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A small collection of Paris trip tips

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Hi everyone,

I really appreciated all the very helpful information from this forum as I planned for my recent trip to Paris. I would like to return the favor by posting some tips here. This is not a trip report, but rather a small collection of tidbits that might be helpful to others in their planning. Thanks again!

TRANSPORTATION tips/experience:

AIR FRANCE and the A380:
I have a couple of flight notes. I booked Air France A380 flights (Delta codeshare) roundtrip JFK-CDG. I read a lot about optimal seating on various online forums, and then did the best I could with the available seats.

(1) NYC-CDG - I had seat 88L, which is a window seat in the first row of the economy cabin on the upper deck of the A380. Wonderful, as economy seats go. I travel carry-on, and the overhead storage was fine for my small rollaboard. There is a solid divider between premium economy and regular economy, so there was no one reclining into my lap, and there was neither a lavatory nor a galley near the seat. I measured ~20 inches from the front of the seat to the divider, PLUS the window seats on the upper deck are separated from the window by an armrest-high storage compartment. This means that I, at 5’5, could extend my legs and rest them on the divider, or I could prop them on the storage compartment. I can’t say I slept well, but the area felt very roomy.

(2) CDG-NYC - I had seat 92A, which is also a window seat on the upper deck, but it has a row of seats in front of it. The seat in front (presumably 91A) was an exit row and did not have a window (not really a big deal when window shades usually come down for most of the flight anyway) nor a full side storage compartment. I was also able to prop my feet on the side storage compartment during this flight, although taller people could find that difficult. In this part of the economy cabin the overhead storage compartments are quite a bit smaller due to the curvature of the plane, so the flight attendants stowed my bag above the seats several rows forward, which was nice of them.

(3) BYO foam pad - I read a lot about hard seat cushions on AF, and although I can’t say I think they’re harder than other economy seats, I decided to bring a little extra cushioning. I brought a ~20x20in (2in thick) piece of foam pad (cut from a mattress-sized foam pad). The piece is extremely lightweight and compresses very well, so I stuffed it in the outside pocket of my bag. I’ll probably always do this in the future – I could use it as additional seat/lumbar padding, as an extended kind of pillow to support head/neck and also shoulder/side, and as non-slip cushioning for when I put my feet (in socks) up on the plastic side compartment.

(4) AF strike tip - Air France was on strike during my return flight period, and I was a little nervous about cancellations, as the media reported cancellation of up to 40% of international flights. I can’t be certain, but I think flying the A380 was a safer bet, because the airline of course will try to staff the flights with the most customers (i.e., the bigger planes). Although my flight and the flight the day before were delayed (less than an hour each), they still flew. I’m also guessing the extremely efficient movement through CDG prior to departure was related to cancelled flights? No kidding – from self check-in through security to the gate probably took ~20min mid weekday.

TRAINS
(1) RER B - I chose to take the train from CDG into Paris. I am always a little anxious at the idea of navigating unfamiliar transportation systems after an overnight flight, so I looked to the web for help. Here’s a link I found incredibly helpful: http://parisbytrain.com/paris-airport-terminal-2-train-photo-tour/ . This info with photos made it so much easier to feel familiar with the terminal, find the appropriate ticket counter, and find the right train platform. Keep your ticket readily accessible – on the way into Paris I needed to use the ticket to exit the station, and on the way back to the airport a conductor punched my ticket on the train.

(2) METRO - Just do it. If you’re not used to subways/trains, promise yourself to try it once. You cannot get lost, and the passages are clean and safe. On Sunday morning during my recent trip, there also was an incredibly talented man playing classical hymns on the accordian. Note that you have to either push a button or turn a little lever to open the doors at the station – look for the button/lever on the door, or get on/off behind another passenger.

COLD WEATHER Paris tips:

(1) Aux Vieux Campeur – I can’t imagine this will be important for most visitors, but if you happen to find yourself in Paris during an unprecedented European deep freeze (i.e., daytime highs of about 25 degrees Fahrenheit), some air-activated hand warmers really can make the difference between walking around the city as planned or huddling in your room/apartment. I found 2-packs of hand warmers for ~2 euros each at the Aux Vieux Campeur (kind of like an REI) in the 5e on the Bd St. Germain near the Maubert-Mutualite metro.

Note that AVC is divided into little mini-shops throughout the Latin Quartier rather than one large store, probably because it was impossible to find a single available building to house the entire store. The shop with the hand warmers also has weather-proof shoes and similar, and of course other mini-shops have base layers and other outdoor clothing and gear. The hand warmers I bought were Grabber brand and advertised 7-hour use, which I found fairly accurate. They really made the difference for me during really wildly cold outdoor temperatures. If you know you’re traveling in cold conditions, you could buy them in the US prior to travel, but I have no idea what the TSA would think of them in your luggage.

(2) BHV – I know, it isn’t really a cold weather tip. Or is it? Turns out that when you walk in the bitter cold from your apartment in the 5e over to the Hotel De Ville, stand outside on line in the cold for an art exhibition, and then view the exhibit in less-than-adequately-heated conditions, BHV is the perfect place to warm up afterward! There are many fascinating floors of goods through which to wander (BHV lingerie department – wow), and they are all comfortably warm in winter.

MUSEUM tips:

FIRST SUNDAYS – If you don’t already know, there is free museum admission at many Paris museums on the first Sunday of the month. Free is good, although crowds are less good.

MUSEUM PASS – I had this idea that I would wing it on a first Sunday entry to the Musee d’Orsay. I figured I’d go over and check out the length of the line before springing for an expensive pass. It was very (very) cold, and the line was very (very) long. I decided the extra euros were completely worth it to skip the line that day and the following (non-free) day, but where to buy the pass? My strategy: take a stroll over the Seine to the Musee de L’Orangerie, which had friendly and funny security guards and nearly no line, to buy the pass, then head back to the Orsay and get in the short pass-holder line. Walking/chatting/buying/walking still took far less time than standing on the regular line in the cold, and I was also all set for the Louvre the next day.

JEDI MUSEUM tip - (no, there's no Jedi Museum!). Okay, I have absolutely no idea if this was a fluke, but here’s something interesting I noticed. After my refreshing walk (see above) to get a museum pass, I got in the very short line for people with passes or similar expedited entry. No one checked my pass. We went through the metal detector, but no one checked to see if I had a pass or other expedited ticket. So… looks like it could be possible to queue in the short line on a first Sunday and not only get in free, but also get in more quickly. Let us know how it goes!

OTHER:

VEDETTES DU PONT NEUF – Someone recommended this company as the best for the classic boat ride on the Seine. The company narrates the tour in French and English only, which apparently makes the trip nicer than the constant barrage of words that results from narrating in many languages. We enjoyed the trip, and because it was off-season (and did I mention it was cold?), it was easy to pop in and out of the enclosed area to take pictures and then go get warm! The trip originates from the tip of the Ile de la Cite.

GENERAL – I won’t take a lot of space repeating prior advice. My experience was that being mindful of customs (e.g., greeting and bidding farewell politely in French to shopkeepers/waiters) and trying my best to speak French resulted in very kind and helpful behavior from nearly all Parisians. I think it also helped to be quick to laugh at myself. Also, Paris is just gorgeous for aimless wandering. Try not to bury yourself behind a camera lens – take time to be in the moment in one of the most beautiful cities in the world!

I hope these tidbits will be helpful for some folks, and I hope others add to them.
For the lucky planners - Have a wonderful trip!

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