About Secrets of Paris

American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

* Custom Travel Content
* Travel Writing Workshops
* Calendar of interesting Paris events 
* Monthly Secrets of Paris newsletter
* Secrets of Paris Tours & Travel Planning

Read more about the Secrets of Paris here




Calendar of Paris Events

Through February 27
The 100% Packaging-Free Organic Pop-Up store by BioCoop, originally just slated to run through COP21, has been such a success that it's not extended through the end of February.  There are over 250 itiems available in bulk, including produce, fresh bread, dairy (butter, yogurt and cheese), fresh ground coffee, nut butters, and other items, 20% from local sources. If you don't bring your own reusable glass jars and other containers you can buy them at the shop. At 14 rue du Châteu d'Eau, 10th, open 10am-8pm Mon-Sat. 

December 1 - January 31
Skate on the Eiffel Tower! This year the ice skating rink on the first level of the Eiffel Tower is back, free for those who already have a ticket for the Tower, open daily 10:30am-10:30pm. Skip the line by taking the stairs, it will help you warm up, too! Skates size 25-47 (EU), sleds and scooters for kids, gloves are required. This year's theme is COP21, so expect to see an eco-friendly decor.

Through February 28
Bartabas' Zingaro shows combine equestrian theatre, dance, world music, poetry and many other disciplines. After having pounded the ground of his Théâtre Equestre Zingaro for more than a quarter of a century, Bartabas is now tackling the skies with his new show "They shoot angels, don't they? (elegies)". Get your tickets €42-50 at FNAC

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur


Getting Cash in Paris

Even though this info is in the Resource Guide, I've had more than a handful of clients experience difficulties getting cash while in Paris recently, so I thought it might be worth clarifying a few things:

  • Try to avoid bringing traveler's cheques; they are a huge pain in the butt to cash.

  • Ditto for bringing large sums of cash from your home country to exchange for euros; you'll be scrambling to find change bureaus, get ripped off on the rate, and be charged a commission on top of it.

  • Don't try and pay for anything with dollars; that may have worked in the 80s (possibly even the 90s), but the dollar is so low now that no one wants it (and I can't help but think how tacky it is to TIP in dollars...)

  • Using your ATM card to get cash from an automated cash machine is the best way to get cash in Paris. That said, two corollaries:
  • Sometimes, even if the ATM has the little symbol that means it accepts your card, it just doesn't work. Keep trying different banks (I find that BNP-Paribas ATMs work more consistently than most). The one in the southeast corner of the Place Vendôme allows you to withdraw up to a thousand euros at once (obviously, your own home bank should allow you to take out this much at once for this to work; know your withdraw limit in advance).
  • Some travel guides state that you can take your Visa or Mastercard (with a photo ID) into a bank and ask the teller to give you a cash advance. I've tried this more than once, at many different banks, and NONE will do this. They will direct you to the ATM. So if you don't have your PIN, or your card is demagnetized or whatever, it just won't work.
  • American Express is not widely accepted (because they charge the establishments a large fee to accept them).
  • Sometimes there's no explanation of why your card won't work. I had a client last month whose three cards (two debit cards and a credit card) stopped working; no purchases would go through in shops or at restaurants, and the cash machines said they weren't working. She called her banks who assured her there was nothing wrong on their end. A whole day of trying different banks didn't work, so she eventually had someone from home wire her money through Western Union. Strangely, the next day her cards worked fine. So, a fluke? Who knows.
  • So as back-up:
  1. Always good to know how Western Union works (there are daily transfer limits in some cases, and the Western Union windows in French Post Offices are only open during banking hours (weekdays until 6pm and Saturday morning).
  2. Bring enough cash in euros from home (ask your bank in advance) to cover your first day's expenses: transport from the airport, dinner, etc. until you get acclimated and can find the nearest bank.  
If anyone else has something to add, let me know!






Springtime in Paris

The paulowina's, lilacs and horse chestnut trees are in bloom, the parks are full of Sunday picnickers, and the café terraces are packed full of sunglass-wearing Parisians. The women are showing off their new pedicures (and still pale legs under the short babydoll dresses of the season), and the pharmacy windows are full of ads for creams that you rub on your thighs to miraculously lose five pounds in five days. Yes, spring is officially here.

The weather seems to have put everyone in a fine mood. My car, a 1991 Renault Clio (a very common French car) has had a dead battery since December, which has been no big deal because I rarely drive it. But it has been parked next to a building having its facade cleaned, so it was getting covered in a fine film of limestone dust. It needed to be moved. I had already tried jump starting it with a friend's car, with no success (and a line of impatiently honking cars behind us not helping). So I went to the nearby gas station and the batteries were €110, a bit high, and I wasn't sure how to get the old one out, so I went to the Renault Minute garage in Chinatown to get my battery and some advice from the experts.

I go to the window for parts, and buy the battery for €72, which still seems higher than what I paid for the last one. I ask the sales guy how to put it in (or more importantly, how to get the old one out). "You want to do it yourself?!"  He suggests I go to the service window and ask them. The battery is so heavy that I wish I had my little market wheelie cart. I haul it over to the service window and they tell me that I need special tools to get the battery out, and that I should bring it in so they can do it.

"But it won't move, the battery is dead," I say, feeling a very French moment of absurdity coming on.

"Can you push start it?"

"It's parallel parked between two cars," I reply.

"Well, I guess we'll have to jumpstart it for you and bring it back here. Otherwise it will cost you €200 to have a repair truck come and change the battery." Sounded like a no-brainer to me, so I leave the heavy battery at the window and head back to my car with a technician (and a mobile "booster" unit to jumpstart the car) and a salesman (who drives us the four blocks to my car in a new Renault minivan, trying to convince me that I wouldn't have as many problems with a new car).

They manage to jumpstart the car right away although when I let off the gas it immediately died, so the technician decided it was better if he drove it back to the garage. They changed the battery and even washed off the limestone dust, and didn't charge me a cent (of course I'd already paid for the battery...). I don't know if this is typical of garages to be so helpful (it certainly isn't, in my experience), so I'm going to blame it on the fact that it was a fine Friday afternoon and everyone was looking forward to their weekend of picknicking. And voting, of course.

The first round of the election results are in, and the number of candidate posters plastered (and defaced) all over the city will now be limited to Nicolas Sarkozy (30% of the votes) and Ségolène Royal (25%). The poster people have been very busy the past few weeks, covering up or ripping down competitor posters and replacing them with their own, sometimes several times in one day. One tour group noticed that Sarkozy's posters were most consistently graffiti'd (and some prankster has been putting red clown nose stickers on all of them). So no last-minute surprises from less popular candidates (Bayrou and Le Pen) knocking out the main political party contenders, like in the last election when Le Pen beat out the Socialist candidate Jospin in the first round. French voters make their final decision in two weeks: May 6.



Best Baguette in Paris?

For those who live here, it seems pointless knowing who sells the best baguette in Paris, because we're not likely to go (too) far out of our way to get one. There are four bakeries near me, as well as the bakers at the open-air market three times per week. I like the bakery closest to me, but the one three blocks down the street always has a huge line for its organic "boules". I could even go two metro stops up to Place Monge for a Kayser bakery baguette. But most of the time I'm fine with the one right near me (and I know they don't mind if I stop in while walking the dogs, convenience oblige).

But if you're only in Paris once, or just have a lot of free time to try out the "best of the best", this year's winner of the Grand Prix de la Baguette goes to Arnaud Delmontel (39, rue des Martys, 9th, Tel : 01 48 78 29 33). I try to stop by whenever I'm in that neighborhood, but I always craque for one of the pastries (the fig tarte is to die for).

Last year's winner was Jean-Pierre Cohier (270, rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8th, Tel : 01 42 27 45 26), a slightly (!) swankier 'hood off the Champs-Elysées.


The Passerelle Solferino has a New Name

The Passerelle Solferino, a bi-level pedestrian bridge connecting the Musée d'Orsay and the Tuleries Gardens, now has a new name. Not that the maps have caught up. I was meeting a friend there last night, and I know Paris pretty well by now so I was sure I was on the right bridge, but the sign now says "Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor". I checked my little Paris par Arrondissement map, and it still says "Solferino". Apparently the name changed in October 2006 to commemorate the birth of the Sengalese writer, poet and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor (he was the first president of Senegal in 1960 when the African country won its independence from France).

Of course all French people know his name, so it's easy to remember. For Anglophone tourists, I fear it may be a mouthful...in any case all of the maps will probably say Solferino until they're updated. You may also see the bridge listed in guidebooks because it's a great place to picnic (and much less crowded than the Passerelle des Arts), so take note.


Montmartre Funicular Out of Order

It's hot and sunny in Paris, and it feels even hotter if you've been climbing up the stairs of Montmartre. The funicular, which saves the weary travelers from having to take several flights of stairs up the hill to Sacré-Coeur Basilica, has been out of order since December 2006. The RATP signs I saw Sunday say that there's no foreseeable date that it will be up and running again. There is, however, a replacement bus shuttle, just in case you feel you've already walked off all of your French pastries. ;)


RER train to Versailles Out of Service April 14-15

If you're planning to go to Versailles next weekend, don't attempt to take the usual route via RERC to Versailles Rive Gauche. Due to construction works the line is closed, and a very slow replacement bus will drop you at another station which then only goes to Versailles Chantier station (where you can walk for 20 minutes or take yet another bus). Instead, take the "Transilien" train from the Gare St-Lazare (near Opéra) to Versailles Rive Droit, a five minute-walk to the château afterwards.