April in Paris – April/May – 2014

Eiffel Tower

While we had taken several trips together, this was our first trip to Europe. We picked Paris as our European starting point for several reasons. Having lived in France during the mid-1990s and seeing that my last time in France was 1998, I had always had a yearning to return. Since my partner had never been to France before, I also figured this would be a great way to put my linguistic and historical knowledge to good use.

The planning stages of this trip were, in retrospect, somewhat minimal compared to the travel knowledge I’ve gained since traveling. I had frequent flyer miles with Delta, as well as the airline’s co-branded credit card with American Express. So we figured we’d book on Delta to earn more miles in the never-ending quest to earn a free flight. Not having flown to Europe since 2001, I knew the price of tickets had risen significantly due to the increase in gas prices of the late 2000s. So when I saw the price of the tickets as just over $1000, we opted to book. We also wanted to try out Delta’s Economy Comfort section (which has since been rebranded as Comfort Plus), which offered customers 4 inches more of legroom compared to regular economy seats. While this extra room isn’t a big deal on short domestic flights, we figured on an 8 hour transatlantic flight, it would be worth the extra cost—and it was.

We opted for a 10-day trip because, for me, going to Europe for a week or shorter is not worth it for a couple of reasons. First, most flights to Europe are overnight, which usually means you arrive in the early morning hours in a less than optimal physical state from the flight, usually due to fatigue and/or dehydration. (There are a couple of airlines that operate daytime flights to Europe, but these flights are certainly not what most people book.) Because of these factors, the first day of your trip, which is now the second day of the vacation, will most likely be exhausting. Second, there’s jet lag, the ever-hated jump ahead in time, usually 6-9 hours depending on your point of departure in the U.S. While scientific studies suggest people can adjust naturally 1 hour per day, it would take a full week just to adjust to European time. And if you stay for only 1 week, you become adjusted by the time you have to return home. Granted, if you only get a week’s vacation at a time, you have to deal with jet lag as best you can.

Knowing we would not be at our optimum, we opted to take it easy the first day. After arriving around 8am from our Cincinnati connection, we passed thru passport control, retrieved our luggage, and purchased a weekly public transportation pass (Navigo). We knew we wanted to visit Disneyland Paris at some point in the trip, so we purchased the weekly pass for all 5 zones. This gave us unlimited metro, bus, and regional train (RER) access for a calendar week. (Remember that European weeks begin on Monday and end on Sunday.) We arrived Wednesday morning, so our pass was valid for 5 days. We took the RER B into Paris, switched to the metro, and finally arrived at Place d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement, or district. (There are 20 in total.)


Hotel Mecure – Place d’Italie

Our hotel, Hotel Mercure Paris Place d’Italie, was a short walk from the Place d’Italie metro station, for which we were grateful since carrying our luggage up and down stairs thru the Paris metro is a most unenviable task. We arrived prior to check-in time, stored our luggage, and went out to find lunch. Right across from the Place d’Italie metro station is what we would classify as a mall. The French call them centres commerciaux. This one, called Italie 2, had several restaurants, many shops, and a grocery store.

We chose to stay in the 13th district for a few reasons. The price of hotels in this area are at least $100 less per night than if you were to stay in the heart of Paris, which is considered districts 1-4. We don’t mind not being in the center of a city; we actually prefer not staying in the center and seeing how the average person lives away from the typical touristy stuff. Another reason we picked this area was because of the mall. We wanted a nearby place we could eat and get basic groceries for the room, and this fit the bill perfectly. In addition, the Place d’Italie metro station contains 3 subway lines (lines 5, 6, & 7), with which you can get to many places in the city within a few stops. Since we had the unlimited transportation pass, this was never a problem. It was also only a few stations away from the RER station at Nation, where we could get the regional train to Disneyland Paris.

Since this was my partner’s first time in Paris, we wanted to visit all the major museums and attractions. He wanted to experience the city’s culture, architecture, and varied food options. There are two main passes you can purchase that will save you lots of money, provided you want to visit multiple museums. If you only want to visit a couple of them, you can purchase single entry tickets at those museums. The Paris Pass gives you entry into over 60 attractions, fast track entry at some locations, and unlimited travel on public transportation in zones 1-3 for the validity of the ticket. (This ticket is not valid for travel to Disneyland Paris, which is in zone 5.) This ticket comes in 2, 3, 4, and 6 day versions. There is also the Paris Museum Pass, which gives you unlimited entry into over 50 museums and monuments. This pass is available in 2, 4, or 6 day versions, but doesn’t include public transportation. Both passes must be used on sequential days; you cannot skip a day. So make sure your schedule is geared to use the days without skipping a day. The prices of the passes are quite different since they include different things. Since we already had the week transportation pass, the Paris Museum Pass served our needs perfectly. Sometimes you can skip the ticket line if you have one of these passes; check with the individual location to see if you are eligible. It can save you lots of time in line.

Museums can be one of the most fascinating places to visit, but they can also test your patience. If it is your first time in Paris, like it was my partner’s, visiting the main museums and monuments can seem time consuming and can be extremely crowded. But this is part of the reason you visit Paris. Just make sure you budget your time to best fit your needs. Also, be advised that Parisian museums close one day a week, usually Monday or Tuesday. So plan your visits accordingly.

The Louvre

For example, a complete visit to the Louvre usually takes a minimum of 4-6 hours simply due to the size of the museum, and most visitors enter thru the Pyramid entrance. While it’s cool to enter via the glass pyramid and walk down the twisting staircase into the main vestibule, I recommend entering either via the Passage Richelieu, which is connected to the food court and shopping plaza off the Rue de Rivoli, or via the Porte des Lions, located in the extreme southwest corner of the museum. The lines are usually shorter in these locations, and the security checks move quicker.

Another popular museum is the Musée d’Orsay, which is housed in a converted train station. This museum, which showcases paintings, sculptures, and objets d’art from 1848 to 1914, has two entrances: one for individuals and one for people who have pre-purchased their tickets. There are also group entrances, which probably won’t apply to most people. Make sure you visit the Terrasse d’été on the fifth floor, which affords amazing views of the Seine, Louvre, and northern Paris.

Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou For modern art enthusiasts, the Centre Pompidou displays art from the past 100 years. The ride up the external glass-enclosed escalators offers visitors some wonderful views of the city. There is only one entrance to the Centre Pompidou, but there are multiple cash desks at which tickets can be purchased. If you already have a museum pass, you can skip the cash desks.


Château de Versailles

Another popular place most tourists visit is the Château de Versailles, which is in zone 4. Located at the end of the RER C line in the town of Versailles, about 20 kilometers southwest of Paris, the palace is not only famous as an architectural masterpiece, but as a symbol of absolute monarchy prior to the French Revolution. Our first visit to the palace was on a Saturday, which, in retrospect, was a mistake. We waited in line for over 2 hours, winding our way up to the entrance on an uneven cobblestone courtyard. We also made the mistake of purchasing our museum pass at Versailles, which took an additional 45 minutes in a separate line. Knowing what I do now, I would Château de Versailles 2highly recommend purchasing your museum pass prior to visiting the palace and visiting on a weekday. Saturday is the busiest day, and we wasted about 3 hours in various lines before we even got to the security check. Also, be advised that none of the museum passes include a visit to the gardens; this requires a separate ticket that you can buy at the gardens’ entrance.

Rodin Museum and Sculpture Garden

Rodin Mueeum and Gardens was one of the most enjoyable museums we visited was the Rodin Museum. Nestled in a residential area with a view of the Eiffel Tower, this museum is composed of Rodin’s house and gardens. While the house portion can have a long line since the staff only allows a certain number of people in at a time, it doesn’t take all that long to go through the rooms. The gardens are what makes this location special. There is a small café on the grounds, and you can wonder through the various sculptures on display at leisure and without waiting in line. We spent almost two hours in the gardens on our visit, as they are a tranquil oasis in the middle of a bustling city. It is well worth the time to go here and explore.

Eiffel Tower

Just like almost every other tourist that visits Paris, a trip up the Eiffel Tower is a must. Originally built as the entrance to the 1889 Universal Exposition to showcase France’s engineering and construction expertise, Parisian artists and intellectuals disdained the tower’s design at first, which is equal to an 81-story building. There are 3 levels, the first 2 containing restaurants. I would highly advise pre-purchasing tickets to the tower, as the ticket lines are notoriously long. Bypassing the ticket counters lets you enter into the security queues straightaway. You can print your tickets out ahead of time or buy an e-ticket. Tickets are available either for the first 2 levels only or for all 3, and come with an entrance time, which is strictly enforced in my experience. While I’m not a fan of heights, I was just fine with the second level of the tower. Also, take the time to walk around the Champ de Mars, the large greenspace between the Eiffel Tower and the Ecole Militaire. The Champ de Mars, originally a space in which people planted gardens whose products would be sold at market, played a major role in the French Revolution and was the site of 5 world fairs from 1867 to 1937. Today, the space hosts yearly concerts and celebrations around July 14th and also serves as an assembly point for protests.

Disneyland Paris

We also spent a couple of days exploring Disneyland Paris. If you have a Navigo pass with all 5 zones, the trip to Marne-la-Vallée is included via RER A. Otherwise, you will have to buy a separate regional train ticket to get out there. The parks, located at the last stop on the RER A, are about 45 minutes outside Paris. The RER station also houses 3 TGV lines, which connect to Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Lille, and Brussels if going north and to points south either via Massy to the southwest or via Lyon for the south of France.

The Disneyland Paris complex is made up of 2 parks—Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park—and Disney Village. If you are familiar with the Florida incarnation of the Disney brand, you can easily compare these parks to Magic Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios, and Downtown Disney (now relabeled as Disney Springs). This complex, however, is much smaller than its Florida counterpart, and customers can easily walk between all three sections via a main courtyard. There is also a large Starbucks at Disney Village where I started my collection of Global Icon mugs.

La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre

Another must-see is La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, or as most people call it: Sacré-Cœur. Constructed during the late 1800s and opened in 1914, it affords its visitors with an unparalleled vantage point from which to view Paris. Situated on the only large hill in Paris itself, the extensive climb to reach the church is well worth the effort. The easiest way to reach the church is via the Anvers metro station (line 2), which puts you out close to the funicular. Unless you are in top physical shape, the climb up to the top is grueling to say the least; save your energy and take the funicular up the mountain. You will have to climb the final way to reach the summit, but it’s nothing compared to climbing the entire hill. This visit is best done on a clear day, for obvious reasons, since the best part is the panorama pictures you can take from the summit.

Arc de Triomphe

Many tourists make it a point of walking the entire Champs-Elysées. If you start at the Arc de Triomphe and walk toward the Place de la Concorde, the walk is downhill. I do recommend walking the entire length of the street at least once. Halfway through the walk, just before the garden/park portion of the street at the FDR metro stop, is

Avenue Montaigne

This street is where the major fashion designers have their shops, including Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Valentino. While most of us can only window shop along this street, it is well worth the time to stroll down it.


In Summary
Paris is a city abounding with things to do, see, and eat. For most people, a week’s stay is not enough time to see everything you want, and for us, 10 days was even pushing it. Nonetheless, we made the most of our time by planning activities located near each other. Take the time to look at a map and plan out your day to avoid wasting time traveling from one end of the city to the other. Also, schedule downtime into your day; don’t rush all over the city thinking that you have to see everything there is. You’re on vacation, and if you rush around, you’ll go home jet lagged and exhausted, which is the exact opposite of what you wanted to accomplish by going on vacation in the first place.

Author: TTG Michael