Saturday, October 12, 2013

Passport to Paris: Helpful Hints

In finishing up my many many many many blog posts about Paris, I've realized that it might be useful for me to include some helpful hints for travelling to Paris! I'm not an expert or anything, This post is geared to future study abroad students, but I really do think that the hints could be useful for anybody!

Preparing for your trip...

Plan ahead. Especially if you're studying abroad close to the city, it can be insanely tempting to book a spur-of-the-moment, last-minute trip to the City of Lights. Don't. Plan ahead. You will save oodles and oodles of money on transportation, have a wider choice of hostels/hotel rooms, and be able to plan your adventures.

Do your research. While visiting some smaller French towns, it's enough to visit the Office du Tourisme upon arrival and ask for a map and some recommendations. This is NOT the case in Paris. Do your research! Buy a map and find out what sites are located close to one another -- or better yet, what sites are located off the same Metro line! Read travel blogs. (I loved this breakdown of Parisian neighborhoods and read enough posts about Versailles to know that we absolutely had to go visit Marie Antoinette's Hamlet.) Feeling high tech? Download apps: there's an amazing free Paris Metro app that gives you offline access to maps and a lot of the museums have apps as well. You can even download free walking tours of certain parts of the city and take yourself on a free guided tour! Just remember, once you're in the city, your map will quickly become your new best friend.

Get creative with your Google searches! If you're planning a trip to Paris and you just googled, "What to do in Paris" ... assume that I am judging you. That is not the purpose of Google. The purpose of Google is to use KEY WORDS to find EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. So try more precise Google searches -- for things like "Paris off the beaten path" "Paris in 48 hours" "free self-guided historic tour Paris" "best free activities weekend Paris." I even searched for famous movie locations, to find guides to spots like Saint-Etienne-du-Mont and the Cafe des Deux Moulins! My favorite example of one of these quirkier guides? Exploring Paris through children's books! (It reminded me of my own childsized adventures.)

Prioritize! Paris has an unbelievable number of museums and monuments and chances are, you probably want to see them all. But you can't. (Sorry.) So prioritize! Check out the collections and entrance fees of the museums you're considering visiting and see what option sounds the most appealing to you. (Le Musée de l'Orangerie was lovely, but the admission price is a little steep if you just want to pop in to see Monet's giant water lillies. Try d'Orsay instead.) Want to see Paris by night? Take pictures of the Eiffel Tower at Place du Trocadero across the river instead of the Champs du Mars; from there, it's much easier to hop back on the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe and you can walk down the lit-up Champs-Elysees!

When in Paris...

Bring your student ID. Being a jeune (young person) in France ROCKS. Sure, I have a theory that it's done out of guilt for the record numbers of youth unemployment, but the fact that France gives students and young people free access to just about everything is absolutely amazing. If you're under 25, you can typically get a discount on admission fees, but if you're an 18 to 26-year-old resident of the EU (hint: show your French student ID card and put on your best accent/Parisian smirk), just about everything is FREE. In all of Paris, the only thing we paid admission to was the Catacombs. Of course, it's absolutely worth it to spend the money on these things -- the Musée d'Orsay is well worth 9 euros and I would have given an appendage to get into Versailles -- but if you can save the money and spend it on postcards and pastries, why not?

Try to blend in. One of my number one goals in going to Paris was NOT to stand out like a sore thumb! Molly and I both made an effort to look and act the part while we were there -- dressing to blend in, bringing purses instead of giant backpacks (the idea is to look like you're casually exploring your own city on your weekend off!), and hiding our maps and cameras when possible. The result? We were spared some of the hassle of being an average tourist and had a lot more ease communicating. No one asked us where we were from and we were never forced to switch to English -- a problem a lot of exchange students have in a city where so many residents are bilingual! (It's frustrating, but understandable: why sit and listen to an American struggle through French when you can just speak to them in English?)

Find cheap souvenirs. Word of advice -- unless you are Donald Trump or have some sordid desire to spend 3 euros on a postcard, the Champs-Elysées is NOT the place you want to buy your souvenirs. Stick to areas that are touristy, but not overly popular. (Read: NOT the Eiffel Tower.) We seemed to find the best and cheapest souvenir deals in Montmartre, in the little shopping area just behind Sacre Coeur. Do be careful though -- this part of Montmartre is a super touristy area where it's easy to get conned or pickpocketed. Keep your bag close and ignore street vendors ... unless you really want dirt cheap Eiffel Tower keychains!

Take a million pictures. I was in Paris for less than three days and I took 600 pictures. A lot of them were utter garbage (oh, another blurry picture of the Eiffel Tower?!) and have since been deleted, but I still have almost 400. And after a little bit of editing, I found that I'd taken quite a few diamonds in the rough! Sometimes it's frustrating to stop and pull out your camera on every street corner, but in the end, I'm so happy to have taken all the pictures I did! Our weekend was an exhausting and exhilarating blur, but now I have my photos to remind me of all the incredible things we saw and did.

You can never have too many pictures of the Eiffel Tower!

Just "Dire Bonjour!" My favorite thing in Paris was what I referred to as disant bonjour (saying hello). Don't have time to visit Napoleon's tomb? No big deal, we can just wave hello to the Hotel des Invalides on our way to the Musée de Rodin. No desire to climb to the top of Sacre Coeur? No worries, just snap some photos on the way through Montmartre! Telling yourself that you're only going to "window shop" a couple of places is a great way to save time and still experience so many of Paris' famous sites!

After you leave...

Edit your pictures. Please. Just as a great big favor to me and the beautiful city that is Paris, DON'T be the millionth tourist to upload a blurry faded picture of the Tour Eiffel to Facebook. Take a little bit of time to sort, crop, and edit and find the best shots to share with your friends. Please.

Do you see what I'm talking about?

Keep everything. Ticket stubs, maps, brochures, Metro passes? If you find yourself saying, "Wow, what a big pile of papers, I have!" just channel your inner Little Red Riding Hood -- "The better to scrapbook with, my dear!" (It also makes for fun reading for anyone who cares enough about your life to read the brochures of the museums you visited while studying abroad.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm so proud of you! These are excellent tips! Molly is lucky to be able to travel with the likes of you.