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Thursday
Dec312009

How to get a taxi in Paris

Hailing a taxi in most big cities around the world is a pretty straight forward affair.  Especially in cities where there is a taxi meter.  Paris is a big city; the drivers respect the meter and the rules, even if they don’t necessarily have much respect for their passengers.  So what, you ask, could be so complicated?

Well, we're in France so things are not as they may seem.  First of all it’s not always easy to hail a taxi on the street.  It can happen occasionally, but don't count on it.  While researching this post I found a helpful article on the City of Paris website entitled “Why taxis don’t stop in Paris when hailed.”  So clearly this is a widespread frustration. 

What I learned from the City of Paris is that a taxi driver is not allowed to stop if he/she is 50m or less from a Taxi Stand; if you are standing on the sidewalk where the driver would have to stop in a bus lane to collect you; or if the taxi is already reserved and on its way to pick up a fare. (In this case the light on top is not illuminated at all)

So the best place to catch a taxi is at an official taxi stand.  Therefore you should have a sense of where these are located before leaving your hotel.  Be aware that many of the smaller stands in remote parts of town are less frequented by drivers, so it’s advisable to stick with the larger “Grandes Stations” marked on the map with a blue dot. 

For visitors, the most central taxi stand is near the Louvre at the Place Andre Malraux.  This is near the intersection of rue de Rivoli and Avenue de l’Opera.  This is marked with a blue dot and the number 2 on the map.  Another place is to the left of the big square in front of Notre Dame.  This is not an offical stand, but with the numerous taxis arriving to Notre Dame and the Hospital just in front it's a pretty safe bet you'll have a short wait.

The other way to get a taxi is to book in advance.  I consider the most professional company to be Taxis G7.  They have the largest fleet, a 24 hour booking number and also take bookings online.  But don’t worry, they have operators on duty who speak English; just ask to be transferred to someone that speaks English. 

One thing to be aware of is that in Paris, there is an unusual rule about how fares are charged when you book a taxi in advance.  The driver is allowed to turn on the meter when he/she leaves to meet you, so expect a few extra Euros on the meter when the taxi arrives.  This is most shocking when you book a taxi early in the morning for a short trip within Paris from your hotel to one of the train stations.  In this case, the driver trips the meter leaving home in the suburbs and I have seen as much 20€ or more already on the meter when I get into the car.  This can be a substantial sum when the fare is about 10€ to the station, but if your hotel or apartment isn’t close to a stand that is busy early in the morning there’s not much other choice unless you book a fixed rate taxi through our concierge service. 

Another “hidden” charge which is legal, but perhaps confusing for visitors is that the driver charges One Euro for each bag that is put into the trunk.  So expect to have that added to the fare shown on the meter.

If you do try to hail a taxi or happen to see one near a museum or other monument you are visiting, confirm first if the taxi is available or already taken.  Throughout 2011, the 16,623 taxis registered in Paris will be changing the lights on top of the car that indicate if they already have a fare or not.  It’s now simple; Green is go -- the taxi is available and Red, the taxi is "not available."  And as I mentioned before, lights completely off means it's already reserved or not in service.

One last thought, of particular interest to American visitors, is about tipping Taxi drivers in Paris.  How much to tip in Paris is a common concern.  Well, like restaurants, the taxi driver is not working for tips so it's not expected.  It's one of the few countries I've visited where the driver takes the time to count out change down to the last centime.  Nevertheless, rounding up the fare by Euro or two is not uncommon and, of course, larger tips are always appreciated if you feel that you had a helpful and/or courteous driver.

 

Click here to download a PDF of the Taxi Stand Map from www.paris.fr

 

http://www.taxisg7.com/taxis/commande-taxis

 

 

Image Credits:

Danny De Vito   Copyright: ExaggerArt.com

Taxi Photo         www.Paris.fr

Wednesday
Dec302009

Who cut the cheese?

France's food culture is one of the most celebrated in the world, but the rules that surround it are not always easy to comprehend.  As an expat living in Paris I've learned the hard way that there are a myriad of French customs related to food that can surprise you when you least expect it.

Once, relatively early on in my Paris life, I was invited to a party at the home of a colleague from Christie's France.  It was a large event, planned as a cocktail dinatoire.  The type of party a caterer would likely call "cocktail/heavy hors d'oeuvres."

It was held in a beautiful and elegantly furnished apartment in the 16th not far from the Bois de Boulogne.  I arrived a bit late, as I had already learned my lesson to not arrive on time. See previous post  Once arrived, things were going well.  I knew a number of people and those I didn't were welcoming and friendly. 

There was an abundance of food on offer.  In addition to passed petits-fours salés (Hors d'Oeuvres) there was a big buffet laid out in the dining room.  At a certain point in the evening the table was cleared to start cheese and dessert.  As you may already now, I love cheese and despite still being a newby in France (this was 2002) I thought I'd learned quite a bit about cheese.

The cheese and desserts had drawn a number of people and several were around me as I started to serve myself from the selection of cheeses.  Well, my knife had barely touched the first piece of cheese, a runny ripe Brie de Meaux, when I heard a sound I have learned to dread:  the sound of a deep nasal inhalation.  I call it "the sniff."  I looked towards the source of this sound and saw my friend Isabelle simultaneously shaking her head and gently clicking her tongue.  I don't know if you can imagine this combination of sight and sound, but if we ever meet I'd be happy to demonstrate so you know what to look out for.

I had already learned that "the sniff" was a polite indication of a social faux-pas in the making.  The tongue-clicking and head-shaking is a more emphatic and familial version ...something parents reserve for their children.  Since she knew me, she could do both.  Otherwise, she would have only done "the sniff."   The direction of my knife made it clear to those around me that I was about to make a big mistake.  You see, I was about to "cut off the nose" of this beautiful Brie de Meaux.  Meaning that I intended to cut the point off the wedge-shaped piece of Brie.  You might think that this seems like a reasonable approach, hardly worthy of "the sniff," but the French have a different and perhaps even logical view.

When savoring a really nice piece of French cheese, there are several factors that make up the flavor.  I have already talked about the importance of eating cheese at its seasonal peak and other factors that can influence the taste.  See previous post.  Having selected the perfect cheese, when you begin eating there are several key components that make a perfect bite.  These are the outer skin or "croûte," the interior "pâte," and any mold occurring on the surface or in interior veins.  Each of these components adds its own small part to the overall flavor and the idea is that everyone should have an equal amount of each flavor component. For example, the closer you get to the outer crust, the stronger the flavor. Another unlikely factor can be the crunch, the extra-vieux Mimolette is best eaten when its more than two years old and the crust has been invested with cheese mites.  (Hard to imagine who thought of that one.)  It's very dry and usually served in small cubes or crumbled. 

In my case, with the Brie de Meaux, cutting off the nose, as I was barbarically about to do, would deprive the other guests of their perfect bite.  Thanks to Isabelle, my faux-pas was averted.  I took her cue and stopped in the nick of time.  She made a gesture that indicated I should cut down the side of the wedge, thus allowing everyone a similar piece.  What I have later learned is that every shape of cheese has its own rules for how it should be cut. 

Basic Guidelines for Cutting French Cheeses

 

Some varieties, like the Swiss Tête de Moine even have their own tools designed expressly for making the perfect bite.

In recent years I've learned that the French love to break the rules.  Especially the rules that are begging to be broken.  However, what I've noticed is that when people break the rules about cutting cheese they often first make it known they realize they are breaking the rules; often using the assumptive phrase, "you don't mind if I cut the nose."  So even though they are breaking the rules they don't want you to think they don't know their way around a cheese plate.

Thursday
Dec242009

The Yule Log Revisited

 

Many people think France has its head stuck in the 19th century, or even perhaps the glorious 17th century of Louis XIV, but there is certainly a case to be made that some Frenchmen (and women) are living smack in the 21st Century.

 

One such man is Hervé Matejewski, founder and creative force behind the firm mat&jewski.  Even the company logo is brilliant in its subtle way of helping pronounce his non-French surname.  You see, in French the & is for the word "et" and pronounced "a" which makes it easy to say "Mat-a-jewski" resulting in the perfect pronuciation of his name.  Probably something he had been endlessly explaining to people. 

Photo JeromeAumontMatejewski founded his firm in 1999 and one of the early products he designed was a line of small pierced Votive candles (dubbed Totem) which landed at BO to great success.  This was back when BO was the référence for great design.  Sadly, in recent years BO seems to have lost its way.  In subsequent years, he and his firm have desgined Lighting, Furniture, Accessories and numerous glam events.

Throughout these years, the Totem concept of light and pierced metal has been part of his signature.  Another success was sphere-shaped feather light fixtures.  Not surprisingly, his deft hand took what could have been a design disaster and created a modern take on classic Arne Jacobsen and George Nelson silhouettes.

Another Frenchman who has challenged the status-quo for his profession is Carl Marletti.  A master Pâtisissier who was previously the Pastry chef at the famous Cafe de la Paix near the Opera Garnier.  Having struck out on his own, he now runs a rapidly rising pâtissiere in the very foodie Fifth Arrondissment.  A look at his website will tell you that this is no ordinary bakery.  Not only are his treats remarkably delicious, they are a true design delight.

You may be wondering where this post is heading, after all the title was promising a Yule Log.  Well, the French Christmas classic "Bûche de Noel" (Yule Log Cake) is often a tired looking Chocolate treat covered in meringue mushrooms, plastic Holly with a plastic Santa or Christmas Tree thrown in for good measure.  These desserts can be the visual bane of an otherwise elegant holiday spread. This one is particularly frightful and lets you in on the secret that everything French is not all so-oo chic. 

As an anecdote to this shameful tradition, every year the best French Pâtissieres try to right this wrong by creating their own modern take on the Bûche.

This year, these two rising stars have collaborated to create their signature Bûche.  It's a snowy white chocolate mousse log with a "Totem" inspired pierced silvered chocolate shell.  Not your Grandmere's Yule Log.

 

Carl Marletti, Patissier - 51, rue Censier, 75005 Paris      Visualize on Google Maps

Opening Hours: Tue-Sat 10-8, Sun 10-1:30, Closed Mondays

mat&jewski

Wednesday
Dec232009

Alone with Mona

A rare moment alone with the Mona Lisa

The official website for the Louvre Museum contains a wealth of information.  The other day I came accross a section that provides an environment for in-depth study of a small number of the better known works in the collection.  While I strive to post unusual images for this series, I thought this informative take on an almost too-famous picture was worth a post.  As the narrator points out, most people look at the picture without really seeing it.  The reality is that it's quite difficult to get close to her and the crowds looking at the picture can make it difficult to concentrate.  So a chance to look at her closely and reflect thoughtfully is in itself unusual.  One especially fun feature is the chance to see images of the reverse side of the picture and the restoration that's been done over the centuries.

The Mona Lisa - A Closer Look


Tuesday
Dec222009

Paris Video: December 2009

Here's a charming little video tour of Paris to set your mind wandering.

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