Hello from the rainy Philadelphia suburbs!
It is a lazy Sunday. Rainy and grey outside but cozy in here on the couch between the two snoozing cats that live here at the Chateau Working Stiff. I am toying with the idea of baking cookies later. Who knows – I may even have some cider!
Several days ago, I wrote a post about the London leg of the trip to Europe we took this summer. Over the past few days, I have completed two slide shows of the Paris leg of that trip, and have loaded them to YouTube. The only reason for the two shows rather than one is that I broke it up in an effort to avoid putting viewers to sleep! Please find the links below and enjoy the tour.
As I did with the recent London post, I’ll try in this one to summarize some actual useful information about what we did in Paris and how we did it. Mrs. Working Stiff calls me “The Planner”, and I suppose that I earn that name.
I studied numerous guide books in preparation for this trip. It is fair to say that we did substantially more preparation for the Paris part of the trip relative to the London part, for two main reasons. We were in Paris for longer (eight days in Paris after five in London), and then of course, the language barrier. I have a small background in French and both of us spent months quizzing each other on some basics. As I imagine is the case for many visitors, that was the “scariest” aspect of the trip (though scary is really too strong a word). In fact, thanks to some preparation and a respectful approach to the locals, the language barrier was no barrier at all.
Some odds & ends
Money. The currency in France is the Euro, and while we were there, one Euro was worth about $1.10. So, for example if you wanted to gauge the cost of a glass of wine, or relate it to your experience back home, you would add a tenth of the cost to give you a rough idea. A glass of wine for six Euros would then equate to about $6.60. You could do something like that to help you ballpark a value, but in practice, with the currencies that close, we found that it wasn’t worth thinking about very much. (Mind you, we weren’t buying Chanel bags or even expensive dinners.)
You can use your ATM card at machines everywhere to get cash. Of course, just as it is here in the US, you may be charged a small fee for using that particular machine. Be aware of that, though, as I experienced in London, we saw ATM machines that advertised NO FEE. We paid no ATM fees for our entire trip. I should mention that those machines are not called “ATMs” in Paris, though I don’t remember the correct term. No matter, they were everywhere. We never had to look far and never had to ask anyone.
Credit cards are accepted everywhere, and you should know your PIN in case a merchant asks you for it. All the guide books point out that using the PIN in Europe is the norm, though we were never asked for it. (Apart from needing it at the ATM, that is.) There may be a gradual transition going on, so my advice is to be prepared and know the PIN for your credit card use. If you don’t have it, you won’t be stuck, they may just ask you to sign.
You can find a thousand articles, online and in print, on the best time to visit the Louvre museum and the best entrance to use. On the day and time that we had tentatively planned to go there, the entire area, for blocks around, was so massively crowded that we just couldn’t get out of there fast enough! We went and drank wine somewhere instead. I should add though, that there are good methods to visit the Louvre while avoiding long lines. We went there during our first trip in 2002 and I recall that we strolled right in one of the lesser-known entrances without any wait at all. It can be done.
We did get to two other museums. The Musee d’Orsay, on the south bank of the Seine (the Left Bank), was fantastic. We went at about opening time and it was not terribly crowded. It got that way fairly fast, but by then we were ready to leave. I have several pictures of the museum in my slide shows.
The other museum, the Musee de l’Orangerie, was beautiful, but was so crowded that we didn’t spend much time there. Given the crowds outside, I doubt that we would have bothered to go in if it hadn’t been for the one free admission that we got by flashing the ticket from our train trip from London. The Orangerie is now on our list of places to go and spend more time at some less-crowded time in the future. You can see Monet’s Water Lilies series on huge curved canvases in special egg-shaped rooms.
While in London, the public museums are generally free admission, that is not the case in Paris. With a little research though, you can discover the two-for-one day, or the free evening, and other specials. The Louvre, along with a group of other museums, is free admission on the first Sunday of every month. We learned that our Eurostar train ticket would get us a two-for-one admission if we used it within five days of travel. Admission with no break was generally under ten euros for an adult.
The Eiffel Tower. Well, you really can’t go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, but your dreams might be shattered as you get close to it. There is a mob scene of a thousand tourists along with as many street vendors, con artists, and hawkers of this and that. Unlike our last brief visit, this time there were metal crowd-control gates set up on the approach to the base of the tower. You had to wait in lines to get your backpack checked before you could get up close.
There are many ideas for the best time to go up in the tower to avoid the lines, whether or not to buy tickets in advance, or how much time to allow. We’ve been there twice now and have not bothered to try to go up. It really is something to see just walking by from a block away. One theory is that it might be better use of your time to go up to the top of the Montparnasse Tower, which is a sore-thumb modern office building a few miles across the city. Though we haven’t done that either, I understand that the lines are shorter, admission is cheaper, and there is something that you can see from there that you can’t see from the Eiffel Tower….. yes – you can see the Eiffel Tower!
Which reminds me of a similar idea about waiting in lines and paying admission to go to the top of a tall building in New York City. From the top of the Empire State Building, you can see a lot. But from the top of Rockefeller Center, you can see a lot also, including the Empire State Building!
The Catacombs had been on our “must do” list, but we gave up on that idea when we saw the lines. Probably a few hours wait and no bathrooms. Another thing to do again in the future at a less-crowded time. Maybe a drizzly Wednesday in October would be a good strategy.
General travel. We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris, city center to city center. It was easy as pie. The trip was about 2.5 hours long and cost close to $80 per person. I bought the tickets way in advance of our trip on the Eurostar website and was able to choose our reserved seats. If you are freaked out by tunnels, try not to think about the fact that you travel under the English Channel for almost a half hour!
When we arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris (the North Station), we found the metro easily enough, and took it down to near our flat in the Latin Quarter, after one change. We made it, though it was a bit grueling with our large roller bags. Aside from that trip on our arrival day, the Paris Metro was fantastic. We used it every day to go all over the city. Like the London Tube, the Paris Metro was very well designed and no trouble at all.
Cabs are everywhere and are easy to flag down. Most drivers will speak some English, but you can also just hand them a card with your desired destination.
We had no trouble at all in restaurants. Most wait-people spoke some English, and when we used some French they were appreciative and cheerfully met us halfway. We had several meals at an Italian restaurant near our flat and the whole staff was welcoming and wonderful. They spoke broken English and we spoke broken French and we all had a great time.
As I mentioned in the last London post, even after studying quite a pile of books and maps, the compact Rick Steves book was the one I carried with me. I recommend it. Rick Steves Pocket Paris.
Well that’s about what I can think of at the moment. Plan your trip and go for it – Bon Voyage!
Enjoy the slide shows –
The Working Stiff