Thursday, June 29, 2017

Euro Chapter: Paris

So I finally made time to write the Paris part of my Euro-trip blog series. This post will focus more of logistics involved in planning the trip because you can get information about tourist places elsewhere too.. If you get a chance to look at package tours, you will see that most tours give you 2 days in Paris and an optional 3rd day if you want to visit Disney Land. While it definitely looks enough, we kept 4 days/4 nights for Paris.
As mentioned in the previous post, Air France provided us the best deal for the Paris-Switzerland round trip. The other options were Jet Airways, Emirates and Qatar which we considered in case we decide on taking train between Paris and Switzerland. All these flights leave Bangalore late evening and land in Paris at around 7 to 9am the next day. We landed at 8:30am and got stuck at immigration for almost 2 hours. Just like Bangalore, Paris Airport is situated way outside the city. While you are free to take a taxi to your hotel and then book the hop-on-hop-off or other tours from hotel, we chose to take the public transport

So public transport in Paris operate in 5 zones. Zone 1-3 are mainly the city limits which have all tourist places. Zone 4 is the Orly Airport and Zone 5 is the Charles-De-Gaul Airport on one end and Disney Land on other end. Next there are 4 modes of public transport, first is the RER trains which are basically the sub-urban trains that run between the zones. They have 1-3 stops in each zones from where you can change to Metro. Metro’s run underground and trust me when I say that it is a whole sophisticated world underground. While you can change from one route to another at the underground station, you might have to walk between 50mts to half a kilometer to go from one platform to another. The metro covers most of tourist and business destinations. From the metro/RER stations you can change over to the Tram/Buses. Trams run point to point on the less dense routes outside the central areas. Buses run all across the cities. All these modes of transport provide a map of the route being taken and the list of stops both in the vehicle and the station/stop. They even display the ETA and next stops. All timings are well integrated with Google Maps so you can get accurate information of navigating in the city using maps. There is also the RATP app that will help you get information when you are offline. All these modes of transport operate from 5am to 12:30am with varying frequency.
Tram

So next topic of discussion is the ticket pricing. All modes of transport have a standard ticket costing €1.90 for zones 1-3 which will be valid for 90 minutes during which you can change between bus/metro/trams/RER. You can buy it at the kiosk at stations or pay using coins in the bus. The alternative is to buy the 10 tickets carnet which are available at the station or at the airport for a discounted fare of €16. This is helpful if you are visiting limited places in the city because with the 90 min validity you will need a max of 3 tickets per day if you plan well. The train from Airport to City will cost you €10 one way and city to Disney Land will cost €7.60 one way. So for our custom itinerary we had to take 2 one way tickets to/from airport, 2 one way tickets to/from Disney Land and at least one carnet for €16 which would be a minimum of €58 per person. If you choose to take the hop-on-hop-off it will cost you €37 a day and it only stops at tourist destinations so you need to find your way to hotel using taxi or pay for buses. There is also a day pass which costs €18 for all zones or €10 for only zone 1-3. But there is one more option that most travel sites may not mention. It is the Navigo weekly pass which you can buy at the Airport when you land. This pass is valid for all 5 zones with unlimited use on all modes of transport and the best part is that it costs you €28 [Actually €23 for Mon-Sun but a one time smart card fee of €5 is collected when you first buy it and it is valid for 10yrs]. Carry a passport or stamp size photo because you need to stick it to this card. The photo kiosk in the airport has a guy who will help you with that. Oh and don’t forget to pick the free Paris maps at the airport. Very handy and a must have :)

So let me talk about the stay. By now it would be clear that the public transport is amazing and affordable so you can book your rooms away from the tourist destinations in a calm and quiet neighborhood. Check AirBnB, Hostel world or booking based on your budget and level of service you require. Most hotels have a 2pm check-in 12pm check-out policy. You can request early check-in late check-out when you book the rooms. We stayed near Porte-de-Vitry and the bus route was via Luxembourg Garden, Louvre Museum and along the Seine River. Place-d'Italie has a lot of eateries if you find a place to stay nearby.

So coming back to where I left off. I reached the transport desk of the airport at 11am and by the time I got the navigo card it was 12pm. We took the train and reached our hotel only by 1:30pm. We had 3.5 days in Paris out of which we had kept the final day for Disney Land. So we had to distribute the places to visit across 2.5 days. At this point I would like to talk about the Paris Pass which most package tour recommend or offer. It gives you free access to numerous locations and museums along with the metro card and hop-on-hop-ticket but after looking at its price and what it costs to just visit places you want, you will realize it is not worth buying that pass. As I mentioned in the previous post, the length of the day depends on the time you visit. So all attractions change their timings based on the season. So make sure to check the same. Below is a clipping from our planning sheet.

This would be a good time to point out that most of the research was done by my wife (Yay, I can afford to be lazy and let her plan future trips :P)


So I guess I have covered all the basics of planning a trip to Paris. Now let me go over how you can split your places based on number of days you have. The Eiffel tower lights up with a 5 mins blinking light show every hour post sunset. You have various vantage points to watch the tower - First is going to Montparnasse Tower and seeing the Eiffel tower in the background of the entire city from a distance. Second is seeing the tower up close. Third would be from the Seine river cruise which will take an hour and you pass by other monuments in Paris with the tower from various distances. You can also see the tower from all the tourist destinations. We did a lot of blunders because we took wrong routes and visited places when they were closed. Note that you can buy tickets at the venue but there might be extra queue. There are tourist help centers (link at the end of the post) near main attractions which give out free brochures and help you with your planning. You can also buy skip the line tickets at the help desk.

Day 1: Assuming you land in the morning, half the day would be gone in you settling into the hotel so head over to Luxembourg Garden in the evening. There are a lot of cafes around the garden where you can sit for a nice drink and savor some crepe.
Luxembourg Garden with view of Montparnasse tower on the left and Eiffel tower at a distance

When the sun is about to set head over to Montparnasse tower to see the city in daylight and at night.
From 7pm to 9:30pm


Day 2: This day is going to be a lot of walk so stay hydrated and eat a lot at the amazing bakeries and cafes. Target to visit Sacre coeur Basilica, Saint Sulpice, Arc de triomphe and Notre Dame by evening. Sacre has good wine available nearby.

In the evening head to Eiffel Tower. You can buy tickets in advance to go to the top of the tower. We skipped it because we did not get advance tickets and there was a long queue to goto the top. Book the 9pm cruise from behind the tower which will give you a night view of all places by the time the cruise ends at 10pm. Enjoy the blinking light show twice during the start and end of the cruise.


You will see a lot of couples coochicooing infront of Eiffel tower, so if you are with kids be prepared to face some awkwardness. If you are not with kids but a couple, well then get inspired by those couples :P

Day 3: The museum day. I would recommend this only if you enjoy art and sculptures. Louvre museum will take you half a day to full day if you want to see everything. There will be a looooong queue so be prepared to spend an hour trying to enter the museum. The museum itself is a maze and you have a loooot to walk. After you walk all the way in the museum you might find Mona Lisa to be overrated or Meh if you don’t really enjoy art. Now if you enjoy art then you can also visit the exhibition at Pompidou center. Apart from this you can visit the other museums in Paris. If you are not a fan then cut short your trip by a day and visit some other city/country.

If you are not a fan of arts then you can visit this on day 1 or 2 to take nice pics from outside.


Feel free to mix and match places across the days based on your interests. There are a lot of street food vendors and cafe that have crepe, croissants and bakery items.

Day 4: Disney Land. This has already been a long post and my wife has expressed interest to write a separate post about Disney Land so I will let her do that at her convenience.


We took the flight to Zurich on Day 5 morning. Note that there are two airports so check where your flight is from to avoid missing your flight. In my next post I will write a similar post about Switzerland.

Transiting in Paris:
When you land in Europe the first country you land in will be your port of entry to go through immigration and all other flights to other countries will be domestic. If you take Air France to visit any EU country then you will have a transit in Paris and you can step into the city. Note that you can do that only if you have at least 10 hrs of transit time. It will take you 1hr each to travel to/from airport and you will need to buy the one day transit pass at the airport. You can book a express guided tour or sit in the hop on hop off buses to see every place from outside which might take you around 3hrs. Then you will have immigration to enter/exit EU which will need the standard 3hrs.

Credits:
- Lodge Inn - Hotel we stayed in for the good rooms and amazing complimentary breakfast
- My friend Geetanjali for giving me tips and pointers when planning the trip.
- My cousin Raghupriya who did the transit in Paris trip when she traveled on work recently to EU and gave me the information about how she did the transit trip.

Links for additional information:
Official tourism website - https://en.parisinfo.com/ [check the useful address section for tourist office locations]
Tours and offers - https://www.partner.viator.com/en/19781/Paris/d479-ttd
Public transport information - https://www.ratp.fr/en
About Navigo pass - http://parisbytrain.com/paris-train-metro-week-pass-navigo-decouverte/

You might also be interested to read: Leh trip planning, Planning EuroTrip,


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