|Subject: re: London, Wales, Scotland - help for first timers|
You had written that you are helping your sister in law on her first overseas trip. She's going to London, Wales, Scotland and Paris this July.
I can offer some advice on Paris. Several years ago I had the good fortune to spend five months working in Paris. I spent the first month in a wonderful three star hotel in a quiet neighborhood behind the Madeleine Church in the 8th arrondissement It is called the Concortel, they speak perfect English and were very welcoming and helpful. Perhaps one of the outstanding features of the hotel is that the bathrooms seemed much bigger than other Paris hotels that I have seen. Plus their croissants are the best I have ever had. They have an internet special of 98 euros for a double room plus 7 euros for breakfast. Here is the url for their web site: http://www.hotelconcortel.com/en/index.htm
I spoke very little French when I went over there but still got around just fine. My main rule was to respect the civility that Parisians expect. That meant that I always greeted whomever I was speaking to - Bonjour, madame. Bonsoir, monsieur. Then if I did not know how to ask for something in French, I would ask politely if they spoke English - Pardon, je ne parlais pax bien francais. Parlais voux anglais? If they said no, I had at least established the basis for some kind of civil exchange using hand signals perhaps. Sometime they would go and get someone who did speak English. But I also learned a few easy French words and phrases. Je voudre . . . means I want or I would like and it served me well.
There are several art museums that tend to be overlooked among visitors but which I find myself returning to on my too infrequent trips to Paris. The first is the Musee Rodin (http://www.musee-rodin.fr/welcome.htm) in the shadow of the golden dome of Invalides in the 7th arrondissement. Of course you will see the sculptures that are very familiar, but I love the rose garden which is a terrific place for a picnic lunch. Second is the Musee Marmottan in the 16th arr (http://www.paris.org/Musees/Marmottan/marmottan.e.html). This was the private residence of the Marmottan family who were prominent art patrons in the 19th century. It has a fabulous collection of Monets but the real delight is viewing them in such an intimate experience - you are literally in someone's house! Plus it is much less crowded than other Paris art museums and you have to walk through a lovely park to get there from the metro.
A place that I find fascinating which I have never seen in any guidebook is called Rue Cavallotti in the 18th arr (nearest metro is Place de Clichy - you will need a map to find it). It is a completely nondescript street except that the storefront shutters are decorated with famous paintings. The storekeepers tried everything to keep graffiti off their shutters. Then someone had the idea that taggers might leave the shutters alone if they were decorated with art. Voila! This seems to have worked. One of my favorite little-known sights but you must visit on a weekend or in the evening after the shops have closed.
As you help your sister in law research her trip, here are a few web sites that I have bookmarked:
http://www.bparis.com - articles, chat and discussion about France and French culture (like restaurants and shopping) http://www.paris.org - everything a tourist might want to know about Paris (akin to a visit to the virtual tourist information center) http://www.paris-anglo.com - advice for english speakers who are travelling, living or working in Paris
Finally, Paris has wonderful museums but you are missing so much if you spend all your time indoors. I had enough time while I was there to explore a lot of the city and completely enjoyed just walking around. If you want to know more history about the places you are seeing, I recommend a book by Thirza Vallois called Around and About Paris - Volume 1 (1st - 7th Arrondissements). It is like having a very knowledgeable tour guide with you as you wander about. Also, I am not a shopper but I noticed a lot of women's clothing stores on the streets around my apartment in the 7th arrondissement. See especially Rue de Grenelle and Rue de Varenne east of Rue de Rennes. Also the Bon Marche department store. Seemed to be a much less touristed area than the Right Bank.
I could go on and on but I will close by strongly recommending that your sister in law make at least one visit to Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis for the world's greatest ice cream!
Cheers, Mark Los Angeles