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Eurotrip – Planning and Paris part 1

December 26, 2013 Leave a comment

First of all apologies for putting in this article so late – more than a year after the trip – so there are chances that I would miss out on certain details. But for those who are interested – you can still read along, it might help you plan your own trip. So, this was one of my longest trips – both in terms of days spent as well as number of places visited. And pretty obviously, it had to be a costly one too. There were only two of us – Me and Pradeep. Smaller group meant lesser leave approvals, lesser convincing and easy planning. 🙂 .   So the optimizing function was simple, maximize the number of places and minimize the cost.  So basically we had to plan for the following:-

1)      Flight tickets

2)      Hostels

3)      VISA

4)      Intercity Travel

5)      Prebooking for monuments

in that order. Now, this is a lot of planning considering that flight tickets and hostels have to be submitted as part of VISA documents. So obviously, it is always advisable that you get enough of insurance against visa rejection by getting refundable flight tickets and hostel bookings. To give you an idea of timelines, we started planning on about August 1st for our Sept 22 trip. And we had applied for Visa by about 17 August. And we had to plan and make the bookings before the 17th August.

Dates – we had decided to take two weeks off. So we decided to maximize the length of the trip by leaving India early Saturday Morning (22nd Sep 2012) and reaching back two weeks later on a Monday morning (8th Oct 2012).

After chalking out the important cities that had to be visited, we decided that we will have to start our trip from Paris and make Rome our last place of visit. Now, needless to say, a round trip flight to a city would be much cheaper than having different port of entries and exits. So we had two options – either go catch a flight/overnight train back to Paris so that it is a round trip ticket OR maintain Rome as the Port of Exit.

But fortunately for us, we got a Kuwait Airlines connection –a Chennai Kuwait Flight and then a Kuwait Paris one (with a layover at Rome)  for the forward journey and for the return journey the same flight from Paris (but we could catch it from Rome) and the Kuwait Chennai flight. An online booking would not have helped so we got ourselves a ticket through Akbar travels where it was recognized as a return trip and we could get the tickets for about Rs 34K, whereas individually it could have easily touched 45-46K.

Now, we started booking the hotel rooms. Hostelworld.com was referred to by many as the best site. We booked dorm rooms for almost the whole trip excepting the Switzerland leg where our friends n Germany were going to tag along with us and they made the booking arrangements separately. 10% had to be paid upfront for each booking. We took up another option – extra payment of  2 €s per booking – a kind of  insurance by which we guaranteed that in case of Visa refusal this time, we could use this prepayment for upto the next 6 months.

Now Hostel Bookings and Train Bookings have to be done in Conjunction. This is because if you have an early morning train to catch and if your hostel is nearby, it helps. This specially matters in places like Venice, where you might not get any transport to the station early in the morning.  Apart from that the train travel bookings were quite simple. Specially for some places like Italy we could get even long distances like Pisa to Rome which is quite a lot of distance for 9 € each.

Please find below some of the railbooking websites:-

Italy lefrecce.it
France sncf.com, tgv.com, thalys.com
Switz sbb.ch
Austria oebb.at
Germany bahn.de

And by the way, we didn’t go for a euro rail pass because individual tickets were working out cheaper for us. Also for the Switzerland leg of the tour, we had a rented car.

Forex. We took a forex card – an HDFC prepaid card. Since we were done with the train bookings and part of the hostel fees, we only had to account for food, local travel and 90% of the hostel payment. So we took about 1000 € in the card and some cash.

Now, another particular aspect of the tour which I need to mention is getting tickets early on for some of the places. We got tickets booked online for the following:-

1)      Eiffel Tower

2)      Leaning Tower of Pisa

3)      Colloseum

4)      Vatican City Museum

Also, we saved a lot on Audio Guides etc. within a museum with the help of Rick Steve’s Audio guides .They really helped a lot. These guides not only explain the structure be it a Cathedral or a Musuem inside out but also there are extra guides for a particular part o the city. For e.g. Historic Paris Walk, Salzburg tour etc. with the help of which you get to know places and things on the way which otherwise you would not have been able to. It’s pretty simple. I got the audio files downloaded into my PC and transferred it to my ordinary mobile. But there are iphone and android versions of the same too. We could get Audio Files for Paris, Florence, Venice, Rome and Salzburg.

Now to the actual trip. Our flight to Paris via Kuwait was scheduled at 6 00 but it got delayed by an hour or so. But in the end it did not matter as there was a 3 hour gap between the flights at Kuwait.  After the stop over at Rome, we reached CDG by 19 00 local time and by the time we were done with the formalities etc, it was about 20 00. Our first interaction with the French was at this point.  We had to but a metro ticket from the airport to our station Volontaires. We were a bit apprehensive whether the lady at the counter would understand English. Of course she knew and we bought our one way tickets. Luckily, we had looked online for these details and we knew which metro lines to catch – where to change over and we reached our hostel in about an hour’s time.  It was pretty cold outside probably

We had chosen Aloha Hostel mainly because one of my friends had referred that to us and due to its proximity to the main city. It was near to Pasteur (bigger) as well as Volontaires(nearer).  The receptionist was very cute (as was mentioned even in hostelworld.com reviews 😉 ) and very friendly.

The next morning on 23rd, we first had first planned to visit Versailles Palace. It was a cold morning, we got up early and reached the station by 6 30 am or so. The person didn’t understand much of English though the vending machines helped us eventually.  The regular metro lines within the city won’t help you get to the Versailles. You need to get a RER-C line for that. We bought a Paris museum pass near the gates worth 39€ which entitled us to free entry in about 33 odd museums/palaces in Paris including the Louvre. This is something which we heard can be obtained at CDG as well as major railway stations.

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Versailles palace was really beautiful – the gold plated gates, the beautifully painted walls, the satins, the crowns, the cutlery, everything. It kind of gives you a fair idea of the life and times of Louis XIV and the French nobility. Rick Steve’s audio guide was also a lot of help here. The restoration work done by the government is commendable. We skipped the jardines (palace gardens) because we had to buy an additional ticket for that and didn’t look worthwhile.

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IMG_0317We wanted to go to Montmartre too that day but nevertheless we decided to go by the most operationally efficient way by the map. By this time we were well versed with finding our way through the Paris Metro Network. We decided to go to catacombs. Catacombs was bang opposite a metro station and we could see the entrance and a long queue. But to see the end of the queue, we had to circum-ambulate a park almost full 360 degrees. 2 hours later, we reached the counter. I wouldn’t recommend catacombs as such because the return of investment was way too less. 2 hours in the queue all for seeing a lot of skulls and bones arranged in interesting patterns. There were few other articles of paleontological significance like shells of m  ollusks, limestone deposits etc. Half an hour later , we got out of catacombs. By this time , we had realized that Mont Marthe was out of the question at least for today.  We had a light lunch from a nearby brasserie and went to Notre Dame Cathedral.

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The Cathedral was very beautiful in itself, specially the architecture of the exterior. Rick Steve did a great job of explaining to us the background behind the construction.  There was this small replica of ‘Christ the Redeemer ‘ statue from Brazil too at the entrance of the cathedral. Later on we took up the historic Paris walk, where Rick Steve guided us through a walk along the banks of Seine and also some old roads and buildings in the nearby area. This included the conciergerie and the Saint Chapelle.  It was 6 00 pm by then and since the structures had started closing, we couldn’t visit any of these.

Enough for now. More of Paris in my next post. Also Brussels and Amsterdam.

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