Prepaid GSM
Getting around


Map of trip to France

27.7: Munich -> Strasbourg
28.7: Strasbourg -> Verdun -> Reims -> Paris
29.7: Paris
30.7: Paris
31.7: Paris
1.8: Paris -> Disneyland -> Paris
2.8: Paris
3.8: Paris -> Chambord castle -> Blois -> Tours
4.8: Tours -> Villandry castle -> Azay Le Rideau -> Tours
5.8: Tours -> Azay Le Rideau -> Chenonceau castle -> Tours
6.8: Tours -> Rigny-Usse castle -> Tours
7.8: Tours -> Les Sables D Olonne -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
8.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
9.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> St Gilles Croix de Vie -> Bretignolles-sur-Mer
10.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer
11.8: Bretignolles-sur-Mer -> Lyon
12.8: Lyon
13.8: Lyon -> Geneva

Overview and overall impression
The purpose of the trip was to show Paris to Shirley and to visit a number of places in France where I haven't been yet. Overall not that much has changed in France in the past few years. The weather turned out to be a surprise, as it  was often not good and I was expecting better weather in July/August. Roads and motorways are better in Germany than France. Paris has a huge concentration of  things to see and interesting architecture. The best part of the trip was the food: excellent and delicious pastries and cakes, bread, ham and cheese etc.

France is not a cheap place to travel, but if you are careful you can travel comfortably without spending too much. Accomodation tends to be expensive, especially if you travel with wife and two small children, as most hotels don't let you stay in just one room. Etap hotels are excellent value at just 40-48 Euro/night and you are allowed to stay with up to two children below 12 years old. Otherwise standard hotels cost from 60 Euro upwards for a double, more than that in Paris.
Food in standard French restaurants is pricey as well and it is easy to spend 20-30 Euro per person for a "full" meal. It is possible however to spend much less (around 8-9 Euro/person) in other places. Icecream is surprisingly expensive and of low quality.
Petrol cost on average 1.45 Euro/litre (1.38 - 1.56 Euro) in July-August 2008). Motorway tolls cost about 10 cents/km, i.e. 10 Euro for each 100 km. 

While France is well known for having an excellent cuisine, meals in restaurants are pricey, so we tended to avoid standard French restaurants and often ate in less expensive places. We have for instance eaten several times in Asian restaurants where the food (except for one place in St Gilles Croix de Vie) is better than the food of Asian restaurants in Germany.
An interesting place where to eat is the Flunch restaurant chain. These are inexpensive restaurants in the Carrefour shopping malls, which offer a wide choice of food at very reasonable prices (main courses for 4-7 Euro). Be careful with the main courses because many of them are cooked in the morning and just warmed up for you. Some main courses instead are cooked on the spot.
We ate many times in McDonalds restaurants as well, because due to the travelling we found ourseves often eating at odd times and didn't have so much time available. Also, McDonalds restaurants in France offer free WLAN access and have a children playground.
Cakes and pastries are excellent in France and are definitely something not to miss. Hams, cheeses and even the bread come in a huge variety of types and are delicious as well.

Hotels in France are not cheap if you travel with two small children, as you need a larger room and not all hotels allow you to stay in a room with two children.
In Strasbourg we stayed in a three star hotel (75 Euro/night without breakfast), in Paris in the hotel Etap (48 Euro/night without breakfast). The Etap hotel in Paris turned out to be surprisingly good value. The room was clean and quiet at night.
We found out that there are Etap hotels all over France, easily bookable short term by phone or through the Internet, even on the same day. Perfect hotels if you don't want to spend too much and have two small kids. Breakfast (it's a buffet) is an additional 5 Euro/person.
Les Sables d'Olonne on the Atlantic coast turned out to be a fully booked disaster when we arrived on a late afternoon. Accomodation was 50% more expensive than elsewhere. We found a place to stay in nearby Bretignolles by using te directory of the navigation system.

Money  / Exchange rate (JulyAugust 2008)
1 Euro = 1.56 - 1.49 US $
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

I withdrew cash with an ATM card from ATMs.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
Due to new EU-wide regulations the cost of roaming has substantially decreased over the past year. Making international calls (to another European country) and receiving calls when roaming is now not too expensive. At the same time it seems that prepaid cards in France cost a minimum of 30 Euro and you still have to buy airtime.
I was told in several shops that there are no prepaid cards which allow you to connect to the Internet with the mobile phone as a modem (apparently you need a post-paid contract).

Internet access
This was a big problem, as only the first (middle-class) hotel where we stayed had Internet access in the room. In the Etap hotels Internet access through the computer in the lobby was ridicolously expensive compared to rates in an Internet cafe. WLAN was available in most Etap hotels through Orange but the quality of the connection was variable.
Otherwise it was very difficult to find Internet cafes in France because there were very few of them. McDonalds restaurants in France offered free WLAN Internet access with variable quality (sometimes the connection was interrupted for a while). Obviously you had to buy something and could not use their WLAN hotspot too long, otherwise the staff would push you out.


The weather was mixed, with sunny days alternating with rainy days. We had to cancel the planned trip to Normandie and Bretagne because of the unstable weather. While we were in France the temperature in Normandie was around max 20-21°C most of the time (while it was over 30°C on the mediterranean coast). Overall it was quite cool, only a few days were really hot, while most days had pretty cool temperatures. On the Atlantic coast there was a strong cold wind most of the time and very variable weather.

Health / Vaccinations
None required for France.

VISA / Entry requirements
None required for visitors of developed countries (EU, USA, Canada etc.).

No issues here. You are supposed to watch out for your belongings in Paris, but luckily nothing happened to us.


Getting around
We travelled across France by car. France has a good motorway network, which however is mostly not free. Tolls are around 10 Euro for 100km. The positive side is that toll motorways have very little traffic, allowing you to quickly get from A to B. There were no traffic jams except for the day we drove from Paris to Tours, which coincided with the start of the holiday season in France. Les Sables d'Olonne was hopelessly overcrowded with cars.
We tried initially to drive by car in Paris and immediately gave up. Lots of traffic, lots of traffic lights, no free parkings - very tiring to get around by car in Paris.
However the metro is a problem if you have a baby in a stroller, as there are almost no escalators and elevators in the metro stations in Paris, which means that you have to carry the heavy stroller up and down the stairs.

Copyright 2008 Alfred Molon