Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Across the pond

October 20, 2010

Eiffel Tower


At night

I’m going way off The Circle with this one with some reflections on a recent trip to Paris, London and Dublin.

Even in a global environment, those of us in the USA are insulated to some extent.

We think we are world-wise, but when we travel we find out those little secrets not discussed in travel books and on Travel Channel.

Take for example toilet (toilette or loo) facilities. It might come as a shock to some that men and women share some bathrooms – in their own stalls of course. It’s also a little unnerving when a woman enters the bathroom to clean up around you as you stand at the urinal. There are also still some squat toilets (that you have to pay for the joy of using) for women in the older cafes in Paris.

Then there are strikes. Although not commonplace in the total scope of things, they do happen, and sometimes without much notice. Currently, economic conditions in most European countries mirror, or are worse, what is going on in this country. High unemployment rates, rising taxes and attacks on sacred benefits (like retirement age) have some Europeans uptight. Unions, particularly those involved with transit, are responding with work stoppages and strikes, which can nearly gridlock cities such as London and Paris.

On a recent holiday across the pond, we ran into a pair of strikes in both of those cities, which forced us to change our plans. In Paris, we had a bus trip planned to fabulous Versailles, but when we arrived at the travel depot we were told workers might be on strike. We had three options: bag the trip; schedule another day; or take a chance and lose our money if the palace was closed.

We decided to reschedule and even on the second day, workers decided to strike for an hour, delaying the opening until 10 a.m.


The good news is you can get just about anywhere without driving a car, which is not the case in the USA. I lived in Paris for a year 20 years ago and didn’t drive except for a brief time during a tour of Scotland.

However, getting around can be a little unnerving as you try to decipher the Paris Metro or London Tube, and although we rode buses in Dublin and London, we never felt confident we were on the right lines and had the right stops. Traveling during rush hours in the morning and afternoon can also be trying on your nerves.


If you are planning a trip overseas to major cities, most offer museum and transit passes you can purchase in advance. The Paris museum pass was marvelous, as was the Metro pass. Not only did we save a lot of money in admission costs, in some museums they allow those with passes to get into quicker lines.

But, be aware, almost every museum now has security measures akin to those at airports.


In Paris, it can cost as much as 50 Euros, about $70, to take a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to center city. Several shuttles are available at about half the cost, but the one we chose forced us to wait about an hour outside the airport. After a 6-hour plane ride, that was not fun.

Underestimating the exchange rate. It’s not 1 pound, it’s $1.60; it’s not 1 Euro, it’s $1.40. A modest meal for two in Paris cost about $55 and about $65 in London.

The VAT (value added tax), which was added into every purchase, ranged from 13 percent to 21 percent.

Warnings are out everywhere for pickpockets and scam artists. Guess what? I was scammed by a young lady on the Pont Alexandre (bridge) in Paris near the Grand Palais. She said she found a gold ring on the ground and it did not fit her, so she gave it to me. “Take it, take it,” she said. She had her mark targeted in.

Five seconds later she was back asking for a small fee for giving me the “gold” ring. I gave her $1 Euro, which was not enough – she wanted 2 Euros. Of course I should have walked off, but caved in. I now have a $3 souvenir of Paris that is turning green.


Paris: Watching the Eiffel Tower light up with sparkles at night; people watching sitting outside any Paris café; eating crepes along the Seine; the majesty of Notre Dame; the opulent beauty of Versailles and its gardens.

London: The history that encompasses the city; Hampton Court’s mixture of architectural styles; getting a rare view inside Buckingham Palace (it’s only open two months each year); walking on Tower Bridge.

Ireland: The beauty of the green hills; the stone walls; the people who go out of their way to help you; the idea that around every corner is a piece of history dating back centuries.