BEFORE YOU ARRIVE:
Contact your bank : Make sure at least 1 of your credit cards has a Chip and Pin number. It will make your trip to Europe easier. Also, tell them you are travelling, it is unlikely to make any difference but you can take the higher moral ground when they block your card for ‘suspicious purchases abroad’!
Most of the time you will be walking, walking, walking between and in all the museums / monuments – about 20-25 000 steps a day. (2 000 is approx. 1 mile) Even with lunches, dinners and sitting in the gardens everyone comes home saying their feet hurt. Bring comfy shoes (but please try and avoid white sneakers…) and a pedometer to keep track of how many chocolate eclairs you can justify.
HELPFUL HINTS – TRANSPORT:
Gare du Nord / Eurostar : Buy your ‘carnet’ of 10 tickets for the Paris metro and buses on the train, the queues at the Gare du Nord are a nightmare. The ticket machines only take coins OR credit cards WITH a chip/pin.
I have also lost count of the number of guests who were scammed at the Gare du Nord because they were confused about buying a travel ticket at one of the machines – the person who ‘rescues’ you and buys your tickets with his credit card, letting you watch the entire process… is ABSOLUTELY going to scam you. You think you are buying all-day tickets and you will receive 2 single journey tickets. Please just buy from a ticket man OR use the machine and click the 1st option every time until it asks how many tickets you want: click ’10’ . You will have purchased 10 individual travel tickets for buses and metros in central Paris (zones 1-2), this is all you will need.
The same ticket can be used for the bus and metro system. 1 ticket is 1 full journey on the Paris metro system, or 1 full bus trip, not a mixture of both.
Rue de Clichy is only 800m / half mile long but there are 3 metro stations on it, and more importantly they actually go to places you want to see ! Metro station Place de Clichy (lines 2 & 13) is at the top, Liège (line 13) in the middle and Trinité (line 12) is at the bottom. Were you ever to have an uninterrupted view in Paris you would be able to see your next metro, they are so close. A metro will arrive about every 3 minutes and count an average of only 90 seconds to travel between stations.
If you have wheelchairs / strollers / difficulty with steps : we are surrounded by bus routes which go everywhere a metro goes plus, plus. Also, the metro line 14, which starts at Saint Lazare (4 minute walk away), is the only wheelchair – friendly metro line with elevators at each station.
Crossing the road:
Unless there is a Stop sign for cars they will not necessarily even slow down when you are crossing the road EVEN if the little green man is shining for you! Cross in packs, if the car driver sees a half-decent gap he will drive through. Do not for one moment think you have right of way just because you are legally crossing the road.
HELPFUL HINTS – TOURISTY THINGS:
The best open-top hop-on hop-off bus tour is Open Tour Cityvision.
They used to be green buses, this year they are all red, white and blue and they have 4 circuits and more stops than anyone else.
The easiest way of seeing the Museums and other Attractions is to purchase a Queue Jumping museum pass, especially if it is even vaguely cold outside. The best Pass is the Paris Museum Pass for 2, 4 or 6 consecutive days. Purchase online before arriving by clicking on the logo, buy them at your first museum, the Tourist office just South of Opera or ask me to buy them for you for when you arrive. Museum entrance is free for under 16s (under 26 if you are European). http://en.parismuseumpass.com
Dealing with the French:
Not saying ‘Bonjour’ before talking to someone is considered very impolite. So before asking a question just say ‘Bonjour’ and if possible ‘Parlez-vous anglais ?’ In shops and restaurants almost everybody does speak some English but making this small effort and this will get you the positive response you are looking for.
HELPFUL HINTS – FOOD:
Yes, you can drink the tap water. In restaurants you will be sold a bottle of water for about €5 but you can always ask for a carafe of water which is free.
Café prices may seem expensive but you are paying for both the coffee and ‘renting’ the table. Once you have ordered you can stay as long as you like, even work on your novel, the waiter will not bring you your bill unless you ask for it.
When you see ‘service compris 15%’ on the menu it means that a tip of 15% is pre-included in any bill. You don’t need to leave more than a few coins. Practically everywhere you eat will have this in very small writing.
The apocryphal rude French waiter doesn’t now exist almost anywhere, sorry, I only know 1 restaurant if you really need that!
Catch the waiter’s eye in order to point at the table you want to sit down at even in the most ordinary café. In restaurants always wait to be seated.
Even the expensive restaurants have a set menu – I nearly got caught out recently at the Petit Zinc in Saint Germain when the waiter produced the menu and explained that the speciality was seabass at only €112. There was a small chalk board 2 tables away with a set menu for €23!
Unless you are really brave, do not ever order Andouillette sausage, the translation is Chitterling sausage but this anodyne name does not conjure up a description for the most revolting tripe (pork intenstine) sausage slathered in mustard sauce. Androuillette is NOT androuille sausage.
HELPFUL HINTS – CRIME:
No the Police are not about to shoot someone, they always walk around carrying their big guns in their hands and they and the army are especially present in train stations / airports or anywhere that is crowded. Their intention is to look intimidating. There is almost nowhere you will go on the tourist trail where you should be worried. Some non-tourist areas are just poorer than others.
However, pickpockets are everywhere, invariably small groups of young girls who look for easy targets they think may be carrying lots of cash. Paris is very crowded, be aware especially near the Eiffel Tower, inside the Louvre … They can also distract you with a petition or the ‘dropped gold ring’ scam. The other problematic group are the young, homeless, refugee children who are on their own and who snatch anything they can to sell to eat, necklaces are the main target but they will snatch the food or your water bottle from your hand if they can.