Fenton & White Plan Paris

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VISITING PARIS IS ABOUT MORE THAN THE EIFFEL TOWER

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Pete had a milestone birthday coming up, and I asked him how he wanted to celebrate. To my surprise and delight, he said he wanted to go to Paris.  Now as you know if you read this blog regularly, we love to travel and try to take two trips a year.  Travel to Europe is a larger expenditure so these bigger trips usually only happen once every two years.  To make the most of our trip it was time to start planning.

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WE HAVE COME TO TRUST THE RICK STEVES SERIES OF TRAVEL BOOKS

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I love travel planning.  I love getting the best deals, and I love finding unique and wonderful places to go.  The first step in planning a trip to Europe is to get a reliable travel guide (or two) and figure out what there is to see.  You will notice that the above book is dated 2015.  On a big trip for the fall, we start to plan nine months to a year ahead of time.  Pete goes through the selected travel guide and highlights all he wants to see.  I go through the book and highlight all I want to see (in a different colour pen).  When things are of common interest, those items fall higher on the list for our itinerary.  As the trip evolves over the passing weeks, we figure out what is most important to us and we each get days that are designated to the choice of only one of us.  Since we both love travel, it doesn’t matter where we go … we always have fun.  Once we have a list of “must sees” we do a rough budget and figure out what we can afford.  In our case, we decided to do a ten day and one night itinerary.  The one night component was the flight from Toronto to Paris. After that, we had nine days in Paris, and one day of flying home.

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HAVING AN UP-TO-DATE PASSPORT IS IMPORTANT WHEN TRAVELING

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We looked at our calendars and decided that the best time to travel for our schedules was early October, a few weeks after Pete’s official birthday.  Once our dates were in place, we checked our passports to make sure they were up-to-date.  For your passport to be valid in some places in Europe, it must NOT expire within 6 months of the date you land in the country.  It turns out, my passport was due for renewal.  Good thing I checked!

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WHEN IN FRANCE … PARLE FRANCAIS

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Pete and I both had some French language skills, but we vowed that when we were in Paris that we would do our best to speak French as much as possible.  It is true that most tourist places have staff that speak some English, and for menus and basic necessities, you can get by simply by pointing; however we both felt that the experience of traveling to France would be enhanced by our ability to have a greater comprehension of the language being spoken around us.  It filled us with joy when we managed to communicate effectively in a language that … well … is one of the official languages of Canada anyway.  We discovered that there are definite differences in dialect between Canadian French and Parisian French, but truly, it made a world of difference to our trip.  So how did we learn more French?   Through a fun (and free) computer program offered through DuoLingo.  The sooner you start, the more you can learn before your trip.  Ten minutes a day before your trip will make your experience far richer once you land in Paris. Check it out at https://www.duolingo.com/

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RETURN AIRFARE FROM TORONTO TO PARIS (TAXES IN)  WAS ONLY $480 EACH

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Paying for a trip like this can be a bit daunting, but the key is to put away a small amount each month, and pay your expenses in advance.  By the time you get to your trip, all you will have left is the cost of food and spending money.  Our research shows that the cheapest airfares to Europe from Canada are usually advertised between 3 and 4 months ahead of your planned flight date.  That may sound far away, but by using this window of time, we were able to use an internet service (http://kayak.com) and find an incredible deal.  We flew to Paris from Toronto (return, with taxes in) for $480 Canadian each with Icelandair.  That is cheaper than flying across Canada.  There was one catch to the flight.

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A 90 MINUTE STOP-OVER WAS PART OF OUR FLIGHT PLAN

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With an Icelandair flight, it is mandatory to stop at Keflavik Airport.  What this meant for us is that we departed Toronto at 9 PM (most flights to Europe that arrive earlier in the day are overnight flights) and arrived five and a half hours later in Keflavik just outside Reykjavik.  Because of the time change (4 hours ahead), we arrived at 6:30 AM local time. The 90 minute stop-over was time enough to deplane onto a rainy and windy tarmac, take a bus to the terminal, walk 15 minutes inside to the far end of the terminal, go through passport control and then get on a bus to take us back out onto the tarmac, where we boarded our plane to Europe.  At 8:00 AM local time, we were departing for Paris on another 3 1/2 hour flight, which arrived at around 2:00 PM Paris time (2 additional hours ahead of Iceland) including the long taxi into the terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport.  If it had been earlier in the year, we would have considered taking a longer stop-over in Iceland (a no-charge option in terms of your airfare), but the weather in October is blustery and the cost of staying in Iceland can be steep … but on another trip, we may consider it.

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TIMHOTEL WON OUR BUSINESS WITH A GOOD RATE AND A LARGER ROOM

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We booked our hotel a few months before heading out.  We searched through the Trivago website, as well as Hotwire deals and Trip Advisor which has user reviews that can help steer you away from places that are run-down or in a bad part of town.  Our search led us to the Timhotel Opera Blanche Fontaine.  It was north of the downtown core, but offered easy access to the shops and restaurants of the Opera district and Montmartre and also offered a room that was large in size.  For a short trip, this is less important, but on a longer trip, it is nice to have amenities that included a safe in the room, a fridge and a television (and yes, we did watch television in French).

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VOLTAGE IN EUROPE CAN FRY YOUR ELECTRONIC DEVICES

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If you aren’t careful, you can fry your electronic devices. European electrical outlets have a much higher voltage.   If you are uncertain, you should get a voltage converter which will plug into the outlet.  Nowadays most phone chargers and common electric devices have built in converters to make sure that when you plug them in, they won’t overload (and they will indicate this in small print on the device with something that shows 120v/220v).   In our case, all we were plugging in was our camera battery charger and Pete’s cel phone.  Both of these automatically worked with the 220v system, but none of the devices would plug into a European wall outlet.  A quick trip to a travel store allows you to purchase an inexpensive plug converter with the appropriate prongs for the wall outlet.  The above adapter is good for many places in Europe (Britain has a different wall plug adapter, so we couldn’t use the one from our last trip overseas).

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THE EURO IS VERY SIMILAR TO CANADIAN CURRENCY

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In France, the Euro is the local currency.  It is similar in denomination and appearance to Canadian currency with different coloured bills, and coins that are various sizes, with the denomination clearly printed on the front of each coin.  Part of the higher cost of traveling to  Europe is the conversion factor.  In October this year, 1 Euro cost around $1.60 Canadian.    I do an approximation of our daily expenses in Euros and convert it to Canadian dollars to give us a target amount to save.  Then when we know what our budget is, we pre-pay as much as possible, and during our trip stay within range of our budget .. however, we splurge for special meals … after all, you never know when you are going to be back. We found that putting most of our expenses on a credit card made it easiest, as it comes in one bill when you get home, and the credit card company does the conversion for you (service fee built in).  If you have budgeted well, there won’t be a sticker shock … just a bill that you can pay from your savings when you get home.  For places that only take cash, we found 250 to 300 Euros each was enough for our trip, and towards the end of the trip, things we would have put on credit card, we paid with Euros to use up the cash.

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A MONEY POUCH IS AN INEXPENSIVE WAY TO AVOID PICK-POCKETS

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If you travel to ANY big city, and you go to tourist attractions, there is the risk of having something stolen.  We had been warned that in certain parts of Paris, pick-pocketing was common.  After we arrived, we saw many people with wallets stuffed with cash, placed in the back pocket of jeans that would be easy to steal.  The above money belt was incredible for us.  Enough room for a passport or ID, credit card, and just enough cash for the day (leaving a spare credit card and the rest of our money in our safe at the hotel).  You have to wear a belt, but these money pouches slide over your belt loop, and then tuck inside your pants.  We felt secure the entire time, and it was one less worry for our journey.

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MONTHS OF PLANNING LEAD TO AN INCREDIBLE TRIP FILLED WITH FUN

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So after the airfare is bought, the hotel is reserved (and paid for in advance), French lessons are underway, budgeting is done … well, there are still tours to plan, itinerary planning, looking up attractions and trying to figure out the best restaurants to eat at .  The closer the trip got, the more exciting it got.  In the weeks before our trip, we kept coming across new things, and booking small trips,  and before we knew it … the day of departure had come.    As always, we did our standard pose with a cup of coffee or drink at the airport at the beginning of every trip.

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THE ICELANDAIR LIGHTING IN THE PLANE EMULATES THE AURORA BOREALIS

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Icelandair uses Boeing 757s which have three seats on each side.  While not EXTRA roomy, the seats offer better than standard leg room, and when we got on, we were handed a bottle of Iceland Water, each seat had a blanket on it for warmth, there are movies available for free (additional charge for headsets, but bring your own) and food available for purchase.  The flight crew were very pleasant and the service was very good.   Two pieces of luggage and reserved seating are also included in your fare.  You can pay premium prices to get more leg room, and free (pre-paid in your higher fare) food and drinks.  We felt it was a pretty good deal. And as you take off, the cabin lights dim and the bulkhead lights glow in colours that represent the aurora borealis.

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CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT HAS ROUND TERMINALS WITH COVERED ESCALATORS

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I will spare you the details of our flight, other than to say that all went smoothly, although Keflavik Airport is in the process of expanding their airport, so when we landed and then made our way to our departure gate … four planes were leaving from the same area of the terminal at the same time.  They are building a new terminal to meet the demand and by next year, things will likely be less busy.   The congestion sorted itself out quickly enough, but at 6:30 in the morning, we were a little blurry.  Total travel time to Paris is about 10 1/2 hours, broken up into three parts … 5 1/2 hours to Iceland, 90 minutes transferring at Keflavik Airport, and 3 1/2 hours to Paris.  The time in Paris is 6 hours ahead of Toronto, which meant that by the time we got our luggage and had gotten to our Super Shuttle driver at 2 PM local time, it felt like 8 AM Toronto time.    We were tired, but excited, and ready to stretch our legs and have our first meal in Paris before trying to sleep and turn our body clocks around.

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Tomorrow …  climbing to the very top of the town!

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Fenton & White

 

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