View Full Version : Please share: Travel Tips for Europe, Paris
06-28-2002, 09:52 AM
Hi! I just got 2 cheap tickets to Paris in September. I am planning on making a 3 week romp through Western Europe on a shoestring. I'd like to open the floor for any advice on keeping things cheap and on finding cool things to look at. I'm particularly interested in:
- good outdoorsy/hiking possibilities
- rustic/non-resorty beach locations in France/Spain
- finding a CHEAP place to stay for a few nights in Paris
- also, hidden gems in France, BeNeLux, Spain, Switzerland etc...
International dopers, I thank you in advance!
06-28-2002, 10:01 AM
Two websites to check out are Eurotrip.com and the Lonely Planet's Thorntree.
There are lots of inexpensive places to stay in Paris. If you choose a guidebook that 'speaks' to you (Rough Guide, Let's Go, Lonely Planet are a few) these will have lists of accomodations for all price ranges, though they lean towards budget prices.
Javea, Spain used to be a wonderful rustic/non-resorty beach, but that was a long time ago, don't know what it's like now.
I stayed in a youth hostel in Paris 2 years ago that was part of the international youth hosteling federation (you can stay there at any age though). It was about $20 a night, was air conditioned, and included breakfast. It also didn't have a lockout which may hostels do. It wasn't right downtown, but was near a metro stop and was very convenient. plus you could book online in advance and it had an internet kiosk in the lobby. I think it was the "Clichy" hostel. Very nice hostel.
The website for the frnech youth hostels is:
The main website for the hosteling organization is www.iyhf.org
We also stayed in one in Nice. It was pretty crappy, but right near the beach and only $7 a night. The beach isn't eactly empty--but we were there in August and it wasn't crowded either. It's a pebble beach which makes for a change.
Barcelona isn't a hidden gem--but I absolutely loved it and would highly recommend it.
I've heard Cinque Terre in Italy (along the coast, northern italy) is absolutely gorgeous and has some good hiking. If you were doing coastal Spain of France it's not all that far to go.
06-28-2002, 11:52 AM
Cheap Places in Paris
Your guidebook should have a few places to stay. When I went a few years ago, I stayed for a modest amount of money in a cheap hotel in the Latin Quarter. If you are travelling with other people, it is sometimes cheaper to get a room and split it.
I don't think this qualifies as a hidden gem, but San Sebastian was a riotously good time. It is a smaller town than Barcelona and just about everything is in walking distance.
You might be able to find some hidden gems in Portugal. It was definitely cheaper than most of Western Europe. Meals generally costed around $7.00 and I was able to find relatively cheap places to stay easily.
06-28-2002, 12:17 PM
A good hostel is The Woodstock (near the red-light, but non-scary, district Pigale). It was started by Americans, but has become fairly international. Breakfast is included, and they have a foozball table and a big beer cooler in the lobby (Heineken for about 10 francs when I was there, a little less than $2 a bottle). It's near supermarkets and two metro stops. They also have a pay computer in the lobby. I think it was around 5 francs for 10 minutes when I was there.
I travelled by myself, and that was awesome. I got to do whatever I wanted. My recommends: if you can swing it, take a day trip to see Monet's house at Giverny. Seeing the D-Day sites and Mont-St-Michel in Normandy were also well worth the train ticket. In Paris itself, visit the old things (the Louvre, etc) as well as the new (La Defense (sorry, I don't know how to do accent marks), as featured in the Bourne Identity). Pere-Lachaise Cemetary is really pretty neat, if you don't mind being surrounded by crypts, plus it's free and in a non-touristy neighborhood.
I can't advise on other countries, but if you want more France info, feel free to email me.
06-28-2002, 03:17 PM
Some general advice: Three weeks isn't as long as it sounds, and trying to hit too many destinations will just leave you exhausted. Also, it's cheaper to stay in fewer places for longer stretches of time. Pick one or two countries you really, really want to see, and save the rest for next time. (There WILL be a next time, I promise.) From what you've said about your interests, I'd suggest France and northern Spain, which isn't quite as crowded as the Mediterranean coast and has some good hiking prospects.
A couple more places to stay in Paris: I've stayed at the Hotel Printemps (about $30 a night) and the Jules Ferry hostel (about $18). Both were decent; the hostel doesn't take reservations. These prices are from the pre-Euro era, so they've probably gone up a bit.
Miscellaneous notes on keeping things cheap: When you're looking for places to eat, get as far away from the tourist areas as possible and avoid any cafe that doesn't post prices. Buy food from bakeries, markets, and street vendors and picnic as much as possible. Carry a bottle of tap water so you're not tempted to buy soft drinks (wine, of course, is another matter...) You'll be taking public transportation a LOT, so buy multiple tickets or full-day passes if you can save on them.
And have fun! Damn, now I want to go...
06-28-2002, 04:35 PM
Sometime, something as simple as taking an over night train on longer distances will save you money - check into a sleeper - there are 1st class and 2nd class - sometimes the price difference isn't all that much, in which case take the first class. Saves you a hotel/hostel for the night and you get a full day at your next location.
Also, to save on travel costs, buy one ticket and get on and off the train. For example: Buy a ticket from Paris to Rome. As long as you are on train(s) going in that direction, you can get off the train anywhere it stops along the way and spend and hour, a few days or a week and then get back on the train going in the same direction to Rome. Check the validity on the ticket. I believe most tickets are valid for at least 1 month (but that might have changed).
My rule of thumb for food and drink - go where the tourists are, and then walk at least three blocks away. That is where you will find the employees who work in the tourist traps. They will be eating and drinking better, for far less than the tourists pays a few blocks away.
The best way to travel is not to make many plans in advance...listen to other travelling folk to hear what they discovered. Their info will be more current than any guidebook, and they will be able to give you subtle tips (name of the nice guy at the desk, the neat bar four blocks away from the hostel, etc.).
Also, American ATM cards work most everywere in Europe (as long as you have one with only a 4 digit pin number).
I know you will.
And if you should happen upon an email cafe along the way, write us and let us hear how the journey is going!
06-28-2002, 07:44 PM
Take an eary train from Paris to Brussels - about two to three hours, depending on the train you take. Spend the day there, and travel to Antwerp for the night (one hour train ride). Eat there, great seafood. And spend the evening in one of the many, many great bars. Sleep in a youth hostel, and take an early train to Amsterdam (2.5 hours). Spend the day in Amsterdam, and take the late Thalys (high speed train) back to Paris. Two days of entertainment, guaranteed, in three of Europe's greatest cities. See the aforementiones Lonely Planet site for details on what to do - there's enough for everyone.
06-28-2002, 08:53 PM
Here's a good site, lots of information but you have to dig. VirtualTourist.com (http://www.virtualtourist.com/m/.33163/1038/?s=c), this is a good Paris page. It's written by travellers, about their home cities and travels. I stayed at one of the hotels recommended, not at all in a touristy area, but good access via the Metro.
Get a full day Metro pass for the days you are in Paris. It's a bit intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it it's a great value and you can get almost anywhere.
Most of the museums have a late night one night of the week. Find out which day that is and go then; it's a lot less crowded and then your day is free.
In Switzerland we enjoyed the Ballenberg folklife museum, which has preserved buildings from the past 1000 years or so. Think of it as the Swiss "Williamsburg", without the commericalism.
The Big Cheese
06-28-2002, 09:07 PM
I stayed at 5 places in paris whe Iwas there for about 15 days 3 years ago. Both in the 5th arrondisment, 2 places I'd recommend were 'Hotel Port Royal' on Rue Port-Royal which was the most expensive place I stayed, about $40/night. Clean and friendly and professional.
The other was Hotel Gay-Lussac on Rue gay-lussac i think. 'Charming' old place, typical old hotel. Had pipes running thru the room at odd angles, and things such as that. Excellent location near that big park where the kids push the little boats with sticks. I think it was less than $30.
06-28-2002, 09:11 PM
Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen, Switzerland, is a fun hike. That's where Sherlock Holmes battled with the infamous Professor. No crowds when I went in July, so perhaps it is a "hidden gem." Interlaken and Gimmewald are renown hiking spots in Switz. I liked Grindelwald. There is fantastic hiking in the mountains above Montreux and Vevey, Switz., which are on the Swiss Riviera (Lac Leman aka Lake Geneva).
Brugges in Belgium is a must if you like Medieval cities.
You can walk all over Paris. The Montmarte area is my favorite. The Latin Quarter has the less expensive places to eat, like Greek and mid-Eastern.
Wishing you a happy, safe journey! :cool:
06-28-2002, 09:54 PM
I too think you should check www.eurotrip.com which caters mainly for young american visiting Europe on the cheap. You should find many useful advices on their message boards.
You could want to check the europe board on www.fodors.com, too. Posters on this board are more traditionnal tourists (I mean who stay in hotels, don't travel cheaply, etc...), but the board is *very* active, and you would find tons of suggestions about places to visit, trains, etc...
Also the rec.travel.europe board on the usenet, which is quite similar (there's also an usenet board about backpacking, but less active, IIRC).
The thorntree of www.lonelyplanet.com isn't very useful for Europe IMO because many questions get few answers (and amongst these answers quite often some abuses). It's a much more interesting board for less travelled places (I can't think of another travel board as useful for uncommon destinations).
I personnally wouldn't advise to use www.virtualtourist.com, contrarily to the previous poster. I found there are a lot of errors on the personnal pages (since contrarily to a board, nobody is correcting innacurate statements), and the message board isn't really active and the responses are often lacking in accuracy, IMO.
The only advantages of this site are that it's fun to check the personnal pages and that there's a lot of great pictures from various places. I wouldn't rely on it for advices, though.
I would want to second Fretful's response. Don't plan to visit too much. You'll be tired, spend all your time moving/packing/searching for a place to stay, etc...and won't enjoy anything. Don't be too ambitious.
Also, I wanted to correct Dmark's post : you *CAN'T* buy a train ticket from Paris to Rome, hop off in, say, Lyon, spend two days there and resume your train travel. Once you begin your train travel, you've a limited time to finish it (staying two hours in Lyon in the example above would be OK. Two days is a no-no. How could you prove you're not actually using for the second time an old Paris-Rome ticket, if it was true?). Anyway the price difference between two tickets for the two legs of your travel and only one Paris-Rome ticket would be extremely minimal.
And by the way, since I'm talking about train tickets, if you intend to travel by train, buy your tickets directly from the european railways companies, not from....eurorail.com or raileurope.com?..I never remember which one...anyway they add huge fees to the tickets they sell (30-40% more or so).
Also, the cheapest way to travel is by bus but they are slower/more uncomfortable/run much less often/only exist between some major towns
As for cheap places in Paris, there are :
-very cheap family-run hotels (20-30 USD/night) but you won't find them on the net (they're not the kind of hotels which have websites) and they are a bet...they could be awful places. Or very fine for the price. The only way to find them is to roam in the popular district of Paris (XIX°-XX° "arrondissements", for instance) and check the hotels you see. Rather time-consuming.
-Cheap chain hotels (around 30 USD/night). Like the "Formule 1" hotels, for instance. Clean and standardized, but not very pleasant of course. They're usually situated just outside Paris administrative limits. Check those hotels situated in a place called "Porte de whatever" , which means there are very close to Paris proper and there's a metro station nearby. You should be able to find their sites.
-Hostels (around 20 USD/night). No privacy, but young fellow travellers, hence company and more fun. You should find some opinions about Paris hostels on the eurotrip site, though the same hostels tend to be always recommanded. Usually the most partying hostels (not necessarily the best choice for everybody). The best hostels in Paris are probably the three rarely mentionned MIJE hostels, in the fourth "arrondissement". Centrally located, luxurious (by hostel standarts), in historical buildings, but...of course, there are some BUTs...there's a curfew, a lot of school groups tend to stay there (not necessarily fun) and they tend to be fully reserved long in advance.
06-29-2002, 01:47 AM
Originally posted by clairobscur
Also, I wanted to correct Dmark's post : you *CAN'T* buy a train ticket from Paris to Rome, hop off in, say, Lyon, spend two days there and resume your train travel. Once you begin your train travel, you've a limited time to finish it (staying two hours in Lyon in the example above would be OK. Two days is a no-no. How could you prove you're not actually using for the second time an old Paris-Rome ticket, if it was true?). .
Maybe it has changed.
I bought a ticket from Amsterdam to Milan that was valid for 3 months. I was able to get on and off the train, and spent two weeks getting there. I also did this going from Berlin to Switzerland and once again, from Munich to Athens. All they used to look at was that you were on the train to your destination, and that the ticket was still valid.
Too bad if that "trick" no longer works.
06-29-2002, 06:53 AM
Nah, you can still get tickets to international destinations with onger validity. But be sure to double-check, as the default might be a one day option only.
06-29-2002, 08:10 AM
The three best hostels in Paris: Three Ducks, Young & Happy, and the already-mentioned Woodstock.
In Belgium, go to Brugge. A beautiful little town, with great seafood. Avoid Luxembourg, unless you just want to say you've been there. Toledo and Granada are great day trips in Spain; and since most people are only there for a day, you can get great deals on hotels there.
06-29-2002, 10:46 AM
I second the recommendation for Portugal, and for buying food in grocery stores and such outside of tourist areas, or if you're not in the mood for a picnic, tapas in small neighborhood places in Spain are YUMMY and not necessarily a budget-buster. You should be able to find some decent deals and avoid the worst of the crowds if you go outside peak season. If you're staying in a small hotel, hostel, or rooming house, ask the management what their favorite places are. I had one of the best cheap seafood meals of my life that way in a fishermen's pub in Lisbon, although I had no idea what I was ordering. It was all yummy.
Try to hit at least one or two smaller villages, even if only for a couple of hours on the way to somewhere else; it'll give you a whole different feel than the big tourist cities, and people are generally more laid-back and willing to take the time to chat with you.
And most importantly, when in Paris, if the trucks start pouring in with military police in riot gear, plexiglass shields and all, DON'T go see what's going on. I got tear-gassed that way. Oh well: at least it's a good story for the grandchildren, if I ever have any.
06-30-2002, 03:01 AM
Don't know if you're travelling with someone special, but if you are (or, if you meet someone, like I did ;) ) you might want to try staying in room 39 at the Hotel Avenir in Paris. Two balconies; one window looks out at the Eiffel Tower and the other gazes upon the Sacre Coeur. With two people, you'll pay about 30 Euro each. Definitely worth it.
Also, Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken in Switzerland have some of the best hiking trails in all of Europe. If you're interested in getting in touch with your own sense of mortality, you can arrange skydiving or canyoning excursions from most hostels, though they are somewhat pricey.
06-30-2002, 08:07 AM
buy LP europe on a shoestring. it tells you EVERYTHING you want or need to know.
if you make it further east i'd recommend Salzburg in Austria.
mountains, ice-caves, Mozart and the sound of music. what more could you ask for.
and stay in the YoHo hostel. you'll love it.
heading into France and Spain, i'd go down the west coast til you reach the border, head to Barcelona and then up into france again to Marseilles and the Camarge.
check out La Rochelle and the french Basque country (Bayonne is cool) and maybe Messanges and the pine forests nearby as you go down the west coast.
06-30-2002, 09:28 AM
Originally posted by irishgirl
the sound of music. what more could you ask for.A guillotine, please. ;)
I second the votes for Barcelona. Wouldn't go as far as to call it a hidden treasure, but it's awesome. Great city, great food, nearby the coast if you want to go for a (busy) dip, and man oh man, Gaudi.
If you do the Cote d'Azur, be sure to check out Monaco for a day. Ridiculously expensive, but if watching very expensive sportscars pull up to the Hotel de Paris is your thing, do it. :)
07-08-2002, 01:12 PM
Thanks for your suggestions everyone!
We are settled on Paris and then the atlantic coast of France, Basque country, Bilbao/San Sebastian, Barcelona, then back up the east of France towards Paris.
I'd still welcome more tips of those "off the beaten path" excursions.
Paris accomodations would be helpful too. Treviathan: Did you stay in the Hotel Avenir yourself? It sounds like a great deal - tell me more! What about the location?
You all are great!!!
07-08-2002, 08:45 PM
Me and Mrs. Z went to Paris last November. We stayed at two different hotels there as we spent the middle of the vacation in the country.
The first hotel was called the Champ du Mars. It was near the tower and was very reasonable. It had a shower and a friendly staff. I highly recomend it. It suprised me as I'm used to staying in big hotels here in the states. In Paris they didn't imprint my credit card first thing and we gave our key to the front desk clerk every time we went out and picked it up when we came back. Also the light in the hallways are turned off. You can turn them on and they'll shut off automatically a few minutes later.
I know some people will think it a shame but to save money we really didn't go for any huge dining expierences. We just looked around and ate at small diner type places. The kind of place that is filled with locals. This saved us a ton of money. I felt bad because I hate wine. If you don't like wine then beverage choices can be limited. Wine is cheap there but if you don't like it than you may be in for a lot of water drinking.
Another money saving tip is to be adventursome. I speak no French but I really wanted a coke. At the corner place I could buy one for about US 1.50. OUTRAGEOUS! So I went to the grocery store. I bought a 4 pack for about US 2 dollars. The clerk said something to me in French so I just nodded. I think she was asking if I wanted a bag.
Mrs. Z and I had a great time driving in western France. We basically went castle gawking. We did walk in the same room as Joan of Arc at Chinon. We also visited Samur, Azay le Rideau, Chononceau (that is soooo misspelled) and others. It is so amazing to walk through these little mediveal towns. The French drive pretty fast. About 20 KPH over the posted speed limit is the norm. Try not to drive on the big toll roads. The little windy country roads will take much longer but are really worth it. Navagation was easy. Each and every road junction was clearly marked with directions to the next town and the next big town. So if you know you are headed to say Angers just keep following the signs.
We shot a roll of film a day. This was not enough. Take more.
07-08-2002, 08:58 PM
Something that Mrs. Z and I did in our planning stages.
We bought a map of Paris. Then we hung it on the wall and we each marked with little flags different places we wanted to go and Prioritized them. We also got museum passes here before we went. You can't get them there I'm told. These are three day passes to (mostly) all the museams. It saved a ton of money and time. (Pass holders use a seperate entrance at the Lourve with a much shorter line) Also I think the fact that having a pass card instead of paying each time made it more 'OK' for us to say 'eh' and move on to the next place. We also checked online for the museam times and some are closed on certain weekdays. Then we had a rough schedual for what we were going to see. We only had one washout of a place that was closed for renovations.
Finally one of the best investments we made before hand was a good map of Paris. You'll need good maps of a lot of places. The one of Paris we had was Plastic Coated. The fact that it was Plastic Coated was a real life saver.
So get some good maps! Today!
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