Paris Movie Walks – Comment to Win Your Free Autographed Copy

Who doesn’t love Paris and movies?  Michael Schurmann has combined the two into a winning guidebook, Paris Movie Walks, ten guided walking tours through the City of Lights, Camera, Action.   And now, you can win your very own copy, signed by the author!

I had the good fortune to meet Michael and his lovely wife Marlys aka @ParisBuff several months ago, and they led us on a walking tour of their Montmartre neighborhood.  They are among the fortunate few who live in the shadows of the beautiful white domed Basilica of Sacre Coeur, crowning the butte of Montmartre.

The cold, gray January day could not dampen our excitement as we strolled up and down the cobblestone hills of Montmartre.  As we rounded each corner, Michael set the scene for us, sharing movie trivia, as well as pointing out sights of historical and architectural importance.

One of my favorite movies is “Amelie” and I was delighted to find so many recognizable street scenes.  Who could forget the produce market with sweet Lucien and the obnoxious, sneering Monsieur Collignon, or the Two Windmills Cafe, where Amelie worked?  And of course the scene where Amelie’s secret crush races up the steps to Sacre Coeur, only to find Amelie is watching him from below.  Or the street she leads the blind man across, describing in rapid fire detail everything the blind man cannot see.

Now you can enjoy this same tour, and nine others covering all the “must-see” areas of Paris, as we are giving away a free copy of Paris Movie Walks, personally signed by the author!!!

Just leave a comment, and tell me what is your favorite movie of all time. One lucky winner will be drawn at random.  Go!

Contest closes May 13, 2010.  Good luck!

Paris Sightseeing – Luxury for Less – Part 4

Paris is a joy for active sightseers, with a magnificent array of museums, monuments, must-see sights.  However, the sheer number of sightseeing opportunities in Paris can be overwhelming.  No matter how many times you visit, you may feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface.

Here’s a short, opinionated list of sightseeing options (with lots of hyperlinks), organized into 6 categories:  Top Tier, Mid-Tier, New & Niche, Quirky/Off-Beat, Kids, & Day Trips. Consider choosing one or two in each category, so you can experience variety in the best Paris has to offer.

When it comes to sightseeing in Paris, time is your currency, and more precious than gold.  I recommend you purchase the Paris Museum Pass, which covers entry to over 60 museums and monuments and is available for 2, 4, or 6 days.  You will save a few Euros over purchasing tickets individually, but most importantly, you will save time….hours and hours of time…..because you don’t have to queue in long lines to purchase tickets at every venue.  Just look for the special door for pass holders at each venue, and sail past the ticket lines.  I’ve waited 60 minutes in line at the Louvre, and 90 minutes each at Musee d’Orsay and St. Chapelle, so learn from my mistakes and get the Pass!  You’ll still need to wait in line for the security screening, but this should be minimal.

If you’ll be in Paris more than a few days, look into the Paris Visite Pass, which covers the Metro, RER suburban trains, and city buses, and offers great reductions on 18 other sites. Save money & time!

Top Tier Sights – many museums are free for children under 18, offer reduced rates for 18-25; museums usually offer one free Sunday per month – avoid these days as they’re usually crowded.

Eiffel Tower – new for 2010! – advance reservations are now available online; save time!  Count on at least an hour in line if you don’t reserve in advance. (Entry NOT covered in Paris Museum Pass)

Louvre Museum – most famous and extensive art museum on the planet

Musee d’Orsay – 19th & 20th century masterpieces, temple of Impressionism, & much more.

Notre Dame Cathedral – free admission to the church; fee applies for self-guided tower

Palace of Versailles – see Day Trips Below

Bateaux Mouches & Bateaux Parisiens – Seine River Cruises – a must to enjoy Paris beautiful bridges and monuments.  Go at sunset to see floodlit monuments; time it to pass Eiffel Tower as it’s sparkling – breathtaking!

Arc de Triomphe – ascend to the top for amazing views (fee); otherwise visit free at street level to admire sculptures, eternal flame and pay respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Sacre Coeur Basilica – Montmartre’s stunning white domed Basilica, on the butte of Montmartre

Mid-Tier Sightsfeel free to argue with me as to which should be Top Tier vs. Mid-Tier

Centre Pompidou – modern and contemporary art

Musee Marmottan – world’s largest collection of works by Claude Monet, plus 300 works by other Impressionists & Post-Impressionists

Musee Rodin – master sculptor and gardens

Musee de l’Orangerie – Tuileries garden – Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces.  Interesting story in NYT about Monet’s Water Lily paintings

St. Chapelle – Gothic cathedral with beautiful stained glass; lines can be very long; if you don’t have Paris Museum Pass, and skies are cloudy, skip it and wait for another time

Musee Jacquemarte Andre – private mansion with impressive collection of French, Dutch and Italian masters; lovely cafe

Les Invalides – honors French military heros & houses Napoleon’s tomb

Opera Garnier – gorgeous baroque Paris Opera, of Phantom fame; self or guided tours available – go for the guided tour

Pantheon – originally constructed as a church, and now the tomb for many important French historical figures, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Madame Curie, Braille, Dumas

Cathedral of St. Denis – about ½ hour north of central Paris, burial place of kings of France, with over 70 sculpted tombs, including Francois I, Louis XVI, Dagobert, and Catherine de Medici

Musee National Picasso – closed for renovation until 2012

Musee de Quai Branly – relatively new museum featuring art & artifacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania & the Americas

New and Niche

Paris Movie Walks – author Michael Schurmann leads you on a series of 10 walking tours in the City of Lights, Camera, Action – see the sights where your favorite movies were filmed.  Video of my tour of Montmartre below, where Michael points out one of the last two remaining windmills of Montmartre, the Moulin de la Galette, which was the setting for one of Renoir’s famous paintings you will recognize:

Eye Prefer Paris Tours – Personal walking tours and cooking classes by Richard

La Cuisine Paris cooking lessons – 2 hour, ½ day and longer classes – French desserts, bistro classics, chocolate tours and more!


Rick Steves Paris Illuminations by Taxi Tour – Rick gives you a great, fun option to hire a taxi for a do-it-yourself floodlit Paris tour – with a map and French translation to hand to the driver – a great alternative to overpriced bus tours, with recorded commentary in 7 languages (ugh).

Pere Lachaise Cemetery – most famous & visited cemetery in the world; among the famous buried here are Edith Piaf, Pissarro, Proust, Jim Morrison, Yves Montand, Moliere, Lalique, Haussemann, Heloise, Delacroix, Colette, Frederic Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Balzac, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde

Catacombs of Paris – municipal ossuary is the reburial place of approx. 6 million residents of Paris

Paris Sewer Tour – haven’t been, don’t plan to go, unless someone talks me into it

Canal & Seine Barge Cruise – Teena Hughes of A Night in Paris explains it all here, with video

Fat Tire Bike Tours – comes highly recommended, although I haven’t tried yet; Paris city tours, Versailles and Giverny also; if you’ve done this, please leave a comment with reviews

Day Trips

Versailles – magnificent palaces & grounds; former home of French kings

Chartres – extraordinary Gothic cathedral & UNESCO world heritage site

Giverny – Claude Monet’s home and gardens

Reims –Champagne country


Disneyland Resort Paris

Parc Asterix –  large amusement park organized around 5 themed lands, about 20 miles north of Paris

France Miniature – outdoor village with scale models of 160 major French monuments; 45 minutes from Paris

Paris local parks – Luxemburg Garden, Tuilleries, Champ de Mars – lovely, green spaces, kid-friendly activities

Aquaboulevard – indoor/outdoor waterpark and athletic facility; largest indoor waterpark in Europe

Last tip – don’t be pennywise but hour foolish.  If you’re trying to get to a venue in a hurry, like before closing or last admission time, consider jumping in a taxi rather than waiting for a bus, or walking to/from a metro station.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, traveling across Paris usually takes twice as long as I estimate, so give yourself plenty of time.  Plot your visits on a map, as many can be grouped for walking (Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Deportation Memorial).  Buses are a great way to get around, but to a visitor who is unfamiliar with local routes, the occasional manifestations (strikes) alter bus routes, bypassing certain popular stops, leaving you Lord knows where (another lesson learned the hard way).

Plan ahead, do your research, and don’t get frustrated.  You’ll never see it all, but just assure yourself, you’ll be back and see more on your next trip.  Bon voyage!

All links are working at time of publication, but subject to change by site owners.  If you find a broken link, please send me a comment and let me know. Thanks!

Paris – Luxury for Less – Part 3 – Dining Out

 Part 3 of a “how to” series to help you enjoy a first class Paris experience on a coach budget.

After airfare and accommodations, dining out will be your biggest expense in Paris.  Dining out three meals a day could easily cost 45-50 Euros per person; 10 Euros for breakfast, 10-15 Euros for lunch, and 25 Euros for dinner with wine.  But you can manage for much less.  Follow these tips to save money on dining out:

  •  Most hotels charge 9-12 Euros for continental breakfast, with some as high as 20 Euros for full breakfast buffet.  You can purchase continental breakfast at a café for 5-7 Euros.  Or stop by your local boulangerie for a fresh baguette, about 1.60 Euro, or croissants at 1.10 each. 
  •  For lunch, look for the “formule” or “menu”, or “Plat du Jour” which is the daily special, a multi-course meal which costs less than ordering individual items “a la carte”.  You’ll notice portions in France are not “super-sized”, which is another reason the French are slender.
  •  Picnic – Paris is a treasure trove of markets selling fresh produce and artisanal products.  Wander through a market and pick up fruit, cheese, a fresh baguette, bottle of wine, and enjoy your picnic in the local parks.  Rotisserie chickens are delicious; many vendors will sell half a chicken – ask for “demi”.
  •  When choosing your hotel, look for one with a mini-fridge, perfect for storing juice, yogurt, cheese, wine and picnic items, etc.
  • Best money-saving tip for Dining out?  Rent an apartment with a kitchen, and eat in several meals a day.  Grocery shopping in a foreign country is a delightful glimpse into local culture, and much more affordable than eating out three meals a day.  On a recent trip to Paris, we rented an apartment and spent about 100 Euros for groceries for 3 people for 6 days (including one “fancy” dinner with hors d’oeuvres, wine and a cheese course).  On average, we ate in 2 meals/day, which works out to 2.78 Euros/meal.  With one meal & one snack eaten out each day, averaging 15 Euros, that brings the food budget down to about 20 Euros per person/per day, instead of 50 Euros.  That’s a savings of 540 Euros over 6 days!  Be sure to factor in this savings when deciding whether to choose a hotel or apartment.
  • No need to do any major cooking either, as there are many gourmet frozen foods, fresh pastas, hundreds of cheeses, etc. 
  • Grocery stores in Paris have many specialty items you won’t find back home, some of which make great gifts, like gourmet mayo and mustard, chocolate bars, teas.  Neighborhood groceries include G20 and Franprix, larger hypermart stores are Monoprix, Auchan and Carrefour.
  • Street snacks are a great way to enjoy a quick lunch on the go.  Crepes are a local favorite, and come in both sweet (Nutella!) and savory.  Croque Monsieur is a French version of grilled cheese sandwich, but with a delicious twist, cheese on the outside, usually ham on the inside. Street snack pricing will vary by arrondissement. The 6.00 Euro Croque Monsieur in the 7th Arrondissement was only 3.50 in Les Halles. 


  • Ethnic eateries and take-aways are wonderful, lower cost options.  Falafel stands do a bustling business in the Marais, and you’ll find many Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian, African and Asian dining options, depending on the neighborhood.  The word for food “to go” in French is “ a emporter” pronounced “ahm por tay”.  “Traiteurs” are food establishments usually set up delicatessen style, displaying prepared dishes “to go”, with limited or no seating.
  • In a café, resist ordering soda with your meal.  A Coke can easily run 5-6 Euros at a sit down restaurant.  The house wine is often cheaper.  If you’re a soda fiend craving a Coca Light, buy a liter at the local grocery and enjoy it in your hotel room.
  • Another way to save money, don’t order bottled water in a café or restaurant. The waiter will be happy to sell you the 6 Euro bottle of Evian or Pellegrino, but instead ask for tap water, une carafe d’eau (doh), s’il vous plait.
  • For popular restaurants, reserve in advance.  If your French is limited, ask the hotel if they will call to reserve for you. Or you can check out websites that handle advance bookings.  Google “France restaurant reservations”.
  • Restaurants touting a tourist menu in 7 languages = fail.
  • Upscale  restaurants may offer lower prices at lunch than at dinner, so check into this if you’ve been dying to try a famous chef’s establishment.  Be sure to inquire about advance reservations.
  • Service is included in your bill in France, which means no tipping is required, or expected.  You can leave a few coins if you feel obliged, or a few Euros to reward outstanding service.
  • Waiters in France do not hover, they won’t check in with you every five minutes, nor will they assume you want to be on a first-name basis. They are in no hurry to turn the table, as they do not rely on tips.  The table is yours for as long as you like, and when you’re ready, you’ll need to ask for the check. L’addition, s.v.p.  It’s considered rude to present the check early, or to continually pester diners. 
  • A note on dining manners – as a culture, French people are quiet, polite and reserved, so try to keep your voice down. If you need to attract the waiter’s attention, simply raise your hand, catch their eye and say “Monsieur” or “Madame”.
  • With so many dining options, it’s good to research in advance.  Invest in a guidebook on Paris dining. One book I’ve enjoyed recently is “Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris”, by Clotilde Dusoulier.  And definitely check out David Lebovitz blog and see his post on 10 insanely delicious things you shouldn’t miss in Paris.
  • You may save money by ordering your beverage at the bar, but for the quintessential Parisian experience, be sure to stop at a sidewalk café.  Linger a while, the table is yours for as long as you like.
  • Rest your feet, read a book, write postcards, or just enjoy people watching.  Remember, you’re not paying $10USD for a cup of coffee, you’re paying for a place to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds, and free fashion show that is the Paris street scene. 

One last tidbit – Café culture suggests you and your companion sit side by side, facing out towards the street. So don’t be a tourist and sit with your back to the street action! 

 What are your favorite tips for dining in Paris?  Do you have a favorite restaurant, café, or guidebook to share? Click to leave a Comment below and share it with us.

Prices are current at time of publication but always subject to change.  All photos are my own except petit déjeuner, courtesy of Birdfarm, via Flickr with Creative Commons license.

Paris – Luxury for Less – Part 2

This is the second article in a 5 part series showing you how to enjoy a truly unforgettable, Paris experience on a modest budget. Part 1 , discussed how to save money by traveling in low season, and covered tips on earning frequent flier miles, even if you rarely fly.

Accommodations will be a large portion of your vacation expense. For about $80 USD per person per night, you could stay in a very small, double room in a 2 star, bare bones hotel. But, for the same price, you can enjoy an upscale Paris apartment, in a prime location, with full kitchen and Eiffel Tower views. Yes, that’s right!  For the same price!  The trick is to travel with a few friends or family members, and consider low season instead of high.

Why Choose an Apartment over a Hotel?

  • Space – much more room to spread out
  • Huge savings on food by preparing snacks and light meals; dining out in Paris is very expensive, and you’ll save hundreds of Euros per week by having a kitchen (much more on Dining Out in Part 3)
  • Free wi-fi internet access
  • Free phone calls to the US, Canada, Europe. FREE
  • Washer/dryer for laundry – convenience and savings of free laundry, allows you to pack less, and return home with clean clothes!
  • Feel like a local, not a tourist; shop daily as the Parisians do for your warm baguette, fresh produce; you’ll enjoy the vibe of your neighborhood

Follow These Tips When Selecting an Apartment:

  • Search Trip Advisor or similar sites for recent reviews for that specific unit; Trip Advisor is not independently verified, so look for trends rather than relying on one specific review
  • Consult guide books and ask friends for references
  • Ask if they have an onsite management company to address any concerns; are they open 7 days a week?
  • Be sure the website has photos of all the rooms in the apartment
  • Ask owners if the furniture, drapes, linens etc. are exactly as pictured.  I’ve heard horror stories of apartments staged for photographs, but the gorgeous furniture had been replaced by worn out flea market finds
  • Most apartments require full payment in advance; ask what recourse you have if you find the apartment unacceptable.  Will they move you to a different unit, or refund a portion of your stay?
  • If you’re staying in the summer months, ask if the unit is air conditioned
  • Some buildings don’t have elevators, so ask, if this is important to you
  • Carefully consider the location, noise level, and view.  Verify the location through Google Earth.  “Close” or “nearby” may actually be 2 miles away from your desired location.

Why Choose a Paris Perfect Apartment?

There are many apartment rentals in Paris, but for my money, I choose Paris Perfect apartments, a collection of 45 luxury apartments in prime locations in Paris. What sets Paris Perfect apart is that all apartments are professionally managed by Paris Perfect, with the highest attention to detail, and that “wow” factor to make your vacation a once in a lifetime experience. Paris Perfect apartments have been recommended by Rick Steves, Travel & Leisure, Fine Living Channel.

A Paris Perfect apartment is the right choice for so many reasons and occasions…

1) Girlfriends Getaways – Ladies, choosing a luxury apartment from Paris Perfect is an unforgettable experience–one you’ll be talking about for years. Paris Perfect’s fabulous Girls Getaway Package, during low season, includes all this at no extra charge:

  • complimentary hair & color consultation at famous Thierry Elia Salon on the Left Bank,
  • welcome bottle of champagne upon arrival
  • box of gourmet macarons from renowned Chocolatier Gregory Renard
  • free Seine river cruise tickets
  • complimentary consultation with your personal Paris concierge, who can arrange special reservations for Paris fashion shows, cooking lessons, private guides to take you antique shopping, massage appointments, restaurant & shopping recommendations and more!

2) Two Couples – A great way to share expenses while enjoying a luxury apartment in the best locations in Paris.

3) Mother/Daughter Get-Aways – There is no better opportunity to celebrate that special bond between mother and daughter. Every girl should see Paris with her mom, even if the little girl is all grown up. (We had a great experience with my sister-in-law, and our teenage girls several years ago.)

3) Families – perfect when traveling with children. Triple and quad rooms are very hard to find in Paris, and when you do find them, they will be very cramped. For the same price as two drab double rooms, you can have a lovely, private apartment, and save hundreds of Euros by enjoying breakfast and snacks in your kitchen instead of dining out 3 meals a day. The money you’ll save by eating in will more than offset the accommodation price. Paris has an undeniable “cool” factor for tweens and teens.

4) Multi-generational – Great for grandparents to bring along grandchildren-what a grand introduction to the City of Light!

4) Celebrations – honeymoons, engagements, anniversary, birthday, graduation.

5) Any time and every time you come to Paris

Apartment Reviews

I have personally stayed in the St. Julien short term Paris rental, and it is gorgeous, in a prime location in the 7th arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, with a partial view through the tree tops.

This is the Rue Cler neighborhood recommended by Rick Steves. The St. Julien sleeps 5 comfortably ($86 per person, per night*), is a little tight for 6 ($71 per person, per night*), and would be very spacious for 4 ($107/pp pn*). It has two full marble bathrooms (important for your “getting ready” space), plus a powder room in the hall.

St. Julien has one bedroom and a  double living room, with sliding doors for privacy, and a special, custom made Italian sofa which makes out into two full sized, extra long comfortable, single beds. I have slept on this sofa bed myself, and I can assure you, this is not your grandma’s fold out sofa bed. There is also a fold out sofa bed in the first living room, recently upgraded, but I haven’t slept on that so I can’t personally comment on it. I’m sure it would be fine for one.

Most recently, we stayed in the Clairette Paris flat in the same building as St. Julien. The Clairette has an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower (2 blocks away) from the two sets of large French double-glazed doors, with step-out balconies.

Every detail is exquisite: beautiful furnishings, gorgeous wood floors, oriental rugs, with decorator touches everywhere.

Lighting – an effective mix of crystal chandeliers, halogen lighting in the kitchen, and many table and floor lamps make the apartment so cheerful.

The dining area is in the double living room in the Clairette, with the same high quality sofa that makes out into two separate comfortable single beds.

Cream travertine in the bathroom with large walk-in shower, modern vessel sink, heated towel racks, hair dryer. Thick, white fluffy towels, and an extraordinary find for Europe = Washcloths!!! Americans will be very happy!

The Clairette is very comfortable for 3 people sharing, and adequate for 4 friendly people. It has just one bathroom, so scheduling becomes important. But Clairette would be ideal for groups of 3 or 4. The price in low season: $123 per person/per night for 3 people and $92 per person/per night for 4 people.*  (Side note: I have begrudgingly paid $300/night for a dumpy hotel in Manhattan, that had not been renovated in 30 years.  Talk about value for money.  Paris Perfect has it all: luxury, location, affordability.)

I’ve not yet stayed at the Bordeaux luxury apartment in Paris, but knowing the neighborhood and quality of furnishings, it looks like a great choice for 6, with 2 bedrooms, double living room, 2 full and 2 half baths, and the same heart-stopping views of the Eiffel Tower that Clairette enjoys.

And at 2065 Euro/week in off-season, that works out to $71 per person/per night, or $142 per couple. An absolute steal!!! If your budget allows, of course, consider prime season as well. Picnicking in the Champ de Mars park right next door, evening strolls along the Seine…an unforgettable experience. Paris Perfect apartments are running a special promotion on high season rates now as well. Check their website for details.

The Left Bank location of these 3 apartments is perfect! Literally 2 blocks from the Eiffel Tower/Champ de Mars, major bus stops across the street, Metro and RER just a few blocks away.

Paris Perfect vacation rentals provides guests with welcome gifts of milk, orange juice, water, and a bottle of wine.
The kitchen is already supplied with basics: regular coffee pot and filters; olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper; and my favorite – a Nespresso machine with a starter supply of coffee capsules in assorted flavors – another way to easily save $4-5 for each cup of coffee you don’t have to buy at a café.

Kitchens in these 3 apartments are high-end, with granite countertops, dishwasher, microwave, stove, oven. Dishes, glassware, champagne and wine glasses are provided, even colorful plastic dishes, cups and bowls to help the kids feel right at home.

A full set of Henckels knives, serving ware, mixing bowls, cutting board, storage dishes, glass baking dishes, salad spinner, etc. are included.

A washer and dryer are in each apartment, along with laundry soap, allowing you to pack lighter than usual, since you wash your clothing on the go.

I kept thinking I’d find some little detail overlooked, something the staff forgot to stock in the apartment: a pair of scissors to cut the tags off a new outfit? (found 3 pairs actually); Tupperware for leftovers? (yes, in the cabinet over the microwave); electrical outlets in the bathroom? (hidden in the mirrored medicine cabinet). An extra shoelace, when my son’s broke? (okay, sorry, no spare shoelaces provided!)

You will be met personally by a professional, friendly Paris Perfect greeter, who spends nearly an hour with you, showing you all the workings of the apartment, answering any questions.

In addition to your personal greeting, each apartment comes with a complete, thorough, personalized guide book, which explains in great detail the workings of every appliance, system, etc. It also has a wonderful 32 page section on sightseeing. This was my “bible” while in Paris, as it included everything!

Paris Perfect Luxury Apartments include flat screen TVs with cable access, DVD player, and a supply of DVD movies, novels and Paris guidebooks for your enjoyment.  Free wi-fi had great bandwidth too.  We had four devices connected on wi-fi at the same time ( iPhone, 2 iPod Touches, 1 laptop) and no hiccups or slowdowns.  Free phone calls included from your apartment’s phone to all landlines and cells in US/Canada, and to landlines in Europe, Australia, & New Zealand.

The Clairette and St. Julien have entire walls of storage, with many hooks in bathroom and bedroom. Iron and ironing board included, plus converter plug for your appliances

Grocery stores very close by. If you’re staying in either of these 3 apartments near Rapp/Bourdonnais, you have a G20 market just a few doors down, and a larger FranPrix just a 4 minute walk down Bourdonnais. Paris Perfect includes a rolling market basket so you can shop just like a local.

Did I mention the Boulangerie is 3 doors down? Pop down in the morning for your fresh, warm baguette and flaky croissants, to enjoy with your Nespresso.

The prices quoted are fully inclusive, there are no taxes, service charges or occupancy fees.

Potential drawbacks for some could be that there is no daily maid service, towels are not normally replenished (but there are extras provided, and you are free to wash a load of towels in your washer/dryer if you wish). Maid and laundry service can be arranged for an extra fee, as well as a personal chef, if you really want a splurge.

Full prepayment is required in advance (before you ever see the apartment), and cancellation fees apply. This was a concern for me the first time, but now having stayed there, I have no hesitation whatsoever.  I do recommend you take the travel insurance, because you never know when your plans could be disrupted due to illness, job loss, etc. Paris Perfect has links to a travel insurance provider, or search online.

The Paris Perfect management office is just a few blocks away, open 7 days a week, and the staff was pleasant and helpful. We had a tricky latch on the French door leading out to the balcony (did I mention the balcony overlooks the Eiffel Tower?) We called for help, and the latch was fixed before we got back from sightseeing.

All apartments are non-smoking, and no pets allowed.

Rentals are for a one week period, and I do recommend you take the full week. There is so much to see and do in Paris, plus you can take 3 wonderful day trips depending on the season (Versailles, Champagne region, and Monet’s Gardens at Giverny). If you find it impossible to stay a full week, and are booking towards the last minute, Paris Perfect might be able to consider a shorter stay, so call and ask. They may be able to accommodate you.

However, there is one huge drawback to staying in a Paris Perfect apartment which I must warn you about. The apartment is so gorgeous, you may never want to leave! I am not exaggerating. In the evening, gather at the window at the stroke of each hour to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkling light show. We have magical memories of our children watching the clock, counting down the minutes to the top of the hour, and dashing to the window to see the Great Lady sparkling in the night.

On your morning of departure, you will feel a little like Cinderella, when reality hits you that you have to leave – your royal coach about to turn back into a pumpkin, and white horses back into mice. Ahhh, but that’s what vacations are about. Fairy tales can come true. And there will be a happy ending, because you will promise yourself to return to Paris again!

* Prices quoted are for low season. They also have special sale prices available now for a limited time for high season and shoulder season too. Check Paris Perfect website for details. In the interest of full disclosure, as a returning guest of Paris Perfect, I received a promotional discount, however, my review is honest and unbiased, and not influenced by consideration received.

Paris – Luxury for Less – Part 1

Are you looking for a first class getaway to Paris, but can’t even afford coach? Read on!  You’ve come to the right place. 

Paris has a reputation for being an expensive city, and rightly so.  With so many treasures to explore, it’s one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.  But I’m going to show you how to afford real luxury for less in Paris, for less than what you’d spend on a Holiday Inn at home.  Don’t believe me?  Then stick around! 

Over the next series of articles, I’ll discuss how and when to travel, and I’ll cover the “big 5” categories of airfare, accommodation, shopping, sightseeing and dining, to show you how to get the absolute most for your money, and have one of the best vacations ever!  

This is not an article about staying in cheap hostels or 2 star hotels.  There’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve done that too. But this series will focus on higher end accommodations, and show you how to have that luxury splurge for LESS money, something actually within reach of your meager travel budget.  

When to Travel:  My first tip to immediately save 30-40-50%? Travel in off-season!  Typically, off-season in Paris is winter time, from November through March, with the deepest discounts in Jan. & Feb.  Accommodations and airfare are deeply discounted. Crowds are smaller, nerves are less frazzled, and there’s something about the crisp air that makes the aroma of roasting chestnuts and steaming Nutella crepes even more intoxicating.

Paris has such a huge array of sightseeing options, you will never be at a loss for things to do.  Yes, there are a few sights that may operate reduced hours, but with careful planning, you’ll not be disappointed.

The first two weeks of December are an incredible time to visit Paris as well.  Discounts may not be as steep as Jan/Feb, but the beautiful Christmas decorations, dazzling lights, department store window displays, and holiday fetes can make up for that. 

First things first.  You have to get there.  Airfare to Paris from the U.S. is not cheap….not gonna lie.  Airfare in off-season is lower, but still pricey.  Recent searches on Fare Compare, great low fare search site by my friend Rick Seaney, show low season fares from major US cities to be as much as 50% less in Jan/Feb versus summer.

Recent Airfare Searches to Paris:

From: Feb 2010     July
NYC $552 $959
CHI $772 $1,225
MIA $787 $910
ATL $676 $1,261
MPLS $851 $1,247
LAX $658 $1,367
SEA $873 $1,327

Don’t be scared by these prices. Let me show you how to fly almost free. 

Frequent Flier Programs
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve already figured this out & can skip this part (but read the Shopping opportunities below).  If you’re not a frequent traveler with a fat corporate expense account paying your way, you may think you’ll never rack up enough miles to cash in on free tickets.  Not so!  You don’t have to travel frequently to earn miles.  There are many other ways to accumulate miles.

Enroll not only yourself, but your spouse, kids and grandkids in airline frequent flier programs.  Idea is that nobody travels by air these days without earning miles.  Most programs allow you to transfer miles between participants, sometimes even offering bonuses to do so (Delta currently has a 50% bonus on miles transfered through 1/31/10, i.e. transfer 5,000 miles to someone, and they received 7,500).  Best to limit yourself to one or two airlines to maximize point accumulation.

Credit Cards
There are great websites devoted to helping you maximize your “flown” miles (FlyerTalk), but only a few sites focus on earning miles outside of actually flying on a plane.  Opening a credit card (for both personal and business accounts) can earn a handsome bonus of 10K-25K miles.  This site, Mile Cards, has a good discussion and comparison matrix of many mileage cards available.  Keep in mind, most cards have a minimum spend requirement, i.e. must spend $750 within the first 4-6 months, to earn the bonus.  Fees are typically waived the first year, and they carry hefty interest rates, so be a wise consumer and don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off in full every month. Read the fine print on every offer.  Also check your hometown airline’s website to learn what their mileage credit cards have to offer.

Once you’ve chosen a card that’s right for your, set up recurring monthly bills to be paid with this frequent flier credit card, bills you’re going to have to pay anyway, electricity, gas, water, telephone, cell phones, etc.  Again, you must be VERY disciplined to ensure you pay off in full every month. Once you get comfortable with that, decide if you want to take the next step to purchase groceries, gasoline, entertainment etc. with your card.  Many people do this successfully today, but it does require discipline.

Another site I like is Frugal Travel Guy.  He’s made quite a hobby of racking up miles, so check out his tips and ideas.  Keep in mind that with rewards come some risks, so do your homework.

In addition to charging monthly necessities on your preferred card, take advantage of all the mile-earning opportunities from online shopping.  Hundreds of popular retailers have partnered with airlines to award you mileage for things you’re going to buy anyway. 

Let me give you some examples.  For purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on shopping opportunities through American Airline’s AAdvantage program, but every major carrier has a similar program, so if AA does not have service from your area, check into other airlines’ programs. 

American developed the very first frequent flier loyalty program in the industry in 1981, and I should know, because that’s when I was hired on by AA as a college student with the launch of the AAdvantage program, to handle inbound calls and enroll applicants. 

American recently added some new features to their retail shopping site American eShopping Mall, with the registered card program.  This lets you register one card (either credit or debit) on the shopping site, and earn miles for purchases.  The twist here is you can now use a debit card, if you decide you don’t want to buy things on credit.  Four ways to earn miles while shopping:

1. Brick and mortar store fronts – Walk in to buy in person, use your registered card (debit or credit), and earn AAdvantage miles.  Downside – this is a new program, and only 12 retailers/restaurants participating right now.

2. Gift Certificate Program – Great program lets you buy gift certificates from 102 popular retailers, like Barnes & Noble, Bath & Body Works, Gap, Old Navy, etc.  Earn 3 miles for every dollar you spend, plus an extra mile if you charge to your AAdvantage Citi card.  Buy the gift certificates to give as gifts for Christmas, birthday, teacher, anniversary, wedding, graduation, etc. Or buy them for yourself for purchases you know you’re going to make anyway (i.e.  Back to school shopping, Old Navy, Famous Footwear, Foot Locker, etc.).

3. Online Retailers – Literally hundreds of major and specialty retailers participate.  You must first visit the AAdvantage eShopping site and launch into the retailers’ site from the AAdvantage page. Every big retailer is here. 

4. Special partners – short list of a few select “preferred partners” with good earning potential, like Netflix, DirectTV, TomThumb grocery chain (DFW residents), regional electric companies.

Don’t even think of making a big ticket purchase without checking out the online retailers.  Plus, there are frequent promotions like double or triple miles, free shipping, etc.

I particularly like Best Buy, as you can order online (remember to launch from the AAdvantage eShopping site) and then pick up your order at your local Best Buy, usually within an hour if the item is in-stock.  No waiting for shipping, and easy, local returns.  In-store pickup at Sears too.

Here’s an example of purchases I made last year through the Northwest Airlines Worldperks program (sadly defunct now, with the Delta merger…DL has similar online retailer shopping program – Skymiles Shopping).

Back to School Promotion July thru Sept. – gave double miles on all retailers.

Apple Computers regular 2 miles per dollar, now 4 miles per dollar during the promotion, plus extra 1 mile per dollar if charged to NW Worldperks Visa.  That’s 5 miles per dollar spent.  It was time to buy our daughter her long awaited iMac computer, so with software included, it was $2,000 (she earned over half the money herself winning spelling bee competitions).  Ordered online through Apple (but entering their site from the NWA launch page), we earned 10,000 miles for this one purchase alone.  Same double miles on Old Navy, iTunes, Petsmart, Best Buy and hundreds of other retailers. 

Speaking of iTunes, we never download iTunes directly.  We purchase iTunes gift cards through the airline shopping sites, then email the iTunes gift card instantly to ourselves to redeem online. 

You see what I mean, it adds up faster than you think.  Just think smart, plan ahead, and don’t buy anything until you check your airline’s online shopping program.  Combined with the 25,000 miles you receive for opening a credit card, and you’ll be on your way to Paris by the end of the year!

AA’s current redemption level for US to Europe round trip ticket is 40,000 miles for travel in low season, and 60,000 miles for peak season.  See what I mean by savings in the off-season? 

All material is current at time of publication, but subject to change at any time.  Please check directly with sources mentioned to obtain most current information.


Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act – Review

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Rick Steves deliver a presentation on “Travel as a Political Act” as a fundraiser for Twin Cities Public Television.   Rick is an icon in the world of European travel advice. He shared with us his insight from years of travel, and challenged us to travel with an open mind, and not be dumbed down by a narrow world view. 

Rick is a great storyteller, and has that gift for drawing the audience in, spinning a great tale, weaving anecdotes with education, and opening our eyes to other cultures.

 You can download the presentation as a series of podcasts from iTunes.  Just search for Rick Steves Lecture Series.  You can also watch the lecture here on Rick’s You Tube channel. 

And now Rick has just released a book which fleshes out the theme of his presentation and provides background that has shaped his political views. 

 Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the first chapter:

  •  To get the most out of your travels, plan to get out of your comfort zone, meet the people, seek out new experiences, and view other cultures – as well as our own – with an open mind
  • Seeing how smart people overseas come up with fresh new solutions to the same old problems makes me more humble, open to creative solutions, and ready to question traditional ways of thinking.  We understand how our worldview is both shaped and limited by our family, friends, media and cultural environment.  We become more able to respectfully coexist with people with different “norms” and values.
  • One of the greatest rewards of travel comes from the people you encounter – especially if you’re open to letting them show off a bit and impress you with their culture.  Stow your preconceptions, and relish the opportunity to meet and learn from local experts, whether it’s cheese makers, or owners of a 5th generation family vineyard.
  • Take history seriously, and don’t be dumbed down.  I believe now that if more Americans had a history degree and put it to good use, this world would be better off. Those with a knowledge of history can understand current events in a broader context and respond to them more thoughtfully.
  • My travels have taught me to have a healthy skepticism toward those who peddle fear.  And in so many cases I’ve learned the flip side of fear is understanding.
  • Thirteen thousand people die in the U.S. every year from hand guns.  But we’ve deemed that’s an acceptable trade-off for enjoying our Second Amendment rights.  Europeans (who suffer less than 25% of the per capita gun killings we do) laugh out loud when they hear Americans are staying home for safety reasons. 
  • Every time I’m stuck in a long security line at an airport, I reflect on one of the most concerting results of terrorism:  the very people who would benefit most from international travel – those who needlessly fear people and places they don’t understand – decide to stay home.  I believe the most powerful things individual Americans can do to fight terrorism are to travel a lot, learn about the world, come home with a new perspective, and then work to help our country fit more comfortably and less fearfully into this planet. 

 Other chapters in Rick’s book include:

 –        Lessons from the Former Yugoslavia:  After the War

–        Europe Unites:  Successes and Struggles

–        Resurrection in El Salvador

–        Denmark:  Highly Taxed and Highly Content

–        Turkey and Morocco:  Sampling Secular Islam

–        Europe: Not “Hard on Drugs” or “Soft on Drugs” but Smart on Drugs

–        Mission:  Understand Iran

 I encourage you to check out the book or Lecture Series for Rick’s though-provoking ideas.  And as Rick says:  Keep Traveling!

 Enchanted Traveler

Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act

I’m headed to Minneapolis tomorrow to hear European travel expert Rick Steves deliver a speech on “Travel as a Political Act”, sponsored by Twin Cities Public Television.

As the undisputed expert on travel to Europe, Rick spends 4 months every year traveling and working throughout Europe, recording episodes for TV series, and updating his travel guidebooks.

Spending one third of his adult life living out of a suitcase in Europe has shaped Rick’s thinking. Today he employs 80 people at his Europe Through the Back Door headquarters in Edmonds where he produces 30 guidebooks on European travel, the most popular travel series in America on public television, a weekly hour-long national public radio show, and a weekly column syndicated by the Chicago Tribune.

Rick’s website is a treasure trove of trip planning and advice. You can also download his free audio walking tours for many top sights from iTunes.

I’m so excited for the chance to see Rick again, and I’m bringing my two children with me to hear some of Rick’s wit, wisdom, and insight. I’ll provide updates after the speech!

Rick’s presentation is Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4:00pm at the Riverview Theater. Tickets are $30 at the door (if any tickets remain), and benefit Twin Cities Public Television.

~ Enchanted Traveler