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Travel Guide and Information about Paris

Cordon bleu

A cordon bleu or schnitzel cordon bleu is a dish of meat wrapped around cheese then breaded and pan-fried or deep-fried. Veal or pork cordon bleu is made of veal or pork pounded thin and wrapped around a slice of ham and a slice of cheese, breaded, and then pan fried or baked. For chicken cordon bleu chicken breast is used instead of veal. Ham cordon bleu is ham stuffed with mushrooms and cheese.

The French term cordon bleu is translated as "blue ribbon". According to Larousse Gastronomique cordon bleu "was originally a wide blue ribbon worn by members of the highest order of knighthood, L'Ordre des chevaliers du Saint-Esprit, instituted by Henri III of France in 1578. By extension, the term has since been applied to food prepared to a very high standard and to outstanding cooks. The analogy no doubt arose from the similarity between the sash worn by the knights and the ribbons of a cook's apron."

The origins of cordon bleu as a schnitzel filled with cheese are in Switzerland, probably about the 1940s, first mentioned in a cookbook from 1949. The earliest reference to "chicken cordon bleu" in The New York Times is dated to 1967, while similar veal recipes are found from at least 1955.

There are many variations of the recipe, all of which involve a cutlet, cheese, and meat. A popular way to prepare chicken cordon bleu is to butterfly cut a chicken breast, place a thin slice of ham inside, along with a thin slice of a soft, easily melted cheese such as Swiss. The chicken breast is then rolled into a roulade, coated in bread crumbs and then deep fried. Other variations exist with the chicken baked rather than fried.

Other common variations include omitting the bread crumbs, wrapping the ham around the chicken, or using bacon in place of ham.

A variant popular in the Asturias province of Spain is cachopo, a deep-fried cutlet of veal, beef or chicken wrapped around a filling of Serrano ham and cheese. In Spain, the version made with chicken is often called san jacobo.

In largely Muslim-populated countries, the halal versions of chicken cordon bleu are also popular, such that the chicken is rolled around beef or mutton instead of pork product.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is a half-length portrait painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci that has been described as "the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world". The Mona Lisa is also one of the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at $100 million in 1962, which is worth nearly $800 million in 2017.

The painting is thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, and is in oil on a white Lombardy poplar panel. It had been believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506; however, Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517. Recent academic work suggests that it would not have been started before 1513. It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic, on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797.

The subject's expression, which is frequently described as enigmatic, the monumentality of the composition, the subtle modelling of forms, and the atmospheric illusionism were novel qualities that have contributed to the continuing fascination and study of the work.

The title of the painting, which is known in English as Mona Lisa, comes from a description by Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, who wrote "Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife." Mona in Italian is a polite form of address originating as "ma donna" – similar to "Ma’am", "Madam", or "my lady" in English. This became "madonna", and its contraction "mona". The title of the painting, though traditionally spelled "Mona" (as used by Vasari), is also commonly spelled in modern Italian as Monna Lisa ("mona" being a vulgarity in some Italian dialects) but this is rare in English.

Vasari's account of the Mona Lisa comes from his biography of Leonardo published in 1550, 31 years after the artist's death. It has long been the best-known source of information on the provenance of the work and identity of the sitter. Leonardo's assistant Salaì, at his death in 1524, owned a portrait which in his personal papers was named la Gioconda, a painting bequeathed to him by Leonardo.

That Leonardo painted such a work, and its date, were confirmed in 2005 when a scholar at Heidelberg University discovered a marginal note in a 1477 printing of a volume written by the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero. Dated October 1503, the note was written by Leonardo's contemporary Agostino Vespucci. This note likens Leonardo to renowned Greek painter Apelles, who is mentioned in the text, and states that Leonardo was at that time working on a painting of Lisa del Giocondo.

In response to the announcement of the discovery of this document, Vincent Delieuvin, the Louvre representative, stated "Leonardo da Vinci was painting, in 1503, the portrait of a Florentine lady by the name of Lisa del Giocondo. About this we are now certain. Unfortunately, we cannot be absolutely certain that this portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is the painting of the Louvre."

The model, Lisa del Giocondo, was a member of the Gherardini family of Florence and Tuscany, and the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. The painting is thought to have been commissioned for their new home, and to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea. The Italian name for the painting, La Gioconda, means "jocund" ("happy" or "jovial") or, literally, "the jocund one", a pun on the feminine form of Lisa's married name, "Giocondo". In French, the title La Joconde has the same meaning.

Before that discovery, scholars had developed several alternative views as to the subject of the painting. Some argued that Lisa del Giocondo was the subject of a different portrait, identifying at least four other paintings as the Mona Lisa referred to by Vasari. Several other women have been proposed as the subject of the painting. Isabella of Aragon, Cecilia Gallerani, Costanza d'Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla, Isabella d'Este, Pacifica Brandano or Brandino, Isabela Gualanda, Caterina Sforza—even Salaì and Leonardo himself—are all among the list of posited models portrayed in the painting. The consensus of art historians in the 21st century maintains the long-held traditional opinion, that the painting depicts Lisa del Giocondo.

Leonardo da Vinci is thought by some to have begun painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1504 in Florence, Italy. Although the Louvre states that it was "doubtless painted between 1503 and 1506", the art historian Martin Kemp says there are some difficulties in confirming the actual dates with certainty. In addition, many Leonardo experts, such as Carlo Pedretti and Alessandro Vezzosi are of the opinion that the painting is characteristic of Leonardo’s style in the final years of his life, post-1513. Other academics argue that, given the historical documentation, Leonardo would have painted the work from 1513. According to Leonardo's contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, "after he had lingered over it four years, [he] left it unfinished". Leonardo, later in his life, is said to have regretted "never having completed a single work".

Circa 1504, Raphael executed a pen and ink sketch, today in the Louvre museum, in which the subject is flanked by large columns,. Experts universally agree it is based on Leonardo’s portrait of Mona Lisa. Other later copies of the Mona Lisa, such as that in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, and The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore also display large flanking columns. As a result, it was originally thought that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre had side columns and had been cut. However, as early as 1993, Zöllner observed that the painting surface had never been trimmed. This was confirmed through a series of tests conducted in 2004. In view of this, Vincent Delieuvin, curator of 16th century Italian painting at the Louvre museum states that the sketch and these other copies must have been inspired by another version, while Frank Zöllner states that the sketch brings up the possibility that Leonardo executed another work on the subject of Mona Lisa.

It is unclear as to who commissioned the painting. Giorgio Vasari states that the work was painted for Francesco del Giocondo, the husband of Lisa del Giocondo. However, Antonio de Beatis, following a visit with Leonardo in 1517, records that the painting was executed at the instance of Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici.

In 1516, Leonardo was invited by King François I to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise. It is believed that he took the Mona Lisa with him and continued to work after he moved to France. Art historian Carmen C. Bambach has concluded that Leonardo probably continued refining the work until 1516 or 1517.

The fate of the painting around Leonardo’s death and just after it has divided academic opinion. Some, such as Kemp, believe that upon Leonardo’s death, the painting was inherited with other works by his pupil and assistant Salaì and was still in the latter’s possession in 1525. Others believe that the painting was sold to Francis I by Salaì, together with The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the St. John the Baptist in 1518. The Louvre Museum lists the painting as having entered the Royal collection in 1518.

Given the issue surrounding the dating of the painting, the presence of the flanking columns in the Raphael sketch, the uncertainty concerning the person who commissioned it and its fate around the time of Leonardo’s death, a number of experts have argued that Leonardo painted two versions of the Mona Lisa. The first would have been commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo circa 1503, had flanking columns, have been left unfinished and have been in Salai’s possession in 1525. The second, commissioned by Giuliano de Medici circa 1513, without the flanking columns, would have been sold by Salai to Francis I in 1518 and be the one in the Louvre today.

The painting was kept at the Palace of Fontainebleau, where it remained until Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre, but spent a brief period in the bedroom of Napoleon in the Tuileries Palace.

During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) it was moved from the Louvre to the Brest Arsenal. During World War II, Mona Lisa was again removed from the Louvre and taken safely, first to Château d'Amboise, then to the Loc-Dieu Abbey and Château de Chambord, then finally to the Ingres Museum in Montauban.

In December 2015, it was reported that French scientist Pascal Cotte had found a hidden portrait underneath the surface of the painting using reflective light technology. The portrait is an underlying image of a model looking off to the side. Having been given access to the painting by Louvre in 2004, Cotte spent ten years using layer amplification methods to study the painting. According to Cotte, the underlying image is Leonardo's original Mona Lisa.

However, this portrait does not fit with the description of the painting in the historical records: Both Giorgio Vasari and Gian Paolo Lomazzo describe the subject as smiling; the subject in Cotte’s portrait displays no smile. In addition, the portrait lacks the flanking columns drawn by Raphael in his c.1504 sketch of Mona Lisa. Moreover, Cotte admits that his reconstitution had been carried out only in support of his hypotheses and should not be considered a real painting; he stresses that the images never existed. Kemp is also adamant that Cotte’s images in no way establish the existence of a separate underlying portrait.

Detail of the background (right side)

The Mona Lisa bears a strong resemblance to many Renaissance depictions of the Virgin Mary, who was at that time seen as an ideal for womanhood.

The depiction of the sitter in three-quarter profile is similar to late 15th-century works by Lorenzo di Credi and Agnolo di Domenico del Mazziere. Zöllner notes that the sitter's general position can be traced back to Flemish models and that "in particular the vertical slices of columns at both sides of the panel had precedents in Flemish portraiture." Woods-Marsden cites Hans Memling's portrait of Benededetto Portinari (1487) or Italian imitations such as Sebastiano Mainardi's pendant portraits for the use of a loggia, which has the effect of mediating between the sitter and the distant landscape, a feature missing from Leonardo's earlier portrait of Ginevra de' Benci.

The woman sits markedly upright in a "pozzetto" armchair with her arms folded, a sign of her reserved posture. Her gaze is fixed on the observer. The woman appears alive to an unusual extent, which Leonardo achieved by his method of not drawing outlines (sfumato). The soft blending creates an ambiguous mood "mainly in two features: the corners of the mouth, and the corners of the eyes".

The painting was one of the first portraits to depict the sitter in front of an imaginary landscape, and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use aerial perspective. The enigmatic woman is portrayed seated in what appears to be an open loggia with dark pillar bases on either side. Behind her, a vast landscape recedes to icy mountains. Winding paths and a distant bridge give only the slightest indications of human presence. Leonardo has chosen to place the horizon line not at the neck, as he did with Ginevra de' Benci, but on a level with the eyes, thus linking the figure with the landscape and emphasizing the mysterious nature of the painting.

Mona Lisa has no clearly visible eyebrows or eyelashes. Some researchers claim that it was common at this time for genteel women to pluck these hairs, as they were considered unsightly. In 2007, French engineer Pascal Cotte announced that his ultra-high resolution scans of the painting provide evidence that Mona Lisa was originally painted with eyelashes and with visible eyebrows, but that these had gradually disappeared over time, perhaps as a result of overcleaning. Cotte discovered the painting had been reworked several times, with changes made to the size of the Mona Lisa's face and the direction of her gaze. He also found that in one layer the subject was depicted wearing numerous hairpins and a headdress adorned with pearls which was later scrubbed out and overpainted.

There has been much speculation regarding the painting's model and landscape. For example, Leonardo probably painted his model faithfully since her beauty is not seen as being among the best, "even when measured by late quattrocento (15th century) or even twenty-first century standards." Some art historians in Eastern art, such as Yukio Yashiro, argue that the landscape in the background of the picture was influenced by Chinese paintings, but this thesis has been contested for lack of clear evidence.

Research in 2003 by Professor Margaret Livingstone of Harvard University said that Mona Lisa's smile disappears when observed with direct vision, known as foveal. Because of the way the human eye processes visual information, it is less suited to pick up shadows directly; however, peripheral vision can pick up shadows well.

Research in 2008 by a geomorphology professor at Urbino University and an artist-photographer revealed likenesses of Mona Lisas landscapes to some views in the Montefeltro region in the Italian provinces of Pesaro, Urbino and Rimini.

The Mona Lisa has survived for more than 500 years, and an international commission convened in 1952 noted that "the picture is in a remarkable state of preservation." This is partly due to a variety of conservation treatments the painting has undergone. A detailed analysis in 1933 by Madame de Gironde revealed that earlier restorers had "acted with a great deal of restraint." Nevertheless, applications of varnish made to the painting had darkened even by the end of the 16th century, and an aggressive 1809 cleaning and revarnishing removed some of the uppermost portion of the paint layer, resulting in a washed-out appearance to the face of the figure. Despite the treatments, the Mona Lisa has been well cared for throughout its history, and although the panel's warping caused the curators "some worry", the 2004–05 conservation team was optimistic about the future of the work.

Today the Mona Lisa is considered the most famous painting in the world, but until the 20th century it was simply one among many highly regarded artworks. Once part of King Francis I of France's collection, the Mona Lisa was among the very first artworks to be exhibited in Louvre, which became a national museum after the French Revolution. From the 19th century Leonardo began to be revered as a genius and the painting's popularity grew from the mid-19th century when French intelligentsia developed a theme that it was somehow mysterious and a representation of the femme fatal. The Baedeker guide in 1878 called it "the most celebrated work of Leonardo in the Louvre", but the painting was known more by the intelligentsia than the general public.

The 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa and its subsequent return, however, was reported worldwide, leading to a massive increase in public recognition of the painting. During the 20th century it was an object for mass reproduction, merchandising, lampooning and speculation, and was claimed to have been reproduced in "300 paintings and 2,000 advertisements". It has been said that the Mona Lisa was regarded as "just another Leonardo until early last century, when the scandal of the painting's theft from the Louvre and subsequent return kept a spotlight on it over several years."

From December 1962 to March 1963, the French government lent it to the United States to be displayed in New York City and Washington, D.C. It was shipped on the new liner SS France. In New York an estimated 1.7 million people queued "in order to cast a glance at the Mona Lisa for 20 seconds or so." While exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the painting was almost drenched in water because of a faulty sprinkler, but the bullet-proof glass case which encased the painting protected it.

In 1974, the painting was exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow.

In 2014, 9.3 million people visited the Louvre. Former director Henri Loyrette reckoned that "80 percent of the people only want to see the Mona Lisa."

Before its completion the Mona Lisa had already begun to influence contemporary Florentine painting. Raphael, who had been to Leonardo's workshop several times, promptly used elements of the portrait's composition and format in several of his works, such as Young Woman with Unicorn and Portrait of Maddalena Doni (c. 1506). Celebrated later paintings by Raphael, La velata (1515–16) and Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (c. 1514–15), continued to borrow from Leonardo's painting. Zollner states that "None of Leonardo's works would exert more influence upon the evolution of the genre than the Mona Lisa. It became the definitive example of the Renaissance portrait and perhaps for this reason is seen not just as the likeness of a real person, but also as the embodiment of an ideal."

Early commentators such as Vasari and André Félibien praised the picture for its realism, but by the Victorian era writers began to regard the Mona Lisa as imbued with a sense of mystery and romance. In 1859 Théophile Gautier wrote that the Mona Lisa was a "sphinx of beauty who smiles so mysteriously" and that "Beneath the form expressed one feels a thought that is vague, infinite, inexpressible. One is moved, troubled ... repressed desires, hopes that drive one to despair, stir painfully." Walter Pater's famous essay of 1869 described the sitter as "older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in the deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her." By the early 20th century some critics started to feel the painting had become a repository for subjective exegeses and theories, and upon the painting's theft in 1911, Renaissance historian Bernard Berenson admitted that it had "simply become an incubus, and I was glad to be rid of her."

The avant-garde art world has made note of the undeniable fact of the Mona Lisas popularity. Because of the painting's overwhelming stature, Dadaists and Surrealists often produce modifications and caricatures. Already in 1883, Le rire, an image of a Mona Lisa smoking a pipe, by Sapeck (Eugène Bataille), was shown at the "Incoherents" show in Paris. In 1919, Marcel Duchamp, one of the most influential modern artists, created L.H.O.O.Q., a Mona Lisa parody made by adorning a cheap reproduction with a moustache and goatee. Duchamp added an inscription, which when read out loud in French sounds like "Elle a chaud au cul" meaning: "she has a hot ass", implying the woman in the painting is in a state of sexual excitement and intended as a Freudian joke. According to Rhonda R. Shearer, the apparent reproduction is in fact a copy partly modelled on Duchamp's own face.

Salvador Dalí, famous for his surrealist work, painted Self portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954. In 1963 following the painting's visit to the United States, Andy Warhol created serigraph prints of multiple Mona Lisas called Thirty are Better than One, like his works of Marilyn Monroe (Twenty-five Coloured Marilyns, 1962), Elvis Presley (1964) and Campbell's soup (1961–62). The Mona Lisa continues to inspire artists around the world. A French urban artist known pseudonymously as Invader has created versions on city walls in Paris and Tokyo using his trademark mosaic style. A collection of Mona Lisa parodies may be found on YouTube. A 2014 New Yorker magazine cartoon parodies the supposed enigma of the Mona Lisa smile in an animation showing progressively maniacal smiles.

Cycling

Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport and an excellent way to see the sights. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than almost any town or city in the United States. The French are very cognizant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. A few years ago Paris wasn't the easiest place to get around by bike but that has changed dramatically in recent years. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well, in establishing some separated bike lanes, but even more important a policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling. The Paris bike network now counts over 150 km of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist. In addition, the narrower, medieval side streets of the central arrondissements make for rather scenic and leisurely cycling, especially during off-hours of the day when traffic is lighter. Do remember to bring a good map, since there is no grid plan to speak of and almost all of the smaller streets are one-way.

Note that, while the streets of Paris are generally fairly easy on novice cyclists, there are some streets in the city that should be avoided by those who do not have sufficient urban cycling experience. Rue de Rivoli, Place de la Bastille, and Place de la Nation are particularly hairy, especially during weekdays and the Saturday evening rush, and should not be navigated by anyone not confident in their ability to cycle in heavy traffic. Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Place de l'Étoile, and voie Georges Pompidou should be avoided at all times.

You can find an excellent map of the bike network called Paris à vélo - Le bon plan) at the information centre in the Hôtel de Ville.

  • Vélib, +33 1 30 79 79 30. In July 2007 the municipality of Paris introduced the Vélib program (vélo liberté or freedom bikes) by which it is possible to rent a bike for a very modest price. Numerous stations are to be found around the city (at major landmarks and metro stations, basically every 300 m). With a credit card with a "puce" smart-chip (that means that American Visa and MasterCard cards do not work, however American Express cards should work even though they don't have a chip), you can subscribe for 1 day (€1.70) or 7 days (€8) with a security deposit of €150 and then get a bike. The first 30 min are free, the following 30 min costs €1, following 30 min cost €2, etc., to avoid long rentals. Thus the game is to get to another station in 25 min and get another bicycle. This rental system has been designed to allow you to "pick & drop" a bike, not rent the same one all day long. Try it! If your card works in the machines it's a great way to get around! The bicycles are wonderful cruiser bikes, with a front basket to put a purse or bag. If the saddle is turned around, it most probably means the bike is out of order (it's a convention among Velib users, so do the same if you notice your Vélib' has problems). Be aware that if you use a non-French credit card, a deposit of €150 will be charged from your card, and refunded a few days later. €1.70 per day.

7th arrondissement

The 7th arrondissement is perhaps the most expensive area to live in Paris. The Eiffel Tower, one of the most famous tourist sites in the world, is here, as well as many government buildings . Many dignitaries and VIPs populate this arrondissement.

1st arrondissement

Paris was historically centred on the Ile de la Cité, but by the time Baron von Hausmann was given the task of carving up the city, the centre had shifted somewhat to the previously suburban Royal Quarter surrounding the Louvre and the Palais Royal, which is why the numbering of the arrondissements started there. With fewer than 18,000 inhabitants, the 1st is statistically the least populous and least densely inhabited of all the 20 arrondissements, but at the same time among the most visited by Parisians and out-of-towners alike. Like every other arrondissement, it is divided into four quartiers, each with a different character: Quartier Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois runs along the bank of the Seine across the district, encompassing the Tuileries gardens, the Louvre and the western part of Ile de la cité . Quartier Les Halles has a markedly different, much more down-to-earth character, dominated by the eponymous massive Les Halles shopping centre Quartier Palais-Royal is obviously dominated by the Palais Royal itself, and also contains the larger part of the busy cosmopolitan Avenue de l'Opera . Quartier Place Vendôme in the west is centred around the Place Vendôme and characterized by a regular, 18th-century street grid. The quarter's historic buildings house the most luxurious hotels and boutiques of famous fashion and jewellery brands.

8th arrondissement

The 8th arrondissement of Paris is home to the Avenue des Champs Elysées, which ends up at the Arc de Triomphe . The executive branch of French government is also based here, as well as the embassies of certain nations such as the United States.

Eat and drink

Paris is one of Europe's culinary centres, where the haute cuisine has flourished since at least the French revolution. It may however come as a surprise that Paris isn't considered the culinary capital of French cuisine, rather some people prefer the French cooking found in small rural restaurants, outside of the city, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialities. Even among French cities, Paris has long been considered by some people as second to Lyon for fine dining.

There have been other challenges in the last 20 years or so as restaurateurs in places like San Francisco and Sydney briefly surpassed their Parisian fore bearers, again with an emphasis on freshness of ingredients but also borrowings from other cuisines. Parisian cooks didn't just rest on their laurels during this time, rather they travelled, taught, and studied, and together with Paris's own immigrant communities, have revitalized the restaurant trade. Today you can find hundreds of beautiful restaurants with thoughtful interior design and well-planned and executed cartes and menus offering a creative mélange of French and exotic foreign cuisines. It's safe to say that Paris is once again catching up with or edging ahead of its Anglophone rivals.

Of course there are also some traditional offerings, and for the budget conscious there are hundreds of traditional bistros, with their sidewalk terraces offering a choice of fairly simple (usually meat centred) meals for reasonable prices.

For the uninitiated, it is unfortunately possible to have a uniformly poor dining experience during a stay in Paris, mainly because many attractions are situated in upscale areas of town, and that mass tourism attracts price gougers. It is frequent to hear of people complaining of very high Parisian prices for poor food and poor service, because they always tried to eat close to major tourist magnets. For good food and great service, try to go eat where the locals eat.

Many restaurants are tiny and have tables close together - square metres are at a premium and understandably restaurateurs need to make the most of limited space. In some cases when the restaurant is crowded, you may have to sit beside strangers at the same table. If that does not appeal to you, go to a more upscale place where you will pay for the extra space.

Trendy restaurants often require reservations weeks, if not months in advance. If you haven't planned far enough ahead, try to get a reservation for lunch which is generally easier and less expensive.

For an easy-to-manage eating budget while in Paris, consider: breakfast or "petit déjeuner" at a restaurant, possibly in your hotel, consisting of some croissants, coffee, and maybe a piece of fruit. Get a 'walking lunch' from one of Paris' many food stands—a panino in the centre of the city, a crepe from a crepe stand, a felafel pita or take-out Chinese in the Marais. Traiteurs serving Chinese and/or Vietnamese food are ubiquitous in the city and good for a cheap lunch and many pâtisseries sell inexpensive coffee and sandwiches. All these are cheap (about the same as breakfast), easy, and allow you to maximize your sightseeing and walking time while enjoying delicious local or ethnic food. For dinner, stroll the streets at dusk and consider a €20-40 prix-fixe menu. This will get you 3 or 4 courses, possibly with wine, and an unhurried, candlelit, magical evening. If you alternate days like this with low-budget, self-guided eating (picnicking, snacking, street food) you will be satisfied without breaking the bank.

If one of the aims of your trip to Paris is to indulge in its fine dining, though, the most cost-effective way to do this is to make the main meal of your day lunch. Virtually all restaurants offer a good prix-fixe deal. By complementing this with a bakery breakfast and a light self-catered dinner, you will be able to experience the best of Parisian food and still stick to a budget.

Sightseeing

One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass, a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris and comes in 2-day (€48), 4-day (€62) and 6-day (€74) denominations (Aug 2016). Note these are "consecutive' days". The card allows you to jump lengthy queues, a big plus during tourist season when line can be extensive, and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, FNAC branches and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions. To avoid waiting in the first long queue to purchase the museum pass, stop to purchase your pass a day or more in advance after mid-day. The pass does not become active until your first museum or site visit when you write your start date. After that, the days covered are consecutive. Do not write your start date until you are certain you will use the pass that day and be careful to use the European date style as indicated on the card: day-month-year.

Also consider the ParisPass, a pre-paid entry card + queue jumping to 60 attractions including The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, as well as a river cruise and allows free metro & public transport travel. Also note a cheaper alternative with this new combined pass available since September 2008 is the Paris ComboPass, which comes in Lite/Premium versions.

Planning your visits: Several sites have "choke points" that restrict the number of visitors that can flow through. These include: The Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, the catacombs and the steps to climb to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral. To avoid lines, you should start your day by arriving at one of these sites at least 30 minutes before opening time. Otherwise, expect a wait of at least an hour. Most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Examples: The Louvre museum is closed on Tuesdays while The Orsay Museum is closed on Mondays. Be sure to check museum closing dates to avoid disappointment! Also, most ticket counters close 30-45 min before final closing.

All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month. However, this may mean long lines and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week due to crowding. People have to queue up at the Eiffel Tower for several hours even early in the morning. However, this wait can be greatly reduced, if fit, by walking the first two levels, then buying an elevator ticket to the top. Entry to the permanent exhibitions at city-run museums is free at all times (admission is charged for temporary exhibitions).

These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. The complete listings are found on each individual district page (follow the link in parenthesis).

Good listings of current cultural events in Paris can be found in Pariscope or Officiel des spectacles, weekly magazines listing all concerts, art exhibitions, films, stage plays and museums. Available from all kiosks. timeout.fr/paris/en And also online

The largest opera houses of Paris are the 19th-century Opéra Garnier and modern Opéra Bastille; the former tends toward the more classic ballets and operas, and the latter provides a mixed repertoire of classic and modern. In middle of the 19th century, there were three other active and competing opera houses: the Opéra-Comique (which still exists), Théâtre-Italien, and Théâtre Lyrique (which in modern times changed its profile and name to Théâtre de la Ville). Philharmonie de Paris, the modern symphonic concert hall of Paris, opened in January 2015. Another musical landmark is the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, where the first performances of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes took place in 1913.

Theatre traditionally has occupied a large place in Parisian culture, and many of its most popular actors today are also stars of French television. The oldest and most famous Paris theatre is the Comédie-Française, founded in 1680. Run by the French government, it performs mostly French classics at the Salle Richelieu in the Palais-Royal at 2 rue de Richelieu, next to the Louvre. of Other famous theatres include the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, next to the Luxembourg Gardens, also a state institution and theatrical landmark; the Théâtre Mogador, and the Théâtre de la Gaîté-Montparnasse.

The music hall and cabaret are famous Paris institutions. The Moulin Rouge was opened in 1889. It was highly visible because of its large red imitation windmill on its roof, and became the birthplace of the dance known as the French Cancan. It helped make famous the singers Mistinguett and Édith Piaf and the painter Toulouse-Lautrec, who made posters for the venue. In 1911, the dance hall Olympia Paris invented the grand staircase as a settling for its shows, competing with its great rival, the Folies Bergère. Its stars in the 1920s included the American singer and dancer Josephine Baker. Later, Olympia Paris presented Dalida, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Miles Davis, Judy Garland, and the Grateful Dead. The Casino de Paris presented many famous French singers, including Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, and Tino Rossi. Other famous Paris music halls include Le Lido, on the Champs-Élysées, opened in 1946; and the Crazy Horse Saloon, featuring strip-tease, dance and magic, opened in 1951. A half dozen music halls exist today in Paris, attended mostly by visitors to the city.

Activities

Paris is one of the great fashion centres of the Western world, up there with New York, London, and Milan, making it a shopper's delight. While the Paris fashion scene is constantly evolving, the major shopping centres tend to be the same. High end couture can be found in the 8th arrondisement. In summer, there is nothing better than browsing the boutiques along Canal St-Martin, or strolling along the impressive arcades of the historic Palais-Royal, with beautifully wrapped purchases swinging on each arm.

A good note about Le Marais is that as it is a mostly Jewish neighborhood, most of the shops in Le Marais are open on Sundays. The stores in this area are intimate, boutique, "Parisian" style clothing stores. You will no doubt find something along each street, and it is always well worth the look.

Other great areas to shop around in are around the area Sèvres Babylone . It is in this area you will find the Le Bon Marché 7th, particularly rue de Cherche Midi 6th. The area boasts some of the major fashion houses (Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, etc.) and also has smaller private boutiques with handmade clothing.

In the Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can find a handful of vintage clothing shops, carrying anything from couture early 20th century dresses, to 70s Chanel sunglasses. Walking along Boulevard Saint-Germain, you will find major brands. However, if in search of eclectic finds, opt to walk the northern side of the Boulevard, especially along rue Saint André des Arts, where you can always find a nice café to stop in. The area south of Saint-Germain is just as nice, and comes with a price tag to match.

In the artsy quarters of 1 and 4, there are many bargains to be had, once again, if you are prepared to look. Souvenirs are easily found and can be fairly inexpensive as long as you don't buy from the tourist sites. For cheap books of French connection, try the University/Latin quarter as they sell books in all languages starting from half a euro each.

Renting a bike is a very good alternative over driving or using public transport and an excellent way to see the sights. Riding a bike anywhere in the city is far safer for the moderately experienced cyclists than almost any town or city in the United States. The French are very cognizant of cyclists, almost to a point of reverence. A few years ago Paris wasn't the easiest place to get around by bike but that has changed dramatically in recent years. The city government has taken a number of steps in strong support of improving the safety and efficiency of the urban cyclist as well, in establishing some separated bike lanes, but even more important a policy of allowing cyclists to share the ample bus lanes on most major boulevards. Paris also has many riversides which are perfect for cycling. The Paris bike network now counts over 150 km of either unique or shared lanes for the cyclist. In addition, the narrower, medieval side streets of the central arrondissements make for rather scenic and leisurely cycling, especially during off-hours of the day when traffic is lighter. Do remember to bring a good map, since there is no grid plan to speak of and almost all of the smaller streets are one-way.

Note that, while the streets of Paris are generally fairly easy on novice cyclists, there are some streets in the city that should be avoided by those who do not have sufficient urban cycling experience. Rue de Rivoli, Place de la Bastille, and Place de la Nation are particularly hairy, especially during weekdays and the Saturday evening rush, and should not be navigated by anyone not confident in their ability to cycle in heavy traffic. Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Place de l'Étoile, and voie Georges Pompidou should be avoided at all times.

You can find an excellent map of the bike network called Paris à vélo - Le bon plan) at the information centre in the Hôtel de Ville.

  • Vélib, +33 1 30 79 79 30. In July 2007 the municipality of Paris introduced the Vélib program (vélo liberté or freedom bikes) by which it is possible to rent a bike for a very modest price. Numerous stations are to be found around the city (at major landmarks and metro stations, basically every 300 m). With a credit card with a "puce" smart-chip (that means that American Visa and MasterCard cards do not work, however American Express cards should work even though they don't have a chip), you can subscribe for 1 day (€1.70) or 7 days (€8) with a security deposit of €150 and then get a bike. The first 30 min are free, the following 30 min costs €1, following 30 min cost €2, etc., to avoid long rentals. Thus the game is to get to another station in 25 min and get another bicycle. This rental system has been designed to allow you to "pick & drop" a bike, not rent the same one all day long. Try it! If your card works in the machines it's a great way to get around! The bicycles are wonderful cruiser bikes, with a front basket to put a purse or bag. If the saddle is turned around, it most probably means the bike is out of order (it's a convention among Velib users, so do the same if you notice your Vélib' has problems). Be aware that if you use a non-French credit card, a deposit of €150 will be charged from your card, and refunded a few days later. €1.70 per day.

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Paris's most popular sport clubs are the association football club Paris Saint-Germain F.C. and the rugby union clubs Stade Français and Racing 92, the last of which is based just outside the city proper. The 80,000-seat Stade de France, built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, is located just north of Paris in the commune of Saint-Denis. It is used for football, rugby union and track and field athletics. It hosts the French national football team for friendlies and major tournaments qualifiers, annually hosts the French national rugby team's home matches of the Six Nations Championship, and hosts several important matches of the Stade Français rugby team. In addition to Paris Saint-Germain FC, the city has a number of other professional and amateur football clubs: Paris FC, Red Star, RCF Paris and Stade Français Paris.

Paris hosted the 1900 and 1924 Summer Olympics and will host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games.

The city also hosted the finals of the 1938 FIFA World Cup (at the Stade Olympique de Colombes), as well as the 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final (both at the Stade de France). Two UEFA Champions League Finals in the current century have also been played in the Stade de France: the 2000 and 2006 editions. Paris has most recently been the host for UEFA Euro 2016, both at the Parc des Princes in the city proper and also at Stade de France, with the latter hosting the opening match and final.

The final stage of the most famous bicycle racing in the world, Tour de France, always finishes in Paris. Since 1975, the race has finished on the Champs-Elysées.

Tennis is another popular sport in Paris and throughout France; the French Open, held every year on the red clay of the Roland Garros National Tennis Centre, is one of the four Grand Slam events of the world professional tennis tour. The 17,000-seat Bercy Arena (officially named AccorHotels Arena and formerly known as the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy) is the venue for the annual Paris Masters ATP Tour tennis tournament and has been a frequent site of national and international tournaments in basketball, boxing, cycling, handball, ice hockey, show jumping and other sports. The Bercy Arena also hosted the 2017 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship, together with Cologne, Germany. The final stages of the FIBA EuroBasket 1999 were also played at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy.

The basketball team Levallois Metropolitans plays some of its games at the 4,000 capacity Stade Pierre de Coubertin. Another top-level professional team, Nanterre 92, plays in Nanterre.

Shopping

Paris is one of the great fashion centres of the Western world, up there with New York, London, and Milan, making it a shopper's delight. While the Paris fashion scene is constantly evolving, the major shopping centres tend to be the same. High end couture can be found in the 8th arrondisement. In summer, there is nothing better than browsing the boutiques along Canal St-Martin, or strolling along the impressive arcades of the historic Palais-Royal, with beautifully wrapped purchases swinging on each arm.

A good note about Le Marais is that as it is a mostly Jewish neighborhood, most of the shops in Le Marais are open on Sundays. The stores in this area are intimate, boutique, "Parisian" style clothing stores. You will no doubt find something along each street, and it is always well worth the look.

Other great areas to shop around in are around the area Sèvres Babylone . It is in this area you will find the Le Bon Marché 7th, particularly rue de Cherche Midi 6th. The area boasts some of the major fashion houses (Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, etc.) and also has smaller private boutiques with handmade clothing.

In the Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you can find a handful of vintage clothing shops, carrying anything from couture early 20th century dresses, to 70s Chanel sunglasses. Walking along Boulevard Saint-Germain, you will find major brands. However, if in search of eclectic finds, opt to walk the northern side of the Boulevard, especially along rue Saint André des Arts, where you can always find a nice café to stop in. The area south of Saint-Germain is just as nice, and comes with a price tag to match.

In the artsy quarters of 1 and 4, there are many bargains to be had, once again, if you are prepared to look. Souvenirs are easily found and can be fairly inexpensive as long as you don't buy from the tourist sites. For cheap books of French connection, try the University/Latin quarter as they sell books in all languages starting from half a euro each.

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