Only in Paris
The City of Lights is a city of sights. Congress delegates should keep their camera ready
Where can you capture the best view of Paris? Notre Dame’s South tower always featured prominently on any such list; the effort of climbing the 387 steps in the narrow spiral staircase was repaid by an unforgettable panorama of Parisian rooftops. The tragic fire of April 15 removed this option for now, but many photogenic overviews of Paris remain, all worth seeking out – from the steps of Montmartre, to the banks of the Seine.
And though the list has temporarily lost ‘something old’, there is also ‘something new’ – the viewing platform of a tethered balloon. The biggest hot air balloon in the world – the Ballon de Paris Generali – is a combination weather station and tourist attraction and it is moored in the Parc André Citroën in the 15th arrondissement. The basket of the helium-filled balloon can accommodate up to 30 people; there is plenty of room to walk around and enjoy the views from 150 metres above Paris on the 10-15-minute flight.
The balloon flies daily – weather permitting – from 9am until 30 minutes before the park closes and costs €12 for an adult ticket. That ‘weather permitting’ is not a casual comment. It really does depend on the weather, principally the wind factor. You are asked to ring in the morning to confirm if flights are taking place on the day you plan to visit. Tel. +33 (0) 1 44 26 20 00; tickets available at the Ballon kiosk or online: https://www.ballondeparis.com
A riverboat excursion on the Seine has always been a highlight of a visit to the city, as has dinner at a fine restaurant. Put them together and you have Ducasse sur Seine, a luxury sightseeing cruise centred on a gourmet meal afloat. The boat is electric-powered and silent; the meal is the creation of Ducasse, one of the premier chefs of France; the views of Paris are incomparable. Luncheon and dinner cruises offer a choice of menu and wine possibilities with prices ranging from €100 to €290. For an exceptional occasion, consider the ‘Paris est une fête’ cruise – a six-course menu paired with exceptional wines at a table offering unobstructed river views at €500 per person. Reservations can be made online at https://reservation.ducasse-seine.com
Or plan a dinner-dance evening on a Bateau Mouche; the cruise is complete with orchestra and singer. You will enjoy a fine meal at a table next to the window from which you can admire the illuminated bridges and monuments along the Seine. The traditional French menu with a modern twist, is prepared on board by Chef Yves Gras and his team. A package, priced from €299 per person, is offered by Paris City Vision and includes pickup from your hotel in Paris and return. www.pariscityvision.com/en/privilege-dinner-cruise-minibus
If you’d rather stay ashore and admire the Seine up close, you’re not alone. In the 1800s, guinguettes were popular drinking establishments located in the suburbs of Paris often along the Seine. Both Monet and Renoir painted scenes of these lively outdoor venues where people came to drink guinguet, a sour white light wine produced in the vineyards of Clos Guinguet, on the hills of a town called Belleville. After a slump in popularity in the 1960s and 70s, the guingette is again alive and well. Delegates to the Palais des Congrès meeting are near a charming example, La Guinguette de Neuilly. In bygone times, this was a cafe where boaters on the Seine shared a drink or a meal; the restaurant, with its old-fashioned stove and red benches, retains the character of those days. It is on the Île de la Jatte, in the Seine, about a 10-minute taxi ride from the Palais des Congrès. For more details and to book a table:
Delegates based in the 15th arrondissement will find a modern version of the guinguette nearby.
La Javelle is a new, lively open-air establishment near the Parc André Citroën – the area where ‘eau de Javel’ or bleach was first manufactured. Come in the daytime to enjoy street food from around the world. In the evening there is dancing on the terrace. At any time, it’s a relaxed young atmosphere. Check out the La Javelle website for concerts, shows and Latin dance lessons. La Javelle is open every summer day from midday to midnight unless adverse weather intervenes. Season closes end of September. www.lajavelle.com
While the Seine offers the most iconic views of Paris, the city’s canals are worth exploring too; there are 40km of waterways to discover. Hire a self-drive electric boat for yourself and up to 10 friends – you don’t need a license. Order a picnic basket in advance and enjoy it on board or at one of the parks along the way. If you would like a boat with a table specify that at time of booking. Important note: the driver of the boat must not drink alcoholic beverages. This rule is strictly enforced by the river police. Details at www.boating-paris-marindeaudouce.com/
If you are going to – or from – the Palais des Congrès or Porte de Versailles from an airport in Paris you can save time and enjoy a novel experience – book a motorbike taxi. It comes with an experienced driver plus protective clothing that keeps you warm, dry and safe. The mototaxi can carry one piece of cabin luggage weighing around 12kg, plus a small bag or computer case. Rain or shine, you make the journey in approximately half the time taken by an ordinary taxi. There’s a time calculator on the website, but from CDG, for example, count on 40 minutes plus or minus five-to-seven minutes. No meter, a fixed cost, which to or from CDG to the Neuilly area is €85. For more details and to book online: les-taxis-motos.com
A concierge in your pocket for only €5 a day. Connect by SMS or phone with a real-life Parisian who will answer questions in your language. Your City Helper will book restaurants and attractions, outline sightseeing possibilities specifically tailored for you, instantly translate a menu or sign into your language and of course, help you deal with any emergency. The City Helpline app can be downloaded free on the App Store and the Google Play Store in a choice of languages. The service is currently available Monday through Saturday from 10.00 to19.00 local time but plans are to offer a 24-hour service later this year. https://www.facebook.com/ParisCityHelpline/
LAND A JET
You probably can’t count how many times you’ve been a passenger strapped in your airline seat while the pilot prepared the flight for take-off and then again for landing. Here’s a chance to put yourself in his place. The world’s original Boeing flight simulator is in Paris, and for €199 you can give yourself a 60-minute experience to remember. After a 15-minute briefing you’ll choose which of the world’s airports you’d like to tackle and in what weather conditions. In high definition you’ll take it on. One or two friends can come along without charge. Shorter and longer flights available; see https://paris.flightexperience.fr/
SERVICE WITH A SMILE?
On going into any shop greet the staff with ‘bonjour’. (If there are other customers include them with a smile). In a bakery, for example, do not rush in and snap ‘one croissant’. Start with bonjour and end with merci.
You can’t go wrong if you wait to be shown where to sit, even in an informal cafe. If in any doubt, just stand and look bewildered; someone will point you to a seat, and you’re off to a good start.
Don’t feel rebuffed if sales attendants ignore you. In most cases the custom is for them to be available when/if you want help and to stay away until addressed. And, nothing personal, but a French waiter is not automatically your new friend. A smile may not be on the menu.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
Don’t construe a runny omelette, bloody lamb or smelly cheese as indifference. Au contraire. It’s the way ‘they’ like it and they assume any reasonable person would as well. Make a polite request for a change if necessary.
Use whatever French you have. I got used to asking a question in French, which would be answered patiently in English, leading to my next question in French, also answered in English… a kind of bilingual duet. When the answer comes in French, buy yourself a drink.
If you can’t walk to your destination even in your most comfortable shoes (which you should bring for this very purpose), take the Métro. The best reason for taking the Métro is to avoid taking a taxi.
If you take a taxi you may well find yourself up close and personal with a very rude person indeed. He or she may pretend not to know where you want to go – I always write out the destination and show it in advance – or will bury you under an avalanche of explanations in French as to why he or she is approaching the city via Versailles.