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Wednesday
Mar042015

Newsletter #150

In this Issue:
* Heather’s Book Tour
* Where Did February Go
* Paris Travel Planning
* Discount Train Tickets
* Recommended Reading for March
* Dine with the Locals
* Paris Dining News
* Paris Nightlife
* Tech Help for Smartphones & Tablets
* Shopping for Photographic Prints
* Innovative Smoke Detectors
* French Knives
* March Events
 

The Secrets of Paris Newsletter is a monthly newsletter started in 1999, with tips for newcomers and visitors, as well as some that are more useful for Paris residents. To receive it directly in your email, just sign up here. 

 

* Heather’s Book Tour *
I just got back from a month in the United States, promoting the new edition of the Naughty Paris Guide and visiting friends and family in New Orleans, Austin, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco. It was great to connect with so many Secrets of Paris readers and tour clients at these different events! And, of course, to enjoy some absolutely wonderful weather (I’ll schedule a tour of the East coast when the forecast doesn’t include Siberian winds and seven feet of snow). You can see a few of the photos from the trip on the Naughty Guides website.

 

* Where Did February Go? * 
As some of you have noticed, there was no February issue of the newsletter. After a month traveling in the US (the last two weeks in California), the jetlag and short month conspired against my productivity. Honestly, all of you who come to Paris on vacation and “hit the ground running” must be operating solely on adrenalin, because I need a good two weeks to recover!

* Paris Travel Planning * 
I know many of you are already planning your Paris vacations now (the favorable US Dollar/Euro exchange rate doesn’t hurt). April and May are already almost 100% booked for Secrets of Paris Tours, and June is quickly filling up. If you don’t need a tour but are going crazy with all of the planning, trying to sort out the logistics and how to prioritize what to do and see in a short period of time without overstretching yourselves, don’t forget I also offer one-on-one Travel Planning sessions by phone or Skype to help you sort it all out and create a solid plan that feels like a vacation, not a chore. The price is €200 for a 90-minute session and follow up emails, contact me if you’d like to schedule one this spring. 

* Discount Train Tickets * 
Tomorrow (March 4th), the French Railway (SNCF) will be selling 100,000 “Ouigo” train tickets for just €10 for trips taken between July 5th and December 12th. Ouigo is a special service that covers travel to eight destinations: Marne la Vallée Chessy (aka Disneyland Paris), Avignon, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Montpellier, Nîmes, and Valence. The closest station to Paris is the Disneyland one (45 minutes by RER train from the city center), but you can hardly beat the prices for getting you quickly to the sunny South of France! Book quickly, these tickets will go fast.


* Recommended Reading for March *
When I was in San Francisco I got to participate in a reading with best-selling author Cara Black, of the Aimée Leduc detective series. Her newest book, Murder on the Champ de Mars just came out this month, and inside the book is a chance to win a free spot on Cara’s “Politics & Prose” trip to Paris this fall. Another book of short essays by expats and Parisians called That’s Paris: Life, An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light, with the forward by Stephen Clarke and part of the profits going to the charity Room to Read. Another book I look forward to reading is Suspended Sentences, a newly-released English translation of Nobel Prize winning author Patrick Modiano’s three novellas – Afterimage, Suspended Sentences andThe Flower – which were originally published separate but which go together.
 
* Dine with the Locals *
If you’d like to really “eat like a local”, nothing beats actually dining in a Parisian home. And if you don’t have any Parisian friends, you can simply sign up to join a dinner through special meal-sharing websites. Vizeat has hosts in 18 cities, including Paris, Nice, Marseille and Lyon, where each meal (scheduled or on request) is listed with the location, price, description of the meal and a description of your host or hosts, along with photographs and ratings. These tend to be smaller, meaning it may just be you and your travel companions dining with the hosts. You can also sign up to become a host, yourself. Voulez-Vous Dîner is a similar site with hosts in Paris, Marseille and Lyon, but generally with bigger groups, so you would be booking one of the seats at a set table for 6-14 people. This could be interesting if you’d like to practice your French in a group setting. The descriptions are written in French first, then English beneath that. Sometimes there is even entertainment with some meals. My host Sacha was a concert pianist who played us Mozart pieces; another host, Adrian, is also a professional illusionist who does a “Mystery Dinner Show”. 

* Paris Dining News *
The normally private Club du Cercle has opened its restaurant to the public for their Chefs in Residence program, where world-renowned chefs have carte blanche in the kitchen to create their version of the “French Gastronomic Meal” (a UNESCO World Heritage since 2010). Through April 28, check out the program on their website. And if you’re trying to choose just one Michelin-starred restaurant to splurge, food journalist Meg Zimbeck at Paris By Mouth has done something quite revolutionary: she anonymously ate at every single three-starred restaurant (and several of the two-starred ones as well) at the expense of Paris by Mouth, in order to give us a true comparison of these gastronomic temples, in terms of price, décor, and actual food served. It’s an excellent resource in a world where most food bloggers who rely on free meals at these establishments can’t be as open and honest, I highly recommend it! As for Clover, the new hot spot by Jean-François Piège, the food is excellent, all of the hype is deserved (that's my dessert, above). But it seems only the reviewer at Time Out agreed with me that it was seriously too cramped. Even the most humble bistro usually has somewhere to put your coat and your purse (not to mention hats, scarves, shopping bags, scooter helmets), and you shouldn’t have to disrupt the entire dining room just to get to the restroom. Awkward! Take out one table, make some space, put up some hooks, s’il vous plait.   

* Paris Nightlife *
I’m currently updating the nightlife section for the Michelin Green Guide, and it’s quite an overhaul! Nothing shows how dated a guidebook is more than its selection of bars and clubs. I still find guides recommending the Buddha Bar as a trendy place where the locals go (not that it’s horrible, but it hasn’t been a destination for stylish Parisians since the late 1990s). Of course it’s not really useful to fill a guide book up with places that would never let mere mortals step inside, that would just be mean. And not everyone wants to go to a techno club at 1am or a student bar. It’s harder than you’d think to recommend places that are central, comfortable, stylish, well-priced, and not too snobby, so I was very happy when the Club Rayé opened. It’s a cozy, Art-Deco style piano bar in the Montorgueil district that serves cocktails and light meals (photo below). Open Tuesday through Saturday nights from 5pm until midnight, with no cover, it’s the perfect place to begin (or finish, if you’re hoping to catch the last metro) your evening. If you want a true locals’ experience, try and catch one of the specialty nightlife events that take place in different locations, such as the Poetry Brothel (this Friday) or a private cocktail evening with The Chamber(next one March 17th), both described in more detail on the Secrets of Paris Calendar.

* Tech Help for Smartphones & Tablets *
If you’re visiting Paris and are having problems with your smartphone or tablet, there are many places to help you fix it quickly, whether it’s replacing a broken screen or removing bugs. L’Atelier Mobile is open daily 10am-8pm near the Centre Pompidou, with video games and coffee to keep you entertained while they work. In the new Beaugrenelle shopping mall by the Eiffel Tower the Save My SmartPhone kiosk is open Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm (they only fix phones). Both websites are in French only, but they know enough English to help you in person if you just show up with your sad face and broken toy.

* Shopping for Photographic Prints *
Paris is known for its photography galleries and world-class events such as Paris Photo. So if you’re in the market for some rare, original photos, including vintage silver gelatin prints, you’re in the right place. Two of my favorite galleries for browsing are Galerie Verdeau (which used to be in the Passage Verdeau but is now at the Marché Paul Bert in St-Ouen’s flea market) and the relatively new Argentic on a tiny street just off the Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter. Both include photos by famous photographers as well as a selection of works by contemporary photographers, covering all price levels from €50 to €50,000. If you’re looking for something specific be sure to ask, because they never have enough room to display all of them at once.

* Innovative Smoke Detectors * 
Starting March 8th, all residences in France are required to have smoke detectors (the owner has to install them; the renter must maintain them in working condition). You can find them at hardware stores for around €15 (not to be confused with carbon monoxide detectors, which look the same), but a French designer at Bell & Wyson has created something much cooler: a smoke detector light bulb. It works whether the LED light is on or off (there’s a small 3v battery that lasts five years in it). It costs €69 if you buy it through their site. If you’d like a stylish combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector, the Nest Protect (it’s square, quelle idée!) might be the one for you if you’re ready to shell out €109. You can decide whether it’s battery or electricity-operated, and it even sends a message to your smartphone if the alarm goes off or the battery dies.

 

* French Knives *
I asked all of my US friends what to bring them from Paris, and one of them asked for Opinel knives. Most people know Laguiole, but Opinel are another French brand of sturdy folding knives that come in different sizes, colors and shapes, for the kitchen, the garden, camping, etc. I was running my last-minute errands in the Marais so I thought it would be quick to pick up a few knives at BHV. I went up to the 3rd floor where the kitchen supplies are sold, and found a counter specially dedicated to knives. I looked through the self-service shelves and found a half dozen different kinds of Opinel, so I asked one of the men behind the counter what the difference was between them. He pointed out the difference in size and price, but couldn’t say anything else. Not impressed. I decided to guess myself, and started to walk off with my three knives when he said I needed to take the order sheet to one of the cash registers and then come back to him with the receipt to pick up my knives. Less impressed. I take my little order slip and circle the entire floor, where only half the registers were open and both of them were 20-people deep. I left and went to a specialty shop two metro stops away, Armes Bastille. Although it felt a bit like walking into a Texan hunting shop with all of the guns, ammo and other weapon-like swords and military paraphernalia, they had a huge window display of more than 30 different Opinel knives, and the friendly guy behind the counter patiently told me the difference between each them (and knew what my friend wanted when I said “regular kitchen knives”). I was in and out in five minutes, and the price was the same. This is why small shops are almost always better than the crowded department stores in terms of customer service, even if it means going a bit out of your way. 

* March Events *
I’ll be speaking at the Parler Paris Après Midi on March 10th and signing books at the SOS Help Spring Book Sale on March 22nd. Read about many other events happening around town on the Secrets of Paris Calendar, or follow me on Twitter to get daily updates and blurry Instagram pics of Paris on my morning runs. The next newsletter will be sent in early April. 

The Secrets of Paris Newsletter is a monthly newsletter started in 1999, with tips for newcomers and visitors, as well as some that are more useful for Paris residents. If you’ve been forwarded this newsletter and would like to receive it directly in your email, just sign up here. 


Merci for reading!

 

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