A few specific questions about Paris.
May 20, 2015 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I am visiting Paris next week for a work conference. I had a few specific questions around my phone, renting a bike, what to do in Quartier Latin, and more after the jump.

I will be in Paris from next Tuesday until Monday the 1st of June. I am attending a conference at AgroParisTech until Friday and staying near the Pantheon in Quartier Latin. My weekend is free as are my evenings. I will likely be going back on a personal trip next year so am not concerned with seeing EVERYTHING in one trip.

This is my first trip to Europe, although I am experienced otherwise with international travel. I speak French, albeit like an English person.

My questions:

1) I am coming from Canada using a Moto G phone - what is my best solution for getting data for my phone for the week? I will not call anyone - just data. Should I buy a SIM card at CDG? If so - where might I find one that's not exorbitantly expensive?

2) I would love to rent a bike for a week to get to/from where I am headed (I have an apartment so I can store it indoors) - is Velib the best option? There are plenty of stations near where I'm staying/the conference so it seems best but am happy to have a better recommendation.

3) I am experience cycling in Canada and in cities - any primers on what cycle culture is like in the core of Paris? Any tips on how to be a non-asshole and safe cyclist recommendations on what may differ from my Canadian experience are appreciated.

4) I have my evenings free and will be coming from AgroParisTech around 5pm each day. What is close to that or the Pantheon that I can do at that time of day? I am spending the weekend closer to the Eiffel Tower so I'm mostly concerned with things that might occupy 2-3 hours including dinner and that are logistically convenient near there.

Interests include - yoga (a studio recommendation near the school or where I am staying would be awesome), sports of all kinds, city architecture, nature, beer, coffee, tasty food with fresh ingredients, and people watching. I don't do clubs and will save art for a future trip with my wife.

5) Is there anything "can't miss" happening the weekend after next in the city - festivals in a particular? I did some searching but didn't find anything particularly awesome.

6) If you are a lady in your mid- to late-20's - what is the thing your husband could bring you home from Paris that would make up for him being called to work in Paris in the springtime over your birthday and you not being able to go?

Her interests are aligned to mine above (subbing wine for beer, and adding clothing and jewelry but not handbags), and I am not afraid of shopping for clothes or shoes. Budget of 150 euros. Not a tourist item, but something in Canada you'd travel to France just to get.

Thanks in advance. I have a lot of general food and drink and things to do recommendations, but less that align specifically with where I will be.
posted by buoys in the hood to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend getting a sim card beforehand. Just one fewer thing to worry about, and you can navigate the options and prices in English at your leisure, which is harder to do at the airport. I had a good experience with LeFrenchMobile.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:47 AM on May 20, 2015

I went for a conference hosted at AgroParisTech in 2008 (my wife stayed home). Everything I brought back from Paris came from this place. It's pretty close to AgroParisTech (Rue Claude Bernard location, anyway), easily within walking distance. The owner was great, everything is unique, all locally made. Browsing the shop was just a huge amount of fun.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2015

Is someone else paying? LeFrenchMobile is widely recommended but not cheap. I had excellent luck with Lebara, which is really cheap and often includes international calls. Don't order a SIM, they ship from France and wouldn't get here in time. You can get one in a magazine stand, just look for a Lebara SIM, should be €5. The setup is all in English.

Vélib' is only made for short trips, not weekly rentals. It has the advantage that you can pick up and drop anywhere. You'll need a Chip-and-PIN (not just Chip-and-Signature) card to use it. The kiosks are reasonably intuitive but it took a few minutes to figure out. You can also rent for the week from various bike places, but get a heavy-duty lock, bike theft is rampant.

I bike to work in the suburbs of the U.S., and the Paris bike lanes terrified me. Lots of bike lanes run the wrong way down one way streets, or are "shared" with busses and taxis. On the other hand, I saw a *lot* of people on bikes, so obviously it works for many.

For food gifts, it's halfway across town, but La Grande Épicerie de Paris
at 38 Rue de Sèvres in the 7th has jewel-like chocolates, Ferber jams, wines, mustards, etc. at high but not unreasonable prices. Maybe get a picnic's worth of non-perishables and tie them up in some lovely linen kitchen towels?

Can I recommend a restaurant? Les Pipos at 2 Rue de l'École Polytechnique. Just a couple blocks from the Panthéon, but full of locals and Lyonnaise bistro food executed at a very high level for the price.
posted by wnissen at 11:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I find le petite ceinture fascinating - even though I wasn't aware about all the activity surrounding it til I read this article, it seems to tick off both urban architecture, people watching and nature - maybe also beer and coffee.

For food I'd search the blogs of David Leibowitz and Alexander Lobrano
posted by mumimor at 11:17 AM on May 20, 2015

Seconding La Tuile a Loup! I go out of my way to visit that shop whenever I'm in Paris.
posted by MelissaSimon at 11:49 AM on May 20, 2015

Rue Mouffetard is an wonderful market street near the Pantheon with a lovely chocolate shop (good for presents) and lots of restaurants. I particularly like Cave La Bourgogne near the bottom of the hill (144 Rue Mouffetard) but I've been to several restaurants along the street and I think I've enjoyed them all. My boyfriend and I also like Les Pipos, so I'll second the vote for them. We have also gotten other restaurant recommendations from David Lebovitz's blogs, including Buvette (28 Rue Henry Monnier - not sure if this is near anyplace you will be) which we've quite enjoyed.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 12:00 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

is Velib the best option?
I used it last year and was pleased with it. I bought a (weekly?) code online ahead of time because I was concerned about it accepting my non-chip card. I just rode around a park near my apartment but not in traffic, so I can't tell you about that aspect. If you get the code, you'll have to enter it at the machine and then tell it which bike you want. So, inspect the bikes available and pick one and a back up before you go to the machine. When I saw stands with only 2-3 bikes, it was often because they were broken.
posted by soelo at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding La Grande Épicerie de Paris if your wife is a foodie at all. Sur Les Quais Tubissime Moutardes are my favorite treat. I don't know how many people would think "what a romantic gift from gay Paree!" but I'm a condiment nut, mustards especially, and I brought home nine flavors. They pack really well. The best flavors are the truffle juice and herbes de Provence.

Have a wonderful trip! I can't wait to go back.
posted by Beti at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I went to Paris a few years ago, I emailed a friend who I was somewhat out of touch with. She'd lived in Paris for a few years. "Go to L'as du Falafel," she told me. She gave me a bunch of other info - but going to that falafel place was the best one.

Other things I found out about Paris: the coffee ain't great (I was in Belgium and Netherlands prior, and everywhere there had much better coffee than Paris). And nobody seems to care about beer. Wine, though - five euros at the corner store for the best bottle I'd ever had.

People gather on the banks of the Seinne with bottles of wine, and cheese, and whatever, and chill as the evening turns into night time. That was one of the nicest evenings I'd ever spent. Watching the sun set behind Notre Dame ain't half bad.
posted by entropone at 12:50 PM on May 20, 2015

Flower flavored hard candy: violet, lavender,rose, poppy.
posted by brujita at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2015

Your wife and i have similar interests. In this case, my husband would probably bring me home something from bensimon or antoine et lili, macarons from pierre herme and/or caramels from jacques genin. If she likes to cook, stop by g. Tetou or dihillerin?
posted by beignet at 5:10 PM on May 20, 2015

Agreed with entropone about the mediocre coffee, although there are some googleable places (a la "best coffee in Paris").
My boyfriend and I went last summer, and I found the most wonderful small items at different flea markets. There are some real gems jewelry-wise. I'm not sure about more expensive items but I would personally be delighted if my boyfriend brought me home something handpicked from one of those markets!
posted by thebots at 11:29 PM on May 20, 2015

2) Velib is fantastic. We also pre-bought a week long pass before we went last May. The stations are pretty ubiquitous and we rarely had a problem getting a bike; only when there was a big event in a certain area was it a challenge to get one or to drop one off. It's the best and cheapest option because you can always ditch your bike whenever you want to and not worry about having to return to the same spot. It's not your problem anymore! The system is really easy to use, too and when you pre-buy you can choose your own code so it can be anything you want it to be.

A note on the broken bikes thing, there's a "code" of sorts users seem to have in place to help you spot them - they're the ones with the seats turned around in weird angles. That's a pretty common signal in bike shares in all the cities I've used them in (Oslo, Ljubljana, Chicago, DC, San Francisco, Ottawa and Montreal).

3) I'm a fairly experienced Canadian city cyclist too and have ridden in a fair handful of European and North American cities, and I would say the cycling style is pretty similar to Canada, so there aren't really special courtesy things to note. A lot of the routes are on-road, in separated lanes shared with buses and taxis, but it actually works out surprisingly smoothly. I rode with no helmet and didn't feel threatened at all (I tend to ride with a helmet on when I bike in Ottawa and other North American cities). There are also quite a few good segregated routes. Courtesy-wise, it's more or less the same as here - stay right, signal your intentions/be predictable and don't trust cars further than you can throw them (though drivers are a LOT more patient than the typical North American driver, I found). They also have awesome counterflow lanes on one-ways in the core, which are really handy.

Have fun!
posted by urbanlenny at 12:57 PM on May 21, 2015

I work at AgroParisTech (I won't be there next week though). Like other people said, there are enough restaurants and shops of all kinds along the Rue Mouffetard to keep you occupied for a while. The workspouse and I are partial to the Verre à Pied, which is a very, very small restaurant a few meters down the Arbalète/Mouffetard corner. Typically French atmosphere (this scene from Amélie was shot there), simple & good food. When we need more space we go to the Mouffetard round the corner (scenes from Three Colors: Blue and Julie & Julia were shot there - indeed the whole area is a real movie set). 300 m up from the corner, la Rue du Pot de fer is a side street packed with restaurants. In any case you can walk up the Rue Mouffetard up to the Pantheon and then go down either towards the Jardin du Luxembourg or towards Notre Dame.
posted by elgilito at 5:15 PM on May 21, 2015

Le Jardin du Luxembourg! That's some of the best people-watching to be had. Grab a croissant and watch the joggers in the morning, go on a weekend to see the kids sailing boats or watch the puppet show, or bring a book and grab a chair in the afternoon.
posted by wnissen at 9:25 PM on May 21, 2015

Thank you everyone. So many good suggestions here and I think I have the gift for my wife sorted. I will follow up with what ended up getting done for future readers.
posted by buoys in the hood at 4:26 AM on May 22, 2015

I wanted to thank you all for your suggestions.

I ended up getting a Lebara SIM card just before I left, and a 10 euro top up gave me adequate data for a week.

Tuile a Loup was the perfect shop for my wife. I also got chocolates from Lenôtre which were well received, and brought back some 1er grand cru champagne that will be a nice treat.

In terms of things to do - walking La Seine was reasonable from where I was, and La Jardin de Luxembourg was outstanding. Verre a Pied was a lovely spot for a meal.

My walk to AgroParisTech was daily down Mouffetard which is just a perfect Parisienne experience. In general, though, I ended up losing a ton of time to walking and photographing architecture.

I did not end up using Velib, but they were everywhere and seemed quite handy.
posted by buoys in the hood at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2015

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