[I'm doing a mini-series-within-a-series, named the GUS Guides. These are by-no-means-complete travel tips for readers who will be visiting for the first time the European cities i recently went to.]
PARIS. . .City of Blinding Lights, indeed. Not only is Paris billed as the (arguably) "most romantic city in the world", there is a vast array of choices with regards to what to do, see, eat and buy.
Here's some pointers to help you maximize your stay in Paris:
1. Do not just show up at Eiffel Tower.
(Taken from the official website - M. Chazeau)
Not unless you want to get into the horrendous, outdoor queue (estimated waiting time is generally more than one hour).
The best course of action is to plan what day and time you wish to visit the Eiffel Tower, and reserve your ticket online at their official website. When you arrive, you go directly to the line specifically for prepaid/pre-booked ticket holders (whilst directing a smug glance at the poor souls who just showed up, and have been suffering in the queue).
Oh, another thing. Do try to go up from ground level to the 2nd floor (or vice versa) using the stairs (total of 704 steps!), rather than taking the lift. It will make you realize the enormity of this structure.
2. The 'Mona Lisa' is NOT a must-see.
(Photo credit: Travelandtourismtoday.blogspot.com)
If you love architecture, go to the Louvre and debate whether I.M. Pei's glass pyramid (which was built in 1989, and serves as the central entrance to the museum) is a fantastic addition, or a colossal eyesore.
If you love art, go ahead and check out the 35,000 or so works on display. But if you are just going to the Louvre to see Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting 'Mona Lisa', forget it.
It is barely bigger than a postage stamp (yes, i exaggerate, but not by much); and quite frankly, she looks a bit dumpy and creepy.
3. The French are actually very nice people.
Yes, they do pretend not to understand nor speak English. The trick here is for you, dear tourist, to make an effort to learn some basic French words and phrases before your trip.
Not only will it help in asking for directions, reading signs, etc., it disarms the locals when they see a tourist speaking in mangled French, and they will be generally more helpful and pleasant to you.
4. Buy good chocolate.
Paris has a lot of local artisanal chocolate and pastry shops, quite ideal for gift-giving. To put it bluntly, your loved ones will appreciate these goodies much more than the usual mass-market brands like Hershey, Nestle, Lindt, etc.!
La Maison du Chocolat is a good old standby. Check out Choco Paris site for more listings of shops you can visit, mainly in the St. Germain-des-Pres area.
5. Do join a walking tour.
Part of the fun of being in Paris is exploring the different neighborhoods, and you will be spoilt for choice: Latin Quarter, La Marais ("The Marsh"), Montmartre, St. Germain-des-Pres, etc. Joining a walking tour group not only provides you a guide who dishes out historical tidbits and insider gossip, it is a good way to meet fellow tourists as well.
If you are not historically-minded, there is the "Da Vinci Code" walk offered by some tour operators (yes, that novel).
Even more fun would be to just keep on walking around the area(s) of your interest after the tour, savor the scenery, and explore as you go along. So what if you get lost? Ah, that's where those basic French lessons come in.
Ayez beaucoup d'amusement!!