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I see London, I see France…

London

Paris

This is not about my underpants.

Last week an e-mail was sent to everyone in my office announcing a one-week furlough this quarter. My coworkers were understandably depressed, shoulders sagging at their desks, wondering how they’d get by with one less week of pay.

This is when I exclaimed, “I’m going to Europe!” and my boss almost spit out his Coke.

“Are you serious?” he asked, half laughing.

“Yep!” I said. And I was. I am.

I have always wanted to go to Europe. My brother lived in Italy for a semester in college. My friends have taken trips with their French classes and Spanish classes. Other friends have gone backpacking in Ireland and gotten drunk in London and eaten chocolate in Switzerland. And still I have never left the country.

I have always wanted to go to Europe, but I’ve never made any plans to go to Europe. Partly this was because I was poor and in debt in my early 20′s. But partly it is because I never took the initiative, never got off my ass and made plans.

When I was doing my taxes this year, I added up all the money I have paid to doctors and MRI facilities and headache clinics, and it was a big number. A very big number. I realized I could have bought the most kick-ass vacation with all that money, but I had never bothered to. Instead, I’d paid the medical bills without thought because they had to be paid. It’s like how my country will spend billions of dollars on wars because they have to, but they won’t bother to spend that much money fixing healthcare or improving education. It’s dumb.

So now I’ve decided to spend some of that money on something I really want, not a head CT, but a European vacation. I was going to wait until September, but if my employer is giving me an extra week off this quarter, I’m going to use it. I’ve booked my flight for only $410. Yay, recession! Not only are you giving me the time off to travel, you are making it really cheap. See, there is always a bright side, even to a crap economy.

So this May I will be in London and Paris. And it will be awesome because I’ve decided it will be. Deciding where to go was easy, but trying to pick a guidebook at the bookstore has been overwhelming. So tell me, where should I go? Where should I stay? I’ve got about a week and I’m open to suggestions.

But finally, I am going to Europe!

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118 Comments

AlaskaJoey • April 3, 2009 at 9:47 am

Good for you! I decided to go to Paris for a week spur of the moment after 9/11 when my company gave everyone a week’s extra vacation because of it (so not the same thing, I know), and also it was super cheap at that time because no one wanted to travel then.

My personal favorite guidebooks are the Eyewitness Travel Guides, they have the best maps, and their hotel recommendations were spot on. Unfortunately, it’s been so long I can’t remember where I stayed. In Paris, staying in Montmarte is cool, and usually cheap, because you’re not right in the thick of everything.

The subway systems there are so easy to figure out, so don’t worry about getting around. Oxford Street in London is nice to shop on, the British Museum is free (I’m 95% sure of this), and I think the Louvre has free admission after 4PM on the night it stays open until 9PM (maybe Wednesday?). Otherwise, just remember most museums are closed Mondays, but there are exceptions.

I do recommend not just Notre Dame in Paris, but also the little church behind it on the Isle de la Cite, Saint Chapelle – gorgeous stained glass. Try to get up to the tops of the towers in Notre Dame, they have been closed both times when I was in Paris.

Really, no matter where you go you’ll have a wonderful trip.

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JennC • April 3, 2009 at 10:06 am

When I traveled to Europe, backpacking for two months, I used the Rick Steves books (can be found at ricksteves.com). He supports a pack-light, get off the beaten path and experience much philosophy. And he’s been writing travel books for years. I’m very excited for you! Enjoy every minute!!

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crazylady • April 3, 2009 at 10:21 am

Hey good for you !! Sounds like a great idea. You gotta come to Ireland though!!! Promise to buy you a pint of Guinness if you do :)

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cc • April 3, 2009 at 10:26 am

The Guardian online has had this set of articles going for a while that come up with some interesting finds

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/blog

I always recommend a TimeOut guide for London(there’s the weekly events guide) but also big chunky themed ones for other things and the general city guide – the absolute best being ‘cheap eats’. This might be a bit too in depth if you’re just there a few days though, so I often use Rough Guides or Lonely Planet guides(latter I prefer cos there’s a bit less background and a bit more judgement on the sites etc) when travelling(though not sure what they’re like for London). Also the Dorling Kindersly “top 10 in x city” series is brilliant and handy too.

And for a fab Sat afternoon in the sun (also on Friday I think), start with lunch at Borough Market (London Bridge tube) and then walk down the length of the Thames (past the London Prison museum), the Globe theatre (of Shakespeare fame -cheap standing tickets often available) past the Tate Modern Art place, the millenium bridge, and down as far as the London Eye or even Houses of Parliament (big ben). Man…I miss London, sigh…

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Glenna • April 3, 2009 at 10:26 am

I went to Paris alone about 3 years ago, and I stayed here: http://www.lesaintgregoire.com/. Relatively inexpensive (sometimes less than $200), in a wonderful neighborhood (the 6th), very safe and pretty and NOT in the general tourist stampede area, charming, spotless and they happily speak English at the front desk. Just 3 blocks from the subway, which takes you everywhere. I had a fabulous visit and saved money by picking up a little loaf of french bread and coffee for about $3 for breakfast, and eating some of my meals from the local grocer, where the cheese, yogurt, breads, etc. made you not regretful to skip a restaurant sometimes.

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Lori • April 3, 2009 at 10:26 am

Yes…second that…Rick Steves is a European god! hehe. He got me all around England, Paris, Scotland and Ireland when I studied abroad in college! He’s really great about picking places to go on a budget without missing anything! Aside from that, my second biggest recommendation is the BIG RED BUS! A great way to see many of the great attractions very easily and on pretty much your own schedule! Ham and cheese baguettes and quiche in Paris were lovely! : ) And so many opportunities for MUCH exercising…steps GALORE!!

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weze • April 3, 2009 at 10:32 am

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons. Way to go!

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Lucy • April 3, 2009 at 10:33 am

Hi there,

I’m from the UK, and I would agree that when you’re in London, taking a walk along the South Bank is a must. If you walk across the Millenium Bridge from the Tate Modern, the view towards St Paul’s Cathedral is spectacular. Hope our weather’s good when you visit! :)

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Abby • April 3, 2009 at 10:37 am

Do you have your passport all ready?

I’ve been to both and my advice is to avoid the tourist traps. They just mean long lines, inflated prices, and more tourists. I couldn’t resist going up in the Eiffel Tower, but it honestly wasn’t worth the time it took. Just be sure to catch a glimpse of it at night when it’s all sparkly (but don’t tell any Frenchmen you like it because they will call it gaudy).

I did receive a lot of attitude in Paris. It’s no lie that there is rampant disdain for Americans by Parisians (note, not all Frenchmen). The attitude there is just different. Parisians are to Frenchmen as New Yorkers are to Americans. If you do not want to be pegged as a tourist, don’t wear tennis shoes. I’ve been told by a few sources that only Americans wear sneakers. If you don’t care and want to be comfy, then screw ‘em.

The hot chocolate in Paris is amazing. There are arguments as to where to get the best cup, but just be sure to try it somewhere. The Louvre is ENORMOUS. It will take all day to get through half of it. There are many other smalelr galleries and museums that are less daunting. Also, it helps if you genuinely try to speak a bit of French. Shop keepers will be more helpful if you try.

The time I spent in London was far too rushed. The London Eye was an experience. Way touristy of course, but still pretty awesome as long as it’s a clear day. You should also go to Harrods if you like shopping at all. The website makes it look like Neiman Marcus, but it’s really far better and more interesting, with great little boutiques and eateries inside. That was probably my favorite place and I don’t think I even bought anything.

That was just my limited experience. Try and find someone who has lived there for an extended period to get the inside scoop. We had a local showing us around Paris and went to some great little gems hidden in the curvy streets. I could never find them again on my own though!

Bon Voyage!

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cc • April 3, 2009 at 10:42 am

me again. paris is in the deepest recesses of my memory generally, but speaking of smaller museums there I remember loving the Rodin Museum which is small and manageable and has sculptures in a lovely garden if the weather happens to be decent.

oh and why would you see london or paris in your underpants?

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jkd • April 3, 2009 at 10:44 am

Yay! As an editor for Fodor’s Travel Guides (and specifially the editor for our soon-to-hit-the-stores guide to Paris; our new guide to London just went to press as well), I’d say stock up on the orange books! A great day trip from London at that time of year would be Brighton. Paris’s parks will be amazing, and Versailles is an easy day trip. To gently contradict Abby above, I’ve only ever encountered nice, helpful people in Paris (though I’m a New Yorker, so maybe my standards are different).

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Jen • April 3, 2009 at 10:50 am

Congratulations! I am so happy for you. This will be a wonderful experience.

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CatsPuke • April 3, 2009 at 10:52 am

Go see a show at the Moulin Rouge in Paris! Its amazing. i’m just back from Paris this weekend, my boyfriend proposed on the way there in St Pancras station :0) x

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jennywenny • April 3, 2009 at 10:53 am

Wow, thats wonderful! Good for you for turning a downside into an upside!

Email me if you want any tips about london, the best one I have is that all the museums are free. I think you’ll really like the welcome trust, but the british museum, natural history museum (as much for the building as the displays) and the V &A are just wonderful, not to mention the tate modern, portrait gallery, etc etc.

May should be a wonderful time to go cross fingers!

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Jenni • April 3, 2009 at 10:54 am

YAHOO!! That is an awesome way to spend a furlough! There is the possibility of that at my work, and I was just going to use it to work on my yard, but Europe sounds like a better plan. So if it comes to that, I am following your lead!!

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rebecca • April 3, 2009 at 10:56 am

You Go Girl! this is a great idea! I go to France every summer, butI have only been to Paris 2x. (summer is NOT the time for Paris…but I hear that MAY is!!) Most everyone in Paris will speak English, but it is very polite to learn a few phrases in french…don’t worry that they will think you speak the language and continue the conversation in french, they will switch to english almost immediately! When you enter a shop, you should say “bonjour” right away, even if you feel silly. And I agree with a comment above, get food from the groceries and pack picnics..you will eat wonderful food, and save lots of money! And you can sit in a cafe with one cup of coffee for hours and people watch! Above all, this is NOT the time to diet!

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Aline • April 3, 2009 at 10:58 am

In London – walk up Primrose Hill. You have the BEST view. Then explore the Primrose Hill area and have coffee at the Russian Tea room there. This is where all the stars live for a reason, the area is super cute.

In Paris check out the neighborhoods “Les Marais” and the latin quarter. Those are a bit less touristy but you really get the French feeling there, with cute little bakeries and markets and all that.

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Deb • April 3, 2009 at 11:00 am

That’s great! I got to take a 2 week European vacation about 5 years ago and it was so exciting to see so many places I’d only read about in boring history books. I remember every day at some point I’d think to myself “Holy crap, I am standing in front of the Eiffel Tower…Big Ben…the Coliseum…etc”. It was surreal and wonderful!

I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

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{cher} • April 3, 2009 at 11:03 am

love this!! taking time to take advantage!! i hope you have a blast woman!!! take lots of pics and keep us posted!!

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Fat Bridesmaid • April 3, 2009 at 11:04 am

Good for you PQ!

My opinion? The Time Out guide books are the best on the market, hands down.

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Gigi • April 3, 2009 at 11:20 am

You will have the time of your life! Enjoy!

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Chrissy • April 3, 2009 at 11:20 am

To echo everyone else above- Good for you!!

When you’re in Paris, you must and I mean must go to Angelina’s cafe. Its most likely going to be in your guide books because its pretty popular- and this is why- the BEST, BEST hot chocolate i’ve EVER had in my whole life and some damn good french macaroons too. You can’t even worry about whats in it because you will have walked 5,000 steps that day going from metro stop to metro stop. Its near the Lourve so after you spend a couple hours admiring the Mona Lisa there- you should go! 226 rue de Rivoli

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Forthright Fattie • April 3, 2009 at 11:26 am

I agree that the Louvre is overwhelming, and unless you’re into classical art, a bit hard to wrap your head around. I recommend the Musee D’Orsay instead–much more navigable, and so many paintings you’ll recognize and be thrilled to see in person.

Another tip, sadly from experience: Do not buy a salmon baguette from a sidewalk vendor near the Moulin Rouge. The resulting food poisoning pretty much ruined my own trip to Paris.

If you’re into this kind of thing, there’s a great Jack the Ripper tour in London–probably totally schlocky, but I”m a tour guide in Philadelphia and people are always telling me about that tour–it must be memorable.

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AlaskaJoey • April 3, 2009 at 11:30 am

PQ, I wouldn’t worry about experiencing any rudeness in Paris. I travel alone everywhere, and hardly speak a lick of any other language (although I can read French). My experience has always been as a woman traveling alone, you always find people who speak English willingly and are very helpful. Just be polite and smile, and it is good manners to learn key phrases for wherever you’re going – and you’ll be fine.

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karen lee • April 3, 2009 at 11:46 am

Try to find a b&B in London – the hotels are VERY expensive – there are some cheap B&B’s near Victoria Station (Cherry Street)- great location.

Get the day pass for the double-decker bus – great way to see the city…

Don’t forget HARODS – what a hoot

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deanna • April 3, 2009 at 11:57 am

YEAH!!! Enjoy – good for you!!!

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KLCthe BookWorm • April 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

How cool for you! And since you got your finances in order you can afford it. *Sigh* I’m at the getting the finances in order stage now, maybe I can see Europe in my forties. :)

I’ve always wanted to see places I’ve loved reading about, so seeing Holmes locations that survived the Blitz along with the recreation of the Baker Street digs plus Oxford for Lord Peter Wimsey have always been on my list. After doing some reenacting centered on the Canterbury Tales, I added Canterbury. Stonehenge well because it’s Stonehenge. That’s my British list that close enough to London. My family originally came from Yorkshire, but that’s closer to Scotland; and I’m not leaving that island until I see Loch Ness–fascinated by Nessie since I was 10.

France: I’ve never actually plotted it out. I’d be happy to get lost in the Louve for a couple of lifetimes, and love to see Notre Dame Cathedral. Victor Hugo kicked started the restoration with the Hunchback novel. Eiffel Tower, not so much since I’m afraid of heights.

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Debbi • April 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

So happy for you! I have no suggestions as to what to see or do, but I was in a similar situation when I was 29. I spent a few days in the hospital for depression and came out wishing I’d spent them on a fabulous trip. Have a wonderful time!

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KateG • April 3, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Oh, HURRAY! So exciting, I am sure you will have a wonderful time. I’m jealous now, but holding out hope I can go abroad next spring.

Hopefully you took a nice tax deduction for all those medical expenses, though since the deduction is subject to a percentage floor, you do have to spend a lot. I remember the one year I had spent enough and I was like, oh yay deduction, but oh boo that means I spent a crapload of money.

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Anon • April 3, 2009 at 12:15 pm

As to guidebooks: Rick Steves, Rick Steves, Rick Steves. SERIOUSLY.

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Lesli • April 3, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I only have experience with London. Here’s what I recommend:

London Eye — go early or see if you can reserve a spot. Unless you don’t like heights. Then, avoid it at all costs.

British Museum — I could make that my new home. *sighs* The Rosetta Stone is there. And the Elgin Marbles. And the Assyrian exhibit. And the… yeah, just go.

Piccadilly Circus — Walk by and say you have seen it. It’s a madhouse sometimes.

If you like walking tours, there’s several dozen you could try. I’ve done the Ghosts, Gaslights, and Guinness tour.

A good guidebook is the Michelin Green Guide Series.

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Rachie • April 3, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Hey, I’ll be in France in May, too! My friend and I are renting a car and driving around the countryside and Riviera and such. (We’ve both already been to Paris a few times but never anywhere else.)

What you should see in Paris:

Eiffel Tower

Notre Dame

Rodin Museum

Musee d’Orsay

Sacre Coeur/Montmartre/Place du Tertre

Louvre (outside)

The Seine

Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysees (go to metro stop George V on line 1 [yellow] and walk west to the Arc on the Champs Elysees. OR you can start from the Louvre courtyard and walk west–it’s a longer walk but you get to see more of the city. I used to take this walk when I lived in Paris.)

What you should skip:

Les Invalides (unless you just take a quick look at the outside. Napoleon’s tomb is bo-ring) (if you take bus route 69 [light blue] it goes from Pere Lachaise to the Eiffel Tower, and there’s a stop at Les Invalides [the Rodin Museum is a short walk from that stop as well]. The bus requires you to pay more attention with more potential for getting lost than the metro, but you also get to see more of the city, which is nice)

Versailles

Bastille (contrary to popular belief the prison isn’t there anymore–replaced by a big pillar. Not worth the time.)

Optional (neat, but if you’re on a tight schedule you can probably do without)

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Louvre (seeing the art inside–the Mona Lisa isn’t that impressive, in my humble opinion)

Chartres cathedral (an hour or two train ride outside of Paris)

Oh man, now you’ve got me all excited and wanting to tell you everything I know about Paris and such. Shoot me an email and I’ll drop some serious Paris info on you. :) I’m so excited for you! My friend and I are only spending about a day or two in Paris, which kind of makes me sad. I really love that city… I’ll be interested to see which you like better, Paris or London. For some reason, I’ve just never been able to get excited about London. Anyway, have fun!!

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KateG • April 3, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Posted before I finished – but wanted to say I really like Lonely Planet guidebooks. Don’t be afraid to take the metro or Tube – I love navigating the public transport in other countries. So many interesting people and things to look at. And I would say if you want to do the “tourist trap” things, do them. Many if not most of them are super popular for a reason. And the ones that really are a trap, hopefully the guide books will alert you.

If you are concerned about negative attitudes, I would say you can try to look more like a European by not wearing shorts or anything with a US sports team logo on it (not that you necessarily would do either of those things). You could also sew an Australian flag to your backpack (just kidding!)

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Kyle • April 3, 2009 at 12:39 pm

DUDE. I am so excited for you!!!!!!! Don’t hate me because I used the word dude.

I know the coolest expat blogger in Paris if you want someone to go have a glass of wine with or to show you around the town. Seriously, she’s awesome: http://fnedsblog.blogspot.com/

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Missy • April 3, 2009 at 1:00 pm

go to ricksteves.com and read everything you can on his “grafitti wall”…all tips from other travellers.

He does a travel show on PBS, and is uber nerdy.. but his travel books are great for the novice traveller. The maps in his books are crap though.. so I’d recommend supplementing in that area.

I like popout maps personally. They sometimes have them at Barnes and Noble

http://www.amazon.com/Paris-Pop-Out-Map/dp/184587711X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1238777162&sr=8-1

Consider an apartment rental if you are staying in each place long enough. vrbo.com is good

If you’re feeling extra adventurous and want to save $$… try hosteling.

I’ve used the BVJ hostel (latin quarter) several times, and enjoyed it. http://bvjhotel.com/

I’m biased, but I’d say skip london and just go to paris. A week isn’t enough time to enjoy both places.

Must do’s in Paris

Go to Angelina (near the louvre on rue rivoli) and have a hot chocolate (called l’africain) you will think you died and went to heaven.

Sit in an outside cafe, sip tea, and watch people go by.

Find a way to Giverny and see Monets gardens. It wasn’t until my 6th trip to Paris that I finally managed to get out there.. and wow. seriously. Wow. Springtime will be amazing.

get a carte musee, so you can see all the good museums and skip the long lines (they have special passholder lines..much shorter)

Back to rick steves… his guidebook has self guided museum tours, so you can get through the louve and only see the “important stuff”. I think its worth going to.. but I WAY prefer the Orsay.

Anyhoo… I love to travel, and i lurves me some Paris, so feel free to email if you think I can help.

Oh, and welcome to your new addiction. Once you get the travel bug, there is no turning back :)

Guidebooks:

Rick Steves

Frommers

Not a guidebook but cool

City Walks: Paris

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vraz60 • April 3, 2009 at 1:04 pm

What an absolutely wonderful idea!! You are to be commended for making the most out of what could be considered a bad situation. BRAVO!!!

My one and only suggestion for Paris is to be careful if you decide to take the Segway tour. I fell off and really “jimmied up” my shoulder. Was in pain for most of London, Dublin, Edinburgh, etc.

Have fun!!!

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Naantje • April 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm

OMG, it seems like EVERYBODY is going to Paris this year. My eldest brother went there to shoot some news footage, my second brother took his wife there for a week-end, my boyfriend went there with school, my youngest brother will be going there with school, my boyfriends brother took his girlfriend there, the project runway people went to Paris, you’re going to Paris and I have NEVER been there.

It’s only 2hours 14minutes by train, and I have never been there. I should really go there this summer, shouldn’t I?

Should you consider also spending a day in Belgium, I would gladly show you around in Ghent. Ghent is lovely, see so on http://www.visitgent.be

And it’s not just my opninion, National Geographic Traveler Magazine places Ghent third in its global ranking of authentic destinations. Worth your while, if your only 2h14 away.

You can e-mail anytime if you’re interested!

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lizriz • April 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm

That’s awesome! Good for you!

I got laid off two years ago and decided it was the perfect time to buy a bike. And it was. You’ve got to live life when you’ve got the time to live it, you know?

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Ssmith28 • April 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Do you think your headaches could be environmental instead of physical? CNN is running storys about “Chinese Drywall” being used in homes all over the country and it is making people ill. I am sure you have been down this road-but just wanted to bring it up again. I lived in an apartment with mold, only didn’t realize it was until after we moved and I was almost instantly better.

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Kelly • April 3, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I took my first trip out of the country in January 2008 at the age of 31 after years and years of wanting to travel, but never having the means or opportunity, or never making the opportunity for myself. We went to India and spent a few days in Paris on our way back.

I’m sure you know all the museums and cathedrals to go to in Paris. I will put in a plug for the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, if you’re interested in medieval religious art at all. First of all, it’s free! Second, the building itself is a medieval abbey and is very cool. Third, they have several amazing tapestries, including the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry.

We stayed at Hotel Bellevue in the Montmartre area, right near Sacre Couer cathedral. We booked reservations there because we found them cheap, but it wound up being a great location with easy access to the Metro. They put out a great breakfast spread with piles of pastries from a bakery right down the street.

I discovered that it’s true. No one does bread and pastries like the French. Try a palmiere.

OK, I’m done now.

Have fun!

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Shannon • April 3, 2009 at 1:17 pm

I spent 10 days in Paris to celebrate my 30th birthday a few years back and they were probably the best days of my life. You will find plenty to do there if splitting your time between there and London–I could have easily spent much more time in Paris alone and not gotten bored. The Louvre is quite overwhelming, but you gotta go. Don’t miss the Musee D’Orsay, though. See many famous works of art, especially the Impressionist works. Very cool.

When I was there we rented a small apartment instead of staying in a hotel, something I highly recommend doing. I think I found the place on Craigslist. It ended up being cheaper than a hotel, a lot more spacious, had a nice little kitchen so that at least some meals could be eaten in (although its tempting to eat out A LOT in Paris) and we felt more like citizens of our little neighborhood and less like tourists.

Have fun!

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Wendy • April 3, 2009 at 1:18 pm

My god, you’re going to get on the London Eye before me, and I live in England!!

Have a wonderful trip. I can’t advise on anywhere specific because it’s been a good 10 years since I visited London or Paris, but you can’t fail to have a good time. If I was going to London I would definitely be seeing a West End show though.

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Laura N • April 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Holy shit I am so stinking excited for you!!!! And proud of you. Way to get out there, Jennette.

I went to Europe in college with a prof who put together tours every year. I made no decisions at all on where we stayed or went. But I can tell you a few things.

The Louvre is overwhelming, it is so huge. I spent one hour there. Saw the Mona Lisa & Winged Victory & pretty much wandered around lost & then said, screw this I’m going back to Mussee D’Orsee (which has the most amazing Impressionist collection). The (I’m assuming) cheap hotel we stayed at in Paris only had hot water in the early early morning, before everyone else used it up, so a more costly hotel in Paris might be a good idea if you value warm water (which I do). Notre Dame is not to be missed. Neither is Montmartre, where you can get good deals on original art works. The subway in Paris smelled like pee, but I didn’t hold it against the city. I loved Paris.

London ROCKS. Love the Tube. Love the people. Very easy city to get around in. Amazing museums. I only visited the first floor of Herrods, but that’s the floor with the food so it’s all I needed to visit anyway! Oh, and I recall that refills on drinks in restaurants are generally NOT free, which I thought was weird. And ice in drinks? Forget about it. They don’t do ice. It’s amazing to see portions of the Roman Wall that are, like, just THERE! It’s the freaking Roman Wall, from thousands of years ago, and it’s still there for you to touch & sit on. The Tower is worth the time to take a tour. GORGEOUS parks in London. My gosh, the flowers are amazing (hopefully by the time you go it will be warm enough–I was there in mid June).

Most of all, you will be floored by the sense of history in Europe. It made me feel like we are infants here in the U.S. When you tour a cathedral that was built 700 years ago, it’s extremely humbling.

I wish I was going too. Have a blast doing your research & planning. I’ll be so excited to hear all about it!!!

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girlrunningaround • April 3, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Awesome! What a great opportunity, even in these crap times. I’ve never been to Europe, but in my ohter travel’s I’ve used the Lonely Planet guidebooks and they’ve never steered me wrong. Have fun!

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Laura N • April 3, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Oops, spelled D’Orsay wrong. Didn’t google it first! Oh well, I see others agree with me on it.

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Laura N • April 3, 2009 at 1:28 pm

@AlaskaJoey – Oh, I remeber St Chapelle….amazing. Great call on that one!

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Laura N • April 3, 2009 at 1:32 pm

@Rachie – Completely agree about the Mona Lisa. It’s behind glass, behind a rope. And it’s small. Not worth a trip to The L if that’s all you want to see.

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victoria • April 3, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Oh, I am so, so hap[py for you! You go, girl! Have an awesome time, take lots of photos, and blog every day!

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Lindsay • April 3, 2009 at 2:25 pm

you must buy Rick Steves travel books. I believe he has a London as well as a Paris city guide book and you can probably buy them used somewhere. He is truly amazing. I just got back from a six month study abroad trip and rick steves mad my trip that much better. He tells you when it’s worth it to spend the extra cash and what is a waste of money. His books are great!

While in Paris I would suggest going to Versaille, Notre Dame (climb to the top!), D’Orsay,and of course the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower (at night!)

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Allison • April 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Oh fun! I love Paris! You’ll have a great time I’m sure. :) London is also a cool city, but for some reason I never feel like I’m traveling unless the people around me are speaking a different language. I’m weird like that. :B

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Danielle • April 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Paris? Lucky you. My husband and I went a couple of years ago, and LOVED it. LOVED.

We went for a week and rented a furnished apartment. It’s so nice to be able to get your own breakfast (croissants are wonderful, but not exactly a healthy balanced meal to keep you going) and we were able to do some grocery shopping (I’m a cooking nerd, I love visiting foreign grocery stores).

Shoes: If you don’t want to be pegged as a tourist at 100 paces (you don’t), buy a pair of comfortable shoes that you can walk in all day, but don’t look like sneakers. Make sure you break them in before you go.

Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t find many people to be rude. I always made an effort to say ‘Bonjour’ and attempt to pronounce menu items, say please, etc, and for the most part, it was appreciated I think. And most Parisians speak English.

I think that shop keepers, servers have a different way of thinking about things vs. North Americans. The lady we rented the apartment from said that Europeans will smile, but not because you just bought a baguette.

Oh, and take the subway – investigate buying a pass. We didn’t figure that out until too late – digging around for change every day instead.

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Molly • April 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I’ve only been to London, but here were my favorite places:

Tower of London

British Museum

Outside the city but available by bus through tour companies (I used Gray Line Tours)

Warwick Castle

Windsor Castle

In London, I also enjoyed having tea in Harrod’s tea room.

I hope you have a wonderful trip and I look forward to a blog about your trip!

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Johanna • April 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Before going to Paris, I’d prepare by reading the blog of Petite Anglaise:

http://www.petiteanglaise.com/

Especially the archives with many stories about her life in Paris.

Notre Dame and the Marais are my favourites.

As for London, I recommend the London Transport Museum:

http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

There’s the London Underground of course, but also a river which runs underneath London, the Fleet. And all kinds of tunnels and strange traffic solutions underneath the river Thames that are fascinating to learn about. I’d even visit the Tower of London and maybe Hampton Court or Windsor if you have the time. The British Museum is a given.

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Hooch • April 3, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Come and visit me in Bremen! What do you mean you don’t know me? I have been reading your blog for YEARS. Oh sadly you do not See Germany on your European tour.

To echo others -

Dorling Kindersley guides v good

London – London Eye, Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert, Harrods, Afternoon tea at the Ritz, Brick Lane for a curry, walking about, St Paul’s Cathedral (sometimes you can hear the choir practicing or catch Sung Matins or Evensong, that is nice), Covent Garden,

Paris – Rodin Museum, the gardens, sit in a cafe with coffee and cake, Pompadou Centre, Versailles or Chartres nice for a day trip,

Have a great time, I am sure you will.

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AlaskaJoey • April 3, 2009 at 3:01 pm

@Kelly – I walked past it on my way to somewhere else- I had completely forogt to put it on my itinerary! Thank goodness I saw Cluny Musee and said “what’s that?” Out came the guidebook. I would have kicked myself later if I’d missed it.

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Johanna • April 3, 2009 at 3:19 pm

@Hooch – Bremen! I was there last August. For a wedding! Such a nice place and an easy flight from Stockholm… which is where I am. :-)

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Melissa • April 3, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Great way to make lemonade out of lemons! I love Europe and hope you do too!! :) Love London — but I stayed with my sister in her flat, so I can’t recommend where to stay. But we had so much fun being tourists in “her city” (she was studying there) and I LOVED Wagamama, the noodle cafe. Such a fun concept! Have a blast.

No recs on Paris, always wanted to go and on a flight to Madrid I had a connection there and we did eat a baguette with cheese at CDG … it was the best I’d ever had!

Have a wonderful time!!

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Hooch • April 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm

@Johanna -

It is a v nice place, and we have the spitting stone:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/halsodyne/436520170/in/set-72157601518303251/

I think if more people knew about this touristic feature they would not spend so much time in Paris and London. No spitting stones there. Still PastaQueen will have to make the best of it, and next time she plans a European tour we will give her more direction.

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Johanna • April 3, 2009 at 3:39 pm

@Hooch – Ha! If it isn’t already then it definitely should be among the Seven Wonders of the World! :-D

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Liz • April 3, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Lots of good advice here. I am married to a French guy and have been to Paris quite a bit both with him and solo. I would second everything in Rachie’s comment above. I would also add going to the Catacombs – it’s a bit morbid but really interesting. It’s also fun to ride one of the city bikes down the Champs – particularly at night. Rick Steves’ guides are always useful. I would also say to eat whatever you want, you probably won’t gain a pound. Paris is one of the best walking cities in the world, you’ll walk off the calories without even realizing it. Have fun.

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Tiffany S. • April 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

YAY! I’m so excited for you!!!!

Rick Steves is a local guy up here who writes really down-to-earth “Europe through the Back Door” books about how to see not just what the average tourist sees. He comes off as a complete dork on tv but we’ve seen him in person, and he’s amazing!

Oh – just saw that the person above me also recommended Rick Steves so there ya go!

Can’t wait to hear all about your trip!

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Emily • April 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Way to go!! Sometimes a vacation is better for you than any doctor’s prescription. Have fun!

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Lori • April 3, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Wow – what an opportunity!

I wouldn’t even know where to tell you to go, since I haven’t been there. You may want to check with any local travel clubs and attend any seminars about various trips (these often happen at libraries). Might help you make up your mind.

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Anna • April 3, 2009 at 5:32 pm

I’m surprised that no one has made this suggestion before — but consider staying in hostels. Lonely Planet or Let’s Go guides will have lots of recommendations. It’ll be cheaper and it’s great for someone travelling alone because it’s a very friendly atmosphere where you’ll meet other travelers who want to meet new people. You’ll always find someone to play a game of cards or take a trip out to a pub.

Sure, you may not be 20, like lots of backpackers, but that’s no reason to write off hostels, particuarly when you have a budget!

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Marla • April 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Definitely Rick Steves – he is THE expert on Europe, and great at telling you how to see the kinds of things YOU want to see, instead of the standard 5-cathedrals-in-2-days tours. He does a podcast as well, you have time to listen to some episodes before your trip.

I’m sure you will have a wonderful time everywhere! In London, I recommend the Builder’s Arms pub in Kensington. We spent almost every night there! Also took a boat tour on the Thames to Greenwich, to see the royal observatory and the FAN MUSEUM. A must-see.

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Deb • April 3, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Hooray for you! What a wise decision. You make so much sense and you will have a wonderful time. I’ll think about the details, having been to both places and will get back to you on that. Just wanted to post now because I’m so excited for you!

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Emily • April 3, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Wow. I just did the same thing this week. My husband and I decided mostly on a whim to go to London, and are going in May. So, congratulations. I commented before I read the other comments, so now I need to go get suggestions, too!

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Karen • April 3, 2009 at 6:01 pm

You’ll love Europe — I’ve been many times (to Italy more often/longer than elsewhere) and I’ve never failed to have a *great* time. And I’ve also never gone wrong with the “Let’s Go” series of travel books — their dining and accomodation suggestions are always very well-selected and affordable, among other benefits.

My husband and I are also traveling this year — to Turkey, Albania and Kosovo — for a month. Recession be damned! Have a great time!

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Rachie • April 3, 2009 at 6:09 pm

A comment on the whole French rudeness thing:

The French aren’t rude; they just don’t smile at everybody like Americans do. The French smile at strangers for two reasons: 1) to flirt (be careful that you don’t smile at any men because they will follow you and try to talk to you–I learned this the hard way); 2) if you both saw something funny and catch each others’ eyes right afterward. Otherwise, they are straight-faced and reservedly polite, which is very different from being rude.

As with any country, you shouldn’t just go expecting that everybody will speak English (even though the majority does). Make an effort to learn some basic words. How would you feel if somebody came up to you and started jabbering away in a foreign language, assuming you’re going to understand?

When entering an establishment, you should greet the owner/shopkeeper with a polite “Bonjour” and, when you leave be sure to say “Au revoir.” You’d be amazed at what these small gestures do for foreign relations. When somebody helps you or rings you up at the check-out counter, be sure to say “Merci,” and for the love of all that is holy, if you bump into somebody or step on their foot or something, you MUST say “Pardon.” I saw a guy get chewed out by another guy in a music store because he bumped into a dude and kept walking. The bumped followed the bumper around and yelled at him for not excusing himself. Believe me, they take this crap seriously. Also, I would suggest you learn to count to ten, and use the term “S’il vous plait (please)” frequently. Also, if you’re going to ask somebody a question, I’ve found there’s a very strict protocol: first you say, “Excusez-moi,” then you say “Bonjour.” After that you can proceed with your question.

See, it’s not that the French are rude, it’s that they have a very particular way of doing things. Ironically, it’s that we Americans are rude, and the French are extremely polite.

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Ginny • April 3, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Good for you!

My husband surprised me with a trip to London this February for our 10 year anniversary. I loved it.

Most everything I would recommend has already been mentioned.

If you have time though, the town of Salsbury is about 1 1/2 hours out of London by train. From there you can hop a bus to Stonehenge. It was amazing!

Have fun.

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Karen • April 3, 2009 at 6:10 pm

@Karen – I just wanted to add to my first post that while hostles might be a great way to meet other people and save money, be VERY careful in selecting where you choose to stay and with whom. I’m also a woman in my 20′s and I’ve traveled by myself around England and Belgium (in 2004), and while I always felt perfectly safe, I always opted to spend a bit more money and get my own room in a hotel, where you have privacy and don’t have to share a room with a stranger or leave your things in a locker in some communal area. European cities offer a wide array of accomodation types, including family-run small hotels that are just as charming/fun as any hostel, but significantly more secure, esp. for a woman by herself.

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Karen • April 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm

@Rachie – I agree with you, generally. I think American tourists, on a whole, go abroad expecting everyone to behave exactly as Americans do and when they don’t, they get offended. While I DO think there is some actual anti-American prejudice in (especially Western) Europe, I do also think that a lot of American travelers behave in ways that make the locals recoil (including all the American students who get plastered at clubs and then wander the streets). However, I think “polite and respectful” translates pretty much wherever you go and so long as a person doesn’t behave obnoxiously, they should not have a problem.

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Karen B. • April 3, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Stay at the Hotel George, great atmosphere, delish breakfast and close to transportation. All of the rooms are tiny in London but these rooms are pretty nice. Dinner at the Connaught. The food never stops coming and it’s excellent. Don’t miss the Natural HIstory Museum, best ever. Go see castles, they’re fun and go to pubs for lunches, not dinner. You’ll have a great time, I’m jealous!

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lauraver • April 3, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I am a long time lurker on your great blog, and I also happen to have been born and raised in Paris, where I return each year. If you email me directly with questions (generic, specific, whatever!) I’ll do my best to give you tips on my favorite things to do in Paris. I love London too but I don’t know it half as well. Bon voyage!

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sarah • April 3, 2009 at 8:24 pm

London is amazing!!! I was there nearly 7 years ago and want to go back so badly!! Have fun!! Oh I am so jealous! Take lots of pictures.

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thenew.mrsbarr • April 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Rick Steves’ guidebooks got me flawlessly through Italy. I’d recommend them.

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Lydia • April 3, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Guide book — a good one for any country is always The Rough Guide.

And in London: don’t miss the British Museum. Research it on-line or however you want to, beforehand, so you don’t miss anything you’d really like seeing. You just shouldn’t miss this opportunity to do something VERY worthwhile for your brain and your heart, and go to the British Museum near Russell Square.

I LOVE London. Have a great time, whatever you do. Be sure to go to Harrods, just to go there. Buy something just for the experience of shopping at Harrods.

Walking the parks is amazing — great parks. Go to Kensington Palace to see where Diana lived and where all the thousands of flower arrangements were laid out in front of the gate when she died.

So much history at the Tower of London — you must take the tour there. The crows really are enormous. Eat some fish and chips at a good “chippie” — it really is delicious. Take your Zantac if you have reflux!

Hard Rock Cafe — the first one!

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is a BIG, kitschy (sp?) kick!

In Paris, it’s fun to get your portrait sketched in front of Sacre Coeur (I framed mine and gave it to my mom, like 20 years ago — she still has it on her wall). If you have time, a day trip to Versailles is a really neat thing to do, and imagine all those hungry Parissienes storming the Palace.

Sorry for any misspellings . . . have a BLAST and put lots of pictures up if you want to. All of us — who’ve been there or not been there — would love to see and hear your take on things!!!

Oh, yes — eat British PUB FOOD. Delicious and relatively inexpensive — plus, you can probably talk to people and make acquaintances! Be very polite. :)

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Maureen • April 3, 2009 at 9:37 pm

We will be in London and Paris in May!!

My daughter and I went to England a few years ago, and here are some of our must sees:

British Museum is beyond words, we spent a whole day and I could have easily spent another.

Victoria & Albert was wonderful, loved it.

Tower of London, National Gallery (if you like art), St Paul’s Cathedral are all musts.

Westminster Abbey is absolutely breathtaking, I cried when we first entered. We took a tour with a Deacon, that was a great experience-and it was so reasonable.

We did day trips to Stratford, Bath, and Windsor-and spent 5 days in York. (loved, loved, loved Yorkshire-we will be spending more time up there this trip)

The tube is super easy to use, we got the Oyster card which you load with money, and scan for each ride. We also brought Britrail passes before we left the US.

We stayed at Premier Inns-very reasonably priced. It is a chain, but it was very clean and the rooms were great. We went when they had a heat wave, it was so nice to have AC.

Anything by Rick Steves is great, and I loved our Eyewitness Top Ten London book. It tells you the must see things at the best places to visit.

Sorry this is so long, but I just booked our plane tickets-can’t wait for the trip!

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Chrissy S • April 3, 2009 at 10:07 pm

I am proud of your positive take on this furlough. And wow, what a rate you got!

Recently you had a post about footwear, and I see that some have touched on it for this travel post. It is probably a good idea to make shoe shopping a priority here real soon so you have some great ones for the trip, and have time to wear them now to make sure the ARE great!

I read a lot of those shoe posts, & I think most of the shoe brands were covered. I think you are not one for shopping, but might want to go to one of the better shoe stores. I assume you will also wear your trainers a lot, since they are comfy for you!

I didn’t get through all the shoe posts, so I might be repeating (I’m sorry, I really did try to) but I think you might like to try a product called BodyGlide for your feet! It helps prevent rubbing and blistering. I get it a EMS, and it is probably sold at some of the running stores you go to.

Have so much fun dear! We will all miss you if you wait to post.

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Lynn • April 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Do NOT stay in a youth hostel in Paris. I was there two years ago and met up with a friend; she read the Rick Steves guide which said the hostel was fine, but she found it dirty, unpleasant, and insecure. She was slightly older than the others, but is by no means a picky person. For sightseeing, I love the Musee de Cluny. It has medieval art, including fabulous tapestries. It’s fairly small and built on Roman ruins which were turned into a bishop’s palace.

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Megan • April 3, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Hurray for you, Pastaqueen!

Here is my story:

I too had never been abroad but have wanted to go for years… mostly to Europe and Japan. I hear that two separate one-week unpaid furloughs where I work are pretty much a done deal for July and December and I will very likely lose my job by December, but I went crazy and booked my first ever trip abroad with a couple friends- to Australia!!!- not during a furlough week, just a random week where I’m using vacation.

After all, if we lose our jobs, when will we have the $$$ again to go abroad? It’s now or never!

The best part of all is, I will be traveling overseas before I turn 30 after all, which I was afraid might not happen! Woooo!!!!!

Enjoy your trip! Please post lots of pictures!

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Elizabeth • April 4, 2009 at 5:06 am

I know you will be very busy while here in the UK and Paris, but you could pop up to Edinburgh and would have a fabulous time! I’ve been living here for 6 years and it is amazing. Otherwise, wgile in London visit borough market for amazing food, and Camden Markets for amazing deals and quirky finds. I hope you are going to paris on the eurostar train, it is so exciting to arrive in Paris that way….. Make sure you visit montmartre and the louvre, it’s just really really big! On a nice day a boat cruise down the Seine is amazing too.

I’m so jealous of your holiday.

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Sara • April 4, 2009 at 7:59 am

That’s so exciting! My parents are vacationing there right now, I’m so jealous :) I’ve never been, so I don’t have any tips for you. Have a great time!!

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Beverly • April 4, 2009 at 8:36 am

Go to the library and check out all of the travel guides and then pour over them at home. It is how I decide which book to buy and take with me.

London:

The British Museum requires most of a day and it is worth it and free. Harrod’s is fun and has the most amazing cup of hot chocolate I have ever had (warning it cost me about $15 USD). Harrod’s is also pretty neat because they have tribute’s to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed since his family owns Harrod’s. Oh and go to a show if you can, the theater crowd is fun. And this place, Waxy O’Conner’s has a tree growing inside of it: http://www.waxyoconnors.co.uk/london/

Paris:

You have to go to Musee D’Orsay. It is by far my favorite art museum. I would go back to Paris just to go there. I love the Montemarte area. Do not be afraid to walk in a little restaurant there and blindly order something because it is all great. My friend stayed at an apt in Montemarte because some people make extra cash by renting their places while they are away. It is a cool way to experience the city the same way someone living there does. Also, I love Versailles. I have been twice and I think it is lovely. I like imagining all things Marie Antoinette.

Have fun!

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BrightAngel • April 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

I want to encourage you in your decision.

I think what you’re doing is a great idea.

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--cara • April 4, 2009 at 10:34 am

Way to turn a negative into a positive! $410 for a flight to London!!?? Holy cow! Amazing!!

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BrightAngel • April 4, 2009 at 10:36 am

Another post to tell an incident I find amusing.

After his tour in Vietnam — while my husband was still young and single, he and a buddy, traveled around the world.

Recently he was talking about what he enjoyed in Paris,

and someone (knowing he is a big Doors fan) asked him if he visited Jimmy Morrison’s grave.

He told them no, and then he became a bit sad over the opportunity that he missed…..

until he realized that

at the time when he was in Paris,

Jimmy Morrison was still alive.

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cc • April 4, 2009 at 10:58 am

@Naantje – I’ve got to agree. Ghent is really lovely.

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Suzanne WIlsey • April 4, 2009 at 11:32 am

The Absolutely Best map for each city is The London Mapguide/The Paris Mapguide edited by Michael Middleditch. I think Penguin is the publisher. I have now (over a 20 year period) gone through 2 of them each. They come in small booklet form, have excellent graphics, all Tube/Metro stops superimposed on street maps, and excellent indexes (indices) of important/interesting sights. CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR TRIP!

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Chelsea J • April 4, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I’m a little late to jump on the bandwagon, but I found Rick Steve’s guidebooks to be very useful when my husband and I went to Paris. My only advice is to wash your hands. A lot. And take something to boost your immune system. The subway system isn’t all that easy to understand if you’ve caught a norovirus on the plane. Take the stairs up the Eiffel tower, it’s cheaper, and there’s a shorter line. Plus, you have the stair climbing practice. Good Luck!

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Donna • April 4, 2009 at 12:54 pm

A group of four of us took a Rick Steves walking tour of Athens that we printed off of the internet. It was really wonderful You should definitely check him out.

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Merry • April 4, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Woo hoo!

Hey, do you need a translator? I speak jolly good English :)

- Don’t get too excited if someone offers to knock you up first thing in the morning.

- Don’t get offended if someone comes up to you and says they’re really pissed.

It’s true that not all Parisians are rude, neither are all New Yorkers. But a higher majority than the rest of the country in either case.

You’re going to have a GREAT time!!!

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ana • April 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Go to Versailles. It is a half day trip fron Paris and it is great. If it is available, buy the ticket with an extra tour (secrets of the palace or something like that) it takes you to areas not open to the public.

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Julie • April 4, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I’m so jealous!

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Jenn • April 4, 2009 at 4:39 pm

When we were in Paris, we stayed at a little bed and breakfast near the Luxembourg Gardens called the Hotel Relais di Medicis. (They will even bring your breakfast up to your room!!!)

Here is the link to the webpage:

http://www.relaismedicis.com/

Also, don’t drink the tapwater… I don’t know if this was definitely the cause of our SEVERE diarrhea but it was the only thing my husband and I consistently had in common. Good thing the Louvre has lots of bathrooms!

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anji • April 4, 2009 at 6:43 pm

I was in italy a few years ago and Germany but received teh same advice from both countries… don’t *look* like you’re a tourist. Don’t wear jeans… dress up! You don’t have to pack heavy, just pack smart. Bring two pairs of pants (like, dressy pants), a pair of comfy walking shoes (running shoes? too obvious but I have a pair of doc martins that let me fit in)… and a snazzy top or two… they’re so classy and dressy there, they really take pride in how they dress. I felt so slobby when I wore my jeans so I only did that once or twice!

I heard there’s a marathon in underground crypts in Paris? I mean, don’t go running a marathon but crypts would be pretty cool to see! I saw the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and they had prisons and things… just an hour in one of those places, really makes you think about the history of man and what people in the past really went through. Be sure to visit a few churches because, they ain’t your normal church! I visited one in Koln which was AMAZING… gothic… dark… deep… forboding… and just brilliant for photography. (I can send you a link to my vacation photos that I made a video of)… I also went online and found maps of where I was going to… so I wasted NO time getting lost in venice with all of the dead-ends. Google earth exists now (which didnt’ exist then!) and really, it’s fantastic… virtually visit and get a mental picture of where you want to go. If you’re only going for a week, you don’t want to spend all that time wandering aimlessly.

Are you strapped for cash for accommodations? you could try hostels… you may have to surrender your passport though (thanks to 9/11, it’s law in many european countries!)…. I didn’t mind the one in rome and seriously, you spend so little time in it…

And finally, pack half of what you think you need. I packed a huge bag and only used a 1/4 of it… and i was there for a month! just pack enough undies for the week, an extra bra (you’ll get sweaty), a pair of socks for each day and two pants, two shirts… and leave some room to bring home your loot! No one sees you every single day there, so no one needs to know you wore the same shirt twice. Plus, you can just buy a shirt there (or two!) and embrace the quality of European clothing! Plus, they’re taller in European than here so you may actually find clothes that fit you better than here!

Ohhh, if you want to REALLY get to know people and you’re willing to get to know some readers, I’m sure there’s some French/Brits here who would be willing to board you for the night! You’ll meet some amazing friends! In my one month aboard, I stayed only one night in a hostel… the rest I had gracious hosts in Germany and Italy…

A bientot mon amie!!! Bon voyages!

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Jody • April 4, 2009 at 6:56 pm

That sounds awesome! Good for you!

“Let’s go” Travel guides have never failed me. They’re written for young, budget travelers. The food and hostel recommendations are great. Especially the food. They always seem to know the best local places.

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Bev • April 4, 2009 at 7:13 pm

In London, definitely see The Museum of London (near the Barbizon). It doesn’t get all the big advertisements, but is my very favorite museum, if you want to know the history of London…and seeing the Lord Mayor’s coach at the end is worth the price of admission alone.

Have fun!

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Denise • April 4, 2009 at 7:30 pm

HI PQ,

I went to London in 2005 w/my friend who was in a w/c the whole time, it was the most accompidating place I’ve ever visited. We stayed at the Dolphin Square Hotel which I booked on priceline and got a pretty good deal. We walked (or I should say I walked and pushed her around in her w/c) all over because I bought a map of the streets (not one street goes straight for very long). Had a blast. We went on the London Eye, toured Kennsington Palace, the churches there are just beautiful. In May though expect it to be cooler. I thought a light spring jacket would do but could have used a little heavier jacket. Bought a couple of sweatshirts while we were there.

Hope you have a blast.

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Jessica • April 4, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Brilliant idea! I LOVE Paris. London is also awesome but expensive. I loved the Tower of London, Covent Garden- get a jacket potato from a street vendor there (baked potato- with great toppings- YUM). The public parks and gardens are spectacular. Tea is also so great there. Harrods is neat too- but no jeans allowed!

Paris- my fave places are Rodin Museum garden. They have an outdoor cafe where you can sit outside and write postcards and I swear it is such a beautiful peaceful spot.

Musee D’Orsay- love the Monet, Renoir, Degas and Van Gogh paintings here.

Musee Orangerie in the Tuileries- a gorgeous walk in May and the Museum is mostly Monet- including the waterlilies so gorgeous.

Georges Pompidou Museum of Modern Art. The cafeteria is on the top floor and the food is phenomenal with great views. They filmed a scene from Le Divorce with Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts there- so cool- great decor and great view. Great museum too.

Ile St Louis by Notre Dame Cathedral has the best ice cream in Paris. There are also patisseries, cafes, shops, etc. It is not overwhelming and touristy- just a really small group of streets with everything you want from Paris.

We loved Bistro food. Our favorite was really hard to find but it was called Allard. It is very simple food but every single thing we ate was the best thing we have ever tasted. I usually only like chocolate desserts or else the cheese course. We ordered an apple tart and it was the best dessert I ever had. I have tried the apple tart everywhere since trying to replicate it and have had no luck even coming close!

Every day in Paris I start with a chocolate croissant and if I have no restaurant plans a ham sandwich on baguette and a glass of wine or a bottle of coke is the BEST lunch. I have also bought a baguette and then gone into a supermarket and bought cream cheese and jelly to spread on it- or brie. YUM!

Last- if you do go into a supermarket- keep your eyes open. In a lot of them- they don’t want you to touch the produce- you tell the grocer what you want and they pick out the most ripe one for you. Or- if it is self serve- you weigh everything in the produce section and write down the weight on the tag there- so that when you get to the checkout it is already done. If you don’t do this- you will hold up the whole line behind you while the grocer goes back to do this for you.

Everyone in Paris has always been so generous and nice to me except the post office workers! I think comfortable shoes-not sneakers is one key!

I am SO JEALOUS! Have a great time!

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Melissa @ Anxious for Nothing • April 4, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Oh, how exciting! Good for you for deciding to just GO FOR IT! I hope you have a marvelous time!

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town mouse • April 5, 2009 at 7:36 am

you’ve got more than enough suggestions here to keep you occupied in London for a month … As an ex Londoner – I would advise you to try and do your sightseeing in the mornings when things are less crowded – especially the museums, and then chill out in the afternoons. Definitely get an oyster card (as someone else has suggested) and load it with cash for the bus and the tube and you’ll save a huge amount of money – the single fares on the tubes with the paper tickets are punitive. (You can get an oyster card at any tube station – fill in a form and they’ll hand it straight to you). Don’t forget to claim your balance and deposit back when you leave. Do the London Eye as late as you can in the day when the queues go down and the lights are coming up all over London. You might also want to take a river boat out to Greenwich or the Thames barrier. Some of them have unofficial commentaries which are a hoot.

And while Londoners are not quite as rude as Parisians, don’t expect to strike up casual conversations (at least with the Brits) – people do keep themselves to themselves. We’re not being rude, we’re just made that way

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Lynn • April 5, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Two years ago my husband and I stayed in the Best Western Quartier Latin Pantheon, on Rue Monge. There are a lot of Best Westerns in Paris! This one was moderately priced and perfectly fine. The desk clerks were friendly, the breakfast had protein. A few steps from the door you can go around the corner to a pedestrian street that has tons of restaurants, so it was really great that you could have a wonderful dinner and then just waddle back to the room without dealing with the subway. It’s close to the Place Monge Metro stop (pink line), but a nice walk to Notre Dame. I think the people telling you not to wear jeans are on target, and you really should try to get to Versaille if you can. The Rick Steves guide is very clear. Have a wonderful time, and tell us all about it!

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Emily • April 6, 2009 at 9:08 am

Oooh, FAB! Have loads of fun! I’ve been to both cities, and really REALLY recommend the London Pass and the Paris Museum Pass. (Obviously, make sure they let you in to the things you want to see…)

Hostels in Montmartre (Paris) are SUPER cute, cheap(-er), and in a fabulous location. And definitely take a Bateaux-Mouches boat trip – it is a wonderful way to see the city, both day and night.

London is really ‘spensive, but SO much fun, and very gorgeous. If you take the tour of Buckingham palace, you get to see the room where Prince William was baptized! *sigh*

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cal • April 6, 2009 at 11:05 am

Oh you’re coming over here, how fab. (I live in London).

I do hope you’re planning to factor in a ‘come and meet PastaQueen’ drink so all your Brit fans can meet you.

Or if you’d like a tour guide for an afternoon…..

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Quix • April 6, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Jealous! The fiance had sort of a similar talk and our next vacation instead of another cruise, I think we’re going to Italy to visit his cousin. Cruises are so easy because all you have to do is get yourself to the boat and they take care of the rest, but now that I’m fit enough to bike/walk for miles and miles, I think I might enjoy it!

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Calidaho • April 6, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Where on Earth did you get such cheap flights!?!

I have often thought about how I would want to be thin to travel to Paris…you know, not wanting to be a Fat American and all. Aren’t you glad you will represent the US as a healthy, fit individual?

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Anna • April 6, 2009 at 8:25 pm

@Rachie – Beautifully put and great advice. We never encountered any of the so-called Parisian rudeness in Paris but saw plenty of Americans getting a mouthful – and it was the Americans being rude and obnoxious that copped it, the polite ones just blended in like the rest of us.

One thing I would add is learn how to say “Excuse me, do you speak English” in FRENCH. ie. “Excusez-moi, parle vou engle” (excuse my awful spelling – but you get the idea). We went up to a stallholder and politely gereeted them and asked in French if they spoke English and got a polite yes and then spoke to them for a while in perfect English – they were lovely and helpful. As we were walking away an American couple walked up to the same stallholder and without greeting stuck their face up in theirs and yelled “Do you speaaaaakkkk Ennnnn-glissshhhhh” to which they got a short “no” and the stallholder turned their back and ignored them. I would have done the very same thing.

We had terrible French but gave it our best shot and would always open a conversation in French. People would always humour us and help us along and then revert to English after the initial pleasantries.

And whatever you do don’t walk up to people in London and ask them if they speak English ;) We were speechless when it happened to us in Edinburgh – then my husband couldn’t resist himself and answered “Yes, but not American”. I don’t think the guy was too bright because he wandered off confused after that.

Have a great trip, Paris and London are two of my favourite places to go – you are going to have so much fun!!!!

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Katherine • April 7, 2009 at 4:23 am

I’ve sent you a separate email regarding accommodation (at my place) in London, but I though I’d share some of my other tips here.

If you are prebooking all your accommodation, then I recommend the DK guide books ( http://www.dk.com/ ). They have wonderful detailed illustrations that I find so much more inspiring than the guidebooks that are chock full of text.

Also, most of the main guidebook producers do podcasts about the cities you are visiting and some even do audio walking tours that you can download for free. I know you can get them through iTunes, but I’m sure there will be links from the guidebook websites too.

The great thing about London and Paris is that most of the key sites are in walking distance of each other, so you can see A LOT in a couple of days.

Although it is touristy, I love the themed walking tours ( http://www.walks.com/ ) in London. I’ve done the Jack the Ripper tour and the Ghosts of the Old City. It’s a great way to see the amazing architecture in the city while the guide spins dark tales of adventure!

One last tip – it’s worth checking out http://www.timeout.com/ to see what will be on while you are in the area. If you are keen to see a West End show (and I highly recommend that) it’s worth going to the official half price ticket store in Leicester Square one morning ( http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts/ ) and you can get great tickets for shows that day.

I’m really enjoying reading all the tips. There are definitely some things I want to try out on my next trip to Paris and back here in London too – so thanks everyone!

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Andy Lee • April 7, 2009 at 8:22 am

Take those brits up on their pints, PQ – they will show you the TOWN! Go to the library and check out a few of those books before you buy. Just cruise through the maps and see whether they give up to date prices etc., If not, well, move on. As you found out – there’s another guidebook around every pensione.

I’m sure you WILL have a fab time!

ITA that picnicing (even in your own hotel room) is the wtg. If you are gone for 7 nights, you can eat in most and really enjoy one or two restaurant dinners. Try the lapin in Paris. Very special.

1 week is FAST. Make sure you leave plenty of time to really just enjoy the space you find yourself. You may overall see less, but you will really dig where you are and the people and the architecture etc. in a way that rushing around won’t allow.

YAY!

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Leigh • April 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm

@Bev – I work for the Museum of London! Yay, thanks for your positive comments! However, the Lord Mayor’s coach isn’t on display at the moment as we’re undergoing a massive refurbishment programme, so everything from after 1666 and the Great fire of London is closed. It’s not going to be open until next year, unfortunately. Come in and visit us though! We’re free now and always run loads of free events and are really nice. And if you come in and find me, I might even give you a one on one tour =)

Some other really cool museums to go and see are the Sir John Soane’s museum. Sir John Soane was an architect and he went around to world collecting different bits, and then he displayed them in his house, and it is his house which you can go and see and it is untouched. There is a piece of an egyptian sarcophagus that he still which is on display and things like that.

I saw someone mention the British Museum. The building itself is Georgian and 250years old (the museum was founded in 1753). Please don’t confuse it though with the Museum of London, which alot of people (including Londoners) do. The British Museum is just history, lots of history from all over the world. They’re redoing all of their galleries at the moment and just opened the Egyptian and Medival galleries. The museum of London covers the history of london and how it developed.

Most people have said the British Museum is huge; they’re not lying. It covers like 4 floors. If you wanted to see a part of every gallery, it would take the whole day.

My honest, honest advice to you? Would be to forget about a guide. Take the advice from the people who have posted here and use the touris information spots which are dotted around London. The guides cover the same things basically, and rarely do you see anything new in them. Following one of them usually means you miss out on a lot of the hidden london stuff.

The national museums are all free and open 7 days a week. Some museums will charge extra to see special exhibitions. I think the British Museum will still have the Shah Abbas exhibit on. Which is like 10 pounds to get in. However, you (and the other peoples who are coming this year) have chosen a great year, because it is the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s succession to the throne, so places like the Tower of London, the British Library, Hampton court (which you can visit as well, it’s by Greenwich I think and has a really famous maze. Google it) are all running special (usually free events). I don’t know when exactly in May you’re coming, but because of the bank holiday alot of places just outside of London which are easily accessible by train or bus, are doing medieval tourneys/jousts/festivals.

Most people who work within the sort of Museum industry will advise you to try and avoid as much as possible the tower of London and St Paul’s. I say blow them, because they’re amazing. You can’t go into many citys and walk around the a building which is between 1000 and 800 years old (depending on what part of the tower you’re in). And you can’t go into many citys and walk into a cathedral which was seen 5 different versions and has stood in the same spot for 1,400 years, and survived the Blitz.

And, shameless plug here, just up the street from St Paul’s is my museum! haha.

Other things to see apart from the museums would be the monument, any of the parks, Covent Garden and Camden, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, obviously Nelson’s Column and Trafalger Square, Harrods/Oxford Street/Regent Street/Picadilly Circus.

Ohh! Go to Fleet Street (just down the road from St Paul’s) and there is a pub there called the Cheshire Cheese. That incarnation was built in 1667 (after the great fire of London; the pubs and inns were rebuilt first to house the workers who rebuilt the city). They do the best chips there.

Another great piece of advice, is to download some of the free walks off of the internet. There are alot of different themes, but you can also order small books of of the internet for like a pound. There’s a dickens one, a ghosts of london one too, loads.

And another thing, Just opposite my museum there is a park, called Postman’s Park. Its only tiny, in between to massive towere blocks. But it is special., because right at the back there is this sheltered veranda and there are about 40 Victorian/Edwardian hand painted tiles, which are all tributes to people who lost their lives saving other people from mortial danger. They’re very moving.

So, that’s alot of information, but just my honest opinion and some stuff which I think you should see. Every part of London is easily accessible either by the tube, bus or walking. The oyster card is the best idea because you will sav an absolute bomb. Beware of using London Transport on the weekend though. Take your laptop and use the Cloud (it’s a wifi connection in the City of London, I think it is free but you can only use it for an hour at a time) and check the TFL website for travel news, because it can ruin your whole day if you misjudge the travel. However if you get it right, you can see and do so much within one day. You won’t miss much if you follow everyone’s advice.

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MamaBearJune • April 7, 2009 at 10:54 pm

My favorite part of London was St. James Park. I was there in July and it was gorgeous! Spring is probably awesome, too. Seeing Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace – a fabulous day! :-) We walked our legs off!

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Denise • April 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I have never been out of the country either (besides Canada but I don’t think that counts), I can hardly wait to read about your trip! I wanted to offer this suggestion regarding guide books: If you or someone you know has AAA you can order guidebooks from them for free! There’s a limit though, I think 2 guidebooks and 2 maps or something like that. Safe travels!

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Michele • April 9, 2009 at 4:57 pm

We just got back from a train trip all over central Europe. It was so much fun! I suggest using EuroCheapo.com to book your hotels… we had great luck with it.

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Emily • April 10, 2009 at 12:31 am

I’m way late on this, and I have to admit that I didn’t read through the other 100+ comments to see if someone’s already recommended these tips!

I was in London in December and stayed in the HI hostel near Oxford Circus and Great Portland St underground stations. Prices were comparable to other places, it was modern, and the location was great.

I also really recommend the Big Bus Tour of London. There are two main bus tours, but we did this one and loved it. It’s a great way to see lots of the sights, you can hop on and off, and the commentary is really interesting – I’d had it recommended to me by locals and tourists alike and was especially glad we did it since we had a short trip (2 days). Enjoy!

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mad • April 10, 2009 at 9:36 am

I’m lucky enough to be living in London for a year, for work. Figuring you have three days or less in London, here is my two day suggestion for you:

Day One: Take a cab or the underground to Westminster Abbey. Wander with audio guide for an hour or two. Walk across the street and see Parliament and Big Ben, then walk down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is there, but I suggest walking to the right and heading into the National Portrait Gallery. It’s free, and there are unbelievable things to be seen in the Tudor and Victorian galleries.

After that, I suggest a relatively unknown gem: The Sir John Soane’s Museum (http://www.soane.org/), one of the coolest small museums here.

Combine all that with some walks (a lovely city for walking) and you’ll have a great day.

Day Two: Two choices, both highly recommended. Take the train from Waterloo and head to Hampton Court Palace. Just took my friend (who was visiting from Indiana) and we planned on a half day but spent the whole day. Or take the train from King’s Cross and go to Cambridge for the day. It’s exactly what you think England should be.

I’m happy to answer any practical or logistical questions you have about being here, or offer further suggestions. Feel free to email anytime.

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gfe--gluten free easily • April 11, 2009 at 10:15 am

I just want to say, BRAVO! Good for you for seizing the moment and knowing you’ll be having a wonderful time during this furlough week!

Shirley

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Mme.G • April 13, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Lonely Planet has never steered me wrong – it is the single best resource if you’re going to be overseas without internet access and need information. There’s a good cafe in the Bastille neighborhood, right on the main square (right near two different Metro line stops) called Cafe des Phares. Very good basic French food, and away from the more touristy eating places.

Don’t ever eat in the 1st arrondissement (near Notre Dame). Everything is way overpriced and the waiters will be rude to you. It’s the place where stereotypes come true!

I can’t help with London, but boy voyage! And good for you for booking that flight!!

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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The Making of CHOCOLATE & VICODIN
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