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July 20, 2005

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                                           Paris, France


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Bonjour! Last week we left off just after arriving in Paris. This week we tour some of the City of Lights, before jumping on a high-speed train to ….

This was my first trip to Paris since 1999. That was my last trip with my mom, so Paris will always be special to me. I’m fortunate to have gone a bunch of times (twice with my mom), and was excited to be back – especially because I was traveling with my sister Carol, my father and his partner Nancy.

Paris has a changed a bit. The major thing I noticed is that many more people speak English. That is good and bad. Obviously, it’s easier for non-French- speaking travelers (like me) to get around. However, it takes away from the culture and the challenge of communicating. Another thing I noticed is that the French seem a lot nicer. Maybe the younger generation has started taking over? I dunno. But I do know these tips will help (though not guarantee) you getting attitude: Try speaking a bit of French, and always say "bonjour" and "au revoir" when entering and leaving stores.

Speaking of trying to parle Francais: I am the worst when it comes to foreign languages. Heck, I even have a tough time speaking English. But I try. Sometimes that gets me into trouble. For instance, the other night I walked into the water closet (bathroom) of a Parisian restaurant, and decided it was the perfect place to practice my French. I know -- what was I thinking?

Well, the pretty French hostess had inspired me when she gave me a warm smile and said "bon soir" (good evening) when I passed her on the way to the WC. Like most French bathrooms the place was tiny, and I thought I was the only one in there. So I started rattling off every French word I knew to the wall in front of me. I began with the basic stuff: "Bonjour, je m'appelle Jean" (Hello, my name is John). Then I finished my crazy monologue with whatever came to my mind – including the naughty stuff I learned from friends in middle school, and stupid stuff like "jambon et fromage" (ham and cheese). As I was washing my hands, the door to the other W.C. opened up behind me. Out popped a woman! I wanted to run. She stared at me like I was a weirdo. FYI: I wasn’t in the ladies’ room. In France (and other parts of Europe) the washroom is shared by both genders; they just have separate toilets. I know it makes sense, but I can’t get used to it -- and that little episode didn’t make it easier.

On to some of the sights: My Dad and Nancy were tired from the flight, so as they napped while Carol and I met some friends of friends. We pretended we were French as we sipped drinks and people-watched at an outdoor café. Our new friends came up with the brilliant idea of going to Cimetiere du Pere LaChaise. When we heard "cimetiere" Carol and I looked at each other like, Are they nuts? Why would we want to go to a cemetery on our first day in Paris? Then they reminded us it’s where Jim Morrison and many other famous people, including Oscar Wilde and Frederic Chopin, are buried. We were close to the main entrance on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, so we said sure. Visitors can buy a map that shows the famous gravesites, but you don’t really need one. We just asked for Jim Morrison’s grave, and people were happy to point us in the right direction. After walking around a few of the 44 hectares, I’m not surprised how popular the place is. This might sound silly, but this cimetiere is quite beautiful and very peaceful. It’s a fine place to take an afternoon stroll, and pay respects to the dead. Cimetiere du Pere LaChaise.

Carol and I went back to the hotel to grab my dad and Nancy. They hadn’t seen any of Paris yet, and we wanted to take them someplace special for dinner. The best would have been a relaxing dinner cruise down the Seine River on a bateau-mouche. But those require advance work (like reservations), and we didn’t think of it until too late. Instead we went down the Champs-Elysées —one of the most famous streets in the world. It’s a beautiful, wide avenue bustling with expensive shops, hotels and restaurants (mixed in with some not-so-cool places like McDonald’s). My favorite time is dusk. I’ll never get tired of the view of the Arc de Triomphe, which is located at the top of the street.

For dinner we went to the closest indoor/outdoor restaurant we could find. That was Laduree, which is known in Paris for making the best macaroons. These are not the coconut cookies you think of when you hear "macaroons," but rather soft cookies held together by flavored cream. They are so light, delicate and tasty that you want to keep eating more (until you see the price). Laduree sells baked goods at four locations, but only the one on the Champs serves real food. For dinner I would pass on Laduree -- but not for dessert. Laduree, 75, Avenue des Champs–Elysees, 75008 Paris; tel.: 01-40-75-08-75.

The best way to learn Paris is by buying a L’Indespensible Paris Practique Par Arrondissement maps. They show every street in each of the 20 districts (arrondissements), which makes getting around Paris by foot easy. The maps are found in most bookstore, and cost around 6 euros.

The next morning we walked 15 minutes from our hotel to Montemarte. This is where La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre is located. It’s a beautiful Roman-Byzantine-style church built in 1875. If you need the exercise (and we did, especially after our French breakfast), walk up the steps. If you don’t want to, or you have health problems, take a funicular (Cost 1.40€). The views from the entrance of the church are amazing, but the best are from the dome 200 meters (656 feet) above sea level. It’s the second highest point in Paris (after the Eiffel Tower), and it costs only 5 euros a piece. I was nervous, because when I climbed the Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence I almost had a heart attack from claustrophobia. It was so tight, hot and dark. But these stairs are a lot better. Unlike in Florence there is a separate exit staircase, so people aren’t crammed in both directions. Also, there are little windows that provide light. Climbing the 290 steps at a normal pace takes only eight minutes. The panoramic views of Paris are so worth it. La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre.

After a delicious jambon et fromage (see above for translation) crepe, we jumped on the Metro and headed to the Eiffel Tower. You’re probably thinking "How touristy can Johnny Jet get?" but I don’t care: The Eiffel Tower is a must, and I wanted to show it to the first-timers. The wait for one of the three elevators wasn’t bad: only 45 minutes. I’ve waited longer for cheesy amusement park rides.

The tower has three stages, and each stage has a different fee. The first stage is 57 meters high (189 feet), and cost 4.10 €. The second is 115 meters (377 feet), and costs 7.50€. The top is 324 meters (1,063 feet), but the viewing platform is at 276 meters (905 feet). The first and second stages can be accessed by the same elevator, or by stairs, but the third requires a separate elevator on located on the second floor and that costs 10.70€. If we had walked up (which is allowed only to the first and second floors) the wait would have been much quicker, and the price cheaper (3.80 €).

I don’t care if someone paid me to go up to the top. There’s no way I would do it -- I’m afraid of heights. The first floor is fine with me. It feels almost like being in an office building (except for the angled double-decker elevators). The first floor also has gift shops, a museum, a restaurant, even a post office. Those are all indoors though, so to get the best view you need to walk around the perimeter.

I don’t know what’s on the second or third levels. And I don’t plan on knowing, because I’m not going up there. BTW: When the Eiffel tower was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889, it was the highest building in the world. It’s made of puddle iron, and is painted in three shades of "Tour Eiffel brown." Tour Eiffel, Champ de Mars, 75007 Paris. For a guided tour contact the National Monument Center: tel: 33-01-44-54-19-30.

Our next stop was Notre Dame de Paris ("Our Lady of Paris"). This Gothic medieval church was built between 1163 and 1240. In 2004 Notre Dame was the most popular site in Paris, with over 10 million visitors. It’s still used as a Roman Catholic cathedral, and the best way to get a feel for it is to attend mass (even non-Catholics should do this). We didn’t have time on this trip, but my mom and I went to a Latin mass. The cathedral is free, and the architecture is sure to amaze you. Place du Parvis de Notre Dame, 75004 Paris.

From Notre Dame we walked along the Seine River for several hundred yards, to the Louvre Museum. The Louvre, a former residence of French kings, now houses an enormous collection of ancient and Western art. It’s one of the largest museums in the world, and the exterior is one of my favorites anywhere. The size and detail of the buildings are unreal. Most people go in to see the Mona Lisa – which much smaller then most people imagine. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., except Tuesdays (we found that out the hard way -- no wonder there was no line!). Cost: 8.50 €. The Louvre.

One of the best ways for first time visitors to get oriented to the city is to go on one of those double-decker bus tours that are so famous in London. Carol and I done it before so just my dad and Nancy went. It costs 25 euros a person and they really enjoyed it. A nonstop tour takes two hours, but you don’t have to stay on. Passengers can spend the day (or two) getting on and off as many times as they wish.

Paris has some of the best shopping in the world -- just ask my sister (or anyone else who loves to shop). The best times to go are during the two annual sales. Winter sales usually begin in mid-January and end a month later, while the summer sales begin in late June and end in mid-July. We were there during the summer sale. Carol went to town, because where she lives -- Florida -- it’s always summer. Carol bought some clothes for her kids at BonPoint, a French children’s clothing store that is also found in the States. However, Carol said prices were much cheaper in France.

We took a break and had a tasty lunch in the Opera district, at Gargantua. The food and atmosphere were excellent. Then we relaxed at Square Santiago du Chili. It’s one of Paris’ 435 parks, gardens, squares and woodland areas. Gargantua 284, Rue Saint-Honore 75001 Paris, Opera; tel.: 01-42-60-52-54.

Obviously, we barely touched Paris. There is so much to see and do that an entire year wouldn’t be long enough to soak it all in. Three nights hardly gives visitors a flavor for the city. However, we still had fun, and are glad we went. Here’s a 1-minute video I made of our short trip. With high-speed the video takes about a minute to load; with dial-up, about three weeks.

Next week we take a high speed train to …

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

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Pictures From

The Trip


Paris 1998


Paris 2005



Carol, Rissa, Hanna


Jim Morrison's Grave


Seine River









Basilique du Sacré Coeur



View From Top


Eiffel Tower


View From 1st Floor


Notre Dame


The Louvre


The Opera


Relaxing Park


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  • First I would like to say that I have been enjoying your articles for the past couple of months. A co-worker turned me onto your newsletter. I have a quick question - In this week's newsletter you mention "I would call a consolidator, and get the same ticket for a deep discount". Do you have suggestions for consolidators? Thanks in advance, Jeff L - Salem, NH. REPLY: I usually use John Dekker from Carlson Wagonlit. His number is 1-800-714-8728.
  • What is a consolidator and would the average Joe contact one? Thanks Pete from Irvine, CA. REPLY: See above!
  • We met on the trip to Iceland, and have been following your travels ever since. We're awed by your travel information coverage, and delight in your style of writing-- informal and personal. It's a delight. Thank you for putting us on your list for your newsletter. Dr. and Mrs. (Helen) Bancroft, Fallbrook, California
  • I enjoyed your Paris adventure. I go to Paris for two weeks each year and stay in a loft apartment -- very hi tech and modern. I am eager to read your next installment. We took 5 trips on the fast trains to various cities and had a grand time. Naoma Foreman- Phoenix, AZ
  • Bonjour JohnnyJet, Agree with this: One or two travelers without a lot of luggage could take the RER trains (line B). They leave every 15 minutes, from 5 a.m. to midnight, BUT NOT THIS: and cost 13 euros for first class (only 8 euros for second class). The RER has not had first class cars for ages... only 2nd class - or if you will a standard class - no 1st class that I know of and I take the RER B a lot. Enjoy your stay in Paris! Best, Linda Thalman (Editor of Paris In Sites Newsletter http://www.parisinsites.com/ ). REPLY: Thank you for the correction! We will edit it.
  • One of the best news letters EVER!!! NOW THIS IS JOHNNYJET!!!!!! JD – Huntington Beach, CA
  • If you think Google Maps is good, check out Google Earth.......it will blow your socks off. Dede Kettmann -
  • Just caught up on my newsletters - I love the nantucket pieces (maybe I am biased)...Thanks for such a great story. Its wonderful to have our lives chronicled in your writing. Loved the Paris piece too! Love, your newest sister, Cricket
  • Johnny, I am taking my wife to Montreal (2 days)and Quebec City (5 days) for a week in Sept. Can you go ahead of me and make a report. Thanks. Jim - Chicago REPLY: Thanks Jim for the email. Johnny said he would love to since he has never been to either of those cities. But unfortunately, he won’t be able to do it any time soon.
  • My husband and I have traveled to many countries in the last 30 years. I look forward to reading your newsletters. Thanks, Beverly Appel - Cypress, CA.
  • Thank you for the beautiful things you wrote about me. Tonight Travel Channel called me and they want to hire me for 5 days for assistance in shooting "stranded" here in Torino. C- Torino

  • Enjoyed your report on Iceland. I disagree with one comment. Credit cards used to be a good deal. BUT, most VISA and MC credit cards now charge a 3% transaction fee. AE is a better deal--only 2%. Better to use the ATM card. Elston Hill –
  • I really enjoyed your Icelandic adventure. Love to read in-depth stories such as yours. Makes me feel as if I was almost there and, indeed, if I ever go you have given me much info and wisdom about the country. Where do you go next..? I can't wait! Thanks a lot for the great article. Judith Hettler – Benicia, California
  • Enjoyed your article...my husband and I went to Iceland on a ten day tour three years ago and thought it was wonderful -- except that the prices are extremely high. Hope you get to go to The Pearl Restaurant. A highlight on our trip but $$$. We agree -- the people there are very beautiful and as nice as they are gorgeous! Sue D - Kirtland, Ohio
  • What a great report. I visited Iceland in 1999 and just fell in love with the country. You can only see so many sandy beaches and palm trees before you welcome the refreshing change I found in Iceland. Fascinating country! Margaret E. Bradly - Woodbury, NJ
  • Just wanted to tell you I thoroughly enjoyed your article--an excellent read--enjoy your style of writing and dream of going to Iceland someday. Adrian Hess – Quincy, MA
  • Thanks for a wonderful Travel log on Iceland. I enjoyed reading the Newsletter since I lived in Keflavik In 1960. It still sounds the same, except for the prices, they have gone up. However they do have the best Fish in the World. I am hoping to go back again some Time. Happy Travels. Hilda - San Antonio Texas

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  • Okay, okay! After making last week’s map Website of the Week. I received a bunch of emails saying that http://earth.google.com/ must get the same honor. After downloading the application (it takes only a minute or two), I agree. It’s so cool that I have to check out more places to go.

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