During my recent visit to Paris, I noticed a few changes.
My trip to France was long overdue! My heart’s still there, as I expect to see a boulangerie on the corner or hear French conversation. I visited Dijon, Paris, and Bordeaux and had a quick side trip to St. Emilion (near Bordeaux) and a brief stroll through Lyon before flying out. I’ll give more updates in the days to come. Overall, the city looked cleaner (including métro stations), as if some housekeeping had been done during the Covid shutdown.
(Speaking of Covid, things were quite relaxed in France. I was never asked for any documentation regarding vaccines or Covid tests. Few people in the metro wore masks, though I did. Just thought that was the sane thing to do, and I recommend it. Just like anywhere, people are still getting Covid, but the symptoms are far milder than in the beginning. As for travel, you have few worries about protocols, but still, be careful of the germs!)
But here are a few things I noticed that were different in Paris.
I’m sure there are many more!
- The classic Parisian department store, La Samaritaine, founded in 1870 and closed in 2005, has reopened! It is on Rue de la Monnaie, which may be a suitable name since store prices have apparently zoomed upward to “luxury” levels. You might not want to shop there, but the interior of the building is worth looking at. The Rue de la Monnaie seems more upscale than it was before as well.
- The Grand Palais is closed for renovations until 2024 (in time for the summer Olympics.) However, you can still see exhibits in the Palais Ephemère, or the temporary palace. It may be temporary, but the giant cruciform building with 10,000 square feet is still impressive. It was erected in a straight line with the Eiffel Tower at the Champs de Mars (2 Place Joffre, 7th district) and will house the exhibits you’d normally see at the colossal and beautiful building near the Champs-Elysées.
- Also being renovated is the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain next to the Pompidou Center. The fountain statues were lovingly removed and carted away for their artistic repair spa and will return in 2023.
- Finally, Paris has gotten with the program! What do I mean? You can still (for a little while longer) buy a carnet, 10 little metro tickets you have to keep track of, or you can get a Navigo Easy Pass. It’s a rigid card that works on all transport in the city limits of Paris: métro, RER, buses, and trams. Each time you pass your ticket at the turnstile, a display will show how many trips you have left. It’s easy to recharge either at a machine or at the information window if there is one. By the way, if you do get a carnet of little tickets, they’ll only give you 9 instead of 10. They’re phasing out carnets soon, though you’ll still be able to buy a single ticket.
Other tourist passes are still available but do the numbers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. I’ve found that the carnet (now the Navigo Easy pass) and the Découverte pass are the best deals. (See more on the Découverte and other local transportation options in my book, Magical Paris.) In summary, the Découverte is the best deal if you arrive in Paris on a Monday or a Tuesday. It must be purchased at a ticket window, and your best bet for finding one is at an RER station.
- Metro line 4 (north to south) has extended its southern reach to the town of Bagneux. You can now use your Navigo Easy pass to reach certain suburb towns on the tram, though you’ll have to pass your ticket again once you go beyond the Paris city limits.
- Phones: Each time I visit France, I have two phone needs. I need a way of calling the US to regularly check on and keep in touch with my elderly mom, and I need a France phone to call or text numerous French friends (as well as hotels or businesses) without causing them to incur international fees. (Not all my French friends have What’s App and my mother doesn’t use internet at all!)
- My US phone carrier charges $10 per day for roaming, which I find too high for a longer trip. I went there with an unlocked phone and bought a French SIM, called the Orange Holiday Sim Card. (The company Orange is one of the biggest in France). This card worked perfectly for 2 weeks. It gave me unlimited calling and texting in France, plus 2 hours of international communication. Since I was in France for over 2 weeks, I got what they call a “top up” which extends the pass. If you have trouble knowing how to top up your sim card, there is a phone number you can call and get help in either English or French. (Don’t do what I did and get the wrong plan to do the top-up, since several are listed on the website.)
- Read this if you want to use roaming but have a prepaid phone plan: You’ll have to prepay for the days you plan on using roaming. (I didn’t use roaming but a few days because I had my French phone.) I didn’t realize I had to prepay for those roaming days, and I was stuck. You’ll want to prepay enough money to cover both your roaming days and your monthly bill, or you’ll run out of money. Then like me, you’ll have to ask strangers to call the hotel shuttle or whatever. (And it really helps to know some French, believe me! I don’t know how many times I had to ask for help or directions!) You may be interested in checking out my Real French for Travelers online course (which just got a price decrease!)
- The national train service is called SNCF, but they sometimes have special routes by other names, such as Ouigo and Inoui. The Ouigo especially is very cheap, especially if you get it in advance (up to 3-4 months.) I went roundtrip to Bordeaux for surprisingly little. You may have to pay a 5 € supplement if your suitcase is large or you have more than one. It’s rare, though, for a conductor to wander through and ask about your bags or even know which is yours.
There are many other renovations, upgrades, and cleaning-up efforts you’ll see in Paris, some catching up after Covid, others preparing for the coming crowds in summer 2023. But Olympics or not, it’s always crowded in Paris in the summer. And this summer, it was clear everyone was eager to travel again! Clearly, travel is back and France is still a favorite of millions of travelers.
Stay tuned for more highlights of my trip, more lessons learned, and more great posts from Oliver’s France!