My friend Erin has become quite the world traveler of late, ironically just this month we were both in Europe, but on separate trips, me in the UK (more on that later), and her in France and Spain with some other friends. Since she had such an amazing time, she was kind enough to write a post up for us all about it! Take it away, Erin:
If I never eat bread again, I’ll be okay.I’ve decided to take my two weeks to travel, and spend it in Europe. I’ve never been and I have high expectations. Everyone has their favorite country or city in Europe and they are quick to share their opinions with you, certain that you are going to have the exact same experience that they had:
“You’re going to love France!”
“Those people are so rude!”
“It is absolutely the best place on the planet!”
“Ugh, no one speaks English!”
Well, I listened to no one and figured I would decide for myself what I liked best and hated most about France.
First things first, I have a dollar and a dream for this vacation. I live in New York City and I could feed a small island nation with the amount of money I spend on rent.
To help save some money, I’ve booked everything at least 6 weeks in advance – that’s when you get the best dealson flights – and I’m flying out on the Saturday of a holiday weekend, when everyone else is already where they want to be for the long weekend. I’ve also booked my hotels and train tickets in advance and I make myself pay it all off before I leave for the trip.
If you’re the kind of person who wants complete flexibility on your trip – this plan is not for you. But I don’t mind having an outline and knowing that all I have to worry about is spending money on the trip. At my hotels, I get breakfast included because let’s be honest, most of the money you are going to spend is on stuffing your face with pastries, wine and coffee.
This is not a plug for Capital One…. However, my Venture Card doesn’t charge me that annoying 3% fee that most credit cards charge when you use it internationally, so I’m free to spend all the money I want…that I will owe myself back later. So I’ve alerted my credit card company that I will be using my card overseas, fee free – saving myself a few bucks to spend on wine and pastries. I suggest seeing if your credit card offers the same deal. Lastly, the way to get the best exchange rate is to withdraw money directly from your ATM once at your destination.Okay – tips aside. France is the shit. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Haters gon’ hate.
I know that everyone and their mother have already been to Paris, but it was my first time so here’s my take in a few words:
Amazing. Beautiful. Historical. Café Au Lait. Wine is cheaper than water.
Need I say more? I spent four days in this wonderful city, the perfect amount of time to explore. I think it rivals New York as my favorite city on earth. However, there are two fails in Paris – they have those damn, grand spaces everywhere that add like 8 miles to the walk you need to make to get to their gorgeous, historical landmarks i.e. Musee du Louvre. (Still, well worth the trek) And the other fail would be baguettes. I know. Blasphemy. But after days of bread for breakfast, combined with the 8-mile walks to the entrance of the buildings, I was starving.
So here’s how you solve that problem the big, fat American way. Crepes. Give me all your chocolate and all of your bananas then put them on a thin little pancake. I’m happy again. Bring on the wide, open spaces.
I also have one suggestions for Versailles. Audio tours – on horseback. Genius idea.
Four days in Paris was a good amount of time to see everything that is a must-see in the city. I was ready for the next leg of my trip, heading south!
We took the TGV to Marseille for around $25 USD each. The trip only takes 3 hours and although the train is whizzing through the countryside at 100 mph, while a bit blurry – it’s a beautiful and scenic ride. We brought some snacks and had ourselves a little picnic on the train. Bread not included.
Marseille and Paris are only alike in that fact that people speak French. Marseille is the oldest city in France and has a gritty, underground, kind of hipster vibe. It’s like the Brooklyn of France. While it seems a bit sketchy in comparison to Paris, it’s actually a really cool little city. It’s in a perfect location for day trips to the French Riviera because let’s face it on my dollar and a dream budget I can’t afford to stay in Cannes for a week but Marseille is quiteaffordable.
We spent two days wandering around Marseille; eating and drinking at Vieux Port, we found a great Halal food spot in the red light district (the owners are from New York!) and we took a boat out to Chateau D’If, which is the castle that the book, The Count of Monte Cristo is based on. The boat ride gives you an amazing view of the port and the city. If you take the last boat that runs to the island, not only does it save you a few euro (it’s discounted because you spend about 15 minutes less time on the island than the other time slots) but also you get a beautiful view of the port at sunset during your return trip. Epic.
Two days in Marseille is more than enough time, it’s an extremely small city, a local spot with mostly Spanish and French tourists – but a perfect escape from your loud, fellow Americans in Paris. We decided to take a day trip up the French Riviera and head to Monaco. Since I was a kid, it has been a dream of mine to go there and marry a prince. Sadly, I didn’t meet a prince but I saw a shit ton of rich people that I could settle for…
We took a regional train there, TER, which is much cheaper. It’s website is only in French so unless you speak French well, I recommend going to the ticket counter to purchase a ticket. You can get a discounted rate if you are under age 25…. they don’t ask for proof of age either, just saying.
It takes three hours to get to Monaco and you have to change trains in Nice. It’s easy to make Nice a stop on your trip if you’d like to do some exploring. Or if you are feeling really adventurous, you can take the same train one stop past Monaco to spend the day in Ventimiglia, Italy. I thought two countries in one day were enough so I stuck with Nice and Monaco.We splurged a bit in Monaco, having champagne (and still more bread) at a yacht club that we crashed (not speaking French came in handy when they wanted to kick us out; we looked confused, they let us stay) with a perfect view of that deep blue water the French Riviera is famous for. Monaco offers great people watching, gorgeous views and lots of fun in the sun! It was hard to leave, but we had to head back for the next part of our adventure.
We could have easily flown to Spain or taken a train but we would miss all the beautiful vineyards, and gorgeous countryside even further south in France. I decided to brave the foreign streets and rent a car. It’s a bit more expensive to rent and car then return it in another country but the drive was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The rules of the road are basically the same as in the U.S, and when you split the total cost with your fellow passengers, it doesn’t cost much more than a train ticket.
It’s only a three-hour drive to Barcelona but we drove through the vineyards, over the mountains along the water and there are so many little towns to stop in on the way, Avignon, Montpelier, and Perpignan to name a few. Take your time, do your research and stop along the way. I promise it’s well worth it.
As we rounded a mountain in France, Spain suddenly appeared in front of us. You can literally see the change in landscape at the border; our desert, California looking landscape has given way to lush, dark green mountains and windy roads. We drive into Spain ready for what lies ahead. I can’t wait. Real food.