spring break: paris planning

I’m breaking up my spring break travelogue (five days each in Paris and London) into separate posts per day, because there’s just too much. This is where it all begins.

I haven’t been to Paris for a vacation–as opposed to a conference or consulting gig–since I was about five years old. But it seemed like it would be the perfect place to meet Scott for a romantic getaway over spring break. Easy access from Dubrovnik (two quick flights), and relatively easy access from Rochester (one quick flight, one long flight). Less time in transit for Scott than a trip to Dubrovnik (which would involve four flights, and at least 24 hours of travel time), which meant more time together.

While I’m not a compulsive trip planner, I always feel better if I’ve read up on a destination and identified a few key things that I want to do while I’m there. On this trip, that included both key landmarks (the top of the Eiffel Tower as well as the top of L’Arc de Triomphe), and restaurants (some I’d read about, some that had been recommended to me by my friend Jonas). I bought the Kindle version of the Rick Steves Paris guidebook to put together a rough itinerary, and then planned out a four-day itinerary that had no more than one definite/scheduled item on each day, with the rest of the time flexible (but a few possibilities near each of the anchor events penciled in for ideas). This worked out well–we didn’t feel rushed, we saw everything we wanted to see, and we had some lovely serendipitous moments. In general, I’ve found that the more carefully I research and plan a trip, the less stressful and tense it is, because there’s so much less time spent waiting in long lines, and less money spent on unnecessary or poor quality activities or food.

As for lodging, I didn’t find much to my liking from price/reputation standpoint on AirBnB, but was more successful on VRBO–which I note has revamped its site to be more attractive and usable. We ended up in a tiny studio in the 8th arrondissement, close to a number of metro stops. It was a very tiny apartment–only 18 square meters–but it was clean, well-equipped, and had a gorgeous wrap-around terrace with views of the park across the street. The reviews of the apartment noted that the elevator was also tiny, which it was–enough room for two relatively slim people, or one person and a suitcase. And the shower was equally small–enough so that bending over to pick up a bar of soap was nearly impossible. But for €90/night, it was ideal for us. There was a small fridge, a working stove and microwave and electric kettle, plenty of hot water, and a very comfortable sofa bed.

For traveling around Paris, I considered buying multi-day transit passes for us, but then decided to just start with “un carnet” of ten individual tickets, which I bought at CDG when I purchased my ticket into town. It’s a good thing I made that decision, because for three of our four days in Paris the metro and train rides were free–so we didn’t even use up the 10 tickets I’d bought! Apparently it was an attempt to reduce the amount of smog in the city over the weekend , and given how hazy everything looked while we were there, I can understand why. (That’s why I chose the photo I did to illustrate this post…)

The other planning piece that took some work/thought was figuring out how to get myself and Scott to and from the apartment in a cost-effective way. I’m a reasonably savvy traveler, so I was able to follow the apartment owner’s directions for the least-expensive (less than €10) option from CDG, which involved transferring between RER trains and then finding the right exit from the Saint Lazare station. I still got a bit turned around changing trains in Gare du Nord, however. And I was very grateful for my roaming data package on my Croatian phone, because navigating from the station to the apartment was more challenging than I’d anticipated. Even before I’d tried it myself I worried that Scott would struggle with that (considering that he would be jet lagged and arriving during the morning rush hour), so I’d booked an airport shuttle through Viator (for about $20) to pick him up at CDG and drop him at the hotel next door to the apartment. That worked, but because it was rush hour, it took nearly two hours from pickup at CDG to dropoff at the hotel. He had planned to take the train back to CDG on Tuesday morning to avoid the traffic slowdown, but we discovered that the apartment was very close to the RoissyBus stop, which meant he could hop on, pay €11 to the driver, and be dropped off at CDG 60-75 minutes later. And since I was headed to the Eurostar rather than the airport, I was able to take the closest RER train straight to Gare du Nord.

I knew we’d both want to be able to use data on our phones in Paris, so I paid for a $30 international package on Scott’s AT&T line (120MB included, .25/mb thereafter), and bought a $15 roaming package for my Croatian phone (unlimited roaming data for 1 week, with the first 200MB at high speed, and the rest throttled way back). We both ran out of our data packages after a couple of days–primarily because we’d been playing Ingress occasionally and that eats a lot of data. I tried buying a prepaid Lebara SIM, and set it up with a data package, but it turns out Lebara won’t work properly with a Nexus 5 (wrong 3G data bands or something), so that was wasted money. Lesson learned: when buying a prepaid SIM abroad, it’s better to do it somewhere with a storefront so that if it doesn’t work you can take it back–I was a lot more careful (and successful) in London.

That’s about it for the planning and logistical stuff around getting there, staying there, and booking things in advance. The rest of the travelogue is broken up by day, and includes descriptions and photos of where we went (and what we ate) for each day!

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