It’s been about two months since I moved to London. Priority number one is to budget my funds! As an avid RFDer (RedFlagDeals) user, it’s only natural my first instinct is to find the cheapest stuff possible with the best possible value as well. It’s quite rough out here. In comparison to Toronto, almost everything here is much more expensive.
I haven’t been to too many lounges while travelling. Mainly because they’re usually only offered to business or first class passengers and very specific airlines. Luckily I was offered a free voucher to try out the lounge!
Plaza Premium Lounge is slightly different. They actually do a pay by usage and it’s not bad for what you get. At all price points you can use any of their facilities. Starts at $30 for 2 hours, $45 for 3, and $65 for 6 hours. You can check out the kind of seating they have available down below in the gallery. Aside from lounging, there’s basically an all you can eat buffet of salads, snacks, desserts, drinks (alcoholic), soups, and other foods like, pasta, rice, and noodles. Probably the most handy amenity they have is the shower room. If you’re in Toronto for a long layover it comes in really handy. Continue Reading
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Here’s a shot of all my luggage for the trip; it’s super light and all carry-on! My main bags are a Kata 3in1-33 and a Boston bag from Muji. I’ve also packed two empty ones as well. A large duffel bag from REI in New York City and a Lowepro Passport.
My Boston bag was basically filled with clothes and some toiletries. I’ve also packed a couple spare batteries for my headphones and mouse. The much larger bag, Kata, has one row dedicated to some camera gear which houses, a Canon 60D, a 50 mm lens, a 17-50 mm lens, a hard drive, and a microphone. The bottom half I dumped some extra clothes. In the top half of the bag I stuffed it with all the usual electronics, a notebook, and some pens. I also have a few adapters for UK outlets, and brought one for the rest of Europe in case I leave the island. All-in-all the bag isn’t too heavy. I think I weighed it in at about 18 lbs. The Boston bag is super light with basically only clothes.
Now the empty bags. The duffel is awesome for when you’re returning. You can basically dump all your laundry into it and maybe stuff it with some delicates in between. Basically, you don’t add much extra weight on your way there, but when you head back you can load almost double the amount of stuff coming back, if you choose to buy a lot of stuff. I only really brought 4 days worth of clothes so I’ll probably buy a couple pieces to fill in a couple extra days. The Lowepro bag is great for day-to-day usage around any place you’re visiting. It’s a simple sling that’s super comfortable to use with your camera if you plan on taking a lot of photos around the city. It even has a lot of extra storage to fit all your daily necessities.
So, that’s 4 bags, 2 full, 2 empty, a total weight of roughly 25 lbs, all as carry-on. This means no waiting in line to check-in (assuming you check-in online), and no waiting for your luggage at the carousel for hours when you land. I need to catch a cheap bus to the city and it departs one hour after my flight lands, so I need to make sure I can make it on time. It’s called EasyBus for those interested in looking at frugal ways to leave Gatwick Airport.
Usually the first thing people think about before heading to Europe is purchasing a Eurail Pass. In my honest opinion, I think this pass is a HUGE waste of money. Not only that, it doesn’t even give any more convenience than buying tickets at the train stations in European countries. The solution? Purchase your tickets online or at the station. I’ll explain the options you have for purchasing tickets in mostly central Europe since that’s where I have the most experience, however, this should also apply for other countries in Europe as well.
Generally purchasing tickets online is only required if you can get a discount on the tickets if purchased in advance. This is usually the case for non-IC train lines like Thalys and Eurostar.
Thalys – This is a high-speed rail that goes at 300 km/h and is for travel in between Benelux (Belgium/Luxembourg/Netherlands), Germany, and France. I took this train from Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport) to Paris and only took 3 hours instead of the usual 5 hours if you take a normal train. I also took it from Paris to Cologne. Check the website for all their routes. My tickets only cost me 35€ each. It was purchased 30 days in advance and you get a seat reservation as well so you don’t have to fight for one when you get on. I find it better to take this train and then connect to a local train if going to other cities in the country. In general, it’s cheap to travel from point-to-point within the same country. For example, it’s cheaper to take Thalys to Cologne from Paris and then once in Cologne buy a ticket there to go to Frankfurt, instead of buying a ticket from Paris to Frankfurt.
Eurostar – This line is generally the same as Thalys, same speed and they share tracks as well. However, this rail goes into England and stops at multiple spots in France and Belgium. The earlier you book the ticket the cheaper it gets. You can get a ticket from London to Paris for £38 if purchased early.
Other Sites that Are Handy
TGV – http://tgv.com/
You can purchase train tickets for travelling in or out of France. Even Thalys tickets can be purchased on this site as well and the prices aren’t any different than the official site. Just sign up for the site pick your times, go through the ordering process, and make sure you type in your home address properly. Your tickets will be mailed to you via regular post and should arrive within a week or so. Very convenient for those planning ahead.
Bahn – http://bahn.com/
Basically the same thing as TGV but for Germany.
Point-to-Point Train Station Purchase
This is by far the best way to do it. The reason I opt not for the Eurail pass is for two reasons. One, it usually works out to be more expensive or roughly the same depending on how much travelling you’re doing. Also, even with a Eurail pass it isn’t any more convenient. You still need to go to a train station and either look at the timetable or ask a ticket attendant for an itinerary to your destination. If travelling from city to city within a country, just head to a train station and purchase your ticket and ask for an itinerary to your destination. The ticket is usually fairly cheap. Like I travelled from the most northern point of the Netherlands to Amsterdam for a mere 23€. Keep in mind, all regular trains like IC and ICE DO NOT fluctuate in price, therefore it’s okay to purchase them last minute at a station.
How to Check Time Schedules On-Line
Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.ca
Use this website to figure out possible routes to your destination. Comes in really handy if you don’t want to talk to people at the station. Just punch in your destination info like you would if you were buying a ticket and it’ll generate a list of possible routes you can take. It’ll tell you where you need to switch trains and what train numbers as well.
Basically I found that purchasing a Eurail pass really isn’t worth it unless you plan on visiting 2 countries in one day which definitely isn’t happening. For my trip, the Eurail pass would’ve cost me roughly around $380 after taxes for the cheapest Eurail pass that gets you 3 countries for 5 days. I spent in total about $240 Canadian and I was in 5 different cities. Definitely a big saving for me.
Before Visiting the Museums
Purchasing tickets for museums always seems like a hassle when you first arrive in Paris. The situation only looks even worst when you see the ENORMOUS line up at the Louvre. However, what a lot of tourist don’t know is that, you have 2 options.
The first option, and probably my favourite is to buy the Carte Louvre Jeunes and then buy individual tickets for most other museums. This card only costs 15€ if you’re between the ages of 18 to 26 or 30€ for ages 27 to 30. This gives you unlimited access for one year to the Louvre, but even after using it once you’ve made your money’s worth! But, most importantly, this card allows you to skip the line. The downside is that, this card is only sold inside the Louvre so you’ll have to wait in line the first time. If you have time in Paris definitely pick this option.
The second option which works better for short stays is the Paris Museum Pass. It comes in 2, 4, and 6 day passes and costs 30€, 45€, and 65€ respectively. The 2 day pass is already a pretty good deal. If you go to the Louvre twice you’ve almost made your moneys worth, but you’ll probably do more than that. At the very least, it’ll cost about the same as getting individual tickets, but you can skip the line with this pass too. Helps with skipping ticket lines as well in some other locations. The Paris Museum Pass can be bought at the Airport at the Tourist Information Desk. So make sure to pick it up before you hop on a taxi or bus.
Now that you know what to do, let’s discuss a few museums.
Le Louvre was by far my favourite museum. It has everything you could ever imagine. Everything from Roman and Greek times, art from the middle ages, statues and paintings, and on Friday nights it’s open late and has concerts playing. For me I went there about 3 times on 3 separate days. It’s really HUGE and if you really want to take the time to absorb everything, really take your time. Inside the museum there are places to sit through out building, so take some time to rest every couple hours.
In the lobby, you have the option to rent a electronic guide. Almost all the museums have these. They’re basically headphones with a keypad. When you go up to a statue or piece of art, on its description there’ll be a number. Punch in that number and you can hear a recording that explains it to you. For me it didn’t really make sense to get it since I could read the French. However, it might be something worth investing if you’re really into the art. Otherwise, I think merely observing the art is good enough. You can always wiki the names if you’re really interested in the actual history of the piece.
If you want to eat food I have 2 recommendations. The first option is, if you don’t want to go too far, try the cafeteria in the Richelieu Pavilion. Make sure it’s the one on the upper levels. You can eat on the roof top there and get a beautiful view of the outside of the museum. The second idea is, if you have the Paris Museum Pass, you can simply leave and head south to the quartier latin and grab some food in that area. There’s much more choice and the food is much cheaper as well.
If you have one day to visit Paris. I’d say Le Louvre is the only place you should have to visit in Paris! Definitely my favourite site.
Château de Versailles & Eiffel Tower
To enter the castle you’ll of course need a ticket or the Museum Pass. However, I personally didn’t find the interior all that exciting. But it’s still a must see. The really exciting part of this museum is the outside. The garden in the back is actually free to enter so try to get there early and beat the crowd! Make sure to take lots of photos, probably one of the nicest if not the nicest garden in all of Paris.
Like Louvre, you can get a electronic guide. So grab that if you’re really interested. The entire castle will probably take you an hour and a half, assuming certain section aren’t under renovation. But, definitely try to spend an hour or more in the garden. It’s just a really nice place to hang out. Make sure you bring lots of water though. At most grocery markets in Paris, you can buy a 1.5L of Evian for 80 cents. Don’t get scammed and buy a 500mL bottle for 2€ or sometimes they’ll charge 5€.
After you’re done with Versailles, take the RER train back to Paris. Don’t forget you’ll need to purchase a ticket back to Paris, which can be bought for 3,05€ at the station. Once there, hop on the train and take the train to Champ de Mars / Tour Eiffel station. Here you can visit the Eiffel tower on the way back to central Paris. I’d suggest ordering your ticket online if you can at http://ticket.toureiffel.fr/ and then present the email through your Smartphone or have it printed at your hotel or at print it at a library or internet cafe. That way you won’t have to wait in line.
Eiffel tower is definitely the best at night. It’s the must-see situation for this kind of monument! Remember the Paris Museum Pass doesn’t work for this site so make sure to buy the ticket in advance.
Le Panthéon de Paris
You can get into this one with the Museum Pass. I’ve heard this one isn’t as grand as the one in Rome but still a must see. It has a pretty cool clock in the middle of the building. I have a photo of it here. There’s a podium inside the building that plays a video in English, French, and Germany that explains the history and how it works. Walking around the first floor is pretty quick, but make sure you take the time to sit down and look up; the ceiling is beautiful. In the left wing there’s a miniature version of the Pantheon which isn’t too miniature.
After you’re done with the top, head on down to the crypt. If you’re a fan of famous French people, you’re in for a treat. The crypt holds tombs for many famous French people. Like Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo. It’s really dark down there, even with the light, so bring a tripod for your camera if you can. Even if it is a point and shoot. It’ll help a lot.
Coming out of the Pantheon, take a seat in front of the building on the steps. You can get a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower. If you have a long enough zoom lens you can even take a really good photo of it. But it’s view you’ll rarely see.
Cimetiere du Père Lachaise
This is a must see. It’s a cemetery with a lot more famous dead people than the Pantheon’s crypt. At the cemetery you can pay money to get a English tour guide. Definitely do it, because the cemetery is really big. Not much else to say here but, definitely worth the visit.
Going to Other Museums
Most of the other sites you don’t really need a pass to get the view you want. Like Arc de Triomphe, my favourite view is from the bridge late at night when all the lights are up. Notre-Dame Cathedral you can get inside for free and there’s a small section you can pay for that a few extra things to see. You could use your Museum Pass to go up the belfries of the cathedral, but you can’t skip the line at this one.
I did go to a few other museums that I won’t mention but it’s because most of the stuff in other museums can be experience through the Louvre. Although, if you have time it’s not a bad idea to visit them. Most of the smaller ones never have lines so no need to worry about going early. If you want a list of all the other museums you can check the Paris Museum Pass website here. You can click on museum & monuments and there’ll be a huge list of places to visit. And it gives enough detail to know where it is. Just check on the MTR map where the station is and when you exit the station there’s enough signs that’ll help you find your way.
Hopeful this helps whoever reads this! Bon voyage!