In less than a week, we will be on a non-stop flight to London, then take a short flight to Paris. Yes, Paris.
I’ve been many places before — many — but think I’ve been saving France in general for when my husband and I could go alone. We’ve enjoyed trips to England and Wales with our youngest, then another fabulous road trip there with his parents. We’ve also traveled through Italy with one of my older sons, but we’ve never been with each other — alone.
A couple of years ago just as we were embracing the very real and daunting empty nest syndrome, we flew to New England and took a road trip to enjoy the Fall leaves and a variety of excellent restaurants from New Hampshire to Maine and Vermont. I guess you might say we got our feet wet with that trip, going it alone.
It’s not like we’ve never traveled alone before, but most often the traveling has been due to work, or a quick get away and not the involved two week plane train automobile type of travel we’re prone to. And I’m not sure about how that happened, but might suggest it’s a bit of my worrying about the mister’s wanting to do and see everything combined with my obsessive planning tendencies.
I like to think those tendencies have kept us from less than savory situations when we travel. Yes, I suppose I like the idea of being spontaneous as long as it’s planned. As much as I don’t mind a surprise, I don’t want one thousands of miles from home and without the wherewithal to appropriately respond to it. How sad is that?
Regardless, please know I’ve left room in our itinerary for surprises (I can’t help myself) — the kind we happen upon when we least expect it (how surprising!) walking along a street and, well, you fill in the blank. If whatever we find is fabulous, then the itinerary is poof — as long as an already purchased ticket isn’t involved.
Have you ever thought of traveling somewhere that it seems everyone has been before you finally go? Paris is a city I’ve seen throughout my life in classic films, read about in books, appreciated in art, in advertising, and wistfully wondered about when others I know have been. I think I’ve put the idea of visiting Paris on a shelf for many years, just waiting. And now the time is here.
Because I believe my ignorance could dim the brilliance of our time there, I have been carried away with all things Paris. I’ve read fiction (ooh-la-la), non-fiction, travel guides, blogs — everything. And all I really want is to wander the streets and take photos. Sit at cafe tables watching people pass by. Soak in all that is different.
I love museums, but honestly, they’re not always high on my list of things to do when I travel because I can see the works of art in high resolution on my Mac. I can’t do that when it comes to the streets of a city bustling with traffic and people, weather factored in for good measure.
We recently went to Virginia with my mother and brother for a niece’s college graduation. At some point, my mother, who hasn’t been on a plane in more than five years and has had some angst about flying told me about the time we flew to Spain. It was late in 1963 and my step-father had traveled ahead of us. My mother would be traveling with three small children on a very long flight that would conclude in spending her life for several years in a foreign country.
I remember the flight, but I don’t remember sensing any of my mother’s anxiety. When I asked her about it last weekend, she mentioned that it may have been the first time she’d been on a flight anywhere. I had to imagine it since I’ve had three children and only taken one on a flight as an infant — and a short one at that. Yes, I can imagine I would have much to worry about if I’d been in her shoes instead of enjoying the flight sans movies, iPhones, iPads, or any electronic device to keep children occupied.
Clearly, I’m wandering with my thoughts. It’s a challenge not to wander when I think of things like this. Memories never leave me.
If you’re interested, I’ll share a few of the things I’ve found while I’ve been preparing for our trip — which includes Germany, by the way. Someone asked, “Why, after Paris?” and I’m happy to say it’s because my husband wanted to see Bavaria and all of the tiny, old towns near the Alps — and this castle. Since I began researching, I’ve also added a ride up the peak of this mountain (if it’s clear), and a hike through this gorge near the Austrian border to our list of things to do beyond enjoying the jaw droppingly beautiful countryside.
When we started talking about this trip years ago, we thought we’d visit three cities in Europe to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary: London, Paris, and Venice — something like that. But we’ve been to London twice, and we’ve been to Rome and Florence. Living in Spain when I was growing up somehow rules that out of the picture, but I’m not always sure why. The final decision is made based on how we will get from one place to another more than anything else — and just how long that will take.
Originally, we began sometime before last December with a list of 15 cities to research. It was more challenging than we thought it would be since we ruled out a couple of continents (Asia and Africa) and we felt our lists were very predictable. But we narrowed them down to cities we’d both included: Paris, Venice, and that’s where we split. He wanted to go to Munich and I wanted to go to Prague.
When it comes to the planning, ultimately the transportation from one place to another is what helps make the decision. Once I’d begun to look at the travel time and cost between Paris, Venice, and Munich (Prague was put on a back burner) we quickly decided two cities would be enough.
Or so I thought.
I’m a compulsive planner so stretched Munich into a jaunt around the southern part of Germany near the Bavarian Alps. This would be where the automobile comes in. We drove extensively both times we were in England, so this seemed easy in comparison if anything because driving on the opposite of the road wouldn’t be a factor. But there is the autobahn…
Here’s our two-week itinerary:
- 7 nights in Paris and a rooftop apartment in Montmartre near Sacre Coeur
- a TGV ride to Munich via Mannheim
- 3 nights in Munich
- a drive to Fussen near the Bavarian Alps where we’ll be for 3 nights
- a drive to Strassbourg where we’ll stay for 1 night
- a TGV ride back to Paris
- 1 final night in Paris at a hotel in the Saint-Germaine de Pres arrondissement on the left bank
And here is what I’ve found helpful as I’ve planned this trip:
- “Mxsmanic” on YouTube has a huge number of Paris walks recorded. They’re a pleasure to watch because he simply walks and shoots the video. There’s no narrative or music and I’ve been able to get the best sense of what being in Paris is like — minus tourists. He’s taken some at night, in different seasons — there’s a good variety. Some are as long as 30 minutes, like my favorite, “Montmartre, Paris…Off the Tourist Track.”
- Perfectly Paris is the company I have used to book our apartment. Because I enjoy seeing as much as a local might depending on where we’re traveling, this company seemed perfect. After looking at dozens of apartments available and the companies advertising them, I realized that if I wanted to see rooftops and chimney pots when I looked out the window and walk in the older streets to find a local boulangerie or cafe, then Montmartre was perfect and because Perfectly Paris specializes in Montmartre properties, the decision was made. The information provided has been excellent and thorough as well as easily accessible along the way through an app, emails, and their website. They also provide concierge services which have been helpful for savings on things to see and do in Paris that are out of the ordinary. I’ll have more to say about this when we return.
- David Lebovitz A favorite for years, not only do I enjoy his blog, but have recently read his book, The Sweet Life in Paris which is not only helpful, but hilarious. His shared experience moving to and living in Paris is priceless, as are the recipes he includes along the way. His piece on “Where to Find a Good Cup of Coffee in Paris” is my favorite.
- Secrets of Paris Lots of good info on Paris — tours, articles, food, you name it. There’s a newsletter you can sign up for.
- Love in the City of Lights A personal blog written by a young woman who relocated to Paris a few years ago. It’s a pleasant read in the morning with my cup of coffee.
- My Beautiful Paris has all kinds of information with photos of what to see and do, including general travel tips. It’s a fun read.
- Matt Barrett’s Travel Guide to Montmartre was fabulous. Helpful and entertaining — the best combo.
- The Hip Paris Blog We’re anything but hip, but that didn’t stop me from using this great website to its fullest. Its lively tone makes it fun to read and pieces like “Living Like a Local: How to Spend Sunday in Paris” kept me interested and taking more notes than we can possibly use on our trip. Each piece has a variety of links that make navigating a particular topic easy.
- Paris in Four Months is full of beautiful photos primarily of Paris. It’s visual dessert on any day for me, but has helped me think of photos I might shoot. No words — just great photography of perfect scenes. She has me thinking Corsica should be on our next destination list.
I could keep listing, but this is enough for starters.
For travel planning in general:
- “19 Web Sites for Travel Savings 2012″ from the NYTimes includes great resources if you’re looking for deals for flights, vacation rentals, etc.
- Skyscanner I found this site earlier this year and really like it. It compares flights from quite a few places and differently than many of the other flight comparison sites.
- Tablet. has a great selection of travel guides as well as information about restaurants, hotels, and sights, including shopping for those interested.
- Conde Nast Traveler is always interesting with articles for all kinds of travelers and trips — as well as pieces on how to take better vacation photos with your iPhone. Even if you’re not planning a trip, it’s great for Armchair Travel.
- Concierge is another comprehensive site. I like its “What Not To Do In…” you fill in the city feature. It’s just their opinion and I measure it against others, but it helps to know when a vacation is only so long and we don’t want to waste time on something and miss out on another.
- Trip Advisor I rely upon this because of the reviews of hotels and the lists of top things to do in a city. I take it all with a grain of salt because the most popular hotel is not necessarily the best — but it’s a good resource.
- The Man in Seat Sixty-One was enormously helpful to my planning for this trip specifically for train travel. The train schedules always overwhelm me until I spend some time with them and his videos and thorough information, links, and handy tips were outstanding.
- DB Bahn is Germany’s train site. It’s schedules are very helpful for travel just about anywhere in Europe. I sent a question to them about a particular type of ticket and received an answer within a day! I think the most challenging thing about this site was realizing that if I was looking for tickets too far in advance, they just weren’t available yet and I didn’t figure that out at first. But you can get notification about when they’re available — important because some of the high speed trains are reservation only.
- Google Maps It may seem obvious for trip planning, but how many of the cool features have you used before? I peg all of the places we may be interested in seeing when we visit a place — especially the ones I’ve learned about that are new and/or unusual. When I can, I link a website to the peg so information is ready to review if we need it. You can make a map public or keep it private — important if you have specific hotels listed. You can also create routes and save them for future reference. Once I’ve created a map on my Mac, I can access it on my iPad and iPhone as well. Easy! It makes planning fun.
One of the things I learned planning this trip is that Google Maps Street View isn’t available in Germany outside of large cities so to get a sense of where we will be traveling in the countryside, I had to rely upon the photos people upload to Panramino. I love looking at photos so using Panoramio is usually a huge diversion and I am easily lost in what people have shared of the places they’ve visited. When you’re using Google Maps, in the upper right hand corner, there are two boxes. If you place your cursor over them, drop downs give you more options — like “photos.” If you click it, then photos people have uploaded show up.
Here’s a public map I recreated of our first trip to the UK in 2006:
View UK Trip in a larger map
And this one shows the route for our last road trip through England a few years ago:
View UK Vacation Route in a larger map
You get the idea.
And last, but definitely not least, Google Translate. I speak Spanish badly. One year of college German barely gets me by. But French? Unless it has something to do with cooking, not so much. We’ve been busy playing with Google Translate and starring handy phrases to practice and having a great time doing it.
Have fun picturing both of us standing outside of a shop in Bavaria where we understand very few people speak English, and practicing our German before we enter. It should be interesting.