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Discounts in Paris
A Winter Walk in Pre-dawn Paris


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Discounts in Paris

If you plan to do shopping in Paris, be sure to contact the French Government Tourist Office at 444 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022. Request discount cards for Galeries Lafayette as well as a seasonal guide to what's going on in that beautiful city. At the department stores, you'll get an immediate 10% off on your purchases at the red, white and blue registers. On larger purchases, an additional "detaxe" of 13% is yours at the VAT desk on the main floor. Should you be fortunate enough to be there at sale time, your savings can be very large indeed. If you haven't had a chance to contact the Tourist office, show up at Galeries Lafayette Welcome desk with your plane ticket and passport and they'll give you a 10% card good for the duration of your stay. Remember to bring your passport in any event. You'll need it to arrange the VAT refund.

While visiting Galeries Lafayette - two tips:

  1. Visit the Bistro Internet, where you can go on-line while snacking and meet fellow cyberspirits from France and other nations.
  2. Visit the expansive Galeries Lafayette food shopping area. Once there, make a beeline for lunch at the Petrossian Bar. Try a generous platter of the world's finest Norwegian smoked salmon with a choice glass of champagne or wine. Those uninhibited about indulging, might wish to sample the combination platter, consisting of smoked salmon and foie gras.

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Buy Pariscope at the newstand. It's a weekly guide to concerts, museum exhibitions, films, jazz, rock and dance clubs, auctions, street fairs. There's a listing of the week's highlights in English.

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A Winter Walk in Pre-dawn Paris
by Shelly Mehlman Dinhofer

Artists, writers, movie makers and lyricists, those seriously involved in the heady business of romance, have described Paris vividly, incandescently. Paris is perfection, they said, when it drizzles, when it sizzles, when the chestnuts are in bloom, when women of a certainage, regardless of time, parade their effortless style withe ease and grace, when outdoor cafes flourish, their tables strewn with newspapers and conversation, when the whole city seems an expansive cocktail party.

Paris, in the imagination, is an evening extravaganzawith plumed and powdered, barely attired women undulating gracefully down the curves staircase of the Folies Bergere. It is late night "caves," those smoky jazz dens hidden in the deep cellars of ancient Left Bank buildings where the true night people find their common ground.

Horace Walpole termed 18th century Paris a "perpetual opera" and Henry C. Shelley, the English "bon vivant" and detailer of turn-of-the-century Parisian night life dubbed it the "rendezvous of allforeigners... the wine of life." Indeed they are right, but I love Paris best when the medieval grey of winter settles over the city, when morning mists coat the low-slung, jagged skyline, blurring its edges, when I can claim it for my own.

My husband and I fast-walk in the 6:00AM quiet. It is our way of establishing an intimacy, a personal relationship without immediate neighborhood, distinct from continuing encounters with monuments, museums and restaurants. We envelop ourselves in Victor Hugo's Paris, his "architectural and historical production of the Middle Ages," his "chronicle in stone."

We leave our nineteenth century townhouse-hotel in the seventh arrondissement, striding down the tiny Rue St. Simon. There is no traffic as we cross the wide multi-laned Boulevard St. Germain. Nojoggers. Just the still, dark pre-dawn. Our pace picks up on the store-lined Rue du Bac, its blank window mirroring only our own images, where in the daytime fine objects and funky merchandise command attention, prints by Picasso, Miro and Chagall, framed in the windows of the prestigious Galerie Maeght, dark brown, elegantly wrapped chocolates, petits fours and a variety of shops in the shop of Lenotre. While stuffed animals such as lions and tigers, exotic birds and glorious winged insects are displayed in the ancient windows of Deyrolle, the taxidermist. On the dimly lit sidestreets, the bulky facade of 18th and 19th century mansions are barely visible, simply dark outlines against the inky sky. The only movement is the quiet sweep of a lone street cleaner.

Our tempo increases as we move rapidly toward the Seine. The air is cool and damp. The black shadowy buildings of the Palais du Louvre stretch before us as we cross the river. We are alone on the normally noisy, heavily traffiked Pont Royal. As we walk straightalong the Quai des Tuilleries, the walls of the Palais seem to echo with the muffled sounds of long gone master builders, stone carvers and their apprentices.

The Louvre was built as a fortificationin 1200, a protective link in the new city's perimeter. Construction proceeded in fits and starts through ensuing centuries, as kings, queens and their entourages came and went, Francois I and Catherine de Medici, The Louis' XIII and XIV, Napoleon I and Napoleon III. The structure absorbed Gothic towers and Renaissance facades, royal apartments and artists' studios. Abandoned to itinerant craftsmen, taverns and vagrants, it was reclaimed several times as the royal residence and, although continually expanding, it maintained its grand exterior spaces. It symbolizes the varied stages of Paris's architectural heritage.

We enter the courtyard through the Louvre's Carrousel Colonnnade, then a quick right, and I.M. Pei's contemporary pyramid lit from within confronts us, casting layered shadows in the reflected light of the pools which encircle it. Emerging from the darkness, the skeletal glass structure rises in primeval splendor, a hallucinatory symbol of ancient Egypt, startling, yet appropriate. We circle the court, pass through the Pavillon de l'Horloge (the Clock Pavilion) and enter the wondrous silence of the Cour Carree, the oldest open court of the palace, a place of perfect symmetry, truly a sanctuary. The utter quiet is all encompassing.

The sky has changed to a textured deep grey as we continue our walk directly across the Quai du Louvre to the iron footbridge, the Pont Des Art. With its lounge chairs and greenhouses filled with exotic plants, this toll bridge, completed in 1803, was a thoughtful addition to the Paris scene. It was created especially for the comfort and pleasure of Parisians out to enjoy the view - and they did - as 65,000 leisure strollers paid their way on opening day. The enclosed greenhouses are long gone, replaced by boxed plants and benches, but the view is as excitingas it ever was, and it is free.

To the right, with their iron webs highlighted, the evanescent glows of the Tour Eiffel and the crystal facade of the old railway station, the Gre d'Orsay, now the musee d'Orsay, appear superimposed. To the left, silhouetted against the brightening sky, is the somber bulk of the Gothic Conciergerie, built by Philip the Fair in the 14th century. Four hundred years later it was the dreaded prison of the French Revolution. Just beyond are the spires of Lous IX's (later Saint Louis) glorious gift to the people of 13th century Paris, Saint Chapelle, and then the eternal grandeur of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. They are all images brought to our consciousness in swift glances and remaining. Our stride has continued apace,but we are exultant, immersed in the beauty and history of Paris.

By the time we reach the traditional open-air marketson the Left Bank's Rue de Seine, the days's activity has begun. Trucks linethe narrow winding street. Venders fill their stalls with colorful fruitsand vegetables of every variety, aubergines, oranges, leeks and gorgeous greens attractively laid out like pattern paintings. Rabbits and feathered pheasants are hung from overhead poles amid dried foliage. There are marbled meets and fresh seafood, showcases filled with creamy textured cheeses and bins of dried fruits and candies.

The early morning aromas of freshly baked breads andpastries merge in the chilled air. The "boulangeries" and "patisseries" areopen for business. We proceed through the throngs of vendors in their sparkling white aprons and on to the Boulevard St. Germain. Picking up speed in anticipation of our "petit dejeuner," we virtually jog past the Church of St. Germain des Pres, past Picasso's bust of Appolinaire, past such famous tourist cafes as Les Deux Magots and Cafe Flore, now quietly serving the few locals who dare the dawn. Hurriedly, we cross the boulevard, casting covetous eyes on the kitchen cabinet stores, the elegant clothing displays,the art and antique galleries, the books stalls and magazine kiosks, and the befogged windows of shops selling unique objects, umbrellas with carved animal handles, glittering spectacles with their faux diamonds and cosmetics by the pound.

A short detour up the Boulevard Raspail takes us tothe Rue de Cherche Midi and Poilane, first among Parisian's favorite bakeries. It is 7:00AM sharp. The trays of rolls and croissants, breads decorated with symbols of the holiday season and the justly renowned "tarte aux pommes" have just emerged from the ancient basement ovens. We pause to greet theurbane owner, Lionel Poilane, in his tiny office whose walls are a gallery devoted only to paintings of bread. We chat about cultural events, art exhibitions or our current plans with the enthusiasm of early risers and then, happily clutching our aromatic "sac" and our souvenir cookie, we are once more on our way.

We bound into the hotel lobby together with the daytime staff. The joyous lilt of the French language greets us. "Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur, Deux cafes? Oui, oui." Ensconsed in our small sitting room, we eat the still warm, buttery and delicious tartes and croissants and sip the cafe-au-lait. We read our daily newspapers, Le Figaro and the International Herald Tribune and add still more exciting events to an already overcrowded daily schedule.

As Henry C. Shelley noted almost a century ago, we are the fortunate people "...who come to spend their time in Paris, growing young."

Shelly Mehlman Dinhofer, formerly the Director of the Museum of the Borough of Brooklyn, is now a free-lance travel writer who visits Paris several times a year. She is also author of "The Art of Baseball."

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