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Trip Report Amsterdam & Paris in peak season

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My wife and I recently returned from a 10-day trip featuring Amsterdam and Paris. Our 3 nights in Amsterdam were our first ever, and our week in Paris was our first since 1996. The Paris week was part of a Rick Steves tour group. We did most of the major sights in each city, so this report has no stories of magical finds no tourist has ever seen before. Instead I will focus on the decisions or experiences which were especially good or bad.

Good Decisions

1. Getting appointments or skip-the-line tickets. For Amsterdam we booked advance tickets for the Ann Frank house, the Rijksmusum, and the van Gogh museum. The ticket lines for the first two were very long, at least 1-2 hours. For Paris the R.S. tour included a 6-day museum pass which saved us comparable time at the Louvre and Orsay museums and Sainte Chapelle, and obtained an appointed time months earlier for the Eiffel tower, saving another 2 hours. We get precious little vacation time in the States so spend a little extra money or do some advance planning to make the most of it. Or learn to enjoy standing in lines if you travel in peak season.

2. Packing Light. We always pack light - a single overhead-compliant backpack weighing no more than 18 pounds. It makes walks to, from, and through train stations a hands-free breeze. You get to skip the luggage claims process at the airport. And negotiating the hellscape that is the Atlanta-Hartsfield passport control is so much easier without an extra stone or two to drag.

3. Seven Day Paris transit pass. This came with the R.S. tour and was easy to use for the metro, RER (in the central zones), and buses. The latter came in handy when the taxis had a one-day strike which jammed the Metro. We were able to change transportation plans quickly because the pass covered the bus.

4. Guided museum tours. We took an excellent historical walking tour in Amsterdam led by Ben de Jong and which focused on the Jewish experience during the Occupation in WW2 (I posted a separate review of this yesterday). Our R.S. tour in Paris of course came with a general guide (Toni Seymour), but it also included special guides for the Louvre and Orangerie museums, and the Montmartre neighborhood walk. These guides were outstanding. Having regretfully skipped art history in college I get so much more out of art sightseeing when I have a knowledgeable guide.

5. Using a Rick Steves tour for our Paris week
I have been to Europe many times and I could have easily put together most of what we did on my own, but I just didn't feel like doing it this time. I've never been on any other guided tour so I can't compare experiences to other tour packages. The R.S. tour was a group of 25 people (mostly middle age or a little older) with one overall guide. As mentioned in item #4, it also included excellent supplemental guides for particular sights. There were group tour activities each morning and with afternoons free. It included 3 dinners, a river cruise, and week-long transit and museum passes.

Poor Decisions

1. My choice of footwear. I took only one pair of shoes as is my custom, but I chose the wrong pair this time. I took my Mephisto boots to stomp around city pavement and museum tiles for 10 days. The soles were ill-suited for this purpose and my heels and lower back paid the price. My boots are great for managing the alps, but I should have taken my Eccos for this trip as their soles are much better suited to the cityscape.

2. My choice of dental gear. I opted for a standard old-fashioned toothbrush as it weighs a few ounces less than my electric brush, which pleased the pack-light fascist living in my head. Within a few days I was dreaming of giving my teeth a proper cleaning with my electric.

Miserable Experience
The flight home because my vet called met a few days before to tell me that my dog's health was declining rapidly. I had to put her down the evening I got home. :(


Hotels

Amsterdam: Sunhead B&B at 152 Herengracht. Clean, comfortable, friendly, and quiet! Friendly staff. 515 euro for 3 nights for 2 people.

Paris: Hotel Duquesne at 23 Avenue Duquesne in the 7th (Ecole Militaire). Also clean, comfortable, and very quiet with a room on the back away from the street. Good breakfast! It was something like 230 euro per night for 2 people for the extra day we tacked onto our stay. The tour company probably gets it for substantially less.

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