Nov 5, 2022

Postcards from Paris: Post-pandemic musings from my favorite city


Cafe de la Rotonde on Boulevard Montparnasse

Warm lights inside the Art-Deco-style Cafe de la Rotonde beckon early risers for a quiet coffee. Lines no longer snake outside museum entrances. Late afternoons call for a wooly scarf and an Aperal spritz on an outdoor terrace. 

With the summer crowds gone, Paris is Paris again. It may just be my favorite city, especially in late fall. I've been coming here almost every year for the past 20. Now, after a two-year break due to Covid, I'm feeling my way around again. 

My favorite two-star hotel near Place de la Nation has raised its prices, and installed AC in all the rooms. 

The husband-and-wife owned tea salon next door appears to have permanently taken over a wide swath of sidewalk with its its Covid-era outdoor seating. No heaters though. Paris is on an energy-saving diet. 

My paper Metro tickets left over from my last trip still work, but not for long. The carnet - a booklet of 10 tickets sold at a discount - has gone digital with a pre-loaded plastic Navigo card. 

What's changed? What hasn't? What's new, given preparation for the summer Olympics in 2024? 

 A few musings after a week's stay:


Paris' metro, bus, RER and train systems remain fast and efficient most times; crowded and unreliable other times. Pre-Olympic improvements on the RER B and C lines make using either to get to Charles de Gaulle airport (RER B) or Orly (RER C) risky. Then again, buses and taxies get stuck in traffic. And with new construction and renovations underway everywhere, traffic is bad.

After waiting 40 minutes one morning for a bus to De Gaulle that never came, I ran across the street to the RER station, and with one metro connection, made it to the airport in 40 minutes. Another morning, the RER B was out of service several stops before De Gaulle, requiring a 20 minute ride the rest of the way on a shuttle bus. Another day it was shut down all together after someone left an unattended bag on the train. 

Best advice: Have a back-up plan, or better yet, spend the night before your departing flight at an airport hotel. The Ibis CDG Airport hotel a few steps from Terminal 3 is one of the best options. It's clean, modern, reasonably priced, and the only way you could miss your flight is if you sleep in.

Be prepared for many people commuting to work and school on bikes and scooters. Step into a dedicated bike lane with the same caution you would crossing a street. 

Inflation and the U.S. dollar

Inflation has hit Europe hard, and Parisians will tell you they feel the impact of rising prices. Cushioning the effects for American travelers is the rising value of the U.S. dollar, now worth slightly more than the euro. 

A 5 euro coffee at the Rotonde is $4.95 U.S. whereas in 2021, it would been around $5.90. This means it costs less to relax here in elegant surroundings, sipping coffee served with a pitcher of warm milk, than it does for a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.

Good value has always been easy to find in Paris, and still is. Look no further than a neighborhood away from the major sites.

Example: My 12 euro ($11.64) lunch of smoked salmon, salad, bread and  an anise Pastis at La Fee Verte, the Green Fairy, a classic cafe near Pere- Lachaise cemetery. The cafe  specializes in absinthe, the green anise-flavored spirit favored by Parisian artists and writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The Green Fairy cafe

I found it by walking along the Rue de la Roquette towards the Bastille, a route suggested by Harriet Welty Rochefort, a Parisian ex-pat author (French Toast and French Fried among other books) and friend whom I had met for coffee earlier in the day.

Harriet and I at a cafe near Pere-Lachaise

In the past the La Roquette district was known for containing two prisons: the "Petite Roquette" for young delinquents and women, and the "Grande Roquette" for major criminals. The guillotine was brought out at night to bring the lives of the imprisoned to a fateful end.Today, the district is a happier place filled with trendy art galleries, bars, restaurants and a busy nightlife.

Self-service everything

The same "staffing" shortages affecting U.S. retailers are affecting most service providers in Paris. Expect to use a self-service kiosk to buy everything from grocery items to train and metro tickets. 

I spotted only one or two live cashiers in many stores, including the gourmet section of the luxury Galeries LaFayette department store which draws many foreign tourists.

Galeries Lafayette

Passengers obtaining boarding passes from Air France at Charles de Gaulle must use self-service kiosks as well as check their own bags. 

Apple Pay is accepted almost everywhere as well as credit cards equipped with the "tap" symbol for contactless payment. To take advantage of the most favorable exchange rate, avoid withdrawing euros from Euronet Worldwide bank machines installed near many shops and restaurants. They charge a hefty fee -$3.95 euros - plus surcharge - 12 percent or more - by lowing the exchange rate below what is available from ATMs operated by real banks. The exchange rate might be 0.82 euros to one dollar, for instance, compared to the current rate of 0.99.

A clue will be instructions to tap on "accept this exchange rate" before you complete the transaction.

Duty-free shops at De Gaulle airport offer customers the option of paying in euros or dollars. Always opt for euros to avoid similar surcharages.

Iconic sites and off-the radar art

No matter if you're a first-time or repeat visitor, everyone feels the pull to walk past and/or visit the iconic sites for which Paris is known. 

Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre

I like to find vantage points in unexpected locations. This sighting of Sacre-Coeur high on the hill in Montmartre came into view as I glanced down a side street while walking towards the Galleries Lafayette department store.

Notre- Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame Cathedral is scheduled to reopen to the public by 2024—five years after a fire collapsed its roof and toppled its spire. It looks much the same from the front, minus the spire, but the entire back area is a construction site.

Visits to major museums require advance purchase of timed tickets.The show-of-the-moment is Frida Kahlo at the Palais Galliera, usually sold-out each day. On the other hand, it was easy to walk right into the Musee d'Orsay with a time ticket purchased the day before.  Sadly, one of my favorite paintings was missing. 

Degas's Absinthe Drinker

I looked everywhere for Edgar Degas's Absinthe Drinker. Finally, I asked, and was told it was on loan to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The 1886 painting portrays a woman and a man sitting in a café, staring blankly, looking almost sad. The painting became controversial after it was discovered the artist used models posing as real patrons, and painted it in his studio, not a cafe. The painting cast a slur on the reputations of the two models, and Degas had to state publicly that they were not alcoholics.

Not everyone has time for Paris' lessor-known museums, but making time for at least one can feel more rewarding than trudging though the big sites. 

Burdens literally fall on the shoulders of women all over the world as depicted in a moving exhibit by American/Indian photogrher Lekha SIngh at the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Manknd). Fifty portraits celebrate the courage and strength of women in India, Tanzania, Morocco, Rwanda, Kenya and other countries. They are the non-motorized engines that transport heavy loads everyday to provide fuel, water and building materials for their families.

A woman from Kenya carries a stone to build a fire pit for her family

Women in Tanzania fill 50-pound pots with water to carry to their families

The bonus of visiting this museum (Trocadero metro stop) is the dead-on view of the Eiffel Tower from the upstairs cafe window. 

Paris greeter Raphael Rispoli

Better than any museum is to spend a few hours with a Paris Greeter. These are locals who volunteer to spend time with visitors on two to three-hour walks around the city. They are not tour guides, but rather people who enjoy meeting others and sharing their knowledge of  favorite areas.

 I met up with Raphael Rispoli for a two-hour morning walk around the Left Bank, starting near the Jardin du Luxembourg and ending at the River Seine near Notre Dame. We enjoyed lunch together afterwards at a small restaurant before parting ways in the early afternoon.  


  1. Wow Carol! You make it sound so inviting! You have a nice job! Last time (and the only time) I was in Paris was 1973. Things have probably changed....

    1. Thanks for reading!

    2. Oh, I’m so sorry! That was the FIRST time I was in Paris. You must must go back ASSP.

  2. I’m a huge fan of Carol’s travel writing! —Casey

  3. Thank you so much for this wonderful column! We took our first flight in 2 12 years in mid-June to return to Paris for the 6th time (approximate) in our life together, and it was as glorious as ever (maybe more so). We stayed in a VRBO on Rue Madame in the 6th (where we always stay), and each evening, walked to the Luxembourg Gardens before sunset; I read and my wife sketched. It was glorious.
    We walked and walked (a few uneventful Metro trips), ate modestly (actually most of our meals; we were three blocks from a Monoprix (where there were always at least two cashiers on duty!) so obtaining fresh food relatively inexpensively was easy. The Orangerie was the only museum we visited this time (we made one out of town trip – to Monet world in Giverny – and that was the exact right amount of time on the road); we walked and walked and walked, and inhaled this wonderful like-nowhere-else city.
    We were masked all the time, super-careful, and then came down w Covid three days after we got home (I am 99.99% sure it was from interactions with the unmasked at Newark Airport). But, thankfully, it was like a light summer cold, so basically, no-harm-no-foul.
    A bonus: we flew thru Orly on La Compagnie (Newark is the closest airport to where we live) so we avoided CDG, loved the plane/service/airline and saved $ thousands on our tickets. The ultimate travel win-win for us.
    And we are, of course, planning a return trip. Fall of 23 sounds parfait!

  4. I just returned November 1 after 8 nights in Paris. Although I had a quick entry ticket to Musee d'Orsay, I was directed to a line that didn't move for half an hour. We had to leave without visiting.
    On the other hand, we saw some wonderful exhibitions: Kokoschka at the Museum of Modern Art of City of Paris and Pinault's Gallery at Bourse de Commerce.
    We also enjoyed the Banksy exhibition at a dedicated location in the 9th. Highly recommended if you like Banksy.
    The cherry on top of our visit was the final night dinner at our hotel. Woody Allen was dining with his wife and another couple. We introduced ourselves and had a short conversation with them. Woody is shooting a French language film in Paris this month.