Trip Coach: October 11, 2005

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Margie Rynn answers your questions on traveling to France

Margie Rynn: Hi, I'm so sorry, I'm really late. Is anyone still there? _______________________

Oak Hills, CA: In November, we've scheduled a trip to Chartres. The way I would expect to get there would be by bus and train. When we land at Charles De Gaulle Airport, the four of us will get on the Air France bus that will take us to Gare du Montparnasse for about 11 Euros each. From there, we plan to get a train to Chartres. My only worry is that we expect to be able to get to Gare du Montparnasse by around 3pm and have no problem getting onto a train to Chartres. We do not know how many trains there will be to Chartres in the late afternoon. We do not know if there is any chance of not being able to get a ticket on the train. Since, our room in Chartres is already booked for that first night, we hope that we do not have to be concerned that we could get stuck in Paris. What is all the advice you would have for us concerning anything related to our plans? Thank you

Margie Rynn: You don't say what day of the week you are traveling or exact dates, which could affect ticket availability...In November there are two big holidays, November 1, All Saints Day, and November 11, end of World War I. On those two days tickets might a little harder to come by, but otherwise, I wouldn't think you'd have a problem. I randomly selected a weekday in November for a train Paris-Chartres on the SNCF site and they seem to have trains every hour, sometimes every half hour. It's a good site (the SNCF is the national railway system) and they have an English version: voyages-sncf.com. Plug in your dates and see what's available.

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Sumter, SC: I'll be travelling to France in late April and return late May. I'll fly to Paris and take the TGV to Avignon in Provence for my sons marriage. When is the best time to confirm my flight to receive the biggest bang for my buck? Thank You,

Margie Rynn: When you say "confirm" I assume you mean "buy" -- usually the sooner the better for good deals. April is not the highest of high season, but it is considered the beginning of the high season, so it would be a good idea to buy your tickets as soon as possible, even now. And the hotel. By the way, I used to live in Avignon and your son has picked the perfect season for the wedding -- it's gorgeous at that time of year!

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paris,france: My husband is becomming a chocolatier and wishes take a trip to Paris for some additioonal classes. I have several mileage points and have never used them. Can I use travel points towards my entire family to schedule this April 2006 trip? How do I go about putting this plan together? It will involve my 2 daughters, my husband and myself. Thank you

Margie Rynn: Your best bet is to contact your frequent flyer program and ask them if and how you can use your points for your family. Then plan your trip as far in advance as possible--there are often limited frequent flyer seats on planes and they get snapped up early.

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New York, NY: I'm interested in going to Paris during spring break next year (March 2006). What kind of weather can I expect? Lots of rain?

Margie Rynn: One of the greatly under-reported secrets of Paris is that you can pretty much expect rain at any time of year. Not to depress you, or to discourage you from coming, mind you, Paris is gorgeous even under grey skies. Bring an umbrella and some sweaters, as well as a light shirt or two for those unpredictable brilliant Spring days.

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Rancho Cucamonga CA: What is the most cost efficent and smoothest rail route to travel from Paris to Madrid in summer 06? Any advice on where to get off and take in a day would be great! What web site allows me to navigate our rail options with approx. quotes that far ahead?

Thanks for the leads and info!

Margie Rynn: I would check out sncf.fr. It's the French railway site and it is pretty complete and will let you look at dates, prices etc. I'm not sure what the route is, but if you can stop in Bayonne or San Sebastien (if it's that line, those are nice towns...)

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Pompano Beach, Fl: I am travelling to France in May, starting in Marseille. I would like to see Provence, the sunflowers, the vineyards, the lavendar..Is there a good central location to work from, or should I start in Marseille and work my way north?
Thank you

Margie Rynn: May is a great time to be in Provence, and before the hoards of toursits arrive. Marseilles is a good place to start, but for real provence, you are better off basing yourself in Aix, or even better, in Avignon, which is about an hour from just about any site you want to see in the area. Hotels are a bit pricey in Avignon, so you might want to check out B&Bs in the area, try gites-de-france.com.

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Stone Mountain, GA: Hi - This past spring I spent two weeks in the Dordogne, based in the lovely bastide town of Domme, with my wife and 2 small daughters. We fell in love with the region - the food (confit de Canard is yummy!), the wine (Perchemant, Bergerac, cahors), the history, the villages, the people, the landscape, the weather, etc, etc, etc. We have also vacationed in Provence (in the small village of Sablet).

Anyway, my question is: Where else in SW France would you recommend. I have heard great things about the midi-Pyrennees and would love to hear your take on that area.

Thanks again for a great article -

Kevin

Margie Rynn: Well, naturally, I would recommend the towns in my article! I love most of SW France, like you - what food, what countryside. The Gers is beautiful and very undervisited. I also like the area around Madiran (great wine) and Auch. A facinating visit is the Cathar Castles -- there are a whole string of them in the department of the Aude, ancient crumbling medieval fortresses on mysterious hilltops in a semi-arid countryside on the way to Spain. Queribus and Perypetuese (sp?) are not to be missed. Try the site of the department of the Aude (sorry, I don't have the address) for more info. Toulouse is also a very nice town - I've never been to Albi, but I hear it's great.

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Sun City West AZ: I am going to be in Paris for 2 days. What should I make sure I see?

Margie Rynn: Wow, that's a toughie - there's so much to see! Actually, with so little time, choose one or two really must sees (the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, maybe the Louvre if you like museums and want to dedicate at least an afternoon) and then leave at least another afternoon for just wandering aimlessly around a wonderful neighborhood like the Marais, the Latin Quarter, or the Isle Saint Louis. In other words, don't try to see too much and concentrate on soaking up the atmosphere - wander into a cafe and have a coffee, meander down the quays of the Seine. Then you'll have an idea of what you want to see the next time. Oh, another museum that is wonderful and not as big as the Louvre is the Musée d'Orsay. The Museé Jacquemart André is even smaller and is an absolute gem.

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La Mesa, Calif: For our first trip to France my husband, cousin and myself have rented a house for a month in Creteil, near Paris. Besides seeing sights in Paris, we are wondering what other day trips can be made from this location and will we need a car?

Margie Rynn: If I'm not mistaken, Creteil is north of Paris, where you are not far from Giverney, the Oise valley, the Cathedral at St Denis, and farther off, Chantilly. If I'm completely off base and Creteil is east, you can easily take a day trip to the lovely medieval walled town of Provins. The car question depends on how much time you want to spend in Paris itself (where you absolutely do NOT want to go with a car) and how much time you want to spend exploring the region (where to really hang out in the countryside you will need a car unless you are a serious cyclist). It also depends how well connected your house is to public transportation. I imagine to get to the well known sites like Giverney and Provins there is public transportation, but if you really want to toodle around the countryside you'll need a car.

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San Diego, CA: We hear so much about the "Paris Flea Market", but I can't find the area.

I found an American style swap meet. What I'm looking for is the collectables and less expensive antiques.

What is the Metro stop? And which streets are the best shopping?

Margie Rynn: The flea market most talk about is the flea market at Clignancourt. It's huge, and offers from the ridiculous to the sublime. The metro stop is Porte de Clignancourt on the line number 4. There are other, less mega-size flea markets. The temporary ones are called brocantes and the more permanent marche des puces. Flip through a Frommer's guide for other addresses...

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Pittsburgh, PA: We are planning a trip to Paris in mid February 2006 (for 4 nights in total) and would like to take a day trip during our stay (or perhaps even an overnight). What is the best option given that it will be winter? We are currently thinking of going to Chartres, but are there are options we should consider?

Thank you.

Margie Rynn: Chartres is a good idea because the church is gorgeous and indoors, so if the weather isn't perfect you will be inside. The Chateau of Versailles is a good bet too, it is humongous and you will be nice and warm inside while you visit. The gardens will still be beautiful, even if they aren't in bloom.

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Anderson, IN: Are ATM's plentiful (and in good working order) throughout France?

Is paying for purchases with a credit card still the best way to go?

Merci beaucoup!

Margie Rynn: Yes, you should have no problems with ATMs. Most are part of the big networks like Plus and Cirrus, and are perfectly reliable. I think it's the best way to get cash and in theory you get the best exchange rate, unless your bank card charges a fee. Credit cards are also supposed to have good exchange rates, but I find they often charge a percentage these days...in any case, both are much more convenient than travellers checks and I think the rates are better, even with the fees.

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Chicago, IL: I am planning on backpacking through Italy and France this next summer (exact dates are not yet known) but I was wondering if it is possible to rent apartments or flats for a couple of weeks at a time in some of the larger cities, such as Florence and Paris? If so how do I get this info? I would like to reseve them before I leave, if at all possible.

Thanks,
Jessica

Margie Rynn: I can't help you with Florence, but for Paris, there is a bi-weekly magazine with classified ads for English speakers called FUSAC (France USA Contacts). They have a site, which I'm pretty sure is fusac.fr. They post ads for short term rentals. There are also agencies that organize weekly rentals - I'm not familiar with any myself, but I'm sure the tourist office would have a list. I think some agencies put ads in FUSAC also. Another possibility is to rent a gite, or vacation cottage in the country near Paris, if that appeals. They are much cheaper, but generally require some sort of transportation since they are way out in the country. If this interests you try Gites de France at www.gites-de-france.fr. They also have loads of B&Bs all over France, maybe even in Paris!

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Cooper City, FL: We are a family of 4 traveling to London and Paris for the winter break. We have 7 days in London but would like to leave ther and go to Prague or Rome for 2-3 days. Any suggestions. Thie kids are 17 and 11. Also, why is it so difficult to find affordable lodging in the popular areas for 4??

Margie Rynn: If it makes you feel any better, it's difficult to find affordable lodging for 2 also! In general, a quad is cheaper than renting two rooms, but there are not a lot of quads in Paris, mainly because hotels tend to be in very old buildings and rooms in very old buildings tend to be small. So in a small hotel, you might be stuck paying for two rooms. Since your kids are teenagers, you might try scoping out the weekly entertainment papers for fun events and concerts. Zurban has a web site, as does Time Out Paris. You can also take a look at parisvoice.com, a local English language weekly.

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Stone Mountain, GA: Where is the next "undiscovered" European destination?

Margie Rynn: Well, Europe has been discovered for centuries, so its a little hard to say, but I would say the more adventurous would turn towards Eastern Europe. From what I understand, parts of the former Yugoslavia have pulled themselves together and it is again possible to enjoy the fabulous beaches of the Adriatic. But even in a country as heavily visited as France, you can always find areas that are not often visited by the usual tourist crowd. In fact, I'm always amazed that in a country as beautiful as France, most tourists only visit Paris and maybe Provence. What about Languedoc? Normandie? The Jura? The ancient volcanos of Auvergne? It's simply a matter of doing a little research and going where there is not necessarily massive tourist infrastructure. There is no need to fear - people in non-tourist areas don't bite!

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Margie Rynn: Thanks again for all of your great questions.

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