Sep302015

Liberté and free nights in Paris

This is not a hotel review of InterContinental Le Grand Paris, although I begin this piece with information past and present about the hotel. My hotel review with photos will follow in a subsequent post. This piece is more about the social concepts of liberté, unité, égalité from my impressions as an American tourist wandering the streets in Paris, absorbing the culture of the present day.

Affordable Paris

Paris is truly much more affordable than I expected for the world’s top tourist destination. Of course, my stay was financially softened by free nights in Paris through the IHG Rewards Club hotel loyalty program. But I was surprised at how many people I encountered in Paris who were also staying in the city on free nights. I heard more American voices at the InterContinental Le Grand than French accents.

The InterContinental Le Grand is a historic hotel across the street from Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House. Le Grand Hotel Paris was inaugurated April 5, 1862 by Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. The hotel officially opened June 30, 1862. The hotel building is a massive piece of architecture filling an entire city block.

Le Grand Hotel Paris opened in 1862 with 800 rooms, including an entire 5th floor for servant staff. Today the hotel has 470 rooms, including 72 suites. I was on the fourth floor, possibly promoted from servant class floor level due to my IHG Rewards Club Platinum status.

Aren’t credit cards the loyalty-loyauté wonder of our modern age?

IC Le Grand

InterContinental Le Grand Hotel

Napoleon III

Apparently I saw the building in Paris where Napoleon III was born on my walk to Sacre Coeur. According to Google Translate Here stood the dwelling or was born April 20, 1808 french emperor napoleon iii”. This translation reminds me of the fact that I have never seen a French film with English subtitles where I did not see an English grammatical error. Get used to it as an English-only speaker visiting France.

Roissybus direct from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

One of the pleasant surprises for this tourist was learning the RoissyBus, commonly called the “Paris-Opéra” bus, provides direct service between all terminals of Paris CDG Airport and Paris-Opéra for 11€ one-way, a central Paris location. They don’t take credit cards on the bus, but of course, I was prepared for that with the London Heathrow security alerting 60€ in coins I had in my bag. InterContinental Le Grand Hotel is across the street from the Roissybus stop at Paris Opera and less than 200 meters from the front entrance to the hotel.

Paris Opera-1

Paris-Opéra, Palais Garnier

Regarding transportation to InterContinental Le Grand, when researching how to get to the hotel from CDG, I came across this forum on TripAdvisor and distinctly remembered one piece of advice from a Paris local expert, Sarastro, “One does not take the metro to Le Grand Hotel, he takes a taxi.” I wonder if the same social elitist frown applies to taking Roissybus to Le Grand Hotel.

Few things truly rile me, but class elitism tends to raise my voice. After all, this is a post about free nights in Paris. My stay at InterContinental Le Grand was paid for with $225 USD in airport hotel stays at the Holiday Inn London Gatwick and Holiday Inn Express Dublin Airport from my Europe trip last November Thanksgiving week during the IHG Rewards Club Into the Nights promotion.

It is not like I casually paid the 400€ per night average rate for a room at this luxury hotel in central Paris. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

[Aside: John Lydon (Johnny Rotten Sex Pistols) on Russell Brand voting in the UK. “The older you get, the more you learn.”

Check out Russell Brand’s brilliant piece and rebuttal to John Lydon. I am happy to see Russell Brand appears to be a supporter of Jeremy Corbin in his online YouTube video show The Trews E364 (Aug 18, 2015). His views support my piece here “Liberté and free nights in Paris”. Read on.]

Roissybus was convenient, cheap, has luggage storage areas on the bus and offers free Wi-Fi. I was checking into the InterContinental Le Grand hotel 65 minutes after I stepped out of the CDG terminal.

Roissybus-1   Roissybus stop Opera

Liberté, égalité, fraternité, the national motto of France

My understanding of French history has crystallized more, although still far from hardened, through a brief study of the architecture seen in my Paris walks compared to all the weeks spent reading Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Miserables. I have a 1,500 page, more than century-old English language edition of the novel that I’ll probably re-read to familiarize myself with again when I get back home to Monterey, California.

An old Joni Mitchell tune has been playing in my head today, inspired by my walks on the streets of Paris.

I was a free man in Paris

I felt unfettered and alive

Joni Mitchell – YouTube (at least for now)

I listened to the song on YouTube just now while writing this piece. Reminded me of seeing the Paris cabaret Moulin Rouge today from across the street.

Moulin Rouge

Liberté

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen), passed by France’s National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, is a fundamental document of the French Revolution and the history of human and civil rights (Wikipedia).

Travel for me is a way to order and categorize pieces of disparate information I have picked up through the years in popular culture references from reading, TV, movies, and probably, most of all, music and song lyrics.

Roman Polanski’s film Frantic (1988) starring Harrison Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner uses InterContinental Le Grand as the hotel setting for exterior shots. I’ll be looking to watch the film again after my hotel stay. This is another example of a disparate piece of popular culture that organizes my personal life construct.

In a deeper sense, walking the streets of Paris and seeing the phrase “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” on several buildings motivated me to research the origin of the phrase. The phrase apparently was only institutionalized during the French Third Republic 1870-1940.

What the fuck is up with all these French Republics? Excuse my English, with all apologies to Mom, who frowns on my swearing. France is currently in the French Fifth Republic.

Liberte

Free souls in Paris

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen:

Article V – The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.

As I walked through Paris at night, I was reminded of when my wife and I honeymooned in London in 1989. The streets were filled at night with homeless sleepers in the doorways of the West End and around Trafalgar Square. We have stayed two weeks in London in the past year and there were far fewer people sleeping on the streets in 2015 than 1989, although there were still many homeless to be seen. Paris had far more people sleeping on the streets than I saw in London.

Here is the reality of life on the streets of Paris in my photos.

Paris camper

Tent on Boulevard des Capucines, directly across street from InterContinental Le Grand, Paris.

Homeless-1 Paris

Boulevard des Capucines, Paris.

The Gap

The Gap – Boulevard des Capucines

I could not help but think of the irony in seeing a person sleeping on the doorstep of The Gap store beneath Hotel Scribe, another luxury hotel from 1861, built as part of the Opera district urban renewal project designed by Baron Haussmann. Hotel Scribe is currently managed by Accor Hotels. Hotel Scribe is opposite InterContinental Le Grand Paris on Rue Scribe.

Hotel Scribe

Hotel Scribe Paris.

Shelter from the storms of life does not necessarily mean sleeping out in the open or in doorways. In true Paris fashion, there are even designer-style deluxe shelters for free night accommodations on the streets of Paris.

Deluxe homeless shelter

Not all homeless souls are privileged to the finer accommodations Paris has to offer, like yours truly luxuriating in the comfort of a wonderful bed and the best pillows at the IC Le Grand Paris I have slept on at hotels in the past few months.

I was wandering the streets of Paris at midnight, looking for my way back to the InterContinental Le Grand, when I noticed I was standing across the street from W Paris Opera Hotel.

W Paris Opera

I looked in the windows to see people inside the W Opera bar, out of reach from life on the streets of Paris.

Across the street from the W Hotel, I paused for a minute to admire a blonde woman sleeping on the sidewalk. She was not sleeping in a store doorway. She was sleeping in the middle of the public sidewalk with her backpack straps contortedly twisted and wrapped around her arms and neck. She was crashed out in the middle of the sidewalk. Her prone figure at rest was as beautiful to me as a Rodin sculpture.

Sleeping woman

Sleeping ‘W’oman Midnight in Paris.

In my perception of things Francais moderne, she was truly the image of Paris LeNoveauChic fashion.

Le NouveauChic

Galleries Lafayette Paris store window

Yesterday, I walked the same sidewalk in Paris, across the street from W Paris Opera and saw a group of women demonstrating their concern over living and working conditions in the city as luxury hotel chambermaids.

DSC_0154

CGT Union workers on strike at W Paris Opera.

Subcontracted workers had been striking Park Hyatt Vendome and carried out a street demonstration dubbed ‘Paris Fashion Week for the Poor’. Chambermaids at Park Hyatt Paris obtained a better contract this week, Paris Fashion Week. Chambermaids from Park Hyatt Vendome marched from the Park Hyatt Vendome to Starwood’s W Paris Opera Hotel on Tuesday in solidarity for workers there who are still striking for a better employment contract.

My observation from staying at InterContinental Le Grand is most chambermaid workers are black women. This article on the Park Hyatt strike with photos shows most of the strikers are black women.

Obviously my free stay at InterContinental Le Grand and those of us staying for free using hotel loyalty points at Park Hyatt Vendome and W Paris Opera do not contribute to the bottom line financially for these hotels.

My bottom line is support for the struggle of workers to earn a livable wage under fair working conditions. That is something I have struggled with in my life and ultimately motivated me to self-employment as a writer in the USA.

The origin of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” is based in the American dream as posited by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was in Paris in 1789 at the time of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and directly influenced its content.

I’m just another American in Paris in 2015.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. That woman looks like she’s knocked out. Did anyone call the police? What if she gets attacked by robbers or worse?

  2. @JnK – Literally, I walked by hundreds of people sleeping on the streets in central Paris. Most slept in doorways, but I walked around about a dozen persons sleeping in the middle of sidewalks at night and in broad daylight.

    The way this woman in my photograph had her backpack secured to her body assured me she was intentionally sleeping there in that place.

    Sleeping visibly in the open in a public space near a luxury hotel might have been her strategy for not being attacked. It would be much easier to rob or molest someone hidden in a doorway.

  3. The source of your Google Translate grammatical error is that you probably omitted the accent mark over the ‘u” in “où”. In French, “où” means “where”, and “ou” (no accent) means “or”.

  4. Thanks for this post! As one hoping to use a free IHG night in March, this article intrigued me! Sometimes in our travels it can be easy to ignore the humanity around us as we jet from place to place in search of the best croissant, sculpture, or iconic landmark. How much more valuable to allow the experiences of those we encounter to impact is and perhaps change our views.

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