Month: August 2017

Top Sixteen Attractions in Paris, France

Top Sixteen Attractions in Paris, France

Paris is big. I mean big… really big. While many cities have a larger population not many surpass its global dominance in art, fashion, gastronomy, and culture. My most recent European trip to Paris allowed me to spend five days frolicking around this delightful city, yet I still didn’t feel I had enough time to enjoy it all. Having two trips to Paris now under my belt, I can confidently say these are the top sixteen attractions in Paris, France. And yes, I said sixteen. Not many cities will get a top (whatever) list that big either. Enjoy.

1 – Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

One of the most iconic landmarks, the Iron Lady is worth the wait. Even if the wait is past thousands of street venders, through winding lines, and crammed into elevators like herded cattle. Before Dustin was completely converted to European travels he would say, “why go to Europe, to see the Eiffel Tower I can see the same thing in Vegas.” Of course I would counter with, “it’s not the same thing!”, and it isn’t. He came around to my thinking, which you can read more about here.

2 – Notre-Dame Cathedral*

Notre Dame

Standing in the square in front of Notre-Dame you can find point zero, the center of France and the point by which all distances in France are measured. Like many churches constructed in 1163 Notre-Dame, translated as Our Lady, is dedicated to Mary the mother of Jesus. However, the dedication mass wouldn’t occur for nearly two centuries when Our Lady was completed in 1345. The faith of the people mustering the money and energy to continue working on the cathedral, often without pay, is as astonishing as the structure itself.  Especially considering the medieval tools they had to work with.

Taller and filled with light from stained glass windows, the Gothic style encompassed in Notre-Dame is a major improvement over the Romanesque style. The height and windows are possible because of two things. First by crisscrossing pointed arches along the interior, which supports the weight of the roof by pushing it outward. Second, the famous flying buttresses on the outside of the cathedral also support the roof by pushing in against the arches pushing out. Although both of these features are for structural integrity, they are stunning. After walking through the cathedral, head up the 200 feet (60 m) tall bell tower that inspired Victor Hugo’s story of a deformed bell-ringer. The hideous yet functional gargoyles sticking out from pillars and buttresses represent the souls caught between heaven and earth while also serving as rain spouts. Entrance to the cathedral is free; however, climbing the bell tower to enjoy the spectacular views and gargoyles costs 8.50 euros. Nevertheless, if you have the Paris Museum Pass it is included.

Notre Dame Gargoyle

3- Sainte-Chapelle*

Although Notre-Dame is famous for its stained glass rose windows, the small Sainte-Chapelle is the place to see immaculate stained glass. A gem of Gothic style, the chapel was built in 7 years. An impressive feat, considering Notre-Dame took 200 years to complete. The stunning stained glass covers 15 windows all nearly 50ft (15m) tall. Each pane depicts different scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Visitors to the chapel are required to pass through security as the chapel is located in the center of the Palais de Justice, a government building.

Saint Chapel Windows – Photo Credit Christophe Benoist

4 – Seine River

By day or by night, enjoy time along the Seine River. Whether you choose a leisurely stroll along the banks or a romantic dinner cruise I recommend spending some on the Seine. My first evening cruise was magical and I couldn’t wait to take Dustin back to experience it with him.

The Seine River

5 – Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf or “new bridge” is the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris today. It connects the heart of the city Ile de la Cite to the rest of Paris. It was given the name to distinguish it from older bridges lined on both sides with houses. However, this bridge has remained after the others were replaced. All through the 18th century, Pont Neuf was the center of Paris. Alive with crime and commerce, the bridge attracted street performers, hustlers, pick-pockets, tooth pullers, sellers of flesh, and gangs hiding in and around it. Flocking to see the sights, laugh, chat, make love and enjoy life the bridge crowded with people. The central role of this bridge declined as its atmosphere subdued. Today you can stroll across a piece of history on this lovely bridge as you make your way to the heart of Paris.

Pont Neuf

 

6 – Paris Catacombs

I was ecstatic to go to the dark underworld of Paris’ catacombs. As a girl who is obsessed with Halloween and a touch of the macabre, this is right up my alley.

Before the remains of over six million dead were stacked below the streets of Paris, the catacombs began as a limestone quarry. The caves and winding tunnels of the quarry stretch over 186 miles (300 km) beneath Paris, but only a portion is open to the public.

By the end of the 18th century, Paris had a major problem. Cemeteries like Le Innocents were beyond full, and yet people still had the audacity to die. To make more room, Le Innocent exhumed the long-dead and packed their bones into mass graves. However, the dead continued to demand more places to lie which led to shoddy burials, unearthed corpses, and open graves. Naturally, people began complaining of the putrid stench of decomposing flesh. King Louis XV tried to solve the issue with a series of ineffectual decrees limiting burials within the city.

Paris CatacombsIn May of 1780 the situation came to a literal breaking point. A basement wall adjoining Le Innocent collapsed due to the mass grave behind it. Spilling rotting corpses into the neighboring property and forcing Parisian authorities to take action. The idea of moving the dead to the subterranean passageways of the recently renovated quarry gained ground and eventually became law in 1785. A nightly procession of the dead, hauled by wagon through the streets, continued for two years before the overpopulated cemeteries emptied.

Finally offering a place for all of the dead, the Paris catacomb walls are filled with bones. Nevertheless, not all of the tunnels of the old quarry are lined with stacked bones. In 2004 police discovered a fully equipped movie theater, a stocked bar, and restaurant in one of the caverns. In 2015 Airbnb paid 350,000 euros to offer customers the eerie chance to stay overnight in the Catacombs.

Whether you’re ready to spend a night with the dead or not I recommend making this a stop on your Paris trip. Just note that some can find this site disturbing. I do not recommend it for those that are highly claustrophobic as some of the passages are quite narrow. Nevertheless, exploring the dark underworld of Paris is fascinating, slightly creepy, and thoroughly enjoyable.

7 – Orsay Museum*

Orsay

Housed in an old train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair, the Orsay is a museum devoted to arts between 1848-1914. It holds the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works in the world. The idea to house painting, sculptures, furniture, and photography from this era was to bridge the gap from the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art.  It’s rumored that most of the pieces were held in the basement of the Louvre until they found their home in the Orsay.

Given the choice between the Louvre and the Orsay I prefer the Orsay.  The fascinating works of Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir are captivating and the size of the museum is more manageable than the vast Louvre. I suggest going to the Louvre and the Orsay on different days in order to appreciate each museum for what it has to offer.

8 – The Louvre *

The Louvre

Home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Louvre is considered the world’s largest art museum. It houses collections from western middle ages, ancient orient, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Islamic civilizations. In total there are 35,000 works to be discovered, and that’s just currently on display.

The museum’s 800-year-old history began in the late 12th century when Phillip II built a medieval fortress to protect the city from Viking attacks. Due to the ever-expanding city, the fortress lost its defensive function and was converted to the main residence of French nobility in 1546. During the French Revolution, it was decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display France’s masterpieces.

With all the collections on display in the Louvre, I admit that the Mona Lisa is not my favorite. It’s a lot smaller than I realized and you’ll have to throw a few elbows to make your way past the hording crowds to get a good view. It lies behind bulletproof glass to shield the piece from attackers. Including acid and a rock which were thrown at the painting in 1956 before the glass was installed.

Some would argue that the Mona Lisa didn’t acquire her fame until a disgruntled employee stole her from the Louvre. After hiding in a broom closet until close, the thief walked out with it under his coat. The thief Vincenzo Peruggia believed the painting should be returned to an Italian museum to be displayed. Once caught, he served six months in prison for the theft. Shortly after the theft, the painting began being hailed as a masterpiece of the Renaissance. However you feel about the Mona Lisa, you should check out this piece.

I go to the Louvre for the sculptures. My favorite piece is Winged Victory of Samothrace. The statue is a winged female figure which stood on the prow of a ship. I love trying to figure out how the artist was able to carve wet clothing out of stone. Other sculptures of note are Venus de Milo and Cupid’s Kiss.

One thing for sure is that my feet tired long before I explored every inch of the Louvre. Plan on spending at least 2-4 hours at the Louvre. Trust me you won’t run out of things to look at. If you want to avoid crowds, go early in the morning or in the evening.

Winged Victory

9 – Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Located between the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Garden. Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was built to celebrate the victories of Napoleon and modeled after the famous Roman arches. This arch is richly decorated in rose marble and topped with a group of men on horses with names of battles and treaties of Napoleon. Take a moment to examine the three arches that comprise this monument before entering the Tuileries.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

10 – Tuileries Garden

A public garden separating the Louvre Museum from the Palace de la Concorde gets its name from the tile factories that previously stood here. Originally created by Queen Catherine de Medici as the garden of the Tuileries Palace, for her escape. However, Louis XIV re-landscaped the garden which gives it the current French formal style. The gardens’ two ponds are great for relaxation and soaking up some sunshine, but you’ll have to fight for a coveted sun chair. We stopped here to rest our feet after a morning strolling through the Louvre.

Tuileries Garden

11 – Champs-Elysees

Just over a mile long, the Champs-Elysees is probably the most famous avenue in the world. Running a straight line from the Louvre, through the Tuileries Gardens past the Egyptian Obelisk of Luxor and the Palace Concord it has massive sidewalks lined with leafy trees. Once the meeting place for politicians, it is now a hub for luxury shopping. It’s worth taking a stroll along, regardless if you want to shop.

Egyptian Obelisk of Luxor

12 – Arc de Triomphe*

The Arc de Triomphe stands at the western end of Champs-Elysees in the center of the Palace Charles de Gaulle. Towering 162 feet above Paris, it is one of the most famous monuments. Built in honor for those who fought for France during the Napoleonic Wars, the arch has become a revered patriotic site. Names of generals and their battles are engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch, but I love it for the relief sculptures and beautiful views of the city from the top. However, while I was enjoying the panoramic views, Dustin was trying to figure out the rules of a 20+ lane roundabout as we had to drive through one the next day. He concluded there aren’t any.

Arc de Triomphe

13 – Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge is unmistakably the most famous cabaret show. Glamorous women and athletic men showcase their talents as professional cabaret dancers in bright colorful costumes. Expect that some of the women will be topless, however you will not experience any full nudity. Tickets can range between 110-500 euros. Dustin and I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a show, but we stopped by the theater to snap a few photos of the famous building. In the day, Moulin Rouge souvenirs can be purchased from the store around the corner on Rue Lepic, regardless of show attendance.

Moulin Rouge

14 – Montmartre

Montmartre is a neighborhood in northern Paris. The original inhabitants were forced out of Paris’ prime real estate by Napoleon III so they moved to the outskirts. Establishing their own “town” without the strict rules of the city, the area became popular for less reputable entertainment and drinking.

During the mid to late 1800s the area became home to many artisans including Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Picasso. A throwback to the artisan hey-day is Place du Tertre. A square just a few blocks from the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Place du Tertre will tempt those passing by as today’s artist set up their easels and display their artwork. Wandering around the square, chances are you’ll be asked if you’d like your portrait painted, which can be a fun souvenir.  There are also many cafes and shops around the square offering artwork for reasonable prices. It’s easy to see why this area was, and continues to be, an inspiration to artists.

Monmarte
Photo Credit – Son of Groucho from Scotland

15 – Sacre-Coeur Basilica*

The white dome of this Roman Catholic basilica sits at the highest point in the city in Montmartre. Sacre-Coeur is built of travertine stone quarried in France. Inside you’ll find beautiful stained-glass windows and a mosaic in the apse that is among the largest in the world. Unfortunately, photographs are not permitted inside the basilica. Luckily tourists are permitted to climb the tower to the dome. After a winding climb up 300 steps, the top of the dome offers open air and spectacular panoramic views of Paris.

Sacre Cour

16 – Versailles

A day trip from Paris will take you to this magnificent palace and gardens. Originally a hunting pavilion for Louis XIII, the palace was expanded by Louis XIV and his ever-changing opulent style. For more about how to get there, tickets, and attractions of the palace and gardens click here. If you decide to go, make sure you wear comfortable shoes as you’ll want to investigate the gigantic gardens.

Orangery

 

*Entry ticket or tower access included with the Paris Museum Pass

Versailles Palace and Gardens Day Trip by Train

Versailles Palace and Gardens Day Trip by Train

Waking up in Paris next to Dustin was ethereal. It had been 10 years since I was in the city of lights, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever make it back there. Luckily, we learned how to achieve extraordinary travel on an ordinary budget using credit card bonus points.  This morning brought the electrified prospect of a Versailles and gardens day trip by train, a stop I had missed on my last trip to Paris.

Day trip to Versailles and Gardens

Getting to Versailles

Versailles is located 15 miles (25km) southeast of Paris, but instead of risking a traffic headache we opted to use public transportation. Since Versailles is an enormously popular tourist destination, trains run regularly from the city. Getting to the Versailles train is easily achieved by metro.

Unless you’re staying in Paris for weeks, I recommend purchasing a book of 10 tickets from the metro kiosk. It’s the most economical way to travel within the city, and if you use up your first book you can always purchase another. The only hiccup will be traveling from Versailles back into Paris, as it requires a separate ticket which can be purchased at the train station before your return for a few euros.

Having read about the crowds and the hellish lines we could be waiting in, we opted to start out early. After a short stop at the wrong metro platform, we made our way onto the correct train heading for Versailles. Exiting the platform, we were immediately bombarded by companies offering the “lowest” entry tickets. Trust me on this, if you haven’t purchased your tickets online, pass by all of these and head to tourist information center and purchase a Paris Museum Pass.

Paris Museum Pass

Paris Museum PassThe Paris Museum Pass grants access to almost all the big tourist sites in Paris. Best of all, this access allows you to enter the museums and monuments without waiting in eternal lines. It also grants access to the same site multiple times, if you choose. It is a HUGE time saver, and you may end up visiting some of the smaller museums that aren’t on your must do list. There are three options to choose from a 2, 4 or 6-day pass.

We chose the 4-day pass since it worked best for our itinerary. Before we purchased the Paris Museum Pass, I researched all the different places we wanted to see and how much each one cost so I could ensure we were getting the best deal. In order to be economical, we’d need to go to most of the major sites and even then, the savings were relatively small, but once I factored in the time it also saves it was easy to choose.

Ordering the pass online beforehand, will save you even more time. Just remember to allow enough time for it to ship. However, if you can’t purchase before your trip, you can obtain the pass from any participating museum location or tourist information center. For more information on the Paris Museum Pass, including pricing and participating locations, click here.

Chateau de Versailles

The palace is open every day except Monday, so plan your schedule accordingly. I recommend planning your visit to Versailles on a Saturday or Sunday, as the Musical Fountains and Garden shows run on those days, and should not be missed.

The palace began as King Louis XIII’s hunting pavilion, but was transformed and extended by Louis XIV when he moved his court and government there in 1682. It’s difficult to describe the opulence of the palace without learning a little about its most influential contributor, Louis XIV.

Louis XIV

LouisXIV
Sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini – Photo by Louis le Grand

Louis XIV inherited the crown at the tender age of 4 years old. When he turned 18, he assumed full reign from his regent mother Queen Anne. In the age of divine kings, he viewed himself as the direct representative of God. However, he accomplished the personification of that belief in a way unlike his counterparts in Austria, Spain, and England.  Adopting the sun and the Greek God Apollo as his emblems, Louis XIV is still referred to as, “The Sun King”.

Having a history resplendent with rebelling nobles, he controlled them by luring them to this countryside estate and hooking them on an extravagant lifestyle. The nobles were so encompassed with trying to keep up with the King’s fashion and good favor that the pesky act of ruling was left to the King, a meticulous ruler who oversaw his programs to the last detail. Keeping favor included the privilege of attending the King’s getting up and going to bed ceremonies, or in later years watching him dine. Louis XIV must have figured out a couple of things about governing, in his 72-year reign.

Palace Rooms

The palace contains 2,300 rooms, many named after planets linking to sun mythology or after Greek gods and goddesses. Every room is dressed to the nines. When the crown needed funding, they simply melted down part of the décor to boost their funds. With each passing room, I begin to understand the outrage of the lower classes leading to the French Revolution whilst also marveling at the extravagance.

Hall of Mirrors

The most famous room is actually a hall. The Hall of Mirrors, named for the large mirrors that lie opposite the arched windows, was built to replace a large terrace between the King and Queen’s apartments. Like the rest of Versailles, the hall pays tribute to the political, economic, and artistic prowess of France. Foreign dignitaries were often led through the hall to witness the splendor of France and it’s King. Even after the fall of the monarchy, the hall was a place of significance. The Treaty of Versailles, that ended World War I, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors. Being a history nerd, I was geeking out just being in this immaculate room.

Many kings added to the splendor of Versailles until the French Revolution in 1789, which forced royalty to forsake the estate as a residence and flee before the guillotine and the people claimed their heads.

The Gardens

Enceladus GroveWork on the gardens began at the same time as the palace and lasted 40 years. Considering the gardens just as important as the palace, Louis XIV reviewed each project wanting to see every detail. Thousands of men took part in creating this immense project. To maintain the design, the garden needs to be replanted once every 100 years.

Describing the gardens as large, does them an injustice. Our feet failed us long before we reached a quarter of the park and gardens. Dustin and I decided if we return to Versailles we will spend a little extra for the golf cart to save our feet and see everything from the Orangery to the Queen’s Garden behind the Estate of Trianon. Nevertheless, we attempted to do just that.

The Orangery

OrangeryThe Orangery sits just below the palace.  Spreading across the Orangery are two-hundred-year-old orange trees from Portugal, Spain, and Italy as well as lemon, palm, and pomegranate trees. Louis XIV gathered all the orange trees from the royal houses and some new from nearby countries. If that wasn’t enough, courtiers desperately seeking the King’s favor offered him their own orange trees. Soon the Orangery had the largest collection in Europe. Moving the trees inside the building during winter, offers protection from inclement weather.

Groves and Fountains

To truly experience the gardens, pay the extra fee on Saturday or Sunday for the Musical Fountains and Garden shows. Each fountain and grove comes alive as water sprouts from the decadent sculptures accompanied by music. The show is timed so you can walk between each section of the garden. I found myself imagining what it must have been like as a courtier wandering through these gardens for hours.  221 sculptures adorn the paths leading in and out of the groves. Making it the biggest open-air sculpture museum in the world. I think Louis XIV accomplished his goal of making the gardens a dramatic statement of his power.

 

The Estate of Trianon

With all the King’s public displays of godliness, it’s not surprising that he’d want to escape the tedium of court and the many on-lookers. Louis XIV began construction on the Grand Trianon Palace at the far north end of the Grand Canal.

Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI’s wife, is the most famous occupant of Trianon. Designed as a respite for the royal family, it is more secluded and intimate. Less gaudy in decor than the Versailles palace, it still exudes luxury. Marie-Antoinette took a particular liking to this estate spending much of her time here. She oversaw work on the gardens, now known as the Queen’s gardens.

Estate of TrianonPreparing for our trip, we asked a good friend who had lived in France what to see and do at Versailles. She told us her favorite part was the Queen’s gardens. Unfortunately, we missed it as our feet were throbbing after taking a few wrong turns on the grounds of Trianon. Dustin and I barely had enough left in us to make it back through the gardens to Versailles to catch the train back to Paris.

It was an exhausting, but very rewarding day. If you’ve ever been to Versailles, or if your planning on going there I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

 

Road Trip From Annecy to Paris, Beaune, and the Eiffel Tower

Road Trip From Annecy to Paris, Beaune, and the Eiffel Tower

As much as we loved the small town of Annecy, Paris was awaiting our arrival. It’s a five-hour drive, so we packed up early, said farewell to our gracious Airbnb host, and hit the road.

Beaune

About a third of the way to Paris sits the wine capital of Burgundy, the city of Beaune, pronounced bone. Ya, I had a lot of fun with that telling my wife that we’re going to Beaune. Being the wine capital of Burgundy, Beaune is surrounded by wine villages, and producers house their facilities within the city. We’re not alcohol drinkers so that’s not what lured us in. Rather, it was the venue for the annual charity wine auction that drew us there, the Hospices de Beaune.Beaune

Back in the 1400’s, when Burgundy was ruled by Phillip the Good, numerous massacres that occurred at the close of the Hundred Years’ War left many families in the countryside near Beaune destitute and susceptible to a recent outbreak of the plague. One of the Duke’s chancellors, Nicholas Rolin, and his wife built a refuge for the poor and inflicted in response. It served as a hospital for the underprivileged and church until the 1970s.

It was constructed rather flamboyantly, small, but still flamboyant. The building is made up of two wings surrounding a paver courtyard. The facades have ornate painting patterns as do the roof tops along with dormer windows. Inside is a room called the Room of the Poor. It is a long hall lined with beds on both sides with tables and benches in between for meals. The room opens into a chapel, allowing the sick to attend mass from the comfort of their beds.Beaune Hospital Beds

Entrance costs 7.50 Euros and the audio tour does a great job of explaining the rich history of this location. Each room was fascinating, from seeing meals preparation in the giant kitchen, to the display of old medical tools. This stop probably added about two hours on to our drive from Annecy to Paris, but well worth the time and money. Plus, it was nice to get a break from the car.

Arriving in Paris

The five-hour drive through the French countryside was surprisingly like a road trip in the United States. There were a lot of scenic areas interspersed with long, flat drives with nothing to look at. The last couple hours of the drive were rather rough as I had to keep slapping myself in the face to stay awake. However as soon as we hit the outer limits of the city, the anticipation of driving into the heart of one of the largest cities in the world did the trick to get me wide eyed and bushy tailed.

Our hotel was in La Defense, the business district of Paris about five miles northwest of the city center. As responsible travelers, we did extensive Google mapping of the area prior to arriving. As we looked at the streets, we noticed the lines not only make spaghetti patterns like most big cities, but were talking multiple levels of spaghetti. You couldn’t see half the roads when you clicked on satellite view because there are so many vertical layers of roads. Luckily the anticipation was worse than reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pick up driving in Paris as my new pastime. But we were able to make it in to the parking lot of our hotel without major incident.

Thumbs up for Paris
Thumbs up for Paris

We planned to spend the last five nights of our trip in Paris. We didn’t have enough points or free nights in any one program to spend the whole time in one hotel. We were able to get our first three nights in the Hilton Paris La Defense located in the CNIT shopping mall. Since we arrived on Saturday, we were able to use our two free weekend nights we got from the Citi Hilton card (an offer that’s no longer available) as well as a third night using 72,621 of our Hilton HHonors rewards points that we got from the various American Express Hilton co-branded credit cards (luckily these offers are still available).

This area isn’t what you would imagine when you think of the typical Paris atmosphere. As I said, it’s in the business district and a good walk from any of the main Paris attractions. I enjoyed staying here. It’s close to metro access which gets you to all the Paris sites within minutes. So, if you’re looking to stay in the typical romantic Paris atmosphere, skip on this area. But if you’re okay with being in a more modern area outside of the city center, it’s a delightful place with comfortable rooms.

The Eiffel Tower

By the time we got checked into our room, showered, and refreshed from our long drive it was about 5 or 6 in the evening. We were a little hungry and wanted to go see the town. As I had never been to Paris, I wanted to head straight to Paris’ most iconic landmark, the Eiffel Tower. Since this was my first time using the metro we took a few minutes to figure out how the whole ticketing process worked. It was surprisingly simple. We made our way to the Bir-Hakeim exit and walked a couple blocks to arrive at the Eiffel Tower.

Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for how impressed I’d be with the Eiffel Tower. I mean, it’s a cool looking tower and I was excited to see it, but there’s just something about standing there looking at it. It really is an architectural marvel. Constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, Gustave Eiffel won the contest to build the fair’s centerpiece with his plans for the Iron Lady. Given that his competitors were lobbying for a giant guillotine, it makes since that Eiffel won. Despite the tower’s 7,300 tons of iron and 60 tons of paint she is still a dainty lady as she weighs no more per square inch at her base than 245 lbs. (111 kg).

The tower is open 365 days each year and you can purchase tickets online prior to arrival, if you reserve a time months beforehand. If not, you’ll be waiting in lines for up to two hours, just for your ticket. Ticket prices vary depending on how far you want to climb the tower. There are three levels of the Eiffel tower. The top level is only accessible to the public by elevator and costs 17 euros. You can access the first and second levels by elevator or by climbing the 360 steps for each level. Elevator tickets for the second floor are 11 euros, and tickets to climb the stairs are 7 euros. If you can’t get your tickets prior to your arrival, don’t worry you’ll still be able to go you’ll just have to trudge through the lines like we did.

As the lines (both security and elevator) were rather lengthy we knew it would be hard to go out to dinner as well as go up the tower. Luckily, they do sell concessions at the base of the tower. So, I grabbed us a couple waters and a sandwich to share as we waited in line.

Buying tickets to the top, was the obvious choice for us. We could always climb the stairs on our way back down. It takes two elevators to reach the summit, and we wanted to experience the tower from top to bottom. We took the elevator up to the second level only to get into another line to wait for the elevator to go up to the top level. The wait however was quite enjoyable. By the time we were at this point, the sun had set and the lights began illuminating the city, which made for great scenery while we waited. My wife was kind enough to orient me pointing out the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Sacre Cour, all destinations we will write about in other posts.Streets of Paris

We finally made it to the top and the views from way up there are simply spectacular. It’s fun to look down at the large city and see all the patterns. There are tons of roundabouts with roads spreading out to connect to others like spokes on a wheel. During our time at the top, I was lucky enough to learn a little English jargon. An English mother who had obviously been lost in the winding city streets was pointing out to her child that from up here, you can actually tell that there is order to the city. From up here you can see that the streets aren’t so “higglty picklety.” I chuckled a little inside.

On our way to the bottom, we stopped at the first floor. I quickly walked out to the center to look down on the base of the tower. Behind me, I heard a guy say, “No thanks that’s not for me” and he stood back and looked from about 10 feet behind me. I wasn’t quite sure why he was so worried. I mean I don’t like heights, but if I feel safe and secure, it’s fun to look out from a nice vantage point. Plus, it’s not nearly as high as the level we just came from.Kendra on the Eiffel Tower

My wife looked at me with a little smirk on her face and asked, “Are you okay dude?” At this point, I realized I must be missing something. I looked around but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary… until I looked down. There I was standing on clear glass staring 187 feet (57 m) down to certain death.  I then carefully tiptoed back to where Mr. “No Thanks” was standing on nice safe ground. Normally I notice that kind of stuff, but the way the light was hitting it in the night must have made it hard to see. Walking out on the glass is only for the brave, or idiots not paying attention to their surroundings.

Trocadero GardensTrocadero Gardens

When you go to Paris, expect to be bombarded by solicitors and scammers. As we arrived at the base, we decided to cross the Seine river and head over to the Trocadero gardens to get some pictures from Palais De Chaillott. On our way, we had to push through crowds of scammers trying to force their products on us. After several attempts, one man put a rose in my wife’s hand and then turned to me for five euros. When I told him I didn’t have it, he said he’d accept whatever I had. So, I grabbed the rose he put in my wife’s hand and gave it back to him.

He looked at me as if I had just murdered his firstborn. You know what, if I want to buy a rose for my wife, I’ll come to you and ask. This isn’t the way a business transaction works. The thing that bothers me about this, is that he knows that most couples wouldn’t be able to do this as it would cause an argument. Well he dicked with the wrong couple! Kendra and I see eye to eye on spending money on souvenirs. Anyway, off my soapbox.

We meandered through the gardens for a few minutes until we found a nice spot to sit and wait for the lights that glisten the tower at the top of every hour. As we sat, we had about 12 thousand people try to sell us beer, wine, or champagne.  In fact, until this day whenever I hear any one of those words, I think about my time at the Eiffel Tower. We grew very tired of saying no. Seriously every 15 seconds someone is approaching you.

We figured since we were in the city of romance, we would just start making out the next time someone offered. So we did. It was a bit awkward, but hilarious. There was one guy that I swear watched us kiss for a whole minute. Kendra started feeling awkward and started to pull back, but I was in this. I held on to her head and wouldn’t let go until he left. The guy did eventually give up so we were able to decouple. We were pleased with ourselves.

It was getting late and we had planned a long day of walking at Versailles the next day. So, we headed back to Bir-Hakeim to hop on the Metro and go back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Top 3 Ways to Keep Miles From Expiring

Top 3 Ways to Keep Miles From Expiring

Once you’ve accumulated a few points in various rewards programs, it becomes easy to see them as you do money. This makes sense as they truly are a currency that provides immense value upon redemption. As such, it’s natural to be tempted to treat them as you would money. This makes sense in a lot of areas except one; saving. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to save up points for a specific vacation goal and then use them. But you definitely don’t want to have a long-term points saving plan. This isn’t a 401(k) where the idea is to put your savings on auto pilot, stock them away, and then don’t look at them until your 65. Points don’t earn interest like money in the bank. Add that to the constantly changing rules, and the longer you keep your points, generally the lower value they will provide.

That being said, there are times when you may have a point balance, whether it be bank points or specific travel reward program points, that carry over from year to year. You may sign up for several large bonuses with a certain trip in mind, and then change plans and realize you don’t need the points for the particular trip you are going on. No problem; save them for your vacation next year. Once you get to this point though, you need to familiarize yourself with expiration policies. There’s nothing worse than logging into your American Airlines account after a prolonged period of time thinking that you’ve got 100,000 points to book some round-trip tickets to Hawaii, only to see a zero-point balance.

If you’re reading this post, you have nothing to fear. I’m going to explain the top 3 ways to keep miles from expiring. But first, let’s make sure we know the expiration timelines for all the different rewards programs.

miles expiration

Expiration Timelines

Airline Programs

AirlineExpiration Term
Alaskan Air24 Months
British Airways36 Months
DeltaNever
Flying Blue: Air France/KLM20 Months
Frontier6 Months
JetblueNever
Southwest24 Months
UnitedLast day of the 18th month with no activity
Virgin America18 Months

Hotel Programs

HotelExpiration Term
Club Carlson24 Months
Hilton12 Months
Hyatt24 Months
IHGNever
Marriott24 Months
Starwood12 Months

Bank Programs

Bank ProgramExpiration Term
American Express Membership RewardsNever
Barclay PointsNever
Chase Ultimate RewardsNever
Citi Thank You Points36 Months from the date you earned them

How to Keep Points from Expiring

1. Spend on a Co-Branded Credit Card

Co-branded card

This is by far the easiest and most effective way to keep your points from expiring. Every time you swipe your card it will earn points in your rewards program. This creates activity on the account and resets the expiration clock, even if it’s just for a $1.50 candy bar at the gas station. For example, let’s say I keep my Citi AAdvantage Platinum card in my wallet and use it often. American AAdvantage points have an expiration time frame of 18 months. So, it’s easy to assume that if I earn the points in January of 2017, that my points will expire in July of 2018. However, every time I swipe that Citi card, my timeline resets. So as long as I’m actively using that card, my points are safe for another 18 months.

This is fine and dandy if you’ve only got a couple cards. But once you’ve been doing this for a little while, your butt would really start hurting if you kept all those credit cards in your wallet. Plus, people would look at you funny since you’re always sitting uneven. Any who… shiny squirrel. The point is you’re going to have a stack of credit cards sitting somewhere in a drawer that you don’t keep in your wallet, because you’ve probably gravitated towards your favorite card to do a majority of your spending while you’re not working on a particular sign up bonus. Mine is the Chase Ink Plus; I love Chase Ultimate Rewards.

What I like to do, to make sure that none of my points ever expire, is to just pull that stack out every three to four months and just make sure I make one purchase on each of them. This makes paying bills for that month a bit tedious since I have to remember to login and pay for each card (there are ways to automate this, but I’m a nerd and prefer to consciously know what’s going on with all my accounts). Regardless of how manual or automated the process, doing this every few months ensures that your points will never expire. In addition to that, it also establishes a better relationship with the bank that issued the card. Banks don’t want to see you sign up for a card, spend just to get the bonus, and then never spend on the card again. This will be a benefit when applying for cards with that bank later down the road.

Though the easiest and most efficient, this method does have one drawback; the annual fee. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay the annual fee and keep the card. Especially if it has a rewards program you like, and even better, if it has an anniversary bonus. You can check out a post I wrote on that topic here. Other times it doesn’t make sense to pay the annual fee. Many cards have a no annual fee card to which you can downgrade. The Barclay Arrival Plus for example has a no fee counterpart called the Barclay Arrival. You can call Barclay to request a downgrade once the anniversary rolls around to keep all your points while avoiding the annual fee.

However, when the annual fee comes up and there are no anniversary bonuses or cards available for a downgrade, just part ways with the card. You can then use any of the options below.

2. Shopping Portals

Shopping Portal

Shopping portals allow you to earn points without a credit card by shopping online. Basically, how it works is the shopping portal purchases points from rewards programs to provide an incentive for people to shop on their portal. The retailers that provide the products pay the portal a cut. So as long as the portal owner makes more from the retailer commissions than they pay to the rewards programs, they make a profit. But really the big winner here is the consumer, because it allows them the option to get points without booking a stay/flight, or having to spend money on a co-branded credit card.

An added benefit is that if you do spend with a co-branded credit card, you’ll now double your points. Let’s use the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for example. As of the date of this post, the Chase shopping portal offers 5 points per dollar spent at GNC. If I make a $100 purchase at GNC through the Chase shopping portal with my Chase Ink card, I would rack up 600 Chase Ultimate Reward points. I would get 1 point per dollar that I get just for using the Chase Ink, plus the 5 points per dollar spent through the online shopping portal. Let’s get creative and say I’m working on both Chase Ultimate Reward Points AND AAdvantage points. I could make the same purchase with my Citi AAdvantage or Barclay Aviator card and get 100 AAdvantage points and 500 Chase Ultimate Reward points. As you can see, there are a lot of different programs you can earn rewards with just because there are multiple portals that offer points for every rewards program, and if you add the benefit of making a purchase with the co-branded card, you get those per dollar points as well. The chart below contains many of the popular rewards programs with links to their associated online shopping portal.

Rewards ProgramPoint TypeLink
American AirlinesAAdvantageAAdvantageEshopping
British AirwaysAviosBA
Miles Estore
ChaseUltimate Rewards PointsUltimate Rewards Shopping
CitiThankYou PointsThank You Shopping
DeltaSkymilesSky Miles Shopping
Hawaiian AirlinesHawaiian MilesHawaiian Airlines eMarket
HiltonHHonors PointsHilton HHonors Shop to Earn Mall
SouthwestRapid RewardsRapid Rewards Shopping
UnitedMileagePlus PointsMileage Plus Shopping

3. Dining Rewards

Dining Rewards

This is an often-overlooked method of gaining bonus points. Like shopping portals, most rewards programs have a dining rewards program. Most of them operate similarly, you sign up and register with a credit card. Then whenever you go out to eat, you see which program your restaurant is in, then you use the card you registered in that program to pay the bill.  Depending upon the program and restaurant, you could get a 2 to 3, and even up to 8 points per dollar spent at participating restaurants. Many of them also have signup bonuses if you spend a certain amount at qualifying restaurants in a certain time frame (much like credit card bonuses). Below are the links to sign up for dining rewards programs.

Dining Rewards ProgramPoint TypePoints Per Dollar
Low | High
Sign Up BonusSpending RequirementTime FrameLink
AmericanAAdvantage1 | 5Up to 3,000 Points$25 at first restaurant
then 3 more restaurant visits
30 DaysAAdvantage Dining
DeltaSkyMiles.5 | 5Up to 3,000 (3,500 for Medallion Members)$30 at each of 3 restaurant visits 30 Days
Completion of an online survey is required within 30 days of each visit
SkyMiles Dining
UnitedMileagePlus.5 | 5Up to 3,000$25 at first restaurant
then 3 more restaurant visits
30 DaysMileagePlus Dining
AlaskaAlaska Air Miles.5 | 51,000$30 at one restaurant, and complete a survey that will be emailed to you30 DaysAlaska Mileage Plan
JetblueTrueBlue Points1 | 2N/AN/AN/ATrue Blue Dining
SouthwestRapid Rewards.5 | 3Up to 1,000$25 at each of 3 restaurant visits 30 Days
Completion of an online survey is required within 30 days of each visit
Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining
HiltonHHonors Points2 | 81,000$25 at any restaurant and complete online review within 30 days of dining30 DaysHilton HHonors Dining
IHGRapid Rewards1 | 8Up to 3,000$25 at each of 3 restaurant visits 30 DaysIHG Rewards Club Dine & Earn

Conclusion

With the exception of a few rewards programs, most points will expire one day. It’s important that you know the expiration timelines for all rewards in which you participate so you don’t ever lose them unnecessarily. There are several ways to keep your points from expiring. Three of the best ways I like to use are to spend money on a co-branded card, shop through rewards shopping portals, and participate in dining rewards programs.

What are some of the ways you keep your points from expiring. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Top 12 Things to Do in Annecy

Top 12 Things to Do in Annecy

Top 12 Things to do in AnnecyIf I could go into the past and plan this trip again, I probably would have shortened up my time in Nice and Paris, and spent more time in Annecy. Looking back, it was my favorite stop of the trip. Annecy is a typical European town: narrow cobblestone streets, old buildings adorned with flowers and flags, and really cool old shit to look at, so naturally we fell in love with it. Between the mountain vistas, the lake, the food, and the charming town I would love to live here. Check out my list of the top 12 things to do in Annecy.

Top 12 Things to do in Annecy

1. Paragliding

Dustin ParaglidingFor a guy whose ass cheeks get clinched just thinking about heights, I would not have expected to enjoy paragliding as much as I did. In fact, if you want a more detailed read of this epic adventure, click here. Soaring above Annecy near the Alps, ranks as one of my all-time favorite experiences. Trust me it’s worth every euro for this unique perspective of Annecy.

2. Old Town, La Vieille Ville

Thiou CanalOld Town, La Vieille Ville, is nicknamed “the little Venice of the Alps” due to the three rivers that cross the area. The best way to explore this area is by foot. Stroll along the streets surrounding the Palais de l’Isle or up Rue Pierriere to Rue Sainte Claire which is full of restaurants. On Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings there is a lively market along Rue Sainte Claire.  Whichever cobblestone street you choose to wander you’ll be delighted by the pastel buildings, the aroma of delicious pastries, and friendly people.

3. Bicycling Around Lake Annecy

BycicleSpend the day biking around the perimeter of the lake, if you get hot or tired you can always stop and cool off in the lake. We were lucky enough to stay in an Airbnb in Veyrier-du-Lac where Franck our host gave us access to his bikes. We spent a delightful evening cycling along the east shore perimeter before watching the sun set across the lake. Didn’t haul your own bike or stay with Franck? Don’t worry you can still rent bicycles, roller blades, or paddle boards in Annecy by clicking here.

4. Lac d’Annecy

AnnecyPerhaps this is a little obvious, but you should spend some time on this stunning lake. Fed by mountain springs, it is known for its crystal clean water. We decided to explore the lake by hiring a paddle boat that we found near Pont des Amours. On the paddle boat, we soaked up the views that can only be seen from the lake, while competing with Kendra to see who could pedal faster. If you’re seeking a bigger rush, several other companies rent equipment for water sports on Lake Annecy.

5. Pont des Amours or Lovers Bridge

Photo By I, Semnoz

Pont des Amours or Lovers Bridge sits at the edge of Lake Annecy at the mouth of Vasse canal. Legend has it, that if two lovers kiss on the bridge they will stay together forever. Although it is also rumored, that the early years of the bridge had a shadier tale; it was the place to meet prostitutes. Whichever legend you prefer, it arguably offers the most amazing view of the lake and surrounding alps.

6. Jardin de l’Europe

Jardins de l'EuropeMinutes from the heart of old town Annecy, the Jardin de l’Europe is a huge lakeside urban park covered with giant trees.  The park was built on a former swamp island in the late nineteenth century. The gardens provide fantastic views, cool shade, and is an ideal place for a picnic or to sit back and relax, without the hustle and bustle of the nearby streets. In addition to the beauty, the park also has free public restrooms.

7. Palais de l’Isle

Palais de l’Isle, or “the thing” as we called it, used to be a medieval castle and prison but is now an art and history museum. This castle is what drew us to Annecy. Squatting in the middle of Thiou canal, surrounded by pastel buildings and bridges adorned with bright-filled flower boxes, it’s easy to fall in love with Palais de l’Isle and Annecy.  Like hundreds of other tourists, you’ll be hard pressed to not stop on one of the many bridges that cross the canal to snap a picture of this alluring castle.

8. Food

Crepes

Swiss DinnerI won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the Annecy food scene, but I will tell you about the delicious food we had, and where we found it.

  • La Creperie du Thiou – We lucked out in stumbling upon this place right around lunch time. Kendra had always told me how great the crepes and croissants were in France, so I decided to put her word to the test. As always, her word pulled through. We had both a sweet and savory tooth that needed to be satisfied, so we got a chocolate covered crepe, as well as a ham and cheese one. The pic above will do them more justice than any of my words.
  • Le Sarto – Being so close to the border, there is plenty of Swiss influence in this area. Having wet our palettes with Swiss cuisine on our previous trip, we couldn’t resist the Swiss restaurant situated next to the canal overlooking the Palais d l’Isle. We were served a chicken breast covered in a mushroom sauce with melted cheese along with bread to dip in Gruyeres Fondue. Ya… my tongue was hard.

9. Chateau de Annecy

Chateau d'AnnecyRising dramatically above the old town, is this castle built between the 12th and 16th centuries as a residence for the counts of Geneva. After several fires, it was abandoned as a home in the 17th century. With a few repairs, it served as a barracks until 1947. In 1953 the city of Annecy acquired the property and restored the castle to house a museum of modern art.

The steep cobblestone climb from the Thiou canal is beautifully encompassed by moss covered rocks and ivy creeping over ancient buildings. We opted to just explore the outside of this castle, but if you’re inclined to tour the museum, the Queen’s tower and castle walls offer a spectacular panoramic view of Annecy.

10. Beaches

BeachThere are many beaches and accesses to lake Annecy. These three are my top recommendations:

  1.  Plage St Jorioz on the southwest shore of the lake this beach offers a large parking area, lifeguards, and a sandy beach.
  2. Plage de la Brune lies on the northeast shore of Lake Annecy. This beach is situated next to restaurants, so if you forget to pack lunch this is an ideal location. Quite a bit smaller than St Jorioz, it tends to be less crowded; however, parking is small and fills quickly.
  3. Plage D’Albigny sits along the north-central shore, and is connected to the Jardin de l’Europe . It is close to old town which offers plenty of parking, nevertheless if you’re looking for sand skip over to St Jorioz as D’Albigny beach is rocky.

11. Chateau de Menthon

Château de Menthon Saint Bernard
Photo by Florian Pépellin

Chateau de Menthon sits high on the hill in Veyrier-du-Lac just 15 minutes from old town Annecy.  Offering reenacted tours of medieval times by actors it sounds pretty fun, right? The downside is, these tours run seasonally and are only offered in French.  This majestic castle is the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, so even if you’re not fluent in French it’s worth checking out.

12. Gorges du Fier

Gorges du Fier
Photo by Rémih

 

Gorges du Fier
Photo by Guilhem Vellut

Gorges du Fier is a natural wonder of the Alps region, located just 6 miles (10km) west of Annecy.  It’s a breathtaking river canyon with a suspended footbridge affixed to the rock face 82 ft (25 m) above the river over a narrow gorge. It also has a natural pool for swimming and a small café offering snacks if you get peckish.

The river canyon is open daily between March 15 and October 15 opening at 9:30 with last chance for entry at 17:15. Visiting this enchanting canyon requires a minimal fee of 5.70 euros per adult, 3 euros per children ages 7-15. Children under 7 are free. Luckily, there are two free car parks for public use, so getting here couldn’t be any easier. This easy climb is suitable for pregnant women and elderly; however, it is not wheelchair accessible.

Unfortunately, we did not learn about this attraction until after we got home. Hopefully, after reading this post you won’t miss it like we did. Because it is definitely on my list to see the next time we are in the area. For more information regarding Gorges du Fier, click here.

Alright all you Annecy connoisseurs, have you had the chance to do any of these things? Are there any fun activities that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.