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Paris in June for a Month - Help!
May 8, 2014 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Flat for entirety of June in Paris, with my British sister meeting me in Deauville for two days. I haven't left the USA since before 9/11, and my partner hasn't since he was a kid. I need ALL THE ADVICE: apps to help, other day trips, is Italy feasible sans car, June weather, language sites -- I am combing MeFi but am just overwhelmed, and fearful older content is out of date. Help!

Honeymoon dream trip snuck up on me while I was busy planning the wedding and I am less than 30 days out from being in Paris for a month. I have a stack of guidebooks and more on the way, I've been using DuoLingo to brush up my pathetic French, and I'm totally unsure where to begin. The one time I was in Paris I was a teen and I was pickpocketed (fortunately nothing of value) by a cluster of aggressive girls. I've not traveled internationally in over 15 years.

Is Italy possible via train? We are both lovers of Roman culture. What of England? I know about Museum Passes, my partner and I love art and history. We were hoping to walk about and peoplewatch. How hard is it to get to England? My other two siblings are near Brighton. I'm also fine hanging about Paris. ANY information, suggested websites, apps, books, everything is welcome. Help me MeFi! Thanks in advance.
posted by Locative to Travel & Transportation around France (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Forgot to add I'm staying in the Faubourg-Montmartre area and that I'm also trying to find the grave of French musician Francois de Roubaix.
posted by Locative at 7:08 PM on May 8


You don't need to freak out. As long as you have a passport, international travel post-9/11 is much the same as domestic travel post-9/11, just requiring earlier check-in times.

Paris speaks English, you'll be fine.

You can travel from Paris to London by Eurostar, and from London to Brighton by train also. It's extremely quick and easy and you can probably do Brighton and back as a day trip.

You can travel Italy by train without any issues.

None of this has to be sorted out now, by the way. You can get married, get to Paris, open a guide book, and sort it out from there. Promise!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:11 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


Not a ton of time to comment now but I want to say that yes, Italy is absolutely possible by train. Last summer I went from Paris to Turin, spent a few days there (LOVELY place, no tourists, great little archaeological museum that's very bite-sized and a good, off-the-beaten-track spot for a bit of Roman culture (also don't miss the Egyptian Museum, which is the second largest collection in the world next to Cairo!)), and then Turin to Rome. Each trip was very easy, picturesque, and cost-effective (I purchased a few weeks ahead of time). www.trenitalia.it will get you trains all throughout Italy (English option in the top right corner) and www.sncf.com will get you trains to/from France.

Good luck! Enjoy! Don't stress about planning it all now - with a month, you can do a LOT of planning after you arrive, sleep (etc) and get your bearings.

(Edited to add: I was living in Rome at the time which is why I just kind of threw that out there without thinking to say more about Rome. But I love Rome and am a Roman archaeologist, so feel more than free to MeMail me for tips - if I started writing them now, I'd never stop..!)
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:28 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


I took a day trip to Provins (not Provence) and it was very nice. You can wander around this old medieval town, climb into a medieval castle and look at the old bell mechanism, buy rose-scented stuff if you like, and take a stroll across the small town to a lovely garden with a cafe. It was a short train trip from, I think, Gare du Nord, and I think it would be even better with a companion (but it was fine solo).
posted by amtho at 7:29 PM on May 8


For day trips, there's Annabel Simms' book One Hour From Paris which people seem to like.

is Italy feasible sans car


Yup. Paris -> Florence, sure. Random B&B farmhouse somewhere, not so much.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:32 PM on May 8


I find it very useful to have an unlocked phone with a prepaid international SIM card in it. This lets me browse the web, use map apps, guide apps, call an uber, etc without worrying that I'm going to come home to a huge bill. If your phone isn't already unlocked, your provider will likely do so for you.

You'll have a wonderful time. Enjoy!
posted by grudgebgon at 7:34 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Paris to Florence is 10 hours by train or two hours by jet. There are night trains as well.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:38 PM on May 8


How hard is it to get to England?

Very easy. The Eurostar (train) runs between Paris and London, and is very comfortable and fast (a few hours). If the train is booked or too expensive, you can also take a bus (it'll drive to Calais, take the ferry over the Channel, and drive into London). The bus takes a full day, though, and is less comfortable and, depending on things I don't particularly understand, you might or might not have to go through customs.

In general, it's easy to take the train within countries in Europe (Italy and France both have good train systems) and many countries are also easy to get between by train. Larger cities usually have good subway systems, and smaller cities and towns usually have good bus systems. It's completely feasible to get around without a car, in my experience.

If you're worried about pickpockets, and you're a woman/carry a purse -- keep your purse on the side of you that's away from the street (so it's not easily accessible to people on scooters or motorcycles), use a cross-body strap (so it's not easily snatched), and choose one with a reinforced bottom and that's relatively well-constructed (so it's not easy to slice out the bottom to dump your stuff on the street and pocket the important bits).

June is beautiful (though often drizzly and a bit chilly in Normandy), and it's light for a long time. I would pack some light jackets and scarves in case, and closed shoes instead of sandals (though that's more because of the wet and because some streets are slick). There will be *plenty* of places to pick up odds and ends or other clothes if you need any, though, so don't worry much about packing.

When you're in Normandy, make sure to eat the cheese! Try all the cheeses! There's even this silly Cheese Museum you can go to. The cider and Calvados are also fantastic. While you're up there, also try to go to Mont St. Michel. In Caen, there's the Abbaye aux Dames and the Abbaye aux Hommes (which is now also City Hall) to see, which were built by William the Conqueror and which are very pretty. Overall, though, that area of Northern France was bombed very heavily during the war, so it's mostly modern and not especially quaint looking.
posted by rue72 at 7:40 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


How hard is it to get to England?

Yeah, haven't done it personally, but when I was in France in '09 & England in '10 my British traveling companions treated a trip from Paris to London via rail & the Channel Tunnel like No Big Deal, much less hassle than flying.

My other two siblings are near Brighton.

Brighton to London & back is a day trip, no problem, like an hour (give or take fifteen minutes) by rail each way. This trip I have made. Well, from Hove, actually.

I've been using DuoLingo to brush up my pathetic French, and I'm totally unsure where to begin.

Seconding that tons of people speak English in France, enough for friendly communication to happen. Total anecdata, but I speak essentially no French at all, and spent two weeks in a couple of smaller French cities without a problem. I never encountered any snootiness or bad attitude about my inability to say much more than "merci", "oui", and "Anglais, s'il vous plait?" (O.K., the guys trying to sell me cheap souvenirs under the Eiffel Tower gave me a bad attitude, but whatever.) If anything, given the amount of carping I heard about how horribly French-Canadians mangle the language, I kinda suspect a lot of French people would rather you not try to speak French at all if you're going to do it badly.

IOW, don't kill yourself trying to polish your language skills, and don't worry that you're going to be treated like a jerk or ignored if you can't carry on a conversation in flawless French. Cheerfully throwing myself on the mercy of the court (so to speak) worked out fine for me.

my partner and I love art and history. We were hoping to walk about and peoplewatch.

Paris and London were both one-day trips for me, and honestly I had a great time in both cities just basically meandering along the banks of their respective rivers, with one of those free tourist guides stuffed in my back pocket. They're both really dense cities, y'know? Like the Tate Modern art museum (fantastic, by the way) is literally right next to Shakespeare's Globe Theater right at the end of the Millennium Bridge and in barely-breaking-a-sweat walking distance from either the Tower of London or Big Ben.

So that'd be my suggestion for a fairly low-key day. Use a basic tourist guide to find the right spot to start, and just by wandering up & down the banks of the river you'll practically be tripping over art and history.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:00 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I did Italy by train. Super easy. Check into whether an Eurail pass or single tickets would be cheaper for you- I got the pass, but single tickets would have given me more flexibility and been pretty much the same price.

England is super easy. Either one of the discount airlines (cheap but not very pleasant) or the Eurostar (much nicer, and if you book midweek it's not that bad), which will take you straight from Paris right to King's Cross.

I'd recommend at least a couple days in London, if not at least five or six. You have some of the best museums in the world (the British Museum alone is headtrip and a half, and then you have the V&A, the Tate Modern, and the War Museum, all of which I recommend.) And you're in perfect time, IIRC, to take in a show at the Globe Theatre, and even if not there's always something worth watching at the West End. As a vegetarian, I found the Pret A Manger stores everywhere an absolute godsend. Relatively cheap, somewhat healthy, and absolutely delicious.

Also! If you are Harry Potter fans. GO TO THE WB STUDIO TOUR. Do it on a weekday, get the earliest possible slot, and spend the day there, because it's absolutely brilliant. I could rant for days about all my issues with the movies, but I still loved it.

Re: language. You will be fine with basic French. Just remember to be polite. Greet EVERYONE- when you enter a store, when you leave it, when you get on/off a bus, whatever. A 'Bonjour/Au revoir monsieur/madame,' paired with a smile gets you a hell of a lot farther than being rude in fluent French will.

Also, I can't recommend Sandemann's tours enough, both for London and Paris. I took several of them, both free and paid, and they were a highlight of my trip. If you do any of the Paris ones, ask for Alex- he's a rather mad but very talented and absolutely hilarious Kiwi who will make sure you have an absolute blast.

One thing I would caution you against is museum overload. By the end of my trip in Italy, I'd seen so many museums that one more painting of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus and I could scream. I wish I'd gone to see the glassworks at Murano instead.

Places worth going to:

Paris: the Musee d'Orsay, the Rodin museum, any of the smaller out-of-the-way places. You can also do a tour of the catacombs, if that's your thing, and you cannot go wrong with a Sandemann's tour. Oh, and look at David Lebowitz's site as well- he's mainly a food blogger, but he's lived in Paris several years and he has great ideas.

Also, you're there for a month... definitely take the opportunity to hit the various street markets. There's nothing quite like a lunch of cherry tomatoes and fresh cheese on a baguette bought that morning. I lived in Arras so I'll let people more familiar with Paris proper give you recommendations.

France is so well connected by the TGV that you should absolutely take the change to get out of the capital. Lille is barely an hour away; Burgundy isn't that far, either. Normandy for sure if you have any interest in WWII.

I would strongly advise against the following places: the Louvre (it's worth just wandering around for a day, but I found it was just too big to really enjoy. Oh, and the Mona Lisa is totally not worth the hype), Versailles unless you can put up with the tourist crush, and the Champs Elysee (ditto- and honestly it's nothing you can't see in any big metro, with all the international brands there.)

My best advice for Paris- and London, for that matter- wander. The subway system is stupidly easy to navigate (but be warned; not everywhere is disabled-friendly) and the best part of the city is all the little treasures tucked away in side streets, like the kosher pizzeria I found on a quest for dinner one night, or the little confectionerie I stumbled across after a wrong turn, or the Science Museum unexpectedly located in the 19th arrondisement.

Re: Italy. If you are going to the Vatican, go early or don't go at all. I found the crush absolutely horrible, and in retrospect I would have just gone online and looked at the 3D tour of the Sistine Chapel rather than fight my way through. And dress conservatively for the churches; a friend wasn't allowed into Mass at one because her top didn't have sleeves. Generally, wear layers; June in Europe can be unpredictable.

Have a fantastic trip- Western Europe is super-easy to navigate, even for the most inexperienced traveller. Feel free to memail me if you want more thoughts/recs- it's been a while since I went and not everything's still at the top of my head.
posted by Tamanna at 10:57 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Let me nth that you don't need to stress massively about planning if you have a month there! You'll be fine. Worry about the wedding now. Even if you didn't pick up a guidebook until the plane over you'll be golden.

I also agree about language...just always try the basics in the home language (greetings, thank you, do you speak English/do you mind if I speak English, basic May I have/I would like xxxx at shops/restaurants) and you'll be fine. Guidebook language guides are more than enough, so don't stress too too much about working your way through DuoLingo.

The Citymapper app is great for navigating public transport/walking in London. There is a version (or perhaps it's the same app?) for Paris too, although I haven't personally used that version.

Since you both like wandering around and people-watching you'll have a great time.

I would spend 3-4+ days in London...it's a great city (although I'm biased - I live there) and it gives you a little break where you can speak English (even though you can get by absolutely fine without speaking proper French/etc in Europe, it can be a little draining if you're there for awhile).
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 5:22 AM on May 9


Also just wanted to add not to stress about Seeing All The Things Everywhere. Do what you feel like and spend the rest of the time soaking up the general atmosphere/city.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 5:24 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I best-answered everyone so far because the answers are just so uniformly good. I have to thank all of you for stopping my freakout last night. I am grateful for everyone's responses and if anyone has anything to add, I welcome it.
posted by Locative at 5:40 AM on May 9


For train travel in Europe, you can't get more comprehensive than Seat61.com, which has exhaustively detailed booking/itinerary/ticketing answers for pretty much any trip in or out of Europe you can imagine. It's my favourite website for fantasy trip planning.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:55 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


"I find it very useful to have an unlocked phone with a prepaid international SIM card in it. This lets me browse the web, use map apps, guide apps, call an uber, etc without worrying that I'm going to come home to a huge bill."

Definitely agreed, but following the theme of "you've got a month, don't worry about things till you get there", any major street in Paris is likely to have an Orange (or SFR, or I forget the other mobile providers..) store that you can wander into on the first day and ask for a SIM. At least that's what I did last month and it was cheaper than buying something from the US ahead of time. The salespeople spoke English. I needed a passport and a credit card.

All you need ahead of time is the unlocked phone.
posted by bfields at 7:20 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


More specifically, re: London to Brighton, you wouldn't even need to leave the station to do the swap as the eurostar comes into St Pancras and there is a train (the brighton to bedford line) that goes from St Pancras to Brighton. It is, as someone further up mentioned, about 1.15 min. (I live in Brighton and go to London frequently, that is my preferred route, rather than trekking to Victoria)
posted by halcyonday at 7:57 AM on May 9


I haven't left the USA since before 9/11, and my partner hasn't since he was a kid.

I'm not sure if you've done any U.S. travel by airline since then, so apologies if you're already aware of this, but filed under "general travel tips":

I don't recall the process of getting through security for my international flights being particularly longer or more difficult than the process for domestic flights, but keep in mind that the whole thing takes longer in general than it used to. No more breezing in to the airport 20 minutes before flight time. Get to the airport nice & early; I try to get to the airport at least two hours before my flight even on ordinary U.S. flights at off-peak hours.

Also, airlines in general have become more restrictive on the size, weight, and number of both carry-on and checked bags, with higher fees if you go over the limits. Check the current baggage restrictions for all the flights & airlines you'll be traveling on, and plan/budget/pack accordingly.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:04 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Can you unlock an iPhone with Verizon? I am usually computer/iDevice savvy but I don't really understand what a SIM card is. I only got a smartphone a few months ago and my understanding is that iPhones are far more restrictive. Is Orange a good alternative? Thanks again for all this great advice.
posted by Locative at 8:56 AM on May 9


Is it an iPhone 4S, 5 or 5S? Then it is a "world phone" and would accept a European Sim. Verizon might unlock it for you if you ask them for "international unlocking".

A SIM card lets your phone and carrier talk to each other. On the iPhones, there is a small slot along the edge that has a tiny hole in it. The phone came with a small metal tool you can stick in the hole and the tray will pop out. It is similar in size to a mini or micro SD card, just a bit squarer. If you are scared, take it in to a Verizon store and ask them to show you.

Orange is often recommended, so they can't be too bad. I personally got T-Mobile for a month (set it up before leaving) and am using them right now. Unlimited data and texts in France for my regular service cost. They don't make you sign a contract either. You will have a different US phone number.
posted by soelo at 10:38 AM on May 9


In addition to all the great advice here, I'll throw in just a few random little bits for whatever time you spend in Paris. I lived there for a year, admittedly ten years ago, and others might have more updated information - but a few random suggestions anyway.

First, I decided really quickly that I far preferred taking the bus to get around the city (main RATP site in English, big-image bus map) rather than the metro. Bus lanes often mean that traffic isn't a huge problem, and I found that I liked being above ground - less disorienting, I saw more, and if you get one of the Paris Visite cards, it works on both bus and metro anyway. Something to consider.

Also, three smaller museum recommendations from your friendly neighborhood historian:

The Cluny Museum/Museum of the Middle Ages (site doesn't have a full English translation, but if you visit in person you can get all the guides etc. in English, and it's in an awesome fifteenth-century building.)
Museum of the Army/Military History at the Invalides - totally not as ALL MODEL CANNONS ALL THE TIME as the name suggests. Huge. Art, and things, and fun. Yes, a few cannons, but real ones.
Museum of Art and Jewish History - bigger than it looks from the outside, and absolutely fascinating.
posted by amy lecteur at 2:21 PM on May 9


These are amazing suggestions. Thank you so much everyone. I have an iPhone 5c and it didn't come with any kind of tool. I will investigate the SIM card thing as well as the T-Mobile for a month idea, which appeals as well. Thank you again and anyone else who has even the smallest smidgen of advice please chime in. I'll need all the help I can get!
posted by Locative at 4:10 PM on May 9


I have an iPhone 5 and I can't imagine the 5c is different in this respect: mine is factory unlocked (as in, they come that way from the factory, new - it's GREAT), and there is a teeny tiny drawer on one side that you'll never seen unless you look for it. It's about 1cm long and has a hole just big enough for a paperclip - if you push a paperclip in this hole, HARD, the drawer will pop out and your SIM will be inside. I wouldn't do it now, as they're so tiny they can be hard to re-seat properly and it's not worth risking damage. Anyhow, my 5 is unlocked and i'm sure yours is as well. Go to France, walk into Orange/SFR etc and ask for a French SIM. It will be a cost-effective way to use your phone while you're in Europe. Heads up, though - when you leave France you'll be on roaming and that will get expensive faster than you can possibly imagine. If you're spending more than a day outside of France, get another SIM for that country. When I went to Paris last summer, I was there for 2.5 days - didn't think I'd use the phone much at all until my stepfather decided to return our rental car & got lost, and in trying to find him, Avis, and get us all reunited, I spent 60 Euros.

Sigh.
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:06 PM on May 9


Late to this, but rome2rio.com will tell you the best ways to get from one city to another in terms of both time and cost. If you're travelling into London and on to Brighton, try and book your tickets as far in advance as possible, as walkon fares are stupidly expensive in the UK. Brighton is really lovely - English seaside, pier, lots of quirky shops and places to eat.

Our favourite thing to do in Paris was to get a baguette from a corner bakery and wander around.
posted by mippy at 9:16 AM on May 14


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