This is an overdue post. Way overdue. I want to do too much things at the same time and usually don’t finish any, on time. Need to chill out a bit.
After quite a bit of fuss to get the visas (getting them from Serbia is getting more and more difficult) Ana and I went to our honeyweek. :) Chosen destination: Paris, France.
My first option was to drive-through Central Europe, visiting Budapest, Prague and Vienna, staying in each for few days and then getting back to Serbia. However, given the fact that Ana was close to 7th month of pregnancy (I’m in for the most interesting and exciting summer of my life ;)) at the time of travel, we changed it to just one city.
I tend to write extended posts whenever I travel, both to help other visitors and to have a reference for myself, during possible future visit. Michael’s post and the comments in it were very helpful - I hope this post will prove just as useful.
My uncle lives in Paris; actually in Pontault Combault, small town about 20km from Paris. That was really helpful for us, as none of us speak French very well and having someone in the first few days to guide you is great. For instance, my cousin Suzana (their daughter) advised them to get us weekly travel tickets (for which my uncle did not even know). The tickets are amazing savers: for €31 you get one week of unlimited travels through Zones 1-5, which includes Metro, RER and Trains, plus all the buses. Pontault Combault is in Zone 5 thus you can imagine how much area such ticket covers. From PC to St. Lazare station (central Paris) RER E train needs 25mins. RER goes to Versailles as well (line C).
RER is similar to metro - the difference is that metro (14 lines) operates in Paris alone, while RER goes to suburbs and near-by towns. Additional train lines cover wider Paris area. They interconnect nicely and all of them operate extremely on time. There was not one instance that anything was late or early - each train gets in 15s more or less from advertised time. Coming from Serbia, that’s unthinkable.
In general, get this ticket and forget about any other commute expenses. You need a photo and at least a postal code and area where you are staying in Paris (tickets usually require full address, but this would do). Pay attention to keep the ticket away from mobile phone and keys, as it can easily be de-magnetized. Exchange for new one is easy on any station, but save yourself the hassle.
Space…lots of it
I have seen large streets, I have seen large parks…but I have never seen 2x6-lane avenues in the dead center of the city. When you stand at Place l'Etoile and look along the Champs Elysee or from the top of Arc de Triomphe, it’s an amazing view. Huge streets, under straight lines. Then you walk to Concorde and again stand amazed at the amount of open space. It’s breath-taking.
Do not make a mistake - wear extremely comfortable shoes because you will be walking very, very much. Ana and I probably did something like 100km over the course of 7 days. Paris is amazingly flat (apart from Montmartre) and it’s inviting to hike around.
If you care about architecture and historical background, take a look at Walking in Paris articles horribly coded web site, but good content from Paris Eiffel Tower News.
On the first day, locate the map/visitor shop (there are plenty of them all over central Paris) and pick up Michelin’s pocket map to Paris. It’s has a map of larger Paris streets, all the metro, train and RER lines as well as all the bus lines. This will help you get a sense of direction, where things are.
In parts with lots of small streets, like Montmartre, you will need a more details map if you want to find precise route. We did not have much problems, as you can always ask. But make sure you ask in French first. First it’s polite to at least try to communicate with people on their own language and second - you have a lot more chance to get an answer. Even if they don’t speak english, they will try to help if you say Bonjour, parlais-vous anglais?. In popular tourist attractions, chances you will encounter more foreigners than local people, so it might be easier.
From this point, it’s strictly your preferences that will guide you. Do you want to stroll, visit museums, Latin Quarter or Montmartre, experience French cuisine…
We did a bit of everything…until I manage to write about it all, here are 200+ photographs from the trip.