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France just aint worth the hassle anymore

So this is going to be long winded. I'll likely end up posting my comments in the form of an initial post with replies to get around the post length limit. Skip this if you aren't in the mood for verbosity.

Synopsis: France today is a victim of its own success as a travel destination. As a result, its no longer worth visiting.

I've vacationed in France 3 times now. I'm in Chartres right now as I write this.

My first visit to France was in 1983 with my then girl friend and now wife. We were both about 26, inexperienced travelers with not a lot of money. It was my first international trip and visiting Paris was part of a 5 week tour through Europe that included 6 countries. Our pre-trip preparations consisted of airline tickets to London and back home from Athens, the purchase of 2 Eurailpass tickets and a single night's lodging for our first destination in London. No other reservations or plans were made ahead of time.

When we arrived at one of the Paris Gares (I don't recall which one) from the train ride from Calais after the boat across the English Channel, we had no hotel reservations. We were approached by an old man who offered us a stay in his apartment. Maurice was an odd character but his place turned out to be palatial. It was like staying in a museum, 300 year old antique furniture and paintings, he got us drunk on his voluminous collection of wine and liquor every night. The cost... $7.00 US a night. After 4 nights we said thanks and goodbye to Maurice and headed off the Amsterdam. But that experience put France on our list for future vacation destinations.

Our next visit to France was circa 1991. We were married by then and decided we'd dedicate 3 weeks of our limited vacation time to France since we had enjoyed Paris so much in 83. We traveled in May in order to avoid the high season. Again, limited plans were made ahead of time. I think we reserved our hotel for 3 nights in Paris ahead of time, which cost the grand sum of $30 a night, but the rest of the trip was only roughly planned. I had a list of destinations to visit, but we had no further reservations and traveled from city to city when we felt like it and got our hotels in each destination on our days of arrival. Always found a clean, affordable place to stay.

So now its 2018. I decided to take another trip to France. The wife wisely decided to skip this trip so I am traveling with my 24 year old daughter. I had purchased a copy of Rick's 2018 France guide and followed its advice to book as much ahead of time as possible. So I meticulously reserved every hotel and every train ride ahead of time from my home in California. I also selected a starting time of September 17 for our 23 day stay so as to avoid the high season.

The day of our flight from SFO to ORY I get an email from our hotel in Paris. They'd suffered a water leak and thus couldn't honor our prepaid reservation. So now I had about 6 hours to reserve some alternative for our 2 nights in Paris with less than 24 hours notice before I had to head to SFO. So I frantically searched the various hotel web sites. The best I could do was to find a squalid dump at the very end of one of the Paris metro lines for over $500.00 per night. So clearly, Rick was right, reserve well ahead of time, not that following that advice did me any good in Paris.

I haven't had any hotel issues since (no more water leaks), but what I hadn't anticipated was the hassle of going out to dinner. Apparently, in addition to reserving all of the hotels well ahead of time, its also necessary to do the same with every meal. In Beaune and now again in Chartres, the restaurants are all booked up by dinner time. And at other destinations, most of them have closed since its no longer the travel season. If I have to eat another of those buckwheat crepes for dinner I'm going to kill, cook and eat one of the local cats.

Continued...

Posted by
2000 posts

I go to Paris every year, and have eaten in some great restaurants. Except for 2 exceptional places where reservations were required, I never had to make a reservation for dinner, certainly not for every meal -- opting to eat in one of the fabulous cafes that do not require them. If I want a fancier place, I go at lunchtime.

Posted by
6484 posts

As a result, its no longer worth visiting.

I think that should read "in my opinion it's no longer worth visiting" because in my humble opinion based on fairly recent travel there, it's still very much worth visiting, including both Paris itself and other areas of France. I agree that the advance planning necessary these days is not the same as what it was like 27 or 35 years ago so you can't really judge a place by that. A whole lot has changed in the world in that amount of time, not just the cities of France, but that doesn't necessarily make them 'not worth the travel'.

So I frantically searched the various hotel web sites

I'm sure this was an inconvenience and I sympathize, but did you try some booking sites like booking.com or hotels.com, etc? They often have 'last minute' rates and while they may be higher than 'booked ahead' rates, they are at least a better option than a $500/nite hotel.

Regarding restaurants, I rarely go for the highly rated places that require reservations, I normally walk around looking for smaller bistros or cafes and read the posted menus to see if it looks okay. I have never had a problem finding decent dinner places that didn't require reservations, but then I'm not a big foodie and am easily satisfied. I've sometimes had to search a while but have never had to resort to crepes or galettes for dinner - unless I wanted one.

Posted by
15 posts

... Part two

The issue is, I think, that more people can afford to travel today than ever before so there's way more demand for travel services than in the past. But, the French don't seem to want to up their supply.

They stick to these limited meal times. Lunch strictly noon to 2:00, dinner no earlier than 7:00. They could serve far more diners if they'd just open up for dinner at 5:00, but no.

And they stick to these now outdated ideas about when the travel season begins and ends and close up shop as soon as they believe the travel season has ended. The result is limited hotel and now restaurant availability. What was before easy, carefree, spontaneous travel is now a scheduling nightmare, no matter what time if year you choose to travel. You have have everything nailed down ahead of time. I suppose the next thing will be websites to schedule my visits to the toilet.

Anyway, I'm glad I visited France in the good old days. It still is in many ways a very special place.

But I won't be coming back after this trip. There are plenty of other places to visit that I've enjoyed just as well and more and haven't had to deal with this artificial scarcity of resources.

Posted by
15 posts

Nancy, BG. I am reporting my experiences and stand by them. I checked bookings.com, hotels.com, all of them. That $500/night dump was the best I could find. There were no "last minute" deals.

And tonight in Chartres I am still hungry in my hotel after failing to find any place to eat w/o a reservation other than one of those ubiquitous crepe places. I tried calling an Indian/Pakistani place 1/2 mile from the cathedral. Sorry, we're full. Why would I lie about this?

I've traveled 30 countries in my time. China, Egypt, India, Kenya, most of the rest of Europe beyond France and plenty others. This trip has been the biggest hassle ever. You got a lot of nerve just blowing me off.

Posted by
5547 posts

I spent 7 weeks this May/June/July travelling down the west coast of France around the Royan/Oleron area and had no issue finding restaurant availability and we didn’t make any reservations in advance.

Posted by
276 posts

How sad to be so sad while on vacation. I feel bad for you. I trust you looked forward to this trip. But all things change. Longing for the past will always cause heartache. I’m sure all that bothers you about France will be found in other European countries, big cities and small villages alike. I hope you’ll be able to pull out of your funk and enjoy your trip.

I recently return from a trip and one of my travel mates said she hated Venice, that it was way too crowded and expensive. Said she was told it would cost her 50 euro to sit down for a cup of coffee so she stood for 6 hours. How different her impression would have been had she ventured from the crowds.

Posted by
1114 posts

LOL. Time for you to say Au revoir to France.

"They stick to these limited meal times. Lunch strictly noon to 2:00, dinner no earlier than 7:00. They could serve far more diners if they'd just open up for dinner at 5:00, but no."

This is interesting because I think it is a brilliant business move. Why stay open, pay staff, utilize utilities when no one is in your restaurant. Remember, their staff is paid a wage and thus do not expect tips. This is money well saved. Most European restaurants follow this schedule although I never had trouble finding a good restaurant open at 6pm. I have for the most part enjoyed larger meals at lunch, walked them off and ate lighter in the evening.

Many of these restaurants are not in business for tourists, but rather for their returning customers.

Posted by
2893 posts

I am appalled that the hotel with the leak did not find you alternate accommodations at no additional cost to you. I was on my way to SFO (literally, in the taxi) for a trip in November 2013 when my hotel called to say my room was not available but not to worry because they would find me an alternative by the time I landed. When I landed, I found a text on my phone telling me the name of the substitute place. Then when my room became available, it was a suite at no extra cost and the hotel sent someone to pick up and transfer my stuff while I was in Rouen for the day. One of the pluses with hotels is supposed to be some level of support in situations like this.
As to your other issues, I agree that France is a victim of its own success in that places are more crowded, etc but for me, it remains my favorite country to visit. But things have changed all over since my first trip to Europe in 1981 when I used a rail pass, had no reservations and had no wait to see the David in Florence. And to compound the issues, you visited during a very popular time in Paris. Maybe, you could check out some less well known visited destinations like Estonia, Slovenia, or Bulgaria. If you have not, hurry up and visit them now before they too get to be too crowded for you.

Posted by
276 posts

Treadwater we were in a small town in France last September and were hungry around 6ish so we landed ourselves in a little restaurant where the only people eating were the wait staff. One gentleman quickly jumped up and we were seated and handed menus. We told him we weren’t in a hurry but we were his sole attention. I’m sure his meal went cold. Around 8ish the place was getting busy no doubt filling with locals. Perhaps we were just lucky. I hope the OPs trip improves. Posts by the OP go back to 8/21. He/she really is not happy with France.

Posted by
5577 posts

Welcome to travel in 2018.

While I would take issue with some of your characterizations and perhaps would have made different choices - and do not share your conclusion - I can't take issue with the root complaint: that travel has become a huge (and growing) international business, and the demand in many (but not all) places is outstripping the supply, and the result is can be highly compromised experience. If it's any consolation, look at your recent experience as "the future good old days" because if you go back in 15 years, it's only going to be far, far worse.

I have not given up on France, nor have I given up on Paris - nor even on Mont St Michel, Cinque Terre or a hundred other places that are being loved to death by crowds. But I have adjusted my travel plans to assume that famous places are going to be horribly crowded at times (maybe all the time) and not terribly enjoyable. So I work harder to go places that are not swamped with hundreds of self-stick-waving tourists, and if I am planning to go to someplace that's too popular for its own good, I calibrate my expectations (and I get up at oh-dark-thirty).

Visiting Stonehenge a couple summers ago left me depressed and angry. But further up the road, Avebury charmed me, and guess what? Getting much, much further away from the international mega tourist circuit left me overjoyed in Scotland's Outer Hebrides and Orkney Island - the stone circles there were still magical and blissfuly free of bad crowds - I was able to shrug off what Stonehenge has become and enjoy the other, better places all the more.

There are still incredibly wonderful places around Europe and the world that are still crowd-free. My last few trips to Europe were lovely, magical, and delightful - free of crowds in most places I went, with manageable crowds in a few places. Finding, getting to, and enjoying those places just requires more effort than the average selfie-stick wielding tourist is going to make. If you invest that effort, you will be rewarded. If you just head to the most famous places, be prepared to share the experience.

There's plenty of France that isn't like what you described. No need to write off a whole country. Give yourself some time to let the recent experience mellow a bit and I think you will (eventually) agree.

Posted by
2018 posts

I am disagreeing with you and agreeing with those posters who state this is your own personal opinion, which of course, you are free to express! I just finished signing up my two oldest granddaughters and myself for the RS Paris tour and my own personal opinion is that I love visiting anywhere in France every chance I get.

Posted by
2829 posts

Because Internet access now is ubiquitous, it is also cheap for places to have reservation systems in place for everything. Imagine trying to sell timed tickets for a museum, worldwide, in 1983... just not feasible.

Posted by
191 posts

We were in France for just shy of 4 weeks July August. Apart from our first 2 nights in Paris (Hotel de Loire) we pre booked and pre planned nothing. We had no issues with accomodation or meals.
We booked some accom. the day before but walked up to some others.
We stayed in some amazing hotels.
We ate out most evenings and never once were told a restaurant was booked out.
Maybe all this pre planning and going to all the recommended places isn't the way to go.
For instance we hopped of the train in Strasbourg then caught a regional to Barr. We ended up staying in a lovely well priced hotel for 3 nights there. A great little town with heaps to do. No crowds. I guess everyone was in Colmar or Kayserberg or Riquewihr.
Similarly we hopped on a regional bus in Tours and went to the beautiful town of Loches. Stayed in a 15 th century hotel ate where ever we liked and wandered happily through wonderful sites at leisure.

Posted by
1217 posts

We stopped at the Creperie Trois Lys in Chartres and had the most delicious savory and sweet crepes. I'm not a big fan but the buckwheat slivered ham and cheese was delicious. Plus the old man who ran the place was such a sweetheart and after discovering we found him through Rick Steves had to run to the cash register and show us a letter and picture from Rick and a letter from another happy American. So don't discount the creperie.

Secondly, high season seems to extend through October nowadays. My parents went to Prague in October and could hardly move in the Old Town. It was so crowded and uncomfortable that they really didn't like the city. They have become victims of their own success.

Posted by
516 posts

Nothing puts the stink on a trip like having your accommodations thrown in the trash. It’s happened to me, ironically while traveling the “good old fashioned way” without doing much advance reservations. Certainly, times change and the magic of your previous visits are now ascribed into memory as in idealized whole. But perhaps you were kind of lucky back then too?

Anyway, the challenge now is to get out from under that cloud. Your plans are shot? Then change them. Get some different food, make a picnic lunch, eat nothing but assorted crepes from the street vendor. Hotels too expensive? Try Airbnb. That intimate, less expensive accommodation with a local you had years ago still exists, it’s just on the internet. I’ve been there, and it’s sucks but no one is going to turn this around for you. You’re going to have to shift your mental gears and find some pleasure in what you’re doing. Take it as a challenge to your travel survival skills. Hope it gets better!

Posted by
5577 posts

Good advice from @awrzesinski just above. Move on and make the best of things!

Posted by
2000 posts

Dear jharan,
I'm sorry you feel I was "blowing you off" in my response to you. I was somewhat taken aback when you said you could never eat in a restaurant without a reservation. I lived in France for a year recently (in Fontainbleau and Paris) and have spent a lot of time in Nice and never experienced any particular problem booking a hotel or finding a good place to eat in any season. I usually go to Paris for at least a couple of weeks every year. I admit I have not had dinner in Chartres, though I did have lunch there with no problem...
It's true that more people are traveling today, and demand is high and things have changed quite a bit from your earlier trips. You have every right to vent about your issues, (these type of postings always draw a lot of responses and are usually the most interesting threads!) but I hope you realize that there are seasoned France travelers who have not experienced the same problems as you. But there are many more places to go besides France -- I hope you find ones more to your liking.

Posted by
8404 posts

Actually, it is high season, very high: conventions, conferences, fairs, Fashion Week. That’s why you couldn’t find a room at a reasonable price for the quality and probably why the first hotel didn’t walk you, as they should have. September is the busiest month in Paris for accommodations.

Not being able to find a restaurant is awful. I know the howl of a hungry spouse, so I sympathize. But again something must be going on. Chartres does host conventions and it is Saturday night. I was in Chartres twice in the last two years about this time of year. Each time we had our choice of restaurants. Was there a 9 or 10 pm reservation available anywhere? Hope you have a huuuge lunch with wine tomorrow and laugh about this in the future. Oh, and you might want to be prepared ahead of time for Sunday night. A lot of restaurants close on Sunday night in the provinces, so plan ahead. There are several large brasseries in Chartres, or you can get what you’ll need at a market: bread, fruit, cheese, etc.

Yes, all of Europe has changed. First the Wall coming down increased tourism. These residents had no money the first years so they brought canned food and slept in their buses or cars, but they came eager to see the West.. Then Asia produced a middle class, and now watch out for the Boomers. They are retiring and planning to travel while they still have their health. Even my local organic farmers are getting passports. If you think it’s bad now....

Posted by
4258 posts

I am so sorry that your long anticipated trip with your daughter has not been what you looked forward to. We have been in Paris at this time of year and have found it manageable, but my husband and I are very "low key" travelers. In a hotel we want something small, with a clean bed and bathroom and some kind of Paris feel. Have you tried bistro/basserieres? We've never made reservations in Paris. In the Latin quarter, we really like the restaurant, St. Victor's. There is a nice outdoor area and the food and folks were nice. We ate at a lovely low-key restaurant in Chartres right next to the cathedral. I know it was earlier because it was our first day and we were jet lagged. In Beaune, we ate at the Hotel De France. While the hotel is modest (and we liked it for our needs) the restaurant is quite wonderful. It is a decent value and the food is quite good.

Posted by
16793 posts

Ah, Hotel de France. My introduction to andouillette. Tastes as good as it smells.

Posted by
8291 posts

Fell in love with Paris in 1960, when my family moved there. Go back often, and it is still as wonderful and magical as it ever was. Many things have improved and I’m always thrilled to visit and enjoy it all.

Posted by
4258 posts

@Sam, Yuck, tripe, not so much! We are going to Spain in a month and I've been working on learning some Spanish. I tell people that my main objective is to be able to order my favorite foods, wine and nothing with TRIPE. Ugg, had it in Normandy, by mistake. At Hotel De France, I had a delicious three course meal including bouef bourguignon and creme brule'. a bit cliche, yes, but very good.

Posted by
16793 posts

Wife had the bouef bourguignon. She tasted my andouilllette, spit it into her napkin and went to the bathroom to rinse her mouth out. Hey, I finished half of it.

Posted by
1324 posts

It is not just France, it is all of Europe. 15-20 years ago I traveled in Europe with no reservations. Now, I have all my hotel reservations made 4 to 5 months in advance. Not the way I like to travel, but that is the reality. Since I have my hotel reservations, I go ahead and make rail reservations and save some money.

As for restaurants, I very seldom make long term reservations. If I see a restaurant I want to go to dinner, that appears especially busy, I may stop in at noon and make a reservation or call them one day ahead. Other than that, I very seldom have had problems. There is one restaurant in Rome I never did make it to, on a recent trip, because they were booked days ahead.

Posted by
1759 posts

Hi j, sorry your trip isn't going as well as you hoped. Sites and restaurants should be less crowded outside of Paris. Honestly, I've never been to a place in France that required reservations, but enjoyed many very good meals at cafes and brasseries. Hope you were able to see the illuminations at Chartres Cathedral, we thought the light show was wonderful! Sounds like your trip is almost over, hope you can end it on a high note for your sake and for your daughter's.

Posted by
12887 posts

While it is true that certain restaurants don't open for dinner until 1900 hrs, so what, and I have come across them too, there are other restaurants open the entire day or at 1700 hrs. Those that don't open until 1900 hrs also include Chinese restaurants, not only those serving French cuisine.

My first trip to France was in the summer of 1973, a real green horn at 23 regarding traveling in France and Paris but my second trip to Europe. That 1973 trip was slated for five weeks covering 3 countries.

If your train got in from Calais, that was in Gare du Nord. My first time arriving at Nord was in the summer of 1987 at 11 pm, solo, with no hotel reservation made, and didn't even know where the hostel was. So, I stayed at 2 star hotel at Nord.

"(France) is no longer worth visiting." I give visitors the exact opposite advice. I tell them it is worth seeing and visiting. If it is not about health or money, then traveling to France is a matter of priorities and determination. No problems for me there. It is a lot easier, far more tourist friendly traveling nowadays in France than compared to the 1970s and '80s. If I were fluent in French, traveling in France would be downright easy, as it is in Germany when going out to little towns, places totally off the American and international tourists radar.

One reason for staying close to a train station, Gare de Lyon, or Est or Nord, is that you can always eat there. I was in Paris this past June and plan, if things work out, to be back in Paris at the latest by June or July of 2019.

As the song says, "The Last Time I Saw Paris "

Posted by
781 posts

In 25years of traveling to Europe and France I have always made Hotel reservations and once in town whether Paris or Arles I make a dinner Reservation off of a list that I compiled at home Prior to my travels and it has worked well for me.
It will never be 1983 so see what it Takes to enjoy your trip while trying not to change the local customs and don't go to Spain they Start dinner at 9:30 pm.
Mike

Posted by
6618 posts

September is not 'past season' -- it is the busiest month in Paris for hotels and most expensive. It is the hardest month to get a dinner reservation.

I always assume 'water leak' is hotel or landlord speak for 'we had a better offer.'

Posted by
522 posts

Eleven years ago after watching a RS program on Italy, and inspired by my 82 year old mother-in-law who had never been out of the country, I planned a trip for she, my wife and I to go to Italy. Using all the tools available on this web site we flew into Rome and out of Paris, with 12 days in between. I was struck with the situation the OP found himself in with his hotel as it was exactly what we faced. We had rented an apartment in the Oltrarno section of Florence for three nights (wanted four but couldn't find it) and three days before we were to leave and nine days before we would arrive in Florence I was advised that they apartment had a water pipe had broken and the apartment would not be available for us. Now this was the first international trip I'd ever planned and I started to panic, but then I remembered that someone on the Forum (then Traveler's Helpline) had said you could get help on ANYTHING here. The email arrived at 10:30 PM CDT and thirty minutes later I posted a message explaining my situation and asking for help finding new lodging. At 7:00 AM the next day I had received 29 replies from five countries with suggestions for me to do. One of them listed a real estate company they had used to rent an apartment there and their contact info. By the end of the day I had rented another two-bedroom apartment for virtually the same per night cost as the one I had lost. They had a five night minimum for the unit and I juggled our schedule to fit that. Although I'd wanted four nights the change allowed for two day trips out into the countryside and added unexpected value to our trip. My point to the OP is this....if you have a problem, use this site to ask for help, whether in planning a trip or when you find your self in trouble or have issues during your trip. Since by now you are probably back in California I hope you chose to spend the rest of your trip looking for the GOOD in France and now what you experienced prior to posting you message. I'm a golfer and have been taught not to think about my last shot but the next one. Since our first trip I have taken my wife and her mother on four others, including two weeks in Scotland/England and Normandy/Provence. Taking a lesson from golf, I tried to learn from each trip and to never let tomorrow be ruined by worrying about what happened yesterday.

Posted by
7602 posts

I also selected a starting time of September 17 for our 23 day stay so as to avoid the high season.

Sorry -- with a starting time of September 17, you're right SMACK in the very highest season, the most expensive because the most crowded, for hotels in Paris.

Posted by
12887 posts

In contrast to my experiences traveling in France and Paris in the 1970s and '80s, maybe even on the first trip in the '90s in 1992, I miss the coin lockers...gone.

There used to be coin lockers at Gare de l'Est and in train stations, as in German train stations, but no more, probably starting from the mid-1990s in France due to precautions against terrorism...quite understandable.

Now, the luggage has to be checked in, scanned, and "they" look after it until it's retrieved, if you don't want to leave it with the hotel after check-out. My two star hotel at Gare du Nord has always accommodated my luggage after check-out...another advantage of staying at the train station.

Posted by
12887 posts

True traveling in France and Paris in the 1970s and '80s, I never made reservations either, and especially not in Germany, be it with HI hostels or Pensionen. The reality is now different.

Posted by
1818 posts

I'm unclear why the French, or any other country; should have to start serving dinner at 5pm when it's barely past the end of their lunch time.
If you are hungry at 5pm generally, why would you not go to a supermarket, to buy something to tide you over until the French traditional dinner times?
I'm sorry you felt that France wasn't up to your usual standards.
Isn't that why we travel, to see the world through different eyes and ways of life?

Posted by
31471 posts

Sorry to hear about your travel problems. I suppose these things can happen in any country. Should you ever encounter a hotel issue like this in future, you could perhaps consider a Hostel for a night or two while you line up other accommodations. The facilities will be "limited" but at least you'll have a bed, at a considerably lower price than $500 / night. I normally always have a valid HI Hostels membership so can take advantage of that option if needed.

In terms of restaurants, I've never had a problem finding someplace to dine. I often spot something when I'm walking about and have found the small "mom & pop" operations are usually not filled to capacity. If necessary, there's always the ubiquitous *Mickey D's."

Posted by
2394 posts

In 1983, I loved going to college football games (Hook em Horns!) and rock concerts. Today, I would rather do laundry in prison than do either one.

I didn't make it to France until 2010 and look forward to Trip #4 next year.

My point is that maybe the OP has changed as much if not more than France.

Posted by
183 posts

Since my husband and I are planning a trip to France in 2019, of course this thread is of interest. And you always learn so much from reading all of the comments. So we are planning to arrive in Paris the last few days of August for 4 nights of a two week trip. We have not started making any reservations yet, I am in the planning stages. I found the comments about September being the most difficult month for hotel reservations very interesting, I had no idea. We expected things to still be very busy since we went to Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich at the same time frame last year, but we thought it would not be as busy due to not being the "high season". We will probably be staying in Paris from around August 29th through Sept. 2 before moving on to Geneva, Provence and Nice. To some of the posters who mentioned that September is a difficult month for hotel reservations, can you comment on whether this is early enough in September that all of these conventions etc., will not be in full gear yet? Thanks for letting me piggy back off of jharan's post!

Posted by
21068 posts

My only problem with meals in France last summer was the two restaurants in the far south that refused to let me sit indoors (the non-smoking area) at lunchtime. It was the outdoor (smoking) area or nothing. I walked. And I am still annoyed about it.

Posted by
8404 posts

@dpalmier53--You are good 8/29-9/2. We landed 8/30 this year and spent 100 euros a night at the Ibis Bastille, staying 2 nights until 9/2. On the other hand, we spent 200 euros for one night at the Ibis CDG on 9/19 before catching our flight back to the States. As the receptionist told a young couple looking for a place to stay that night: Sorry but every hotel at the airport is full.
In 2017, on a similar itinerary, we had the same experience in late August, early September.

Note: if you go to Frankfurt in October, you run into the Book Fair and other expositions, conferences, and fairs. This is another city where events can can make a difference in accommodations.

Posted by
3304 posts

It sounds like the crux of the OP's disappointment with France is because of his hotel debacle, and, yes, it was a debacle. That this debacle is keeping the OP from visiting France is his choice.

When my husband and I travel to a major French city, we never make reservations for dinner. We'll find a café or bistro and have a bite to eat. As for lunch, from all I'm reading in the Food Lover's Guide to Paris, a book recommended to me on this particular RS forum, there are many cafés throughout Paris that serve something to eat for lunch (or whatever you want to call it) during the day beyond 2pm. I'll be arriving in Paris in just over 3 weeks -- my husband a few days later.

We made prepaid reservations at a boutique hotel in the 6th arr and hopefully, there won't be a last-minute cancellation. But I guess there could be.

Sh*t happens and everything has perspective. For me specifically, when you survive cancer like I did, it's amazing how things that would have infuriated me before the diagnosis no longer bother me. In all fairness, a last minute cancellation of my reservation just might! LOL So you've got to make lemonade from those lemons.

Posted by
1118 posts

I lived in Chartres and never once made a reservation or was turned away at a restaurant.

Like the majority, I totally disagree with your post. Paris is perhaps the most amazing city in the world, but you can still find killer deals on hôtels and meals. But then again, many of us don't follow the tourist circuit and tend to follow Rick's backdoor model.
I was in Paris this last July and will be going ten days at Christmas . i managed to score a hotel for less than 1000€ for all ten nights...including new year's eve. It may not me in the 1st arrondissement but there is a metro two minutes away.

Vive la France!

Posted by
8404 posts

So important what you are saying, Continental. I do think he got particularly screwed by the hotel and thought the same as Janet that the leak may have been another person offering a lot of money for the room. On that date there were truly no rooms in Paris. Discussing this thread at lunch today, my husband and I decided we would have headed out of Paris: Dijon, Fontainebleau, Rouen, Reims. But it's not easy to make a change like that. IMO he was screwed but I also hope he reads your poignant words and puts this into perspective.

@Alexander-What do you think happened this particular Saturday night in Chartres?

Posted by
1118 posts

Bets, I am guessing that the OP only checked the restaurants surrounding Notre-Dame. Yhe only thing I could think if would be a pilgrimage/ festival...but I never encountered that.

Posted by
191 posts

I was able to find more than 300 inexpensive available Parisian accommodations for tomorrow within 15 minutes. Is it really booked out late September?
Restaurant booked out. Go to the supermarket and buy something to eat or the local cafe.

We rocked up in a busy seaside resort (on our way to a sweet village) the bloke in the harbourside restaurant rented us his moored boat as a b&b for the night. Free brekkie at his restaurant in the morning.
Think outside the box, look around, talk to the people around you. Somebody will usually give you a helping hand to find what you are looking for.

Posted by
8404 posts

Telling the OP that you found rooms for today, next month, next year is totally worthless. I was in Paris at the same week the OP was arriving and say his assessment of the situation on September 17thcorrect. It's bad enough he was screwed over by his reserved hotel, but then some people blame him, as well.
Who else has been in this situation? I have, in Vera Cruz on a Saturday night in 1977. My husband and I ended up in a leaky tent in a campground during a thunderstorm.

Posted by
12887 posts

I remember the first time I went to a restaurant in France thinking it would already be open for dinner since I had walked ca one mile to the place and got there ca five after seven, ie, I would arrive just in time. Wrong, no such luck.

The restaurant was still closed, not until 7:30 would it be open for dinner. . Did I go to another place or look for one? No, I just wandered around killing time, got back by 7:35. This was not in Paris but Metz in 2001. Good it should stay this way.

True...I totally agreed with the sentiment expressed above that everything is " perspective." As it pertains to France, if some incident wrecks/upsets/mars my plans or stay in Paris or elsewhere in France, should that deter me or present an obstacle from going again to France? Of course not.

Posted by
191 posts

Hey Bets I wasn't blaming the OP but showing that there are usually plenty of rooms in Paris.
Maybe September 17th was the perfect storm and Paris was booked out, I actually asked that question.
Quite possibly the OP didn't know where to search beyond the mainstream.
He is saying he doesn't think France is worth visiting based on an accommodation issue and problems getting a table at a restaurant.
It seems to me he is having a couple of disappointments and now having a bit of a sook about it.
Really!!

Posted by
12887 posts

If one is expecting to be at a hotel already reserved (or so you believe), you get there and there is no reservation for you, that exact situation admittedly has happened to me once in Paris...in August 1989, an unpleasant surprise. . I had told a friend of mine to set up the reservation at a 2 star hotel at Gare du Nord.

Somehow when I arrived on that reserved date, no such thing had been done, regardless of the friend's explanation or the negligence of the hotel, bottom line ...no reserved room which I had been banking on. More bad luck, the hotel itself was fully booked for that night.

On both sides of the street were small hotels, so I went across the street where another hotel had an available single.

Nowadays, if something like that were to occur, which I have never had, ie, a reservation screw-up, either booking the Pension or hotel directly by phone or through the hotel's website, or using booking.com, I would go to other hotels 2 or 3 star right at Gare du Nord, plus there are now two independent hostels, ca 30 mins from each other.

In Paris and London like with other cities in France and Germany, I have back-up hotels and B&Bs listed, plus hostels...depending on their location. In 1989 there were no hostels at Nord.

Posted by
1172 posts

As a non American, this post reeks of " this is how we do it in the US and therefore this is how it should be done everywhere'. the French are not interested in extending hours or seasons etc. They are not all driven by money or the need to make tourists happy. Some of us applaud that!

Posted by
279 posts

This original post seems like the travel equivalent of "get off my lawn" combined with a dash of "in my day..." Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
1767 posts

I got a kick out of your mentioning prices on your earlier trips. Inrevently reread my journal from my 1970 trip. I complained about the cost of a 60 cent taxi ride !

Posted by
1422 posts

So I frantically searched the various hotel web sites. The best I
could do was to find a squalid dump at the very end of one of the
Paris metro lines for over $500.00 per night.

The real lesson here is that when hotel web sites like booking.com tell you nothing is available at a hotel, you should ignore them and contact the hotel directly. Web sites like that get an allotment of rooms to rent and when it's gone the web site simply reports that nothing is available regardless of the actual availability. Twice I have been able to get a good room at a supposedly full hotel in this manner. And don't forget that many tourist offices still offer room-finding services!

Posted by
3621 posts

As a non American, this post reeks of " this is how we do it in the US and therefore this is how it should be done everywhere'.

I agree with you completely and I am an American.

Posted by
6871 posts

France today is a victim of its own success as a travel destination.
As a result, its no longer worth visiting.

This "thesis" is full of holes and self-righteous entitlement. Travel requires a certain sense of humility, patience, and resilience when things don't go exactly according to plan and expectations - it seems like you're all out of these ingredients.

Posted by
16793 posts

"Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded."
Still my favorite Berraism.

Posted by
12887 posts

There are numerous hotels at Gare du Nord, certainly not for a double if the price was $500 a night. If you don't like Nord, then go Gare de l'Est, more hotels there. I prefer Nord over Est. Est has a hotel right attached to the station in the same manner as the Sheraton at CDG. That Est hotel is part of the Kyriad chain but Nord's Kyriad is gone. If all else fails with room accommodations, Nord has two hostels as viable options located now at opposite ends of Rue de Dunkerque, one of which, the nicer one, is at the line between the 10th and 9th Arrond, ca a 20 mins walk back to Nord itself. There is always room even at peak season in June and July in the 10th. district.

Posted by
6484 posts

France today is a victim of its own success as a travel destination.

This statement or thesis is possibly correct and in some form may even be measurable and provable.

However this statement:

As a result, its no longer worth visiting

is one person's opinion, based on an extremely small sample of individual events and is not necessarily a consequence of the previous statement.

The OP is entitled to his opinion about the relative worthiness of a particular location, but stating it as an absolute conclusion and a directive to others is a bit presumptuous. For him it's obviously not worth the 'hassle'. As if traveling is ever a hassle - not in my book.

Posted by
12887 posts

It all boils down one's perception if energy wasted, hassle, crappola thrown (this also happens) at her/him, etc etc is worth it, however one defines it. That is also a relative factor. It relates to one's capability or desire for coping, tolerating, putting up with, grin and bearing it,...if it is all worth the effort. If one welcomes the crappola, hassle, glitches, etc, etc, then no problem. It would have to be absolutely life threatening if I went back by flying, obviously, injurious to my health, that would cause me to call it quits going to France. Going back to Europe means as pertaining to me inherently going back to France as a matter of course.

Posted by
1219 posts

"Skip this if you aren't in the mood for verbosity." - I did as you advised but it appears as though I'm the only one.

Posted by
691 posts

We are ending our fourth week driving around the hinterlands and tourist lands of France and training from Strasbourg to Paris for our final week. We rented AirBnBs almost exclusively and cooked most of our own meals. We were happy to try something cheap and unique off the street instead of at a restaurant. I think OP has a higher travel budget than we do. We've had two driving trips to France and frankly, I think things have truly gotten easier. Street signage and parking signs are very good. Most French speak at least a tiny bit of English and Google translate solves just about all communication problems. Personally, I come to France because I like the way that the French live. I don't want them to adopt our stressful American 24/7 habits. True, we missed some museums because they were closed on Mon or Tues. Many shops and restaurants are closed on Monday - like today - we didn't get to eat at one I was looking forward to. Oh, darn. We had to settle for a canal-side seat in Strasbourg at a Rick recommended restaurant near the Tannery...in the beautiful sun, with wine. Lately, I've been reading comments that there is too much reliance on catering to tourists and the locals feel like they are losing their lifestyle. They look at tourists with mixed blessings. I want to keep traveling, so I hope every country continues to maintain their own values and lifestyles. There are way too many Subways, Starbucks, and McDonald's around the world to suit my taste. I'd have a sour taste if my hotel had cancelled on me like it did for OP. They really should have been more helpful and it wouldn't hurt to let them know. Maybe they will give you a free week!

Posted by
428 posts

A tempest in a teapot.
You're not on this forum if you don't like travel and on this particular branch, travel to France.
So someone comes on and writes something provocative, which leads to discussions about the poster, his travails and his reactions. One might get the same result by titling a post "Why are the French so stupid?" or "French cooking is inedible."
It's clear that this is one person's dramatically overstated opinion. I was happy to see that the responses were reasonable. Most people tried to be helpful and were sympathetic beyond what the OP had any reason to expect. I didn't perceive even the slightest wavering in posters' intentions to continue visiting France.
The more people who agree with the OP, the fewer people there will be in the crowds when we return next summer.

Posted by
415 posts

To summarize, don’t go to Paris because I had a problem with my accommodations & I couldn’t get a dinner reservation.

Posted by
12887 posts

"...wavering in ...intentions to continue visiting France...." I wouldn't dare.

Posted by
2916 posts

We avoid these problems by not going to Paris anymore. Paris is beautiful, and I've been there many times, but I don't feel the need to visit again. So we almost always stay in rural France, and occasionally visit smaller cities are larger towns.

Posted by
8291 posts

“We avoid these problems by not going to Paris anymore.“

I’ve spent a lot of years in Paris from 1960 to 2018 and have never had “these problems”. For a hotel to cancel a reservation last minute is unfortunate but it is extremely rare and not unique to Paris. The rest of “these problems” are silly. If a person doesn’t want to go to Paris, fine, but don’t blame Paris for what can happen anywhere.

I agree with jehb2:
“To summarize, don’t go to Paris because I had a problem with my accommodations & I couldn’t get a dinner reservation.”

Posted by
66 posts

jharan, sorry your trip isn't going as planned. I just returned from my first trip to France and I had a wonderful time! I don't have a prior trip to compare it to, so if France has changed since the early 1980's I wouldn't know. But, hasn't everything changed since the early 1980's? Haven't you?
To say that France is no longer worth visiting is a bit harsh don't you think? I would not expect any country to change their culture so that I could have a comfortable visit. That just sounds so USA elitist to me. Experiencing different cultures and customs is why I travel. If I want the same old same old, I can stay home.
I hope the rest of your trip improves...those local cats don't look too tasty :(

Posted by
12887 posts

I really had to think back if having my reservation fouled up had ever occurred elsewhere other than that time at Gare du Nord in 1989. Admittedly, there was another place, also during the 1989 trip, actually, a lot of things went wrong on that four week trip.

This hotel reservation foul up was in (west) Berlin at a Pension on Kurfürstendamm. Contrary to my past behaviour staying at that Pension, ie, I never reserved, just appeared as a walk-in always in the summer, this time in 1989 I made a reservation by calling them up on the phone from SFO about a month prior to arrival.

When I arrived on the date I had written down as I had understood it, the reception said I was one day early which normally presented no problems but this time the problem (wrong date as they understood it) was no vacancy .... the Pension was booked up. I remember we compared notes, our recorded arrival dates were different. I was already thinking of a contingency plan, ie having to look for another small hotel or Pension elsewhere in the immediate vicinity dragging that luggage along. In those days you didn't use a credit card to hold the reservation, besides that Pension only accepted cash anyway.

Luckily, I ended up not having to drag the luggage here and there looking for a place. The Pension offered a solution, they said they could put me up for one night at this apt two buildings down from the Pension. That's where I stayed that night and afterwards went back to the Pension to stay on the my reserved days.

Nowadays, if something similar were to happen in France or Germany, it would be a lot easier to resolve...more options.

Posted by
8291 posts

Fred, glad you found a good solution.
If it happened to me, in Paris let’s say, and truly every single affordable hotel was booked, I’d look for an affordable hotel in a town outside Paris that’s easily accessible by RER.

Posted by
12887 posts

@ Susan...In that case without looking at a map first and my having to rely on the RER to make the trip to and fro, I would book a small hotel at Roissy. Unless there are several simultaneous conventions/trade fairs going on plus a soccer match, I don't see how literally hotels are booked up everywhere or just about. The closest I've encountered that was on a week-end a few years back in Berlin when I called several small hotels or used booking.com in Savignyplatz and elsewhere in Charlottenburg only to be told that no room was available on that week-end. It was all because of a soccer game. I finally booked a hotel at Berlin Ostbahnhof. Of course, after that week-end I went back to my regular Pension.

Posted by
45 posts

I just got home yesterday from a 12 day trip to France. ( Trip report to follow ). Yes - some things are way way too crowded. For example we loathed Colmar - spent 30 minutes there and went on a drive to a smaller village.

We do not like very fancy food - so we were content with local cafe's and brassieries for most meals. In Paris last week, I would call the evening before and had not problem getting at table at a few restaurants. In a few towns, if I saw a restaurant I liked, I would stop in and ask in my atrocious French if we could book a table for the following evening.

This was our first trip to Europe and we used a reputable travel agent and bought trip insurance. I knew that whatever happened, someone would help me figure it out.

I found the larger museums challenging. I really wanted to see a few works at the Orsay. I patiently waited, finally got to the front of the Van Gogh and a woman pops right in my line of sight so she can have her picture taken with the painting. I refrained from telling her how rude she was I have books and the internet to see any of these paintings. I just want to look at them in real life for a few minutes. I wondered whether many people were enjoying the works or were just checking it off a list.

At the Louvre - after seeing my short list ( the 3 ladies, the vermeers and the michelangelo sculptures ) my husband and and I just wandered around in some low traffic galleries. We saw some amazing things and had the galleries too ourselves.

Posted by
8291 posts

Fred, you and I (and many) can always find a workable solution and still enjoy our trip and be grateful we’re there at all.

Posted by
12887 posts

@ Susan...exactement et absolutement ! "...and be grateful that we are there at all." How very, very true !!

As that singer sang in 1929 in that title song, "C'est ça Paris."

Posted by
191 posts

KER sounds like I made a good call. We arrived in the Alsace at the delightfully charming uncrowded town of Barr. I had memories of Kayserberg and Colmar from the 80s. I did think of heading there but we were enjoying Barr too much and I feared thecrowds in the higher profile areas.
We always find the most enjoyable places are the small towns and villages with lower profiles.
Villefranche de Conflent, Loches and Barr were 3 very enjoyable places that lacked the big tourist crowds.

Posted by
8291 posts

Fred, nous sommes d’accord mon ami.

Posted by
280 posts

Hello. I’m sorry you had this experience, but don’t give up on France. I have been going every year since 1997. Yes, I’ve seen changes as the ugly tourist becomes more common (not just in France). As others have noted, cafes have great, reasonably priced meals and rarely take reservations. I can give recommendations of what I like if that will help for your next trip. Hotels are tricky especially now that AIRBB has invaded and takes up the former reasonably priced accommodations making hotel rooms more vulnerable to higher prices. So personally I stay with what I know: IBIS chain hotel. They are usually bare bones, but who cares - you’re there to experience Paris. And they are located all around the city.
Good luck next time - and please let there be a next time.

Posted by
80 posts

Sorry you are not enjoying your trip! Since you are stressing out on this trip I suggest the next time you go to Europe that you take a RS tour and let them make the arrangements! And for the times a meal is not provided you can ask the tour guide about suggestions on where to go. Also there are great places to go in the USA and Canada that are a lot less stressful to plan. Hope your situation improves. Keep on traveling!