In the past weeks, after new years’, life happened! I have been swept up by work, and the umpteen number of resolutions I made for the year. This blog post again, is a result of one of them: sticking to something I pick up, until it becomes a habit!
This blog post is due for a while, and without further adieu and while it’s still fresh in my mind, let me drone on about Paris this, Paris that,…!
First things first – making plans, and making them work.
H and I have never been people who plan huge itineraries, or even if we did, we have never stuck to them . Paris was no different. An advertisement on one of the travel deals website that we religiously follow, showed us ridiculously (or so we thought) low airfares on the new WOW air. I will review our experience with the airline in a minute, but the deal was definitely lower than any other airline fare for the dates we looked at – and we picked a peak Christmas season to travel!
After booking the tickets on a whim, we reluctantly set out to research the visa process, consular interviews, accommodation for our stay and everything else, but the big B word (psst… it’s Budget!). We decided we would do Paris, and if H’s stamping process allowed it, another quick trip to a neighboring Schengen country. The Schengen visa required us to show proof of accommodation, and a bunch of other usual formalities. Come AirBNB to the rescue! We found a great deal to stay at a studio apartment, close enough to the city and the attractions, and all the lifeline that was the Metro and RER transport systems. The French Consulate at Boston was a pleasure to work with! We had a quick interview (or rather, gathering of all our documentation), and were asked to come in 5 working days’ time to pick our passports up. It took me a minute to register that that meant our visa was granted! LOL.
Being our first time in Paris, we weren’t quite sure about where we wanted to go, in spite of the umpteen number of sites and blogs we lapped up. Rick Steves’ book on Paris helped quite a bit on what was where, but I was still not very efficient at planning our day to day itineraries! We decided to get the Paris Pass then, for 6 days, so that we could get the most out of whatever we could see.
As a mini spin off to this update, here is what I think about whether getting a Paris pass is worth it. I have broken this down further, as you read on.
The pass itself for six days cost €230 each. This includes a Paris Museum Pass, Paris attraction pass and a travel pass (three separate cards), and a guide to what all the passes entitle you to.
Each card is activated the first time you use it. So if you use the museum pass first, it will be valid for 6 days, and you can activate the attraction pass another day to get the most out of your passes, provided you have the time. Of course, come to think of it, a three day/ four day pass makes more sense to me, than getting a six day pass like we did!
The travel card allows you to travel in zones 1 to 3 for six days, from the time you activate it. Another option I could think of, is getting yourself a 10 day pass/ this can be altered to 3 or 5 day passes. The 10 day pass would cost you €37.50.
The most important pass out of the lot, is the Museum pass. It does grant you fast track entrance to the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay and Invalides. Then again, I am talking about the major tourist attractions while spending a short amount of time (close to a week) in Paris. You could keep looking at the displays at Louvre throughout your trip, and you’d still have so much more to see! This Fast track entry, however, doesn’t hold good for Notre Dame. You may want to go a little early on and get in the line there, or this could take you close to three- four hours to get done (like it did for us). In my opinion, this museum pass will be the one that’s your entryway to the major attractions you’d need to sight-see in Paris.
We used the attraction pass to do the Seine river cruise, the Petit train at Montmartre, Montparnasse tower, and the Hop-on-hop-off Big Bus tour. This pass also includes a guided tour of the Opera Garnier that we were never on time to catch. We did go to the Opera house though! It is a beauty! The Big Bus tour is definitely worth taking early on in your trip, to get an idea of what you’d be interested in getting off and seeing. You can ride it all day long, get off at any attraction, and pick up where you left off.
We didn’t enjoy the Petit train too much. The wagon takes you all the way through the pretty cobbled roads of Montmartre, all the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur. The Basilica by itself was breathtaking, and offered a different vantage to seeing the Paris skyline. The charm of the cobbled streets is lost on you, by the droning sound of the put-put wagon that takes you uphill, with some commentary in English that you can’t even hear over the noise of the vehicle!
H and I decided to do the river cruise and the Montparnasse tower in the night, to catch the beauty of these massive structures lit up in the night. It was a cold December night, but for that, we loved the river cruise. We had had enough commentaries by the time we took to the vessel and we decided to go to the open top and just take the views in! At the tower and while getting on the cruise, we had to stand in line, to exchange passes back to their tickets, so the Attraction pass made no difference to our wait times, it just acted as a prepaid card!
I am not completely ruling out the usefulness of the pass, I just think that it needs to be given some thought! One major lesson you’d want to learn from us is that as a first time Paris visitor, you would want to plan your trip better! A 3 or 4 day pass will go a long way (at least a week!).
Finally, WOW air. This is a budget-airline on an international scale. They are relatively new, and don’t have a big fleet of air crafts. I am assuming that this is why they have a lot of delays. All our flights (from and to the US to Reykjavik to Paris) were delayed. As a result of our first flight getting delayed, they delayed all connecting flights in Iceland. I think that must have set off a cascading effect at some point, because the same thing happened on our way back. The service was great. You pay for extra space, water, food, luggage, bigger carry-ons, to name a few, but I liked the flight. H and I paid for extra space tickets, and the seats turned out to be normal. H did find out that there were other seats that were more cramped, so it was good we paid for what we did. We each took a small carry on, and shared one big 20kg luggage between us. All landings, were stellar landings! No stomach churning, hand squeezing moments there! I have to say!
The best thing about our planning for the trip was the BnB. AirBnB did not fail me (once again!), and having a laundry unit in the house helped! The studio was good enough for the two of us. It did have a few things we found weird, but you are, after all living in someone else’s studio, and you are bound to find things that are strange to you, that they are accustomed to!
All in all, the passport to Paris was quite smooth and we came back with quite a lot of experiences and memories to share, and lessons learned!