Pauline Frommer and Margie Rynn, author of Pauline Frommer's Paris, join host Kelly Regan to share tips for how to spend less and see more in the City of Light. Listen and discover why Paris has some of the cheapest accommodations of any Western European capital (including a surprising number of B&Bs); where to find Margie's favorite "neo-bistro," and how to enjoy a magnifique meal without spending a fortune; how to see the city by rollerblade; where to find Parisians arguing in "philosophy cafes;" and what is Pauline's very favorite Paris experience.
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Top Tips from This Podcast
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- Things to do: Rollerblading tours, cooking & wine classes, philosophy cafes
- Places to go: Musee Carnavalet, Petite Palais, Luxembourg Gardens
- How to save: Avoid hotels, rent a room in an apartment or stay at a bed and breakfast. Prepare your own meals.
- Where to eat: Mom and Pop eateries, ethnic restaurants, Neo-Bistro's
- Restaurants of note: The Prever, Le Tan de Serine
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Kelly Regan: Hi and welcome to the Frommers.com podcast, the latest in our continuing conversations about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's travel guides. I will be your host. My guests today are Pauline Frommer, who is the creator and the series editor of our new Pauline Frommer's travel guides and Margie Rynn, a freelance writer who has been living in Paris for seven years who has worked on a number of Frommers guides and who also is a contributor to Budget Travel Magazine. Margie is the author of our new book, Pauline Frommer's Paris. Margie and Pauline are here to talk about how to spend less and see more in Paris. So, Pauline, Margie. Welcome. Thanks for being here.
Pauline Frommer: Oh thanks for having us.
Margie Rynn: Thanks for having us.
Kelly: Sure. Pauline, I wanted to start with you. Just what in general makes Paris a particularly good destination for budget travelers.
Pauline: I don't think it is a good destination for budget travelers.
Pauline: to be honest. I think it's just a great destination period.
Pauline: I mean every American, every person on earth should see Paris one time in their lifetime. There is no city on earth, I think, that is as beautiful, that's as filled with history, that has such incredible food, such incredible window shopping with the price of the Euro, it is hard to go shopping nowadays.
Margie: It's hard to go shopping.
Pauline: There are some things that make it OK for budget travelers. Actually, the cost of accommodations are less than they are in many other major Western European cities.
Pauline: So that's in the budget traveler's favor. Also in the budget traveler's favor is the abundance of ethnic restaurants and little Mom and Pop eateries that you can go to and there are times when some of the sightseeing is free which I am sure Margie will talk about it later.
Pauline: It is rough Western Europe is rough for travelers right now because of the strength of the Euro.
Kelly: Strength of the Euro.
Pauline: It doesn't mean that you shouldn't go and in this book we give you every trick under the sun for how to afford it.
Kelly: OK that's great. So Margie let's ask you, one of the things I liked so much about the book, and what I like about the series in general is your book tells you how to get inside the city and tell people how to experience the destination like a local or you know, live like the locals do and there is a great chapter in all of the Pauline Frommer guides called The Other, where The Other Paris, The Other London like that where you recommend ways to get off the beaten path and really experience the heart of the culture. So I would like to talk about a few of those things for a moment that are specific to Paris and the suggestions in your chapter that particularly intrigued me were the opportunity to take cooking and wine tasting classes but also I was really intrigued by these Friday night rollerblading tours of the city which sound pretty spectacular. Can you talk about those for a minute?
Pauline: Oh sure. I know that you don't really think of Parisians on rollerblades, kind of a surprising thing but there are a lot of things going on in Paris that don't fit in with the stereotypes. This one, it's really wild. I mean, it is literally thousands of people on rollerblades dashing through the streets and apparently this has been going on for over ten years and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and now it is so big that some nights there are 15,000 skaters.
Kelly: Oh God.
Pauline: They had to get the city involved so they asked the police department and now there is actually a police brigade on rollerskates.
Pauline: that rolls along with them.
Pauline: But it is really incredible. The Friday night one is for advance people but it's amazing this river of roller blades in Boulevard St. Germain in the middle of Paris very late at night, too, so there's not many cars.
Kelly: What kind of places can you see on the tour?
Pauline: I think they change it every night. It always starts at the foot of the Tour Montparnasse, the one big skyscraper in Paris. It changes every Friday night. So you might get through St Germain. You might go through around where the Amalee. You just sort of follow the flow. Obviously you can't take in specific monuments because you are going by too fast but you get the feeling of Paris. Paris at night is so beautiful.
Pauline: just seeing the night sky, the lighting, the Louvre. It is so magnificent.
Kelly: Yeah it sounds like it. The other thing that you talk about in the Other chapter is the opportunity to take cooking and wine tasting classes and I think that people might not necessarily associate that with a trip to Paris. They might just associate the drinking of the wine, [laugh] the eating of the food, not so much the learning about it and so what is it about those that you've experienced that you think really makes them worth doing?
Pauline: For wine, for example, there is one thing that I just thought is really wonderful it's called Au Chateau and it's a young somolie named Dole Mani, who has basically his classes are for English speaking foreigners who are in France and want to drink wine. So many people get totally intimidated by the whole idea of French wine.
Pauline: His whole thing is to demystify it. It's fun. He does it in English. It is very kick back. It's not a whole dissection of what wine is all about.
Pauline: but just to give you a general feeing of it so when you go out you can say I know what a Bordeaux is, less overwhelmed. So I think that's a really nice one.
The cooking classes a lot of people do associate France with food but yeah now there is more and more cooking classes where you can come in even if you are only in town for a few days you can do sort of a one shot cooking class and learn something really extraordinary with a major cook and French people do this too. They are getting to be very popular. There is one of them that has it during lunch hours so people dash out of their offices.
Pauline: and make a souffle. Why not? They are pretty accessible to tourists.
Margie: One of my favorite of the other activities that you found are the philosophy cafes.
Margie: Why not? You know. Yeah, but they are pretty accessible to tourists, yeah.
Pauline: One of my favorite of the other activities that you've found were the philosophy cafes because you think of the French being so argumentative and really into debate. They love to hash out ideas and political thought and discuss politics and the fact that there are now these philosophy cafes in English so you, too, can go to France and argue.
Pauline: There's a wonderful, wonderful such a Parisian way, such a Parisian activity to engage in and so intellectually stimulating. I thought that was a fascinating movement. Can you talk just a moment about that, as well?
Margie: Well, it's interesting because philosophy is, this is a country where philosophers often get articles on the front page of the biggest magazine, I mean the biggest newspaper which is La Monde and everybody takes philosophy when they are about ten years old up until through college. So it is part of French culture and yes, now there are a couple of very well established, especially one of them, which I mentioned in the book, which I don't have right in front of me, but very well established meetings that happen once a week or whenever they are going to get together. One of them is run by a woman. She has a doctorate in philosophy and has lived in France for years and years. It is really interesting. It's nice because it is moderated not just a bunch of people.
Pauline: yelling at each other.
Margie: yelling at each other. There is always a theme. She even has themed dinners, so you can enjoy the food and wine aspect too. It is, it's a great way to sort of get in, even if you are not necessarily speaking with French people, you are dealing with an aspect of French culture and you are getting a little closer to what that's all about and how French people think.
Kelly: Right. I mean it sounds like a great entree to finding out what people are thinking about, what they are talking about, and just, you know again, a way to make a connection that you might not be able to make otherwise.
OK Margie, now let's talk a minute just the things to see and do in Paris while we are on this subject. Paris might not be as good a city as someplace like London for having a lot of free museums and things like that but there still are definitely ways that you can save money on attractions and on things to see and do while you are there and I wanted you to talk a little bit about some of those ideas. I know that some of the city museums are free and that at the big museums like the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsey that there are free days that you can go visit.
Margie: Well, yes, that's true, ever since, well ever since 2000, all of the city museums are free in Paris and so that includes some of the really great ones like the Musee Carnavalet which is a museum of the history of Paris and the Petite Palais which just reopened which is a really nice art museum which covers several centuries worth of art. So those you can just wander into without paying which is just great and then also all of the national museums like the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsey and a bunch of other ones are free on the first Sunday of every month. On the other hand, they are usually mobbed that day.
Margie: but they are free. I want to bring up that you don't necessarily have to go to a museum or a site in Paris and that's the great thing. You can just walk around. Paris is a real walking city. It is not that big. There are so many beautiful things to see in one little neighborhood just with the architecture, little alleys and things like that.
Margie: and wandering around is free there.
Kelly: [laughter] Just the cost of a good pair of shoes, a good pair of walking shoes. Yeah and also I think if you are going into a lot of the churches, that's free as well.
Margie: Oh that's true.
Kelly: Sometimes if you want to go to the top of a tower, the top of the dome of a church, you have to pay just a small admission but you just walk in and take in the art that's inside the church, I think for the most part that's free, as well.
Margie: Oh that's true and some of those churches are museums in themselves.
Margie: and are filled with artwork. Also, depending on the season spring or summer if you look in the cultural listings there are free concerts. There are free events.
Kelly: Outdoors just to get people outdoors.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah. I think that's a great point. Well Pauline, you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that Paris has actually a larger number of more affordable accommodations than many other western European cities. There's some great information in the book about how to break out of the traditional tourist mode when choosing a place to stay. So there are places mentioned like apartment rentals and B&Bs and B&Bs are something I really wouldn't associate with Paris. To me it feels like a very London phenomena.
Pauline: Yes B&Bs were started in England. That's where the whole concept developed. It is a very new cutting edge thing in Paris that Margie has done such an amazing job researching because you think of the French as being rather reserved.
Pauline: so renting a room in someone's apartment would seem to be very autre.
Pauline: But it goes on and it's a wonderful way to get to see a real French neighborhood, to see what a real apartment looks like, to meet a Parisian and deal with them on a very intimate level and the folks who do these genuinely like visitors.
Pauline: I know that Margie visited dozens of these places and if you are not comfortable staying in someone's home, which is the cheaper option, it is also very affordable to rent an entire apartment and you can do that in some of the nicest areas of Paris.
Pauline: You can stay, I think Margie, you found a place in the Moree, right, which goes for about 200 euros a week.
Margie: Yeah, definitely.
Kelly: Yeah and I think another great thing about that is that as we've talked about in other conversations with you Pauline, is that when you are staying in an apartment, if it has a kitchen, that's another way to save on your cost because for breakfast or even for lunch, you can get a baguette, you can get a croissant, you can go out to the markets and buy some food and bring it back.
Pauline: Right. Well this is a hallmark in all the Pauline Frommer Guides that we tell you - avoid hotels.
Kelly: Yeah. [laughter]
Pauline: We do tell you about great hotels. We don't avoid them entirely in the guides but I truly believe that you have a more authentic, interesting experience and Paris to me, there are few greater delights than going and shopping for the fresh foods because you can not bring those unpasteurized cheeses.
Pauline: back to the US.
Kelly: Very good point.
Pauline: You are not going to be able to bring those incredibly and flavorful fresh fruits and vegetables back to the US with you so when you have a kitchen, you really experience what it's like to be a Parisian, how wonderful their lives are.
Pauline: At least gastronomically.
Kelly: Gastronomically exactly. [laughter] So Marge, we are very envious of your constant access to those gastronomic wonders.
Margie: Well I have to say going to the local market here, the local open air market is one of the great joys of my life.
Kelly: Yeah [laughter] of course.
Margie: But it's true, when you're in an apartment, what's nice is that you're also in a neighborhood, you're just not in the same mode as when you're in a hotel.
So you're going to look at things a different way, you're going to visit the shops a different way, you're going to be looking or different things.
Margie: And it's a good entre, because the French are hard to meet, they're a shy people, and it is hard to make contact sometimes. People take that as stuffy or rude, but actually it's just that they're very reserved and they're not used to speaking with strangers.
So it gives you an excuse to talk to people, which is great.
Kelly: Well, since we're on the subject of the wonders of gastronomy in Paris, Margie let's talk about the dining scene for a moment. You know, what's new in the Paris restaurant world, are there trends that you're seeing? It's such a town renowned for its great food.
Margie: Well I would say the biggest trend that I've noticed, there has been a fair amount of press about this, is that there have been a lot of big chefs who are tired of being under pressure to have fancy restaurants. And they still have their fancy restaurants, but what they do is then they open up another restaurant which is like a little bistro.
Apparently they've all dreamed of owning a little bistro where they could just serve up simple food that they like, instead of having to come up with something magnificently creative.
And so they call them "Neo Bistro's" and they are popping up all over Paris. And one of the better known is that of Christian Calsten, and he's got like three Michelin start restaurants or whatever, but this is a little bistro where he hangs out, he's there smoking a cigar, and just sort of his version of comfort food.
What's great about these places is that this is a way to eat really wonderful top-class food for much less then obviously you would pay at a start Michelin restaurant.
Kelly: That seems to be kind of getting closer; it feels like a kind of getting back to a chef's roots kind of thing. Where they are trying to reconnect with what got them passionate about cooking in the first place.
Margie: Yeah, exactly. It's also very Parisian, a bistro. I mean if there's regional cooking in Paris, I guess its bistro cooking.
Margie: It's simple, and it's hardy, and it's good.
Kelly: Great, great. Well, what about your... As someone who lives in Paris, what's your take? I mean, what's your favorite dining experience in Paris?
Margie: Well, It depends. On the more refined level and the more sort of gastronomic level, there's a restaurant I really like that called "The Prever" which is kind of in that neo bistro mode, although they also have very exotic cuisine, they use a lot of spices and the cook has spend a lot of time in Asia. And it's just delicious food. It's not expensive. It's in what they call a wine bar, but it's a very relaxed atmosphere, everybody is laughing, having a good a time. And the food is not expensive; I mean you can get a three-course meal there for 25 Euros, which is really not much when you consider the quality of the food.
And then at lunch, it's only 12 Euros, although that's two courses, but still it's pretty amazing. But another thing that I really like, my favorites restaurants are often the type of restaurants that's kind of unfortunately slowly dying out in Paris, is little Mom and Pop restaurants, and little sort of corner bars that also serve lunch and dinner are just fabulous. Because not only is the food usually good, and the prices are very inexpensive, but they're an atmosphere that is a real authentic Parisian atmosphere, that has nothing to do with all the tourist traps that are all over the place.
One of my favorites I mentioned in the book is called 'Le Tan de Serine'. And it's just a tiny little restaurant, usually they're tiny, and run by a married couple, and the food is excellent, and everybody seems happy.
Kelly: [laughter] Great.
Margie: Which is kind of rare in Paris.
Kelly: Yeah. Well it's funny, one of the things that in notices in your dining chapter, Margie, very much evoked to me, Pauline, very much your dad's original vision when he was writing 'Europe on five dollars a day'. Because one of your bits of advice, Margie, is 'Don't go to the restaurants that have menu's with English translation next to them'. Any you're going to see a menu that has pictures or that has English translations, that's a kind of sign that you're really going to a place that caters to tourists, and that is really not going to give you the authentic kind of experience you might want.
And I do remember, Pauline, reading through your dad's "Europe on Five Dollars a Day." That's one of his first pieces of advice.
Pauline: Some things never change.
Kelly: Yeah. You know, I think Pauline you've been traveling, obviously, since you were very small and accompanied you dad on his researched trips to update 'Europe on five dollars a day'. So, I'd love to hear what some of your favorite memories are of Paris, and like what's your very favorite thing to do when you're there?
Pauline: Well, Paris has always felt like a second home to me, because I have been going there my whole life, we've always had friends there, and now my cousin lives there, married to a French women. And my most favorite recent memories are having his children and my children get together in the Luxembourg Gardens, and just frolicking among these incredible statues and topiary, and that's the playground, and it's just astounding.
I think one thing that doesn't come out... Margie is raising her children there to, she may not agree. But I find Paris to be remarkably child friendly.
Pauline: People think of it as stuffy, but in the summer you have a Merry-go-round literally every other block. And where there isn't a Merry-go-round there's a great park. So families can go, you drag the kids to the Louvre, and then you promise them the Merry-go-round is they're good, and then you drag them to the Musee D'orsay, and then you go to the park.
And when you go to these parks, you talk with people. You know, parents tend to talk, I think it breaks down the reserve a little bit with the French.
But, gosh, one of my favorite memories is I got to go to the first week of the opening of the Centre Pompidou. And they had a huge dinosaur made of chocolate, and they gave us all little picks, and we got to go up and pick away and eat the chocolate.
Kelly: That's fantastic.
Pauline: I'm not sure if that's my favorite memory, but it's one of them.
Kelly: But it made an impression.
Pauline: Absolutely, I've had a fondness for the Centre Pompidou ever since.
Kelly: That's great. I think that's probably all the time that we have for today. I've been talking with Pauline Frommer, who is our creator and the series editor for "Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides," and Margie Rynn, who lives in Paris and is the author of our new book 'Pauline Frommer's Paris' which is on sale now.
Margie and Pauline, thank you so much for being here, I really enjoyed our conversation.
Pauline: Thank you.
Margie: Thank you. So did I.
Kelly: OK. Join us next for another conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, and we will talk again soon.
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