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|An American in Paris Part Deux - by Morrigoon|
Well, it's getting down to the line here. A year and a half since my first visit, I'm finally returning to Disneyland Paris. And yes, I'm taking you readers along for the ride. This time, however, instead of just giving you a day or so at the park, you're going to join my on my entire Paris trip.
First stop on the itinerary: My place. I'm going to review the things you're going to want to pack for a week in Paris, along with some items specifically designated for winter travel. Second stop: The airport. I'll go over a few things you're going to want to remember when leaving the country, as well as review my little ticket-buying mistake. After that we'll talk about what to do in Paris. Let's get started, shall we?
A good rule of thumb is, "Don't bring more than you can carry-on." There's a couple reasons for this. I work in the airline business and I see luggage get lost every day. It's just too easy for bags to end up in the wrong place. Also, when returning home, you'll want to be able to take your souvenirs with you. Traveling with just your carry-ons guarantees that you'll have enough hands to carry them.
On my last trip, I had spent three and a half weeks in Europe with the same bag I'm bringing on this trip, which is a soft-sided case with zip-away straps and padded waist belt. It conforms to carry-on regulations, and fits in overhead bins just by zipping off the day pack on the front of it (and by not over-packing it). When I land in Paris, I'll be able to bypass the baggage claim altogether.
The airlines are very strict on how much luggage you can bring on international flights. Check with them about the dimensions and weight of your bags before you pack.
In the picture you see most of what I'll be packing (I can assume you're going to remember your unmentionables on your own. There's (clockwise from top left) flannel pj's, a baseball cap, pair of shoes (yes, just one), four sweaters, two turtlenecks, two pairs of pants, two t-shirts, and in the middle, several pairs of socks. Adding to what you see in the picture, I'll be wearing black pants, a turtleneck and a big wool pea coat on the plane. I'll actually be wearing the leather shoes on the plane, but I wanted to tell you something here. White tennis shoes will identify you as an American tourist. If you want to blend in, stick with a comfortable pair of shoes that you'd be willing to wear out for dinner. Besides, that's one less pair of shoes to carry, right? I may add a warm hat or headband of some sort, but I have to go out and get one still.
Temperatures in Paris this week will be between the upper 30s and low 50s (Fahrenheit). I recommend Intellicast for weather reports. I also see there's going to be rain. Lots of rain. So I'll be bringing one of those 8" pop-up umbrellas. Some other things you're not going to want to forget: camera, film, makeup, hairbrush, traveler's checks, American cash (airports, for example), credit cards, passport, plane tickets (you can do the entire trip with only the last three but you'd have a hard time doing without them).
If you have a camcorder, consider it carefully. If you own one, but rarely use it, don't bring it, it'll be a hindrance to you. If you, like me, have a tendency to videotape EVERYTHING, and being behind the camera doesn't bother you, you might want to bring it. Just remember you risk losing it! I will be bringing my camcorder, so I also must remember the charger cord and tapes. Remember, you can get more clothes in Europe, you CANNOT get more NTSC camcorder tapes! This is the one time you want to bring more than you think you need.
Since we're charging our camcorder, this is a good time to talk about plugs. You have two problems using American electronics in Europe. The first and most obvious is that the prongs are different. The second is that the current is different. You can buy pieces that just convert the prongs but not the power, but the risk of meltdown is great. There's one other problem, and I learned this on my last trip. You can buy a unit that takes an American plug, converts the current, and has European prongs going out, but in some hotels (many, in fact), the outlets are sunken into the wall and your typical box with prongs won't reach. If you are buying a power converter, go to Radio Shack and look at the units that resemble the one in the picture:
This kind will not reach the sunken outlets. For about $20 they sell a converter that has just about every kind of prong you can imagine popping out of it. I have checked that one and those prongs are extended, it will work. If you don't already own the kind I have, go out and get the right one. For my situation, I'm going to wait until I get to Paris and buy an extension cord.
One thing I brought on my last trip that is second only to my camcorder in recording the trip was a travel journal. Really, it's just a cheap notebook. If you remind yourself to take the time each day to write in it, for example just before bed, you'll really be pleased with the result. Not only that, you can keep track of restaurants, hotels, and sights that you particularly liked, and next time you'll go you'll remember them.
A few extra items I'm bringing are a deck of playing cards, toilet seat covers, tour books, and disposable Shout Wipes towels, which you can use to pre-treat stains on your clothes until you can wash them later. I'm also bringing small snacks for the plane ride. You don't have to be much of an eater to benefit from having snacks on long plane rides. Last time, about a row behind me, was a child who screamed for 45 minutes straight. One cookie and he was quiet for 10 minutes. Finally, don't forget your money belt; it's the best theft-deterrent you can have. Also, it's a great place to keep your passport or anything else you can't risk doing without.
Okay, now that we've covered packing, let's talk about tickets. There are two cheap ways to do a trip like this. The first is plan ahead. Advance tickets are best, especially if you take advantage of a fare sale as I did. Winter is off-season in Europe, so there are plenty of cheap fares to go around. My ticket was about $330 leaving from the East Coast. From the West Coast, I've seen fares around $400, some less. In the summer, expect to pay $500 or more: anything less is a good deal. Try to get electronic tickets, but that isn't always possible with international travel. Oh, and another thing about tickets: whatever airline you're flying, join its frequent flier club, and ask if there are any mileage specials going on at the time you're traveling. For my trip, I got a 1000- mile online booking bonus, plus 9000 more miles because of some Europe special!
I promised to tell you a little story about my ticket-buying mistake didn't I? I found it was about $80 cheaper to fly to Paris from the East Coast than from my home city. Since I work in the airline business, I decided I would use standby passes to get to the East Coast, then travel on a paid (positive space) ticket from there. What I didn't expect was for my airline to go out of business. Now I'm having to spend $75 to use my miles on another airline at the last minute to get me to the East Coast, and I'll have a layover. The moral of my story? Don't get greedy; take a direct flight!
Here's a fun topic: hotels. Decide now if you plan on spending more than one day in Disneyland Paris. It's almost impossible to get Disneyland Paris Hotel rates without buying a package. I emailed Disneyland Paris six times before they would give me the non-package hotel rates. The packages are not bad deals, really, so if you stay in a Disney-owned hotel, save yourself the heartache and plan for a package. If you read my trip report last time, you would know that we stayed in the Hotel Santa Fe, which is the cheapest one. I was perfectly happy with it, so on that scale you know you aren't going to get a bad hotel if you stay on property.
This trip, however, will involve staying in Paris itself. We're staying at the hotel Leveque on the Rue Cler. My dad got this hotel from Rick Steves' Paris 2000 guide. As a budget travel author, they don't come much better - he's the one who wrote Europe Through the Back Door. I don't know much more about the hotel than that, so we'll have to wait until my trip report to see how good it is. If you are a student, you may want to skip hotels and stay at a youth hostel. Hostelling International can issue you a card for $25 and send you a guide to all the youth hostels in the city - this is the absolute cheapest way to go. By the way, you don't have to be a youth to stay at a youth hostel.
Passports can take up to several weeks to get the first time. MousePlanet columnist Lani Teshima notes that Expedited service is available at extra cost, and can provide you with a passport within a week. Ask at your local post office or call the passport bureau to find out how to get one in your area. You need two passport photos, which many local copy places and such can do. You're going to have to live with this photo for 10 years so be sure to do your hair, etc. And yes, we all look awful in them. Do not put off getting your passport; you can't leave the country without one.
When you're at the airport, remember a few things. First, you must have your passport with you! If you are connecting in another city, don't get on the first plane unless you're positive you have your passport on you.
Arrive at least two hours before your departure. This seems like a terrible strain to have to sit around the airport all that time, but the airlines set these standards for a very good reason. Should anything go wrong with your reservation (yes, travel agents make mistakes), should you forget your passport, or should there be an incredibly long wait at the check-in counter, you need that "safety zone" of time. If you do not abide by that guideline, the airlines will have no sympathy for you when something goes wrong.
Speaking of the check-in counters, many travelers have become accustomed to taking their carry-on luggage to the gate to check in for their flight. That's great for domestic flights, but you really do need to check in early for international, and the agents are not likely to be at the gate two hours before departure. You can try your luck, but if the check-in line is decent, just do it there and save yourself the walk.
Do not make jokes about security. For inexperienced travelers I cannot emphasize this enough. Even joking about having a bomb or weapon can bring the FBI to your doorstep. Make sure your older children understand this as well.
Getting through customs can be intimidating the first time, but it's really quite simple. Get your luggage, stand in a long line, tell the guy how long you're in the country for and the purpose of your visit (for example, pleasure). He then stamps the passport and you're off! About an hour before landing, the flight attendants pass out immigration cards. You need to fill out one per person in your party, or one for a family of the same surname traveling together. Lines at customs can be long, but if you carried your luggage on the plane with you, you'll be that much further ahead of the rest of your plane!
From Charles du Gaulle Airport, there are a few choices to get you into the city. Driving in Paris is really not recommended, so unless you're really adventurous, don't rent a car until or unless you are leaving Paris that day. You can take the RER (public rail) into the city for about 49ff (francs, for currency conversion see XE.com's Universal Currency Converter. A taxi is an expensive option, but there's a taxi stand near gate 16. The Disneyland Express bus leaves from gate 32.
So, what is there to do in Paris? I seem to remember hearing about a theme park out there, with rides and walk-around characters..... that's right, Asterix park! Oh, you wanted one with mice in it? That too! But when you're not hobnobbing with the "Grande Fromage" himself, there are other things to occupy your attention.
Let's start with the obvious: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre. The Eiffel tower was built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Centennial World's Fair. Centennial of what? The French Revolution. It sure beats a giant guillotine, doesn't it? Notre Dame was the cathedral home of Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's right along the Seine and has some absolutely stunning stained glass. Only one of the "Rose windows" is still the original. About a block or so from there is a great place to get pastry, but then again, I haven't had a bad pastry yet in Paris.
The Louvre was originally a royal palace. When the French people decided their sovereigns looked better without their heads than with, they found themselves burdened with this big building filled with art. So they turned it into the first public museum. The thing you'll most want to know about the Louvre is it has the Mona Lisa.
Beyond these three must-do sites, there are many other things to do in the city. The Champs-Elysιes (pronounced "shom-zeh-lee-zay" , and meaning "Avenue of the Elysian Fields" in French) is the main drag of big-city shopping, and also home to the world's most expensive cup of coffee. It is here you'll find the Parisian Disney Store. The Opera Garnier is famous because of the Phantom of the Opera. It's a gorgeous building, with a chandelier that'll knock your socks off. There really is a lake underneath, but I have yet to figure out if there's a way to get to see it. The Musee d'Orsay is the museum that has Whistler's Mother in it, as well as many other modern masterpieces.
Most of this trip will be improvised. We'll probably hit a jazz club or stroll through the Latin Quarter. We'll definitely have some pastries, and we may take a Seine cruise. One thing we have planned, and the only thing definitely scheduled, is our day at the Cordon Bleu. The world's most prestigious cooking school has opened its doors to us laymen for half day and one day courses. We'll be taking a one-day course in Viennoiserie. I'll tell you what that is when I find out. I'm hoping it's Viennese pastry (notice a theme here?).
Hang on to them hats and glasses folks, when I get back you'll find out how it all turned out!
by Lani Teshima, MousePlanet Trip Planner columnist
Have you ever considered packing less items in your luggage so you can travel lightly?
You ask, "Why would I even want to travel lightly in the first place?"
Carry everything yourself.
No need to tip porters.
No need to get to the airport super-early.
No need to worry about your checked luggage ending up in another city.
No need to worry about someone stealing your checked luggage.
Missed connection? Rebook a flight without worrying about where your luggage end ups.
Volunteer to be bumped on a full flight.
Zip immediately off the airplane to your destination, instead of waiting at the luggage carousel.
Catch the bus or train to get someplace; avoid paying more for a taxi.
I believe that packing lightly is so important to your overall travel experience, that I have spent the last five years in developing a Web site specifically about it.
The best bags for traveling light
Selecting a wardrobe that fits in one bag, and stretches for weeks
How to pack everything into your bag
Eliminating extra appliances and electronics
...and much, much more!
Email the Baglady!
Email Lani at email@example.com to ask your travel-related questions! Don't forget to visit her Travelite FAQ for a comprehensive guide on how to travel with just one carry-on bag. [Clicking on the link will open a new window.]
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