My experiences through Europe: France

I have admittedly been very delayed in getting out my posts about the trip I took to Europe with my family. I’ve also decided to split this post into two, talking about my experiences in both France and Switzerland separately.

While I focus a ton on credit cards, points, miles, and the strategy behind all that comes with that, the ultimate goal of this website is to travel. I want to travel as much as possible, and hopefully with that can inspire others to travel as well. So these posts will focus on my travel experiences, of course all fueled by credit cards.

My goal is to just go over some of the high points of the trip, my overall impressions of each location, and some helpful tips here and there where I have them.

Paris

The first stop on our trip was Paris.

I probably can’t say much about Paris that hasn’t already been covered multiple times elsewhere, but I was pleasantly surprised. The two big things that I’ve learned when traveling are:

  1. Where you call “home base” makes a huge difference
  2. Finding the spots “less traveled” gives you a much more honest view of the culture (especially in a place like Paris)
View from AirBnB — Rue St. Germain

My mom booked an Airbnb in the St. Germain area of Paris, which was awesome. It was clean, lively, and there were a ton of things going on at all times. Which sounds almost annoying, but we could hear just enough throughout the night to make it fun, but not enough to affect our sleep at all (at least my sleep).

Notre Dame from our AirBnB window

As a point of comparison I went to Rome in college and stayed in a hostel by the train station. The road leading up to the hostel smelled like straight piss. There were obviously a ton of homeless people around the area, and unfortunately whenever someone brings up Rome that is the first thing I think of. My brother on the other hand will rave about Rome, as will others I’m sure, but the point is that you spend a lot of time going to and from your “home base” so it will slowly get etched into your mind.

Our AirBnb was above a nice area with tons of shops and restaurants, so not only was it accessible, but it also had a really fun vibe.

You won’t be bored

As much as I love the smaller, quieter towns across Europe, the liveliness of Paris is hard to compete with. I think like some of the large, densely populated cities in America, there is a right dosage of the crowds. And in Paris we got just that.

There is so much to see in Paris, and there is obviously so much history, so in the 3 days that we were there you have to understand that you won’t see it all. I won’t get into all of it in detail, but some of the highlights included:

We happened to be on the Champs de Elysee when they had what looked like some sort of veterans recognition event. Obviously you can’t plan for this, but if you are there on a weekend, this is a very lively area so you might just get lucky.

There was this really big monument — the Eiffel Tower. Don’t remember all the specifics around it but it offered some pretty spectacular views.

We bought tickets ahead of time which saved us from what looked to be a pretty insane line. The prices didn’t make much of a difference so I’d recommend following the same. Also, while you’re in the area grab a bottle of bubbly and enjoy some views in the gardens to the south.

We also decided to take a night time cruise on the Seine and I honestly have to say it was a must-do. At first I think we all thought it was a bit cliche, and a good way for all those companies to make some money, but boy did it live up to the hype.

And now you’re probably thinking that I really didn’t mention anything. There is so much to do and I mention the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe?

Notre Dame

We did do all of the sightseeing that is almost a given in Europe, but as I said, there are plenty of other travel websites that will dedicate an entire book to Paris. So I don’t want to bore you with that.

I will say that the Louvre has plenty of free tour options that will get you all the information you need. And if I could tell you the company we tried to use I would — because we didn’t get a tour but did pay for one (tour guide didn’t show up).

It is a tourist city

As much as I like to find the hidden gems, Paris has some of the most history anywhere on the planet. So at some points we had to bite the bullet and stand in line. I some times have a short patience, but when on vacation I definitely am able to tolerate it a bit more — all the wine at lunch didn’t hurt either.

We even took one of the bus tours towards the end of the trip and got a good overview of the city — we also got an opportunity to see some of the things to put on the list for next time.

The only complaint

While this didn’t take away from my overall impressions about the city, I have to say the people in Paris weren’t the most pleasant. This obviously doesn’t mean everyone we came across was nasty, but there were a lot of people we interacted with at restaurants or shops that either hated Americans, or really just didn’t like their life.

My final impressions of the city, though, were mostly positive. I came in with very low expectations, but I have to say that I look forwarding to going back.

Vezelay and the French Countryside

This wasn’t necessarily one of our “stops” per se, but it was honestly one of the cooler parts of the trip that can easily be overlooked. Stay on the lookout for my post about renting the car!

As we (my mom mostly) were planning the trip, we knew that we wanted to take our time making our way to Beaune and see some of the quieter towns. Of course, we knew there wasn’t going to be a ton to do in any town that we decided to stop in, but making it just a stop on our day-long drive was the perfect solution. This is where you really experience some of the culture as well.

Not too far outside of Paris is the Chateau de Fontainebleau, which we just made a quick stop at. It happened to be raining and the castle is closed on Tuesdays, which was the day we were there, so unfortunately we didn’t catch a lot. But we did get to walk around the immense grounds.

So if you are travelling to Beaune or anywhere else southwest of Paris (on any day not Tuesday), it’s definitely a beautiful piece of property.

Vezelay

One of the coolest parts about the trip was honestly just experiencing the French countryside from the road. Every few kilometers you’d look out to a hillside and see a small town with a castle in the middle of what looked to be a medieval fort. And outside of those walls just immense, rolling hills.

When you think about the pieces of history that may have passed through the streets of those cities, and the importance that all of it played in the history of our world, it’s truly something to marvel at. And honestly, it is just something you don’t see much of in the states. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get many pictures because I was the one driving)

While there isn’t much significance to this picture, it is one of my more favorite snapshots of the trip. We were on our way to Vezelay and were close to running out of gas, but finally came across this small little store/restaurant/gas station. It was the most rural-French place I’ve ever been. There was a guy drinking a cappuccino outside, a few patrons inside seated at tables, then us, just stopping by for gas. At least the guy working the cash register spoke English!

So then we finally made it to Vezelay. Which was stunning and a bit mysterious all at the same time.

The town was what I imagine most other towns in the French countryside to be — a large, magnificent church at the top of the hill with a few narrow streets leading up to it. We toured the almost creepy church, which was a working monastery, and walked up one street and back the adjacent one.

An area underneath the Church with definitely some spooky vibes

We arrived around midday on a Tuesday, but without much real business, the town was quiet. All the shops and cafes were open, but it had a feeling of a resort town, which I absolutely loved. Following our bust at Fontainebleau, we quickly concluded that Tuesday’s were off days in France. For whatever reason, just not a lot going on.

And compared to many of our interactions in Paris, every person that we talked to in Vezelay was incredibly more welcoming. We stopped in two cafes, and while no one we interacted with spoke much English at all, there was no sort of push to get us out of the store. The cliche that a “smile goes a long way” really does ring true.

Staying any longer than just a few hours may get a little boring, but I think if you stop into town for lunch it is well worth it. Grab a sandwich from one of the cafes and enjoy the views overlooking the vast French countryside.

Beaune

The car ride was cramped to say the least. Don’t want to spoil too much in this post, but we got the biggest car we could. With all of our bags in tow the stop in Vezelay was perfectly timed.

So once we were all able to stretch our legs and recharge with some food we were off to Beaune. Once again, the views were incredible!

Beaune was definitely the highlight of France in my opinion. Situated in the Burgundy wine region in the eastern part of France, Beaune has the small-town feel with the big time attractions.

We stayed at the Hotel de la Poste which was awesome. There aren’t a ton of options in Beaune, so if you do happen to visit the area I would highly recommend staying here! All of the staff were incredibly pleasant, and everything in the hotel had a very authentic, genuine feel.

It is no secret that people visit for Beaune for its wine. As one of the most prestigious wine-producing regions in the world, there were plenty of opportunities to indulge. And we most certainly did! But there were some other things to do worth mentioning.

There is an incredibly designed Hospice Hotel, which is definitely the main landmark in the city. And we happened to be there when there was a small flea market in the village. So while not constant excitement, we found ourselves plenty occupied. Our meals were very extended as well, trying to taste all the wine!

The first night we ate at a small restaurant called Caves Madeiline, which I would highly recommend. Somehow my mom found it, but you most definitely need to call ahead for a reservation. They have two seatings throughout the day, one for lunch and one for dinner, and the restaurant only seats about 20 people, but it is well worth the few extra euros!

But obviously the highlight was the day we took a wine tour. Our tour was a “backroads” tour that dived deep into the details of wine growing. We learned everything about the types of soil to the way in which wine is bottled. The amount of information that our tour guide had was incredible. I’ve known bits and pieces, but nothing even close to what he was able to provide.

For people less interested in the science of the wine, maybe just take a caves tour, but I would highly recommend for anyone even somewhat interested in the science of wine. We did end at a cave, though, so we did get to taste a bit!

Final Thoughts

While the wine definitely didn’t hurt, the overall feel and atmosphere of Beaune made it my favority part of France. Everyone that we interacted with were so welcoming, and I can’t say enough about the town itself. There is all the history within the walls, and all the views once you get out to the vineyards. Hard to beat!

I do have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Paris, though. So much of what I heard about Paris wasn’t great, and while it wasn’t necessarily false, I don’t think it affected my overall impressions too terribly.

After Beaune was on to Switzerland, so stay tuned for some more great views!

 

 

 

 

Tucker is an avid points and miles enthusiast. Being fully involved in the world of credit cards and frequent flying for only a few years now, he brings a very fresh and unique perspective to the world of travel.

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