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First-time International Travelers to Paris

First-time International Travelers to Paris

Old Jun 4th, 2015, 06:32 PM
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First-time International Travelers to Paris

My family and I are in the beginning stages of planning a vacation to Paris. We are a family of four, two 17 year olds and two 50-something year old parents. Only my father has been out of North America; he has been to Hong Kong, Germany, and China. This would be the last vacation before my brother and I begin college, so we want it to be special! We agreed on Paris.

We chose Paris for a couple of reasons. Paris, first of all, seemed like a good stepping stone into international vacations. And, I'm very interested in the French culture and language. We don't have an itinerary or anything set, but we were planning on going either from October 23rd-November 1st or November 20th to November 29th. Excluding travel days, we would have 7 nights. I know both dates are during the low season and weather might not be the greatest, but this is the only time available due to a very time-consuming high school sports schedule. Walking around shouldn't be a problem, but we would like to be centered in and around everything. We wouldn't want a rental car, so being near a Metro station would be convenient as well. Of course we would love to see the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, the Louvre, etc. We would also like to visit Versailles and Champ-Elysees. My brother loves sports so he would be interested in going to game or possibly a sports museum, if there is such a thing. For hotels, our budget would be around $200/night. We might be able to go higher if the nearly perfect hotel pops up. We would also be open to the idea of an apartment rental. Any recommendations on which Arrondissement to stay?

We are open to all ideas of things to do and see! We are open to day trips as well. My family doesn't mind museums, but we wouldn't like to spend all day there either. We might enjoy going to see an Opera show as well. If the Christmas markets are open in late November, we would also love to visit one. Honestly, we would just like to hit all the tourtisty spots!

Also, my brother and I were possibly thinking of taking our senior year school pictures in Paris. If anyone here knows of an English-speaking photographer that could make this happen, feel free to send the name and contact information!

Thanks so much for your advice.
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Old Jun 4th, 2015, 07:06 PM
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The lower numbered Arrondissements are older and more central parts of the city. We really liked the Left bank saint Germaine area to stay in ( across pont Neuf from Notre Dame.
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Old Jun 4th, 2015, 07:43 PM
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I love Paris, but I'd consider adding a second city in your case, maybe Amsterdam or London, and connect between them by train. Then book an open jaw - fly into one city, out of another. You might do 5 nights in Paris and 2 nights in the other. I think a second city might give you some perspective on a different place on a first trip over to Europe, especially if you aren't exactly "museum people."

You could also add another part of France to your trip. I did a brief visit to Alsace last year on the way to Germany. You could do what I did: fly into Paris (assume CDG) and train directly from the airport to Alsace, stop for a night or two in Strasbourg and/or Colmar, then train back to Paris for the rest of your time. (Both are beautiful towns; Colmar is a little smaller.) You could do it the opposite way, but you might wind up needing to burn a night at a Paris airport hotel that way, otherwise you'd have to train back to Paris CDG airport from Alsace the day you fly home, and that might cut it close for you.

But you could certainly fill your time staying in Paris plus with day trips - lots of towns nearby that are easily reached by train (e.g. Rouen; you could do Strasbourg as a long day trip as well). I recommend picking up a Rick Steves France book, actually. You can also watch his numerous PBS travel shows on Europe on YouTube.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 01:41 AM
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For 7 nights I would consider an apartment. Our family of 4 rented this apartment, http://www.vrbo.com/105451 and enjoyed our stay a great deal. The owner lives in the flat below and speaks English. Though the weekly rate is a little higher than what you are considering, the cost of being able to "dine in" on occasion may offset the higher rate.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 02:25 AM
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The November dates would allow you to see most of the Christmas decorations and the Christmas markets.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 02:36 AM
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7 nights sounds great, getting into French culture is going to be interesting and you are right, you don't need or indeed want a rental car.

My advice

1) Stay in one place
2) An appartment is a better deal than a hotel but you don't get the benefits of a concierge but with wifi you get the world of info at your finger tips
3) With an appartment you should plan to buy some of your meals, this means you need to go to markets and buy the stuff so you will have interact with the locals and so get a hint of the local culture.
4) If you want some days out I'd suggest just a few

Versailles is a possible but for the weather
Strasbourg or Reims is a real opportunity
London is a great long day out.

Each of these can be done by train, for good prices the London one wants to be booked early at Eurostar.

Christmas markets, you'll love, but you'll enjoy even normal markets a lot.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 04:33 AM
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A good alternative to apartments, especially for 1st-timers to Paris, are ApartHotels. These are fully-licensed hotels that are set up as apartments: the units are usually studio or 1-bedroom apartments with kitchenette, and the facility usually offers a reception desk, a laundry area, and breakfast. Unlike many apartment rentals, aparthotels are legal and licensed, plus have the added convenience of a 24/7 front-desk staff.

Citadines is the best-known aparthotel chain in Paris, and they have locations throughout the city. Adagio is another, and a Google search may turn up others.

Of the dates you propose, there are advantages to each. As kerouac points out, the Christmas markets will be open for the late November dates. On the other hand, late November has very short days in Paris -- you'll have an hour and a quarter less daylight on Nov 29th compared to Nov 1st!
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 04:44 AM
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Download the Fodors city guide to Paris. Do it now, I'll wait.

Get several guidebooks and study them to get an idea of what you do and do not want to do. They will have hotel and restaurant recommendations, maps, advice on navigating the Metro, sights to see near Paris, nightlife, avoiding crowds, handy phrases, etc. They will also give you websites for seeing what events, concerts, sports, or festivals may be in town during your visit. I have found the Fodor's, Rick Steves, and Lonely Planet guidebooks very helpful.

Once you have a rough idea of what you want to do, run it by the highly informed people in this forum. Many will have just returned from Paris (or any other place you can think of) and will have up-to-date info and opinions.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 06:25 AM
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I think your instincts are great. I simply adore you for taking on the planning.

I like a lot of the advice above but do not agree that you need to add another city. Seven days allows all of four of you to absorb Paris on your on time in your own ways, and it gives you the total luxury of not having to cram in 2,000 sites in one day.

With two teens and two parents, this amount of time allows you to have separate experiences as you "move in" to a neighborhood. My teens loved going off on their own throughout the city, something that can happen if you get a little on-the-ground familiarity, while my husband and I explored something else.

If you want to leave Paris, there are SO many day trips that can be done at a moment's notice. And with your luxury of a bit of time, those decisions can be made the night before or the morning of.

Good work!

So for choosing a hotel or apartment, do get a map out. Consider Notre Dame as "Ground Zero". Look at RER, Metro and Bus lines
http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_20559/c...ble-des-plans/

Then hit one or two hotel booking websites to get a feel for the prices in the areas/stays you are considering, and then you can weigh costs and conveniences of apts vs hotels.

We usually recommend the neighborhoods in the 5th and 6th for first-time visitors, mainly because whether or not you are walking or riding the Metro, you are close to everything you want to see and you are close to the Seine.

But other areas can work for sure. Apartments, for example, tend to be better priced (and a bit better) outside of where the 5th and 6th join. We loved staying in the Marais, too.

We only lately have been staying in the 7th. Our apartment where we stayed for two visits was not cheap: http://www.parisvacationapartments.c...y-two-bedroom/.

Yes, it's near the Eiffel Tower, but its Metro connections were not the best. Not bad at all; just not the best. The BUS lines in the 7th are very good.

And our apartment was very close to the Seine (check out Adele's <i>Someone Like You</i> video--it was shot near there). We also loved walking towards the lit-up Eiffel every night to dinner.

Do check back in so we can help your decision process as you chip away.
AZ
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 06:29 AM
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'The owner lives in the flat below and speaks English.'

This means the owner has two flats and means he 99,99% renting illegally the one you went into if he still does it now under the new ALUR law.

So besides the fact that OP would be helping a frausdter there is a real risk (albeit small) that authorities close down the flat before family comes to Paris.

Last week 80 flats were 'raided' in the Marais and 30 appartments found illegal if I read it correctly - there is a thread on this subject running. So pay attention when renting a flat. A hotel will also help having help during the trip especially if OP family don't speak french too well.

I would NOT split my trip to AMS or wherever, for once that OP is not overfulling (word exists ?) a trip.

Versailles will consume on day trip, FM and MFM (regular posters) have splendid lists of daytrips close to Paris.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 07:06 AM
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Ditto (nice name for a twin!), you say you are interested in French language and culture. If your French is up to it, you might like to see a play at the Comedie Francaise. Check their website. Prices are quite reasonable. If you read the play before you go (in French or in translation or both) you can probably enjoy it even if you don't catch every word. I did this as a college student, still remember the production although it was good I wasn't tested on the content.

The good thing about going in October or November is that the cultural season is in full swing. You say you might be interested in the opera. Check the website at operadeparis.fr and see what is playing at the two opera houses. The old one, the Palais Garnier, mostly shows ballets but some operas. The newer one, the Opera Bastille, shows mostly operas.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 07:19 AM
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pariswat, actually, the building has been in the family for several generations and the owner/Landlord lives in the flat below the one being rented. If this constitutes fraudulent behavior, then VRBO should be shut down, correct?
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 07:29 AM
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44T, it depends if the flat has been registered for short term rental under the relevant law. Nothing to do with ownership or its inclusion in some website. Yes there is debate ongoing about VRBO's liabilities.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 07:38 AM
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bilboburgler, this is interesting. We have rented flats in Paris quite a few times over the last few years, for weekend shopping getaways and wotnot. If our only choice should become a hotel, we would likely visit Paris much less frequently.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 08:13 AM
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I went to Paris the first time with my family when I was 13 and loved it (family with 4 teenagers)! As I'm only planning a return trip now (after many, many, many years), I can't give current information; however, I can tell you that I have always remembered the grandeur of Versailles. I am sorry I can't go during my upcoming trip to share with my husband and our friends. If it interests you, go! You have the time. You won't forget or regret it.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 08:22 AM
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44T I suspect it along with the whole UBER taxi thing get sorted out in the next few years. Should be fun, welcome to Blade Runner
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 08:29 AM
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Thank you for all the responses!! I reall appreciate it. I'll definitely work on reading more guidebooks and searching for information on each arrondissement. I think we will stick to day trips for now. We were thinking possible a day trip to Luxembourg, Belgium, or even smaller cities in the French countryside, like the ones suggested.

I will look at the ApartHotels & other apartments/hotels!

Thank you AlessandraZoe for the suggestion on making the focal point Notre Dame. That will help me maneuver the arrondissements!!

I think we are leaning more towards the end of November, partly because of the Christmas markets.

I'll keep everyone updated as I learn more!!
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 09:15 AM
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I visited Luxembourg (overnight) a few years ago between Paris and Belgium, because I was intrigued. But Luxembourg City (the capitol city) did not impress and was a bit of a disappointment. I saw a few of the smaller towns in Luxembourg as well - the countryside is beautiful and maybe in October the fall colors would be out and the scenery might be really nice. In November, I'd guess it would be dreary, and I probably wouldn't bother, unless you are interested in US military history (the Battle of the Bulge museum in Diekirch, the US military cemetery where Patton is buried in Hamm, outside of Luxembourg city). All of this is easy to get to by bus or train.

Parts of Belgium are really nice. Brussels is a fairly easy day trip - lots of trains - but I'm not sure I'd bother with a day trip there myself, unless there is something Christmas-y to see. Brussels is an interesting city, well worth the time to stop if you are passing through - but not necessarily a destination worth a lot of day trip travel time.

Brugge is wonderful (though in November - ?) but would make for a very long day trip from Paris. This is where doing an open jaw flight say into Paris out of Brussels would make sense. (Brussels and Brugge are about an hour apart by train.) You could even do just a day in Brugge - leave bags at the train station - then do the final night in Brussels and fly out the next day. That would to me be a lot easier than training all the way back to Paris, then having to fly out anyway.
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 01:41 PM
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Thank you for the response, Andrew! I only mentioned Luxembourg or Brussels due to the proximity to Paris. I could look into an open jaw flight, but it really all depends on the cost! My family doesn't have any miles, unfortunately.

Brugge would be an option - I never really thought of it!

Would there be any places in the French countryside worth visiting? Obviously there are plenty of options, but we would like to keep train travel to under 5 hours if possible.

Again, thanks for all the help!
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 01:57 PM
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I haven't been to many places in France besides Normandy and Alsace (and Paris of course). I'll let the France experts here help you with that. But as I said, Alsace is beautiful - Colmar and Strasbourg are pretty towns. You could do Strasbourg as a day trip via fast TGV train (Colmar requires connecting in Strasbourg), and that would be about 5 hours round trip, which is why an overnight would be better (to see say Colmar or another town too). Some of these towns are super nice at night too, and if you don't stay overnight, you miss out on that.

And then there's Normandy: besides some nice towns, there's the obvious historical draw of the D-Day beaches and countryside. But this is hard to do without driving unless you do an organized tour (easy to take a train up to Normandy from Paris but complicated to get around Normandy by bus or train and see all the D-Day sites). You could certainly take an organized tour, even a day tour starting in Paris (which would probably be a very long day). I loved Normandy - the countryside is beautiful in addition to the World War II history. I just don't know what it's like in November. Maybe October is a pretty time to go if you get fall colors.

As for open jaw flights to Europe: often they cost the same as a round trip ticket or sometimes less. You can check some sample dates right now on Kayak.com: try pricing out a round trip ticket from your home city to Paris. Then try one flying into Paris, out of Brussels on the same dates. See what the difference in price is. Keep in mind that the train tickets from Paris to Brussels may not be cheap either, and if you save four one-way tickets there by not having to train back to Paris, that saves you at least a few bucks, too.

You might find a direct train to Brugge from Paris (once a day?) that doesn't require a change in Brussels. Check on www.bahn.com (German train website but also most of Europe's train schedules, too).
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