London & Paris plus Paris extension » Review by Sasha
London: The crown jewels are really something else! They are located in the Tower of London and the line gets ridiculous so go there first thing! We did and there was no line; by the time we got out — huge line! St Pauls opens at 8:30 and the nearby Tower of London at like 9, so easy to combine the two. If you only have time to visit one church, I would suggest Westminster Abbey over St Pauls. The London Eye is cool, but it’s something you could skip really. It takes about 30 minutes to do the revolution btw. Tate Modern and National Gallery were cool but if you are low on time, you can skip. The one museum you must see is the British Museum (and free and by the hotel so no excuse). It’s a tourist trap for sure but I loved the London M&M store, located near the West End… it is so cute and a great place for souvenirs! Try to pay for Westminster Abbey by cash as it’s a much shorter line. If you are going to be there for several days before consider the London Pass; I didn’t get one but someone else did and she thought it was worth it. Oh and let me offer a huge timesaver: if you buy the tour over the phone they should offer a 10 pound metro pass that takes you from Heathrow to the train station by the hotel…. definitely buy that instead of at the airport metro station. The line is ridiculous and you will thank me. If the pass wasn’t offered to you I would call contiki. Probably saved me at least half an hour of standing in a ridiculous line.
Paris: I did the extension so I stayed an extra 2 days and I thought that was a good decision. Otherwise you will have about a day and a half to explore the city as the trip to the Palace of Versaille will take half a day. Like I said above, if you are going to be there for extra time, definitely get the Paris Museum Pass (2, 4, or 6 day) and I suggest buying it at the military museum (no line). If you lack time, skip walking up and down the Champ Elysee — it’s like fifth avenue in NY, lots of high end stores, and connects the Arc de Triomphe with the area of the Lourve. If you don’t have the time, you can take the metro station by the Arc de Triomphe to your next destination. If you do have the time here are a few highlights of that street (I walked up and down twice while I was in Paris): you might want to go to the Louis Vuitton store if you are into that kind of stuff (I skipped this), if you are female it might be worth going to the Abercrombie and Fitch store –- not to buy anything but because what you will see when you walk inside might be good for some giggles -- and I am not going to spoil it; you will not see the store from the street but instead a golden gate with a line outside and security in the form of guys with Abercombie and Fitch sweatshearts. If you are into cars at all, all of the French manufacturers have display rooms on this street – not to sell cars but to show off. The highlight for me was Renault which is showcasing their new car, Twizzy. The Citroen showroom was also cool. The Disney Paris store sells a very cute bag for 3.99 euro that makes for a great souvenier or beach bag. There’s a yummy pizza place that I went to with outside seating just to say I ate on the Champ Elysee. In the Lourve, well you need to see everything of course. But if you are limited in time you will have to see the Mona Lisa just because people will ask you, same for the Venus de Milo. Also make sure you see a room called the Apollo room –- it’s beautiful beyond words, trust me. I think it is in the Shelly wing (there are 3 wings). Napolean’s apartment is there as well and cool if you can find it. There is a hidden downstairs entrance to the Lourve which the tour guide suggested but it ended up with a huge line so I wouldn’t suggest it myself. If you have the museum pass then you can skip all the lines and enter through the pyramid and walk right in. The Musee d’ Orsay is OK, but I think it is safe to skip. The Pantheon is over by the Latin Quarter and a bit out of the way but if you have the time you should see it — one of my highlights; it is a shrine to the most famous french people. The Luxembourg gardens weren’t that interesting so I think it is safe to skip. The modern art museum, Centre Pompideau is pretty fun if you have got the time (make sure to check out the fountain outside). Bascillica Sacre Couer is a must do but far away from everything else. It is open like 6 am to 11 pm so fit it in if you can. Go to Sainte Germain by Notre Dame if you are there for some extra days.
Tips for Europe in General:
Yep, no problem. I’ve been to Lisbon, Madrid, Ireland, as well as London & Paris and these are my suggestions:
–- Always know the tipping customs for each country. In most of the countries that I have been to, the custom is not to tip or just round up to the nearest Euro. Just look it up online ahead of time. In France it is not required to tip the waiter. I never ate out at a restaurant in London, so I’m not sure.
- Understand how the VAT (value added tax) works. I am a bit confused myself. Basically, if you are not a citizen and buy over a certain amount at a store, some stores will give you a receipt to get back the VAT. At the airport you put the reciepts in an envelope and there are kiosks where you drop off the envelope and you will get money back on your credit card. I did this in Ireland where I got those receipts, but didn’t see anything in France. Google beforehand, especially if you are planning to make any big purchases.
–- The cheapest way to do currency exchange is to use an ATM. Your ATM card should have a VISA logo. Depending on your bank, it may have a program where you don’t pay fees if you use another member bank in a foreign country. Bank of America has such a program with other international banks. When using your ATM card you may pay a flat fee per transaction (my bank, Regions, charges $5). Airport kiosks and western unions are more expensive and less convenient.
- Capital One credit cards are the only ones I know that do not charge an extra fee for currency exchange. So that is what I always use. Discover Card will be pretty useless though I think they announced a program where they will be accepted internationally, check on this (but don’t bother if you have Capital One).
–- Most European credit cards use a chip and pin system where the card has an embedded chip and you slide the chip or insert the card half-way and then enter a pin. American cards do not have this, but can often be accepted. If there is a machine where you partially enter your card (enough for the chip to be read) look to see if there is a place to swipe instead. When I went to Madrid the metro only could accept cards with a pin so I was able to use my ATM because I had a pin to enter in the PIN screen.
- Remember: the ground floor for Europeans is the first floor for Americans. The first floor for Europeans is the second floor for Americans. It can be confusing at first.
–- Bring a pen on the plane as you will have to fill out a customs form. Make sure you have with you on the plane the name, address, phone number of where you will be staying.
- In some countries (ex. Spain, Portugal) restaurants may put appetizers on the table; they are not free so if you don’t want them just decline.
–- You will need a travel adapter, but I have never needed to use a travel converter. Most electronic devices (phones, laptops, cameras) can handle outlets in Europe provided you have the right adapter. Btw, in some countries, Spain comes to mind, they do not have a ground. The ground is the circular ‘thingy’ between the two prongs that you would have in an American plug. A little bit more risky, but I would just not have the ground plugged in.
- - Always make a copy of your passport and have it somewhere. The hotels we stayed at did not have safes in the room, so I used my money belt ($10 at walmart) and put my passport there and brought it with me (easy when you are wearing a coat and sweater). My copy I kept in my locked luggage.
–- You are supposed to register with the embassy ahead of time to inform them that you will be out there in case there is some emergency. Half the time, I forget to do this.
- Pickpocketing is an art form apparently. Especially in crowded areas like the Eiffel tower and in front of the Mona Lisa. So watch out for gypsies, pickpockets, etc. Always have your purse in front of you, yada, yada, yada.
Review written May 2012event 0.3