If you are one of the millions of tourists who has helped my hometown of Paris top the lists of most visited cities in the world, you may think that by getting an eyeful of the Eiffel and sipping Champagne by the Seine, you know all the delights of the city of light.
Yet even though the French invented the word blasé, there’s plenty more fun to be had after you’ve done all the touristy stuff. Here are three of my top tips for an offbeat day out in the world’s greatest city.
1. Pay a visit to the real “underground” Paris
No visit to a romantic hot spot is complete without seeing a wall made of human skulls, which is what makes the catacombs one of my favorite places to take lovebirds. After entering the “attraction,” a 10-minute walk through some creepy underground tunnels brings you into a collection of galleries filled with tens of thousands of human cadavers brought from overflowing cemeteries in the 18th century. They are lovingly arranged into interesting patterns — while most of us would consider plague and pestilence a nuisance, French forefathers saw the opportunity for some fun bone art. Don’t miss the message carved into a doorway welcoming you to “the empire of death” — it’s a real crowd-pleaser.
2. Check out a really weird museum
No, the Louvre does not count as weird — although it is strange that its most famous painting is of a lady with no eyebrows. But there is no avoiding the fact that Paris is a city of museums; official sources state there are more than 200 of them. Among them are gems such as the Paris Sewer Museum, the Museum of Magic, the Museum of Perfume, the Museum of Automated Toys and even a Museum of Vampires. Please don’t leave without visiting at least one of these places — you may be the only ticket they sell that day. My personal favorite is slightly more conventional: the opulent Musée Jacquemart André, which was once the mansion of an eccentric nobleman and now houses a priceless art collection.
3. End the day with the original Bloody Mary
One of my favorite urban legends of Paris goes something like this: back when Ernest Hemingway was renting a room at the Ritz, he became notorious for his drunken escapades — much to the dismay of his wife, Mary Welsh. In an attempt to stem criticism lest she discover alcohol on his breath, he charged a local barman with inventing a cocktail that would prevent “bloody Mary” from finding out. The resulting libation contained just enough tomato juice and spices to mask the smell of vodka. Don’t let the fact that this is probably a myth prevent you from sampling one at Harry’s New York Bar, which is indeed where the cocktail was invented. As you drink the expensive yet delicious mixture, consider that your seat may have been occupied by Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart or indeed Hemingway himself at some point during the bar’s 100-year existence.
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I recently had the opportunity to spend a month in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Set along the Persian Gulf, the global business hub has a remarkably international population — fewer than 20% of the residents are UAE nationals.
Dubai is renowned for its larger-than-life attractions, which live up to the hype. Take the elevator to the viewing deck of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, to see skyscrapers dwarfed below you. If you find yourself short on gold, you can purchase a bar from the vending machine at the top. Drive along the outer edge of the manmade Palm Jumeirah islands for distant skyline views, or cool off on the Mall of the Emirates’ indoor ski slopes (bring gloves and a hat, since they’re not part of the provided winter gear).
For a more casual day, I recommend visiting the Dubai Marina and neighboring Jumeirah Beach Walk, where you can browse sidewalk stands and dine alfresco along the waterway, with easy access to one of the few public beaches. Malls here are main draws that go well beyond shopping and are more like entertainment complexes – you’ll find aquariums, ice skating, cinemas and dozens of dining options ranging from regional cuisine to Texas Roadhouse. Alcohol is only served at hotel restaurants, but most other restaurants have a menu of “mocktails.” My favorite was a goji berry, mango and mint concoction at Ping Pong, a dim sum restaurant in the Dubai Mall with outdoor seating featuring views of the spectacular Dubai Fountain show.
General tips when visiting Dubai:
- English is prevalent throughout the city, so there’s no need to worry about a language barrier.
- The metro is affordable and remarkably clean, but since there are only two lines, many tourist destinations still require a lot of walking from the stop. Watch for signs above the doors to make sure you’re not getting on the wrong car — generally the first car is for riders with gold cards (which cost extra) and the second car is women only.
- Dress modestly while exploring the city. A good rule is to keep shorts and skirts below the knee and shoulders covered. Some areas have more liberal standards, such as on hotel grounds and in Dubai Marina. On the beaches, normal swimwear is acceptable.
- Dubai has no street addresses, so when taking a cab, it’s helpful to know a major landmark near where you want to go.
Summer is nearly here, and along with it comes a long list of travel plans. Whether you’re planning a long weekend at the beach, traveling for wedding weekends with friends or finding time to connect with family around the globe, here are a couple tips for making the most of your travel budget and finding the best flight deals this summer.
- Think about which days of the week holidays fall on: Long weekends such as Memorial Day and Labor Day generally mean a spike in fares and long lines at the airport. Try extending your trip for a couple extra days after the holiday to avoid the crowds. Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday this year so weekend trips before and after the holiday is likely to bring similar fare increases. Flying on the day of this holiday can often result in significant fare savings.
- Be flexible with your travel dates: If you’re traveling this summer, consider midweek flights rather than focusing your search on Friday and Sunday travel days. You can often save up to 50% on fares by traveling on less popular dates.
- Do your research: To find the best price, take the time to compare multiple airlines. While doing this, it’s important to pay attention to blackout dates when researching air sales. Don’t rely only on published sales — search websites yourself to find unadvertised low fares. To get a complete view of what’s out there, check both airline websites such as American and United as well as online travel agents such as Orbitz and Expedia.
- Look beyond your home airport: Flying out of a regional airport may help you save money, and it could even be less crowded on your travel dates. Living in the Bay Area, I always check fares departing from both San Francisco and Oakland. It is always best to compare fares if you have two convenient airports in your area.
- See a good fare? Jump on it: The best fares are based on availability, so if you find a good one — book quickly.
By doing a little extra research, being flexible, and booking your summer airfare as soon as you’ve nailed down your travel plans you’ll find the best deal for your trip.