I shared my financial woes with a close friend, hoping to find encouragement that my trip to Europe would still happen. Instead, he mirrored the doubts in my head, “I guess your Europe trip is not gonna happen anymore,” he said. Logic dictated it would be unwise to pursue but my heart couldn’t take a no. So against all odds, I made it happen. Last year, on Christmas Day, I took that 16-hour flight to Paris, France.
So you might be curious, how did I make it happen? Well, it was tedious.
Prepare for a trip to France
I don’t have to tell you (but I’m telling anyway) that having money is necessary. No, you don’t have to be rich, but you must save. When you submit your Schengen visa application, you should be able to prove that you have the capacity to spend at least 120 euros (around 6,000 pesos) per day.
This is where I faced the biggest challenge, not because I didn’t have savings but it coincided with my expenses when I moved into my condo. It has put a dent into my budget that for weeks, I had contemplated whether I should continue the trip or cancel it.
What ultimately saved me is my 13th-month bonus and the credit card approval from BPI. When I requested for a 3-month statement from my bank, I had over 150,000 pesos in my savings account.
So unless money is no issue, first: save, second: get a credit card. European countries generally favor plastics over cash that’s why it’s better to have a CC. Also, it will serve as your safety net in case you run out of money, a possibility because Europe is bloody expensive. As a spendthrift, I know the evils of owning one, therefore, proceed with caution. Make sure that you have the means to pay it back so you don’t go neck-deep in debt.
Do not forget to inform your bank of your trip abroad to ensure that your credit card will work. Include your full name, credit card number, travel dates and the country(ies) you are visiting. For BPI credit card holders like me, you may email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fly to Paris, France
I used Momondo, a travel fare aggregator to check for cheap flights to Paris. Just to be safe, it’s best to just use it as a reference for airfares then go to the airline’s website and book your flight there. By the way, do not book your flight without a Schengen visa.
The cheapest flight I found was through Thai Airways. I got a one-way ticket to Paris for only $362.99 (₱18,557.86). Note, however, that I went there in winter, an off-season, thus the cheap rate. The peak season in Paris is from mid-June to August. For the sake of this post, I just checked Thai Airways flight to Paris this time of the year and it’s over $1,305 (₱66,718.13); see how big the price jump is?
I didn’t get a round-trip ticket because I flew back home from Vienna, Austria.
Thai Airways flight to Charles de Gaulle is from NAIA terminal 1. Travel time takes 16 hours including a 1-hour layover to Bangkok, Thailand. I was fairly satisfied with this airline; we flew on time, the food is okay, and the journey was generally smooth.
I heard that the aisle seats are better for long-haul flights so that’s what I picked. I shared the 4-seat row with a nice French woman. We each had two seats to sleep on making the trip somewhat comfortable. I don’t usually sleep when I fly due to my flying anxiety but surprisingly, I slept through the better part of the journey.
Charles de Gaulle Airport
It’s the farthest I’d been away from home and the most ambitious out of all the journeys I’d taken. This is Europe, that part of the world many Filipinos could only dream of, and this is France, the country that was once my unreachable star.
I followed the path to the exit and stopped by a kiosk that sells the Orange sim card; I purchased one for €40.00 (₱2,345.75). The man manning the store stared at me and said that I looked familiar. I offered that probably, I looked just like the other Asian tourists.
“But it’s like I saw you somewhere,” he persisted.
“Pas possible,” (not possible) I told him, “This is my first time in France.“
He replied, “I think I saw you in Asian movie.”
I tried my best not to cringe.
Immediately, I changed my sim card to Orange and as soon as it did, a message from the driver that I hired came in, “Hallo, your driver for tomorrow morning Serge.”
I muttered my thanks to the Orange guy and hurriedly made my way to the arrival area. There, I saw a tall burly man holding a paper with my name on it. He took my luggage without a word, I followed him to the exit.
Nothing could have ever prepared me for the extreme cold. What was an island girl like me doing in a 1°C Paris? The moment I stepped out of the airport, my face was hit by the cold blast of wind, so freezing it felt like my skin had been pulled taut. My hands stiffened from the icy temperature. “So this is how winter feels like, painful,” I thought to myself.
I arrived at around 7:00 in the morning, and it was still dark. Taking the metro is cheaper and faster, but from the train station, I must walk for 5 minutes or so to the hotel. I know that it is not that far, but there is no way I’d pull my huge luggage out in the cold so very early in the morning. Thus, I booked a Private Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) Transfers for Paris.
Paris has 20 districts or what they call as “arrondissement,” each one has its own mayor and officials. Deciding which arrondissement to stay at would depend on the places that you want to see. If you want more detailed information on the districts of Paris, you may check this guide. As with me, my foremost concern was the rate, thus I had a hard time booking a place to stay. In Paris, expect to spend at least 3,000 to 7,000 pesos per night, that’s how expensive the hotels are.
After much dilly-dallying, I picked Best Western Paris Italie located at 205 Avenue de Choisy, 13th arrondissement. It is close to Place D’Italie, a public place. I stayed there for two nights in a standard single room for €126 ( ₱7,251).
I came in around 8:00 in the morning, check-in time is at 12:00 p.m. The man at the front desk said that they don’t have available rooms yet. I said that it’s okay and that I would just wait in the lobby.
“Vous-parlez français?” (you speak French?) he asked.
“Oui un peu. J’étudie le français a l’école aux Philippines,” (A little, yes. I study French at a school in the Philippines) I replied.
We spent the next 3 minutes or so conversing in his language, me struggling, he visibly amused. My one year of studying French has been put to the test. I was transliterating (thinking words in English then translating them in French), not the best way to speak another language but I’m at the mercy of my limited vocabulary. I was conscious of my missed prepositions, incorrect tenses, and wrong conjugations, but the receptionist didn’t seem to mind if any, he looked appreciative of my effort.
Switching to English, the receptionist told me that normally, he doesn’t like it when guests come in before check-in time.
“But I like you, you are nice,” he said with a smile
The room is small but has everything that I needed. There’s a comfortable double bed, a shower with heater, clean towels, and toiletries, a small fridge, coffee facility, and television that showed nothing but French movies and TV shows.
Right outside my window is a view of the street.
The hotel is only a few minute’s walk to the Place d’Italie station of the Metro (the transit system of Paris).
Other hotel options
You may check out other hotel options in other districts. To help you decide which place to stay, I included here the points of interests of each arrondissement; just click the links below:
1st Arrondissement – The Louvre Museum, Royal Palace, Tuileries Gardens, La Cité Palace.
2nd Arrondissement – Place des Victoires, Tour Jean-Sans-Peur, Reaumur Street, Rue Montergueil.
3rd Arrondissement – The Marais District, Picasso Museum, Musée des Archives Nationales, Anne Frank Garden, Square Georges Caïn.
4th Arrondissement – Maison de Victor Hugo, Place des Vosges, Notre Dame, Centre Georges Pompidou
5th Arrondissement – Latin Quarter, Panthéon, Musée du Moyen Age, Arènes de Lutèce, Grande Mosquée de Paris, Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, Jardin des Plantes.
6th Arrondissement – Eugène Delacroix Museum, Jardin du Luxembourg, Saint-Germain-des-Près Church, Saint Sulpice Church, Médicis Fountain, Zadkine Museum.
7th Arrondissement – Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum, Musée de l’Armée, Rodin Museum, Quai Branly Museum, Paris Sewer Museum, Les Invalides.
8th Arrondissement – Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysées, Madeleine Church, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Parc Monceau, Jacquemart-André Museum.
9th Arrondissement – Fragonard Perfume Museum, Opéra Garnier, Galeries Lafayette, Georges-Eugene Haussman’s Architecture.
10th Arrondissement – Canal Saint-Martin, Gare du Nord, and Gare de l’Est
11th Arrondissement – Atelier des Lumières
12th Arrondissement – Parc Floral, Promenade Plantée, Le Marché d’Aligre, Cinema Museum at Cinémathèque Française, Musée des Arts Forains.
13th Arrondissement – The Mural Program, Place D’Italie, La Butte-aux-Cailles, Manufacture des Gobelins.
14th Arrondissement – Catacombs of Paris, Carrières des Capucins, Cimitière du Montparnasse, Parc Montsouris, Cité Universitaire.
15th Arrondissement – Square Georges Brassens, Parc André Citroën, Ile aux Cygnes.
16th Arrondissement – Art Nouveau Architecture, Bois de Boulogne, Park Jardin de Ranelagh, Musée Guimet, Palais de Tokyo, Musée de l’Homme, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Musée Yves Saint Laurent, Musée Marmottan-Monet.
17th Arrondissement – Parc de Monceau, Luthier shops.
18th Arrondissement – Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, Sacré Coeur, Saint Jean-de-Montmartre Church, Dali Museum.
19th Arrondissement – Canal de la Villette, Cité de la Science et l’Industrie, Cité de la Musique, Canal de l’Ourcq, Parc Buttes-Chaumont, Parc de la Villette, Parc de la Butte du Chapeau-Rouge.
20th Arrondissement – Père Lachaise Cemetery
Get around Paris
The main mode of transportation in Paris is the subway or the Metro. This subway is old, the stations and the trains though still operational looked like they’ve seen better days. There are over 300 stations around the city and it is fairly easy to use. Note that the subway doors don’t open and close automatically as the trains in the Philippines, there are buttons that you have to press to open the doors.
You could easily buy a ticket from one of the ticket machines, the minimum fare is 1.90 euros. The first time I went to the metro, I didn’t know how to use the machine so I approached the ticket window.
“Bonjour. Un billet pour L’Opera s’il vous plait” (one ticket to the Opera) I told the woman.
I thought I’d have to repeat myself because I don’t have a French accent you know, but surprisingly, the woman understood me and sold me the ticket.
Not to be mistaken as the Metro, Paris commuters also use the train (formerly called RER). This is faster than the subway and built deeper underground. If you want to take the train, look for Lines A, B, or C.
Tip: Download the app, Visit Paris by Metro to help you navigate the city and both the Metro and RER.
In those times I was too lazy to take the Metro, I booked an Uber. Oh, how I missed this ride-sharing app! I was extremely disappointed that they stopped operating the Philippines that I got a little too excited when I saw that the app is functioning in Paris. An Uber ride would cost you from 6 to 15 euros.
You can also take the bus, however, this is one option I was not able to try. You can use the Metro and RER tickets to take the bus, how efficient right?!
Because why not? If you are a tourist, there are lots of sites to see and sometimes, the best to check them out is on foot. I did a little bit of walking myself, especially when I went bar hopping (more on that later). The only thing that ruined this experience is the cold, it was really difficult to be outside when every inch of me was freezing. I imagine however that this activity would be a lot easier in other seasons.
Things to do in Paris
My first day in Paris and I was jet-lagged, but I had to adjust my sleeping pattern to Europe time. So I went out to begin exploring Paris alone. I already mentioned the points of interest in Paris in each district, unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to visit all of them. The following shows those that I was able to see.
Paris Opera (Académie National de Musique)
On my way to the Paris Story to claim my museum ticket, I passed by the Paris Opera. I didn’t even know what it was until I googled it. It is the primary opera and ballet company of France that dated back to 1669. King Louis XIV founded and named it as the Académie d’Opéra. I was only able to see it from the outside, but I would love to go back and see one of its stage performances.
The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum and a central landmark in Paris. It is located at the 1st Arrondissement. Formerly a royal residence that dates back to 1200s, it was turned into a museum in 1793. It has over 380,000 art and historical collections displayed on three different wings, Richelieu, Sully, and Denon. The museum is so huge it is impossible to see all of its exhibitions in a day.
There are numerous museums in Paris and if you want to see more than one, it’s best to get a museum pass. I purchased mine from Klook for €47.19 (₱2,722.94). With this pass, you can access more than 50 museums (Musée d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame, the Pompidou Center, Sainte-Chapelle, etc.) and monuments in Paris and the surrounding region.
If I could sum up my Louvre museum in two words it would be, beautiful and overwhelming. I love art and to see some of the best artworks in history that once upon a time, I only read in books was an experience like no other. Despite feeling like I was swimming in a dream due to jet lag, I managed to walk for several hours inside the museum. I didn’t have the energy to process everything but I took as many photos as I could. I was particularly fascinated by the artwork on the ceiling, the details are insane!
The largest painting that I’ve seen in my life is Juan Luna’s Spolarium. But at Louvre, there are hundreds of life-size paintings to feast your eyes on. Out of all the paintings that I’d seen, my most favorite is the one by French artist, Paul Delaroche titled, La Jeune Martyre (the young martyr).
A Louvre experience is never complete without a rendezvous with arguably its most famous inhabitant, the Mona Lisa. Obviously, other museum-goers agree. I spotted her many fans before I even saw the painting itself.
Louvre museum information
It is open daily, except Tuesday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays, it also opens at night at 9:45 p.m. On the first Saturday of each month, you can access the museum for free.
You can rent a Louvre audio guide for 5 euro at the museum’s ticket area.
There are three restaurants and cafes inside the Louvre; Paul (patisserie) Angelina (tearoom), and the Bistrot Benoit. There’s a gift shop at the Allee du Grand Louvre where you can buy souvenirs.
The Louvre Pyramid is a popular spot in itself. It’s a glass and metal pyramid architecture designed by a Chinese-American architect named, I. M. Pei. I went out in the cold and tried to get a nice selfie with it as a background, unfortunately, I didn’t look good in any of the photos.
Another museum worth checking out is Musée d’Orsay, which I visited on my second day in the city using the same museum pass. For some reason, my pass, which should have allowed me to skip the line didn’t work. Thus, I waited for 2 hours out in the frickin’ cold. I don’t even know how was I able to survive that; the resilience of a girl from a third world country maybe?
There were no other Filipinos on the queue, at least not within earshot. There were the Koreans with their trendy and colorful outfits, the loud Spanish-speaking group (not sure from which country) behind me, the more reserved French people, and me wondering if the museum is worth the hypothermia. Because I had no company I didn’t dare leave the line. I did consider booking it back to the hotel after one hour of waiting but curiosity got the better of me. Hold it together, I told myself, it’s not like you could visit Paris anytime you like so you gotta get inside.
I’m glad I didn’t go home because the museum is indeed worth it. It is smaller than the Louvre but not behind when it comes to its vast collection of artworks from 1848 to 1914.
There are individuals rooms that are dedicated to each world-renowned artists such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso. The Picasso section had the longest queue during my visit, but by the time I got there, the museum was nearing its closing time so I didn’t check it out anymore. Fortunately, I had the time to visit one of my personal favorites, Vincent Van Gogh. I didn’t even know until this visit that he had several self-portraits of himself. Out of all his paintings on display, I was particularly taken by the Nuit étoilée sur le Rhône (Starry Night over the Rhône).
More than paintings, I am into sculptures, in fact, my favorite Filipino artist is a sculptor, Ferdinand Cacnio. I was in awe looking at the huge and intricate three-dimensional forms that were exhibited. My favorites are the two pictured below made by Ernest Barrias and Denys Puech.
Orsay museum information
It is open daily from 9:20 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. except for Mondays. On Thursdays, they close at 9:45 p.m.
They have a bookshop and museum store and in-house cafés and restaurants.
Being an artist has been my life’s frustration. I cannot draw and so it’s one path that I wanted but was not able to pursue. Just because I cannot paint or sculpt, doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate art. Thus, it has been such a joy for me to be able to visit Paris and see these artworks in person. Whether you are an art aficionado or not, I highly recommend including these museums in your itinerary.
The Eiffel Tower
You know it’s true; when we think of Paris, the first image that comes to mind is the Eiffel Tower. I made a pilgrimage of going there because to me it seals the deal, that indeed, I had been to Paris.
This wrought-iron lattice tower was designed by engineer Gustave Eiffel (thus the name). Construction began in 1887 and back then, it was mocked by some artists due to its design. I guess the joke is on them because today, the Eiffel is a cultural icon of France and is well-known globally.
It stands at about 324 meters making it the tallest structure in Paris. It has three levels that tourists can climb. I saw a long queue of people waiting to get in at the base of the tower. I was contented just looking at it from the outside taking as many photos as I could; a no easy feat considering the freezing weather.
Where to eat in Paris
One thing that I regret not doing is checking out the restaurants or the bakeries and cafes in Paris. But I did try some of the foods that they like to eat like my favorite, crepe (galette)…
And their weird version of a taco. I mean when we say taco, we picture these…
But the French had a different idea. It is unlike anything that I have ever seen in my life. It has ground meat, cheese, corn, and drum roll…. french fries! I can’t find a free photo and I wasn’t able to take a picture of it so here’s a link, go see it for yourself. Yet despite being weirded out I actually liked it. It was tasty and filling that it took me two days to finish it.
Night Scene in Paris
My friends practically begged me to go and meet people so I obliged and booked an Airbnb experience. It’s called, Party like Parisians for which I paid ₱3,030.90 to join 9 other people, who were, by the way, mostly couples, to check out the edgy bars of Paris.
The event was hosted by an American named, Valkyrie who has been living in Paris for years. I was a bit late for the assembly so I met them at the first bar, Le Gourbi Palace. I tried my best to let out my extrovert side and talked with other guests.
If I remember it right we visited a total of 4 bars. I made sure that I wouldn’t go home wasted as I had to wake up early for my trip to Bordeaux the next day. All in all, I loved the experience and was glad that I showed up. I almost bailed on this because I was worried about my next day trip, good thing I changed my mind. It is better to be with a local if you want to see the best bars and restos in the city. If you don’t know anyone in Paris (and you’re not particularly friendly like me) then this Airbnb experience is for you.
By the way, if you are joining this then wear comfortable shoes. We walked for at least 15 minutes to get to each bar. Bring cash because the minimum credit card usage is high; drinks cost between 5 to 15 euros.
Other helpful information
Wow, this article is long huh?! I just thought that it took me a while to write this trip so why not make it as detailed as possible. We are getting closer to the end don’t worry, just a couple of things that I want to share.
Is Paris safe?
My friends warned me so much about the pickpockets and other crimes in Paris that I almost checked if I had accidentally booked Iraq. I am not saying that their advice is without basis; crimes on vandalism and theft are high in Paris. Maybe I was just lucky that nothing untoward happened to me. I think it also helped that I heard so much about pickpockets, I was extra vigilant the entire time. In fact, when I used my camera and tripod when I visited the Eiffel tower, I was always looking at my surroundings. I also didn’t go that far from the camera.
Just keep your wits about you. Don’t let your valuables out of your sight. It also helps to wear a jacket with an inside pocket and put your money and cellphone there.
Are Parisians rude?
I am not disregarding the experiences of other people, but at least in my case, I didn’t meet a rude French person. I find them to be polite, they always greet with “Bonjour”. Based on my research, French people don’t appreciate tourists who assume that they could just speak to them in English. Hence, when I was there, I relied on Google Maps and the Internet for direction and when I had to talk with locals, I speak to them in French. Even with my unpolished French, they didn’t mock me. I think French people would appreciate your effort if you at least tried to engage them in their language.
What basic French phrases to use to communicate with the locals?
As I mentioned above, French would appreciate it if you converse with them in their language. You don’t have to be fluent, just do the basics. When they see you struggling, they would speak in English. The key here is this, “try.” You are a visitor, you should learn to adjust. So here are some of the French phrases that you can use:
Bonjour – Good day.
Bonsoir – Good evening
Merci – Thank you
D’accord – (dah-corh) Okay or I agree
Oui – Yes
Non – No
Monsieur/Madam – Sir/Ma’am
Je voudrais un – (joo-vu-dreh a) I would like a…
Vous avez un – (vu-sa-veh a) Do you have a…
L’addition s’il vous plait – The check please (use when you are getting the bill)
Les toilettes, s’il vous plait ? – (leh twa-let sil-voo-pleh) The restroom, please
Ou est la gare ? – (ooh-weh-la-gar) Where is the train station?
When you enter a business establishment greet them with “Bonjour.” Always say s’il vous plait when asking for something and never forget to say “merci.”
Is it true that Paris is unclean?
Yes, it is. There are dogs excrements everywhere, some garbage littered the streets, and walls and buildings with graffiti. However, it is still not as dirty as some parts of Metro Manila.
I was more bothered by the number of cigarette people smoke every day. And in Paris, everywhere is a smoking area, they even do it while walking. At one point my throat started itching and I had a hard time breathing with all the cigarette smokes that I inhaled.
Is Paris worth visiting?
A resounding yes. There are many things left to explore and I definitely want to go back, hopefully in a warmer season.
When is the best time to go?
Anytime but winter, but then again, winter is an off-season, meaning, things including flights would be cheaper. Be warned that it could get really cold that it’s painful. If you’re going in winter, dress appropriately; layers of winter friendly clothing. Do not forget to bring gloves, this is so important! My hands, even with gloves were perpetually cold and I tell ya, it was so damn hard.
Breakdown of expenses
To give you an idea of how much you could be spending on a Paris trip here’s the actual list of my expenses. You may also download the file below.
All dreams are impossible until you do something about it. I am not gonna lie, if like me you are not particularly well-off, going to Europe is not going to be easy, but difficult doesn’t mean impossible. I repeat, “difficult doesn’t mean impossible.” When you want to do something, do everything in your power to make it happen. Save up for it, do your research, then just do it.
This Europe trip series is just getting started. Next time, I will share with you a guide on traveling Bordeaux.