Your First Trip to Paris June 6 -13, 2016

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6 Days 7 Nights

$2999 Single - Land Only
$2499 Double - Land Only

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Renting a car and driving in France

Most travelers really like to see all they can see while they're there, and if you're thinking about driving, you should know that their freeway system is not like ours here in California. For one, the big fast highways aren't free, they are tollroads, but I'll get to that in a minute. During my recent spring tours I rented cars twice, both from Europcar. In reflection I believe I chose Europcar as they were the only one that offered unlimited miles and seemed to be the most reasonably priced. First and foremost, research this. If you can speak French, make sure you look at the French sites. Sometimes the prices are about half as much. Seriously! There is also a company called "" but they aren't always in every city and may not be near the train station, if that's how you arrived. I used them in Tours a few years ago to explore the Loire Valley, and they were quite reliant. To pre-pay or not pre-pay? I generally try to pre-pay when I can, and oddly enough, the first rental (Rennes) let me pre-pay and the second (Lyon) did not. Regardless of paying or not, there is a deposit to be made, that didn't seem to be on either contract that I printed out. As a rule, when you're paying with your credit card, the insurance is covered, and the deposit has something to do with whether or not you purchase their insurance. So the first car I rented was an SUV type called an Opel Zaphira. Barely enough room for four ladies and their suitcases, but comfortable. I even purchased an additional $75 worth of insurance from them, and still have to leave an 800 Euro deposit against my credit/debit card. This was upsetting to me as I was afraid they would freeze the money I was using to travel, which did not happen, but I did ask if I could change and have the deposit put on another card that I wasn't planning on using. No, too late, couldn't do it. No real reason, just not possible. Second car I rented was a beautiful Mercedes something something...gorgeous sleak and black, a big car by European standards. Unfortunately, not by American standards. Mind you, we each had a suitcase and a carry-on plus our purses. We managed by putting half the back seat down, stacking a suitcase and carry-on there, two ladies got in the back with a fourth piece of luggage on their laps. The third passenger had her carryon on her lap. Again, the deposit, this time I did not purchase any insurance, and it was 1800 Euro. Figuring I could beat them at their own game, I handed over my extra credit card for the deposit. When I returned the car, I wanted to pay cash with my debit card, which they would not let me do, and said it had to be put on the credit card I used. Unless they journeyed to check out the car with me, which was on another block. I passed on that as it was too close to our train arriving, letting them charge my credit card. Should have given myself more time? Probably. My biggest sin wasn't filling up the car with gas, and then having to find a gas station. Make a note about this! There generally aren't any gas stations in the town proper. Period. Any town. Every once in a while you'll see a curb you can pull over to and pump some gas, but gas stations like we know them, are on the outskirts of towns with all the big box stores. Also, the gas is about $10/gallon, but the cars are so economical you really don't even notice that. You will also have to learn how to navigate roundabouts. Basically, before you go, plan out your route, highway numbers, and very important, the names of the larger towns on the way. Most of the time you will be headed in the 'direction of' said city. Roundabouts are fantastic. I love them. They are super easy once you get the hang of them, and if you mess up, you just go around again. Again, remember the 'name of the city direction of' and as you approach the roundabout, make note where it is on the list. That will be your exit. Ie, if it's the second name, second exit. Each exit should have the name as well, and sometimes it will be graphic with arrows and names. Also, in Brittany there are no tollroads, and I believe that is the only area of France not to have tollroads. Also, in Brittany, you'll notice the names of the towns are in French and in Breton/Gaelic. If you cross the border to Belgium in the north, the names will be in French and Flemish, so make sure you know what you're doing before you set out. I prefer my Michelin roadbook, and a GPS adjunct is nice. I find the GPS pretty much steers you towards the tollroads, but there are other main roads you can use as well, you just have to find them on the map first!

Taking the TGV for Americans

Let me see if I can give you a few tips on doing this. For many travelers, the train seems so magical and easy and carefree. Well I don't mean to burst your bubble, but it's still a lot of work! Other than this visit, I have taken trains before, and I think I have come to ascertain that although the French use these constantly, I don't think it's really for traveling the way we have in mind. First, and foremost, in traveling is PACKING LIGHT. Easier said than done, so mind you, you will be hauling these suitcases during your travels. You will need to get your suitcase onto the train, over the gap, and up a couple of stairs in a narrow passage. (This is from the platform, you still might have to actually drag these suitcases up and down stairs, as there are not always elevators or escalators to use.) This last trip we had a system. There were four of us. Two of us inside the train, trying to squeeze them into the luggage area, and re-arranging the luggage area to get all our bags in. There will also be room over your seats. Another thing you need to know that you should print out boarding passes from the kiosk. This makes life a lot simpler when the conductor comes around and you can't speak French. Fortunately, I speak enough French to apologize and had someone show me how to use the machine. I believe you can make it in English. I bought our tickets of the SNCF site, and printed them out. There is also one of those square new barcodes on it that the conductor can us, but the problem with the printed out versions are that American paper is shorter than the European paper, and your seat number gets cut off. Yes, your seat number is important! Mind you, there were four of us ladies traveling, and it was much nicer to have the seats facing each other with a table between us, and there aren't that many. If you're buying a group of four like this, it automatically seats you in one of these sections (if available). Problem being that everyone loves these tables, and will just set themselves down at one, hoping no one asks them to move. When you have your boarding pass with seat number, there is no problem asking them to move, with a "Pardonnez Moi", and showing them your ticket. Also, remember, the further away from Paris you get, the less likely you will be able to communicate in English. Have your phrases ready, your Dictionaire Anglais-Francais and/or translator, and make sure you know how to ask, sweetly, if they speak a little bit of English. "Parlez Anglais un peu?" They will do their darndest to practice their High School English with you most of the time. But please, make sure you ask them first in French. Some stations do have a place that you validate your ticket first by running it through a machine, but I've only seen that at Gare du Nord. Very Important: There are quite a few train stations in Paris. Each station serves a different direction or area of France. Doublecheck that before you leave. Another very wonderful thing I discovered this last trip, was using a driver. You can ask your concierge, etc., if they have a recommendation. Much more convenient than a cab, our driver Patrick, would actually wait for us at the platform to help with luggage, plus being full of useful information.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Catching Up with Me

Just had a fabulous spring trip to Paris and a few other choice places in beautiful France, that I will tell you all about! Been spending a lot of time playing music and making art, with my most recent art show up right now at Crazy Moon. I'll be giving you some tips for driving in France and renting a car, my thoughts about renting an apartment in Paris, using the TGV and a few thoughts on food! I have two trips sscheduled for next spring: Your First Trip to Paris March 11-18, 2013 -- This tour features my standard offerings, staying in a lovely Latin quarter hotel for six days and seven nights with breakfast included, refrigerators in your room, and nearby restaurants, markets and metro stop. You'll arrive to and from the airport via shuttle, have a museum pass that offers instant admittance without waiting in lines, metro tickets, your own personalized tourbook and map, and every day we'll visit at least two marvelous museums or monuments, walking and using the metro. We'll visit the Louvre at see the Mona Lisa, Nike and Venus, we'll go to the d'Orsay, Musee Rodin, stroll the Champs-Elysees, visit Montmartre and the giant flea market. Plus there is always little extras that Paris has to offer. Fees are double occupancy/land only. Items that you're responsible for are generally your lunch and dinners, tips, drinks, treats and souvenirs. There is a wonderful outdoor market nearby a few times a week, a bakery across the streets that serves lunches, nice rstaurants, and a larger grocery and department store within walking distance as well. Carnac Alignments and Mont St. Michel Artists and Photographers Tour March 18 - 25, 2013 -- This is quite a different offering as we will be traveling by train and car after your arrival in Paris and will only be available to a handful of artists. We will stay in Carnac, visit the museum of pre-history, walk and photograph or paint among the Carnac megaliths, the beautiful beach, and visit other neolithic sites. During this time of the year, it is possible to walk among the stones instead of appreciating them nearby. We will also visit Mont St. Michel, and stay in the area a couple of nights as well. Please remember that my trips are generally in the off-tourist season for several reasons, mainly the first, it's less expensive, and secondly, there are less tourists. This means we're not crowded or rushed, and can enjoy to French ambiance, as well as the food and the vistas. I am also available to create a tour for you and your group to Paris or to one of the other wonderful regions of France. Please drop me a line at labellefrancetours @