Archive for – france

Review on our Europe trip in 2012

Before the tour
This was our honeymoon trip that took us close to 4 months of research and planning. We went on the free & easy and not the tour package option, for our belief is honeymoon has to be exclusive to only the couple. In planning for a trip we considered many factors, and slowing scaling down into smaller details.

• Started by deciding which part of the world we are visiting
• Deciding on which season of the year for travel
• Zooming into the specific countries
• Deciding on the total amount of days for the trip
• Breaking down the days and nailing the specific city/town of each country
• Research on the key sightsee and highlights of each location
• Research on the flight entry and depart location
• Research on specific train timing and connection points
• Research on accommodation
• Estimate the budget for accommodation, transport, food, sightsee, shopping etc
• Read up travel blogs and watch out for recommendations, warnings, feedbacks etc

In summary we came up with the following travel plan:
Fly into Italy, Rome. Fly back from France, Paris

8 days Italy
Rome -> Florence/Pisa -> Venice

7 days Switzerland
Lucerne -> Interlaken -> Bern

7 days France
Colmar -> Strasbourg -> Paris

My itinerary plan can be found here. From my blog you could see that some of the days did not follow the plan exactly. We did some swapping but I did not update the itinerary to reflect them – too much hassle.

Therefore my travel log is based on our research and actual experience of the places of visit within the shouldering season (Winter -> Spring) in April. It does not serve as a detailed planning tool for these countries, but more so as a memory keep sake for us as travel logs. However you should still be able to benefit from some of my research, useful links, and my actual experience in these countries.

 

Country & Culture
All 3 countries have their unique culture. Of them we like Switzerland best.

 

Weather
April is a shouldering season where this region transits from Winter into Spring. The temperature differs from regions but is generally on the low side, bringing nice and cooling weather all day round. At some parts it could get really cold when the rain combine with wind, so proper clothing is required to travel at this time of the year. Switzerland is the coldest of all these 3 countries, and we love it best.

 

Food
Italian food is rather different from Swiss and French. Italian dishes contain lots of cheese and can get quite “jelat”. Swiss and French dishes are much more balanced. In term of pricing, Switzerland is the most expensive, Italy in the mid range, and France being more economical.

 

Shopping and Money matters
Both Italy and France uses Euro, while Switzerland uses its own Francs. These are major currencies and can be easily found at most money changers.

Over a long trip it might cost up to 5 figures dollars. To carry that amount of cash would be rather dangerous. Imagine you are pickpocket or extorted half way through the trip. With such risks many travellers will chose to bring cash to cover for food and sightseeing, while leaving the major bills like accommodation and transports to credit cards. For us, we bought along SGD9,000 of cash to last the entire trip. It was a risk but we prefer not to incur additional charges from credit cards. To play safe, we split the cash into many different portions, hidden throughout the body.

 

People and Languages
The locals generally do not disturb us, with exception of some that were rude to us. Give them the respect and they will do likewise. Swiss are the friendliest and well mannered.

Italy and France uses its own language while Switzerland is slightly special. Depending on which part of Switzerland you might hear the local speaking Italian, French, or German. Most part within Switzerland uses German language. English is known for most locals, especially at tourist areas. Thus you should not have an issue if you can only communicate in that. Just pick up a few common sentences such as “Thank you”, “Sorry” in the various languages. If you can’t speak their language or English, then you might have difficulty travelling. For example if you only speak Japanese or Mandarin. But if you can’t understand English, you wouldn’t be even reading this blog of mine.

 

Photography
It is safe to carry big and bulky SLR, as long as you keep it strap to you at all times. Do not leave your equipments unattended to. Not even for a minute, as it might go missing when you just turn your head around. Same goes for luggage, keep it within contact at all times!

In the past I travel rather heavy on photography equipments, carrying a few lenses and filters. This time round, I went with my Canon 5D II (without the battery grip), a 24-105L f4, EX430 II, tripod. That’s all. In fact I could have left my external flash at home as I probably only use it for less than 10 shots throughout the trip. I prefer natural lighting and often make do with wide aperture and higher ISO. When it is appropriate for me to have my tripod mounted, it will then be up.

On the whole if you are using a compact point & shoot, that will be easy and light to handle. But for me, I prefer to have the control over my photos so I do not go for anything lesser than an SLR. You might also want to bring along a prosumer level where you get a fixed lens but robust features to adjust the aperture and shutter.

If you are using SLR please consider bringing a wide angle lens as many landscapes require that. If possible bring lenses that has wide aperture. Those bigger than f2.8 are good. Anything below f2 is ideal for low light. I wanted to keep it simple so I went with a general lens that gives flexibility range from 24-105mm. Only thing is to trade that with a f4 aperture that is bad for indoor low light or night shots.

 

Places I enjoyed
We enjoyed many places in Italy as they really have a rich art history. Their buildings are very nicely decorated. Switzerland is probably my favourite as I am a nature lover. Mountains, lakes, and trees make me go crazy. Especially when it is slow pace.

 

Necessary items
Depending on your time of travel, you will need different clothing. But the generic items should not be missed.

• Socket or power convertor for your gadgets (check it out here)
• Maps (or you can get it when you are at the hotels)
• Washing detergent and hanger if you are travelling for a long period
• Medication
• Money pouch
• Photocopy of your important documents
• A good pair of walking shoe
• A smaller backpack for carrying items when you are out for the day
• Umbrella
• Lip balm especially if you are from a more humid country

The rest of the necessity items like money and stuffs for shower should be a no brainer.

 

Useful links
I will list those links pertaining to the specific country in the individual country review. Over here are generic links that are helpful throughout the trip.

Rick Steves Travel Guide
http://www.ricksteves.com

Guide to travelling Europe using rails
http://www.seat61.com

Eurail pass official website
http://www.eurail.com

Rail Eurail SG
http://www.raileurope.com.sg

Accomodation Booking.com
http://www.booking.com

Trip Adviser
http://www.tripadvisor.com

 

Review on our France trip in 2012

Before the tour
Decide on which part of France you are heading. This is important because you need to do your own research if you are travelling to anywhere beside Paris. I am not saying that Paris doesn’t require research. But if you look through the Europe travel package, you will notice that most tour agency only bring their group to Paris. Hardly will they visit any other part of France.

France as a whole has many to offer. You get to see castles scattered through the country. The southern has a nice stretch of coastal region. The right has the Alsace region that is famous for its wine route. The east and central are also unique with different highlights.

Another challenge is you probably find too many travel guide books featuring Paris. In our case there is not even a single guide that gives us robust information on Colmar or Strasburg. The best was just an Alsace region guide book, and we need to piece the entire itinerary together from many hours of online research.

 

Country & Culture
France is a strong country and its people have strong pride about it. This country has gone through centuries of war, especially at the borders, and you will be able to find lots of interesting historical sightings. Overall we think French are people who know how to enjoy life.

 

Weather
The weather can vary greatly from the northern region to the southern. Just like the other European countries, France goes through the 4 seasons. We were at France towards the end of April, so the temperature has gone up quite a bit. Some of the days are warm enough for us to leave our trench coats in the hotel room.

 

Food
French cuisine has been well known for being expensive in Singapore. But our trip proves otherwise. In fact we spent the least amount on food in France than in Italy or Switzerland. They are also known for their pastry. Variety of food is decent.

 

Shopping and Money matters
France using the Euro. In smaller town like Colmar you are pretty safe with your money. But in Paris, you should be high alert at all times. I was pickpocketed on the metro, which you can read more on my encounter later.

When it comes to shopping, people think of Paris. Yes, that is a place where you want to go for all the branded goods. Brands such as LV, Channel etc.

 

People and Languages
Pardon me for saying this, but French are known to us as proud people with too big ego that can’t even be burst using a bullet. I heard many infamous saying about them. While I was working in HSBC I had my fair share of unpleasant encounter with French expatiates. However they should not be labelled using a blanket experience. Indeed French are proud of their identity, and you might have heard people saying that they find the English distasteful. Our experience with the French is a mixture. In many places we were treated with respect while at some places we found them rude. So like I say, overall they are nice people.

We heard friends saying that French would ignore us if we start a conversation using English. This is not entirely true, although I always made the effort to open the conversation with “Bonjor” before carrying on with English. Most of the time they responded back with something that I can understand. It was only a few encounters where they either ignored or spoke in French and left me scratching my head.

 

Photography
Generally not a problem. Just be a bit more careful while in Paris. Refer to my Europe review for more details on this section.

 

Places I enjoyed
Probably only Colmar and Strasbourg. We dislike Paris though. Read more to find out why.

 

Useful links
France Railway website
http://www.tgv-europe.com

Christine’s whyGo France travel guide
http://www.francetravelguide.com

Official France Tourist site
http://us.franceguide.com

France holidays
http://www.feiertagskalender.ch

Alsace Tourism site
http://www.tourisme-alsace.com

Paris travel guide
http://www.3daysinparis.com

Airport to Paris guide
http://parisbytrain.com

Paris train station guide
http://goparis.about.com

 

2012 Europe Trip Day 16 – France : Colmar

25 Apr 2012

We shifted the schedule and took a 2 hour earlier train to France, Colmar. This was definitely a correct choice than to stay in Bern and waste another 2 hours.

I was rather concerned that we might not be able to get the tax refund on my watch. We will be departing Europe from Paris, which is where we will be claiming all the tax refunds. But we heard from friends that the officers in Paris airport might not be willing to refund goods bought in Switzerland since it does not fall within the EU. Without a refund my watch would have cost me an additional SGD680. You hardly get to meet a custom officer on a train from Switzerland to France, so that might mean not having any chance to get the refund stamp. In fact we didn’t meet any custom officer throughout all the train rides in Europe, so on our passports we only had the entry stamp into Italy and departure stamp from Paris. We stepped foot in 4 countries (including Germany for a day trip) and that makes me wonder how easy it will be to smuggle stuffs across countries in Europe.

The train from Bern to Colmar require a transit in Basel, a station at the border of Switzerland and France. We seek out and located a custom office (hidden and rather difficult to spot) and gotten the officer to do the stamping. Phew!

Upon reaching Colmar, we experience a few drastic changes. The temperature went from cool and chilling to warm. The temperature was still low compare to Singapore but probably our bodies were adjusting from the 8 days in Switzerland and thus we did perspire while stepping out of Colmar station. It was a 10 minute walk to our hotel.

Hôtel Kyriad Colmar Centre Gare
1, Rue De La Gare
Colmar, 68000
France

We arrived way earlier than the check-in time so were told to stow the luggage and return after lunch. Gotten a map from the hotel and navigated towards the Old Town. Colmar is rather slow pace, peaceful and beautiful with all its cottage houses. It was really a very nice feeling to be in the real Colmar! We were at Malaysia’s Colmar Tropicale and that sucks to the max. You will know if you read my post on that.

Suddenly everything feels cheaper even when it is still more expensive than Singapore prices. You can get things like dessert wine for only €5. We got ourselves fantastic lunch for only €28. Look at the portion and quality, so much worth it compare to Switzerland and Italy.

Back to the hotel after lunch and were given a sunroof room. Nice 🙂 ! The room looks really cozy and romantic and overall the hotel gave a good experience, except for the part that we were trapped in the lift when it broke down for 10 minutes.

With no time to waste, we went back to the Old Town and covered more grounds. They have a city train ride that cost €6.50 but we prefer to use our legs. There is also a 30 minute boat ride along “Little Venice” that cost €6.

Unlike Italy and Switzerland, we soon realised that we were the only Asian in this town. Probably because Colmar is a really small town that does not appear in many of the France tour packages. But this town really have things to offer if you are travelling on a free & easy style. You could even find shops selling old toys, those we used to play in the 1980s.

We do love Colmar and the feel of its Old Town. Dinner was a killer! Bloody cheap! In this restaurant call Flunch that operates with a concept like Coop in Switzerland. But the difference in prices, oh my god. We ordered 2 main dishes and 2 side dishes, which only cost us €16. I guess this was the cheapest sit-down meal we had thus far in Europe.

Due to the period of the year, the sky was still bright at 8pm. The sun only started setting at 9pm.