Sunday, January 19, 2014

Paris at Christmas

As mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in Paris this past holiday.  I cannot recommend this kind of trip enough.  We left on the 15th & came back on the 26th,  a very light travel day.  While we still had make up holiday obligations when we returned, we circumvented the stressful countdown of trying to get everything done before the magic day.  I've never felt so refreshed in January as I have this year...because I wasn't so worn down from the holiday!

We rented an apartment in the Marais through Vacation in Paris -  Personally, I prefer renting apartments when I travel because I find an apartment to be more comfortable than a hotel.  Also, you can cook your own meals when you don't feel like going out.   Other pros include being in a residential neighborhood, more room to spread out,  & a generally cheaper vacation overall between meals & lodging.

When we arrived, we used Super Shuttle - When we departed, we used Uber through the app we have on our phones for Boston Uber.  Disclaimer - it was 70 Euro to CDG - but it was worth it to us to not have a 5:30 am pick up time from Super Shuttle or dragging our bags in the dark to the subway & schlepping to the RER.

Paris is a great city any time of year but it is especially gorgeous around Christmas.  Surprisingly, most everything starts opening - except stores - around 2 or 3 pm on Christmas Day.  If you're there on December 25th, there will be plenty to do - Christmas markets, ice skating, Eiffel Tower (although the line will be crazy long).  Having said that, some places do shut for the last 2 weeks of the year.  It's always best to call - not all websites will have the most updated opening/closing times.

If you do go, here are some recommendations for fun/delicious times beyond the usual:

1. Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris -

2. David Lebovitz's blog -

3. Google Maps or other app for your phone - much easier than fussing with a map (although, I did that a lot too!)

Cultural Things (beyond the usual iconic "must sees")
1. All the gardens - you can watch all Petanque leagues play & old men shout "merde!!!!" when they miss shots

2. Palais de Tokyo - Open until at least 11pm every night even Sundays

3. Ciel de Paris/Tour Montparnasse - The restaurant will give you the best view of the city including the Eiffel Tower (just go for a drink in the afternoon).  A lot of people think the best view is from the Eiffel Tower but you can't see the Tower while you're standing on it! Plus, Montparnasse, while huge, is not the most attractive building in the city.  So, why not use that for your city views vs. having it in your photos?

4. The roof at Galeries Lafayette - this also provides great views of the city from the Right Bank

1. Frenchie - The restaurant only takes reservations online about 12 weeks in advance.  If you can't get one, you can queue up for the wine bar (get there around 30 mins before it opens) & tell them you'll take a table if there's a no show. The wine bar has the same style food but it doesn't take reservations.  Getting there early is a must.  Frenchie to Go is great for lunch as well.

2. Les Philosophes - Traditional French Food done by a Japanese chef for organic/mindful diners - and with American style veggies options, i.e. big meal sized salads.  Try the cuisse de canard - served with duck fat potatoes & salad.  I am still dreaming of this meal...

3. Cuisine de Bar - Poilane's cafe...great for brunch. Aaaannndddd they favored my Tweet so I <3 them!

4. Marche Biologique de Batignolles - This is the big organic market.  You can get EVERYTHING here - meat, fish, dairy, jams, bread, and of course, loads of fruit & veggies -

5. Wine - What my 7th grade teacher told me still holds true - wine is cheaper than most soft drinks. For 3 Euro a coupe, you can try lots of different ones.  The best part - they're often not loaded up with sugar and other things so you won't get an awful headache like you do here from cheap wine.

6. O Chateau - Try any number of wines by the glass including Chateau d'Yquem!

7. L'As du fallafel - Lenny Kravitz's favorite fallafel place in Paris! Their take away window is open until midnight - keep it in mind if you get desperate! 

1. Big Department Stores - Galeries Lafayette will give you a 10% shopping coupon plus pull the VAT off your purchase as soon as you buy whatever item (better than having to go to a desk at the end with all your receipts).  The caveat? It's the Herald Square Macy's with all the tour bus drop offs but it's a proper French department store.  While I didn't buy anything in the upstairs, I hit Lafayette Gourmet in the basement HARD.  REAL HARD...terrines, Dalloyau pastries, Petrossian smoked salmon, etc.. The Bordeauxtheque is not to be missed if you're a wine person.  However, having said all that, I like Bon Marche & Le Grand Epicerie better.

2. Things to buy - There's a real Brooklyn thing going on with fashion right now but you can still get the Parisian touch with nice lingerie, perfume, drugstore cosmetics (which is on par with department store cosmetics here), and of course, chocolates - all for much cheaper than what you'd pay here for  the same quality.

Other Recommendations
1. Taking the TGV on a day trip out of the city - We went to Reims (45 mins each way).  By the way, Pascale, an extremely nice SCNF employee at Gare du Nord helped us out when we booked the wrong tickets.  She was technically on her break but went back to her window to help us.  We went back to bring her flowers but couldn't find her.  If you see her, tell her MERCI from me!

2. Walk - You can buy a tourist metro pass but just get a carnet.  You'll see so much more stuff walking around.  To put it in perspective - the incorporated city of Boston is double the size of Paris.

3. TSF Jazz - Jazz radio station that will create a real Paris vibe in your apartment ( along with a stinky Diptyque candle (, some flowers you bought at the bio marche Batignolles, and an apero of rose & potato chip. Voila - vous etes un Parisien!

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back - so much so, I am already planning on another trip this year.  If you have any recommendations for me, please post them in the comments.  Or, if you're planning to go, I am happy to answer any questions.

Traveling: Dublin Pre-Clearance

Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris.  As I was being a bit budget conscious, I decided to go via Aer Lingus vs. the direct Boston to Paris Air France flight.   I would absolutely do this again - price point notwithstanding.  The connection in Dublin is super easy on the way over.  Most of the people on our flight were not connecting to Europe.  So, there were no lines at security checkpoint and the airport was not very crowded.  Upon arriving in Paris in the early afternoon, CDG was not insane (most of the big international arrivals & departures are early or late in the day).  We were the only ones on our Super Shuttle ($25 one way, per person). With only midday traffic, we were at our apartment in the Marais within 30 mins.

On the return, we did have an early flight out of CDG.  We noticed that the gate check in time for our BOS flight was 2 hours before our departure time...which struck me as weird.  Dublin is much smaller than Schiphol or any of the huge other airports.  At some of the larger airports, you will be advised to get to your gate 90 mins+ because it will take you that long to walk to the other end of the airport.

Apparently, the US now has a giant presence at various airports & border crossings around the world.  I've heard it's because certain US entry points are very congested so they are trying to ease the "traffic" by having people go through Customs & Immigration before they arrive on US soil.  Regardless of the reason, I actually loved it.

Basically, you fill out your customs form, declare your chocolates,  & get your US entry stamp in Dublin.  The perks of this are:

1. They have pens at the tables where you fill out the customs declarations. There's nothing worse than scrambling for a pen when they pass the forms out on the plane.

2. There's relatively no line in Dublin - at least not like the ones when you arrive in the US because 4 other international flights arrived at pretty much the same time.

3. Even if there is/was a line, I'd still prefer to stand in a line when I am somewhat awake vs. queuing  up after a long, tiring flight.  It's a bit grim standing in line for hour when you really just want to get home - or have to go to the bathroom.

The process is super easy:
1. Follow the signs to the US Pre-Clearance.
2. Fill out the form with the conveniently provided pens.
3. Go up to the first desk & they will stamp your form.
4. Go to the second desk where they ask you a bunch of questions about where you were, what you did, & what you're bringing home.
5.  Identify your luggage on the screen they show you.
6. Go on your way to the final security clearance before you get your gate.  AND - you can bring bottles of water through this checkpoint.  We literally stood 10 feet from the checkpoint, trying to down our liter bottles of water.  Of course, as soon as we were finishing up, the guy told us we could've brought them on. Timing is everything, I guess!

Once you get through the final checkpoint, you'll be at the gate.  The gate has a full service restaurant & take away items for picnics on the plane.  

In theory, it's super easy.  However, we had a lost bag so that actually wasn't what happened to us.  We had to sit in a pen by ourselves while they "located" the bag.  As the bag did not turn up & we were getting close to departure, we were forced through customs.  Then, we were brought to the back room with some dubious looking backpacker.  I am not going to lie - I was little scared.  Ultimately, we were told that our bag was still sitting at CDG & it would come on the next flight to Boston.  We were released & dispatched to our gate...not sure what happened to our new backpacker friend.  They took his passport from him & he looked really bummed out...

We made it home in one piece with 2 bags.  The best part - upon arrival in Boston, all we did is walk to the baggage carousel, pick up our bags, & hit the silver line.  We were off the plane & on our way home within 30 mins.  Hooray!

The only down side - if you are a duty free shopper, once you pass through pre-clearance, you can't buy anything.  You're on US soil so no perfume, Toblerones, brown liquor, or cigarettes for you - either in a shop or during the flight.  Just remember to pick those up in the center shopping arcade in the Dublin airport.  Otherwise, I highly recommend a Dublin connection!