Emirates A380 Business Class

When you travel overseas to Eastern or South Asia, you really need to get comfortable with the idea that you are going to be on an airplane for a very long time. Being on an Emirates A380 in Business Class makes the journey a whole-lot smoother, that’s for sure. I thought back to some of my longest flights. Dubai is about half-an-hour longer than flying to Tokyo, but not nearly as long as a flight to Hong Kong. When I flew to Taiwan via Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific was still running A340s with a stop-over in Anchorage. On that flight, I just put my watch away and devised a method of determining flight time by how many times the in-flight multichannel entertainment loop had gone around. Pirates of the Carribean Dead Man’s Chest was the longest running channel on the loop at 2.5 hours, so I knew by the 4th time through that I was 10 hours into the flight.

My colleague and I had settled into our seats on our Emirates A380 in Business Class. He had talked me into forgoing my Star Alliance or OneWorld points to take a taste of this experience. This plane is a huge bird. I was also amazed at the number of business class seats: 76, with another 14 in the First Class cabin, all on the top level of the plane. As I was remarking at its length, peering down the aisle, I noticed an attendant walking down from the front of the plane. Walking from the front, gracefully but with intent, she stopped at my colleague’s seat to welcome him on-board, thank him for his continued patronage, and extended an offer of any manner of assistance during the flight. I almost fell over in my seat. I had never experienced anything on a North American airline – such a simple gesture.

The Emirates A380 business class seat and layout is impressive, and most reviews echo my first impressions.

The seats are staggered to create a mini-bar, and a ledge for your stuff. The seats offer a good width and the business class pod does not feel cramped, and offers a good amount of privacy. The seats lay perfectly flat for sleeping, and the attendants bring you a thin mattress to help make your slumber more comfortable – this was a nice touch. The seats configured to be closest to the window are unanimously favoured as they offer more privacy. Privacy is a desirable attribute for me if you read my other entries. The Emerati have styled the cabin for “luxury” which means lacquered wood panels and somewhat aristocratic faux-finishes. It’s very nice, but not my familiar experience. Personally, I prefer the sleek modern interiors, like the new BA 787 Dreamliner.

The screen and entertainment unit is impressively big – they occupied all available space to outfit a 19-inch touch-screen display – the largest I have ever seen in a business class cabin. The entertainment system also offers a separate touch screen controller, which I never found occasion to use on the couple times I flew Emirates. Emriates has won many awards for their in-flight entertainment offerings, which includes nose and tail-mounted cameras to watch real-time video feeds on the display. The mini-bar area provided a neat place to store my drinks, but considering any drink you wanted, at any time, was readily available, it kinda made the concept of a mini-bar at your seat a bit unnecessary. Not to mention the full bar at the rear of the cabin. There is both a regular meal tray, and a drink tray that extend – the meal tray is comfortable when using a laptop, and the power receptacle is easily accessible.

The bar at the rear of the business class cabin is a communal area, and featured prominently as part of the luxurious experience Emirates tries to create. It is well stocked. The first time I ever had Champagne with Creme de Cassis was at this bar, which has since become a summer-time favourite of mine when entertaining. It’s nice to have a space to go other than your seat on these long flights. And, inevitably, you will meet somebody interesting. I talked at length with a free-spirited Accountant from Calgary who occasionally taught accounting certification courses in Dubai. The food is above average but I wouldn’t say I eagerly anticipate the snacks and sandwiches they provide there – although I must admit they have the best variety I’ve experienced.

I found another really comprehensive description on this blog, too. Check it out.

Terminal 3 in Dubai is quite an impressive feat of civil engineering. It’s large and modern, albeit crowded. The crowds underscored a thought I had while reflecting on the in-flight experience: Emirates is gunning to be the airline for connections between Europe, Africa and Asia. This was a huge hub, and it was connecting everywhere. There was a trade dispute between Canada and the UAE a few years back over gate slots in Toronto. And, all I could think of was that Air Canada ought to try something more than protectionist measures to stave off competition from Emirates, for their profitable Frankfurt flights, which connects to Africa, the Middle East and India via Lufthansa. Maybe like: better customer service. Emirates is clearly an upstart with focus and solid backing, and a pretty good Premiere League Football club to boot. It will be interesting to see the future with these guys.

etk-a380

Luxury al Arab

The bottom-line: You will not be disappointed, and it probably will be cheaper than your other business class alternatives, too. Forget the points for at least one trip, and spend a few-days in Dubai en-route.

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Travelling Lighter Part 2: Tumi Laptop Sleeve 13-inch

The Tumi Alpha Medium Laptop cover is a nylon case that fits laptops up to 13-inches. I had been looking to stream-line my business travel by eliminating both the need to tote around both a piece of carry-on luggage as well as my laptop bag. Less is more when trying to get around the airport quickly. Before getting the Tumi, I had tried the Incase Neoprene Pro Sleeve for the 13-inch MacBook Air, as it had a side compartment with a zipper – it went back to the Apple Store. It wasn’t professional looking enough and there was not enough storage space.

The Tumi cover had a more rugged Nylon cover, a zipper side compartment and a second, outer zippered side compartment for pens, business cards, access badges (and the like). The cover is perfect, I can fit video adapter cables in the side pockets, my wireless mouse, pens, access badges and a small notebook with the Tumi keeping its slender figure. I can carry it around, and look good doing it. With the MacBook Air mid-2013 model, I don’t need to carry around the charging adapter, which helps quite a bit. Unless you use a laptop will either great battery life, or with a relatively small or slender charging unit, it might be a stretch to fit what you need for power and charging in this case – it may fit, but it will bulge. There is no strap for this unit, but you don’t need one – that defeats the purpose and style of the cover. This cover comes in small and large sizes too, where a small would fit an 11-inch MacBook Air perfectly, and the large size fits a 15-inch laptop. My MacBook Air fits snugly, almost perfectly, into the cover – not too much left over space, and just enough left over so I am never struggling to close it. Again, perfect fit.

On an airplane, this cover can fit in the seat pocket if you want to get it out-of-the-way, and your laptop stays protected. And, having it nearby means you get easy access to your pen (for filling-out those cross-border forms), ear-phones (they tuck away nicely) or business cards (to give to the new contact you made on that 5 hour flight to San Francisco). My usual routine is to pull it out of my carry-on luggage sleeve, just before I throw the carry-on in the overhead compartment. Simple, and no fiddling.

The Tumi is expensive and the brand carries a premium – the price is around $100 which is more than double almost any other laptop cover you can find out there. However, I think it is worth the price.

Lean and mean.

Lean and mean.

The bottom line: The best slim laptop cover and carrying case I could find on the market, it’s worth the price and has enough pockets to fit a good number of smaller items you might want to carry around, beware if your laptop has poor battery life and you need to carry a bulky charger.

Travelling Lighter Part 1: High Sierra AT6 Carry-On

As I stood at the carousel at my destination airport, waiting as patiently as I could for my luggage to arrive, it was clear to me that I didn’t have this fully figured out. Having focused on international travel and local commuting over the past few years, I was accustomed to a wheeled portfolio computer case as my primary tool for toting my stuff. Samsonite makes a pretty good line of affordable cases in a myriad of configurations, like this one. I refreshed my wheeled computer case with a model that could fit my laptop, all accessories, Bose QC-15 headphones, a myriad of files and notebooks, some office supplies and more. It was perfect for the commuter train, and gave me access to everything I needed when flying overseas. I still use it when I travel that way, and it’s perfect for me – no strains of over-the-shoulder carrying, while nimble and roomy.

However, It had been a while since I had to travel regularly on short trips (i.e., 1-2 nights), where getting in and out of the airport quickly becomes a necessary part of your travel strategy. Anyway, back to the carousel. My failure was compounded by not just the wheeled portfolio case, but a real folly in luggage concepts: the carry-on wheeled garment bag. It seems like a great idea. You can pack a couple of suits, minimizing wrinkles by the half-fold configuration, and it fits in a carry-on size. Awesome? Not awesome. The first problem is that it doesn’t fit down the aisle on an airplane, unless of course you’re in business class. Wrestling with these two things was also a pain. And, I was surprised to learn that the wheeled portfolio case and the wheeled garment back actually don’t meet the carry-on standards – the portfolio case is actually too big for continental flights when you have another carry-on. I was in disbelief when the check-in agent scornfully declared I had to check one of my bags – I actually went over to the measuring cages to check for myself. Busted. The carry-on wheeled garment bag was sold on Kijiji the following weekend. And, the research began on how to do this properly.

There are a tonne of travel blogs out there, with advice on every aspect of travel. Frequent business travellers, and the best of them, will advocate for having a single piece of carry-on luggage. The leading wisdom advocates for a simple two-wheeled carry-on, and some time-tested techniques for folding your suit properly (I recommend the inside-out arm technique, folded with paper and plastic from your dry cleaners). Getting to a single-carry on means getting rid of that laptop bag – I was inspired by this blog, which recommends a lot of products from Eagle Creek including the Tarmac 22 carry-on luggage. You should check it out.

The High Sierra AT6 Carry-On Upright with Computer compartment was my choice. These guys make a few different models, but only one with an interior compartment for a laptop (I would not recommend their model with a detachable backpack, that’s not a great idea for reasons I won’t get into). The laptop compartment is big enough for any laptop, likely up to 17″. I have my MacBook Air 13-inch and the space is perfect for my Tumi Laptop carrying case that provides some protection, and allows me to carry the computer and some accessories into the office separately (see Part 2 of this blog entry). The exterior pockets are also sensibly sized, with an upper and a lower exterior compartment. The lower compartment easily fits a toiletry bag, which I like to keep separate from the clothes; and, the upper compartment is perfect for any random cables or accessories I carry. The laptop compartment is between these exterior compartments and the main compartment for clothing, but it is easily accessible with its own separate exterior zipper. This is actually a good design because it does not keep your laptop on the exterior of the luggage where it might be subject to being bumped around. There is a zipper lining between the laptop and main compartment, in case you don’t need to separate the two sections and need more space. The two wheel design is also optimal for interior space. For some reason, spinner wheel bags are growing in popularity, which reduces interior space and also makes it difficult to dart at top speed through the airport terminal or public transit system. Who are these people leisurely pushing their spinner bags around? What life of leisure do they have? Speaking of wheels, the two wheels are protected around the sides, along with the back/bottom of the luggage, but some plastic materials that protects from the inevitable bumping and knocking your luggage will take. The front bottom of the luggage has a foot that doubles as a handle so it’s easy to grab the luggage lengthwise. The only lame part of this carry-on it the mesh bottle carrier that extends from a zippered side-compartment – it flops around too much, and carrying bottled water through the airport is not worth the effort with the security check restrictions.

Back to basics… less is more.

Back to basics… less is more.

The bottom-line: Highly recommend the High Sierra AT6 wheeled carry-on with computer compartment for the business travel who likes to travel light and strives for the one-piece of carry-on luggage, but be sure to get an laptop case that fits inside the compartment.

BBQ Lighters – Yes, really.

It’s coming up to BBQ season, and between lighting candles at home and a backup starter for lighting the propane BBQ, it was high time to investigate getting a new lighter. The local Home Depot had a couple of options. My first choice was the BZLTR200 flexible lighter. There were quite a few negative reviews on Amazon.com for this Bernzomatic Flexible Lighter, in fact it was pretty polarized between hate-it and love-it. I figured that a company that makes acetylene torches and professional welding equipment would be able to make a useful lighter. It purchased it, but returned it to the store later the same day. The main problem I had was that it did not start consistently. When it did start, it was like a mini-blow torch. The handle on the unit is also pretty big, and I would say unnecessarily large (if you’re like me, the places you want to store it favour a long, slender unit). I just wanted a refillable, flexible head lighter that started consistently. Maybe the company has some quality control problems, so either some work the way they are supposed-to and others, well, they get returned to the store. I ended up with a similar lighter from a local company, the X-Lite Flexible Head Lighter – it basically was the same thing, starts pretty much every time. The Butane gives it the flame thrower vibe that I am sure will be a conversation starter at my next dinner party. The only part of this that irks me, is the fact I had to make a trip back to the store to return something that pretty much just ought to work. Bummer. At least I walked back and got some exercise.

The bottom-line: Lighters are boring and not that exciting, except when you use one all the time you want something that starts consistently, beware of the the Bernzomatic lighters.

London Long Weekend – More Tourist Avoidance

The goal was planning for two half-days and two full days in London. I tried to keep with the theme of doing things in clusters, but I didn’t want to create too much rushing around either. I was looking for some authentic activities at a good pace. The strategy used to create the itinerary involved focusing on two key activities per day, and hitting some sights or attractions near those places, if possible or to fill the time.

I spent a bit of time researching, and asking around with family and friends who either live or visit London frequently. I have been to London about half-a-dozen times before, although I can’t say I know London very well. I should add it is pretty easy to avoid the tourists when you travel in early February – we were very lucky as it was the first sunny weekend all winter in London.

Borough Market

This was our Saturday morning activity. The plan was to go to Borough Market and then head over to the Tate Modern.

I have been to a lot of standing markets before, the Quincy Market in Boston, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, the Sunday Morning  Marché Raspail in Paris, etc, etc. However, I was impressed, very impressed, with the Borough Market. Maybe I just happened to be in the mood that day. You can easily get to Borough Market from London Bridge Tube station. This is a food market with all kinds of exotic foods, cheeses, baked goods, flower stalls, and food stands. We must have spent about 90 minutes just walking around before actually picking something to eat – which was half the fun. I grabbed a coffee and took my time. You need to go on a day when the full food market is open, mainly Wednesday to Saturday. Get there early, like before 9 AM, and it will be less crowded – by the time we left around 11 30 AM, the market was a bit too busy. The photo below shows the Turkish Delight I bought as my “dessert” for my ad-hoc market brunch, which was a pistachio and coconut Turkish Delight – it was heavenly. I asked for only a few but the guy insisted I take a pound – I was eating Turkish Delight all weekend. I wonder if I am the first person to bring Turkish Delight to a Barclay’s Premiere League game.

This was a good example of having the “main activity” (i.e., Borough Market) and then adding on the Tate Museum and Southwark. We ended up spending at least 2.5 hours at Borough Market, which consumed the entire morning. The museums are free, so we looked around at some of the exhibits, and marvelled at oddity which is modern art. Cultural fix: check. The walk along the Thames in this area is nice, and there are a few attractions – you can also see St. Paul’s is in this area as well.

Just like Edmund and the White Witch

Just like Edmund and the White Witch

Thames from the Tate

Thames from the Tate

Fulham vs Southampton FC

This was our Saturday afternoon activity. I asked a lot of people about booking for a Barclay’s Premiere League match, and whether anyone had season tickets or a way I could get my hands on a pair. There are six Premiere League teams in the London area: Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham United, Fulham, Crystal Palace and Tottenham. Buying tickets was painless but required some planning and compromises. There was an Arsenal home game and a Fulham home game on my weekend visit. I decided to forgo the pursuit of Arsenal tickets, since they are a top-ranked team. In order to buy Fulham tickets, I had to purchase a membership to the “Fulham Faithful” fan club, which allows advanced ticket purchase. I successfully ordered at 10 AM London time over the web on the day tickets become available, which is about 6-8 weeks ahead of the match. A little research for your football match outing requires determining which part of the stands to sit, usually amongst the home team is your safest bet. Fulham lost to a must stronger Southampton team, although I enjoyed the experience immensely. Aside from my small mistake, amidst the home fans, of making a muted “whooping” sound and remarking about the impressiveness of a Southampton goal (which resulted in a few nasty looks), things went pretty smoothly.

Fortuntately, football hooliganism is a thing of the past.

Fortuntately, football hooliganism is a thing of the past.

Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath is a district north of London, which includes the little village of Hampstead Heath and the valley and parks. It is accessible via the Northern Line of the Tube. Most Londoners come to visit the village and heath to relax, walk around and take-in the charm of the area and architecture. This is a perfect tourist avoidance excursion that provides a nice taste of a little English village not far from the City. This is really about taking-in picturesque English charm, winding streets to explore, eclectic architecture, cafes and pubs, and snapping some artsy photos along the way.

I discovered this place when I was looking for a walking tour. In places where there is a rich amount of history and architecture, I feel you really are missing something by just walking around without any narrative. Occasionally, when I stand in my own city at the street-corner downtown, I’ll have a troupe of tourists and a guide walk by, they’ll stop, the guide will stand, point and give a story about a building I walked by a hundred times which has an enthralling history I never knew anything about. It dawned on my that I should never go someplace new without taking advantage of a local, expert, who can help me experience a place better. Anyway, back to the Hampstead Heath… it was really by process of elimination, as I had my set Saturday and Sunday afternoon activities and Saturday morning was the full market, and I picked a walking tour company based on TripAdvisor ratings. The Hampstead Heath tour fit nicely in our Sunday morning, it was “off-the-beaten-path” for tourists, and it was a pleasant contract to the City attractions. I chose the London Walks tour of Hampstead Heath. I was pretty satisfied although I must say the tour moved at a relatively slow pace for my liking, although the guide did give an impressive overview of the area and showed-us nooks of the Heath Village which I never would have found on my own.

The Connaught – Afternoon Tea

The people who go to afternoon tea are a combination of tourists and locals celebrating special events. I didn’t get the sense there were a lot of tourists at the Connaught, since I seemed to be the only one taking pictures of the tea, scones and cakes. You need to book in advance for afternoon tea. I got recommendations for Claridges and The Connaught, and only The Connaught was available even though I was booking almost two months in advance for a Sunday. A had at least three people mention they enjoyed having tea there, after I mentioned that we got a booking. There are tonnes of reviews out there for high tea. I was pretty pleased with my experience there. The food was great, and when we remarked one of the sandwiches had bread that could be fresher, they brought out right away a fresh one – not like we were wanting for more food. The tea was good, although I am not an aficionado of tea. I am, however, an aficionado of Champagne. After a couple of glasses, I was indeed having a relaxing afternoon.

I recall there was tea at Afternoon Tea.

I recall there was tea at Afternoon Tea.

Lamb & Flag

I asked friends who both visited and currently live in London about their favourite restaurants, and most were quick to provide suggestions. The Cinnamon Kitchen, an Indian Restaurant near Liverpool Street Station, was on our list – it was an excellent meal, but an unfortunate choice for someone returning from a week in India. However, when I asked about pubs, I couldn’t get a single suggestion from anyone. I think the problem was that there were too many, and people fancied their local pubs. I got a few suggestions, but I think people were thinking I wanted a dining experience and I got references to gastro-pubs, like The Larrik Pub. I was on my own. There are a lot of much touted pubs, like The French House in SOHO. After much research, I settled on the Lamb & Flag. This seemed pretty authentic, and there are claims it has been around for almost 400 years. Charles Dickens used to frequent the pub. I was pretty satisfied with my choice, since I was looking for atmosphere, rather than the best meal. Obviously, I had the special, which was steak and mushroom pie with chips and peas, along with a pint of “their finest ale”. The food was good; it was pub food. However, the atmosphere was great. I felt like I got a good taste of the authentic pub experience.

Charles Dickens was a customer… just like me!

Charles Dickens was a customer… just like me!

Shopping

  • Marylebone High Street – This shopping street runs parallel to Baker Street and was very near our hotel. It is nice for a easy walk to look and poke-around in some stores.We stopped in The Providores tapas bar on Monday morning, and it was fantastic. You can plan an easy walk and shopping around lunch or brunch, and you won’t be disappointed. I would not say the shopping was fantastic, but it is a very picturesque street, it was near the hotel, and The Providores was amazing. Regent’s Park is near there, so on our Monday we walked through Regent’s Park and over to Marylebone High Street.
  • Carnaby Street – This is a pedestrian shopping street in London and worth walking through. One of the things I find I can get in London, with more selection and a cheaper price, is shoes. I always head to the Campers store if I can make it.
  • The Who Shop – Ha. Not for everyone, but awesome for me. If you’re a regular geek, or closet geek, and enjoy watching the Doctor Who BBC Science Fiction TV Series, then it’s worth the trip out to The Who Shop. This was our Friday afternoon. This required a special trip, since is all the way out near Upton Park Tube station and about 30 minutes each way from Baker Street. This place has a small museum which includes a lot of props from the BBC movie sets that have been purchased over the years.We spent about 75-90 minutes there and it was worth the trip. Tourists from all over the world go there, although it is not a busy tourist attraction by any stretch.

British Airways Club World… Nice but Narrow

Here I am talking again about more problems that the majority of people wish they had. Since Lufthansa cancelled the Frankfurt to Hyderabad service a couple of years ago, I have been searching for convenient ways to get from North America to Hyderabad. Despite being the sixth largest city in India, and a heavy-weight in technology, direct flights from Europe or Asia are few and far between. British Airways is a preferred option, mainly as someone who is a “points-monger”, but not someone who is willing to undertake an internal transfer in India.

I am talking here about the new British Airways Club World Cabin, not the cabin that looks like it was lifted from an officer cabin from a Royal Navy Warship circa 1865 (you know which one I am talking about – just avoid those flights altogether for business class, as they still exist on some trans-Atlantic Boeing 767 flights).

I have flown on the Boeing 747, 777 and 787 configurations of the new Club World cabin. British Airways has adopted this staggered format layout with seats alternating between rear-facing and forward-facing seats – a lot of people aren’t too keen on this configuration, but I don’t mind too much. If you want privacy, try to get a window seat on all configuration types, and as is typically echoed on SeatGuru and SeatExpert, avoid the rows at the very front and back of the Club World cabin.

In the Boeing 747 and 777 airplanes, the configuration has two side-by-side rear-facing middle seats. These are least preferred unless you happen to have no-one sitting beside you – then you have a luxurious amount of space. There have been occasions where I lept into the middle pair of empty seats as soon as the airplane door closed and it was clear no-one was using them. Mine, mine, all mine. Try asking at check-in, too – that might be a little less drama. In the Boeing 787, there are three seats in the middle of the plane so avoid the middle unless you like feeling claustrophobic. The new 787 is a nicely styled black and grey variant of the new cabin. I like it.

The Club World seats like totally flat and horizontal, which is mandatory. Despite the odd cabin configuration, a privacy screen with frosted glass provides the necessarily isolation from your neighbour. I am a pretty slender guy, but even I find the seat a bit narrow. Rolling over when sleeping requires a special technique. The seat has a decent sized drawer near the floor to hold your stuff. In the seated position, there is an infinite amount of leg-room. The LCD touch-screen and tray tables flip-open when needed. I like the fact that the tray-table slides forward and backward. For some reason, British Airways has a dual jack headphone plug that works, but not that well, with external headsets – I always find it too loud when I only plug into one of the jacks.

The cabin service has always been friendly on British Airways, and I enjoy having a snack-service bar always available. The service director once gave me 10,000 Avios points because my electrical outlet malfunctioned during a flight, which was awesome because I slept most of the flight anyway. That’s the kind of customer responsiveness I appreciate.

Another plus of British Airways is travelling through Heathrow Terminal 5. It is big, but modern and efficient. I do not like the Club World lounges because they are way too busy. If you happen to be flying from the Terminal 5 B gates, head to the lounge out there because it is not as busy. The ones in the main terminal building are crowded. My plan involves stopping to eat at Wagamama. Yum. When you are travelling 20 hours to get to your destination, a stop-over with their curried chicken on rice with gyoza and a beer hits the spot. I spend more time at Wagamama than in the lounge, and I only use the lounge in the B-gate satellite terminal.

Privacy screen… up.

Privacy screen… up.

The bottom-line: I recommend Club World for long-haul business travel and I am a repeat customer, with comfortable but narrow seats and an odd-configuration, some people may find it a bit unusual, avoid the Club Lounges in Terminal 5 unless you go to the satellite terminal

Paris: Beyond the Tourist Traps

Over the past four years I must have been to Paris at least 20 times. Since one-of our industry centres-of-excellent was located in Paris, along with a major subcontractor, this gave me a lot of opportunity to travel there and see the city over a period of a few years. I made it a habit of trying to arrive Sunday morning, walk around to stay awake and shake-off the jet-lag. When I vacationed there about 15 years ago, I hit most of the major sites – but this blog entry is not about that. It’s about all the places I discovered in my travels that are worth seeing in Paris, for a more authentic experience.

On one of my trips, I was sitting in the airport lounge prior to my flight to Paris and remarked an unusually high number of mother-daughter pairs in my vicinity. This was Spring and apparently everyone had the same idea about maternal bonding. One pair was sitting across from me and had guidebooks and maps, discussing the potential sites and areas to visit. I couldn’t help myself and jumped in with some suggestions – they were so pleased and happy to get some ideas about what to do, since you know that finding good ideas in a brand-new place is very hard, especially in someplace as touristy as Paris can be. I hope they enjoyed my suggestions. The stuff listed below was on the list.

You might know that I like to think about clusters of places to visit, which is particularly important when trying to make the most of a city in a short time. This is how the suggestions stack-up (see Walking below – a lot of these are tied together in a couple nice walks):

  • Relais De L’Entrecote and La Derniere Goutte are close together in St. Germain, you can add-on a nice visit to St. Germain des Pres church and have a look inside. Have dinner or lunch first then wander over to the wine shop and go crazy. Place Dauphine and the Musee De L’Orangerie are close-by, you can walk through the Jardin Tuileries and the Louvre area starting at the museum and then have a mid-afternoon drink at Rose de La France.
  • Montparnasse has a lot of places with Crepes, it is known for that around that area, and this is close to Chez Milou (if you wanted to grab a crepe, explore the Montparnasse area and then grab dinner at Chez Milou, that would be a good idea). La Tour Montparnasse has an observation deck that is great for night-time viewing. Making a little trip after dinner at Chez Milou would be a good idea, you could spend about 20 minutes gazing over Paris (including a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower).

The best time of year to visit Paris is the early Spring or late Fall. The summer is absolutely crazy with tourists, but you can still use my tips to find the places that give you an authentic experience.

Rue Mouffetard

The Rue Moffetard is one of the top-rated shopping experiences in Paris. It is a market street in the fifth arrondissement in Paris. This is a narrow, charming street that hosts lots of little shops, cafes, food and wine vendors. On occasion, I have seen troupes performing in the streets as well. It is best to start at the bottom on the street, Square Saint-Médard, where there is a nice fountain and church. If you start-off there in the morning, there is a Starbucks if you want to grab a coffee to get energized for the up-hill walk. I try to get there early, but not so early I can’t stop half-way up the street for a bottle of wine. It’s perfect to sit there and people watch. This is an authentic Paris experience – and, it is a must see and on the top of my Paris list.

Troupe on Rue Mouffetart… Even more fun after some wine

Troupe on Rue Mouffetart… Even more fun after some wine

Musée de l’Orangerie

The Musée de l’Orangerie is a small art gallery located near the Louvre. It is art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings located in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens next to the Place de la Concorde in Paris. It contains the Monet Water Lilies in a spectacular natural light presentation, along with Impressionist art from the collection of a private art dealer. Even in the busiest seasons, I have never had to wait to get in. All the other tourists are flocking to the Louvre or the Musee D’Orsay (which I also love, by the way). This is an amazing way to see some art and not be overwhelmed with a huge museum – you can get through here in about 1-2 hours and still feel like you got a good taste of Impressionist art and culture. Not a huge commitment, not a lot of crowds, and worth it.

Just enough Impressionism to whet the appetite

Just enough Impressionism to whet the appetite

Place Dauphine

The Place Dauphine is a public square located right on the Île de la Cité in the first arrondissement of Paris. The interesting part about this square is that it is right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Paris, but generally hidden away. This is a perfect place to take a pit-stop for some nice wine in a cafe – I usually stop at La Rose de France (it’s not a “must-eat at” place, but it is very quaint and matches the vibe I look for when stopping here). I also noted that Trip Advisor shows good reviews for this square as well.

Hidden Gem

Hidden Gem

Vélib’

At first thought, the idea of trekking around Paris on a bike seems a bit daunting. There are these seemingly clunky bikes, with these odd machines to check them in-and-out. However, once I tried the Velib, I was completely hooked. Vélib’ is the public bike service that allows you to pick-up a bike at one station, ride it around and to another station to drop it off. It is an amazing way to see Paris, and a darn quick way to get around. You can purchase a 7-day ticket that ties to your credit card, and you use a code on this ticket to check-in/out. There are stations everywhere. Some of my happiest days were those in which I biked around Paris in the Spring, with 15-20 degree weather, nice cool and clear skies. Once you know where to go, it is much faster than the Metro – you can see a lot of Paris on the bike, and consider using a bike along my recommended walking routes (see Walking below).

How is this not awesome?

How is this not awesome?

Chez Milou

Chez Milou is a very unassuming little restaurant near Montparnasse on Rue Du Maine. One of the things I like about the location, is that it is tucked away overlooking a nice square, and in nicer weather the restaurant is open air with the full length windows/doors open to the square. I find french restaurants and food to be pretty bland and similar. However, if you want a nice authentic french restaurant experience in a cozy atmosphere, this is the place for you. The owner is on the premisis, a feisty older lady who runs a tight ship and aims to please. The menu is small, changes frequently and would satisfy your need to taste french cuisine. I have eaten there many times and it is near the top of my list.

La Grand Venise

Why is one of my favourite restaurants in Paris an Italian restaurant? La Grande Venice is consistently recommended and gets good reviews. I have eaten there at least four times, and each time was fantastic. The antipasto platter cannot properly be called an appetizer because you could feed a family of six people with what they put in front of you. I recommend trying to go to this restaurant with at least three of your closest, and hungriest, friends. You should order the antipasto platter. One cool thing about the restaurant is the centrepieces they put on the tables – they are constructed from peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables. It looks like a bouquet, but, sure enough, it is edible. If I had not gone with someone who had already been there, I would never have known to partake in this deliciously fancy starter. They provide oils, salt and spices to make yourself a little tomato treat. The entrees are all fantastic, and I particularly enjoy the seafood pasta. The finale should be the carmel ice-cream which they shave off from a home-made tower – no description is required, just look at the photo below.

paris-grandvenise

All hail the tower of caramel infused ice cream!

Relais De L’Entrecote

You can have, steak-frites or if you don’t like that, you can have steak-frites. The Relais De L’Entrecote is a restaurant that specializes, and serves only, steak-frites. There are a few locations in Paris. My favourite is the one near Saint Germain Des Pres, because it is tucked away and less busy. They do not take reservations. When the waitress approaches you for the first time, the only questions she asks is “how do you like your meat cooked?”. The meal consists of salad and bread as a starter, and steak-frites in two servings (they cut it in strips, and keep half warm for you). The sauce is what makes this special. I do not know what they put in it, but, damn, it’s good. The house red wine is pretty good and perfectly adequate for the meal. It’s a simple meal, but very tasty and I always try to get back there. The line-ups can be long during the busy season, so try to go early or eat a bit later.

What do they put in that sauce? Yum.

What do they put in that sauce? Yum.

La Derniere Goute

If you are in Paris, buy some wine. I use a soft-sided Wine Travel Bag that has a plastic seal interior and has a thin padded wrap; I carry two of them and always take back wine. You will need to pack this in your suitcase. People get nervous about doing this, but the likelihood a problem is low – especially when you use this technique.

I stumbled upon this little place near Saint Germain des Pres, in the cross-roads of a few of those “twisty, turny” odd Parisian streets – it could not be located in a more interesting “nook”. La Derniere Goutte has an excellent selection of top-quality wines, and the staff a very helpful. When you visit this place, it’s not just about going shopping – sample their daily sampler, talk to the staff, and take your time making a pick.

How much can I fit on my Velib bike?

How much can I fit on my Velib bike?

Banana-Nutella Crepes

You need to walk to appreciate Paris. When you do walk through the more densely populated regions, you will run across a crepe stand or store-front. When you roll-off the plane and start walking around to cure the jet-lag, grab yourself a banana and Nutella crepe. You can this not give you a tasty kick-start?

Yum. Somehow cures jet-lag.

Yum. Somehow cures jet-lag.

Walking

It is commonly known that Paris is a very walkable city. I would recommend walking as much as possible. I am definitely a “Rive Gauche” person and spend most of my time on the left bank. I have included some possible routes below that are interesting:

  • Loop through Jardin des Tuileries to St. Germain des Pres. A lot of the places I mentioned above are within reach of a single area. You can start at the Musee D’Orsay, take a peek, and cross the river to Place Concorde to see the obelisk, then walk to the Musee De L’Orangerie and through the Jardin des Tuileries. Along this route you will head to the Louvre for a peek, then you can cross across Point Neuf. This is where Place Dauphine is located. You can then head toward Saint-Germain des-Pres which is where Relais De L’Entrecote is located and the wine store. This is about 3-4 km of walking. If you want to add another wine-shop side-trip, head over to the Rive Droite to Lavinia, which is near L’église de la Madeleine – from the Jardin des Tuileries, head towards Place Vendome and then up to the shop (Lavinia offers dinner where you can select wine from the wine-store, when I was there they had live entertainment in the evening – talk about a kid in a “candy store”).
  • Saint Paul to Montparnasse. The area around Saint-Paul, Le Marais, is a historic district which is a very nice walk. In this area you have some interesting sights, like the Hotel de Sens and the Paris city museum. I would start at the Mont-Marie metro station. You can explore the fourth arrondissement, head towards Les Vosges and then back to Musée Carnavalet. Then, cross the river at Ile St. Louis towards the Pantheon, then over to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg (make sure to stop and see the Medici Fountain). Before heading to Montparnasse, head towards Montparnasse cemetery.  La Tour Montparnasse has an observation deck that is great for night-time viewing, it is a bit on the touristy side, but this is the best night-time view of the Eiffel tower and Les Invalides and a lot less busy than the Eiffel Tower. Making a little trip after dinner at Chez Milou would be a good idea, you could spend about 20 minutes gazing over Paris (including a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower).
  • Eiffel Tower and Champs. This gets you a bit more of the main-stream landmarks, and I mean a lot of landmarks. You should start your walk at Tracadero where you would have a nice view across the river to the Eiffel tower. Walk over to the Eiffel tower, but just keep walking (marvel from beneath, or get there real early and go up to the top), because this area is super touristy and busy. Proceed along the Champ de Mars (the long park in front of the Eiffel Tower), but double-back and ahead across to Rue Cler. This street runs alongside the Champs de Mars and is a fantastic little street filled with shops, cafes and bakeries (another example of an “off-the-beaten track” place to get an authentic local experience). Then, head over to Les Invalides and Le Tombeau de Napoléon and towards the Seinne and across the bridge Point Alexandre III. This is the most beautiful bridge in all of Paris and the view back towards the Eiffel tower, especially at night, is fantastic. All of these are nice landmarks. Keep walking to the Grand Palais and beyond to the Arche de Triomphe and then down the Champs Élysées to Place de la Concorde. This is about 6 km of walking, so plan for a couple of hours. You can merge continue the walk with the Jardin des Tuileries which would make it about 9 km (you’ll sleep good that night, that’s for sure).

Other Stuff

  • How come you didn’t mention hotels? I always travelled there on business and stayed at the Marriott Rive Gauche. It is a nice hotel, but not necessarily close to anything in particular. If you stay there, I would explore the area around Place D’Italie. There are two subways stops within a few hundred meters of the hotel on the Nation-Etoile subway line, as well as a Velib station right outside. If you want a hotel with more American amenities and feel, this is the place for you. Otherwise, try to find a boutique hotel.
  • What are some landmarks you’d rather avoid? The Sacré-Cœur is a beautiful spot but, wow, it’s even more touristy than the Eiffel Tower. This is the area where you will also find the Moulin Rouge. If you want to head-up there to take a look, do a quick fly-by, snap some photos and then cut back to Rue Caulaincourt and over to Montmartre Cemetery and walk around there (it is very nice), and then make your way past the Moulin Rouge to Pigalle Station. This is a worthwhile route, but only on your fourth day in Paris.