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Travelling to France for the First Time

Although it has been more than a year, the memoirs of our maiden trip to France still manage to tingle my euphoria and joy. This contradicts the multiple hurling of criticisms we have heard from those after they setting their footprint into France, ranging from the horrendous state of the city metro station, countless scams targeted at tourists and the unfriendly displayed by Parisian.

Travelling to France for the First Time
Well, they were not entirely incorrect but it was definitely premature to make such a conclusion after a trip to Paris solely?

First thing first, Paris is not France, it is part of France. France is geographically diverse with many astonishing places. Adventurous geeks may embark a cycling tours along the scenic Loire valley, while wine connoisseurs should visit the chateau in Bordeaux region, then there are the almighty peak of the French Alps, the all year sunshine and compelling beaches in Nice or a small old town where Vincent van Gogh once lived. Do not let the social media epitome dictates your trip to France limited to Paris just to get a few Instagram shot of Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum.

Second, always practice the concept "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". It sounds easy but it may be an uphill task, which we will deliberate further in the journal.

The Prequel Before France Trip


Travelling to France for the First Time
Our first times flying with 5 star airline - Qatar Airways 
Some time in March 2018, Shirleen ringed me unexpectedly around 5pm after I just chucked my Ipad along with a working folder to the desk, exhausted from a long day meeting with clients at multiple venues in Penang.

"Ee Pin, Qatar Airways emailed me regarding a flight promotion from Penang to Paris via Doha, the price is pretty reasonable, you want to make it for our upcoming Ramadhan trip?"

"Okay, let me WhatsApp my boss to apply leave for these date before we proceed with the ticket booking, hopefully my boss will approve"

I have never thought of visiting Europe in my life. Ever since I was small, a visit to Europe continent has been tagged as luxurious in my mind. Aside from the currency conversion rate, the flight ticket would require a big fortune. 

Trembling in my hand, I took out my newly bought Huawei Mate20 and WhatsApp my boss. "Boss, can I apply leave for these 2 weeks (with the specified date)? It will be a total of 9 working days off, excluding 2 days of public holidays."

The reason for my trembling hand was neither due to the thought of heavy expenses might incur in this trip nor the anxiety of travelling far away from home. It was due to the first major obstacle for this trip - a nod from my boss for my leave application. Deep in my heart, I know 2 weeks off from working is difficult.

My WhatsApp messages turned to double blue ticks shortly after I pressed the send button, indicating she has read my messages. To my dismay, there were no replies. The clock was ticking slowly, seems as though time is passing a tad slower than normal. Few hours has passed and the double blue ticks remained with no additional conversation.

Travelling to France for the First Time
Dream comes true - Finally we step our bare foot to Paris! 

Just as my dopamine and serotonin level almost dropped to zero, the phone vibrates and a WhatsApp message from my boss arrives.

It reads "Sure".

Visiting France for the First Time


Having just 3 months to plan for our 2 weeks trip to France was an uphill task indeed. We need to juggle between working, attending reviews, writing articles for blog and researching accommodation, figuring the transportation method and crafting the entire itinerary for the trip. 

Some people said we should have a free and easy trip with minimal planning, but this should be a big no-no for France trip. We have put a few tips here so you can enjoy France as much as we did.

i) Research and Plan Thoroughly in Advance

This may sounds simple but many failed to research their trip thoroughly in advance, resulted frustration and ordeal that ruined the whole trip.

Travelling to France for the First Time
Inside Louvre Museum - who knows the museum closes every Tuesday unless you did the research?

For instance, if we took the train and head straight to Louvre Museum without checking its operation time on a Tuesday, we will stumble upon a big closure signage as Louvre Museum closes every Tuesday. The case might worsen if were to return to hometown on Wednesday.

Research as much as you could so you will have an idea how to plan your route, time to spend in each attraction, places of interest to snap your best Instagram photos, delicacies that worth trying out and others. Keep your valuable research results either in a notebook or load it as a pdf file in your mobile phone. 

Learn Some Elementary French Words


Our homework prior going to France did not constrain to researching information about attractions and food. Instead, I spare some time to learn elementary French and it was not as tough as I expected. There are plenty of free French language classes available online and you should be able to locate them with just a click.

Learning French did help to facilitate our trip. During our cycling trip in Loire Valley, almost all the cyclist responded well to our greetings in French and some even greeted us before we managed to do. Even at the small town such as Arles, the restaurant crews portrayed warm gestures to us when we tried to communicated in fragmented French sentences during ordering.

Travelling to France for the First Time
Talking in French definitely help to facilitate the trip. Even a simple "bonjour" helps

I realize the French appreciates when I greet them "bonjour" and ask them politely "pouvez-vous parler anglais" (can you speak English?) with a smile if more explanations are required, such as asking the price or direction to certain places. Nevertheless, bear in mind there will always be exceptions cases as what we experienced in Paris. Generally, French can speak English well and if they don't, they will reply with "non".

Transportation


One of the biggest shocks that we had was the frequency of strikes by transportation crews that led to disruption to public transportation services in France. Needless to say, this will have serious repercussions such as delay in your travel plan. For instance, during our first day arrival in France, we got to know our train to Belgium was delayed and stranded in Charles de Gaulle Airport for additional 2 hours.

There are no better ways to manage these strikes other than making changes to your schedule. Often time, these strikes are planned ahead of time. You can check online for the strike schedule or emails will be sent to you for the pre-booked tickets. Good thing is changes are allowed free of charge for schedule affected by these strikes.

It was not a big surprise to know the air traffic controllers in airport also organise strikes that affect the flight schedule!

a) Train in France

Travelling to France for the First Time
A train station in Monaco

Despite the frequent strikes, train remained the best transportation method, at least for us. We relied on SNCF (France train) to travel across regions in France, and the train schedule for inter-city or inter-regional travelling is commendable. Just head to the official SNCF website for tickets booking and it is advisable to book ahead as the ticket price may soar up if you purchase your ticket in the very last minute.


b) Travelling in France via Flight


Another method of transportation that you may consider to travel across region is via flight, though we never took flight to travel between cities. This is due to the need to arrival few hours prior check-in, and usually airport is located a distance from the city center, which may consume a lot of time commuting to airport and waiting for departure.

On top of that, this may incur additional cost as you need to take a train or taxi to airport. In contrast, train center usually is located right in the city center and easily accessible.

Another least popular method of transportation will be by bus. This is less costly and Flixbus seems to be a popular platform.

Make Reservations in Restaurants


Hungry is the least concern problem if you happen to be in Paris. With the presence of thousands of restaurant in the capital of France, certainly there are a handful of them able to satisfy your stomach even you have the most discerning appetite in the world.

However if you plan to walk in to the renowned restaurants in Paris and expect to get a seat immediately, you may end up in the street enjoying kebabs or burgers instead (do not get us wrong, kebabs and burgers in Paris are delicious too). Most of the restaurants in Paris will expect you to make reservation to secure a seat. You can either call up the restaurant, emailing them, leave a message in the restaurant's website or even get your hotels to help you arrange for the reservation.



Travelling to France for the First Time
There will always be a queue, even for Falafel! 

During our first day in Paris, we went to La Jacobine, a popular restaurant in Rue Saint-Andre des Arts without any reservation. Although the restaurant manager was happy to accommodate us but we waited for close to an hour for a table for two!

Therefore, make reservation next time and you will have a better control of your time. You would not lose anything by making reservations in restaurants.

Scams in Paris


Google scams in Paris and there are countless articles surfaced. Indeed, the beautiful city of Paris is taunted by dozens of scams and with a slight negligence, your travel mood will be negatively affected after falling into these unscrupulous scams.

Like it or not, these wicked scammers will be there and trying to pull a fortune from all of us a tourist. All we can do were doing some reading about these scams and exercising extra precautions at a few particular attractions which these scammers love to linger.

Here are some of the Paris' notorious scams that we have witnessed during our trip, or have heard about from our friends who had been to Paris. Check out our article on detailed information on these scams.

a) The string bracelet at Sacre Coeur
b) The petition charity scam at Tuileries Garden
c) The cup and ball games scam
d) Golden Ring scam
e) Pickpocket in public transport
f) Metro ticket helpers scam 

Nevertheless, if you happen to get scammed, do not keep blaming yourself. We all make mistakes or blunders, and allowing others to leverage on the opportunity and take advantage on us. If you keep blaming yourself, you will be ruining your trip, your partner's emotion, and get depressed for the entire trip and not enjoying the limited time you have there.

It is tough to forgive yourself or the scammers, but it is a skill that you ought to learn. Personally, i lost over 200 in my Central Europe trip. Of course I feel despaired but I try to get over it. You can earn those money back later in your life.

Appreciate what you have in that moment. 

Learn how to drink smaller cup of coffee


Travelling to France for the First Time
Cafe Au Lait


The few times going to cafes in France has been an eye-opening experience. Apart from having awesome croissants and pastries, a cup of coffee is a must to energize the tired body.

We proudly went to the counter and practice our minimal understanding of French language - "un croissant, un cafe, s'il vous plait". Then what awaiting us is an unpleasant surprise of a small cup of espresso that we least likely to order back in hometown. We tried to order another coffee - "cafe au lait" (coffee with milk), but it turned out to be a tiny cup of espresso with milk.

Till today we still cannot comprehend how to order the coffee like we used to back in hometown but here are some of the coffee terms that you might find it useful in France:

café - espresso
cafe américain - Americano
café glacé - iced coffee
café déca - decaffeinated coffee


Certainly there are more terms but these should be suffice to help you to get your caffeine fix in France. Still, you need to learn how to learn small cup of coffee! 

What We like the most during France Trip


Being a first timer to France and Europe, we encountered many new things and these really excited us. Every day, we woke up and began our trip with new experiences on French's culture, cuisine, scenery, people, environment and many more. There is no single day filled with boredom, except that half day in Monaco, which is technically not France.

When we came back from the trip, our friends asked us what we liked the most during the entire trip. At first instances, we really could not tell as we enjoyed every bits of it. However today, there is one single thing that registered the deepest impression - the French cuisine.


Travelling to France for the First Time
soupe à l'oignon gratinée (French Onion Soup) - Aesthetically unappealing but amazing taste

Pierre Hermé
We went craze over these macarons 
We recalled the amazing texture of the macarons from Laduree and Pierre Herme - a little bit chewy, light and not crunchy, with the sweetness did not overpower the entire dessert, or how an aesthetic unappealing French Onion Soup made us wow during the first sip with its deep flavour and aroma arises from the caramelized onions.

On top of that, the aroma of croissant lingering in the street when we are trying to locate La Maison, the award winning bakery still vivid in our impression, or the freshest oysters we have ever tasted in a restaurant in Bordeaux. The list is ongoing, and we really miss the different cuisine in France.

The Most Horrible Experience in France


Nope, we did not get scammed in France fortunately.

Despite hearing the negativity on French people's attitude, we did not encounter any obvious sub-par treatment, not till we arrived in Paris for the last 4 days of our trip.

We tried to communicate in French, being polite and try not to be funny by asking milk after ordering a cup of coffee. Everything worked alright with this methodology till the last night at Paris, where we splurged for dinner at the restaurant with substandard treatment received.

The lady, whom we supposed to be the owner or manager was friendly but one of the senior crew was rude and treated us like a criminal for dining there. He served the dishes by throwing it on our table with a "bang" sound for every dishes, unwilling to attend to us, came to our table with a hostile face, throwing all cutlery splattering across the table.

We were sure he was not having a bad day as he displayed extreme affection to a seemingly local couple seated next to us - bringing the lady scarf due to chilling weather, checking with them occasionally, chatted like a friend with smile and laughter.

Was there an underlying reason beneath the different treatment we received on our end?

That horrible experience certainly tainted our day.

Travelling to France for the First Time
The exodus of tourists in Louvre Museum 
Travelling to France for the First Time
The number of crowd at Notre Dome, a year before it was destroyed by fire.

If there is another thing that we despise during the entire trip of France, that will be the exodus of tourists in Paris! Ironically, we were tourists too but we did not enjoy the noise, the filthy trashes created by them, and sometimes it just made me feel I was not in Paris.

If we have chance to visit France again, we would:


I asked Shirleen on this question when writing this and the answer I got was an amazing ones and totally caught me off-guard.

First thing first, this was a budget trip though occasionally we splurged on food. We cut down entry to a lot of attractions, trying to save few pennies in breakfast by having muesli (do not get us wrong, muesli was great), did not order wine or sometimes even walk if time allows.

Then she answered me "I want to buy LV and all the expensive stuff there".

I was left speechless...

Travelling to France for the First Time
Arc de Triomphe at des Champs-Elysees
I reckon I need to work harder to prepare for a shopping spree along those premium shop at Avenue des Champs-Élysées...



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