Planning 1st trip to Paris - HELP!!

Old Nov 11th, 2000, 12:47 PM
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Planning 1st trip to Paris - HELP!!

Hi All,
I am in the process of planning a trip to Paris for my mother and myself. We arrive in Paris the last week in April for a seven day excursion. I want to make the trip as smooth as possible, but trying to figure out everything is quite daunting. Can anyone make suggestions, or identify a good checklist on what to pack? What type of documentation is needed (besides a passport? Is the city hard to maneuver if you don't know the language? Any suggestions are appreciated.

Also, we are staying not too far from the Eiffel Tower. Are any "must-see" sights within walking distance?
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 01:47 PM
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Hi Alexis: Have a wonderful trip to Paris..Its great. I have several good tips. I see my beloved city every year.
First of all: Everything must-see is close by when you purchase the Paris Visite Card.. It provides unlimited travel by metro, bus, and the train. You can buy a 1-day 3-day or 5-day pass. Hop on, hop off..Its that simply. You can also by it at the tourist office at CDG airport...Second, if you love museums....The Paris Museum Pass for 1-day, 3-day and 5-day. Unlimited access to over 70 museums.. TIP: Most musuems have no entry fee on the first Sunday of each month..Keep this in mind and how to plan to use your card. They run consecutive days...

Third: Most important in my opinion: transfers between airport and hotel. If you do not have them already, no fear...
Go to the KLM Minibus desk..Its 90 Frf approx 12 USD pp. directly to your hotel. At Gate 26 - arrival level. Plus, they will pick you up at your hotel for the return back to airport...for 2 people is 180FRF about 24 USD for two people...Its the best!!!!

Fourth: PARIS VISION Execursions: Tour company...Must sees include: The LOIRE CASTLES TOUR. MONT SAIN MICHEL and VERSAILLES...from 390 FRF to 1070 FRF..

Finally, thats the best I can do for now. I hope this is helpful..Please feel free to e-mail me....I love to share loads and loads of information...
Have fun!!!
[email protected]
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 01:55 PM
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Have a wonderful time Alexis!! Having been to Paris many times I would recommend a 1/2 day sightseeing tour for the first timer. While I am not an advocate of "tours" it is probably a good idea for someone doing it the first time because you can get a good overview of the city/sights and then go back and concentrate on what interests you the most. Not knowing your age (or your mother's) I will still go ahead and mention that there is a fair amount of walking involved in seeing Paris the right way. Also there is a lot of walking up and down stairs, etc. in the Metro. The Metro is the quickest way to get around and you can buy "carnet's" (10 tickets) at any station. We always go to Paris in mid-late April (will be there this year on the 18th
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 02:10 PM
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Fodor's is acting up - I see only about half my post got posted .. let's give it another go.

Have a wonderful time Alexis!! Having been to Paris many times I would recommend a 1/2 day sightseeing tour for the first timer. While I am not an advocate of "tours" it is probably a good idea for someone doing it the first time because you can get a good overview of the city/sights and then go back and concentrate on what interests you the most. Not knowing your age (or your mother's) I will still go ahead and mention that there is a fair amount of walking involved in seeing Paris the right way. Also there is a lot of walking up and down stairs, etc. in the Metro. The Metro is the quickest way to get around and you can buy "carnet's" (10 tickets) at any station. We always go to Paris in mid-late April (will be there this year on the 18th for 6 days, after time in the UK) and the weather is generally decent..not hot mind you but decent. Expect some rain, it usually occurs!
It is very easy to manage Paris without speaking French. My husband is French but even so, we have never had a problem as most everyone speaks some English and those in the tourist industry speak it fairly well. It's really not a big deal at all, but it's good to know some phrases in French just the same, pick up a phrase book and start practicing!

You didn't mention if you are staying in the 7th Arr, 16 Arr, or where but it does depend what is in the immediate neighborhood where you stay. Not too far from the Eiffel Tower can mean many things!! No matter where you want to go the Metro (and your feet) can take you there tho.

As for packing - as I said we go nearly every year in April and I take mostly pants, black ones and dark gray ones. A couple of blazers and sweaters (short sleave) to go under them. I wear black shoes (Easy Spirits) and have a black raincoat. I also take jeans - nicely cut ones and frequently wear them sightseeing with a blazer & sweater. My husband's French relatives wear jeans too! I take a black medium size shoulder purse as well. If this seems like a lot of black to you, it is -- more than I wear at home, but it's popular in Paris (and London), you will not see bright pastels in April on most people and usually it is still too cold. You can dress up the dark colors with some bright colors in a scarf or a red sweater or something like that, I do.

Figure temps in the low 60's in the daytime, or 58 or so and down in the 40's at night. It can be warmer and it can be colder -- it really is a crap shoot so to speak what the weather will be, just be prepared and dress in layers (that is why I like blazers, if it turns out warm I can wear them without a coat). I rarely take a dress or skirt with me - nice tailored black pants do the trick!

If you have time try a day trip out of Paris. Versailles is very easy to get to, as is Fountainbleau, Chartres and all the other tourist destinations. If you are not up to planning that much yourself ParisVision and Cityrama do sightseeing tours and have websites with times and lengths of the tours posted.

I hope this info helps a little. Just relax and enjoy the planning.
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 03:48 PM
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As lori posted, black is the fashion color in Paris. It's also practical, as it doesn't show dirt or wrinkles. Have two pairs of shoes - switching off is easier on the feet, and if you get wet, you've got dry shoes to change into. In whatever spare room you have in the suitcase, throw in a couple extra pairs of socks.

If you decide to take an umbrella, Totes makes a very lightweight and tiny collapsible one. They, and other manufacturers, make a fold up nylon totebag that's no bigger than a wallet when zipped up. You can slip it in your purse and have a bag to carry your purchases.

Put together a small emergency medicine chest - a few aspirin, antacid tablets, cold tablets, bandaids - so that if you arrive with a headache, or tear a nail, you're not searching for a pharmacy, throbbing and bleeding. No need to bring shampoo, etc. - many hotels supply it, and if they don't, there are stores everywhere that sell it. French pharmacies have everything you might need for whatever ails you.

Bring as many rolls of film you think you'll use - it is very expensive in Paris (I buy whenever a store has the 4-packs on sale for $6 or less; in Paris, the sale price for a 4-pack was almost $9).

If you are going to send postcards, print or type the addresses on labels so you don't have to bring your address book. Don't promise everyone a postcard - postage is expensive, and the process of buying, then writing, the cards can be time-consuming.

Be sure to bring a journal, and don't feel guilty if you don't write in it.

Get a good guidebook, or go to the Paris website to check opening days and times for the places you want to visit. No point in showing up at the Louvre on Tuesday.

Make a pact with your mother: no suffering in silence. If one of you is tired, or hungry, or doesn't want to do something, it's okay to speak up and you'll both figure out what to do about it. You both don't have to stay together every minute - if you want to go take a nap, Mom can go out for a stroll.

I've been in Paris many times, and took my mother for her first time a few years ago. It was like seeing the city for the first time, because she pointed out things that I'd never noticed or had become blase about.

And don't be concerned if you don't get to everything you'd planned on - you'll see and experience so much else that it won't really matter.

Enjoy your trip - planning IS half the fun!
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 04:45 PM
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Others may have their own favorites when it comes to guidebooks, but ours remains the Michelin Green Guide to Paris. In one book (and a very portable one at that) are most of the facts you will need to do a great job of planning.
Otherwise, an excellent resource is the one you are using--this web site. After 50 years experience visiting Paris (with our most recent visit in September), we are constantly amazed how this old city changes and improves. Another factor that will help you is the strength of the American dollar. In my opinion, this strength will continue well into 2001--much to your added pleasure. Don't worry too much about using French; a basic vocabulary is plenty. We were surprised that the campaign by the French tourist people to get the French man-and-woman-on-the-street to be more helpful to tourists has been most successful. The improvements in this respect since our last visit in 1986 was simply amazing. Paris is much cleaner, friendlier, and visitor-helpful than I can ever remember.
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 05:02 PM
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Paris is so wonderful. You can check out many links I've listed on my (non-commercial) webpage specific to Paris and France.
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 05:33 PM
bob Brown
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I was in your shoes three years ago when I started thinking about Paris, after going many years without visiting France at all.
I followed roughly this plan:
I got the Fodors guide to Paris, and studied the map carefully. I paid particular attention to the Metro routes. Then I found out that there is a web site for the bus routes as well, so I looked at those, too. I learned to like the buses better than the Metro, mainly because I could see where I was going.
2. I got the green Michelin book that Al talks about.
3. Then I picked a hotel on the advice of a travel agent. Bad move. Use the advice on this Forum; it is better. Most of us have no vested interest, although a few travel agents and others who reap a financial reward do patrol this board.
4. After learning the maps, I decided on what I wanted to visit. That is a personal decision. What do YOU want to see? Art? Music? Historical sites?
5. I fretted over restaurants until after my first visit when I decided it really did not matter. Paris has plenty of good places. Many of them have English menus, but I did get a French dictionary and a phrase book to help me out.
6. I decided on airport transportation.
So far I used the van shuttle service.
7. Make sure you have an ATM card and a couple of charge cards, different issues. I ran into a problem last September when mu Visa would not read and I had to use my MC card.
I usually have a few francs on me when I arrive, but the cheapest way is to charge your purchases and rely on the ATM for currency.
I also got a neck device to safeguard my passport, drivers license, ticket, and various bank cards by carrying them all the time. I think that device kept me from losing the bundle to a pickpocket on the Metro.

After you pick out your attractions, I would then figure out how to get from one to the other, at least in general.

In summation, I find Paris easy to get around in. I have had no trouble. I don't speak French, yet I have had no real trouble. My biggest blunder came last summer when I mistook one building from Hotel de Ville and got off too soon. I was standing up on the bus, trying to read the map, and looking through the window by stooping down.
Not exactly the ideal way to see anything!!
No harm, I just had to walk about 500 yards farther, and saw an interesting church as a result of it.

I think that is one good rule to follow:
don't try to do too much. Paris has hidden, unexpected surprises that are often better than what you set out to see!! Leave room for creative wandering.
But know the address of your hotel just in case you have to get the cab man to take you home. I have yet to need that service.
Have fun. And take an umbrella. It does rain in Paris.
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 06:13 PM
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Good advice given so far. My number one piece of advice on planning a trip to anywhere is DON'T PLAN TOO MUCH! We nearly killed ourselves on our first trip to Paris trying to see it all. It can't be done in a week - plus, you'll come home just exhausted. Plan one or two things a day (a museum and a monument, etc.) then roam a neighborhood or sit in a cafe and just let it all soak in. Paris is one of the best cities in the world for roaming and watching. Hope you have a great trip.
Old Nov 11th, 2000, 07:52 PM
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I'm a former parisienne: email me and we can discuss what's better for you and your mother. I can also give you my (US) phone number and we can discuss this together. Plenty of tips at hand!
Old Nov 12th, 2000, 07:04 AM
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Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions!!!!

Now to answer a few questions myself. 1) Our age ranges, I'm in my late 20's and my mother is in her late 40's. 2) We will be staying at the Hilton Paris and according to their website, they are not far from the Eiffel Tower. 3) What would we like to see: My mother is a true museum nut. She has also expressed a desired to see Notre Dame. I on the other hand want to see any and everything. But I'm very intrested in shopping and sampling pastries, cheese and wine. 4) We are planning a day trip to Versailles. From the pictures I've seen, this place is INCREDIBLE!!

I've a friend who recently visited Paris and has mentioned several things that sound very interesting. Sacre Couer (sp?) Bon Marchie (sp?), the Arc de Trimphone(sp?).

Old Nov 12th, 2000, 01:39 PM
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After reading through some of your answers I also have to agree - don't over plan Paris. We've been there many times so I guess we don't have the need to over plan but I've seen my share of exhausted tourists! I still think a 1/2 day sightseeing tour would be a good bet, will give you an overview. The museums are great, but if the weather is good you will want to be outside too, and Paris is very much an "outside and walking around in city". Your hotel is very close to the Eiffel Tower, also very American, so don't expect a lot of French charm (as in some of the smaller hotels).

Try and go to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night - it's beautiful to watch the city lights come on. It stays light fairly late in April so you can do other things and still have time to go up and enjoy the spectacle of lights. Notre Dame is marvelous, don't miss it. Personally having been up to Sacre Couer several times I would not necessarily have it on my list of places if it were my first visit. This is a personal opinion only! The view is fabulous from up there but so are the crowds. If you do go up and want a quiet spot to regroup so to speak there is a nice little park to the side of the cathedral that never seems to have many people in it (they are all out front!!) Facing the cathedral it is to the right. You might consider boat ride on the Seine as well, it makes for a nice relaxing way to take a look at the sights.

As for shopping, I prefer Galleries Lafayette and AuPrintemps which are located next to one another and both are really wonderful department stores and they carry just about everything. Marks & Spencer (the British chain) also has a store across the street (they have a good food section too). For "tourist" stuff the shops along the Rue de Riviloi are great. Bon Marche is also a nice store, as is Samarataine (which has great views from the rooftop). For another interesting view the Montparnasse Tower is the place to go, 59 stories high and provides wonderful views of the city (and is usually no where near as crowded as the Eiffel Tower).

While the musuems are great and your mother will be thrilled with them if that is her thing do find some time to just wander around, Paris is a great city for just walking. Elvira mentioned that it is good to have some time for yourself if you want it, traveling, sharing a room, eating all meals together, etc. can be exhausting too. I traveled with my mother to Hawaii and while we had a good time we both needed some time for ourselves each day too. Even when I travel with my husband I will sometimes leave him to take a nap and pop out shopping for something.

As for guide books, etc. just xerox the pages you are interested in and take them, saves a lot of space and books are heavy. Also take a yellow highligher, no matter where I go I take one - great for marking things so you can find them on the map, etc.
Old Nov 13th, 2000, 05:31 AM
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Hi Alexis
I have a file on Paris including some hints for the first time visitor; if you'd like to see it , email me.
All of the suggestions above are valuable.
This is what I try to pack on every trip, in addition to the obvious and the
items that Elvira mentioned
Map(s), guidebook(s) at least one daily, so think about size and weight
Large bottle of water for the plane. While I'm there I buy small ones to tote around every day. Europe isn't big on having water fountains in public places.
corkscrew, paperplates, plastic utensils (for picnics, even picnics in the hotel room)
complete copy of my itinerary, including plane, train, hotel, museum, and restaurant reservations by day, with respective phone numbers. Leave a copy of this with at least one reliable person at home.
wash n dries (for cleaning of hands, or whatever) carried daily
tissues (budget hotels often don't offer them, and they can double as toilet paper should the need arise) carried daily
my own washcloth (many European hotels don't offer them)
travel wallet, larger than my everyday wallet at home, it has lots of compartments and will hold: local and home currency (bills and coins); credit card,; atm card; calling card; passport; airline, train, and museum tickets, passes . Carried daily.
Small role of duct tape, which now comes in colors in smaller rolls: to repair luggage, mark your luggage so it stands out in the crowd, hold up a hem, remove lint, seal a package, etc.

Also, before I go I change batteries in watches, cameras, travel alarms and anything else that could "die" mid-trip

For travel gear, I highly recommend catalogs like Magellan. It has a toll-free number and website.
However, there is no need to go overboard on too many gadgets or supplies. Shampoo can be used to rinse out lightly soiled clothes, and you can always buy other supplies if you need them.

Old Nov 13th, 2000, 05:52 AM
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Im going to Paris in January and in addition to all the chick stuff I see in Fodors, is there any "manly" stuff to see in Paris? Castles? Catacombs? You know...guy stuff?

Old Nov 13th, 2000, 06:15 AM
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Hi Alexis:
My trips to Paris always include my Mom and we have a great time! My mother is 76 years old and never has a problem getting around
Good Advice here but I'll throw in a few things I have learned.
Plan but you'll find so many things so interesting that your plan will go out the window. I bought Frommer's guide book to Paris and read it thoroughly. It is very comprehensive.
We took the Air France Shuttle but others here prefer the Airport Shuttle. Do a search here.
Your Mom likes Museums Don't miss the D'Orsay. It is located in an old Railway Station. Lovely! Sacre Couer is another must see. We got lost getting there by bus (we missed our transfer point)so the Metro might be better there.
Our first trip we took a CityRama or ParisVision tour of the City. We got a good overview as to where things were located and went from there. Paris was bit less daunting then. Public Transportation is wonderful. Metro is good but we prefer buses.
We found so many cafes and brassieres that served wonderful food. If you are unsure, check the menus posted outside. I like the fixed price menus 3 courses, very inexpensive.
I never leave home without:
Lovely scarves (Very Chic in Paris)
Tagament or similar
Shout Stain Wipes
Hand Sanitizer either the liquid or wipes in packages
Lint Roller
Battery operated alarm clock
small flashlight
Bonne Chance et Bon Voyage!
Old Nov 13th, 2000, 07:31 AM
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Everyone has been so helpful. As a first-timer to Paris I wanted to make sure we have all the necessary documentation and the proper level of preparation. I truly believe in respecting the country one visits.

Quick question: I have searched through the forum for information on the VAT tax, along with duty-free rules/regulations. Is there any place, in the forum, on the web, where this is explained in laymen's terms? I want to shop while in Paris. I'm getting conflicting information on what and how to declare items.
Old Nov 13th, 2000, 07:48 AM
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Bob: The catacombs are pretty neat. Note: Be prepared to walk and it may be a little damp and cool down there. Also, take a map. You end up in a different street in Paris when you come up. Experienced Paris travelers probably will know where they come up, but I didn't. Also, try the sewer tour. Not as impressive as I thought, but different.
I wouldn't say these are "manly", but different than typical museums, etc. If you let us know what else you are interested in, we could comment. Enjoy.
Old Nov 13th, 2000, 08:05 AM
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VAT--while you are shopping, ask for VAT redund cheques. You will see a sign in the window. You normally have to purchase a certain amount to get a refund from a particular store. Hold onto these. Fill them out before you go to the Airport.Have Customs in CDG Airport stamp them for you. There is a refund desk in the airport. I just take them home with me and mail them when I get Home. Postage is free. If you forget to have them stamped at the airport a notary public at home can stamp them for you. Expect a refund on your credit card in about 2-3 billing cycles. Hope this helps!
Old Nov 13th, 2000, 08:15 AM
upsy daisy
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Check CGD Airport Shuttle post..up for you!
Old Nov 13th, 2000, 08:42 AM
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VAT is the 'sales tax' built in to the cost of everything you buy in Europe. If you spend a certain amount in ONE store (amounts vary, but it's usually at least $200), the store will give you paperwork to get the VAT rebated (at Customs/immigration OUTBOUND, you'll find an office or booth where the paperwork is stamped showing you're taking the stuff with you, you mail one copy back to the store - you can have the credit sent in the form of a check or have it credited to your credit card or checking account).

You can bring back $400 worth of stuff duty-free (this includes EVERYTHING YOU BUY IN THE DUTY-FREE SHOP AT THE AIRPORT. YOU MUST INCLUDE THIS IN YOUR TOTAL)and you just write the $ amount on your customs card. If you bring back more (write the total $ amount on your customs card), up to $1400, you will pay 10% on that amount (example: you buy $100 worth of candy at the duty-free, you have with you $400 in souvenirs - your total goods is $500 and you owe $10 ($500-$400 exemption = $100 x 10% = $10). Once you go over $1400, THAT amount has some weird rate that changes with the wind. If you bring back more than $1400, you will list EACH item and its value on your customs card. In all of the above cases, save your receipts and keep them close at hand should your purchases be inspected at Customs.

You may bring back ONE liter of liquor, ONE carton of cigarettes, and either 10 or 20 cigars (NOT Cuban - they are still banned). You cannot bring back 'live' food - no fresh produce, no meat (unless canned, but this is still a gray area - sometimes you'll read in an FDA ruling it's ok, other times it's not), no plants, no soft cheeses. You cannot bring back anything made of tortoiseshell, or ivory, or exotic fur. US Customs prints a great booklet "know before you go" - get it. It outlines everything you can and cannot bring back - and certain exemptions from duty (like artwork and certain antiques).
I can't stress enough - tell the truth on your customs declaration. If you don't, and you are selected at random for inspection of your suitcases, you will not only pay the duty, but a heavy fine on top. Don't bring back anything you shouldn't - the Feds are talking JAIL TIME for anyone bringing in illegal stuff (like Cuban cigars).

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