Thursday, July 16, 2009

France on $70 a Day - The Plan - Sightseeing in Paris

We have frugal accommodations, but we won't spend much time there because we'll be too busy exploring. Unless we're feeling particularly energetic and want to use the bikes, we're planning to travel most days in Paris using the metro. We'll buy a carnet of ten tickets for 11.40 E and then walk from place to place. Since Paris is a relatively small city with the majority of sites being fairly close to one another, we think this is the best way to explore. Although the prices are outdated, this Slow Travel website gives excellent advice about buying and using metro tickets.

To get an overview of the city, we will take two free tours. The Paris Greeter organization is staffed by volunteers who love their city and enjoy showing it off. See this website to arrange a tour.  A donation to the organization and/or to the guide is appreciated, but not necessary.

The Global Greeter Network conducts tours in these cities—Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; Toronto, Canada; Melbourne and Adelaide, Australia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Paris, Lyon, and Nantes, France; Kent, England; and the City of The Hague, Netherlands. On a recent trip to New York City, an enthusiastic Big Apple Greeter introduced me to Greenwich Village and several other places I'd always wanted to see. That day was the highlight of my trip, so David and I are excited about our own Greeter Tour in Paris!

I've had no experience with the other free tour agency we plan to use, but the website promises a three and a half hour walking tour of all the major historic sites in Paris led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. We expect to give the guide a tip, but, still, this is a fantastic bargain!

After getting to know the city a bit better, we plan to purchase a pass so we can explore the museums. Information about prices, points of sale, and list of sites is available at this website.  For information on how to use the pass, see this Slow Travel page.
If you want the museums sorted by arrondissements to cut down on your walking time, go to this website and click on Paris Museums.
The pass has two great advantages. It provides admission to sixty museums and monuments in and around Paris, including Versailles and the Fountainbleau. And, perhaps the best advantage is that there is no waiting in line. There's a separate entrance for pass-holders, so no time is wasted in queues.

The pass is sold for two, four or six days for 32, 48 or 64 E. As soon as David and I have developed our itinerary noting which museums we want to see, their days of operation, and which days are free-admission days, we will decide on either the four or six day pass.

On to the Dordogne -

After ten nights in Paris, we'll take the train to Sarlat-le-Caneda. We'll be buying our tickets shortly although we dread this part of the process. We will try to avoid using the popular Rail Europe. It's an easy site to navigate, but it's the most expensive and it often charges a booking fee and shipping cost.

Besides not listing all routes and charging too much for the ones it does list, my last experience with Rail Europe's scheduling nearly resulted in disaster. I asked for more time between trains, but the Rail Europe clerk assured me I'd have ample time. I didn't. With only fifteen minutes scheduled to change trains in the Nice station, I panicked when my train from Milan was running late.

I arrived at the station three minutes before the train, the last one to Nice that day, was scheduled to depart. Running up and down several flights of stairs—which isn't easy when you're lugging suitcases—to reach the correct platform, I got to the proper boarding spot which appeared deserted. I was barely able to breathe much less choke out, “Is this the train to Nice?” to the lone attendant. She mumbled something into her walkie-talkie, the doors opened, a passenger already inside the train kindly grabbed the suitcases I threw up the stairs, and somehow I got myself up the steps ten seconds before the train took off. This is not an experience I want to repeat.

The website David and I want to use is the SNCF,  but we know there are difficulties inherent in using the site. SNCF is affiliated with Rail Europe so the website tries to direct the English-speaking person there at every turn. For an understanding of this perplexing website, see The Man in Seat 61. Luckily, this website also tells you how to avoid being switched to Rail Europe, or, failing that, how to maneuver the site in French. See the section titled “How to Use” We'll be trying his approach, but, if it fails, we'll beg our French friend to come for dinner and help us navigate the troublesome site.

In Sarlat, we'll be renting a car. We'd prefer to use public transportation, but it is too difficult in rural areas to rely on buses or trains. The apartment we're renting has a free parking area, so the car will be secure while we're wandering the town of Sarlat itself.

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