Frantic Fred's Travel Tips: France

by Miles O'Neal, Jetlag, Ltd.


The minimum places to go include: [Click for Bat-O-Bus] A walk along the Seine is quite nice, as are the boat rides. We took the boat ride (to the Bat-O-Bus!, Robin!) on Sunday. There was nobody at the ticket booth where we got on, so the boat captain insisted we just get on and pay later. We tried to pay at every stop, but nobody would take our money. When we disembarked, we told the ticket seller there - he shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and said, "then eet eez free" ("you are one lucky bunch of foreigners").

I got pickpocketed in line at the Eiffel Tower. Friends had warned me about certain gypsy tactics, which these gypsies did not use. The best bet is to never let more than 1 gypsy into your personal space at a time, be firm with them, and secure everything of more value than a french fry ("pommes frites"). Fortunately they only got the money in a front pocket (stupid - stuffed it there for a moment when I got change at the food booth). Some Brits we were hanging with paid our way in as there wasn't a change booth or ATM nearby, and we had enough pounds left over from the UK to reimburse them (which they tried to decline).

Even so, it was worth it. Hit all the levels at the Eiffel Tower ("Tour Eiffel"). On a good day, you can see practically forever across the flat French countryside. Excellent photos from the top. I recommend taking the lift up, and the stairs down. Unless you are in incredibly awesome shape, in which case I recommend taking the stairs up, and climbing down the girders.

Le Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) was intended to honor Napolean's taking over the world. Alas, it wasn't built in time, and he didn't finish his takeover in time, either. It's quite impressive. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame commemorating the dead of the two world wars are under the arch.

The Arc sits smack dab in the middle of a huge traffic accident waiting to happen-- especially for foreigners foolish enough to attempt driving there before they are used to Paris-- known as Etoile - Place Charles de Gaulle. This tour de force among traffic circles connects twelve (count 'em) grande boulevards ("mongo streets"). It is strongly suggested you find one of the pedestrian tunnels under the roadway to and from the arch.

La Grande Arche de la Defense is in the La Defense area of Paris, strangely enough. This is the area where the French keep most of their skyscrapers. (It is not clear whether this is a zoning thing, an accident of history, or a cultural mandate.) There is a mall nearby called Le Quatre Temps (The Four Seasons) with some decent restaurants & lots of shops. There is usually some sort of special market inside, with international vendors, or rare records, or something else worth checking out. Various carousels, fountains, and street vendors dot the area.

Take a walk down the Champs D'Elysees, say from the Palais Royal to the Arch of Triumph. Try it once during the day and once at night. Lots of restaurants and upscale stores, eclectic collections of motorcycles parked everywhere, and the latest movies in French - many with English subtitles. I wanted to check out Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in French, but didn't get the chance.

Plan to spend a minimum of 1/2 day (which will be rushing it) each at the Louvre and Versailles, and preferably a day for each.

Parts of the Louvre were under reconstruction through fall of 1993, but now it's supposedly all open. It's worth going just to see Mona. Plan on fighting your way through the stereotypical horde of (mostly japanese) tourists all trying to get closeups of her, many ignoring the warning not to use a flash.

Versailles is nearly unbelievable. It's a palace. No, it's a castle. Wait - a museum? Maybe it's a garden? And a floor wax, and a dessert topping? Well, all but the last two.

Plan to spend at least a couple of hours wandering around in the gardens. Try to take a tour, as there is some wild history about the place. Buy a pack of the French royalty playing cars - they're cool, and will give you an edge over your denser friends.

The Basilica du Sacre Coeur, atop the only real hill in Paris, is a beautiful, fairly young (finished in 1914, consecrated in 1919) church with an impressive ceiling. The crypt is fairly extensive, and full of history. As Sacre Coeur is still in use as a church, entry is free (donations are accepted). You can wander through the Crypt for 15 francs. I also highly recommend touring the whole structure, including running up & down the stairs. The combined Crypt & Dome ticket is 25 francs.

Montemarte is the area at the top of this hill which contains Sacre Coeur. It's beautiful, and a great place to pick up souvenirs, as well as hear huge crowds of multicultural youth singing Beatles songs. Yes, Beatles songs. Why? Don't ask, remember?

On a clear day, this is a great place from which to watch the sun set. Also, a good place to view the city by night.

[Click for artiste] Nearby is the Place du Tertre, where lots of artists hang out. This is the place to have a portrait made, or find a landscape, abstract, or almost anything else a visual artist might turn out. Prices will seem high, but everyone expects to bargain. Good deals abound. Sharon and I bought a painting from the marvelous artist in the photo, whose name I'll add as soon as I can find it!

We did not get to the Fountainbleu or Bastille, but you should probably hit them as well. There is also a Museum of Ceramics, but that is probably best left to the Ceramic Engineers and pottery wheel junkies.

The second trip we were in time for the World of Wheels, one of the four major international Motorcycle shows (along with Milan, Tokyo and Germany). There was a bicycle show, too. If you are into either bikes or bikes, I highly recommend timing your visit with this. Lots of new models were there. The only drawback was that I couldn't read most of the literature, and a lot of the booth personnel did not speak English. But there were lots of people from all over visiting. It was way qool. I got to sit on bikes you won't see in the USA except in magazines. I got up close to some incredible antiques, beautiful customs, and rarities such as the Honda Grand Prix oval-bore, ceramic piston engine.

Bat-O-Bus and artist pose from personal photographs. All other Paris images were all taken from the Paris web pages with permission. Well worth a visit itself.

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Last Update: 30 Oct 2007
All text copyright 1992-1995,2002 by Miles O'Neal, <>, Austin, TX. All rights reserved. Free electronic redistribution of this article is allowed only in its entirety; all other uses require the author's permission.
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