VIEWS: 186 PAGES: 15 CATEGORY: Europe POSTED ON: 11/22/2011
This is a brief document which gives tips for those intending to travel in France. It provides information on planning your trip in terms of booking, accommodation, cars etc plus information that will assist you while travelling.
Visiting France – tips for travellers Edwina Ogilvie – November 2011 © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 2 © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 3 1. Introduction This guide has been written following on from my trip to France in September 2011. Planning the trip took me a long time and I learnt so much along the way. If I’d had some of this information at hand when planning it would have saved me a lot of time. I also learnt a lot along the way which I trust will be useful to fellow travellers. If you are going to plan your trip from beginning to end, allow plenty of time because researching all of the various options available and deciding on what to include, where to stay etc is very time consuming but definitely worth it! You can do a tour or you can use a travel agent as options of course. Tours are great if you haven’t got the time or the inclination to do it yourself but you don’t have the option to include additional places you’d like to see. Travel agents have their place but from my experience if they haven’t been to the place themselves then I don’t know that the judgements/recommendations that they can make will be better than what you can figure out yourself. In terms of accommodation, you will be limited by the products that their wholesalers have on offer. This guide is written in good faith and all correct (from my perspective!) given that much of the content is my personal experiences and opinions. There are some references in this document that are very specific to Melbourne (e-Tags, Myki and the like) and of course to Australia which may not make sense to anyone outside of Australia. There are lots of great websites out there that can help but it can become a bit overwhelming. My favourite is Trip Adviser – I used it extensively particularly in choosing accommodation and found it very helpful. One of the best things about travel websites like Trip Advisor is that there are forums/discussion groups on so many different destinations and people are always generous in sharing their experiences and providing advice to help you make choices. As well as helping to plan the trip, I used Trip Advisor extensively on my trip to get recommendations on things to do, restaurants and the like and it was great. I loved it that I could look up restaurants in the area when we reached our destination, make a choice, book it and then get the walking directions to the restaurant all from Trip Advisor. Others definitely worth looking at: http://www.virtualtourist.com http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa - this is the Lonely Planet site © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 4 2. Planning your trip France is a much larger place than some realise and planning your itinerary will take some time figuring what to include and what to leave for next time. Regardless of whether you use trains or hire a car, carefully look into the distances between each destination so that the itinerary you are setting is not only practical in following some sort of geographic logic but is also viable in the time you have. You might be able to cover huge distances and visit a large number of places in the time you have but I always want to enjoy each destination and would rather go to fewer places and get a feel for them rather than doing a whistlestop tour of a large number of places, for me its about quality not quantity. If you are driving you can calculate the distances using the Michelin website www.viamichelin.com, remember that in Europe distances are measured in miles not kilometres. Our itinerary was as follows: • Paris – 5 days – longer would have been better but 5 days was good having been there before • The Dordgone – we got the train from Paris to Brive and picked up our hire car from the railway station. Then drove to Sarlat (around 60 kms) where we stayed for 5 days in the medieval town of Sarlat which was beautiful. We booked our accommodation through a booking agency www.insarlat.fr • Provence – from Sarlat we went on to Provence (a long drive – 6 hours) where we stayed for 6 days – we rented a house in the village of Eyragues (which we loved and was a great base to explore Provence) which we found on www.holidaylettings.co.uk, it was privately owned • From Eyragues we went on to Nice for 6 days as well, stopped briefly in Marseille for lunch which was well worth it and would have liked to have spent a full day. We booked our accommodation through www.nicepebbles.com • From Nice we went back to Paris by train – around a 6 hour train trip, quite lovely scenery and well worth doing • One last night in Paris and then Eurostar to London the next morning (2 hours – definitely the most efficient way to get there) © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 5 2.1 Flights to Europe Getting there is half the fun but that fun can be diminished significantly by being crammed in on a 24 hour flight with 400 other travellers. If you can afford it, fly Premium Economy or Business Class. If you can’t, look into upgrading your ticket to Business Class with points if possible. Check out the website www.seatguru.com which will tell you exactly what different seats are like on different airlines – those few extra inches in the size of your seat can make a big difference – who says size doesn’t count? 2.2 Travel insurance Of course you need to take out travel insurance if travelling internationally – you would be crazy not to. Its wise to take out insurance as soon as you start paying deposits etc but before you pay for anything check with your credit card provider to see whether they offer any deals or complementary insurance as a benefit of having your card. Certain credit cards offer complementary insurance if you pay for the trip with your credit card. 3. Paris 3.1 Accommodation My choice in Paris is to stay on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter – fantastic location which is close to everything and lovely neighbourhoods. Paris is divided up into districts – Arrondisements and each has something different to offer. For a handy guide to Paris visit the website ‘The Traveling Professor’ and you can download his free guide which will provide a wealth of information about things to do in Paris and also a guide to the different districts and what their attractions are as well as hotel and restaurant recommendations. For the uninitiated, hotel rooms in Europe are typically the size of your average phone booth in Australia and things that you may take for granted here (like tea and coffee making facilities) may not be provided. Depending on how much you use technology and want to access internet/mails/Skype etc it’s a good idea to go for a hotel with free Wi-Fi and many of them have this, it’s a lot easier than having to go to McDonalds to read your email. With changes in technology, internet cafes are scarce if not non-existent. http://www.travelingprofessor.com © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 6 3.2 Public transport Getting around Paris is cheap and very efficient and in the same way as the London Tube runs like clockwork so does the Metro. Depending on how long you are in Paris, a Paris Visite may metro ticket may be the way to go, it you unlimited travel for a specified time. It’s around 30 Euros for 5 days and that gives you unlimited travel in zones 1-3 which will get you to most attractions. With this pass you also get discounted entry to various attractions and a map that gives quite good detail on what to see. 4. Accommodation 4.1 France generally In Paris, from my perspective, hotels are the only way to go unless you were staying for more than a week in which case an apartment would be an option. If you are staying in places one or two nights then (unless you are ones of those crazy people who wants to camp!) hotels are the only option. However if your stay is more 4 days plus in any particular destination then the options are far greater i.e. apartments and some houses, apartments will usually be a minimum 3 night rental and often 4. Depending on budget and the number of people travelling you can stay in anything from a simple one bedroom gite (this is the generic term for a holiday home in the French countryside which was originally used to describe simple accommodation where a barn or such building had been turned into a lodging) to a house/farmhouse or a villa that sleeps 10. Many dream of renting a villa in a beautiful location and this is easily achievable at a reasonable price but of course this will only be for large groups. When looking for accommodation for 2, I found that many places (particularly in Nice) would be shown as accommodating 4 but were actually one bedroom with a fold out couch or some such thing rather than being 2 bedrooms. Many of the places for rent are privately owned and some will be administered through an agency. In many cases the owner themselves handles the rentals (many of whom are located in the UK) and some French owned homes use a local person with good English skills to handle the rental on their behalf. I used a UK site to book a couple of different accommodations for us www.holidaylettings.co.uk and I thought it was excellent. When I was looking to rent houses in the Dordogne and Provence and I’m sure this applies to other areas, the general rule was that rentals were for one week periods beginning and ending on a Saturday. In peak season, this is very much the case and owners don’t need to rent for shorter periods because the demand is so high. Having said that there are many many places to choose from but start looking early so that you have a greater choice. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 7 It seems standard that for each rental you will get charged a standard fee for cleaning at the end of your stay, around 40 -50 Euros, it isn’t always obvious whether this has been included in the overall cost and whether it is in addition to the rental fee. Some other websites to look at: www.frenchconnections.co.uk www.cottagesandcastles.com.au - this is a Melbourne company and they are in Glen Iris www.gite.com www.gitelink.com www.hhfrance.com 4.2 Accommodation - Nice If you are staying in Nice, the best website to use is www.nicepebbles.com. This is a company run by a British couple and they have many apartments available of a very high standard. All of them are fully furnished of course and in my experience, beautifully decorated and furnished as well as being very well equipped and comfortable. Most of their staff are British expats so language isn’t an issue should you need to call them and ask them specific questions about an apartment you are considering renting. Once you have selected your accommodation you’ll need to pay a deposit which may be asked for in either British pounds or Euros mainly based on where the owner lives. As many of these are privately owned, paying a deposit by credit card is not an option and you will need to pay via International Bank Transfer. The person you are renting from will provide you with their International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and you can transfer the money through internet banking, at a fee of course. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 8 5. Getting around – planes, trains and automobiles. In Europe, I’ve figured that as a general rule using trains to get from one city to another is generally more efficient and a lot less trouble than flights for the following reasons: • Train stations are located in the centre of most cities so getting to them is generally inexpensive and doesn’t take up too much of your precious holiday time. • While many airports in Europe are easily accessible by public transport, it will usually take longer to get there and be more expensive than getting to railway stations. Of course, with all of the security procedures, you need to be at the airport long in advance so a lot of time is wasted. • In terms of cost of both modes of transport, you can often find better deals with flights however from my perspective, I’d rather pay a little extra and not have to endure the whole airport experience. 5.1 Planes If you do choose air travel, there are lots of websites for booking flights and the prices vary enormously by airline, day and time you choose to travel so it does pay (literally) to do your homework and check on different days for the flights you want. For example, I booked a British Airways flight from London to Paris, the first time I looked at the flights the cost was around $120 per person one way, a couple of days later I checked again and got exactly the same flight on the same day for $85 each. All of them will have the facility to convert to Australian dollars so you know exactly how much it’s costing you bearing in mind hopefully slight currency fluctuations which will affect the final cost. Some useful websites: www.skyscanner.net – I like this site particularly, easy to use with lots of options www.easyjet.com 5.2 Flying with cut price airlines There are lots of cheap flights to be had with varying degrees of quality of the experience – generally as with most things you get what you pay for. Most Australians are used to the cut price airline experience with the advent of Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger. If you haven’t travelled with a cut price airline before be aware that Ryanair and all of the cutprice operators have cheap fares for a reason – all you get is your flight, you do have to pay for everything else from refreshments to headphones and everything in between. Also be aware that they strictly enforce baggage limits and the time you have to check in by. So if you don’t follow the rules you will very likely have to pay for baggage in excess of the limit and also pay for another flight if you miss your flight because you didn’t check in within the appointed time. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 9 5.3 Trains Booking rail tickets in Europe in advance of your trip isn’t difficult but the method that you use can make a big difference to the price you pay. When you start your search online, you will no doubt come across the site www.raileurope.com.au – booking your tickets through this website will almost guarantee you pay the maximum price. Rail Europe is a site that allows you to buy tickets for train journeys all over Europe so it’s a one stop shop however the way that it works is that the Australian (and all of the other country sites) are agents for Rail Europe and those agents all need to take their cut. As such, the prices are high and in some cases you might pay double the price you’d pay if you’d bought from the actual Rail Europe site or from the rail operator themselves. If you go onto the Rail Europe site it will detect the country that you are in and continue to direct you back to raileurope.com.au so you can’t avoid paying their higher prices. The best way to buy your tickets is to the website www.tgveurope.com. When you go onto this site it will ask you to enter your ticket collection country. In most cases, you won’t be getting your tickets delivered, you will either be printing them yourself before you leave home, retrieving them from a machine or collecting from a station. So what you want to enter here is an English speaking country so that the site will be in English - Norway is my country of choice. A site that is dedicated just to giving travellers information about all aspects of train travel in Europe is www.seat61.com. This contains a wealth of information and is certainly worth a visit before you start. How long before your train is scheduled to leave should you arrive? I think rule of thumb is around 30 minutes with the exception of Eurostar - see next section. If you already have your ticket then 30 minutes will be more than adequate. When you arrive at the station, you’ll see on the board the list of all of the destinations and the time that they are departing. What you won’t see however is the platform they are departing from. In my experience, the platform number is usually only displayed about 10 -15 minutes (if that) before the train departs which can be a little nerve racking particularly when the announcements the local language. Buy your food before you get on the train because the food is expensive, limited in choice, not nutritious and the coffee is barely drinkable. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 10 5.4 Travelling on Eurostar between Paris and London Travelling between London and Paris on Eurostar is definitely the most efficient way to do this journey; it’s 2 hours and 15 minutes. You can book your Eurostar tickets direct with them www.eurostar.com and retrieve your tickets from the self serve machine prior to departure. From Paris, Eurostar goes from Gare du Nord, easily accessible on the Metro. Generally, the further in advance you book the better the deal but that isn’t always the case. It pays to spend some time looking at the different types of tickets and they do offer deals of upgrades at discounted rates from 2nd class to 1st class sometimes. Second class was absolutely fine but I’d consider getting a first class ticket next time just so that you have a little more space. When you book on Eurostar the information provided says that you must be there 30 minutes prior to departure and you really do need be at the departure gate 30 minutes beforehand rather than arrived at the station. It will take you time to retrieve your tickets, then find the gate and then you will have to go through Immigration formalities because you are going from one country to another. If you have a European Union passport this will be quicker, if you don’t (like most Australians) then the process is slower and you will have to fill out an arrival card for the country you are going to. My experience of UK Immigration officials is that they don’t rush anyone through and that they question every person on exactly the purpose of their trip, duration etc so be diligent in filling out your card and be prepared to answer all sorts of questions. Eurostar arrives/departs from London St Pancras station which is directly across the road from London Kings Cross. King’s Cross is a tube station and from there you’ll be able to get to anywhere in London and in the UK generally through connecting to other stations. 5.5 Train travel in the UK If you are travelling in the UK, a great website is www.thetrainline.com. It is really easy to book online and you collect your tickets from a self serve kiosk using the credit card that you purchased the tickets with. If you do this, make sure that you have noted the booking or reference number because you will usually have to enter that reference number to retrieve your tickets. Generally, the further in advance you purchase the cheaper the ticket you will get. 5.6 Train travel in London The Underground in London is efficient and can get you right around London at a very reasonable price. If you are there for more than a few days it’s probably worth getting an Oyster card – it’s like the Myki system in Melbourne - except that it works! You buy the Oyster card and put some credit on it and you do the touch on and touch off thing like with Myki and it means that you don’t have to keep buying tickets and the cost is quite reasonable. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 11 If at the end of your time in London you still have credit on your Oyster card, you can get it refunded – both the deposit you paid and whatever credit is left. 6. Automobiles If you are travelling around France (outside of Paris that is) having a car is essential. If you don’t have one then you find that you are quite isolated and not really able to experience the French countryside to its full extent, the car gives much more freedom and choice. I wouldn’t drive in Paris mainly because it’s far too scary, easy to get lost but most of all completely unnecessary as the public transport is fantastic – efficient, cheap and easy to use. 6.1 Driving in France Be aware of course that you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road which takes a bit of getting used to but its fine. In Europe, most people drive manual cars (as opposed to the US where the default is automatic and most people don’t know how to drive a manual car. Although my preference is manual, if I were doing it again I would choose to have an automatic – just one less thing to think about while you’re driving on the opposite side of the road, looking at the GPS to find your way and generally getting used to a different environment. The speed limit in metropolitan areas is 50kmh and 90 kmh outside of towns – apparently – although you’d never know it. Despite the incredibly narrow roads in many places the French tend to drive very fast and speed limits are purely a guide. On freeways the speed limit is 130kmh but most drive at more like 150kmh. Generally, French drivers aren’t aggressive but they are impatient so get out of their way! Be aware that the slow lane is the right line rather than the left lane as we are accustomed to. 6.2 Hiring a car You can hire a car from Australia and it’s easy. I booked through www.autoeurope.com.au. In most locations of any size you can pick up your car from either the airport or the railway station. The fact that you can pick up from stations makes the whole train travel option even more attractive. In many cases you will want to pick up from one location and drop off somewhere else, this is easily catered for and in our case surprisingly we didn’t get charged a one way fee even the locations were hundreds of kilometres apart. 6.3 International driver’s license In France at least you don’t need to have an international driver’s license to hire a car, not sure about other countries. As long as you have a valid driver’s license you will be fine. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 12 6.4 GPS – a MUST have Unless you are some sort of freak and have no difficulty navigating in a completely foreign place or alternatively like to have regular screaming matches with your travelling partner, then a GPS is essential. Having one will make your life a lot easier and you won’t have to spend time figuring out the best route to take. Taking your own GPS (which are already familiar with) is the best and cheapest option. If you have to download maps for where you are going to, do this in plenty of time before your departure as it can take quite some time. We downloaded the French maps on the day we were leaving and it took almost 3 hours. You can easily hire a GPS from the car hire company but not all locations will have that facility available, if you want to hire from them, confirm with them before you go that it’s possible. 6.5 Tolls Unlike in Melbourne where you need an e-Tag to get around, in France there are huge toll gates. When you first see them you will probably wonder whether you should have had an e-tag or equivalent but you don’t. When you get to the toll gates you push a button and you’ll be provided with a ticket. Sometime further on your journey you’ll get to another toll gate where you’ll put your ticket in and then your credit card – very easy. We only came across one place where cash was needed. The tolls are expensive (cost us about 25 Euros from Sarlat to St Remy in Provence) but the freeways are great and given that you can travel at a good speed it is much quicker. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 13 7. Money matters 7.1 Getting cash before you go Of course it makes sense to have some local currency before you leave. Changing money and trying to figure exchange rates and what the best deal is after a long flight isn’t much fun, it’s much easier to take some cash with you. It used to be that to get foreign currency from your local bank, you’d have to queue up and sign all sorts of forms after already ensuring in advance that the bank had some of the currency you were after. Now, some banks (probably all) have ATMs (presumably at major CBD branches) that dispense just foreign currency. CBA in the Melbourne CBD have such machines which dispense UK pounds, US dollars, NZ dollars and Euros and you just use your normal ATM card to withdraw the money. The fee (as at September 2011) was a flat rate of $8 and there is a limit of $1000 AUD per transaction. Very easy and convenient. 7.2 Paying for it all – credit cards and cash Travelling internationally can become very expensive when it comes to using credit cards and withdrawing cash. NAB and CBA and most likely ANZ have a particular product which is designed specifically for international travel. You open the account and deposit into that account and withdraw while you are away in that currency e.g. Euros, UK pounds etc. I think this is a cost effective way of accessing your money but there is a better and cheaper way that I found worked very well. You can get a 28 Degrees Mastercard which will you can use anywhere internationally and not incur ANY fees at all (with most if not all others you will pay currency conversion fees and other charges which can really add up). This card really does deliver on its promise, there are absolutely no fees on this card either to establish it or make transactions. With this card you apply online and will receive your card in the mail pretty quickly. When you nominate your credit limit think long and hard because if you decide you want to up the limit soon after getting it, the answer I was given was that they wouldn’t review it until you’d had the card awhile and established a pattern. 7.3 Getting cash Withdrawing money out of your own Australian bank account can get pretty expensive when you are using the ATMs of many different banks around the world. However you can use the 28 Degrees Mastercard to withdraw money at no cost. If you are withdrawing cash from an ATM it will be a cash advance which attracts hefty interest rates from the moment you withdraw the cash. However with the 28 Degrees Mastercard, if your account is in credit then although it is a cash advance you are in effect withdrawing your own money and therefore won’t get charged any interest. In Australia, you can use Westpac ATMs and you won’t get charged any fees or interest. In the UK, you can use Barclays Bank and in France – BNP Paribus. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 14 This is a great card as long as you pay your bill by the due date and if you are going to do cash withdrawals making sure your account is in credit otherwise you will pay dearly. 8. Keeping in touch with home 8.1 International phone card Before you leave home, buy an International phone card. Regardless of whether you are going to use your own mobile or not (not advised due to horrendous costs), having a phone card is essential. Get it before you leave home so you get one that is in English and has the instructions in English when you use it. 8.2 Using your own phone Using your own phone is great and convenient but very expensive. If you have a Smartphone and therefore use your phone for browsing the internet, email etc unless you want to come home to a bill that will mean you’ll have to take out another mortgage you MUST turn data roaming off. You can still use these functions on your phone but to do it in a cost effective manner you need to do this by accessing someone else’s WiFi. Having WiFi at your hotel/accommodation is the easiest option. If your hotel has free WiFi but you find that the connection is really slow, visit the Reception area, usually the modem will be there and you are much more likely to get a stronger signal. The best option for making calls while you are away is Skype, it’s that simple. 8.3 Sending text messages From France and the UK in September 2011, text messages cost 55 cents each which doesn’t sound like much but they can soon add up. A way of sending free text messages is by using the free iPhone app (no doubt available for all smart phones) WhatsApp. WhatsApp allows you to send completely free texts to others who have WhatsApp, a great way to stay in touch. It does however rely on you being connected using WiFi. If you send messages using WhatsApp either when you aren’t connected or to someone who doesn’t have WhatsApp then you will charged a normal text message fee. © Edwina Ogilvie November 2011 15
"Visiting France - Tips for Travellers"