City of lights, season of cheer

Thanks to the subtle ways of members of Alliance Francaise, not a small number of our country's elite, avec famille, have been spending their Christmas season in Paris over the past two decades. Afterall, the City of Lights, has its own way with Yuletide illuminations even if is known for it the whole year round. During this time of the year when days are shorter, the weather chilly but dry, storms are rare. The usually smug locals, including the most irreligious kind, brighten up a few notches every Christmas. If a Hong Kong like apocalyptic splash for shopping is desired, Paris can oblige beyond the haute monde of boutiques, grand magazins Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps but there's more to Paris than that. Dressing up and living like the Parisians do is part of the fun.

How things changed

Paris may not be on everyone's budget wish list for Christmas, but to Francophones, it is a must do unique experience. Thanks to Navi, one need not bring stacks of Michelin maps, though they do make nice collectibles. The Franc is no more. So are amber colored headlights. And no one drives around the well lit centre ville on park lights only.

Fusion, family centric

First there's the food. Even if over the past twenty years, Paris has become globally homogenized with imitation Starbucks, designer hamburgers, Thai-Vietnamese-fusion food, street food and craft beers. I confess, that as a frequent tourist, I would have fallen for the usual tourist traps in search of authentic French cuisine if it wasn't for the wise guidance of Parisian family friends. Besides the ultimate cuisine, the home cooked variety, their social network revolves in sharing good food at intimate friends' restaurants as everyone here seems to know someone with a bistro, cafe-bar, brasserie or restaurant. Like us, the French are family centric and food focused so come Christmas, reunions are staged at the patriarch's/matriarch's city apartment or country farmhouse. Christmas is probably the only time of the year when church attendance here has just as many locals as tourists.

RATP [Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens] your way

The way around Paris is by RATP [Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens] bus or metro season ticket. Its still the best way to go to the shrine of the Miraculous Medal on Rue du Bac and the sublime Au Bon Marche department store with delicious local fare in its cafeteria. If a change of scenery be on the cards, Paris is the hub of the nation's extensive train and road network. It's ideal for forays to our fav haunts; horse country in Deauville, Nordic era 600 year old farmhouses and D-day museums in Normandy and given more time, more horses at the Sarthe.


Peugeot open Europe

Over the past 30 years, rental cars from the major companies or short term lease from the French car companies were the way to go. Ara d'Aboville, Philippine Representative for
Peugeot Open Europe can book a lease anywhere from 21 to 175 days for the model of choice for the duration of your tour. For car rentals Volkswagen and Mercedes were easier to come by from Europcar than Renault and Peugeot, as the French brands seem to be every driving tourist's priority. If traveling light, the temptation to go bottom spec Renault or Peugeot, or even Mini is strong, considering the high price of fuel, tolls, CDW [collision damage waiver] and on the spot fines for traffic violations, but you never know who else can come along for the ride or when one finds an irresistible bulky knick knack from those quaint shops.

Mercedes on special offer

In the 80's, cars like the Renault Supercinque, Peugeot 205 [the garden variety, not the Gti], VW Polo, Ford Fiesta or Citroen Visa were a welcome character break from one's daily Toyota or Mitsubishi back home. In the succeeding 90s, we stayed longer and hence we had to move a category up to a Renault 21 Manager or Nevada station wagon, Peugeot 405, Ford Sierra, VW Passat, Citroen Bx or if there was a special offer, a Mercedes 190E 2.3. Those special offers opened doors that allowed us to sample top of the line Renault 25 and Citroen XM, and failing that, any E-class Mercedes.

Hotels to serviced apartments

Depending on the size of our party, hotels in the Opera or Madeleine arrondissement sufficed but for bigger parties, apartments in neighborhoods near the Eiffel Tower, the American University or Montmarte were far better though dearer. If one is wedded to Asian standards of luxury, never fear, Mandarin, Shangri-La and Peninsula are ready for you in Paris. There's something to be said, if one's view through French balcony windows happen to be Tour Eiffel, Place de la Concorde, Etoile, Invalides or Trocadero, flute of champagne in hand. Our most dependable family friends, descendants of the ancien regime, live near the diplomatic quarter, on discreet Avenue Hoche by Park Monceau.

Motoring and Parking in Paris

Parking, vital parking

With a car, parking is a major consideration. Prepare to find secure underground parking at some distance, even a couple of metro stops away from your temporary residence. On street parking, if available, is iffy and the tow away brigade are as ruthless as the CRS anti-riot squad of the Gendarmerie.

Beware of the tow away

You won't see no parking signs with the crossed 'P' disc as 'parking' for the French mean parking building or lot. Instead, the French use the blue disc with a red slash and border. Parking, the way we know it, is 'stationnement' and any violations seem to them an affront to egalitie, fraternitie et libertie. Not ashamed to apply rocket science, the tow-away brigades have elevated towing to a street scene art form, where snap crowds gather to be amused, so long as one is not the guilty driver.

The parking warden as fiend

It begins with the parking warden inserting a ticket under the wiper of the offending car. He or she then transmits the vehicle details – location, size, plate number - to the fourrière, literally, car pound. Faster than the fire brigade, a team is dispatched and is there in minutes. Strings are wrapped around the car to secure evidence that the interior was not tampered by thieves at the time of tow-away.

Trolley away

If the suspect car is small, a short wheel base Toyota LC70, with towing crane is deployed. The LC70 carries a trolley on rollers, which is placed on the pavement to be rolled and slung underneath the offending car. Then straps are attached to the trolley, which in turn is hoisted by the tow truck crane out of the parking slot, into the main road. The location and contact no. of the fourrière is chalked on the pavement. The trolley, now laden with the offending car, is coupled to the tail of the LC70 and is then trailer towed to any one of the six fourrière impounds in Paris.

MACK the truck

For larger cars, a Renault-Mack truck is dispatched. The truck has a cradle similar to the roller trolley. It too is placed underneath the illegal parker and then straps are attached to lift the car up and out by the truck crane, with the illegal parker piggy-backed onto the flatbed of the truck for submission to the car pound.