Adventures in Paris

I’ve been thinking about starting a separate thread on my life and experiences in Paris for a while, as most of the threads here are either focused on high-end dining (Michelin Starred) or narrow in scope (best cassoulet, charcuterie, etc.). I’m grateful for the dumptruck-load of recommendations I’ve picked up at WB from beer bars in Sweden to what to do in the Loire, so if you find enjoyment in the thread, happy I could be of service. Posts will be somewhat random, based on whatever’s going on, or if I think it would be useful (i.e. I’ll probably post a quick blurb on how to use the metro, because it’s incredibly easy and goes everywhere).

A little background, first. I moved here on Nov 2, 2016 with my wife and four kids. I was fortunate enough to find a role that was a good fit with a company that was willing to sponsor the move, so we sold the house and cars, donated most of what we owned and took off for Paris. If this is something you’re considering, feel free to PM or post and I’ll answer anything I can. Know that the process is a pain and can take months. After getting US passports for the kids, we had to apply for a long-stay visa (visa de long sejour) through the French Embassy (in person, for anyone 12+) and travel back and forth to SF to pick up the passports, afterwards. The volume of paperwork is insane for six people, all of which must be translated to French and good luck if your marriage license is signed by a pastor and gets translated incorrectly :smiley: Process took two months.

Next step was getting an apartment (you need an agent), turning on the electricity/cable/etc. and then buying literally everything in the place, including a stove and fridge… and light fixtures. When they say “unfurnished” here, they mean unfurnished. Side note - lease terms are one year for a furnished place (and “furnished” is a loosely-used term) or three years for unfurnished. I opted for the latter, as I didn’t want to deal with the idea of having to move again after a year.

Once you have an apartment, you apply for a residency permit (carte de sejour) with the local prefecture. This is another long, drawn-out process that requires appointments at the police station, where you pay for the permit with stamps purchased at a bar / tobacco shop. No, really. It’s an anti-corruption thing which I’ve yet to figure out that involves buying stamps (same process for traffic tickets) and affixing them to your permit application. 268 euros = a lot of stamps, so they were pasted all over the place. Add another two months for this, with absolutely zero sense of urgency on the French side… which can be worrisome if you’re flying in and out of the Schengen area on a regular basis. My wife and I got our Residency Permits 7 months after originally starting the visa process, and are now pushing the kids’ applications through. Pretty decent summary of the process here → https://www.thoughtco.com/french-long-stay-visa-application-process-1369705

Other side note - The European Union != Schengen Area, of which France is a part of. The Schengen Area is pretty analogous to the US in the sense that you can go from member country to member country without dealing with immigration / passport control. England and Ireland are not part of Schengen, so you get the “why are you coming to Dublin” and a passport stamp.

Enough of the boring stuff, will post on cream next, as that’s been our latest adventure.

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Interested to hear if you have found a source of cream that can be whipped. It seems virtually impossible to find which cuts a lot of classic english / australian desserts from the repertoire.

I’ll read it!

The Kitchen Aid mixer didn’t make the trip with us, as I didn’t want to take a chance with the electrical (other casualties included my Capresso grinder and my Xbox One adapter), so I have yet to “whip” cream.

That said, Marks and Spencer sells a “pourable double cream” that would work if push comes to shove, and there are locations everywhere. Bordier (makes the butter everybody likes) produces a “la crème fleurette” that I’ve picked up at Andruet cheese shops. Same consistency as the English double cream without the green streak that you get in some of the crème fraiche I’ve had here, even though it’s labeled "espirit de crème ‘de Normandie.’ " I’d opt to go this route, as it’s probably not loaded with preservatives like the M&S stuff.

I’m currently working through a batch of creme crue from http://earl-de-la-martellerie.e-monsite.com/ , which has the consistency of Miracle Whip, but a bright, grassy flavor. Strawberry season is kicking off and they taste great in this stuff. Interesting thing is that the only place we’ve found brown sugar is… Marks and Spencer. I dropped some in my coffee this AM just to try it and it was actually pretty good, but again has that grassy tinge to it.

As with quite a few things, Paris by Mouth with the win for a breakdown of cream in France → http://parisbymouth.com/primer-on-normandy-cream-la-creme-de-la-creme/

This is fun to read vicariously, keep posting!

Not to get political, but when I read stuff like this (how hard it is to move to and work in Europe), the immigration debate here gets put in perspective.

Our daughter may do college in Paris starting the fall of 2018, for 3 years. The wife and I are VERY seriously contemplating renting out our place here in the US and renting in Paris. We’ve been there 5 times in the last 12 months, and are going in September and December 2017. Friends ask us why we don’t just move there, and I must say the idea is getting a lot of CPU time in my head. I will be following your posts very closely, and I have already learned something. I knew bureaucracy, but I didn’t realize b u r e a u c r a c y!

LOL! It’ll blow you’re mind. On the bright side? People here are generally great. I was worried that nobody in our family spoke French… but it hasn’t been a blocker and most people are great if you lead with “bonjour” and go from there. When I’ve hit a blocker and the arm-waving and pointing isn’t working, there has always been somebody else standing behind me that is willing to jump in and help. That said, I’m learning French as fast as I can.

First thing I’d recommend is learning how to use the Metro. I’ve never been a public transit fan, but the Metro here is incredibly convenient and I’ve never had a John Rocker experience here :smiley: In fact, it’s probably the only place in Paris you’ll actually hear an accordion.

I’d do a couple of things first:

  • Download the RATP app for your phone → http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21130/application-ratp/ While the app combines 18,000 different ways to get from A to Z and uses your GPS, I use it almost exclusively for the metro map function, which works while underground (cell generally does not), and allows you to track progress, figure out where to change lines, etc. It’s free.
  • Watch a quick video on how the machines work. May not be an issue for you, but I was terrified I’d be in a line 10 deep and then look like an idiot when I got to the ticket machine, only to be beaten to death with baguettes when I couldn’t figure out how to use it fast enough. There are better videos out there, but Paris metro ticket - YouTube has the most recent software view. In a nutshell, select English, use the roller to buy tickets, get the T+ regular fare (there’s a reduced option if you have kids) and buy a book of 10. I always use the machine that takes credit cards; make sure you’re using a machine with a card reader if this is the route you want to go. You can also go to the window, but my experience has been mixed with the counter people.
  • Figure out where you want to go and work backwards. Lets say you’re a cassoulet fan and have seen the posts on L’Asiette (181 Rue du Chateau). Use maps.google.com to find the nearest metro map and compare to a Paris metro map (http://www.aparisguide.com/maps/metro.gif) to ensure you’ve got the optimal line. I’m coming from Mirabeau (on the 10 line in the 16th - over to the left of the map), so it looks like I want to take 10 (yellow) to 13 (light blue), connecting at Duroc.
  • The Metro lines are like US bus lines in the sense that you look for the line number and the end destination. On my first trip to L’Asiette, I dropped an appointment in my Calendar with the reservation details and then noted something similar to:
    10 (yellow) Gare d’Austerlitz to Duroc
    13 (light blue) Chatillon Montrouge to Gaite (stop closest to the restaurant)
    When walking around the station, just follow the signs for the number/color line you want, until you find the sign for the end stop you want. Again, if you’re neurotic like me, you’ll check the stop map on the wall as you’re walking down the stairs to the platform and check to ensure the stop you want is listed (it will only show stops from where you are to the end point, so if you’re going the wrong way, you won’t see the stop you want). Worst case scenario - you get on the Metro and are headed the wrong direction (you’re my wife). With a few exceptions (Ranelagh and Jasmin come to mind), you can easily walk back up the stairs and down to the other side without using a new ticket. Only other note I’d offer is to keep an eye out if you’re on 10 or 7 and end up on single-direction segments.
    It takes a couple of times to get the hang of it, but then you’re off to the races. In general, it’s 1,80 to get from A to B on the Metro, 7-15 euros for an uber and 12-20 for a taxi. If you need to get somewhere between 8-9:30 AM or 5-7:30 PM, take the Metro, regardless. It was a little intimidating at first, but I’m telling you we’ve had 5-6 families visit in six months and they’re all Metro pros by the end of the trip.

Couple of pro tips:

  • There are three types of doors on the cars - ones that open automatically, doors that require you to push a green button and doors that require you to flip a latch up. You’ll see immediately what kind of door it is; don’t make the mistake of waiting for the door to open if you can see a latch on it.
  • There is always a sign with the line name and how much time is left for the next two trains. If the two trains are close together (i.e. 3 and 4 minutes apart), you might consider waiting for the second one. The first train is usually running behind in this case and it’s going to be PACKED with people. The second one will be right behind it and generally nowhere near as full.
  • On many trains, when you step inside the door, there will be fours sets of two seats that are spring-loaded and fold up/down. It’s fine to use them when the train is full, but if it gets to standing room only mode, it’s poor form to keep sitting in them.

In general, you’re never going to use the RER unless you’re going to Versailles. If that’s the case, just use the ticket window, lead with “bonjour” and then say “des-olay” a couple of times with “I’m going to Versailles.” You’ll be fine and it’ll cost less than $5 vs. a crazy taxi fare. There is no circumstance where I would consider RER to the airport, even when I’m guaranteed a direct train. A couple of the people that visited wanted to save $30 by taking RER instead of paying the 54 euro cab fee from CDG. Here’s the deal - assuming you get a direct train that brings you in through the crap areas of Paris (actually saw a dumpster fire my last time through), you still have to connect to the metro and/or hit a taxi once you get to Gar du Norde or Chatelet. Just isn’t worth the pain with luggage, especially if you have 2 people.

Andrew,
Do you take buses? I find that the Paris bus system is excellent and often gets me closer, faster to where I want to go for shorter/medium distances with the benefit of traveling above ground.

Do you have a monthly Navigo pass?

re:Navigo - I don’t have one. My office is 2 miles from the apartment, so I walk every morning/night, unless I have an early review. The break even point on a Navigo is pretty high (~5 days a week, round trip), so the value isn’t there for me.

re: Busses - You, my wife and Rick Steves :smiley: The argument for taking the bus is pretty easy - you get to see where you’re going (i.e. a cheap tour) AND your cell internet service works. My wife LOVES the bus and has made it her mission in life to figure out how to take the bus wherever she wants to go. Here are my challenges with the bus:

  • As a 6’ able-bodied male, I always get stuck standing in the bus, so I don’t get the “scenic tour” value that many people do, and even then, it’s hunched over to look out the window.
  • We have one GREAT line - 72 - that runs most of the length of the right bank, from Pont Saint Cloud to Hotel de Ville. If I have to go more than 3 blocks off of that line, figuring out the connections is a bit more difficult than the Metro and I’m just lazy.
  • There are no bus tickets at bus stops. I usually have a stash of the T+ tickets in my wallet, which work on Metro/Bus/RER, but I’ve never dealt with trying to buy a ticket on the bus, with the grumpy guy behind a big Plexiglas shield and my French being limited to “I’d like to buy a cote de boeuf and trois bottles of Chateauneuf de Pape.”

Again, this is where the RATP app comes into play. It will give you a combination of walking, busses and metro to get to wherever you are (GPS based) to wherever you want to go. Plus, the bus stops generally have an indicator that tells you how long you have to wait until the next bus, which is helpful.

There is no circumstance where I would consider RER to the airport, even when I’m guaranteed a direct train.

Love to read your post Andrew. On our last trip we had nothing but a great experience taking the RER from the airport to downtown and back some days later. I would do it again in a heart beat. Its quick and reliable. You can also easily connect to your specific terminal at the airport by using free transfer. Definitively worth the 10 Euro. We were packing light and had just carry on. I would not recommend it if you are traveling with several pieces of luggage and your entire entourage.

Andrew, GREAT stuff. Your pro tips are first rate! I am downloading the RATP app as I type. :slight_smile:

  • After so many trips we’re pretty good on the Metro. We’ve been staying in St. Germain des Pres very near SGdP, Mabillon and Odeon so on the 4 and 10, and a nice walk to the 7 at Pont Neuf. Actually to L’Assiette we just took the 4 from Odeon to Mouton-Duvernet.

  • We have taken the RER B from CDG each time without problems. Some of the stops and people are a little dodgy looking but that’s nothing new compared to NYC. We get off at St. Michel Notre Dame and walk to the hotel, about 5 minutes. Schlepping the luggage up the last set of stairs at Blvd St. Michel is really the only “bad” part. We usually cab it back to CDG though. The RER C to Versailles is an excellent service.

  • The metro tickets don’t expire, so I buy a carnet (10 tix) or two and keep the unused ones in our Paris box (adapters, euros, etc) when we get home.

  • I haven’t yet been on a bus in Paris (or NY for that matter :wink:)

  • I think I get what you’re saying about having 5-6 families visit in 6 months. People are already hitting me up!

I would love to be able to pull this off. I love the city, and I don’t want to coulda woulda shoulda it when we’re too old to make it happen.

As to speaking the language, props to my high school French teachers that I remember as much as I do after 40 years! I was told (in the kindest possible way the French can about their language) that my vocab and grammar is good, but my accent could use some work. I have started listening to French pop music stations online - they talk really fast, especially the ads, so it’s really language boot camp. I am understanding only a little bit, but scribbling words and phrases down for Google Translate later. One phrase that had me flummoxed for a while was at the end of a lot of ads they say “point effert”. It took this dunce a couple of weeks to figure out they were saying “.fr”, the French equivalent to “.com”. It’ll get better.

Re: RER - I’ve done it a couple of times (I get stuck in Airport hotel meetings, as it’s convenient for our team to fly in/out of) and I just don’t like the hassle. The strangest thing for me about Paris is that the downtown is pretty clean; there are some rougher neighborhoods (Canal St Martin strikes me as one), but I’ve never felt really uncomfortable walking around the center of the city. The surrounding areas, especially in the north/north east (where RER C goes through) are a different story… and while I only had one experience with guys fighting on the train, I’m content to spend the extra $30 to get to the airport, especially if I’m dragging luggage. Even got a dumpster fire sighting on one of the trips :smiley: Glad it worked for you, though, and it’s pretty easy to use!

@lsmorris - people came out of the woodwork when we moved. They don’t seem to grasp that I have 6 people living in a downtown apartment, which is huge at ~1400 sq feet, all things being equal. That said, it really helped with the transition; hard to leave the friendliest town in the US (according to Forbes) behind.

Downside - no wheels in Paris. The move from the US to France hasn’t been the hardest thing on the family, the move from suburbia to a major metropolitan area - apartment life, no car, noisy streets, no backyard, no grills and no IPAs is. I walk 2 miles to work (each way) and man, it’s been a long week with quarterly business reviews.

Upside - I’m walking home at 8:30, but this was my view. Everybody under the sun goes to the Eiffel Tower, but they have a tendency to skip the Pont Grenelle bridge, which you can see in the foreground of this picture… and has a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty.
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Nice walk from the statue along an island running from the bridge up to Bir Hakim, which is one of the most photographed locations in Paris, given the Tower and the Seine.
Updated - 4/30 with a pic from the island trail between the statue and the tower.
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One of the most intriguing things for me here, at least when it comes to food, is how seriously Parisians take their chicken. At any given butcher, you can usually find three to five different brands/types of chicken, ranging from generic chicken to chicken from different regions. I’ve tried quite a few, with the chickens from Bresse (phone autocorrects to Bressler lol) generally being the fattiest/most flavorful. I whole Bresse chicken will run $35-$45, landing around 3 lbs. That puts it on par with a double-cut rib-eye (cote de boeuf) :astonished: A picked up a Christmas goose from Bresse that was in the low $200s, just to try it. Wouldn’t do it again, but I don’t know how long we’ll be here and I couldn’t pass it up. The butcher gave me a bunch of the fat he trimmed out, so I’m still sitting on a few batches of rendered goose fat.

Begs the question, of course - how do you know you’ve got a $45 chicken? Many of the butchers leave the head and feet on (awesome for stock) so there’s no question. In the event you’re wondering, Bresse chickens have dark greyish-blue legs/feet.

Other note of merit - quite a few butchers (including at farmers markets) will have a rotisserie machine in front of their store. Big difference here is that they have a trough at the bottom for cubed potatoes… which spend hours soaking up the chicken fat and browning. #foodcoma.
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Subscribing to read more!

I am just starting my fourth week of a month on the Ile St Louis and will share a few points, if Andrew doesn’t mind my butting in.

–While I can understand not wanting a Navigo in some circumstances, for me it is a must. If for no other reason than it is one less thing to think about. Forget which ticket you haven’t used, blah blah, just swipe the card and go. And I guarantee that the average tourist will more than make up for its use. I am at the Sully-Morland stop all the time. Swipe, go, no further worries. Money saver, too.

–I get the point about the bus, sometimes it is more convenient than the train. I have found his especially true on the Left Bank; but the flip side: by taking the train, climbing the Metro steps OR walking I have definitely lost weight while eating like a king. My rule has been: walk if you can, take a train and walk if you must.

–All of the finest specialists in the city (Kayser and Gaumer for bread, Laurent Dubois and Barthelemy for cheese, Jacques Genin for chocolates, Juesselin, etc etc) are they that good? Well, yes they are. But the markets – the open air markets such as Blvd Richard Lenoir – sell products that are roughly 90% of the quality at 50-75% of the price. Plus you can do all of your shopping in one place, act like a local, have a blast, knock back a dozen oysters as you shop. Plus, in some instances (ie poultry, seafood) the quality appears to me to be higher at the open air markets. Of course the utility of these places depends on having a kitchen. But two friends who visited had a great time at the markets.

–I speak passable French, but echoing a comment from above: learn as many words as you can, but just as importantly make sure your pronunciation is accurate. An example: at the market you will want to know your fractions (a kilo of many things is far too much) and if you ask for UNE tiers instead of UN tiers you will only cause confusion. All of this ties back into the point about going to the markets. Know a few key words, bring coins and small bills and a shopping bag, prepare for fun.

–Maybe it is because of my location, but the RER trains are useful now and again. But I also take them out to destination in the Ile de France.

–Even jet-lagged I thought the RER train ride into the city was fine from CDG. A lot depends on your travelling party and your final destination. Two adults, hotel / apartment near a Metro, fine. A family might find the RER a challenge.

if Andrew doesn’t mind my butting in.

Feel free to post; I have no monopolies on Paris and will most likely learn something in the process :smiley:

this is such a great read Andrew, thanks for posting

We are a family who has found the RER ride from CDG fine. We pack very light, though, which makes all the difference.