On y va ... aka France Advice

Instead of my humble opinion…how about yours?

My wife and I are going to France from April 27 - May 6. First 5 days in Paris…the rest is undecided. That’s where we need some help.

We are going to rent a car, and are thinking about either touring the Loire valley countryside, or heading to Normandy. We have (if you did the math) about 4 days to tour, and we definitely don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. We want to see castles/chateaus, pretty/stunning scenery, small French towns, etc. Eat well. Sleep well. Be relaxed. That sort of thing.

Probably more interested in Loire, but I really want to see Mont St. Michel in Normandy. Is it worth the drive? Not real interested in the WWII stuff, this time around at least.

So…any thoughts or experiences or favorite places would be much appreciated.

And our French is barely intelligible, at best, if that matters :slight_smile:

I lived in France for about 10 years, and found I preferred going south from Paris to going north. YMMV.

For that time of year, I’d rate the Loire over Normandy, which can be rather chilly and blustery right into the summer (if that’s a consideration). Mont St. Michel is spectacular, but be prepared to be a bit let down by how touristy the town itself is. BTW, the Mont can be done as a long day trip or single overnight by train from Paris.

If you want to see chateaux, the Loire’s certainly the place, and you can easily spend four days nosing around. Depending on how long you linger, you could even motor as far as La Rochelle, which is lovely, and I find the Atlantic coast to be more salubrious than the Channel coast.

If you have any other questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer them.

These happened on my first and only trip to France. I was travelling with my family and only 15 at the time.

  1. While on the train from Lyon to Grenoble I woke up in the middle of the night and had to piss. While looking for a bathroom a conductor,I think that’s what there called,asks me what I’m doing. The following brief exchange occurs.

Me: “I need to go to the bathroom.”
Him: “No bathroom. Back to bed!”
Me: “No bathroom???”
Him: “No bathroom. Back to bed!”

So I went back to bed and hoped I could hold it or I’d have to try to piss between train cars and probably end up with piss sprayed all over me.

Anyway in the morning my back teeth are floating and my back hurts from having to go so badly. I explain what happened to my Mom and sister and that I really need to go. Laughter ensues.

The lesson to learn here is to ask for the toilet or water closet. Apparently the guy thought I wanted to take a bath! There are of course tiny bathrooms with just a toilet and a sink. I don’t care if there is no bath tub it is still called a bathroom!

  1. I’m glad you are renting a car. Never attempt to get into the front seat of a taxi. We are standing outside of the train station after the above incident and trying to get a cab. We get one and the driver starts loading my Mom and sister’s luggage in the trunk,lets them into the back of the cab and starts to drive away. So I’m worried I’m going to be left at the train station and tap on the window with my suitcase as my hands are full. He was barely under way when I did this. He stops,gets out,grabs my stuff,shoves it in the trunk and I get into the front passenger seat as he does this. Upon seeing me in the front passenger seat he begins to speak loudly at me. My sister then explains I’m not supposed to sit in the front seat. Fine, I’ll scrunch in the back seat. Finally leaving the station the cab driver and my sister are now yelling at each other in French. Sister is the only one of us who speaks French. Next thing I know the cab driver pulls a U-turn on the spot and kicks us out back at the train station yelling and tossing our luggage out of the trunk.

I think you’ll be safe if you don’t sit in the front seat and at least attempt to speak French.

  1. Hi Opal

I also had the chance to go skiing which was the highlight of the trip. Being a teenager at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity to check out the culture and was grumbling the whole time except for the skiing. My sister was living there hence her fluency in French language and culture. I’m sure you will have a better time than I did,except for the skiing. Bon Voyage!

Rocket88:

In the Loire valley, is it better to toodle about staying at different places each night, or is there one well-placed town from which we could do day trips? Speaking of towns/villages, any in particular you recommend? In the “quaint, country-ish, but not run over by tourists” mold?

Thanks

C.

Blois would probably be the best bet as a central jumpoff point. Tours and Angers are also worth considering.

Along the river, IIRC Amboise, Chinon and Saumur all have that charming small-town ambiance.

It would definitely be best to have your accomodations reserved ahead of time if you can, as it tends to be difficult to obtain lodging on a walk-in basis after about noon. The tourist offices in Blois, Tours or Angers should be able to help, even for accomodations in surrounding villages.

I don’t know what you plan to use for a guide, but I’ve always had good luck with the “Let’s Go” guide for France, published by the Harvard University Press (although the accommodations listed are low-end, it’s good reference for occasions when you just need a place to crash). The Michelin Green Guide “Chateaux of the Loire” is a good bet as well.

Buy a five-day museum and monument pass (carte museés monuments) for your stay in Paris. It’ll save you a fortune in museum admissions and you won’t have to queue at the ticket office every time.

Buy Metro tickets in blocks of 10 (called un carnet): it’s considerably cheaper.

Try and make an effort to speak some French, even if it’s only “please” and “thank you”. It should get you a more sympathetic hearing. Almost everybody involved in tourist-related industries (including restaurants) speaks at least some English, but this is less common outside Paris.

As Gut pointed out, you’re likely to get further with British English terms than with US English. “Bathroom” for “toilet” is the obvious example, but I’m sure there are others (“gas” for “petrol”, for example). [By the way, do any American houses have an arrangement in which the lavatory is in a separate room from the bath? If so, what do you call is?]

Don’t expect Parisians to be any more polite than, say, New Yorkers.

You should strongly consider making a day trip to Versailles, which is very easy to reach from Paris by train and IIRC entry is covered by the museum pass. As with many of the state-run sites, you will be required to take a guided tour (available in English at no extra cost), rather than being left to wander round freely.

A decent three course meal with wine, if you have the set menu, can end up costing less than 150FF (~ $20), even in Paris. If you don’t have the set menu, a similar meal in the same restraurant could cost twice as much or more. Snacks and fast food can work out very expensive by comparison with the US.

The Michelin green guide to Paris is very good, as is the British Time Out Guide.

I’ll second Rocket’s nominations for Angers and Saumur. The latter has a mushroom museum which is worth seeing just for the novelty value and is actually more interesting than it sounds.

The Channel coast is swarming with Brits buying cheap fags and booze, but there are one or two nice spots, if you stay away from the main ferry ports.

That’s “musées”. I had to cut and paste the é from Word.

Because of the high cost of fuel here in Europe it is worth considering hiring a diesel car while in France. In comparison diesel is quite cheap compared to gasoline. Don’t worry about the lack of performance - the new HDI engines from Citreon and Peugeot give plenty of power and with the bonus of about 50 (UK) miles per gallon.(sorry about thelack of accent in Citreon !!)

Gotta agree with Rocket88 on Mont St. Michel – it’s stunning for the first hour or so, disappointingly expensive and crowded after that. I did it as a day trip from St. Malo (which is also touristy, but well worth seeing) and found myself wishing I’d made it a half-day trip.

TomH:

Real estate agents would call that a “powder room” or “half-bath.” Most normal people would call it a bathroom.

BTW - be very careful with respect to insurance when renting in some countries in Europe. Sometimes, the agreement you sign says that you authorize them to put the entire cost of the car on your credit card, should you have any accident. Be very, very careful about insurance, or if possible rent from a large, well-known chain where you can find out the rules in advance (Budget, for example, is who I rented from in Spain last December).

Note that most service stations are not self-service. In fact, I never once saw a self-service station.

I don’t know what fuel costs in France and I’m sure its more than in the US, but it’s considerably less than in the UK. Hence the recnt bleating by the road haulage industry.

You should bear in mind that, unlike the States, most hire places will expect you to return the car with a full tank of petrol and charge you a punitive rate to refill it if you fail to do so.

You might be better off worrying about the order of the letters before you worry about the accent :slight_smile:

So, here my wife and I were going to be a tad extravagant and rent an Audi for the four days (an A4 - not too spendy; it’s considered a “mid-sized”).

Hell…it is a vacation :slight_smile:

But now you’ve got us thinking. I’ll have to see what the Audi’s gonna cost fuel-wise; I’m sure somewhere on the Net there’s an list of fuel prices in France.

Thanks for the heads up about the insurance…but doesn’t that seem a little silly? I mean, who’s got a $15K or $20K credit limit on one credit card?

This has been great info so far…welcome any more anyone’s got.

C.

A bit more on the car front:

The major rental agencies, such as Avis, Budget and National, all include insurance in the standard rate quoted. In fact I am not sure that it’s even legal to hire a car without full insurance there.

Gasoline prices in France work out to approx. $4.00 US/gallon; if you can put up with something the size of a Peugeot 106 or VW Polo, your bottom line will benefit. Easier parking in town, as well. But hey, Audis are nice…

Outside the cities, the Autoroutes (superhighways) are toll roads, and the tolls are considerably higher than in the States.

Leave nothing, absolutely NOTHING, visible in the interior of the car whenever you stop in a town, whether for lunch or overnight. While violent crime in France is almost unheard of, sneak theft is rampant. Many hotels have a closed parking area; ask for that whenever you stop overnight.

Same for personal valuables. Keep your wallet in an inside pocket (preferably closed), handbags to the front, etc.

Don’t let any of the above put you off; a bit of precaution will go a long way. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time there.