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TRAVELLING IN PARIS, AROUND FRANCE & ABROAD

The easiest way to get around France is by train. France has one of the most advanced rail networks in the world, and the state railway company, SNCF, is efficient, though more expensive than in neighbouring countries like Italy. There are stations in every large town, but some rural areas are very difficult to reach by train. Paris is served by six major stations, which can be very inconvenient if you are travelling from, say, Calais to Lyon by train. You will have to transfer from the Gare du Nord to the Gare du Lyon by the underground train, or by taxi, which will cost around £11. If you have heavy bags and young children, this can be especially difficult. However, there are a growing number of inter-regional services which bypass Paris.

For long journeys, the Trains à Grand Vitesse or TGV (literally Very Fast Train) are reliable, comfortable and as their name suggests, quick. The fare system is complicated, with several different types of train, and over 15 possible discounts. Big reductions are available to old age pensioners, students, and a person with more than two children, even if the children do not travel with them. A full fare, one-way journey on a Level 1 TGV from Paris to Marseille costs £67. It takes four and a half hours; the 'level' refers to how often it stops, and thus how long it takes, and also the price. There are a few Trains Verts, which are cheaper than the Level 1 TGV. The same fare category to Lille is £31, and the train takes one hour. When travelling on a train which is not a TGV, making a reservation outside peak hours or reserving in advance can make your journey very much cheaper.

It is obligatory to composte tickets before boarding French trains, which simply involves sticking it into a little machine on the platform which stamps it with a date. This is to make sure that the ticket isn't used again if the ticket inspector should forget to check it. If you forget to composte it, find the inspector on the train before he finds you, otherwise you may have to pay a fine.

It is a tribute to the quality of French trains that there is no company offering long-haul bus services within France. It is possible to fly at competitive rates, though. AOM offer internal flights from Paris Orly Sud to Perpignan, Marseille, Toulon and Nice. The cheapest fare to Marseille is £104 return, booked 14 days in advance. Otherwise it is £130. The flight takes less than an hour. Air France serves over 28 destinations in mainland France and Corsica. The fare to Marseille is also £104 return booked 14 days in advance. All airlines on domestic routes charge very similar prices.

LOCAL TRANSPORT

Paris has an extensive network of underground trains, the metro. Many of the stations have ornate entrances decorated in the Art Nouveau style, which are one of the city's most distinctive sights. The stations and trains are cleaner and less claustrophobic than other underground systems like London's, but the network is rather tangled and difficult for newcomers to navigate. Each line is known by the name of the station at the end. The tickets are relatively cheap, at £1,30, and they can be bought in a 'carnet' of ten for £9,60. You can also buy a Carte Orange for £46, which entitles you to travel for a month on all metros, local buses and train services within central Paris. An extensive network of buses also operates within Paris. Metro tickets are valid for bus journeys, and tickets can be bought on board buses.

The RER and SNCF lines serve the banlieue or suburbs around Paris. Paris is divided into concentric zones, which determine fares, and the limits of the validity of season tickets.

Taxis in Paris are expensive, (though again, cheaper than in London) and are only really useful late at night after the metros have stopped, or when transporting lots of heavy luggage. Prices are around £,61 per kilometre, and higher on Sundays and after 7pm. They can be difficult to find at night. The best place to find them in central Paris is at a taxi rank. Taxis can also be ordered by telephone, but the meter is switched on as soon as they set out on your call. In more residential areas, however, this is the only practical method.

Outside Paris, the bus networks are generally quite good, and ticketing follows the pattern of the metro. Like the trains, tickets have to be composté as soon as you get on the bus. Remote rural areas are often poorly covered, though, which is annoying for anybody without a car.

Both Paris's major airports are accessible by RER, but if you don't fancy hauling your luggage up and down stairs and across platforms, companies like Airport Shuttle provide a door-to-door mini-bus service "exactly as in the US". Customers should book at least a day in advance, although they do try to fit travellers in on shorter notice. The fare is £18, and baggage is free. For two people booking together, the fare is reduced to £14 each.

It is also possible to get to the airports by taxi. Avoid doing this during the rush hour, between about 8h and 10h coming into town and 6h-8h the other way, because traffic is very slow. Expect to pay around £34 between Paris and Charles de Gaulle, and £23 between Paris and Orly. By RER, the trip to Charles de Gaulle takes around 30 minutes from the Gare du Nord, or 40 minutes from Denfert Rochereau, on RER B3. No changes are necessary.

To get to Orly, there are two possibilities: a shuttle goes from Pont de Rungis RER (C2) station to the airport: the whole journey takes around 40 minutes. The other possibility is to take the RER from Denfert Rochereau to Antony (B4), and change there for the shuttle to Orly. None of these services run between about 1h and 5h. The journeys both cost the same as a normal RER trip. Air France also runs buses between central Paris and the two airports.

BRITAIN TO FRANCE

The two major options for travelling between London and Paris are flying and the Eurostar train service through the Channel tunnel. Eurostar goes from Waterloo station to the Gare du Nord about once an hour, taking about three hours. Some of the trains also stop at Ashford, Calais or Lille. A full-fare return costs (economy class) £242 in Paris and £169 in London, but special offers are often available. For young people, or those travelling during the week and staying longer than a few days, the fares are closer to £65 or £99 return. They also run a discount programme for frequent travellers.

Flights go from Charles de Gaulle and Orly to all the major London airports. From London, British Airways currently charges £58 return plus taxes from Heathrow in their World Offers Programme, which works out at around the same price as the cheaper Eurostar fares. From Paris, return fares start at around £107 including tax, but it is worth shopping around as special deals are often available. The actual flight takes less than an hour, but with check-in and transit to and from the airports, the journey can take as much as three hours. Flights are available from the capitals to major cities in both countries, the Channel Islands and smaller airports on the Côte d'Azur. There are also some direct services between Manchester and Nice or Lyon.

Easy Jet and Buzz both fly from Paris C-D-G to London and Easy Jet flies to Liverpool as well as Nice and Geneva.

Easy Jet leaves from terminal 9 which is handy since it's only a few minutes walk away form the RER and check in procedures are extremely quick. Booking is easy over the internet which shows you the different flights available and their prices. Once you have selected and paid on line you simply print out the details of your reservation and pick up your boarding pass when you check in. There is no seat allocation but there boarding is orderly. The staff are friendly the aeroplanes are clean and have a good record for taking off time and there are delicious sandwiches on board at reasonable prices. Easy Jet lands at Luton or Stanstead. There is arapid train from Stanstead that takes you int to the centre of London. Luton rather surprisingly is only an hour's bus ride from Vivtoria station (with several stops in North London on the way-) and Easy Jet passengers can get tickets at a very reasonable £8 return. The price varies dramatically on when you want to travel, but by and large it's considerably cheaper than Eurostar if you have to book at the last minute and you are not staying the a Friday or Saturday night and you are not under 26.

Buzz also operates flights between Paris and a growing number of other destinations throughout France at the UK. Once again if you can't book in advance, and you're not under 26 the chances are that it will be cheaper than other forms of transport.

Prices are broadly similar between the Eurostar and the plane services, but unless you are travelling to a destination near to one of the airports, the train is more convenient. The stations are right in the middle of town, and tickets can be bought from the station twenty minutes before departure. It is also possible to travel by coach from Victoria Coach Station to Bagnolet, but the journey takes seven hours. Eurolines charge £63 for a return, and there are three services a day.

For drivers, the quickest option is The Eurotunnel which carries cars between Folkestone and Coquelles, near Calais, on special wagons through the channel tunnel. The journey, including loading, takes around an hour.

There are numerous ferry and hover-craft services available across the channel. The shortest and busiest is the Dover to Calais route. The average journey is 75 minutes, and sailings are hourly. Saver fares for a car and a driver are around £45 for a five-day return or a single, and £140 for a return. Drivers heading from the west of England to the west of France or vice versa might prefer the longer crossings available from Portsmouth or Newhaven to ports in Normandy and Brittany. Services are restricted during the winter. For travellers to the Channel Islands, there are ferries from St. Malo to Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark. Booking on Calais services is advisable, and essential on the longer crossings.

AMERICA TO FRANCE

Sadly, the days of ocean liners are long gone, and the only practical way to get from France to America is by aircraft. The transatlantic air market is extremely competitive, and 'bucket shop' travel agents sell tickets very cheaply. Prices are as low as £267 plus tax from Paris to New York, and £366 to Los Angeles. Prices are even cheaper for travellers coming in the other direction.

Travel Web-sites
Brittany Ferries: http://www.brittany-ferries.fr/
Buzz Airlines: http://www.buzzaway.com/
Easyjet: http://www.easyjet.com/
Eurostar: http://www.eurostar.com/
Eurotunnel: http://www.eurotunnel.com/
Go Airlines: http://www.go.com/
Hoverspeed Fast Ferries: www.hoverspeed.co.uk/
P&O Ferries: http://www.posl.com/
Ryanair: http://www.ryanair.com/
Seafrance Ferries: http://www.seafrance.co.uk/

DRIVING IN FRANCE

An old French proverb says 'If you value your sanity and wish to keep your no-claims bonus intact, make full use of public transport.' A Parisian's character changes behind the wheel. Other drivers become unnecessary obstacles, and woe to anyone who lingers at a traffic light: others drivers will honk their horns and shake their fists in frustration. It's all innocent fun, a traditional part of the French experience, but nonetheless daunting for novices.

French driving laws may seem lax to the casual observer, but this is not so. Seat-belts must be worn at all times and the penalties are severe if you run a red light or exceed the speed limit. Many French drivers ignore these rules, which explains France's high number of accidents.

In Paris, you will find cars on pavements, at intersections and even on pedestrian crossings. This is especially true at night in the Latin Quarter, around Montmartre and in the Bastille. All drivers worth their salt will have a glove compartment full of unpaid parking tickets (called papillons, or butterflies).

France has an extensive system of motor-ways or auto-routes, which motorists have to pay to use. To travel the 773 kilometres from Paris to Marseille in a car would cost £41 in toll charges each way. Many motorists on holiday prefer to take the local roads, stopping off in villages and towns rather than motor-way service stations. This approach is slower, but rather more pleasant. Driving is also the only way to reach many isolated areas, although the French are in general quite sympathetic to hitchhikers.

Petrol (Gasoline) is quite expensive in France, and drivers coming from neighbouring countries often prefer to fill their tanks up before crossing the border to benefit from cheaper fuel. A litre of gasoline, called essence, costs just over £1,10 on average. A litre of diesel costs around £,84. Be careful what you put in your car: gazole is not gasoline, it's diesel.

When you buy a car, the dealer will provide the necessary documentation, including a temporary statement of ownership (carte grise), valid for 20 days. When you register the car at the préfecture, you should receive a permanent carte grise. License plates (plaques d'immatriculation) must be changed by the buyer within 48 hours after the new carte grise has been issued.

Many dealers offer special financing deals to help you purchase your dream car. They will usually require an initial down payment of 20 to 30 percent of the asking price. The remainder is paid in monthly installments over three to five years, but interest rates are high.

You will probably get a better deal from your bank. Interest rates are generally lower than with non-bank institutions and you may be able to take out a loan that covers the car purchase price. If you do, make sure that both the loan and the car are insured. If the car is stolen or wrecked, most insurance companies will not pay the original purchase price. Crédit auto is the name of a loan linked to the car. For a higher premium, you are guaranteed reimbursement of the amount of the loan.

Most garages in Paris deal in new, or almost-new cars, and few sell second-hand models more than five years old. If you are looking for a more mature vehicle, you could try the newspapers and make local inquiries. A useful reference is L'Argus, the French car guide. It outlines how much you should pay for particular models and explains the buying process.

If you buy a car that is over four years old, make sure the owner has a contrôle technique. This will list faults, some of which have to be repaired before the sale. The contrôle technique is due on all cars after four years, and every two years subsequently. The carte grise should always be in the owner's name, and he or she should be able to supply you with a lettre de non-gage, which means that there are no outstanding debts on the car. This document can be obtained at the préfecture of the arrondissement where the car was previously registered.

Providing all the papers are in order, you can then go to the local town hall to get the car registered in your name. If you buy the car outside Paris, you will need to re-register it in Paris if you wish to keep it there. If you don't speak French, you may have problems with the purchase.

When buying a car, make sure the documentation is in order, otherwise you may not be able to get insurance. You should even try to get the seller to accompany you to the mairie. However tedious the bureaucracy may seem, the regulations are there to protect the consumer.

Special conditions apply if you are importing a vehicle. In general, cars imported for less than three months can keep their foreign license plates; those brought in for more than three months need French plates. The Automobile Club de I'Ile-de-France (14, av. de la Grande Armée (17e). 01.40.55.43.00.) can provide advice on this and other subjects.

Temporary residents, with proof that they are staying in France less than one year, are exempt from customs duties on cars imported or bought here. To gain exemption, contact the local customs office about obtaining a transit temporaire. In certain cases expatriates staying up to three years can also benefit from this exemption. Long-term residents are required to pay customs duties on imported vehicles, particularly when an imported car is sold to a French resident. The seller is required to give a customs certificate to the buyer as proof that all duties have been paid.

Hiring a car is expensive in France, but small independent firms offer cheaper rates than the international companies. Prices can be as low as £183 per week, for a Fiat Panda with 1000km.


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