Some Paris Travel Advice

Okay. I realize a lot of you readers out there might not be planning a trip to Paris anytime soon. But maybe you are. Or maybe you will be at some point, and you’ll remember this post. (Or maybe *I’ll* be planning a trip there again sometime, and I’d like to read this post.) In that case, I thought I’d give you a few pointers on what I learned traveling through Paris with a family this time around. Ready? Here we go.

  • Getting from the airport with public transportation isn’t difficult, but it will seem that way the first time you do it. You need to walk over to the train station (literally part of the airport), and buy tickets, either from automatic machines or from the ticket counter. (At the ticket counter, you can buy Metro tickets and train tickets. I’d go to the ticket counter and get all your tickets for your trip in one fell swoop.) Once you have the tickets, you have to get to the train. This is where it stops being fun. Paris has these automatic gates (similar to most big public transportation), where you put your ticket into a small slot, it scans it, and it spits it out a different slot. You then take it back, then gates open, and you go through. (You do the same thing to get out when you’ve arrived.) When you have no luggage, that’s fine and easy. When you have kids and luggage? Much more difficult. If you get lucky, there’ll be an attendant there who can open a gate for you to all walk through and avoid the whole thing. If you get unlucky, you’ve got to figure it out on your own. (Guess which one I got first?)
  • My plan to stay downtown worked like a charm. We were in a small apartment 100 yards from Notre Dame, right in the thick of things. The place had to be a few hundred years old at least. (Speaking as someone whose house is almost 175 years old, I should know.) There was no elevator, and the lights were sketchy at times (the light switches looked the same as the door bells. I didn’t really want to ring someone at 10 at night.) But we were close to mass transit to take us anywhere, and it was just a bit more expensive than a hotel room. Plus, it had a fridge and kitchen, and an extra bedroom. Go VRBO!
  • Buying food in the middle of Paris is a bit befuddling, mainly because the grocery store looks like a CVS. Seriously. Monoprix. You go in, and all you see are shampoo bottles and ibuprofen, plus a little nook that sells pre-made sandwiches. But you keep going in, and you find a magical escalator that leads downstairs to what I’m convinced is a primitive TARDIS. There’s a whole grocery store down there! Craziness. It saved us a bundle.
  • We bought metro day passes individually. It worked out cheaper than buying their fancy pants tourist travel pass.
  • We bought the Paris Museum Pass, and that was totally worth it. $42 euros for two days each, but kids are free. We got to see a whole bunch of museums, and got to cut in line everywhere we went. It probably saved us about 30 euros total, plus a bunch of headache and time. Very pleased with the buy. (For the record? We adored the Musee d’Orsay. So much awesome there, from Van Gogh to Monet. The Louvre? I could have skipped it and still felt fine. Much bigger crowds, and I’m just a bigger fan of Impressionist paintings. Plus, seeing the Mona Lisa from 10 feet away with a crowd of people pressed all over you? Not my idea of a fun time. That museum is massive. Not good for kids, for the most part. But maybe I was just in a rush by then, and tired out of museums.
  • Versailles is also very much like other palaces I’ve been to. It was like Vienna all over again. The gardens, on the other hand, were gorgeous. (They also weren’t included in the price of the Museum Pass, we found out.) Still worth the entrance. TRC was less than enthused about seeing gardens, until I came up with a game. Someone would challenge someone else in the family to mimic a statue in the gardens. Once that challenge was fulfilled, the person who’d been challenged got to challenge someone else. With the addition of that game, everyone had a great time.
  • If you’re going to go up the Eiffel Tower, reserve your spot online well in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  • This is a general tourist tip: don’t stay in the same places where all the other tourists are. Take the road less traveled. If you’re looking for a bite to eat, head off to an out of the way spot. Not only will this show you cool things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, but it’ll save you a bundle. For example, when we got out of Versailles, it was hot, and the kids all wanted ice cream. But ice cream at Versailles and the places between Versailles and the train station was all inordinately expensive. 4 euros a pop at least, for small sizes. So I headed with the family the opposite direction–away from Versailles and the train station. Within five minutes, we got to a small store that had the same ice cream for 1 euro each. And we saw a bit of downtown Versailles. That’s a win in my book.

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