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Paris cheatsheet

Paris is always a good idea.
- Audrey Hepburn

$1 - €0.91
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Photo: Paul / Flickr

ORIENTATION

It's easy to lose yourself in the city of lights, but there are a few things to remember to find the way back home. The Seine splits the city into the Rive Droite in the north and the Rive Gauche due south. Let the white peak of Sacre Couer be the north star. Use these district numbers along with the names of metro stations to figure out your way around. The arrondissements are numbered starting with the 1st on the right bank of the Seine (opposite the 6th), and then spin out until the 20th marks the edge of town.

For an urban city, there are an impressive number of picnic-perfect green spaces—from small gardens to great parks, including the Luxembourg Gardens, Tuileries, and two forest parks, Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes. See it all on foot from east to west in four hours time. Read more on Fathom: Tifamade's 11 Perfect Paris Picnic Spots


IN AND OUT OF THE CITY

Charles de Gaulle (CDG) is located about 50 minutes by taxi and should cost roughly 50–60 euros (tack on a 3–5 percent tip). Shuttles are a bit more economical and depending on the number of stops they are making, should take around the same amount of time. Orly (ORY) is the alternate airport, which services mainly domestic travelers, though handles its share of long haul flights too. It's about half-an-hour from the center of the city, making it a bit easier logistically. From either airport the fastest, cheapest option is by train.


WHEN TO GO

There are three schools of thought on when it's best to visit: those who can't help but sing a little ditty whenever the French capital comes up will likely say go in spring; others who have a penchant for layered dressing and treat candlelit bars as refuge from the cold will call winter; the third will tell you to go every chance you get, even August when the city goes on holiday (the upside being you get the place to yourself).


GETTING AROUND

This is a gloriously walkable town. The city bike program makes going the distance a pleasure: Use a credit card with a microchip at the pay kiosk at every rental stand, choose a bike (check the tires for air) and pedal the day away, returning it to any stand when finished. The Metro is a very sensible way to zip across town with easy to navigate routes and connections. Hailing a taxi can be a challenge, so opt to wait it out on the street corner at one of the clearly marked taxi stands; make sure you have cash. Car services charge a flat rate for the day; when trying to pack everything into a short time, it may be most efficient to be ferried around.


TIPPING

It's a countrywide standard that 15 percent service fee is to be included in the price of food and beverages, so consider the tip included. However, do feel free to give a nod to attentive, friendly service by leaving pourboire, a bit of change or small bills that translates into “for something to drink.”


TRICKSTERS

Tourist attractions, crowded metros, and busy shopping boulevards are playgrounds for Paris's slickest thieves. Be aware of your surroundings. Back pockets and open tote bags are easy pickings. The rouse of the moment is the gold ring scam: A young woman will approach you with a gold ring saying she saw you drop it or it must belong to you, she'll try to slip it onto your finger, and once she does, she'll begin to demand you pay her a finder's fee. Best not to engage and politely go about your business.


STYLE AND ATTIRE

Every week may seem like fashion week, but men and women tend to veer toward classic, well-tailored looks, even when dressing down. As a default, the perfect tee, skinny jeans, a pair of converse or a ballet flat, topped off with a blazer, trench, or leather motor jacket will do just fine (think: model off-duty). Sometimes a strong lip and a smart heel is all you need to take you from day till after dark. If you plan on getting snapped by street style photographers as you strut across the Tuileries, remember the key to French style is simple: confidence.


LOCAL DELICACIES

Got a minute (and an insatiable appetite)? The list of specialties is long. There are the bakery basics and sweets of which every visitor must have at least one: baguette, croissant, macaron, tarte Tatin, éclair (okay, pastry crème plus flaky shell in some shape or form), île flottante, pot de crème, a street crêpe, and any attractive chocolate bonbon. The savory essentials include steak tartare, cheesy onion soup, moule frite, croque madame, falafel, foie gras, and any variety of stinky cheese that requires some bravery to enjoy. The list could go on and on. Best to see and eat for yourself inside the dreamy food emporium Le Bon Marché.


LAZY SUNDAY

Don't work so hard. Most neighborhoods stay quiet and sleepy on Sundays but it is a great day to visit museums, walk along the Champs-Elysees, or see a bit of the Marais. Many restaurants and cafes close on Mondays while museums take Tuesdays to recoup. There's time to do it all; just plan ahead.


READING LIST AND RENTAL QUEUE

The city of lights brings out the storyteller in everyone. To brush up on history, influential characters, and cultural conversation starters, turn the pages of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon, Julia Child's My Life in France, or Lisa Hilton's Athénaïs: The Life of Louis XIV's Mistress, the Real Queen of France. Get the imagination going with Anais Nin's Henry and June, Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, or Paula McLain's The Paris Wife. Press play on films like Midnight in Paris, Amélie, Funny Face, Last Tango in Paris, or Godard's Bande à Part.

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