This wasn’t really a planned trip. I was at work when I got a pop up on my phone. 40% discounts on flights to Paris. What the heck I thought. If I can’t make it, will cancel later. It’s always cheaper to cancel than to book last minute. Of course, I knew I would make it, but because I’m negative Nancy, I always think of the worst.
I had never been to Paris before, and I had heard so much about it. Soooo much! I really did want to go. Once I was there, parts of it really excited me, and parts of it didn’t. There is a lot to see historically and culturally in Paris. It’s also the fashion capital of the world. Or one of the many fashion capitals anyway. So if you’re not a history buff, and not into fashion, well, Paris may not be for you. But don’t take my word for it, some people still love it. I spent all of 2 and a half days in Paris, and the remaining 6 were spent in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was better than anything I could’ve imagined. And no, I don’t say this because you can smoke weed and eat magic truffles. If you’re looking for buzz, you’re in the right place. People had told me before I had left that I was going in the off season. When I got there, I was astounded by the sheer number of people, and I thought to myself, really? If this is low season, I gotta be here for the high season. It was brimming with happy people, families and teenagers alike. Everyone was out to have fun! I totally loved it, more than I had anticipated. 6 days flew by.
One of the major things that annoyed me about Paris was their public transport. Yes they’re well connected, but they’re not all equipped with elevators or even escalators. This is something you must keep in mind if you’re travelling with kids in a pram, the elderly or someone who needs special assistance. If you’re carrying luggage, and a lot of it, ditch the metro. Take the taxi. There’s no way you’re going to get up and down the many flights of stairs with suitcases.
Amsterdam on the other hand was a breeze. They function mostly on buses and trams and they’re very easily accessible. Amsterdam does also have a metro, but I never needed this. You’ll be just fine on foot or on the tram.
Flight: Plenty of airlines offer direct flights to Paris from Mumbai. There is also a direct to Amsterdam. We flew in and out of Paris and used the train to get to Amsterdam and back. Of course you could also fly into Paris and out of Amsterdam. That’s totally up to you. Just make sure you don’t land up overspending significantly by changing sectors. Do the math before you book.
Tickets between Amsterdam and Paris are available online. The connectivity is pretty good with at least 4 direct trains everyday. Train tickets are cheapest when booked 90 days in advance. Closer to the date of travel, it is difficult to get tickets. Also, if you’re thinking of booking first class instead of second, don’t. The only reason you should buy first class tickets is if the price is almost the same. Otherwise, the cost far outweighs the benefits. It’s a short 3 and a half hour journey, and second class will do just fine.
Visa: Unlike many Scandinavian countries, getting the Schengen Visa from the French embassy was not all that difficult. It was a quick and painless process. Since I had already given my biometric data once, didn’t even need to go to the visa centre personally. https://www.vfs-france.co.in/ is where you need to head to get your visa application done. Like I always say, you do not need a travel agent. Don’t waste your hard earned money.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit is of course during the summer. I always prefer to go during winters though, because I live in Mumbai, and Mumbai has one weather only, hot and humid! December in Paris and Amsterdam did not turn out to be that cold for me. But you should be prepared for the wind in Amsterdam and a temperature ranging between 2 to 4 degrees. If you generally feel cold, that warrants about 4 layers of clothing.
Currency: Both Paris and Amsterdam use the Euro. Credit cards are widely accepted. Surprisingly, some merchants do not accept American express. If you’re using the taxi in Paris, please ensure you have some change on you. The Parisian taxi drivers tend not to accept cards (even though they’re fully equipped to use it), and will insist on not returning your change if it’s a few Euros here and there. Yep, another reason why I’m not fond of Paris.
Getting around: Other than the accessibility issues with luggage and the stairs, the Parisian network in terms of buses and the metro is great. I speak French so I found it easier to ask for directions. My husband however, would find it difficult to be by himself in Paris. My feeling was that people refuse to speak English. Of course, this is not to say that no one will help you if you don’t know French, but they’re likely to be less rude if you do. Also, please don’t let other people buy your tickets for you, always approach the authorized people at the metro stations if you need help. Paris is known for pick pockets and con artists amongst other things. Be careful while you’re on the street and using public transport. I know I’m not painting the best picture of Paris for you, but telling you like it is. These were announcements I heard at every train stop and in the trains as well.
I bought the Paris transport card for Zones 1 -3. This allows you access to all of Paris’s public transport. Zones 4 and 5 are out of the city (including the airport). Buying the transport card with zones 1 to 3 is the best option. Buy it and then go wherever you want. In and out of the airport, just use the taxi.
As for Amsterdam, the preferred mode of travel here is either on foot or on bicycle. We had these options of course, but there were just so many cyclists in the city at that time that it seemed impossible to cycle around. We therefore walked and walked and walked for the week that we were there. We also bought the tram card for 3 days. You will get these on the tram itself or at the ticketing kiosk at the tram station. We used the tram only when the distances were long or when we had just walked too much and we were really tired.
Where to stay: Recently, I’ve begun to found it difficult to book Airbnb in Europe. It’s difficult to find great choices in the central areas. Also, it seems impossible to find housing where there are elevators. I’m sorry, but I hate climbing 5 floors all the time! So I just stuck to hotels in both Paris and Amsterdam. There is no shortage of hotels in Amsterdam or in Paris however, it’s better to book early if you’re traveling during Christmas and New Year. Despite people thinking this is low season, hotels can get sold out well in advance.
What to eat and drink: The food in France is to die for! The smallest cafes on the street will serve the most mouthwatering hot and freshly baked croissants. It didn’t matter where I ate in Paris, I left feeling like I had had the most awesome meal. On the contrary, the Dutch food can actually get quite boring. I remember feeling like all I had eaten was potatoes. In every form. Mashed, boiled, fried, you name it, we had tried it. The hot pots that the Dutch serve can of course be very nice if you’re a meat eater. If you’re not, stick to other European options.
I haven’t done the detailed itinerary for this trip because I went only to the two cities. I pretty much figured out what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go once I got there. However, if you still want tips on what you absolutely must see in Paris and Amsterdam, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to share!