We had wonderful 9-day trip to Europe in May! Here are the details of our adventure including lots of photos and money saving tips.
You’ll even find some surprising and hilarious pictures in the slideshow above. There are photos of historic monuments, amazing works of art, delicious meals, local grocery stores, produce and meat markets and a store just for us frugal shoppers! You will see what I mean as soon as you go through the photos.
May 21: Travel Day
Our 8-hour non-stop flight from Raleigh to Paris left Monday afternoon and we arrived in Paris Tuesday morning at 7:30 am Paris time. Mark and I flew Air France (operated by Delta) and the trip was smooth with very good meals and snacks and exceptional service from the friendly flight attendants. The in-flight free movie selection was impressive, as well. It helped make the 8-hour flight more bearable since sleep did not come as easily as we had hoped. I definitely recommend the RDU to Paris non-stop flight from Air France/Delta.
Surprise in France:
You have to pay to use many of the restrooms (les toilettes) in France but I did not realize you had to pay at the train station. Thankfully, we had thought ahead and ordered Euros and British Pounds through the bank here at home so we already had local currency when we arrived.
Money Saving Tip:
I started looking for plane tickets for the 2 of us in October 2017. I tracked prices every week and patiently waited until they started coming down.
feels strongly that January is one of the best times to book travel for the year so I watched the prices almost daily starting in early January. By late January, the price on the non-stop flight we wanted had gone from $1500 per person to $890 and it did not seem to be getting any lower.
I had just recently qualified for a Chase Sapphire credit card offering 50,000 bonus points when you spend a certain amount in 3 months and I was waiting for the card to arrive to book our airfare. When the card arrived, I booked the non-stop flight through the Chase travel section the first week of February for $890 per person. I never did see it go any lower. PLUS, the 50,000 point bonus I scored by charging all of our Europe airfare and hotels (and all my other expenses that month) to the new card was used to buy FREE plane tickets for my daughter and I to go to Colorado to visit my brother later this summer! For more information on the Chase Sapphire offer, head to the
May 22 – May 25: London
As soon as we got off the plane in Paris, we found the driver for our pre-arranged trip to the Gare du Nord train station and hopped on the Eurostar to London. We found it was cheaper to get to London this way than to fly in to London from RDU and then fly out of Paris. It was a great way to see the countryside and the trip was only 2 hours and 15 minutes. I was impressed with the number of windmills along the way. Once we arrived at the London St. Pancras train station, we headed to our hotel via another pre-arranged car. They are cheaper than taking a taxi and much less stressful than trying to navigate the public transportation options with heavy luggage. The driver meets you right at the exit with your name on a card and takes you to a car waiting right near the exit.
We stayed at an MGallery by Sofitel hotel right in the center of Leicester Square and it was a fabulous location! The hotel was not cheap, but it was by no means as expensive as many of the London hotels. We were in walking distance to most of the top museums and attractions, which was important to us. We also booked the Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tour for 2 days so we could see all the really touristy places and it was an easy way to get around the city since the buses arrived at the various stops often.
Highlights of our London trip included:
* Free museums! Most of the top museums in London are free (although they do request a donation). There was a fee for many of the special exhibitions.
* The National Gallery Museum
* The British Museum
* The Victoria and Albert Museum
* Tower of London
* St. Paul’s Cathedral
* Big Ben (which is under construction so it was covered in scaffolding)
* Buckingham Palace Gardens
* Boat tour on the River Thames
* Fish & Chips and local beer at the pub
Overall impression of London:
I thoroughly enjoyed the people, the atmosphere, the cultural melting pot from all over the globe, the incredible works of art, and the talented street performers. The traffic was crazy and I would not want to drive in London! Read below for my thoughts on the smoke issue.
May 25 – May 30: Paris
After a lovely stay in London, we once again hopped on the Eurostar back to Paris. It was only $10 more to book a premier seat on the way back and that included roomier and more comfortable seats, a table, a snack and a meal (including unlimited wine!). It was worth the extra $10 per person considering the cost of meals in London and Paris.
In Paris, we stayed at a small boutique hotel in the 6th arrondissement in the historic districts of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Luxembourg. Located on the left bank of the River Seine, it was a perfect central location for walking to most of the places we planned to visit and it was right in the middle of a great restaurant scene. Most museums and landmarks we planned to visit were within a mile and we were able to take the hop-on hop-off bus tour for the other sites (like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur.)
The hotel was quite small and shared a building with a number of restaurants and apartments. It had 5 stories of rooms with only 3 rooms on each floor. As is the case in many French hotels, they had us leave our key at the front desk every time we left. The desk was staffed 24/7 but it was still felt odd to leave the key at the desk.
Money Saving Tip:
The hotel room had a small fridge so we went to the nearby grocery store and bought Greek yogurt, fruit, walnuts and juice and had breakfast each morning at the hotel before starting our daily adventure.
The Museum Pass:
I am so glad we bought the 4-day Museum Pass for 62 Euros ($72). It not only allowed us entrance into over 50 museums and monuments in Paris, it also allowed us to skip the ticket lines in most places so we did not have to wait in the often long lines. Most of the places we wanted to see were included in the pass and it was well worth the money. And because of the pass, we visited some additional museums that we may not have gone to had they not been free with the pass.
Highlights of our Paris trip included:
* The Louvre: With approximately 35,000 pieces of art dating from the 7th millenium BC to the 1850s, the Louvre has been a museum since 1793 (during the French Revolution). It is considered to be the world’s most-visited art museum and it was packed during the 2 weekdays we went. Although there were tons of people there, we were still able to enjoy works including da Vinci’s
(which is much smaller than you might think and has been at the museum since 1797), “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix, “The Victoire de Samothrace”, the famous “Pyramide du Louvre” by I.M. Pei, works by Michelangelo and so much more.
* The Musee d’Orsay: The beautiful Orsay Museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914 included gorgeous works from Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Renoir, van Gogh and more. This museum houses the largest collection of impressionist masterpieces in the world and since I love impressionist works, this was truly a highlight for me. While we were there, a choir from Latvia performed multiple pieces throughout the museum and it was incredibly moving. I could have spent many days at the Orsay, especially if the choir was there. You can see a video of one of the pieces they sang on the
Smart Shopper Facebook Page HERE.
* The Musée de l’Orangerie also has an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and is located at a corner of Tuileries Gardens. It’s a lovely walk through the gardens from the Louvre to the Musée de l’Orangerie. This museum has eight large “Water Lilies” murals by Claude Monet which were absolutely stunning. You can see one of them in the photos above. I highly recommend the collection of works here by works by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau and others.
* The Musée Rodin was one of my absolute favorite museums to visit. It was full of incredible sculpture by French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The pieces are housed both inside the main museum and in the surrounding garden, which is beautifully kept and a joy to walk through. Some of my favorites included “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “The Cathedral
* Concert at La Sainte-Chapelle: One evening, we had the pleasure of attending a concert in the spectacular Sainte-Chapelle surrounded by stained glass and gorgeous architecture. The Orchestre
played Vivaldi, Pachelbel and Handel and this was truly an amazing experience. It was just luck that I stumbled upon this concert while we were planning the trip and I am thankful we purchased tickets online since it was sold out the day of the show. If you ever have a chance to see a concert at La Sainte-Chapelle, I highly recommend the experience!
* Boat tour of the River Seine
* The Luxembourg Gardens and Palace
Overall impression of Paris:
If you like art, Paris is a must-see. There is a phenomenal amount of incredible art all over the city. The architecture alone is breathtaking. It was a more laid-back atmosphere than London and lunch often took hours (possibly because we ordered multiple courses with drinks….). I listened to French language lessons starting in February and I took French in college so I could speak some very basic French. I found that many locals spoke English about as well as I spoke French so between the 2 of us, we could figure out what we needed. And it seemed like locals were just happy that I was trying to speak their beautiful language. Read below for my thoughts on the smoke issue that will likely keep me from returning any time soon.
May 31: Travel Day
Our plane left Paris on Friday morning at 11:50 am Paris time and we arrived in RDU at 2:50 Raleigh time. The time flew by as I watched 3 full length movies and the flight attendants came around with food or drinks every hour. it seemed.
Additional tips & observations
If you are new to international travel, be prepared to show your passport many, many times when entering and exiting airports and train stations that involve crossing any borders. We had no issues and some passport checks took longer than others. There were LOTS of lines and patience was a must. If I planned to travel internationally often, I would likely make the effort to go to Charlotte to apply for Global Entry. Unfortunately, the only location in NC that offers Global Entry application is in Charlotte.
We followed all the suggestions from experts on how to look less touristy and how to protect our money and documents and we had no problems. Many tour guides warned us about what to look for and how to avoid being targeted in areas where there were known pick-pockets.
The best investment I made for this trip was a pair of Sketchers walking shoes. We walked approximately 4 miles per day and I never got any blisters or had sore feet when I wore the Sketchers. The one day I wore my sandals, I got blisters. The specific Sketchers shoe I bought is the
Reggae Fest Willows from Skechers Relaxed Fit line found HERE.
I was very surprised at the number of people (young and old) who smoke cigarettes in Paris and London (especially Paris). You cannot smoke indoors but nearly every restaurant is open air with patio seating (where patrons can smoke) and the smoke is everywhere. I happen to be quite allergic to cigarette smoke so I struggled during the entire trip. I had to increase my allergy meds significantly and it still didn’t do the trick. I probably went through 6000 tissues in 8 days! There were many people vaping but far more people were smoking actual cigarettes. Because of the smoke issue, it will be a very long time before I return to either city. If I do, it will likely be in the colder months when the restaurant and business windows are closed so the cigarette smoke is not in every building. If you are allergic to smoke, you can totally understand how much this affected my trip.
I relied on the reviews from other travelers for hotel, car and restaurant recommendations and they offered excellent advice. For instance, our hotel in London was right on Leicester Square, which has 2 casinos, multiple theaters and restaurants and lots of street performers. There were many people out enjoying the city late into the night each night making lots of noise. Multiple people on tripadvisor suggested that if you were considering this hotel, ask for a quiet room because in some of the rooms, the partying could be heard into the early morning hours. I e-mailed the hotel about 1 week before our visit and requested a quiet room away from the main street, if possible. They were kind enough to respond promptly and they did an excellent job finding us a very quiet room.
I am thrilled that we were able to take this trip! I saved up for many months and paid off each charge as we made it (airfare, hotel, train, concert, big bus and boat tours). By the time we left for Europe, the trip was completely paid for (other than the meals and shopping we enjoyed while there).
Do I recommend Paris and London? Absolutely – at least once!
If you have any other suggestions for others considering a trip to either city, please post them in the Comments section. If you have any questions, please post them as well.
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