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WillTravel Jul 26th, 2004 06:44 AM

Back from London, Paris, and Berlin
My son and I are back from our 16-day trip. It went very well.

Just a few points, and I hope to post more later:

I really recommend seeing Berlin. I also highly recommend taking Terry Brewer's walking tours of Berlin.

Because I asked about hotels and A/C and this topic comes up a lot: Our hotel in Paris, Le Meridien Montparnasse, provided a very nice, spacious, air-conditioned room with a view looking north over Paris to Sacré Coeur. There were only 2 days during our week in Paris where the A/C was needed, but I was very glad for it then. I got it from Priceline for a bid of $110/night (even cheaper rates seem to be available for late July and August, subject to all the usual caveats about using Priceline). The Montparnasse location was very convenient.

Two flights on EasyJet worked out beautifully.

Thanks to everyone for their help.

Spygirl Jul 26th, 2004 07:43 AM

I keep saying over and over again-Berlin is the hottest capital in all of Europe-it's not for nothing that they call it the "Capital of Cool." You never, ever run out of things to do there-the list posted on the front of the Berlin Tourist Bureau of things going on each day is long and varied-heavy on cultural pursuits. And the walking tours-where the history of the Third Reich comes alive-is nothing if not fascinating, as well as hugely informative Yes, I'm a big fan of Berlin.

WillTravel Jul 26th, 2004 01:00 PM

I totally agree about Berlin. I know the history is horrible and I spent a lot of my exploration time there on that subject. (I also spent a lot of time on the more neutral history as well.)

It is really odd to think about the beautiful, modern, trés cool city of Berlin and the past horrors juxtaposed against it.

Another factor in favor of visiting Berlin: it is a very cheap place to visit for someone on a budget.

Here's more about Terry Brewer's tours:

For 10 Euros, we got a 10-hour walking tour of Berlin (almost all in the historical eastern section) which was absolutely fascinating. Two days later, I went on Terry's walking tour of Potsdam, which lasted about 9 hours. This was fascinating and historical as well. Again, only 10 Euros. Terry's tours are worth a lot more than that, but note they involve vigorous walking (although there are breaks for the toilet and for eating).

I loved Paris as well and had tears come to my eyes when I looked at Notre Dame for the last time of my visit, but I know I'll be back. I really enjoyed the Paris Walks as well, and I took five of the 2-hour walks. These were very easy compared to the Brewer walks, but I also learned a lot from them.

In London, I also did two two-hour London Walks with Alan who wears a green carnation (one was the Oscar Wilde walk and one was the Spycatchers' walk). Both of these centered on the Mayfair/St. James area. Then on my final day I did a London Walk of Westminster with Tom and saw the Changing of the Guard, but I had to leave early to catch a plane. Despite a lot of previous time spent in London and in the City of Westminster in particular, I learned a huge amount from these walks as well.

I know you can learn a lot from self-exploration of a city, but based on this trip, I really recommend taking walking tours also. I know if I hadn't been on a walking tour, I would have covered perhaps 1/4 of the distance and learned a lot less.

WillTravel Jul 26th, 2004 01:03 PM

Note that the web site is out of date in respect to the Potsdam meeting site. If you are interested, I suggest emailing so that you can get the correct meeting place and time. (I got the Potsdam tour at 9:30 AM on Thursday at Friedrichstrasse station by the taxis, but I know it runs a couple other days as well.) If you want the Berlin tour, also email to get the best meeting spot.

Louiseee Jul 26th, 2004 03:26 PM

My daughter and I went to Berlin for the first time in June (one week) and then on to London for 5 days. We both fell in love with Berlin. And, in fact, as soon as I got home I signed up for German lessons; I've got to make return trips to that city a regular part of my life.

rj007 Jul 26th, 2004 04:37 PM

My two visits to Berlin were in 1995 and 2003. The changes I saw in the eastern section were amazing. Berlin is a fascinating city. I've enjoyed my visits there -definitely plan on going again.

London Walks are the best IMO. As WillTravel mentions you get so much information on these walks. I told some of the stories I heard to a friend who is a native Londoner and had never heard them. You will get your money's worth on these walks.

WillTravel Jul 27th, 2004 09:56 AM

In response to perennial controversies about Paris:

Not everyone in Paris speaks English, even in touristy areas of the Latin Quarter, although everyone I spoke to was quite nice. All transactions proceeded smoothly. I did painfully try French from time to time. In one case I saw a waiter get help from another (French) customer so that he could get a translation of what an American was trying to tell him.

Waiters were not at all stand-offish. In fact, one was hitting on me quite extensively. I just responded humorously rather than getting upset about it. I recommend that women be sure that they are not the last person in the cafe and that they do not sit at the back.

Pedestrians seemed to scarcely notice the red no-walk signals and just went whenever they saw an opening. I never felt that drivers were being aggressive against pedestrians.

I did see dog poop a number of times, and twice I did see men urinating in public. In addition, some metro stations smelled of urine.

I heard a woman at the metro near the Eiffel Tower speaking in very loud, east-coast-US English about how a smelly man had sat next to her. It sounded like she was practically a flight of stairs and half a platform away, but I could still hear her! Come on folks, don't do this, people do understand you!

WillTravel Jul 27th, 2004 11:40 AM

My 17-year-old son and I went our separate ways almost entirely during the trip.

On his second day in Paris, he started by taking the metro to St. Michel. Then he walked around the Latin Quarter, walked past Notre Dame, walked past the Louvre, past Place de Concorde, to the Eiffel Tower and up the stairs to the second level, along the Seine past Musee d'Orsay to St. Germain, to the Latin Quarter again, with some zigzags in all of this before at some point hopping on the metro. He more or less is allergic to going into any museums or churches, but he does enjoy bookshops, which he found in the Latin Quarter. He also enjoyed seeing everything and interacting in French, as well as hunting down new sources of crepes, tartelettes, and pizza. On subsequent days, he went further and further afield in Paris and relied more on the metro and got to lots of neighborhoods most tourists never do.

WillTravel Jul 27th, 2004 11:53 AM

We had paid for hotels and airfare and insurance in advance, but no other fees.

So for two people:

Once on the ground, we spent exactly 200 pounds (minus a few pennies) for a total of 3 nights in London. This included musical tickets for two, a play for one, two modest cafe dinners, tube passes, train tickets from Luton, London walk fees, and other food requirements.

We spent exactly 929 Euros (again minus a few pennies) for 12 nights total in Paris and Berlin, which included all ground transportation, groceries, cafe meals, laundry, a few books, several classical music concerts, museum admissions, a phone card, and all other things you buy. The money was going a lot faster in Paris than it did in Berlin.

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 09:39 AM

One strange sighting in Paris:

Five gypsy girls, ages perhaps 10-15, seemed to be having a verbal confrontation of some sort with a crowd on a bridge near Notre Dame. Much to my shock, one of the girls, perhaps age 12, suddenly lifted up her skirt and showed her bare buttocks to the crowd. This was obviously premeditated, as she wasn't wearing underwear.

A short distance away on the bridge with a separate crowd, a man and woman were doing the tango (also looked like gypsies).

Anyway, my suspicion was that this would be a really good time to do some pickpocketing, with all of these distractions.

I was really saddened by the 12-year-old girl, that for whatever reason this is the life she leads. I really wanted to sternly tell her to stop that right now and that she was on a bad path, but of course I wouldn't have been able to say that in French.

strass Jul 28th, 2004 09:44 AM

Interesting tidbits about Paris, thanks!

I live in Chicago and use the subway/train every day... I think every city worldwide has a few train stations that smell like urine. We sure do!

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 09:50 AM

That's definitely the case about public transit sites, strass, and I know where to find such spots in my own city. For some reason, this subject seems to attract a lot of interest in previous trip reports I've read.

My favorite museum (I went to six) was the Musée d'Orsay. The Louvre is magnificent, but overwhelming, and I feel like I would need a month in Paris with short, periodic visits to do it justice.

I enjoyed going to a concert featuring Vivaldi's Four Seasons and other works in St. Chapelle. This is definitely a place I'd like to visit again, under various lighting conditions. I also attended a Chopin concert at St. Julien-de-Pauvre church.

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 10:19 AM

The entertainment provided on the metro in Paris was far superior to that in London or Berlin or any other city.

A couple highlights:

A woman who came aboard with her own boom box and sang a few songs in a torchy, Edith Piaf style.

A man who came aboard with a boom box and a black screen and puppets. He quickly strung up the screen between the poles and started a dancing puppet show to the music.

My son noticed a couple of gypsies who boarded the metro and sat down on the pull-out seats. He said he had a strong feeling that a kid would soon be coming aboard with an accordion. Sure enough, at the next stop a kid with an accordion came on board, stood in front of his parents?, and played the accordion for a couple stops. After collecting a bit of money, all three disembarked together. The kid was apparently a pretty good player, and he heard several child accordion players.

BTW, I know "gypsy" might be considered offensive, and I don't mean it to be. I don't consider "Roma" to be an accurate term either. I wish there was some other neutral term I could use, but at least this way everyone knows what I mean. In Berlin, the term used is "Sinti und Roma", because apparently there are two groupings of "gypsies".

strass Jul 28th, 2004 10:33 AM

A puppet show? Now that's something I've never seen on my commutes!

WillTravel, how did you find out about the church concerts? I'd like to attend one during our September trip. I saw one in Venice, and the combination of the music (Vivaldi's Four Seasons, actually!) and the setting was something I'll never forget.

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 10:37 AM

Buy the Pariscope for 0.40 Euro from a news kiosk (you can tell these kiosks by the pictures of near-naked women that are plastered on them). The proprietor gets the Pariscope out from behind the counter. It's just a small magazine, and almost entirely in French, but it lists classical concerts at various churches. In addition, as you walk around Ile de la Cité and the Latin Quarter you will see posters all over the place advertising various church concerts. I also got some suggestions and tips from this board about where to look for concerts.

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 10:41 AM

I didn't get a chance to go to the organ concerts at Notre Dame. However, I did attend a service at ND, and there was a lot of organ playing during that. In addition, by chance I happened to visit the Madeline church when there was a service and also heard some wonderful organ playing (I really like how that organ sounds). Both are free except for whatever donation you choose to give.

In addition, I saw that there was some sort of "spectacle" being offered at Notre Dame (for free). So I decided to see it. It starts at about 21:15, presumably because they need the church to be nearly dark. It is like a slide show projected on a diaphonous screen, with accompanying narration and music, about the history and significance of Notre Dame. It is aimed at the French-speaking Catholic, neither of which describes me, but I found it an enjoyable experience nonetheless.

BowenLinda Jul 28th, 2004 10:52 AM

WillTravel, I enjoyed your trip report, especially your comments regarding your 17 year old. I have a 17 year old son as well who says he want to travel with me AFTER his first trip with his buddies.

What did your son think about his European trip? His highlights / lowlights (sounds like a hair streak project!) Did he hang out with other teens or did he enjoy being on his own during the day?

... in awe of your budgeting skills!


WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 11:01 AM

My son traveled with me last year to Europe and he didn't have as much independence on that trip (although I probably should have let him). He totally enjoyed being almost completely independent this time. He didn't seek out any other teenagers as far as I know, although I did suggest he might want to go visit a hostel. But we both tend to be introverted. He did talk to a Danish family at the Reichstag and had periodic conversations elsewhere. I know he met some Hungarian young people he enjoyed chatting with while we did laundry in Berlin.

One reason we managed with this relatively low budget is because my son spent so little money! It will be quite different when I take my daughter, I'm sure, who is a shopping fanatic. She is 13 and previously was not interested in going to Europe, but I hope to take her next year.

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 11:02 AM

Another thing is that he just does not like getting out early, and generally wanted to lounge around until noon or so, before embarking on those extremely fast, concentrated walks. He was happy with that, and usually returned to the hotel around 10 PM. I think everyone needs some sort of down time.

WillTravel Jul 28th, 2004 11:08 AM

Most mornings in Paris I went to the Inno store about 2 blocks away from our hotel and purchased croissants, a whole-grain bun, two yogurts, and some orange juice for our breakfast. This was typically around 7 Euros. Then I would sit at the desk in front of the window with sweeping panoramic views and we would eat breakfast. This did take extra time to go and get the stuff and bring it back, but it was a nice start to the day. My son said the croissants in Paris are the best he has tasted (the ones in Berlin were also very good, but had a different texture).

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