Kristina's Big Fat Fortieth in France
I wasn’t planning on going back to Europe any time soon. Not this year. Not having just been to Rome in March and certainly not with the euro hovering around $1.60.
It’s all my mother’s fault. In the car, after picking us up from the airport on our way home from Rome, she said, “You’re turning 40 this year so I thought I’d take you on a trip. Anywhere you want to go.”
Sounds great, right? Easy? Not so fast. That’s just too much choice for me to handle. We talked about Egypt and China and a bunch of other places, but I just could not commit.
Fast forward a couple of months and our friends invite us to join them in France in the Dordogne for their 20th anniversary celebration at a chateau. David can’t go because it’s in the beginning of the school year, but the week coincides with another trip my mother was planning to Germany. So, I start looking at airfare for our dates and I am appalled to find almost nothing under $1200. The more we talk about it, “How about a few days in Paris too?” (Mom has never been to France), the more we want to go.
So, is this my “birthday trip”? I have no idea. The trip falls in the week around the Big Day, and so far, my mother has paid for my plane ticket but we haven’t worked out the other details. She sprung for upgradable tickets and I’ve managed to cobble together enough miles to get upgraded for the way back. I’m working on getting enough miles for the way over but at least for now I’m in Economy Plus.
Later: Yes, this was my "Birthday Trip". Thanks so much Mom for a fabulous time! In the end, I got upgraded to Business using my miles both ways too!
And so, the research begins.
For all the cool things I found to see and do and prepare for Paris, see the "Tidbit" page.
See below for the basics of sleep, transportation, packing, language and money.
The accommodation search for hotels in Paris (3 nights at the beginning of the week and 2 nights at the end) was frustrating to say the least. I must have looked at least 50 hotels in the “under 130 euro per night” range.
We wanted to keep our cost below $200 a night, but it was hard. Rooms at that rate in Paris are not really comparable with what you find for that amount here in the US. Even Priceline did not seem to be turning up much.
I looked at lots of apartments too, but most will not rent for less than four nights and many had high cleaning fees for stays under a week. Our criteria were that the hotel has to have some charm, have WiFi access, and a good central location. I discovered that most hotels have Wifi, but almost all charge a fee for it.
We kept the choices very “central” compared to where David and I have stayed on our last few times in Paris (the 18th and the 9th). In the end, we selected two different places. I wanted one on the Right Bank and one on the left so my Mom could get a feel for the different areas. It seems that most hotels offer breakfast, but again for a fee. The years of breakfast being included in the hotel rate are over. For me, 12 euro for a cup of coffee and some baguette is highway robbery, so I’m sure we will be visiting some local cafes instead for our morning café crème.
In the end, we selected the Hotel Grandes Ecoles (118 euro/night) in the 5th for our first few nights, La Boisserie (85 euro/night inc. breakfast!) in Grand Brassac for our time in the Dordogne, and the Hotel Beaubourg (130 euro/night) in the 4th for our last two nights in Paris.
I always check with Auto Europe first. Usually they have the best rates and/or will match anything better you can find. But we waited and the rate went up to $50 a day for 3 days plus an extortionist $50 surcharge for renting from the train station at Angouleme. Then I checked the British site for Autoeurope and the rates, even in BP were better and did not include the ridiculous surcharge. We gave our home address in the US and this did not raise any red flags. Plus, I saw various posts on Fodor’s and Slow travel from others who have done the same with no problems.
Later, some of our friends who rented from the US Auto Europe site were "surprised" by the rail station surcharge on arrival in Angouleme. Our booking form (from the UK site) clearly stated this charge was included in our rate and thus, we were not charged the extra surcharge.
Use the Voyages SNCF web site. Look for PREM fares, which are highly discounted, but non refundable. You can print out Prems, but not other types of fares which must be picked up at the station. Set your location to France, not US, otherwise you get routed to the RailEurope website which is more expensive and doesn’t always have the discounted fares. Try the TGV web site too, which is in English, but also does not always show PREMS.
I was able to find 19 euro each way Prem fares from Paris/Angouleme by waiting and searching. At one point these fares were up to 108 euro each way.
Planning-RER to CDG
I was nervous here about this, going by myself, even though I'd done it before with David. But I don’t want to spend 45-55 euro on a cab when I can spend 8.40 on the RER and not risk sitting in traffic. There is a good web site with lots of details on how to do it, how to buy tickets etc, called www.parisbytrain.com.
One 22” roll aboard, one small carry on bag. That’s it. I’m a little more challenged this time my need to bring “dressy” clothes for the Anniversary event. I would not usually bring a dress and high heels.
See the Packing page here…
I’ve never been great with foreign languages. I took 4 years of Spanish in High School and College, lived in Spain for 3 months, and spoke it for a good portion of my career and yet, I still have problems conjugating irregular verbs.
I’ve also taken Italian classes and listened to CDs in my car, so I have a rudimentary ability in that language as well.
But French? Non! I’ve always left that to David who is fluent. To me, spoken French has always sounded like the adults on the Peanut’s TV specials, “Wah wah, wah wah wha wah.” So imagine my dismay when I realized I would not have my own personal translator along on this trip. This meant I might actually have to learn some French beyond “Bonjour!”. I downloaded some language CD’s and started listening to them in my car. CD #1 went well as it was the basics. Though I must admit I called David from the car, incredulous, when they got to the counting and the translation for the number 90 is literally four-twenty-ten. Seriously? They could not come up with an individual word to represent ninety? Really?? After that it all started to sound like “Wah wah, wah wah wha wah” to me. Ultimately, I think listening to the CDs was helpful, but I certainly was no where near able to speak it by the time I left.