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by Walter and Cherie Glaser

The Many Faces of the French Riviera

Paris: 2002
by Walter Glaser



The French lady collecting her luggage at the airport terminal was speaking
to her American companion. "I'm so happy to be back here for a visit. One
must leave France to really appreciate her."

I know I shouldn't even have been listening, but I almost found myself
nodding in agreement. There is a special magic about France and especially about Paris that defies exact description. Ambience, charm, chic, history, colour, architecture, geography -- all come into it. But somehow I can't define all this with anything even remotely approaching precision. I love France more with each visit and I know exactly what that lady meant.

The layout of this city is unbelievably beautiful. Wide, elegant boulevards,
with large chestnut trees everywhere. Colorful plantings of multi-hued
flower beds enhanced by statues are to be found at nearly every intersection. And the woods and parks which encircle the city are restful havens ideal for strolling or sitting. I realize that Paris has totally captivated me -- as it has done with visitors for so many generations.


There is a multitude of reasons, but the main one is the stunning beauty of
this city. Paris has enthralled visitors for centuries and has been a magnet
for artists, musicians and writers, nearly all of whom have extolled the
virtue of this unique and lovely city which has charmed them with its beauty. Ruskin summed it up when he said: "You who have ever been to Paris, know -- and you who have not been to Paris -- go!! " (John Ruskin, A Tour Through France, 1835).

Yesterday I took a three-hour tour with "Paris Vision", who use a
double-decker bus with multi-lingual recording devices. (With these you set your earphones to your choice from five languages to get the whole background story of the area you are in. Much better than having to listen to glossed-over generalities in five languages of which you can't understand

It was on this tour that I realized what it is that makes Paris so different.
Other cities have splendid sections and areas of interest, but these are
interspersed with dull and often dingy suburbs on the tour route.

Paris however, is a complete feast of beauty -- one magnificent building
after another, each steeped in history. The residential blocks all seem to
have richly carved stonework, lacy wrought-iron balconies, and beautifully
carved wooden doors and doorways. Every building is a work of art in itself, and vies with fountains, monuments and street-gardens for attention.

I won't sing the praises of the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel
Tower because their splendours are known to all. It's the thousands of
individual buildings, erected in the stylish 1800's which make up Paris that
boggle the mind. Each one would, in most other countries, get 'Oohs, 'Aahs' and a National Trust classification.

Even the "uglies", like the Pompidou Center, which looks as if built from
plumber's leftovers, has a grand scale that must be admired. I don't pretend to understand far-out art and architecture and instinctively dislike most of it, but when the French do something, half-measures are not in their vocabulary.

If you are in Paris in summer and take a boat trip along the Seine, you will
get yet another perspective. At 5.00 pm riverbanks are still crowded, with
people everywhere on the sunny embankments, and enough of the sunbathing girls stripped to the waist to make a man's concentration on the architecture somewhat difficult.

Years ago I heard frequent criticism of the French as arrogant, unfriendly
and haughty. If this was once so, there is little trace of it now, although
they are by nature much more reserved and less ebullient than some of their North American, Australian, or Asian counterparts. Many more French people now speak a little English and even with those who don't, patience and a will to communicate somehow seems to get me by without any knowledge of the French language.

Two nights ago I was taken to "The Crazy Horse". I've rarely seen anything as good as this two hour revue which has become a Paris icon -- beautiful girls, great dancing, imaginative staging and a magician who left the audience gasping in disbelief. The only down-side was the smoke-filled
atmosphere -- you will notice a lot of people still smoke in France.

The restaurants are all you'd expect them to be in Paris where the French
take their food very seriously. I bought a pocket restaurant guide (several
versions of these are available at Smith's, the English-language bookstore in the Rue Castiglione) which takes each suburb and rates the leading
restaurants there on a points-out-of-twenty basis. There's a map of each
suburb and a price guide for each. Thanks to this, I have been able to avoid the excessively expensive restaurants and still enjoy superb meals.
Brasseries, too, are a wonderful place to dine for informal meals. My
favorite here is probably the Brasserie Lorraine in the Place des Ternes.

If you are not guided by the local food-critics expertise however, you may
find yourself eating in places that do not live up to the reputation of the
fine Parisian cuisine. I remember wandering into a pizza restaurant off the
Champs Elysee (the one street in Paris which is really 'touristy') and having
the worst meal of its type ever. Spaghetti that had been boiled into
submission till, limp and waterlogged, it had set into a glue-like paste in
which each strand was past separation. You are right if you have guessed
that every person eating there was a foreign tourist!

Price incidentally, is not necessarily a guide to quality when it comes to
Paris dining. Some of the inexpensive establishments serve absolutely
sensational food at prices that are incredibly low. The 'big name'
restaurants can sometimes be too formal for my liking and have price tags
that are way past the means of the average person.

Shopping in Paris is a delight. The merchandise is stylish and generally of
excellent quality, but prices can be steep in comparison to your home
currency. One way to overcome this is to be in France for the mid-year or
end year sales. If you are there at these times, shopping becomes fantastic
because unbelievable bargains abound.

People fall in love with Paris for their own personal reasons. For some it's
the architecture, for others it's the romance, for yet others it's the
culture. Once hooked, one tends to want to go back to this lovely city again and again. It has certainly affected me in the same way as it did Ernest Hemingway when, in a letter to a friend, he wrote in 1950:

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you like a moveable feast."


Best time to go -- March to November. Avoid August if possible as all Europe is on holiday, and Paris can get very hot indeed.

Hints for Paris dining -- When going to any of the recommended restaurants, it is wise to make sure that:-

1. You dress well - conservative - NOT TOURISTY.

2. Get your hotel to make a booking, don't just walk in off the street.
(This will ensure you get an English-speaking waiter, if they have one).

3. Look at the restaurant's average prices in the Gault & Millau book.
Price is NOT necessarily the only guide to quality.

4. See if they have a set menu. If so, try it.

French restaurateurs take great care in balancing their set menus perfectly
-- they are usually better priced and feature the best house specialties.
Meats in France tend to be cooked on the very underdone side and if you order "well done" you will get what would be "rare" at home.

When ordering from waiters who speak little English, smile, speak clearly,
slowly and softly.

If unfamiliar with local wines, Sancerre and Muscadet in whites and
Beaujolais in reds are safe and usually inexpensive wines. If in doubt,
order a "demi" or half bottle to try any label that is unfamiliar. Burgundy
wines are generally light. Bordeaux wines are generally heavier.

If you want to be taken seriously as a diner, order wine, not beer, and never spirits with your meal. A cognac afterwards however, is fine.

Restaurants: (B) = budget -- (M) = medium --- (E) = expensive

Le Grand Vefour, 17 Rue de Beaujolas. Ph: 33 1 42 96 56 27 (E)
This restaurant, which recently received the award of best restaurant in
Paris, is sensational, and if you have to lunch on dry bread for a week, have one meal here! Dinner and wines are expensive, but there is a secret hint of how to make a meal reasonably affordable at this superb three-Michelin-star restaurant with its great history -- go for lunch! First, look it up on the web -- www.relaischateaux.fr/vefour -- to whet your appetite. Order the set lunch menu, and pretend you are a teetotaler unless you have a reasonable budget for wine. You will enjoy the best meal of your life, with the most perfect service and ambience. Ask them for their little English-language card that will give you the fascinating history of this superb restaurant. Then go for a walk in the lovely gardens of the Palais Royal, which this restaurant faces.

Le Petit Colombier, 42 Rue des Acacia. Ph 33 1 43 80 28 54 (E)
Chez Francis, 7 Place d'Alma. Ph 33 1 47 10 86 22 (M)
La Petite Auberge, 38 Rue Laugier. Ph 33 1 47 63 85 51 (M)
La Fermette Marbeuf, 5 Rue Marbeuf. Ph 33 1 47 20 63 53 (M)
(request the Belle Epoque Room)
Relais du Sud Ouest, 148-150 Rue St. Honore, no reservations (B)
Cafe la Jatte, 60 Boulevard Vital Boubot, Neully Sur Seine (M)
Le Bistrot du Breteuil, 3 Place de Breteuil. Ph 33 1 45 67 07 27 (M)
Restaurant du Palais Royal, 110 Galerie de Valois. Ph 33 1 40 20 00 27 (M)
Pizzeria Veronica, 65 Rue St. Dominique. (B)
Restaurant Guy Savoy. 18 Rue Troyon. Ph 33 1 43 80 40 61 (E)

Interesting Paris Hotel:

A four-star hotel we thoroughly enjoy, with great position, service,
English-speaking staff, and excellent rooms, is the Victoria Palace Hotel.
Check it out at www.ila-chateau.com/victoria. This group also have some
outstanding French and international properties. Insiders tip! For the best
deal here, book through the Web and ask for one of the standard rooms ending with No.13. It will NOT be your unlucky number!


Walter Glaser is an international travel-writer based down under in Melbourne, Australia.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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