Results tagged travel from David Lebovitz

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.

Continue Reading The Pâtisseries of Paris: A Paris Pastry Guide…

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.

Continue Reading Lisbon…

Tipping In France and Paris

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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.

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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

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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.

Continue Reading Paris Pas Cher: 8 Money-Saving Tips for Paris…

Finding a Hotel In Paris

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Here’s a listing of a few notable hotels in Paris that you might want to investigate if you’re planning to come for a visit. I’ve been traveling to Paris for many years before moving here, and some of the hotels listed I’ve stayed in, while others have been recommended by guests and friends. There’s a pretty good selection, including one located on the top of the public hospital! Some are in the budget category, while a few are nicer if you’re looking for more comfort.

There has been a spate of hip, hi-design hotels opening in neighborhoods outside of familiar areas and these hotels offer design-oriented rooms at reasonable prices. MamaShelter and Hi Matic are examples of them, and they are becoming more and more popular, especially with travelers looking for something more off-beat.

There are a few caveats to remember, which I’ve listed below, since everyone has different standards and concerns when staying in a hotel. Only you know if you’ll be comfortable in a ‘budget’ hotel with few services, possible street noise, and standard bedding. Price makes a big difference and a hotel that’s less than 100€ per night is likely to offer few amenities, while one in the higher range is, of course, going to be a nicer place to stay. Prices listed are just to give readers an idea of how much the hotel was at the time when I created this list. They are subject to change so do check the hotel websites for the most up-to-date information.

Oops! Budget Hotel
50, avenue de Gobelins
Tel: 01 47 07 47 00
Fax: 01 43 31 17 74

Contemporary, hip hostel, with shared or private rooms, with baths, WiFi, A/C. and very economical prices.

MamaShelter
109, rue Bagnolet
Tel: 01 43 48 48 48
Fax: 01 43 48 49 49

Philippe Starck-designed budget hotel (rooms start at €79/night) in off-beat neighborhood. Quirky and interesting, but beware that dining in the hotel isn’t as affordable as the rooms.

Hôtel Saint Pierre
4, rue de l’Ecole de Médecine
Tel: 01 46 34 78 80
Fax: 01 40 51 05 17

Good budget option in the student-oriented Latin Quarter, free hi-speed internet in the rooms and television. Rates start at €63 per night. Just down the street from my favorite hot chocolate place in Paris, Pâtisserie Viennoisserie, where you can take breakfast too (closed weekends.)

Hôtel Bourgogne-Montana
3, rue de Bourgogne
Tel: 01 45 51 20 22
Fax: 01 45 56 11 98

In the relaxed seventh, very popular, good quality for the price. Good breakfast buffet and excellent staff.

Hôtel Amour
8, rue Navarin
Tel: 01 48 78 31 80

This hip hotel is well-priced, with rooms starting at about €100, especially considering its proximity to the rue des Martyrs. Rates are low, and the popular dining room is known for good fare, with the locals as well as guests. The artist-designed rooms are popular during fashion week, hence rates go up 20% when the fashionistas are in town.

Hôtel Hospitel
1, Place du Parvis Notre Dame
Tel: 01 44 32 01 00
Fax: 01 44 32 01 16

Located on the top floor of the historic Hôtel Dieu Hospital! It’s just next Nôtre Dame in the center of Paris. AC and WiFi.

Hi Matic
71, rue de Charonne
Tel: 01 43 67 56 56

Offers stylish “cabanes” with an ecological bent, designed by Matali Crasset. Rooms start at around €145/night.

Hôtel Bourg Tibourg
19, rue Bourg Tibourg
Tel: 01 42 78 47 39
Fax: 01 40 29 07 00

In a lively area, the Marais, but on a quiet street. Chic rooms designed by Jacques Garcia. Rooms that start at 190€. Wi-Fi (pronounced wee-fee, in French), interior garden, and air-conditioning.

Grand Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc
3, rue de Jarente
Tel 01 48 87 62 11
Fax 01 48 87 37 31

In the Marais, close to the Place des Vosges, this hotel is an outstanding value for its location (and it’s just a short stumble from (Vert d’Absinthe) Consequently, this hotel books quickly. No air-conditioning or fancy services. Doubles are around 79€.

Hôtel Castex
5, rue Castex
Tel: 01 42 72 31 52

Air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Well-located on a quiet side street near the Bastille.

Hôtel Chopin
46, Passage Jouffroy
Tel: 01 47 70 58 10
Fax: 01 42 47 00 70

In a passage near Montmarte. Inexpensive, lively area near the major department stores. Upper rooms have more light; request the forth floor.

Hôtel de la Place des Vosges
12, rue Birague
Tel: 01 42 72 60 46
Fax: 01 42 72 02 64

Rooms 100-140€ per night, with Wi-Fi No air-conditioning, but perfect location on small street leading into place des Vosges.

Hotel des Chevaliers
30, rue de Turenne
Tel: 01 42 72 73 47
Fax: 01 42 72 54 10

Great location a stone’s throw from the place des Vosges in the Marais. Air-conditioning, WiFi, and safes. Rooms begin at around €105/night.

Hotel Duo
11, rue du Temple
Tel: 01 42 72 72 22
Fax: 01 42 72 03 53

Very nice, modern hotel in the heart of the Marais, near lots of cafes and nightlife. Can be noisy during summer months if you leave windows open due to the neighborhood. Mid-priced.

Hôtel Britannique
20, avenue Victoria
Tel: 01 42 33 74 59
Fax: 01 42 33 82 65

Located near Chatelet. Clean and soundproofed rooms. The rooms are a tad on the small side but located overlooking a nice square in the center of Paris. Rooms start at 139€.


A few tips to keep in mind when researching hotels…


  • I never travel anywhere without my Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask. It’s simply the best travel product ever! Super-comfy, it blocks every bit of light so you can get a good night sleep in hotel rooms or airplanes.

  • You get what you pay for. Any hotel under 100€ per night is likely to be a bit flimsy, the décor a bit tired, and the rooms may not be a quiet as you’d like.

  • More and more hotels in Paris have free Wi-Fi. It does pay to ask when reserving if that is a concern.

  • In general, rooms on the inside are far quieter than rooms overlooking the street. Take note, especially if you plan to come in the summer. The downside is that inside rooms can face neighboring apartments, and often garbage cans rumble around in the early morning.

  • Don’t judge a hotel by the lobby. Many places have a gorgeous lobby, which can be deceiving. It’s cheaper to make the lobby look amazing rather than the rooms. Look at the room before you accept it.

  • The ‘star system’ can be misleading. Hotels pay taxes based on how many stars they have, so places are reluctant to accept four-stars. So don’t let stars be the sole judge. Two-stars or less generally means there are shared bathrooms, however.

  • Print out and bring your confirmation. I’ve had friends staying in lower-priced hotels in Paris who were told their room was booked and had to leave.

  • Does the hotel have an elevator? Although most do, some older ones may not, which is something to consider if you pack ‘American-style’ (which I am guilty of sometimes) and have a lot of heavy suitcases.

  • If you like your hotel, befriend the manager and go back. They’ll remember you and you’ll get better treatment each time. Bring them some chocolates on the last day or make little gesture of thanks if you ask them for special favors, such making restaurant reservations.

  • Most of the time, breakfast is extra; it may be expensive and can make your budget hotel not such a great deal. You can have a croissant and coffee at a local café for a couple of euros, although sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself the hotel breakfast once in a while. Many places charge up to 15€ per person (or more), so it may or may not be worth it to you.

  • Air-conditioning in France is not like American air-conditioning and can be weaker than you’re used to, which is something to consider in the summer. Normally the air-conditioning in the lower-priced hotels can be weaker.

  • If you’re staying for around a week, it can be more interesting to rent an apartment, and there’s lots of them out there. Some are professionally-run places with services and concierges. Others are privately-owned apartments that the owners either rent out habitually, or rent when they’re not there. Prices are similar to many of the hotels I’ve listed. The advantages are you can do your own cooking after you’ve explored the markets and wine shops and you can save on meals (although you have to do the dishes…) The downside is no one is there to help you, and if you rent a private apartment, often they’re smaller than what you may be used to.

  • Lastly, there’s a whole other world outside of the Left Bank. Many guests think they have to stay there, and are comfortable surrounded by lots of tourists and English-speakers. But other neighborhoods in Paris are great to explore and staying in one for a few days can give you a better sense of what Paris is about.

  • The French hotel chain Citadines rents ‘apartment-hotel’ suites with mini-kitchens. Although the décor is rather Ikea-like and lacking in Parisian charm, the rooms are clean and well-kept, but if you want housekeeping or extra towels, you’ll pay extra. You can get find deals if you stay in a neighborhood that’s not-quite centrally-located (but it’s so easy to get around with the métro, who cares.) Search their site, or other travel sites, to find deals, especially off-season.

Other Links and Resources

Secrets of Paris

Paris 35 (Hotels around Paris for 35€ per night)

Paris Trip Tips

Eurocheapo: Paris

Air BnB (Vacation Rentals)

Messy Nessy Chic Paris Hotel Guide

Frugal Paris (NYT Frugal Traveler)

Renting an Apartment in Paris (My Tips)

Cheap & Chic Hotels in Paris (New York Times)-Annotated List

The Best Paris Guidebook

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Paris is reported to be the most popular tourist destination in the world. Each year people come from all over the world for their vacations. I’m sure they spend months and months making arrangements, searching the internet looking for a charming, affordable hotel, scouring web site for decent airfares, and searching my blog for places to eat.

So after all that, what do most people depend on to get around this most fabulous of all cities? The free maps from Galleries Lafayette that the hotels give out. Not that there’s anything wrong with those maps.

Ok, yes there is.

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Let’s face it, Paris hasn’t changed much in the past 100 or so years or more, and it ain’t gonna be changing much in our lifetime either. So next time you come, on your very first day, stop by a Presse, or newstand, and buy one of these booklets. They cost about 5 to 7 euros, and are available in various sizes and formats. Few Parisians leave the house without this handy little booklet in their handbag or man-purse. It easily slips inside a coat pocket as well.

Mine lists all the outdoor markets in the city by day and location, addresses for all the attractions in Paris, the location of gas stations and taxi stands, where all the big department stores are, schools and universities (ok, you probably don’t need those), and a complete overview and map of the extensive métro system. And the last kicker: you can use it each and every time you come back to Paris. No need to buy a new one.

Related posts and links:

Paris Dining and Travel Guides

My Paris

Two Delicious Dining Guides to Paris

The Pastry Shops of Paris

French Menu Translation, Made Easy