March 20, 2013

Backpacking Europe Part III: Paris

Part 3 of 6 of my Onsite Chronicles: Europe Edition.

  • Backpacking Europe Part I: Warsaw
  • Backpacking Europe Part II: Krakow
  • Backpacking Europe Part III: Paris
  • Backpacking Europe Part IV: Italy
  • Backpacking Europe Part V: Tromso, Norway
  • Backpacking Europe Part VI: More Warsaw 

  • Having a Schengen Visa is quite pointless if you are only going to stay in one country for the entire duration of your trip.  This was not my intention, and so as soon as I got hold of my visa, I started listing down the countries that I wanted to visit.  Downside is that I was only limited to three months; needless to say that I was expected to WORK during those months.  Luckily for me, there were two long weekends that coincided with some of Poland's public holidays, so I was able to squeeze in some countries during those days


    Europe is a rather expensive place to go around.  While there are some countries that still use their own currency (Poland being one of them), most of the countries already adopted the Euro currency.  This means that the commodities being sold follow a standard pricing.  And if you ask me, these prices are absurdly high compared to the prices in the Philippines.  For example, a bottle of iced tea in the Philippines costs around 25 PhP.  In Paris (where they use the Euro), it costs around 3 EU.  As of writing, 1 EU is equivalent to 56.7382727 PhP.  Now you do the math.

    For this reason, I wanted to make my trips as cheap as possible.  I started by narrowing down the countries that I wanted to go to, based on which country is the most sulit to visit since I only have an average of four days per trip.  I absolutely cannot sacrifice Paris, so my next step was to check if there are other countries that I can squeeze in with it.  My first itinerary was Paris-Spain-Italy, but when I realized that there are a LOT of places to go to in Italy, I scratched off Spain and concentrated on Paris-Italy instead.

    Next step is to decide how to get there.  See, Poland is at the eastern part of the continent, while France and Italy is at the western part.  The map below may look small, but you have to remember that the itty bitty salmon blob that is Russia is actually the largest country in the world.

    Voila! C'est le Europe (I have no idea what I just said).

    Most articles in the Web recommend going around Europe by train, as this is one of the less expensive travel options, not to mention the more scenic.  However, this would mean that most of my travel time will literally be used for travelling, not much on sightseeing.  So, after a bit more pondering, I decided to take a round-trip plane from Warsaw to Paris (and back), and THEN take the train going to and from France and Italy.

    Introducing the Eurail Pass
    Sample Eurail Pass (from Google Images)

    For those planning to go country-hopping around Europe sans automobile, I would definitely recommend availing a Eurail Pass as opposed to booking point-to-point tickets.  This pass gives unlimited travel via national railway, for a limited time.  The traveller can also choose among the number of countries to visit, as well as the time period for when the pass is valid.  For example, in my trip I chose the four-day Eurail France-Italy Pass.  This gave me unlimited travel via France's national railway (SNCF), and in Italy's national railway (Trenitalia).  Some points to consider, when buying a Eurail Pass:
    • This pass is intended for foreigners visiting Europe, so purchase is done online with FedEx delivery.
    • Consider buying a pass two weeks before the trip.  This is so you can completely plot your itinerary and schedule, while waiting for the package to be delivered.
    • There are some train schedules that require seat reservation.  For this, you can ask for the Eurail customer service agent to make the reservation while ordering the pass (they have live chat support), or you can reserve directly at the national railway's website (you will need the pass ticket number for this).  You may or may not be charged with a reservation fee which is not included in the pass' purchase amount, albeit discounted.
    • For overnight trains (mandatory reservation), there is a limited number of seats with the Eurail Pass discount.  If, in your schedule, there are no more seats, consider buying the full fare instead.  Sure, it would cost more, but it beats rescheduling your trip.
    Booking the flight

    I chose AirFrance mainly because it has a non-stop flight, and that the flight schedule complemented my itinerary.  But now I say, as much as possible, choose another carrier. Back then I wasn't aware that the French labor unions are notorious for staging strikes, and unfortunately my flight was affected because of them.  I had to go through three flight reschedules and got back a day later than expected, but since I was given free meal, free taxi and/or free hotel vouchers, I can't really say that the ordeal was THAT horrendous.  But just the same, to save yourself from future stress, book your flight with another carrier.

    Minalas talaga ang flights ko. Oh, well. As they say, c'est la vie.


    Getting around

    For my first long weekend (France-Italy), I only gave myself one whole day to go around Paris.  This being said, it was of the utmost importance that I plot the most efficient route, for getting around a city I have never been to before.  Buti na lang, andiyan si Google.

    During my planning phase, I searched the Web for day tour packages NOT because I wanted to avail them but because I wanted to copy from them.  I discovered that most of the landmarks are situated near the River Seine, with a Metro (AKA subway AKA MRT) station conveniently placed nearby.  Thus, my route was planned around the stops of the Metro.

    There is also a day pass for unlimited travel on the Metro, Bus, and RER (i.e. regional trains) lines, which would cost up to 20.50 EU if you include the Airport Zone.  This alone will be enough for you to get around Paris--public transport, albeit old-looking, is a breeze even if you don't know French.

    Paris Visite Pass - unlimited trips around the Ile-de-France region.


    Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Ile-de-France

    The Paris Visite Pass gives you a complimentary one-way ticket from Paris CDG Airport to the Garre du Nord Station, via the RER B line.  The Garre du Nord Station is an intersection of the RER B line with the other Metro lines (Paris has 16 lines), and for my itinerary, I took the M4 line and alighted at the Saint-Michel Station.

    Notre Dame Cathedral

    Notre Dame Cathedral. Where's Quasimodo??  

    That stop leads you directly at the center of Paris, where you can find a little "island" in the middle of the River Seine.  On this island stands the Notre Dame Cathedral, and at the front of the cathedral is KM 0 i.e. the center point of Paris.  There was a looooooong line to the entrance of the cathedral, so I just took a picture and went on my way.

    IMG_8681 IMG_8694
    Left: Kilometre Zero.  Supposedly, standing on it gives you the luck to return to Paris.
    Right: Authentic Parisian cafes!!! 

    Louvre... or at least, the glass pyramid

    From Notre Dame, I decided to walk along the river to get to the M1 line - Châtelet Station and alighted at the Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre‎ Station.  Since I was on tight schedule, I did not enter the museum, and only contented myself with viewing the glass pyramid outside the museum grounds.  And, yes I was thinking The Da Vinci Code all throughout that journey.

    Left: The River Seine, with the Eiffel Tower at a distance.
    Right: Louvre Pyramid. Andaming tao!!! 

    L'arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile

    Still on the M1 line, I alighted on the Charles de Gaulle - Étoile‎ Station.  This leads to a roundabout - think Quezon City Memorial Circle - and on the midst of it stands the Arc of Triumph, one of the most iconic landmarks in Paris.  Supposedly, this landmark is a memorial to those who fought during World War I.  You can go on top of this monument to view the city.  I wasn't able to do that, but yeah, I don't mind coming back someday.

    IMG_8722 IMG_8726
    Left: Street sign next to a shop sign.  Wow sosyal.
    Right: L'arc de Triomphe. A majestic sight, indeed. 

    Eiffel Tower

    From the arc, I took the M6 line and alighted at the Bir-Hakeim‎ Station.  Near this station is the Parc de Champ-de-Mars, and on the rear side of the park stands the Eiffel Tower.  In retrospect, I think I should've taken the M8 line instead and alighted at the École Militaire‎ Station.  I was really surprised at how BIG the tower is in real life; I was having a hard time making it fit into the frame.  As with other landmarks, the park was teeming with tourists, all eager to go up the tower.  It was nearing twilight that time, so I just took some pictures of the tower and headed to my next destination.

    Simply beautiful.  Just like the pictures, but ten times more awesome up close. 

    Where to Eat

    This being a backpacking trip, I brought all the food that I am allowed to bring from Poland.  Beef jerky, crackers, nuts, and sandwiches are what kept me going.  But since airplane flights do not allow passengers to carry liquid, I had no choice but to buy drinks in Paris.  Aside from the various cafes on the street, there are also shopping malls accessible from the Metro station.  One of which is the Carrousel du Louvre, where I bought my bottled iced tea while walking to the pyramid.

    Where to Shop

    Speaking of shopping, one of the most natural activities to do while in Paris is to shop.  For high-end brands, try the shops in the Concorde area (M1/M8/M12 Concorde Station), then walk along Rue Royale and Boulevard du Madeline.  For department stores, try Galeries Lafayette (M7/M9 Chaussée d'Antin - La Fayette‎ Station).  I discovered these shops while I was looking for Longchamp bags for a friend.

    Where to Pee

    This being a tourist capital, there are a lot of public toilets, especially in malls, shopping arcades, and underground walkways in-between Metro stations.  Look for the signs 'WC' or 'Toilet'.  I would recommend, however, going for paid restrooms because they are cleaner.

    Where to Sleep

    Unfortunately, I won't be able to give information on this, because I planned my trip in such a way that during the night, I would be travelling in sleeper trains to the next city.  From Paris, I took a night train to Italy; next destination is Florence/Pisa.  More on that in my next entry.


    From the Eiffel Tower, I took the M6 line to the Bercy Station.  This is where I took the night train to Florence, Italy.  Night trains have cabins where the seats can be converted into couchettes, so you can lie on them if you need to sleep.  Pretty cool stuff.



    1. you mean 4 days lang ang duration ng trip mo covering france and italy?sayang naman ang pamasahe.

      1. 'Yun lang ang kayang ipagkasya sa schedule ko eh, isang long weekend. Onsite work assignment 'yun at hindi ako basta basta pwedeng magbaskasyon ng matagal.

        I wouldn't call it sayang kasi I was able to make the most of the opportunity naman, pero if ever maulit sana magawa ko pang mas matagal. :)

    2. Thanks for the blog! really helpful, if you don't mind can you share the train company you use when you travel the night train from Paris to Florence? @ bercy station?
      thanks in advance

      1. Hi! Sorry for the (very) late response. Since I was using the railway pass, I can only use the state-owned train, I think it was SNCF. :)