as well. (Not that I’ve ever done that…)

Although I have a few Parisian acquaintances that don’t leave anything on principal (reasoning that it is, after all, included), most I know do leave a little something. But if you go to a restaurant and they don’t return with your change when you leave money for the bill, that’s extremely bad form and I always say something. And in those cases, I don’t leave anything.

If you do want to leave something extra, don’t add it to your credit card slip since the waiter probably won’t get it. Instead, leave the coins in the tray where the check was presented or on the table.

Lastly: Don’t feel obligated to overtip. In all but the fanciest of restaurants, leaving more than 5-10% is generally not done, even though it may be customary and considered impolite to leave less than 15% in your country.

au boeuf couronne

So here’s a little guide based on my observations and experiences dining and getting around Paris:

Cafés

If you have a drink, although not necessary, often people leave the change. If the bill is 3.80€, you can leave 4€. 5€ (unless you’ve accidentally smashed the table in half or something) is excessive.

Simply round it up the nearest whole figure if you want. At the bar, if a coffee is 1.20€, you can leave an extra 10-20 centimes behind if you want.

Meals & Restaurants

In normal restaurants, including cafés, one can leave €1; for every €20. So if the check is €80, you can leave anywhere from €2-€4. Think of it as a gesture, not an obligation. Once again, it’s not necessary but is appreciated for good service. And I think this equation works out just about right.

In nicer restaurants, such as 3-start tables, where the service is exemplary, a tip of €20 is fine to leave. It’s not normal to tip the coat check person. When in doubt, look at French diners and see what they leave as a gratuity.

Coat Check

In simple restaurants, if the waiter grabs your coats and puts in on the hook, there’s no need to give anything. But in a nicer restaurant, especially if there’s a coat check, €1 per coat is expected.

Taxis

Like restaurants, tipping in a taxi isn’t necessary, although most of the time I give a little extra, roughly an extra 1-2€ in Paris no matter what the fare. If coming from the airport and the driver’s helped you with luggage and the like, 5% is fine to give him or her.

Conversely, if they take you on a tour of Paris, ie: the longest route possible, I don’t give them anything unless they were doing it to avoid traffic or a demonstration blocking the streets.

Concierges

If your concierge at the hotel goes out of their way to make you a host of restaurant reservations, especially at hard-to-get places, it’s a nice gesture to give them something for their efforts. While a box of chocolates or a bottle of good wine is welcome, a monetary gesture of gratitude is a good way to show your appreciation.

If they make a phone call or two to get you into a local bistro, it’s not necessary. If you give them a list of places that you’d like them to book you at, I do recommend a little something, especially if you plan to go back to that hotel. Trust me, they’ll remember you. And getting you into a nicer place that’s normally booked is quite a feat—depending on the level of hotel you’re staying at or restaurant you’ve requested, 5, 10, or 20€ is appreciated.

Hotel Porters

A tip of €1 per bag is appreciated, unless the bag is extra-heavy, in which case you can be more generous.

Theatres

And if you go to the theatre, it’s almost mandatory to tip the usher at least €1 per person for showing you to your seat.

Haircuts

A 10% gratuity is fine to give the person who cuts your hair.

Except for the woman who cut my hair when I first arrived in Paris years ago and I had to walk around the city looking like a sponge that got stuck in the garbage disposal for a couple of weeks until it grew out. She got a tip, but I didn’t go back.

(I hope she used the money to either improve her skills, or to head back to school to find another line of work. Boy, was that scary…)


Related Posts

Wikipedia‘s Guide To Tipping in France and elsewhere.

ParisMarais has a few tips

Magellin’s World Tipping Guide

Fodors’ Foodie Guide

About.com on Tipping in France

Heather’s notes at Secrets of Paris

Two Great Dining Guides to Paris

Paris Pas Cher: 8 Money-Saving Tips for Paris

poulet rôti

When I moved to Paris, I was pretty shocked at how expensive things were. And I don’t mean Louis Vuitton suitcases or Kelly bags. Something as simple as a sponge at the supermarket would cost 4€ or a plastic storage container at the BHV might run you 15€ around here.

Ouch!

Then I learned about the Paris pas cher stores all over town. Although concentrated mostly in the less-chic neighborhoods, they’re sort of ‘catch-all’ shops that sell everything from scissors, thongs, cookware, hammers, luggage, shampoo, and old Nicole Kidman movies she made when she was a teenager.

I’ve found they’re great places to scratch your shopping itch. You never know what you’re going to find exactly, but they’re great fun to wander through and see what they’ve got if you pass one. You’ll know you’ve found when if there’s lots of stuff hanging from the ceiling, stacked out front, and piled high if you peek inside. Frequently there’s an overwhelming smell of insecticide or mothballs, but you get used to it after a few years, I guess. (Judging from the people who run them, who seem to be oblivious.)

Paris pas cher, in case you didn’t know, means ‘Paris Not Expensive’, and the term is also used to denote bargains in the city. Since the dollar is tanking, I thought I’d share a few of my money-saving tips with you I’ve learned along the way:

Drink Like a Parisian

If you’re sitting in a café, you’ll notice that few people are drinking soda. Most are lingering over tiny coffees, which cost about 2€ instead. You can stay as long as you want without having to order anything else once you’ve finished, no matter what you ordered. My theory is people order coffee because it’s the cheapest thing you can get. I’m often guilty of that too. (If they ask you to pay, it’s usually because the waiters are changing shifts, so don’t fell obligated to split.)

Standing at the counter cuts the prices roughly in half so if you’re just looking for a quick thirst-quencher or a shot of caffeine, you might want to stand.

(I’m a total rube myself. One of my first times in Paris, I ordered a coffee at the counter, then carried it over to a table. That got quite a response!)

In a café, order wine by the carafe which is usually drinkable and inexpensive. Don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of money on wine in a regular restaurant either. Unlike in America, it’s easy to find good wines in the 15-25€ range. Don’t be afraid to order the Vin du mois or something they’re featuring.

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