So, I just got married and my husband and I had our honeymoon in Paris: it was my first flight to Europe and I learned a lot from it which I will now share. I have written this so that it applies to Europe in general even though my experience is in France. This post is meant for a North American audience traveling to Europe as what I mention is from that point of view.
- If you can afford it, take the Economy Plus on the flight: Every airline has this option and it should cost about $170 per person, round-trip in addition to the price of the seat. That was a lot of money but if you are planning a big trip then it should factor in there. With Air Transat, this was called Option Plus. See my review about this feature here.
- Stay in an apartment, not a hotel: most large European cities have this option now and it is way cheaper. You don't have any meals included though but your apartment should be furnished with everything that you need. Plus, because you need to get all of your meals, you start to feel like a local with the shopping and planning that you do each day.
- Go to big tourist attractions in the morning, as early as you can stand: we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral at 8:30am and the bus loads were coming in just as we left. We did the same at the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Also, look up days that monuments are closed (to avoid going on that day for nothing) and days that it is quieter like Tuesdays.
- Look for pass deals that get you into all or most of the tourist attractions and if you can, get it before you go or know where to buy it when you arrive. We got the Paris Museum Pass for 6 days at a cost of €65 but it was totally worth it. It's worth was paid for in the first day and we bypassed the long lineups for tickets almost everywhere we went.
- Watch out for hagglers, gypsies and pickpockets. My first day in Paris we watched a gypsy woman beg a French woman for 5 minutes. In North America, the homeless and less fortunate ask you once then stop. This lady was persistent, she just didn't leave until a waiter chased her off. We also saw pickpockets on the metro and running scans at big tourist areas (Eiffel Tower, Champs de l'Elysees, the RER, Sacre-Coeur). These were the people trying to sell you things laid out on a scarf on the ground.
- Get used to smaller spaces: we have a space issue in North America. We are used to huge houses and grocery stores. Our apartment in Paris was a 1 1/2 (one bedroom, one bathroom). Our bathroom was the size of the wheelchair bathroom stall in Walmart and the 4 dozen stairs that it took to get to our apartment was only wide enough to fit one person walking at a time. The elevator fits only one person. Even the streets are small -- one car lanes in some places -- and the grocery store was the size of a small convenience store in Canada. It was a lot to get used to.
- Something that is old to us is not in Europe: they are way ahead of us when it comes to something old. I saw things dating back to the Romans in Paris and way further back when I visited Egypt. They think nothing of 18th or 19th century furniture or paintings -- unless it was by someone famous. Our apartment was furnished with 18th and 19th century furniture with 19th century paintings. Meh, just something lying around. In North America, that is a goldmine.
- Research the Public transit system and what pass you need BEFORE you get to the ticket counter: My hubby had this all planned out. Once it was our turn in the absurdly long line to get to the ticket counter for metro Passes, he said which one he wanted (for Paris, that was zones 1--5 for 7 days at a cost of €47 each) and already had the cash on hand to get it. We saw some people say to the ticket agent that they wanted to see this, or that which doesn't help at all.
- Eat local food: you did not come to Europe to eat Macdonalds. We gorged on crêpes, croque-monsieur and other French foods while we were there at restaurants that were recommended in Trip Advisor. The coffee was absolutely fantastic (I had espresso the whole time) and you HAVE to try the hot chocolate in Paris. Seriously, it is thick like creamy yogurt and tastes like something out of a chocolate fairytale -- and I'm not a choco-holic. Look for locals in your restaurant because that means that you are in a good place.
- Do not go on a trip at the height of Tourist Season: we went in October and thought that it would be quiet but NO, it wasn't. Everywhere we went, we were privy to busloads of tourists. Mind you, we were tourists too and we did touristy stuff like the river cruise on the Seine in Paris but we didn't want long lineups or do touristy things like buying kitschy Eiffel Tower paper weights. Avoid peak tourist season and visit tourist spots in the morning or after supper.
- Plan out your trip -- but not too much: my hubby planned the entire trip to Paris as a wonderful gift to me. Some of it was rather daunting though: in one day, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte Chappelle, La Conciergerie and Le Musée de Cluny. It doesn?t sound like much but we went from 8:30am until 4:30 pm and my feet were so tired. Despite that long day, when we got back, I sat knitting for an hour and found that I could go out for a few more hours. Just that rest was enough so if you have long days, plan down time in the day that doesn't require brain power like eating, having coffee or sitting beside the Seine talking for an hour. It recharges your touristy batteries.
- Charge your electronics as much as you can: just bring the adapter for where you are going and charge. Charge your camera battery every night while you are home and every stop you make home during the day, even for 30 minutes. Charge your iPhone and iPod whenever possible because if they do not go with you during the day, you are most likely using them at night like we were.
- Prepare for culture shock: you never know what it will be that surprises you but something will. For me, I found that people were rude in Paris, the bathrooms were very different (and often unisex), and the spaces were small. They didn't have many choices for milk, butter and other everyday items either (no skim, 1%, 2% milk choices, only one).
- The bathrooms are different: there are no North American-style bathrooms here. Expect a bathroom with a toilet in a closed room with the soap, sinks and hand dryer in the open. They are usually unisex as well. I think I will write a post just about the bathrooms in Paris though because I found it so interesting and different.
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