Paris Last Minute Tips/Suggestions?

Hi, I'm leaving for a trip covering Paris(4 nights), Brussels(2)and Cologne (3) next week. I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions/warnings for a trip this time of the year? I've tried to do my research on the major items and finding information such Versailles is closed on Mondays and various transportation passes (still figuring that one out). I did pre-purchase train tickets for the major travel (Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Paris). I've been to Belgium before and most likely will head to Brugges for part of one day and possibly Winterland Hasselt another day. I've also been to Germany several times before but not the Cologne area and will most likely head over to either Dusseldorf or Aachen. I'm just looking for any insider information regarding things being closed this time of the year, or anything that may not be obvious to someone traveling this time of the year (any strikes being planned, major construction of train stations, etc.). Generally we will be just exploring the major sites, taking in the Christmas markets and possibly warming up in various museums. We've done winter trips previously and we are familiar with the weather (we had a wonderful time in a 6-8" snowstorm while in Rothenburg a few years ago). Paris I'm kind of lukewarm on with the hugely varying opinions I've gotten from people who have visited before (mostly either love it or hate it and not many in between) but figured I needed to try it at least once. It will just be two adults traveling fairly lightly (luggage wise). Thanks
Rich

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2281 posts

In Cologne, stop in for a Koelsch (the local beer) at Papa Joe's BierSalon to see and play an amazing collection of antique automated music machines. The best is a creation of Papa Joe himself, two robots dressed as "Tuennes" and "Schael" that play a real accordian and tuba. The playlist and coin slot is on a post by the bar. Papa Joe's is the Alt Stadt. http://www.papajoes.de/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=0
If its a romantic trip, walk out on the Hohenzollern Bridge leading from the Hbf over the Rhine and put your lock on the fence. You can get your lock engraved at Mr Minute behind the Kaufhof department store.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

Paris is wonderful, how you enjoy it depends on you . Tip,, please, before you ask for anything, advice, directions , a ticket , an admission price, a bun from a bakery, ALWAYS start any interaction with "bonjour madame " or "bonjour monseiur",, this is probably the one easiest thing most North Americans can do to improve their reception, It is considered VERY rude in France not to greet first, even at the metro ticket kiosk, then make request .. Four four nights , I would probalby just get a "carnet " if metro/bus tickets, its about 12 euros and is simply ten loose single use one way tickets , used for both bus or metro , but sold at a discount price to singles.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1978 posts

I too have been to Europe in winter on a ski trip to Austria. We about froze our tails off in Venice with high tides covering St. Marks Square. As far as Paris, the problem is often the people and their refusal to use their English. Treat them nice, and they'll treat you nice. And remember to drink wine at meals. Last meal we ate there was E50 for two 9" pizzas and 2 beers. We found their "French food" to be unappetizing for our Southern U.S. tastes. The cathedral in Cologne is absolutely incredible, and was the tallest building in the world for over 600 yearsuntil the Eiffel Tower was completed. My best suggestion for you is to book future flights open jawed. It doesn't cost any more to fly into one city and out of another. It's actually a savings by not having to back track to your original city. And, it allows you to experience another city you may have never been to. You could have taken in Amsterdam on this trip, and it's a fantastic city. Tip: You can get the weather forecasts on major European cities on Weather.com before you go to help with planning a wardrobe. Paris the next week is 40-50 degrees about all the time with a 20% chance of rain.
And remember to use Rick Steves' packing list to limit your luggage to one 21" rolling bag and a oversize shoulder bag

Posted by Richard
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
116 posts

Thanks for the suggestions. Unfortunately I'm not a language person nor a big people person (i.e., not someone who seems able to strike up conversations and make friends everywhere) but have rarely had trouble overseas. At a minimum I'm sure I can manage 4 days in Paris before going to Belgium and Germany where I'm more familiar with customs/etc. Sadly being forced to take 4 yrs of high school French 25+ yrs ago didn't stuck with me very well (for some reason to take advanced math classes like Calculus we had to take a language). My GF speaks fluent Spanish which won't help much on this trip :) As far as open jaw flights go, well sometimes you take what you get with regards to frequent flyer awards. I'd rather have roundtrip business class tickets to Paris than settling for a coach return trip just to avoid the hassle of returning back to Paris. Anyhow, 10 days away from work will seem like paradise right now. Thanks again.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2612 posts

Richard... I was just in Paris a week ago and it was delightful...especially good weather for walking. A bit rainy, but who cares, it's Paris? We also visited Brugges on Thanksgiving and they were just setting up the Christmas Markets so a few of the vendors opened early. It was great fun. We did a lot of driving and part train and had no problems. We did expore some markets in Germany, but as I said we had a car, so we just drove when we felt the need to move on. Heideberg market is open and was also lots of fun. I am going home (Ann Arbor) in the morning and then returning for a week in Paris on Dec. 1st (crazy, last minute trip) so our time there may overlap!
I understand how some people feel about Paris... after my first visit I felt like I did not need to return...now, after many trip simply due to logisitics, friends going, etc... I have really grown to see it in a different way and love it more each trip. You don't need to see all the tourist sights, so you start to see a different level of the city. I am also not a 'city person' but do love Paris.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

the problem is often the people and their refusal to use their English. the problem with traveling to the US is the people and their refusal to speak French! no seriously, it's not a "refusal" it's an inability to speak that you may run into. French is a major language spoken all over the world, and for a few centuries it was the default 'second language' for many countries (the way English is today in much of the world) so it makes sense that the French do not put as much effort into learning perfect English as say, Slovakians do - they simply don't need to, what with being a major world economy and all. that said, anyone can get by fine in France without knowing any French other than "bonjour" "merci" and "parlevous anglais?" (I can say these words, not spell them correctly, sorry!) Many people do speak English and even if they don't they will often try to help you or find someone who speaks English to help you. Not being a Francophile I went to Paris totally prepared to not like it much, and instead fell utterly in love with it. I think if you approach the city with an open mind and good planning, you'll be beguiled. At the same time, remember that it's a huge, world-class city and many of the issues people find frustrating in other large cities exist in Paris as well - traffic, noise, pollution, harried people, etc. Accept that and you'll have a great time. Also expect the weather to be crappy and enjoy the amazing museums - I am particularly fond of Cluny and the Army Museum but it depends on individual tastes.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

Paris is one of my favorite cities. My tip for enjoying it would be to make sure you don't do what you feel you "should," but what you want. For instance, if the Louvre calls to you, be sure to go; but if it doesn't, don't go there just out of obligation. See something else instead. (I've been about 5 times, and still haven't been to Versailles - maybe someday). As a corollary, if you're not enjoying something, don't be afraid to cut it short and change to something else. So, if you've paid for a museum and are "done" after a half hour, just leave; don't stay to "get your money's worth" if you're not having a good time. Look at some guidebooks and see what you might like. While I like Rick's Paris book, I also use Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, and that's how I found the Museum of Counterfeits (they don't just have fake purses, but also more dangerous things, like medicines and car parts). I also went to the Cinemateque and its museum (I'm a movie lover), saw Cabaret on stage at the Folies Bergere (I'm a musical theater fan), and did a walk around the 16th arrondissment looking at Art Nouveau buildings. Many of these would not interest other Paris visitors, but they interested me. Of course, I've seen and enjoyed plenty of more standard attractions (two of my favorites are Ste. Chapelle and the Musee Marmottan). If the issue is not liking big city bustle, spend time on the Ile St. Louis. And do be sure to take enough breaks in cafes (remember that you can sit as long as you like for the price of one drink). Paris is more than the sum of its sights, and some cafe time helps one appreciate this.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

And yes, I'm not sure where this idea that "the French all can speak fluent English, they just refuse to" got started, but that's not been my experience AT ALL. When they could speak English, they were quite willing to do so, with absolutely no attitude whatsoever. But sometimes their "English" left a lot to be desired; even those who learn some English often have heavy accents, minimal vocabulary, and poor grammar. And the further you get off the tourist path, the less English you'll find. I found almost no English in Marseille, although others on this Helpline report finding more English there. I remember my Marseille hotel as one place where they tried to speak to me in English, but I truly had trouble understanding them, and we did better in my "French." France isn't Sweden or Holland, where almost everyone really is fluent in English; it's not Germany, where most can speak enough English to communicate for a tourist's typical needs; and it's not Slovenia or Estonia, where many people learn English since no one outside their (small) countries speaks their native languages. But it's also not Spain (the country where I found the least English of all my travels - and yes, that includes Madrid and Barcelona). I haven't encountered "refusal" to speak English anywhere. My experience (and I know I'm not alone) is that most of the people who find "bad attitudes" among the French are the ones who went looking for them, by bringing their own bad attitudes with them. Hence my recommendation above to start by deciding what interests you, so you'll approach your trip with anticipation rather than trepidation.

Posted by Richard
Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
116 posts

It will be interesting. My brother and his wife went years ago and loved it. Neither speaks French. They both would return in a second. I think many people tend to visit the same areas fairly often because they get familiar with the area and are comfortable with the area. Change can be pretty stressful. I know the first time I visited Germany it was with trepidation. Didn't know the language, transportation system, food, etc. Now that I'm familiar with those things I'm always ready to go back (plus I like things ontime, clean, etc. as they are in Germany/Switzerland). The first time I ever went overseas was a work trip many years ago. It was to a town in England and I remember relaxing once I saw they had KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, etc. Kind of funny what you remember about trips and first experiences (except for one lunch I don't think we visited any of those places). The weather doesn't bother me too much. If I wanted nice weather I would have gone a different time of the year. Large crowds and hot weather would bother me more. Thanks again for the comments.

Posted by Julie
Frisco, Texas, US
54 posts

As per Rick Steves' advice, the last time we were in Paris (our 3rd time, in 2010) we went to Ste. Chappelle for a Bach concert. We found out about it on a poster once we arrived in town. It is the best was to see Ste. Chappelle! I also recommend taking the Bateaux Mouches on the Seine, at night. If you like Monet, the L'Orangerie is a must see! And if you really love Monet, then take a half day to go to Giverny. You can take the 8 am train and be back to the Champs for lunch by 1:00. Have a great trip!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7829 posts

I am going to be very clear here, not all french people speak english and are just "refusing to speak english" to you to be mean. My relatives live in Paris , and sorry folks, they don't speak english , so please get over it. They can however understand "hello" , "goodbye" "please and thank you " and a few other words, about as much as you can if you took a year or two of french in school , but like most of us, they are embarrassed to push themselves to croak about in a langauge they can barely pass the pleasentries of the day in, and then they, like us, freak out when they try and be polite and say "hello" in english and then you launch into a huge ramble at the speed of light( which is how it sounds to them, just like to us when hearing a foriegn language) and they are then totally lost and just back off and shake their heads. It makes me sick that some people go on and on about how the french"refuse" to talk to them in a FOREIGN language in their own freaking country.. Get over yourselves. And btw the way what to people eat in the south of states thats so foreign to southern tastes, from "french food",, don't they eat roast chicken, fries and steaks or what.. is it all deep fried twinkies?

Posted by Debi
Sherman Oaks, CA, USA
257 posts

I agree, please say "bonjour" when you enter any place or ask for anything as well as "merci" when you leave. Such an easy expected thing to do in Paris. I just spent two weeks there and did meet some lovely people. I also met a rather nasty lady. I just say that there are the same mix of nice and not so nice in every country. It's really their issue if you have been polite when approaching. I love Paris and return as often as possible. Do what and see what interests you. Honestly, I did not go inside the Louvre until my fifth or sixth visit because I was so busy seeing other things. I wanted to spend a good day there and it just didn't work for us until then. Oh well, when I did get there it was so enjoyable. Happy Travels!!