Paris for a 70 year old
October 9, 2014 5:33 AM   Subscribe

I am visiting Paris for 5 days with my mother for her 70th birthday in two weeks time and would like some advice on how to make this trip as stress free as possible for us both, my Mum has full mobility but low energy and large crowds of people, long walks and lots of stairs are not really doable for us on this trip.

Neither of us are really keen on art galleries or museums but just want to enjoy being in Paris and finding pretty views or interesting less touristy spots. It seems like the bus might be better than the metro for us but how easy are the buses to use and are any of the array of pre pay ticket options really worthwhile? I thought maybe taxis would be simplest even if more expensive or would Uber make more sense? Trying to keep the budget down but will pay for convenience and time saving where necessary. I speak schoolgirl french but won't have web access whilst there so trying to plan as much as possible beforehand. Versailles is on the list as is the Eiffel tower but apart from that we are open to suggestions.
Any Paris mefites care to give me their tips and tricks for making this trip a success? We are staying in 13th arrondissement. Thanks!
posted by RandomInconsistencies to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I went to Paris for the first time last December - I loved it and found it super-easy to navigate, despite never having left the country AND not speaking a lick of French. One of the single-best things I did was purchase a month of international data coverage for my smartphone... being able to use Google Maps and look up transit info and museum hours and Yelp reviews made the trip SO MUCH BETTER than it would've been otherwise. I really cannot overstate that point: having data at my fingertips meant the difference between a lovely, relaxing, enjoyable trip and a week of confused misery.

So what I propose is this: instead of spending money on taxis (not really necessary, given the surfeit of great public transit), spring for a month of data (or pick up an international SIM card when you get into town). With Google Maps and a fistful of Metro tickets, you can get damned near ANYWHERE you'd like to go rapidly and with a minimum of walking.
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:59 AM on October 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Public transport in Paris is fabulous and there are plenty of buses. The bonus is that you can see the sights while you ride.

Here's a good sight that gives an overview. I find having a bus schedule/map is invaluable.

My parents are slightly older than your mother and while they're okay, they're really only good for One Thing and lunch. My mother admitted that even schlepping in museums is starting to be problematic.

I'd spring for a bus tour where you sit and someone points out all the sights and offers historical commentary. They're fun, and informative. Ditto one of the Seine cruises.

Another fun one might be to have lunch at the Eiffel Tower.

I'd eat breakfast at the hotel (probably included and probably baguette, coffee and yogurt.) Make lunch the big meal of the day, and enjoy something simple in the room in the evening, or have a smaller meal in a cafe.

It seems silly, but staying in the room in the evening can be boring. They show movies in English. It's called VO, Version Original. So save up some movies to see while you're there. It seems stupid, but it's better than watching CNN International in the room (ask me how I know.)

I enjoy strolling around the Left Bank. Lots of cute shops and street merchants. Plus if you need to rest, grab a coffee and pastry at one of the bazillion shops there.

If you enjoy shopping, you can hit one of the big department stores. Remember to get the paperwork to waive VAT. Also, Galleries Lafayette offers a discount coupon to visitors.

My sister swears by trying to find something on vacation. When we were in Germany, she wanted a poster advertising the Weinachtmart (Christmas Market). So everywhere we went, in addition to looking and seeing, we also were searching. Some folks like to buy local shampoo, or post cards, or shot glasses. It's nothing much, but it's something.

Arrange for transportation from the airport though. Dragging luggage on public transportation is a nightmare. Does your hotel offer transfers? If so, arrange for that. If not, there's a shuttle service that seems to be a decent value.

Sunday a lot of stuff closes. That might be a great day to check out the marché aux puces.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:02 AM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

My sister swears by trying to find something on vacation.

2nding this. If either of you collects something or has a hobby or an interest in *something*, pursue that. It doesn't have to be major. I met a traveller who collected a coin from each country she visited. The trick was, it had to be a coin she found on the street.

Supermarkets are a great source of wonderment.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:16 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sit in cafés and people watch. Go buy some luxurious but affordable soaps at the pharmacie to take home (e.g. Roger & Gallet). Don't worry about the buses - they are awesome and you can see the scenery go by.
posted by matildaben at 7:07 AM on October 9, 2014

I just went with my 68-year-old mother, and I have to say it was harder than I expected, though she was having mobility issues. The Metro is a nightmare. If you look at the map of accessible lines, it's basically Ligne 14 with a smattering of RER stations (not the ones downtown, either). The bus is fine, runs all the time. UberX was a lifesaver. Drivers show up in a few minutes, and you don't have to find main thoroughfares to get a taxi. Cheaper than a cab, too; most of the time we paid the minimum fare of €8. I strongly recommend you get a prepaid SIM from Lebara, which they will mail you in the States and you can put in your unlocked phone. €20 for a month's of calls and data, and the site is entirely in English. That will let you summon Ubers and use the RATP trip planner. There's no "accessible" option, but you can set it to Bus Only, maybe add in RER for the trip to Versailles. Plan to take RER B there. Châtelet RER is accessible but that's the biggest, busiest station in the city, and under massive construction, so pick another station to start from if it's convenient. It's a 900m walk from the station to the palace, but you can probably get a taxi or Uber. Versailles' grounds are huge but there's a newish train that will take you around. Or they have golf cart rentals for €30 an hour, first-come, first-served.

Get your Eiffel Tour tickets the day they go on sale. I waited a few days and suddenly the only slots were at 11 p.m.

Saint-Chappelle typically requires stairs but you can ask for a reduced mobility escort to the elevators.

We ended up renting a wheelchair for a week even though my mom could walk, just so we could cover more ground. It was €35 for the week (with a €300 cash deposit) and worth every penny. A couple times staff at museums pulled us out of line and took us to the handicapped entrance and gave us free admission, even though she wasn't technically unable to walk. People were really nice about it, overall.
posted by wnissen at 12:21 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Google Translate is a godsend.
posted by brujita at 6:46 PM on October 9, 2014

A lot depends on how much you're willing to trade money for convenience. The Paris Visite 5 day/5 zone pass, at € 65,50, will give you full access to the bus, metro, RER, and Transilien (suburban commuter) system for 5 consecutive days. That would include your trip to Versailles. You could spend a lot less buying a pack of 10 metro/bus tickets (un carnet) as needed, and a simple round-trip ticket for Versailles, but then you'd have a bit more hassle.

Buses in Paris are generally great but they can be crowded and slow at rush hour. They are used disproportionately by the elderly, mobility impaired, and people with strollers, large suitcases, and packages. However, people are pretty good about yielding their seats to people who look old, frail, or ill (I had to use a cane for 6 weeks during my last stay in Paris, due to a knee injury, and people leapt from their seats in buses and metro cars to allow me to sit). If you get a seat, they can be fun to ride, even when they're stuck in traffic, since you can just look out the window. In October, they probably won't be too hot and stuffy.

The metro and RER depend so much on the individual lines and stations, and by what you mean by "lots of stairs." It's not unusual for a metro line to have a flight of stairs to the entry hall, then several more half-flights up and down through a warren of tunnels before you reach the platform. Longer stairs will sometimes have an escalator going up, but not down; sometimes the escalators are broken. If one flight of stairs is too much, avoid the metro and RER except for stations marked accessible. If 2-3 flights (storeys) is feasible, you're in much better shape.

If you're arriving via Eurostar at the Gare du Nord, you can get a taxi from the taxi stand. Unless you're traveling with minimal luggage, a taxi is probably best for your arrival and departure even if you use the bus or metro for the rest of your visit.

There are a lot of free and cheap concerts in Paris. You can find listings in L'officiel des spectacles, also available as a weekly magazine at newsstands. It also lists movie screenings, guided walking tours (conférences, some in English), gallery openings, and theater. I wouldn't necessarily trust its restaurant recommendations, though.

Definitely take time to amble slowly down a market street. There are plenty of open-air markets that are held 2-3 times a week, and there are other streets that are effectively markets (my favorite is the rue Montorgueil in the 3rd, but there's also the rue Mouffetard in the 5th, the rue Daguerre in the 14th, and others). If you need to rest, there will be cafés.

As EU citizens I'm not sure that you can reclaim VAT, but shopping is fun regardless. There are lots of little parks here and there to take a rest (the Place des Vosges in the 4th is a real gem, touristy but still worth a visit). In many, you can sit and watch games of pétanque being played. Larger parks such as Luxembourg or the Tuileries, or the Parc Monceau in the 8th, are great for people-watching. October can be a bit nippy, so bring clothing that's warm enough to sit outside for a bit. As long as you take things slowly, you'll find plenty to do. Have fun!
posted by brianogilvie at 7:53 PM on October 9, 2014

I took my mobility-limited father-in-law there and here's what we did:

1. We bought a pass for one of those hop-on-hop-off boats on the Seine. Fabulous! There are plenty of places to hop on or off, and the views are spectacular along the way. Loved it! Metro? No way. All stairs, pushy people, long long long walks, and no a decent view because it's underground. Take the slow boat and enjoy the ride.

2. We rented a VRBO so we could have meals at home. I'd run out to the Boulangerie for breakfast, and we'd have a nice, lazy morning, which made for a better day. Also laundry and leftovers and other things are easier if you've got an apartment and don't have to be out of a hotel for housekeeping. We stayed on Ile de la Cite because it was so central, and it was great.

3. We got a museum pass, and every single time we got to a museum I'd park him on a bench and go right to the very front of the line and explain in my perfect English that my FIL needed a wheelchair, and they'd instantly bring one and scoot us past the long, long lines of tourists. Yeah!

4. We got a private behind-the-scenes tour of the Eiffel Tower, which was amazing, and saved us standing in line (a theme!) and had dinner there, which was well worth the exorbitant price, and saw the twinkly lights come on at midnight, which was the most romantic thing ever.

5. We rented a car and drove to Giverny, and yes, they have wheel chairs and they work just fine on the gravel paths. The French are super good to the elderly, and have lots of options for them. Even if your mother does not technically need one, it's a great pass to skipping lines and a wonderful way to always have a place for her to sit down.
posted by Capri at 9:49 PM on October 9, 2014

I took the bus quite a bit after getting worn out on the stairs using the Metro. They will be slower and can be crowded, but they are very easy to get on and off and get a seat if you are elderly. The #69 route is a good one since it goes across the city past many sites.

Flying over or taking a train? I rode a bus from the airport to the Opera and it was just as easy. They are expecting luggage, so there are racks. Your mom can roll her luggage to the bus and you can put it in the rack.

are any of the array of pre-pay ticket options really worthwhile
I was there for five days, but I didn't use the bus/Metro much on the first and last days. I paid by the ride for those two days and used a three-day pass for the middle three days. Figure out the cost per day of any pass and guess at how often you will ride each day. If it is close, go with the pass since it is more convenient.
posted by soelo at 1:14 PM on October 13, 2014

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