Sunday, July 13, 2014

My guide for the first time traveler to Paris

So you have decided to go to Paris! Good for you :) 
Here is a list of some things you need to know 


Make sure you have a valid and current passport (it could take up to 6 months to get one).

Make sure to do diligent research on when it is the best time to go. You do not want to hit any holidays where things are closed or it is too crowded. Also check to see how the weather is because that is important. I like to travel in September because school is open so there are less tourists (less lines) and the weather is usually perfect. 

Do as much research as possible before going or making any reservations (sights to see, weather, money, language, etc.). Good sites are, I always buy travel books (i.e. Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, etc.) and read before I go and take them with me. They have good information.

I recommend 5 days for Paris, which includes going to the Palace of Versaille (which is out of town).


Check tickets on the cheap sights (i.e.,, etc.), but go and compare prices with the actual airline site. If it is the same, buy from the airline. Try not to have any stops (they are a pain), but if there is a layover, make sure that you have enough time between flights. I usually get my tickets from and I prefer to arrive at my destination in the morning. 


I have had great experiences booking my hotels through First, chose your area, how many stars you want the hotel to have and price range, then search. Read all the reviews from other people, they are usually right on! I usually chose 4 star hotels (Europe’s standards are a bit lower than the US) and the area is my most important category. Rooms will be very small so do not be shocked. They are very simple hotels, but clean and nice. I recommend staying in the area around the Louvre museum, it is very centralized and walking distance to a lot of sights.

Before you go 

Call your credit card company and bank and let them know where you are going and when you will be there. They will make a note of it and when they see you spending $ there, they will not put a hold on anything due to suspicious activity. I recommend taking your debit card and one credit card. The money exchange stations are usually a rip off. I recommend taking cash out of cash machines when you get there. Use credit card when possible because the rates are usually the best.

Call your cell phone company and let them know you will be traveling. If you’d like to use your cell phone there, then ask them about the different international packages they have. If you do not want to use your phone, I recommend not shutting everything off and still having it with you in case of emergency. But I usually tell them to shut off the ability to receive or send text (it is very expensive and you can’t control other people texting you) as well as data.

You do not want to have any concerns about your comfort when you are sightseeing. So take comfortable shoes and comfortable clothes (you will need layers for September in Paris). Take a comfortable and light bag or back pack (I like small ones that go across the shoulder) for everyday use. Take one or two nice outfits for a couple night outs too ;). Do not over pack.

Take a good camera for pictures. Paris is the most beautiful city in the world so you will want to capture many moments. Make sure that you have extra batteries, chargers, room in the memory card, etc. The last thing you want is problems with your camera while you are faced with a breathtaking image. I care about the quality of my pictures so I lug around a large and heavy camera, but if you’d like to stay comfortable, take a light small one.

Take an electric converter (you can buy them at Best Buy) with you in order to be able to use the European outlets to charge your electronics (and use your flat iron!). If you do not have one, they may have some extra ones at your hotel, ask the front desk.

Make sure you have the address for your hotel printed with you to give to the cab driver at the airport.

When you get there 

Jet lag is a big bummer. Adjust your time to the local time as soon as you get on the plane. For example, if it is night time in Paris at the time, sleep on the plane or if it is day time in Paris, stay up on the plane. What works for me is a couple hours of nap in the afternoon on the first day (sometimes for the first couple days). Make sure you get enough sleep at nights to have energy to sight see during the days.

Make friends with your hotel concierge (you will have a good one if you have a 4 star hotel), they can be a very useful resource to have. You can ask them for maps, suggestions, ideas, information, etc. They can even book tickets for you.

Take little snacks (i.e. bars) with you when you go sightseeing. You do not want any annoying distractions such as hunger to dampen your time.

Some Sights 

I recommend using the Double Decker Hop on Hop off Tour bus for sightseeing. It takes you to all the major sights and they tell you interesting information about what you are seeing (either a live guide person or through headphones). The bus stops at each site where you can hop off, go see the sight for as long as you want and come back to the stop and catch another bus which goes through the same rout. Usually a bus comes through every 20 minutes. Even though they may be different buses, but the rout and the explanations are exactly the same. Buy tickets (you can buy them at the hotel) for two or three days so you don’t feel rushed and can hop off at any stop you want any time. My husband likes to sit in the bus for the entire rout once and see all the sights first and then decide which one we’d hop off next time. Usually an entire rout is about 2 hours.

The Louvre is very large, you could spend days in there if you want to see everything. Study the guide before and decide which parts you want to see and go straight to those, depending on how much time (or energy) you have. Note: If you are there on a Sunday, know that most things are closed except for the Louvre.

The Eiffel Tower is located next to a grassy field where you can lounge around and take in the sight. If you like to go to the top, be prepared for a long line and wind. I prefer to see the city from above from the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur where it is prettier and free and no lines.

Basilica de Sacre-Coeur is a beautiful gothic style church sitting on top of a hill in Paris. You climb up on stairs and you get to the basilica and turn around and you will see the city of Paris before you. The basilica is located in the Montmarte area in Paris which is the area of the artists. You will find lots of little shops and cafes and many many tourists in that area. Go behind the church and take a walk around the old neighborhood, less tourists find their way there and you will feel like you are in an old French movie.

The Opera house in Paris is beautiful. If you are a fan of Opera or even “Phantom of the Opera” it is worth checking it out (there really was a body of water under the building!). September is off season for Opera but you can always get a tour of the historic building and see the famous chandelier!

If you are interested to see where the French kings were crowned or if you have read the book “Hunch back of Notre Dame”, then you can go see the Notre Dame. It is a beautiful gothic style church.

I definitely recommend spending one evening at the Moulon Rouge! You can make reservations and buy tickets through your concierge. It is a two hour fantastic dance show accompanied by dinner (one of the best dinners I have ever had in my life!). Don’t be taken back by the topless dancers, that is how it has been done for years, it’s art :)  The place gets packed so you will be sharing your table with strangers. Be friendly and make friends :)

Palace of Versaille is a must see. It is located just outside of town and there are some tours that will charge you a bundle to take you there. But you can also take the public train on your own, it’s super easy, just ask your concierge. I recommend scheduling at least ½ a day for it. I also recommend reading up on the history of the place before going, it makes it more enjoyable.

Recommended walk 

Start from the grand arch outside of the Louvre and go through the beautiful and romantic Jardin de Tuileries park all the way until it ends (stop and marvel at the sculptures throughout the park). You will then be at the most magnificent and historic intersection (consult your travel guide to know about the history). Continue down on Chaps-Elisees Boulevard through the famous shops and restaurants. At the end of the boulevard you will come to Arc de Triomph. Stand under the arch and not only will you be in the center of the largest roundabout in the world, but you will be on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the city around you.


Paris has some of the best food in the world. Make sure to ask your concierge or use your guidebook to find good restaurants to eat at. I recommend having a good breakfast (in Paris it is always French bread with butter and jam, croissant, orange juice and coffee). Have a light lunch at a casual café or the street food stands between sightseeing and then have a great dinner at a nice restaurant at night. I usually like to come back to my hotel room after sightseeing, shower and change and go out to dinner. Remember that eating is a process for the French, they sit and enjoy many courses for hours while drinking and smoking and talking and laughing. Try to get out of your rush rush American mentality and join the relaxed Parisians in this experience.

Try snails, they are not that bad!

The French drink Cafes, which is like espresso.  If you would like a latte, then you have to ask for a café latte. If you just say Latte, they will bring you milk.

French Onion Soup is just called “Onion Soup” in France! :)

Other hints 

Customer service is very different everywhere outside of America, so bring down your expectations. The waiters will not be checking on you every 5 minutes with a fake smile on their face. Call them over to your table if you need them.

Consult your guide book about tipping in restaurants and cabs.

Most people in the service business speak fluent English and all menus and guides have English translations. So you probably will not need a dictionary to be able to communicate with others, but take a small one if it makes you feel safer :)

American tourists are known to be loud and obnoxious. Let’s help end that stereotype!

The Euro’s value is much higher than the Dollar so shopping will be expensive, but I recommend buying at least one nice thing to keep as a momentum of Paris. High end designer items will be less expensive in Europe than in the US because you do not pay taxes. Also it is good to know that they are from the latest collection and have not made it to the US yet!

Final thought

Lastly but definitely not least (and my favorite part of Paris), the best sight in Paris is her streets, buildings, cafes, people, etc. Just walk around the city through her narrow coble stone alleys and you never know what will come your way (a small antique shop, a cute boutique, a local bakery, etc.). Just look up and enjoy the elegant balconies on all the buildings and the lamps in the streets. Sit at a café and people watch! The people of Paris are cool and elegant and you can watch them for hours. Just accept that there will be cigarette smoke everywhere you go, so don’t let it bother you. Maybe even join in and have a cigarette with your wine or café! Why not? You are in Paris!

 I hope that this guide is helpful to you. Enjoy your time in the city of lights! ~ Shabnam ~

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Street

When I was a little girl I did not have any siblings to play with at home, the household consisted of me, my mom & my dad. Most of my cousins were a few years older than me and the contact we had with the ones who were closer to my age was infrequent. So I had to entertain myself throughout the days that I did not have school, especially since TV at that time consisted of 2 channels, and the kids’ program was one hour per day.
So I played house with my dolls where I (the mom) would hold my doll’s (the daughter) hand and go shopping throughout the house. I played with my Barbies where I would build a house for them (with pens & pencils on the floor of my room) and go through a day in their life with them. I would spend hours drawing and coloring, creating houses, villages and people on paper. These activities took a large amount of my time, but during the three months of summer with no school and no planned activities I was still left with time to spare. I was also left with the need and desire to socialize with other children my own age. To fill that void I turned to the neighborhood girls who were my age.
We lived on a quiet, small, dead end street where everybody knew their neighbors, so playing in the street was as safe as playing in your own back yard. Therefore, every summer day we would plan to meet in the street to play, talk, scheme, laugh and have a blast together. The neighborhood girls and I became playmates and friends throughout many many summers, as some of us (including me) had been living in our homes since our birth!
Going out to the street to play was the high light of my summer days and I looked forward to it all day. We were allowed to go play in the street mostly in the evenings after the heat had subsided. Because our parents did not like us to play in the hot Iranian sun or to disturb the neighbors’ afternoon naps! Even though at times we were able to get away and go play during the day, our usual meeting time was around 5:00 in the evening. We would meet in the street and it would take only a couple of us to start talking and playing for the rest to hear the sound of fun and join.
We had a blast in the street where we played all kinds of games, you name it, we played it: Active games like hide & seek, hop skoch and tag; sports like dodge ball, volleyball and badminton; word games (using chalk to write on the ground). We rode bicycles and played with ropes, we used a water hose to cool ourselves down, we would snack on our favorite dried fruit. We had phases of favorite games that we would become obsessed with. At some point we were even very much into calling the other world to talk to ghosts. We even did mischievous activities such as ringing people’s door bells and running away or writing on the walls of people's homes with chalk.
When we became tired and wanted to take a break or at the end of the night we would sit on the hoods of parked cars or the corners of the street and just talk, talk, talk and talk. We would talk about everything and anything and laugh and laugh. The thought of going home did not even occur to us until our moms had to call our names multiple times to go home around 9:00 or 10:00 at night. There was something about sitting under the stars in the hot summer night with the street lights flickering and sharing secrets and laughing that was intoxicating. Sometimes when the moms came out to call us in, they would start talking to each other and that would buy us more time with one another.
We knew every detail and corner of that street, every tree, every dent in the wall and every bump in the ground. That street was our second home and we were not only each other’s friends, but we were each other’s family. The street and the neighborhood girls were a big part of our lives at that time.
We spent many summers in the street with one other, we played all the games ever invented out there, we even invented some of our own. We talked about everything under the sky and had the best time any kid could have. But mostly, we grew up together, we learned about life, we learned about friendship, loyalty, tolerance, kindness and compromise; we even hit puberty and learned about boys together.
My last year of living in that house and going to the street was less about playing and more about talking about the neighborhood boys. It was less about jumping up and down and more about dressing cute and walking around. We used to hang out at the end of our dead end street, but we had moved to mostly hanging out in the front of the street in order to see the neighborhood boys walk by. Times were changing and it was exciting.
One day I had to leave my comfortable, fun and recently exciting environment and move away, never to go back there to play again. It was hard to say good bye to my house, my street and my friends. A big part of my life was suddenly over and I was not ready to say goodbye.
The first time I went back to our street, after four years of being away, we still had and stayed in our old house. Some of the neighborhood girls still lived there and I saw them, but they did not play or hang out in the street any more. The last time I went back to visit our street, after twenty three years, none of the neighbors lived in the street any longer and our house was not ours any more. The street seemed much smaller than I had remembered it and I felt like a stranger in it. Strangers were living in all of the old familiar homes and the cars that were parked in the street were too new and shiny to even think about sitting on their hoods. There were also no children around and no one was playing in the street, there was no sound of laughter or screaming to be heard. All the homes had bars in front of the windows and balconies which made them look like prisons. Had the safety of the neighborhood left with us too? It looked like that street was never again used for fun and play after we had left.
Standing there and looking at our street, at my street, brought back many memories from my childhood. It made me very grateful for those fun times and those great friends that I had. It also made me realize that it was a special bond we, the neighborhood girls, had which was not very common.  I may have grown up with no siblings to play with but I never felt alone, thanks to those girls in my old street.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Office

My Team

There is a woman who sits right outside of my office who has the need to verbalize everything that she does or thinks, either by words or by sound effects. When she is being very productive and her energy is high, she lists the names of the clients that she is working on, the minutes she is keeping track of and the order of the tasks she is working on (out loud). She has different sound effects that she makes for surprise, concerned, confused, etc. (out loud). Recently she has started vocalizing sentences; she recites her notes simultaneously as she types them. The audience is meant to be herself, however since she sits amongst others, does not have a door or an office, the audience end up being the staff sitting around her and I.

There is another woman who sits right outside of my office where her desk is adjacent to my front wall.  This allows her to just roll her chair back one steps and place herself in my doorway. She does not have to get up; just roll back one step and turn and become face to face with me. To her this is such a beautiful convenience where as soon as a hint of a question or a concern or even a wild wonder comes to her mind, she rolls back one step, turns and asks Shabnam. She seems to believe that my job is to sit in my office and wait for her to roll back a step and turn to answer all of her questions, concerns, wonders and sometimes even listen to the expression of her feelings.

There is a guy in my team who is not capable of ending his conversations. He stands in the doorway of my office and gives me information about a case which could have been communicated clearly in no more than three sentences. However, his version goes something like this: " So & so threw a desk in class and was suspended. so, yeah, he got suspended from school. Yeah, I just wanted to let you know that he was suspended. I thought you might want to know, so. So, yeah. Ok, then. Figured I tell you, so you'd know about the suspension". I find myself desperately searching for additional words that are similar and synonymous to "ok", "alright", "sounds good", "FINE!".

There is a man in my team who is a heavy smoker and there are obviously some problems with his mouth/teeth when he speaks. When he comes to supervision in my office, other than the smell of cigarette smoke, I notice that he does not swallow his saliva as regularly as needed when he talks. I find myself swallowing my own saliva twice as much as I need to. I dread any moment that he laughs because drops of the gathered saliva spits out from his mouth. I make sure to remove any food or drinks I may have on my desk away from the guest seats in my office and roll my chair back as far as possible.  At the end of those meetings I find my mouth extremely dry.

The Chart Room

There is a list of alphabets written on the drawers that hold the clients' alphabetically ordered charts, because one of the administrative assistants does not know her alphabets.

There is a girl in the office who checks her mailbox in the chart room and leaves everything that she does not need at that exact moment on the table in front of the boxes and leaves to never come back. We are left with mostly her papers, but sometimes we are left with her empty cup or her cell phone!

The Lunch Room

There is about 20 signs in the small office lunch room asking people to clean up after themselves. Yet, I still find myself having to wipe down the table and throw away used cups and forks before I sit to eat.

Our office has gone through 10-12 policies regarding cleaning the refrigerator. The current policy is that Fridays at 4:30, everything left in the fridge is tossed.

Cabinet doors are left open in the lunch room, half used hot cocoa bags are left on the counter, used sugar packets are on the floor, etc.

The Conference Room

It is hard to fit 35 staff into a conference room with tables in there, so the tables are removed during meetings and chairs are placed classroom style. People reserve their seats by placing a post it with their names on each chair. When they arrive at the meeting to sit, they do not remove the post it. When they leave the meeting, they do not remove the post it. Post its with people's names on them are always floating around on the conference room chairs, floor, tables, etc.

After staff or team meetings end and people leave the conference room, you can always find empty cups, water bottles, scrap papers and scrunched up tissue on the floor.