Paris hotel watch: Falling rates at Le General
Some stylish Paris hotels have begun to seriously lower their prices. That puts some fantastic rooms within reach, even during the high season. One of the best in this category is Le Général, a mod hotel near République.
A standard double at this hotspot is normally priced at €185 per night. My online search for a room in July—at the height of the high season—just revealed a discounted rate of €140. Single rooms are even cheaper at €120.
What you get for the price: a design hotel decked out in chocolate, fuchsia, and white; clever touches like a bright green apple on your pillow; free in-room Wi-Fi, with a business center downstairs; free access to a fitness center and spa.
You also get a trendy eastern-Paris location near République. There are five subway lines at the ready, and you can reach the Marais and the Oberkampf bar scene with only five minutes of walking. The basic rate doesn't include breakfast, but that will give you the freedom to seek out a butter croissant from one of the nearby pâtissiers. (Breakfast is an additional €18 if you're not getting an inclusive package.)
Prices haven't budged for their "all-inclusive" package, which offers both breakfast and an unlimited open bar. That option still costs €240 per night. Unless your boss is paying or you plan on drinking your body weight in vodka, you're better off buying cocktails à la carte and saving €100 per night.
Le Général, legeneralhotel.com, 5/7 rue Rampon, 11th arrondissement, 011-33/1-47-00-41-57
A resource for traditional shops in Florence
Florentines are proud, even snobby, about the city's heritage as a Renaissance leader in the arts, banking, and diplomacy, and they can be slow to warm to outsiders. I quickly pieced this together during a year abroad: My orientation leader, who grew up near Milan, joked that even after 20 years as a resident, he wasn't considered a Florentine; my neighborhood supermarket gave out a Toscani da sempre calendar with archival photos (translated literally, "Tuscans since always"). This same protective pride—along with interest from tourists—has helped sustain iconic Florentine businesses, including pharmacies, paper and ceramic workshops, and cafés that follow centuries-old methods. The revamped bilingual website Esercizistorici.it makes it easy to plan a historic shopping outing. You can search by district or by type, and read in-depth tours. One-minute video clips take you inside businesses like Casa dei Tessuti, a venerable source for fabrics and custom-made clothes, and Il Latini, a fourth-generation trattoria. PREVIOUSLY What $100 Buys in… Florence
Costa Rica's lesser-known Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo
Reader Zoe writes: Whenever anyone writes about Costa Rica they're usually referring to the west coast or the string of volcanoes. But I reckon the best place in Costa Rica is the little publicized Caribbean coast—untouched by mass tourism, no big resorts or group tourism, beaches that rival anything the 'traditional Caribbean' has to offer—and all without a hefty price tag.… I know—I live here! Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a charming village stuffed with great restaurants, atmospheric bars, spectacular beaches and huge tracts of pristine rainforest. Whoever wants an affordable holiday with everything the Caribbean rainforest and coast have to offer will find it here…waking to howler monkeys, spotting toucans from your breakfast table, surfing/swimming/snorkelling in azure seas dotted with fishing pelicans, sloths sleeping on branches, morpho butterflies fluttering past…and so the list goes on. This is Nature in big letters! Put that together with a mass of different activities on offer (Horseback jungle tours, zip lining through the canopy,dolphin watching and deep sea fishing, chocolate tours, indigenous settlements, white water rafting to name just a few) and it's the most gorgeous holiday destination. And since it's a short drive from the Panama border it's also a great place to combine with a trip to Bocas del Torro…if you can tear yourself away from Puerto Viejo that is. But keep it to yourself—mainstream tourism has not arrived in Puerto Viejo yet—make sure you do before it does! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Which Costa Rica Is Right For You? Award-winning travel writer Christopher Baker offers tips on how to find the part of Costa Rica that will most interest you.
A great Paris walk
New Yorkers are looking forward to the June opening of the High Line Sky Park—a green space built atop an abandoned west side railway and the subject of a recent video series on the Sundance Channel. The inspiration for this most-cool of projects came from across the ocean, something called the Promenade Plantée. The "planted path" of Paris winds in a southeasterly direction through the city's 12th arrondissement, from the Bastille to the edges of the Bois de Vincennes. An old industrial rail line that fell out of service in the late 1960s, it was a dead zone for decades before being reborn as a new kind of public park. The first three miles of this landscaped path are elevated and feel blissfully removed from the rest of the city. At a height of several stories above the sidewalk, the Promenade's cherry trees, wisteria and rose bushes (mostly) block the sound of traffic down below. You won't find a lot of tourists here—just locals enjoying a quiet corner of their city. Its green benches are a magnet for Parisians who come to read, eat lunch, and kiss.The brick arcades below this elevated portion have also been transformed into a series of galleries and workshops called the Viaduct des Arts. Stairs leading down to ground level allow you to peek (and drool) through the windows of these 45 studios. The Viaduc Café sits among these and is a nice place to stop for something to drink (43 avenue Daumesnil). If you're hungry, however, you're better off making a detour four blocks north and eating around the Marché d'Aligre. The elevated portion dips to ground level around the Jardin de Reuilly, but the path continues on to the border of the Bois de Vincennes. A perfect summer day in my mind might start with a sack of pastries from the nearby Blé Sucre (7 rue Antoine Vollon), nibbled slowly while heading on foot along the Promenade Plantée to a free Paris Jazz Festival concert (insert link from Top Five Free in June) in the Bois de Vincennes. A whole day of sweetness for less than ten bucks… who says Paris is expensive? [Note: The spelling of Viaduc has been corrected from the original version of this post.] MORE More on Affordable Paris, from our ex-pat blogger in Paris
Q&A: An author travels where his clothes take him
Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing, didn't need much of an excuse to travel—an old T-shirt was all it took for him to set off on a trip to Honduras, in search of the people who made it. Timmerman ended up traveling through Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China. We picked his brain for a little advice. For more info, check out his website. Q: Tell us about your book. How were you inspired to write it? A: I had this T-shirt with Tattoo from the TV show Fantasy Island on it. Remember Tattoo? He was the short fella that would holler, "De Plane! De Plane!" Anyhow, around Tattoo's smiling mug was the phrase, "Follow Me To My Tropical Paradise." I was curious where Tattoo's tropical paradise was. I looked at the tag; it read Made in Honduras. I thought: What if I went to the countries where my clothes were made and met the people who made them? Where was I wearing? I thought I should know a little something about the people who make our clothes. I piled up my favorite items of clothing on the floor, checked the tags, and hit the road. Q: What's your best tip for travelers going to foreign countries—like really foreign countries? A: Trust someone you meet, but be weary of anyone who approaches offering help. Q: How do you make sure you're experiencing a place as a local would? A: That's easy. Experience a place with a local by your side. Make friends. Go to the local university and just start chatting up students. They're usually pretty open to talking with a foreigner. And play. I always travel with a Frisbee. I'm like the international ambassador for Ultimate Frisbee. Nothing bridges the language gap like the universal language of play. Some of the best local friends that I've made are the result of games of cricket, soccer, and baseball. Q: Did you discover any locations you'd like to go back to? A: I loved Bangladesh. The people there are some of the most genuinely friendly folks I've ever met. I treated 19 kids and an old man to a day at an amusement park, celebrated the Bengali New Year with supermodel Bibi Russell, and took a three-day trip on a paddleboat south of Dhaka. I would like to go back and hang out with the friends I made, make some new ones, and do other things that don't involve underwear factories. Q: So what do you wear when you travel, and has that changed since you wrote this book? A: I would prefer to wear shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops, but find that folks in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia, regardless of how sweltering the heat, wear long pants and collared shirts. Since I'm often doing things like setting up interviews or going undercover as an underwear buyer, I follow suit. I'm a big fan of Patagonia. In their catalog and on their website they list where all of their products are made and even have a feature on their site called the Footprint Chronicles that follows a product from field to factory.