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Paris, Saintes and Tournai, Belgium

My husband and I will be going to Paris this fall. We want to do some genealogy in Saintes, France and in Tournai, Belgium. My maiden name is Ardoin (Hardoin) ? Saintes area; my husband Duplechain suggest Belgium. We do plan to get a car, do the driving to both places and site see along the way. We would like suggestions on places to stay in Paris and both ways on our outside trips.
Thank you for any information you may have.
Sue Ardoin Duplechain

Posted by
7081 posts

Although Tournai has far fewer visitors than Gent or Brugge (not to mention Antwerp or Brussels), I'm sure you'll enjoy walking around. If you are going to visit civic or religious record-keeping offices, I would do a great deal of research before you get on the plane. In some cities, for example Antwerp and Leuven, the Town Hall is only open on weekdays for citizens with appointments, and explicitly not for tourists. In major cities, a car can be a handicap. Make sure you get or bring a GPS, and rent the smallest car you can stand, because the parking garages have such small aisles and stalls. Be ready for a standard transmission.

Lille, France, which used to be in "Belgium", is interesting, and has two huge train stations, linked by a tunnel. I have Louvre-Lens museum on my list for a future visit.

I wonder if you mean Saintes, France or Saintes, Belgium. The former looks to be as far as possible from Tournai, Belgium and still be in France. I know nothing about genealogy research.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for your comments; info on car rentals is helpful.
Saintes, France is situated on the Charente River and west of the Atlantic ocean.
All this is new to us ! This will be our first trip to France, so all the help is needed.
We are both from Louisiana, but have lived in Texas for the last several years.

Posted by
4684 posts

Saintes on the Charente is between Bordeaux and La Rochelle. So as Tim said it's on the opposite side of France from Belgium.

It would be a long drive and you might run into punitive charges to drop a hire car in a different country from where you first took it. Personally I would fly or take the train from Brussels to Bordeaux, and hire cars to explore the areas around your main two destinations.

Posted by
4 posts

We plan to fly into Paris, stay in Paris a few nights, rent a car there, go on to Belgium, stay there a couple of nights, go back to Paris a couple of nights and then on to Saintes, stopping on the way. We hope to stay over night along the way to Saintes or back to Paris. We will stay in Paris, turn in the car and return home. Is this possiblel?

Posted by
7081 posts

Sue, your statement about the first trip to France suggests that this is not your first trip to Europe. Is that correct? I ask because it sounds like you will be leaving your luggage in the car a lot, which is both risky and inconsistent with having the smallest car you can find. If you haven't bought a Rick Steves France book yet, you can read his general travel tips in the library, or (top left, desktop site) many of them for free-I mean trains and driving. Actually, for the route you describe, you need Lonely Planet France, not Rick Steves. But he is perfect for first-time Euro travelers.

I think that what we're trying to say is that your selection of endpoints means that you have a lot of banal driving past forgettable places. I don't mean you have to see only the high points on your first trip to France; I've been there at least eight times. But have you even pulled up Google Maps to see the length of the drive? France has perfectly good highways, there's no reason you can't do this if you want to apply an "American" Interstate Highway sensiblity to your first trip to France. But it may not be the best use of your time and money. A car is useful for many things in Europe. You have not made a case for needing a mighty steel steed of American freedom on your particular mission!

It is a tremendous liability to have a car in Paris. I drove to New York City every day for 20 years, and I will NEVER drive in Paris again after I stupidly arranged to return our car "downtown."

Just to start the idea (not to say it's best "for you"), consider an open-jaw flight Texas/Brussels and Paris/Texas. Train from Brussels to Tournai, very short train to Lille, where you rent the car in the same country you're going to return it, just outside Paris, perhaps at the airport even though you're going into the city for three nights. Even better (because the connections are so good), train from Lille to Paris, and go to another desirable city by train, where you rent the car. I mean like Tours, Lyon, Carcassonne, Limoges, Orleans, or even Bordeaux - depending on your interests. By interests I mean .... wine, history, cider, dead princesses, religious history, chateaux, expensive restaurants, World War II, whatever.

Posted by
32277 posts

You may want a car in the two places in which you are researching - they will be valuable for poking around into the nearby villages and towns, but nothing but an albatross in the cities. And as for a car in Paris, Sacre Bleu!

Be aware that for a drive all the way across France, the autoroute tolls and the very high price of fuel will eat you alive. I have plotted it on ViaMichelin via Paris and tolls will be in the vicinity of €63.50 and €90 for petrol in a medium car.

You could take the train for less than that, not even including the car hire cost nor insurance nor the drop charge.

Posted by
4 posts

We have gone to Italy for 10 days, but this was a planed tour, hotels,bus,etc.
No driving! Other short trips did not have a need for a car.
I do appreciate both of the suggestions about renting a car only in the places we want to search for genealogy info.
I will research train stops to places you recommended.
Any other suggestions?