Travel for the ages
Family of former sports editor offers tips on for Paris on a budget. Travel for the ages , By Ann Fisher Jungels
"Paris is Always a Good Idea" - Audrey Hepburn.
Our family's fascination with Paris apparently began in mom's 1953 McCaskey High School French class where she sat mesmerized by a teacher who proclaimed, "Someday, you will all visit Paris!" That was her ticket to grander plans.
Now 60 years later in March 2013, across the bistro table tucking into his onion soup and omelette nature, dad recalled his trips to Paris on leave from the Army in 1951-52 when he leaned over the Eiffel Tower railings -- only up to your waist back then -- to take pictures.
Soon after leaving the Army, dad joined the Lancaster Newspapers (eventually he, Bill Fisher, became the sports editor of the Lancaster Sunday News; he retired in 1996) where he met and married my mom, Arlene, a local artist.
For my sister Mary's 50th birthday, we all headed to Paris, City of Light and our dreams. Herewith, a few tips for those later in life' trips:
lBook the right trip: Hotel location is critical. We stayed on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, a lively ancient cobblestoned street that has a dozen bistros a block, offering comfortable French country to trendy ethnic food.
Every night we simply walked around the corner to eat home-cooked 3-course meals for $12-15 (10-12 euros) each. Two blocks away, a Metro and bus stop are located at the Place Monge market, open Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Check out go-today.com for great prices but do spend time selecting the best options. We spent a little extra to upgrade the hotel, shuttle service to/from airport, travel insurance and flying direct. ($899 for six nights in Paris, +$60 for Comfort Hotel Mouffetard, $26 shuttle service, $119 insurance, $147 direct vs. one-stop flight is $1,251). For the best prices, travel off-season.
lUse public transportation (and keep emergency money for cabs): Fifteen years younger, the Metro was fine.
Now, mom felt claustrophobic and dad's knees did not like all the Metro steps. We mostly opted for the bus, which gave us great inexpensive sightseeing tours through all the neighborhoods. Buy a Paris travel pass (parismetro.com).
lStart up, walk down: Parts of the city are very hilly. When visiting Pere Lachaise cemetery, we took the No. 69 bus past the main around to the rear entrance, starting at the top of the hill where all the famous gravesites are.
In Montmartre, we started at Sacre Coeur and wandered down through the artists' square. Count steps and distances when deciding on what attractions to visit. We passed on the Catacombs because you must descend 213 steps and it is nearly a mile-long underground.
lBreak the day into quarters not thirds: 1. Museum in the morning. Leisurely lunch. 2. Attraction/event in the afternoon. 3. Rest at the hotel for mom and dad; my sister and I would stagger through another fantastic museum exhibition. 4. Leisurely late dinner. Enough!
We loved those languid meals at adorable bistros, drinking superb cafe au lait, hot chocolate and wine, laughing, chatting up our fellow travelers or even local Parisians.
At the famous Brasserie Lipp on Saint Germain des Pres, we spied two little old ladies in the corner tucking into their Napoleons (mille-feuilles).
"The best in the city," said the locals next to us so, of course, we had to try them. At Versailles, we stumbled onto an outpost of the famous Angelina's where we ate lunch and sampled their decadent hot chocolate l'Africain.
lUse Free or Inexpensive Passes: The Paris Museum Pass allowed us to bypass all ticket lines (parismuseum pass.com).
Some of our favorite activities were free, found on the internet before we left. Galeries Lafayette has a free fashion show every Friday afternoon.
The Hotel de Ville had two free exhibitions -- "Paris Haute Couture" and "WWII Resistance." At Place des Vosges we stumbled onto the tiny, free museum of Victor Hugo (of "Les Miserable" fame). The gothic Sainte Sulpice church (of 'The Da Vinci Code' fame) had a free organ concert for Lent that I talked everyone into.
About 15 minutes in, as a Frenchman spoke far too much and the organ played another depressing Brahms fugue, my sister started reading, mom applied her lipstick and dad muttered "Let's go, Mac!" Oh well.
lThrow the Old Guy Under the Bus: One of the best views of Paris is from the 32nd floor of the Hotel Concorde La Fayette just beyond the Arch of Triumph. Our Paris friend told us to forget going up the Montparnasse Tower and to do this instead. Make sure to sit on the left where you can see the Arch and Eiffel Tower, she said, the view is stunning. That it is.
The other thing that is stunning are the prices -- $17 for a coke, $15 for a coffee, $22 for a beer.
This is where I started to throw dad under the bus. While he went to the rest room, we took our pictures, nonchalantly left our window seat and headed out.
I said to our chic Parisian hostess, "My dad suddenly is not feeling well. He is 84, you know." She smiled sympathetically and nodded. "I understand completely."
We told dad this story at the airport when we were leaving. He laughed. "Really? I wouldn't have had any problem telling them their prices were way too expensive!"
Ann Fisher Jungels is a freelance writer based in South Jersey. She interned for the Lancaster New Era in 1982.