Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Bikes and Boat: A Week in France
Several years ago I promised my daughter that if she learned French I would take her to France. I don’t speak French, and I was bribing my way into getting my own translator. It worked! Earlier this fall my teenage daughter and I took off for this much anticipated trip. She wanted me to plan the trip but had some key sights that were must-sees. Disneyland Paris, the National History Museum, Versailles, and the Monaco aquarium were all not-to-be-missed.
I’ve been to France several times, and she had only spent a day in Nice a few years ago. Even though I had many sights I wanted to show her, we worked off her list and filled in where time and logistics permitted with my picks. Traveling with a teenager offers a great opportunity to prepare them for their future travels. With this in mind I decided no tour groups, no drivers, and no guides. I knew we could easily get around by public transportation, and it would be a great experience for her.
Our plan was to fly into Charles de Gaulle and take the train straight to Disneyland Paris and recover from our jetlag and acclimate before we had to think too much. When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle we were tired from traveling but excited for our adventure. We set off to buy our TGV train tickets at terminal 2. Easily marked we found the train station and ticket counter. We had decided to take the TGV to Disneyland because it was only 11 minutes from CDG, and I knew we’d be tired from traveling. The other option was to take a RER train into the city and transfer to another train to get to Marne La Vallée-Chessy, the Disneyland Paris station, which would have taken closer to 90 minutes. It definitely would have been less expensive to take the RER, but we were paying for convenience and to get to Disneyland faster.
While at the train station and waiting for the train, I bought our Paris Visite pass, which we planned to use from Disneyland Paris to central Paris and all around the city. The Paris Visite pass for zones 1-5 is good for Paris and its suburbs, which is what we wanted because we planned on taking the train to Versailles, and we could start using it as soon as we left Disneyland, as the RER is part of the pass. The pass also comes with some discounts and coupons and is a good value if you plan to use public transportation, including the metro and buses, a lot in Paris. The Marne La Vallée station is just outside the gates of Disneyland. There are shuttles that take you and your bags to your hotel, or if you prefer, you can walk. If you are coming from Paris on a day-trip to Disneyland you have just a short walk to the main gates once you get out of the station. The train station couldn’t be more convenient. After a full day and night at Disneyland Paris we were ready to move on and explore non-Disney Paris and beyond.
We took the RER A into the city, which took about 30 minutes. Then we transferred to the metro line, and took the metro to the station closest to our apartment, which was a short walk. One of our much anticipated sights in Paris was Versailles. We took the RER C train early one morning and planned on doing a whirlwind visit because we had so much still to see in the city, and we wanted to economize on time. Once we were there though we were so enamored with the gardens that we decided to take the time to go to Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet, and the best way to get there is by bike. This was a fun way to explore, and I impressed my daughter by not falling off my bike.
After four days in Paris and hopping on and off the metro to visit the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Conciergerie, Hotel des Invalides, Galeries LaFayette, the National History Museum, Montmarte, and taking a sightseeing boat ride along the Seine, we were ready to take the fast train to Nice and explore the Cote d’Azur. I had purchased the TGV tickets and made reservations before leaving the States to make sure we had the train we wanted. We only took two cabs during our stay in France. One was early in the morning when we left our Paris apartment for the train station on our way to Nice, and the other was when we arrived in Nice and didn’t want to take the tram with all of our luggage. Once in Nice we took either the tram, local buses, or the local coastal train to explore the area from Vence to Monaco. Everything in France makes perfect sense but not necessarily to Americans.
The key to using public transportation when on a vacation in France is you need to know not just where you’re going but where the train/metro is going. This sounds easy enough, and it more or less is, but the French system doesn’t work off of north, south, east or west, or any such combination of orientation. You determine the direction you’re going by where the terminus for the train or metro is. You do this by looking at a map. You don’t need to have super map skills, but you need to a) know where you are; and b) where you want to go. Using a map you locate which line (train or metro) you are going to take and see where the final stop is in both directions. With this information you determine which direction you want to go because getting on the train/metro line in one direction will either travel to/through your stop OR will take you completely in the wrong direction. The buses are even easier to figure out than the metro and trains, and there is a driver that you can ask directions from using broken French and pointing to a map (or bring your own translator like I did). We had a great time on our mother/daughter vacation. The only way she could see improving it was to visit Hogwarts, but alas, that’s another trip and another country. At least I know that language, more or less.