Not Martha

My Vacation Slides: Paris Day 1, arrival and beating jet lag

It is now my job to force you to look at my vacation pictures. I’ll try to give you as much useful information on what I’ve learned (the hard way) at the bottom. If you’re a regular traveler that stuff will all be old news, but if you are, like me, new to these things I hope it will be helpful. Ready?

the view from the corner window of our fabulous apartment

Our apartment rocked. After a long day and night traveling it was like arriving to find treasure. Above is a hastily stitched together view from the corner window in the living room. There is a horn player on the corner, which you cannot really make out. By the time we arrived we’d been up for about 24 hours. We were talking with the apartment greeter (an incredibly sweet lady) and suddenly there were horns playing. Both Maggi and myself assumed we were having auditory hallucinations, we were that tired.

The street shown above was never again as empty as it appears there. We were in the Marais, about two blocks from the St. Paul Metro station and two blocks in the other direction from the famous falafel place. The view was fantastic for people viewing as there was a steady stream of Parisians, tourists with maps looking around confusedly, bicycles, scooters, adorably tiny cars and lots and lots of people. I adored walking the streets in Paris as there are far more pedestrians than cars and you were able to wander in relative peace and gaze around.

That said, there were far more people than I expected. When I told people we were headed there in February the most common thing said was “well, it might be rainy but at least it will be empty!”. On Saturday and Sunday it was difficult to press through the streets to get home, and on any given day there was an overwhelming (watch-your-purse) amount of people about. I cannot imagine it in high season, it must be a nightmare.

There was a moment this first afternoon when my traveling companions went off to nap and I laid down on the (fabulous, huge, white, leather) couch with the windows propped open. All I could hear was the occasional scooter engine, soft conversation and lots and lots of muted footfalls. It was magical and not a sound I’m likely to hear in the US.

More views of the fabulous apartment (it was actually difficult to leave it some days):

old floor boards, exposed ceiling beams

The original floor boards were charming, but very creaky and loud, and so loose you could pinch your feet if you walked around barefoot. It was hard to get up for a glass of water at night without waking everybody up.

a kitchen far nicer than my own

The kitchen was larger and better appointed than my own. It had a six burner stove! And, as far as I could tell from warming up my first Pain au Chocolat, the oven had never, ever been used.

the WC painted a deep red

The WC was painted entirely in a glossy red and was very dramatic.

We rented an apartment through Haven In Paris, which was recommended to me by Rockin’ Poncho (thank you!) and whom I wouldn’t hesitate in the least to use again. They took very good care of us. The apartment was $$$ but split between two couples, and with an unexpected off season discount, we were able to fit it into our collective budget. The apartment had everything we needed including, and this was so, so nice, a Mac laptop to use.

Fun fact: The French pronounce wi-fi as “wee fee”.

After unpacking and giving in to a brief nap we roused ourselves and ventured out to pick up some pastries for breakfast and have our first meal in France. Notice the little pool of fabulous butter in the middle of my potatoes here, I will always do this in the future:

chicken and potatoes, in FRANCE!

Scott is a bit more adventurous than me and ordered the duck confit, which was delicious. And then we had creme brulee, it was, of course, amazing and so satisfying to crack with the spoon:

creme brulee shortly before being cracked

All of the waiters we encountered were friendly, or at least patient, with our little bit of French. We took to heart the advice to not ignore greeting when you enter a restaurant or shop, at least attempt to ask if somebody speaks English in French to show that you are trying (!), and be kind. Our traveling companions actually witnessed an ugly American moment where somebody at a different table was asking, loudly and slowly, for RED WINE which at which point their server gave up and walked away to let somebody else deal with them.

After dinner we went home along a different street and stumbled across the Muji store, which became something like another traveling companion on this trip.

mountains from the plane

Obligatory picture of mountains as seen from the plane.

The stuff I learned the hard way

Flights and travel tips: International flights aren’t nearly as bad as the one I experienced years back. I did a college summer semester in Italy and the flight to and from were so long, cramped and horrendously boring I swore off long plane rides for good length of time. (The trip to Italy was not so great, but I cannot blame Italians for cringing a bit when a group of 30 American college students walks into their tiny village.)

USB power port on the plain, swoon

This USB power port in the seatback? It was as precious as diamonds to me for those 10 hours on planes.

This time I was over prepared for the flight, and consulted the wisdom of several regular long haul fliers. My necessities included and iPhone loaded with movies and a back up battery, noise canceling headphones (so important), a big drapey sweater that acted like a blanket, a borrowed Nintendo DS, yummy sandwiches and snacks (thank you Columbia City Bakery for our wrapped and ready to go sandwiches, especially the ham and cornichon butter), shoes that slipped off easily (for on plane comfort moreso than for getting through security), hand sanitizer, underseat luggage sturdy enough to prop my feet on (short legs + tall seats makes for 10 very uncomfortable hours), eye shades and earplugs, comfortable clothing (I skipped soft pants and went for a jersey dress and leggings). I also brought two travel pillows (I know, I know) and found that I loved the Thermarest compressible travel pillow a lot (also good for lumbar support) but sadly the Bucky Pillow didn’t prop up my sleepy head as well as I’d hoped.

Even if I hadn’t been able to bring movies with me, each of our seats had a screen from which you could choose from about 10 movies or television shows (most were American, some were from the UK, and there was on Icelandic TV show — we were traveling Icelandair). You could also look up flight stats, see a global map, learn about Iceland, and I think listen to music. People have been telling me this is pretty standard for long flights so I really didn’t need to freak out before hand as much as I did. I did try to find the model of plane we’d be in beforehand but there was no information on it, just a vague note that said their fleet was being updated but we might not be on a newer plane. Thus, freak out.

I also packed my coat, a change of clothes, my boots (bulky but I didn’t want to let them out of my sight), enough small toiletries to get me through a few days in case my luggage was lost (I plan for bad luck) and my electronics (camera, battery chargers, headphone splitters, USB memory sticks).

I paid close attention to Mighty Girl’s packing master list and follow up answers. Also see LJC’s tips on what she brings with her when she travels.

Thing I wish I’d done differently: gotten a new carry on bag. Last year I bought a regulation sized wheeled bag only to find that it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of me if I’m sitting in an aisle seat, as the supports there give you a narrower area to use. On the flights this time I didn’t have to worry about it as I’d chosen window seats, but had our seats been shuffled around I would have been sad to have to get into the overhead luggage compartments every time I wanted to get into my bag.

Charles de Gaulle airport connecting walkways, craziness

The habitrail-like moving sidewalk system at Charles de Gaulle airport was crazymaking.

Arriving in Paris: Be aware that it’s a 45 minute ride from the airport to the city so if you’re terribly hungry or thirsty do grab something from the airport. We hired a driver (as we were arriving 4:30 am our time it seemed like a good idea to hire somebody to take care of us) and after we’d piled into the van and were off he told us how long it would be. Then he offered us juice and nearly swerved into another lane and came to a near stop on the highway reaching into a storage compartment to get out cans. Still, I was very grateful to have that juice.

Money exchange, or just money getting: Thing I worried about but turned out to not be a big deal: money exchange. I brought a wad of cash (drama surrounding the wad of cash happened at the end of the trip, stay tuned) but it was actually cheaper to find an ATM and get out a bunch at a time, our bank charged $5 for the privilege and we only needed to do this twice. Otherwise most places took our credit cards, with the exception of automated ticket dispensers at the unmanned Metro stations, where having cash was necessary. European cards have a chip and pin system, and some of the automatic machines cannot accept US cards without a person there to override the step. Very good to know this.

Do phone all your banks and credit card numbers to let them know you’ll be traveling so that they don’t put a hold on your account. They’ll often give you an international number just in case you need it, and tell you which bank ATMs you can use for the lowest fee.

update: Nazila notes in the comments (thanks Nazila!) that cards will carry an extra percentage per purchase, so is it good to use cash if you want to avoid those fees. (Yikes, wish I’d known that earlier, though I should have guessed.)

Bolognese flavored Lays potato chips

The first thing I took a picture of once we arrives in Paris? These chips at the airport. I have many more pictures of interestingly flavored chips to follow.

Power converters and plug adapters: Another thing I worried about but turned out to not be a big deal: power converters. This is one of those things which I suspect is so basic and known that it’s actually hard to Google it and get a straight answer. Or maybe it was just me. There are two parts to being able to use electrical devices in places with differently shaped plugs, one is the adapters (the small things that simply turn your US (two flat prong plug) into a European (two round prong) or UK (three flat prong) plug). And the heavy, sort of bulky power converter boxes that will keep your appliances from being fried by the 220 or 230V power (whereas we use 120V in the US). Turns out? All of my electrical stuff could already handle up to 230V power, including the little flat iron for my hair. I didn’t need a power converter at all, just two plug adapters. If you look for the electrical information on your stuff you should see something like “Input: 100V-230V”. Additional thing I learned: the UK used to use 240V, but most all places now have 230V. I actually found such conflicting and/or old information on this that I wrote to Laura to ask. She was also a bit confused by all the information out there. But none of my battery rechargers fried while we were there.

We borrowed plug adapters from a friend, but on our travels found these convertable plug adapters with a USB charger, as well as this one at Muji which I almost bought just because it seemed so darn handy.

Jetlag: Our party attempted to stay awake, for the most part, until we arrived in Paris and it was a reasonable bed time. I took a fitful two hour nap on the plane (child behind me was using the seat back as a punching bag maybe?), and a one hour nap after we’d settled into the apartment before forcing ourselves out for a 9 p.m. dinner. The person who slept through dinner that night had a harder time adjusting in the next few days. The next night we found that venturing out instead of chilling at the apartment help keep us awake until a normal bedtime approached.

Next up: Day Two big impressive monuments, unexpected meetings, needing to pee.

· comments [43] · 03-3-2010 · categories:travel ·

43 responses so far ↓

  • 1 thewatergirl // Mar 3, 2010 at 11:23 am

    The thing I miss most about Europe are Paprika flavored pringles. Well, maybe not really. But they’re pretty high up there.

  • 2 Kate // Mar 3, 2010 at 11:30 am

    “The origianal floor boards” <– lol, origi-anal floor boards?

    Sorry for being picky, just thought it was a funny typo. The pictures look beautiful!

  • 3 megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Kate – Oh geez. I even spell checked this time. Thanks for alerting me.

  • 4 Megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Hi! I’m headed to Europe soon and I was wondering if you used your iphone while you were there? I’ve read nightmare stories online about crazy high bills, to the point where many people simply recommend that you don’t bring one at all.

    Did you use your iphone besides watching movies on the plane?

  • 5 Melissa // Mar 3, 2010 at 11:58 am

    You have NO idea how excited I am to hear all about your trip. I’m going to France, in September, on a solo trip – my first true international trip as well. I’ll be spending a week in Paris and a week traveling in the south of France. I will be excitedly reading of your adventure in Paris and making notes for my own trip!

  • 6 Jennifer // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    How funny! I just took my first overseas trip to France a couple months ago, and lo and behold, the very first thing in my camera: Emmental Swiss flavored cheetos, why don’t we have these exotic flavors in the US! They’re delicious!
    Also – I highly recommend renting a car and driving around in the countryside if you have time, some of my favorite memories and pictures are of the scenery on those tiny one lane roads :)

  • 7 Evangeline // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Sounds like you had a great time. Great to see pictures. But tell me – how were your boots? I have been thinking about you and your new boots all week wondering how you got on with them! Is it mad to think about people you don’t know??

  • 8 megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Megan – Yes we did use our phones, but sparingly. After researching it we decided that the best option was to pre-pay for a chunk of both voice and data roaming. You can keep track of your usage under Settings – General – Usage. Right when we arrived I reset that number so I could keep track of what we’d used. You can also get the international number from AT&T and phone them up to add data roaming mid-trip if you find you really need it. They add it to your bill.

    Very important, whether you prepay or not, is to turn off Data Roaming, this is one of the things that gets people in trouble. Settings – General – Network – Data Roaming on/off switch. If you do need to use your phone to check a map/IMs or the internet go in and turn that on just for the period of time you’ll be using it. If I needed a map or an address, I often took a screenshot, then turned off Data Roaming again.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: The pre-paid voice and/or data package is only good for your monthly billing cycle, not the actual month. So, while we paid for 20 MB of data roaming usage, our trip and our billing cycle overlapped in such a way that meant we could really only use up 10 MB. update: Jennifer in SF reports in this comment: “FYI – You can get the data international data package backdated to the start of your billing cycle, and thus get the full 20mb. Just don’t forget to call and have it taken off after your trip before it gets added to next month’s bill (not that that happened to me or anything!).” Thanks Jennifer!

    For us the pre-paid stuff was useful, we did need it a few times and overall prepaying probably worked in our favor. But you can get by without it. One of the things we found out were GPS aware offline maps. Even though your phone isn’t on a network, it still knows where you are. The Lonely Planet Paris map used this feature and there are standalone GPS aware maps you can buy for a few dollars (some we found weren’t high enough resolution to be worth it). Depending on where you’re headed you might find them. Paris also has an offline Metro and RATP map that is free and so helpful.

    Another option suggested to use was to buy chunks of wi-fi time from Orange Wireless and use them at any of the cafes that offer it — essentially you buy an hour or so and they give you a login. We had wi-fi at our apartment and that was all we needed, we researched before we left for the day.

    There are lots of internet cafes with computers, at least in Paris, that can be useful and cheap.

    One note, on the occasion when we did use our data roaming we found that opening up Twitter to pull down an update used a LOT of data, more than you’d expect. We think it was all the little people icons being loaded over and over.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • 9 megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Melissa – I hope to help out a lot! I’ll try to get all the stuff I learned as I work through each day.

  • 10 megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Evangeline – They were fantastic, kept me warm dry and comfortable. It’s one of the things I’m going to talk about (at length, I’m sure).

  • 11 Dona // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for this! I’m headed to Paris in June (13 weeks!) and you touched on all the things that are currently at the top of my stress list–money, power converters, and ordering food with rusty French. This is helpful! Please post more tips/advice if you are so inclined.

  • 12 Sarah // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    That apartment looks amazing! Can’t wait to see/read about the rest of your trip. Your tips so far have been great!

    We witnessed a similar “ugly American” incident when we were in Spain a year and a half ago. We were gettting breakfast in this tiny little cafe, and the American couple at the table next to us was trying to get the check. They just kept repeating “THE CHECK” and “THE BILL” over and over, more and more loudly. And when someone figured it out and brought them the check, they kept trying to instruct the employee that “In America we call that the check.” It was so obnoxious.

  • 13 megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Dona – It’s going to be lovely then. I’ll be adding all the tips I can think of as I work through the pictures — we were there for ten days, three spent in the UK — so there is more to come.

  • 14 Sarah // Mar 3, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I’m so glad you had a good time! DH and I went in Oct. 2007 for 5 days and it was a slice of heaven. We encountered similar issues — we bought adapters at home but not converters, and had to rush out and get them when we arrived; our limited French saved us from any ugly American experiences thankfully and we found everyone delightful; the sounds of Paris were so beautiful I wanted to bottle it; and the flights were not nearly as bad as I imagined. Oh and those tubes at the airport are like torture after you’ve flown all that way — I wanted light and beauty, not endless tubes to nowheresville. And the only place our cards didn’t work were the Veolib machines to rent the bikes. Huge bummer but thankfully the only place we encountered trouble with money.

    Can’t wait to read the rest.

  • 15 Megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Thank you! Your advice on the iphone is invaluable!

  • 16 Marty // Mar 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Hurray for trips!

    I took my iPhone to Europe last summer. I couldn’t afford the international data rates, so I simply removed my SIM card and left it at home. That way, I didn’t have to worry about accidentally turning Data Roaming on.

    I was able to listen to music, watch movies, and access the internet wherever there was WiFi (love the French pronunciation, btw!). I found free wireless at most airports and train stations.

    Can’t wait for your next post!

  • 17 kelly // Mar 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Yay, I love Paris! We spent a week at the Marriott Champs Elysee (points!) and wished we had been in a quieter neighborhood. I was researching hotels in the Marais for a future trip (not this month after all, but sometime this year) and will need to note your apartment! Thanks for your comments.

  • 18 Megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    This might sound stupid, but I do have one more question (I’m really nervous about the iphone) – if you’re using wi-fi and data roaming is off, AT&T isn’t charging anything extra, right? Because you’re not on its network?

  • 19 Susan // Mar 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I have been to Paris twice and had amazing trips both times. I stayed at the Marriott Champs Elysee and the Marriott Place Vendome (both times on points). Next time we go, we want to stay in a more local-french-hotel. That said, the concierge both times were invaluable. I found the people to be actually quite warm…much the opposite of their misleading reputation. The food was absolutely amazing (loved eating outside everyday). Paris is like walking around in a beautiful museum, there really is no place like it in the world. Like you, we always tried to speak as much French as possible, greeted store clerks every time we entered & exited shops, and really tried to embrace their culture as much as possible…and that effort makes all the difference. Can’t wait to hear more on your trip!

  • 20 Jessi // Mar 3, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Yay! I loved hearing a little bit about your trip. Gave me the travel bug!

  • 21 nazila // Mar 3, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Megan – I stopped using my credit cards while traveling because I can’t handle the 3% Foreign transaction charges that tacked on with every purchase. Then again, I don’t pay anything for ATM withdrawals with WF, so it may be an even exchange for us. We use cash for nearly everything now. I love coming home to fewer bills.

    The apartment looks great! Glad you had a good trip and I hope you return soon.

    nazila

  • 22 nazila // Mar 3, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Oh yeah, one more thing. Skype on your iphone is a lovely thing. I preloaded my phone with 10 bucks at the end of January, have been to London and Paris twice since then and still have five dollars in credit. I never turned on my data plan and very happy my hotel had free wi fi. The skype was key to reconfirm restaurant reservations while traveling.

  • 23 Megan // Mar 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    nazila, can I email you about the iphone skype?

  • 24 Katherine // Mar 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    One note on flying to Europe- use an European air carrier. The service is so much lovelier! I recently went to Copenhagen. Flew there on Air France, my flight took off at 9:50 pm and I was exhausted so slept the whole way. This was helped by the sleep kit I was given that included an eyecover that kept me sleeping in the dark. I know I slept through delicious treats but luckily my flight back on KLM where I was feed 5 times (two meals and three snacks), watched several movies (most of which I can’t remember much of as I was rather tired on the plane but also restless due to the reasons for the trip, not the comfort of the plan.) I had friends fly back on a domestic flight and they did not enjoy it.

  • 25 sierra // Mar 3, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    can’t wait to read about the rest of your trip!

  • 26 WanderChow // Mar 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Rad post! And thanks for the other links as well.

  • 27 nazila // Mar 3, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Megan, please do.

  • 28 jo-anne // Mar 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I’m headed to Paris on April 20th and can be a bit of a worrier! Your posts will be so wonderful to read! Thanks for including such great information – you’re wonderful!

  • 29 Tina H // Mar 3, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I giggled to my husband that your posts always make things seem so appealing when it never even occurred to me to want to do them before… get married in Vegas, nahhh…. but wait, look how fun notmartha made it! vacation in Paris, oh we must do that now!!!!

  • 30 laura // Mar 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    lovely post!

    However I just had to say this…
    you think 10 hours is a long flight?! Try 24 hours. Being in Australia, this is the number of hours it takes to get to London. Yep, it’s pretty bad. :P

  • 31 Roxi // Mar 3, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    This is a perfect post, I’m going to Paris next week! I can’t wait to see more of your tips and your experiences in Paris :)

  • 32 Meredith // Mar 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Ah, Paris! When I first got there I remember having a heck of a time trying to navigate! Of course I was staying outside of the city, so that probably had something to do with it! As for the locals, they only ever treated us extremely nicely (totally denounced the “snotty Parisian” stereotype).

    As for electronic conversions, I feel your confusion! When I was in Europe, I managed to blow circuits twice (once in Belgium, one in Germany) before I realized I needed a power converted as well as a plug converter. And then, last December when I was traveling to South Korea, it seemed nowhere could tell me the correct plug adapter I’d need! As it turns out, it’s the same one they use in Germany. Go figure.

    Can’t wait to see more from your trip!

  • 33 Elana // Mar 4, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Lol, I have the same stove and oven! I HATE LOATHE WANT TO KILL that thing.

    Glad you had fun tho. It’s hard being an American over here when there are ugly American incidents. I have no problem pointing out to the UAs that that is what they are being…did it once in a shop in town and boy were they embarrassed once they realized it.

  • 34 Jennifer // Mar 4, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I actually bought a european power cord for my computer. If anyone is going for an extended amount of time I would recommend that route :)

  • 35 Monique // Mar 4, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Even after being in France and Italy..I still don’t get the converters..all BUT my Babyliss pro worked..a friend lent me his converter and it worked..mine didn’t…..thank goodness his did.:)

    Thanks so much for all this info..Great pics too..I love seeing different foods in different countries~

  • 36 Erica // Mar 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Hi there. I discovered your blog today thanks to the great things you are saying about Haven in Paris and the rue des Rosiers apartment. I am so glad you enjoyed it and hope that you will make it back again. I love hearing about client adventures! Thanks for sharing.

  • 37 Danielle // Mar 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

    thanks for sharing! I’ve been to Paris twice now and it’s my absolute favorite European city. soo beautiful!

  • 38 Maggie // Mar 5, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Wow! We are so glad you had a great time in Paris, and even more delighted that you loved your apartment. We love Rosier as well. Thank you for documenting such a fun trip!

    Maggie
    Haven in Paris

  • 39 pozzynette // Mar 6, 2010 at 7:08 am

    I live near Paris and it’s really fun to read you and your travel experience

  • 40 He hated this trip… « // Mar 10, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    [...] Look who else went to Paris the same week we did and she booked through Haven In [...]

  • 41 Karen // Mar 14, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Thanks for the flight to Paris this morning.
    The return to Burbank was a little too quick.
    I have to go wipe someone’s nose now.

  • 42 Nancy // Mar 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Megan. I have enjoyed your Paris/London story very much. I’ve been to Paris twice, first time in 1999 and second in 2008, so this has made me very nostalgic. I don’t know about you, but I have to go back, soon! When I do go back, I will take your advice and use the apartment service, Haven in Paris. I think it would be better to rent an apartment than a hotel room. It’s funny that you mention the string men at Sacre Coeur. We ran into them in 2008 and had no idea who they were, but we actually let them tie the strings around our wrists and gave them a little bit of money. They seemed harmless and we certainly kept an eye on our bags the whole time. I did not keep my string, and removed it a short time later where a waitress remarked on it, so I gave it to her. My sister and daughter kept theirs for the whole trip. I also didn’t know that my subway ticket would have paid for the funicular, but you learn something new every day, eh? Anyway, great job on the story, and I hope you can get back there some day too.

  • 43 Marthe // Jul 23, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Came across your blog while perusing the Internet for fun things to do during my next visit to Paris, which is one of my favorite cities. Really enjoyed reading this post!

    ‘Fun fact: The French pronounce wi-fi as “wee fee”.’ -> My mom also pronounces wi-fi as “wee fee”, no matter how many times I tell her it’s pronounced ‘wai fai’. (We’re Dutch)

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