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If you’re coming to Paris this summer or fall, here are some things to make sure you know before visiting three of the most popular sites.

Versailles

If you visit Versailles with a museum pass, it does NOT include access to the gardens on the days of the Musical Fountains Show (weekends through October 27th) or the Musical Gardens (Tuesday and Fridays through October 29th). Anyone over the age of 5 will need to purchase garden tickets, and I recommend you do this in advance on the official website so you don’t have to stand in line under the hot sun with everyone else who didn’t realize their museums passes don’t include the gardens.

Note: The Versailles Passport DOES include entrance to all areas of the château and domain.

The Louvre

If you’re planning on visiting the Louvre, be aware that there are massive renovations going on inside. That means the Mona Lisa has been moved to Room 801, the Apollo Gallery (pictured) is closed, and many paintings from Girodet, Titien, and David are not on display (ie Wedding at Cana, Napoléon’s Coronation).

Also a reminder that timed entry tickets are available at the Louvre’s official website so you don’t have to face long waiting times to get inside, even without the overpriced "skip-the-line" tickets sold by tour operators.

Eiffel Tower

In addition to raising its prices by 50% last year, the Eiffel Tower has also changed which tickets are available online and on-site.

On their official website: you can purchase timed-entry tickets to the 2nd level (via stairs or lift) and tickets to the top via lift, up to two months in advance.

Note: ALL Eiffel Tower tickets purchased on their website are “skip the line” tickets because you have a specific time that you can access the lift without waiting. Avoid the overpriced tour operator tickets.

On-site: You have additional options at the Eiffel Tower to purchase tickets to the 2nd level by stairs, or to the top via stairs + lift. These tickets are first come, first served. Going after 9pm will greatly reduce the chances of standing in line.

Note: You can NO LONGER purchase a summit lift ticket from the 2nd floor: “The choice of destination is made when purchasing the ticket. If you have opted to visit the 2nd floor you will not be given the possibility of buying an additional ticket for the top.” A lot of websites still incorrectly state this can be done, don't be fooled.

All tickets include access to the 1st level terrace: "The Spring/Summer terrace celebrates 2019, the 130th birthday of the Eiffel Tower, whose construction was completed in 1889: inaugurated on March 31st, then opened to the public on May 15th for the Universal Exposition. In a verdant, tree-filled setting, set against a golden 'little sister' version of the Tower, a monumental sculpture 2.5 meters high, you can enjoy ample seating and low or high tables to take a break and savor a snack or refreshment offered at the adjoining bars."

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There’s so much confusion over the laws about drinking alcohol in France, from the legal drinking age to where and when you can consume alcohol in public in Paris, that I thought it was time to lay it all out for you.

First, the legal drinking age for ALL alcoholic beverages in France is 18.

The French government's official website, Service-Public.fr makes it clear on their page on "Drunkenness-Alcoholism" (translated from the French): "Minors cannot buy or consume alcohol in public places." 

Furthermore, this notice can be found posted in every establishment that sells or serves alcohol:

Translation:

IT IS FORBIDDEN TO SELL ALCOHOL TO MINORS UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE.
The person delivering the drink may require proof from the customer of his or her age, in particular by producing an identity document. It is illegal to offer alcohol free of charge to minors in drinking establishments, shops, or public places. It is illegal to receive minors under the age of 16 in alcoholic beverage establishments who are not accompanied by a parent or a responsible adult.
 
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO OFFER ALCOHOLIC DRINKS AT REDUCED PRICES FOR A LIMITED PERIOD OF TIME ("HAPPY HOURS") WITHOUT ALSO OFFERING OVER THE SAME PERIOD OF TIME ALCOHOL-FREE DRINKS AT REDUCED PRICES.
 
IT IS FORBIDDEN FOR BAR OWNERS TO TO GIVE DRINKS TO PEOPLE OBVIOUSLY DRUNK OR TO RECEIVE THEM IN THEIR INSTITUTIONS.
 

IT IS FORBIDDEN TO BE IN A STATE OF INTOXICATION IN PUBLIC PLACES.

Not so complicated, right? Except that once upon a time it was legal for 16-year-olds to drink “fermented beverages” such as beer, wine and cider (but not hard liquor). That law changed in March 2009 once the French teenagers discovered the joys of binge drinking. When I was a student in the 90s, only the American and British students were drinking until vomiting, while the French looked at us like we were crazy. But in the past decade, French kids started turning up en masse each weekend in hospitals with alcohol poisoning, or completely trashing public spaces like the Champ de Mars after receiving their Bac, so the authorities have cracked down.

However, when I updated this information on my website's "Smoking & Drinking" page, ten years later people are still emailing me insisting I’m wrong. Sorry folks. The party is over. If you're interested in the exact legalese, you can read the detailed laws (and the dates they were changed) of the Public Health Code here: Article L.3342-1, L.3342-3

Open Container Laws Have Changed in Paris (and glass bottles are a no no)

In fact, not only are you not allowed to be caught with alcohol under the age of 18, the City of Paris keeps adding more restrictions to where and when alcohol – and even non-alcoholic beverages in glass bottles (because the broken glass left behind has become a nuisance) -- can be consumed in public. Gone are the days of being able to crack open a bottle of wine anytime and anywhere (as long as you had a corkscrew). 

The latest directive from the Prefecture de Police Arrêté n°2019-00562, published on June 24th this year, prohibits the consumption or carrying of alcoholic beverages AND ALL BEVERAGES IN GLASS BOTTLES (even for non-alcoholic beverages) on the quays of the Seine between midnight and 7am, including the Ile St-Louis, Ile de la Cité, the Left Bank from Pont Mirabeau to Pont d’Iéna and Pont Royal to Pont de Tolbiac, and on the Right Bank from Pont de Bir Hakeim to Pont de Tolbiac. You can still drink after midnight in bars and péniches on the Seine as long as you remain on their designated terraces (and obviously drink their alcohol, not yours).

Unfortunately these laws are actually quite complicated and hard to follow because each arrondissement's mayor can make their own neighborhood-specific rules, and these change often. Official government websites (Mairie de Paris, local mairies, the Prefecture de Police, and Service-Public.fr) are the only ones I trust to give updated information, so I will try and include the English translations on the Smoking & Drinking page of this site as I learn about them. This is what I've confirmed so far:

Alcohol is not allowed on the Champs de Mars and other green spaces surrounding the Eiffel Tower between 4pm and 7am, as well as on the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Bastille, the Rue d’Oberkampf, almost the entire 18th arrondissement, and the Canal St-Martin (which is extended a bit from 9pm-7am).

"But I see people drinking at night all of the time!"

Clearly no one got the memo. But that doesn’t mean the police patrolling the parks and quays won’t visit your picnic to ask that you dispose of your bottles. Because they aren’t the jerks everyone thinks they are, as long as you’re otherwise behaving yourselves and don’t seem drunk, they usually give you a warning on the first pass (try that in the USA), but if they come back an hour later and you’re still sipping your pastis, they will confiscate your alcohol and possibly give you a fine (up to €7500).

Since it’s hard to be sure 100% of the time where and when adults 18 and over can drink in public, if you don’t want the police to break up your picnic then avoid glass bottles completely (wine in a box has improved over the years), and avoid drawing attention to yourselves by keeping your alcohol in unmarked containers or tucked away in a bag. And do I really need to remind you to clean up after yourselves? Judging by the state of the parks and quays in the morning (and the number of rats running around gorging themselves on the leftovers), clearly we can do better. Public trashcans full? You hauled your stuff all the way out there; you can haul it all back to your home to dispose of it properly if needed. Encourage your entourage and neighboring picnickers to do the same. It would be a shame if France finally decides to go the way of the US with their strict open container laws.

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If you haven’t yet been to Ground Control, imagine an enormous, disaffected hangar behind Paris' Gare de Lyon train station transformed into a community space for locals, families, visitors, the “libres et curieux”, where you can eat, shop, celebrate, learn and make art, all in a spirit of sustainability, solidarity, cultural exchange, and camaraderie. It's the latest incarnation of a project that started in 2014, and which I wrote about in 2016 when it was called Grand Train out in the old SNCF hangar in the 18th arrondissement.

One of the reasons I wanted to check it out was for the food. Outside there are a half dozen food trucks (well, food "busses" actually), like this one serving Indian cuisine. I had an amazing "Green Piece" vegan burger at the Mona bus, which came with amazing fries and homemade ketchup (why don't more places do this?) There is plenty of outdoor seating with tables and parasols to keep the sun or rain away. Inside the hangar is a vast indoor food hall with more stands, seating, and the bars to get your drinks (all cups and bottles include a €1 deposit that you get back when you return them to the bar). 

One of the restaurants making the most buzz in the press is La Résidence (the one on the far left in my crappy photo below), which opened as the first permanent space dedicated to refugee chefs, created after the annual Refugee Food Festival. The menu changes every 2-6 months as the chefs rotate, with specialities from their homeland, such as India, Syria, and Georgia.

"Wherever they are from, all the chefs invited to officiate at La Résidence are professional cooks looking for a new experience. This restaurant is destined to be a professional stepping stone: accompanied by chefs Stéphane Jego (L’Ami Jean) and Mohammad Elkhaldy, the guest chefs can use this space to express themselves, test their cooking and refine their talents."

There are a few shops, all in the "local, ethical, sustainable" vein that Ground Control aims to promote. La Boutique has home decor, accessories, some clothing, and even furniture. The reproduction vintage SNCF train posters they sell are usually hard to find in Paris. Plantes pour Tous also has a permanent home here for those looking for affordable ways to add a little greenery to their Parisian apartment. Finally, because it's France, of course there's a bookshop, Charybde, that holds regular literary events. 

When was the last time you played pinball? Ground Control's Vidéodrome has a dozen machines. 

It was pretty quiet on the Sunday afternoon I visited at 2pm, but there is a pretty solid schedule of regular events: concerts, classes, yoga, dance parties, kids' art workshops, adults arts workshops (they don't get all the fun!) and cultural events like the current expo on the moon. Check out the agenda here.

The main entrance for Ground Control is at 81 rue Charolais, 12th. After 10:30pm, the entrance is at #87.

And, like out of some warped Harry Potter episode, you can also enter directly from the train station by following the path to the left of platform 23.

On your right is platform (quai) 23 at Gare de Lyon. On the left is the bus terminal. Walk in between them through this parking lot.

On the left you'll finally see this sign pointing you to the left. 

Et voila, about 3 minutes from Gare de Lyon here you are! Ground Control is open Wednesday through Friday from noon-midnight, Saturday 11am-midnight, and Sunday 11am-10:30pm. No pets, and no outside food/drink allowed.

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There's much to see and do on and around La Fête Nationale, aka Bastille Day, July 14th. This is a rundown of just some of the best options, including the dance parties, parade, and fireworks show, as well as some logistical tips on using public transportation and what shops and museums are open. 

Note that Sunday is also the semi-finals match between Algeria and Nigeria for the Africa Cup of Nations. If Algeria wins, there will be thousands of fans pouring into the streets in Paris to celebrate just as the fireworks show starts.

Read more...

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Secrets of Paris by Heather Stimmler-hall - 1M ago

Paris is in the middle of its second heatwave of the year, so I thought it was a good time to dig into the Secrets of Paris archives to answer the question so many visitors have asked: "Is it okay to wear shorts in Paris?" 

Read more...

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Travel writing is a genre already riddled with clichés, but Paris is in a class of its own for inspiring a never-ending literary parade of tired descriptions, hackneyed imagery, and nauseating hyperbole. And frankly, the City of Light deserves better. A dive into the Secrets of Paris archives reveals some of the worst offenders! Read more...
 
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Secrets of Paris by Heather Stimmler-hall - 1M ago


Now that the weather is (mostly) conducive to getting around Paris by bicycle, I thought it would be a good time to update the information about using the City of Paris’s municipal bike-share system known as Vélib. It’s had a rocky few years after switching service providers, and while there are still a few bugs to work out, I’ve found them to be pretty reliable for the casual cyclist.

Whether you’ve used them before or are a first-timer, here are a few useful tips on the bikes, how to set up an account, and how to use them.

Most Important Takeaways:

  • Vélib has regular bikes (green) and electric-assisted bikes (blue)
  • Sign up for ALL passes (including 24-hour or 7-day passes) online, NOT directly at the bike station “bornes” (there have been issues with people putting in their credit card info and then not receiving the account number or passcode to be able to check out the bikes).
  • There’s a FREE pass for residents that only charges you if you actually use a bike (this “pay as you go” option is slightly more expensive, but great for the occasional user who wants the option to grab a bike at any moment without fuss).

About the Vélib Bikes

There are two kinds of Vélib:

  1. regular bikes (green)
  2. electric-assisted bikes (blue). These still need to be pedaled to work, but they give you a little push, especially going uphill, and can reach 25kph.

Both have baskets, mud guards, headlights, and locks for when you need to pop into a shop quickly. Unlike the many “dockless” bikes that you might see around Paris (although they’ve been almost completely replaced by electric scooters now), the Vélibs are all docked bikes, with several hundred “stations” situated throughout Paris and the immediate.

Subscription Options and Passes

There are 2 “one-off” passes that anyone with a credit card can use, and 3 “subscription” options that are for residents or long-term visitors.

1. The one-off passes for casual users are the 24-hour “V-Découverte” and the 7-day “V-Séjour”. Both of these passes allow you to take up to 5 bikes at a time with one account, so it’s perfect for small groups or a family who want to pay with one credit card. There are two fees to take into account, the fixed “pass” fee just to sign up (charged right away whether you ever use the bikes or not) and the actual rental fee for the time you use the bikes. The 24-hour pass is €5 per bike, and the 7-day pass is €15 per bike. You get an account number and a PIN you need to keep for the duration of your pass to be able to take a bike.  The rental fee for the actual time used is the same for both passes:
      
  a. Green bikes are free for up to 30 minutes. If you don’t return your bike to a station after 30 minutes, your credit card will be charged €1 for each additional half hour. You can use the bike as many times as you want without paying more than the pass fee as long as you switch bikes every 30 minutes. 
 
      b. Blue electric bikes are €1 for the first 30 minutes, then €2 for each additional 30-minute period. It’s cheaper to keep switching bikes, but more convenient to keep the same one (since there are far fewer electric bikes available, they’re harder to find, and sometimes the ones you find aren’t finished recharging).
     
2. There are three different subscriptions that are for those who live in Paris, adapted to the frequency of use. All three work with a physical card that will be sent to you (or added to your Navigo card): 
     
  a. “V-Libre” is a pay-as-you-go account for occasional users. It costs nothing to subscribe, but charges you €1 per 30 minutes for the green bikes and €2 per 30 minutes for the blue bikes. If you never use the bikes, you aren’t charged anything at all. I recommend everyone to get this even if they think they’ll never use the bikes, because in a pinch you’ve got the card to grab one and go. 
     
b. “V-Plus” is a monthly (€3.10) or annual (€37.20) subscription for those who use the bikes more than four times per month. With this subscription you get 30 minutes for free on the green bikes, then €1 per additional 30-minute rental, and €1 for the blue bike rentals plus €2 for each additional 30-minute rental.
     
     c. “V-Max” is a fixed monthly (€8.30) or annual (€99.60) account for regular users that includes 60-minute rides on green bikes and 30-minute rides on the blue bikes. After that, the additional times is €1 per 30 minutes for either bike. This is an awesome deal if you want to use the electric bikes every day of the year for short journeys (less than 30 minutes each trip). 
     

Getting Started

Before you start, you’ll need to get an account (even for a Day Pass) and – especially if you’re planning on using it more than once – the smartphone app. For both (available in English), visit: https://www.velib-metropole.fr/

NOTE: As of June 2019 they are still having “issues” with registering for passes directly at the bike stations (I confirmed this by testing it with a friend and then calling the customer service number), so to avoid any unhappy surprises, sign up online and WRITE DOWN YOUR REGISTRATION ID# and PIN! .

Once you have registered online for the pass you have chosen, you will immediately receive an eight-digit subscription ID# and a PIN (the PIN is chosen by you). WRITE THESE DOWN (or store in your phone), as you’ll need them to check out a bike (for the monthly or annual pass holders, you’ll need these until your card arrives in the mail).

Regular (green) and electric (blue) bikes at a docking station (tip: don't use that "borne" terminal on the right). 

Check Out a Bike

Once you have your ID# and PIN, you can check out a bike(s). You can find available bikes using the website or the smartphone (updated in real-time), although they are pretty easy to spot around Paris (TIP: the bus shelter maps show the nearest Vélib stations).

Do a quick check to make sure the bike you want isn’t broken:

  • Both wheels have air
  • All parts including pedals, seat, and handlebars are intact
  • Spin the pedals backwards to make sure chain isn’t blocked
  • Make sure the seat can be adjusted if needed
  • If the seat is facing backwards, it means the last person who used it found an issue (so don’t check this bike out!)

Once all looks good, you can checkout the bike directly on the bike's electric display unit known as the “V-box” (DO NOT try to use the "borne" terminal to check out a bike!). It will then ask for your eight-digit ID#, and then the four-digit PIN (push the green check button after entering the numbers). For those who have a physical card, you just wave this in front of the V-Box and it reads the info automatically, so you don’t need to enter any numbers. If all is good, it will display “Go!” and you can remove your bike from the docking station and start riding.

Adjust the seat and make sure the brakes work before you go flying down a hill into traffic. Et voila!

Note: If there is an issue with the bike (ie an electric bike not charged completely, or a regular bike that hasn’t been returned correctly) it won’t allow you to check it out, just try another bike. Sometimes whole stations are blocked (for example, if it’s on a parade or protest march route that day).  

This is the "V-Box" on each bike. You checkout your bike right here, using the green checkmark button.

Locking the Bike for a Temporary Pause

If you want to pop into the bakery or otherwise leave your bike momentarily without returning it to a station, you can lock your Vélib in two ways (see this video to get a better visual: https://youtu.be/gLBd4Pe9-RY):

  • Once stopped, put down the kickstand and push the tip of the left handlebar to eject the cable lock cleverly hidden in the tip of the right handlebar. You lock this into the little slot at the “neck” of the bike where the handlebars meet the frame. Then push the green checkmark and you’ll see “Pause” displayed; you will need to confirm this with your card or enter your PIN. You’ll then see a padlock symbol to confirm.
  • You can simply block the handlebars from moving (a bit like when you lock your car’s steering wheel) without using the cable lock. Just press the green checkmark and you’ll see “Pause” displayed; you will need to confirm this with your card or enter your PIN. Turn the handlebars until you feel it block into locked position. You’ll then see a padlock symbol to confirm.

To release your bike again, push the green check button and use your card or enter your PIN again to confirm, and it will release the cable and the locked steering, so you’re ready to continue rolling.

Returning the Bike

When you’re ready to return your bike, just find the nearest station (you can find stations with open spaces listed on the app and website) and slide the front wheel back into the docking station slot. Keep your eye on the V-Box display: it will show the time you used the bike then a “Stop” sign, and then the display will turn off. Give the bike a little tug to confirm it’s locked in there, then you’re good! You’ll receive a confirmation email each time you return your bike.

If you want to use it longer than the free time you have on your pass (usually 30 minutes) without paying, simply stop at a station and plug it back in, confirm it says “Stop” on the screen, and then just check it out again (unless the bike sucks, in which case you’ll want to grab a different bike).

Note: Don’t forget to turn the seat around if your bike isn’t working properly to signal to other riders and the Vélib staff that it’s broken.

For V-Plus and V-Max subscribers: Hate it when you can’t find a free spot? The new Vélibs give you the special option of returning your bike to “full” stations by locking the bike cable to another bike in the docking station. Watch the video here to see how it’s done: https://youtu.be/jaHzRHFmyHs.

IF YOU HAVE ANY ISSUES: call customer service (open 8am-10pm on weekdays, 9am-10pm Saturdays, and 9am-7pm Sundays and holidays): 01 76 49 12 34

Ride safely!

I know none of you are wearing helmets or yellow safety vests, but at least don’t forget one rule: never ride between a large vehicle (like a truck or bus) and the sidewalk just before an intersection, because they may not see you when turning right and you’ll get squashed. Stay behind or pass on the left so the drivers can see you. I know it's no fun sucking on exhaust fumes, but you'll have to bear it until you can get to a less congested area to ride or stick to the separated bike paths all over Paris.

Even if you have priority, be sure to look out for pedestrians (use that bell!) and electric “trottinettes” (we call them scooters in English, but they aren’t the same as motor scooters), which are everywhere in Paris now and often driven by people who have no idea what they’re doing (or the rules of the road).

PS: The "bornes" at each docking station are useless for getting your pass or checking out a bike, but they DO serve one great purpose: charging your USB devices! 

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Secrets of Paris by Heather Stimmler-hall - 2M ago

The actual Disneyland Paris

I've been pondering this question for the past few months and thought I'd put it to the Secrets of Paris community. "The Disneyfication of Paris" is a phrase that's thrown around a lot, especially after the French film Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (aka Amélie) became one of the biggest hits of 2001 despite the angry critics who said the director showed a fairy-tale version of Paris, not the "real" city. 

The topic has come up again when the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet announced last week that he was going to make a "mockumentary" about the making of the film for its 20th anniversary, but that he was never going to make a sequel because, among other logical reasons, "Paris est moche maintenant" (Paris is ugly now). That got the critics all riled up once again, of course.

But Amélie and Disneyland itself aside (both which I love, by the way), I'm genuinely curious what it means to all of you when you hear the phrase "Disneyfication of Paris". Clearly this is never used without a negative connotation, so let's go with that as the basis. And although this phenomenon applies to other locations around the world, let's just stick to Paris. 

Let me know what you think in the comments below, including any examples of what you might consider to be "Disneyfication" in general or specifically. All opinions welcome to open the conversation. There are no correct answers!

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The 15th-century Hôtel de Sens is one of the few remaining examples of medieval civil architecture in Paris. It was originally built by a bishop, but its most illustrious resident was the first wife of Henri IV, Reine Margot de Valois. After the 1789 Revolution it was sold off and used to house different businesses over the years, which slowly degraded it until it was finally declared a historic monument in 1862 and became home to a library, the Bibliothèque Forney. It was purchased by the City of Paris in 1911 and slowly restored to its former glory.

Today the Bibliothèque Forney houses the city's special collection of decorative arts, crafts, and applied arts (fashion, design, graphics). It's known for having the largest collection of historic posters in France, as well as wallpapers, postcards, and textile samples. To peruse and check out the collections (you can regularly see interesting glimpses of them displayed on their FB page), you'll need a municipal library card for Paris' specialized libraries, however to get this you'll need to be a Parisian resident (proof such as a resident Visa if you're not French). 

Visitors without a library card can enjoy the free exhibits in the Gallery, open Tuesday-Saturday 1-7pm. The current exhibition through July 13th features the colorful and whimsical work of the French illustrator who studied under Matisse, Jacqueline Duhême. There are free tours of the exposition (in French) every Saturday at 3pm. Note that it's closed for municipal holidays May 30th and June 8th.

If you don't have time (or interest) for an art exposition, it's still worth stopping into the courtyard if you're in the St-Paul district of the Marais to admire the architecture (there's also a restroom directly off the courtyard, and a little coffee machine just inside the lobby of the library). Around the back is one of the lovely little municipal gardens, a modern take on the formal French gardens that would have been in vogue during the 17th century. 

Bibliothèque Forney
Hôtel de Sens
1, rue du Figuier, 4th
M° 
Pont Marie or Saint-Paul

Read more about its history here (English)

Details about the library and its collections (French)


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