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Help! Needs tips for traveling to Germany - cell phone, public transportation, etc.

LauraG

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Hello everyone! I'm hoping I can get some helpful travel tips for our first trip to Germany. My daughter and I are tagging along with my husband, whose AF squadron is going to Spangdahlem November 8-23. I couldn't get on the same flight, so I'll be on my own from Colorado to Frankfurt, then to the base from there (about 2 hours away). I know the public transportation system is supposed to be EXCELLENT, but I can't find enough info on the internet to figure out a plan/route to get to the base. Now I'm looking at rental cars, but must admit I'm a bit nervous about driving in a foreign country. This is probably the best option, since I will have my 21-month-old, 1-2 suitcases, a stroller, and carry-on bags. I certainly can't schlep this around from train to bus to taxi, if that's what I would need to do to utilize public transportation. I'm also not sure what to do about our cell phones. My phone will work, as I have a World Edition Blackberry, but my husband's will not. Also - it's very expensive to use my phone out there - $1.29/minute. SO, below are my main questions, and if anyone has any other good tips about Germany, please share!

1. Are there coupon codes/discounts on rental cars in Germany? I've searched the internet and can't find anything that's valid outside of the U.S./Canada.
2. Is there a less expensive way for my husband and I to communicate via cell phone while we're there? Since we're on separate flights and he has to stay with his squadron, I would really like to be able to let him know we landed safely, then of course have a phone in case of an emergency. Throughout the week my daughter and I will be sight-seeing while he's working, so I feel like we should have phones then, too, in case he gets done early and can join us.
3. For anyone who's flown into Frankfurt: are the rental cars on site or do I have to take a shuttle? Are there luggage carts to rent I hope? I have no idea how I'm going to deal with so much luggage, a car seat, stroller and toddler. I thought about not bringing our stroller, but since we arrive at 9am (1am Colorado time), it would be better for my daughter to lay in the stroller than for me to have to carry her.
4. For anyone who's rented a car and traveled with a little one in Germany: do the cars have the latch system? Is it better to rent a car seat than bring our own? When we've traveled in the U.S. we've brought our own, as I've read/heard bad things about rental car seats, but maybe they're better in Germany?

Any other tips would be much appreciated. I like to have things planned out, but this trip is proving to be more difficult to plan.

Thank you in advance!!
 

LauraG

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Thanks - I called Verizon before I posted this thread, but was surprised at how expensive it is per minute. However, I did more research and found out that even if we rented global phones with German numbers, we'd still have to pay for outgoing calls (incoming calls are free). It's still $.99/minute, which really doesn't save us anything. We're with Verizon and it turns out my husband can borrow a phone for only $9.99 from them, then pay the per-minute rates. Since we're not going to be using the phones much and they're really for an emergency-only basis, I suppose that will be fine. Unfortunately it's $.99/minute for EACH of us. Text messaging is actually cheaper - $.50 to send, $.05 to receive. I hate text messaging, but this might be the way to go if I just need to send him a message while we're there!

Now if anyone has some tips for the other questions, especially about a rental car, I definitely appreciate the help!
 

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Laura, we just returned from Europe and had good luck/car/service from Carjet. www.carjet.com -I just looked, not knowing what car fits your needs, but from Frankfurt airport it looked like about 300 Euros a week more or less. Insurance is included. That's about double what we paid in Portugal, but we had booked in February. Prices have changed. Even though we rented from Carjet, we got a Budget car, for a lot less than the Budget rate.

Oh, There are luggage carts at Frankfurt. Can't remember if they are free or pay. Your US kids car seat will work fine and you can check it with your luggage all the way through and get it in Frankfurt.

Good luck- I hope this helps...

Jim Ricks
 
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LauraG

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Thanks, Jim! I checked out that site, but they were unfortunately much more expensive than the other sites I found, even with the insurance. After more research on the internet about insurance, I called AMEX to see what their rates are for Europe, and it's amazing - only $24.95 for the entire two weeks! I don't know how it's possible, but I triple-checked with them to make sure I'm really getting the coverage I need. The lady said it's a new program they started offering so that people don't have to pay $30/day to the rental car companies. I still don't understand how they can offer coverage for so cheap, but that's quite alright with me!

I was going to get an intermediate car, but opted for a compact 5-door (hatchback) instead, like the Opel Astra. It's a little cheaper, gets better gas mileage, and it looks like the back will be big enough for my luggage and stroller. We'll see! I can always stick a bag or two in the front/back seat just to get to the base. It turned out to only be 433 total EUR for 13 days through Thrifty, who had a 10% coupon for Germany. YAY!

Thanks for the info on the luggage carts. I'm not looking forward to pushing a stroller AND pushing a cart, but that's just what I'll have to do.

Thank you so much for your response - I really appreciate it!
 
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As you found out, text messages are a LOT cheaper than using a US cell phone in Europe. My ATT phone is only $0.15 a message to unlimited numbers. That way you can let both your husband and family back in the States know of your arrival at the same time for pennies.

One thing you could consider is buying an unlocked quad band GSM phone on eBay or elsewhere like the BX and getting a German SIM card when you arrive to call your husband or use when you are out and about. I recommend text messages though unless he will be deploying more times to Spang or other Euro bases when he could use it to call the States when away from the Base.

Frankfurt is a nice airport. One thing they used to permit was check in the day before so you can leave your luggage overnight (if you are flying commercial and not Space A), stay at a nearby hotel and eliminate that hassle on the day of departure.

A final note, if you get a cheap GPS with Euro maps, probably around $100-$150, it might make life easier. I can live with or without one but if you are not sure about Frankfurt to Spang, they can be very helpful.

Driving in Germany is much better than the States as the drivers concentrate on driving, not yakking on the phone, eating or other wise not paying attention. The only real draw back to a rental car other than the expense is the narrow streets and restrictions in most center cities.

Cheers
 

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Frankfurt is a nice airport. One thing they used to permit was check in the day before so you can leave your luggage overnight (if you are flying commercial and not Space A), stay at a nearby hotel and eliminate that hassle on the day of departure.....
......
Driving in Germany is much better than the States as the drivers concentrate on driving, not yakking on the phone, eating or other wise not paying attention. The only real draw back to a rental car other than the expense is the narrow streets and restrictions in most center cities.

Cheers

Yes, I agree Frankfurt is a nice airport, easy to navigate inside and out. There should be no problem getting a rental car right at the terminal if you use one of the popular rental agencies. Try to study the airport's map ahead of time to get a feel for its layout.
As to the driving habits in Germany you will have to get used to the fact that German autobahn drivers will pass you at twice "the speed of sound", much faster than on any US Interstate freeway. Many have a short temper with foreign drivers who, in their opinion, cannot cope with rules and restrictions, let alone with unfamiliar signs. Keep in mind that people will expect you to be fully familiar with EU traffic signs and directions.
Yes, gas prices are sky high and parking in densely populated areas is at a premium. Do not expect to find acres of free parking space at shopping centers. Many hotels have parking garages but they are not free with entry and exit doors that are often difficult to navigate.
 

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Thank you! I think I'll definitely use text messaging for the most part, since I really just need to briefly communicate with my husband and parents. (I know my folks will be worried about me traveling alone with my daughter, so I'll definitely need to let them know I landed safely.)

I ended up getting a great deal on a Garmin Nuvi GPS on Amazon that has maps of Europe. I was going to get the $150 one, but we opted for the $250 one that has more features (like bluetooth, fm traffic receiver, etc.) so that we can use it at home, too. It was a great deal - 70% off!

The book I'm reading about Germany said you have to have "nerves of steel" to drive on the autobahns, but I'm sure I'll be fine if I stay in the right lane and keep my speed at about 80mph, right?

Thanks for the tips about parking - I have no idea where we'll be going daily, since there really isn't much information on the area immediately surrounding the base, so that will be something I'll find out when we get there!

My husband gets the weekend of November 14-16 off, so we're planning to go to Paris since it's only 4 hours away. We're trying to decide if we should take a train or our rental car. Figuring the cost of gas, we'd be spending almost $300. We've never been on a train, so it would be fun and it's only $350 for all of us from Mannheim to Paris. (I'm guessing Mannheim is the closest station?) I suppose the questions are - do we need a car in Paris? (I'm guessing no, especially if we stay close to the Eiffel Tower.) Is there parking available at the train station or do we need to take a taxi there? Has anyone taken a train in Europe and/or have tips for Paris?

Thanks again, everyone!
 

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Ah - I found a rail map finally. It looks like Trier is going to be the closest/most affordable train station.
 

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We've travelled in Europe a lot with our kids, so hopefully my advice will be helpful. The first place we took our oldest son (then 19 months old now 13) was Germany....and we flew into Frankfurt! Even with a toddler+carseat + carryons + too much luggage we found the airport to be very easy to navigate. We picked up a car there and were off (to visit my brother in the Wurzburg area where he was stationed with the army).

Driving in Germany is easy, you will forget you're not in the USA. The Autobahn is no sweat. I'm sure you have folks flying by on the freeway out in Colorado doing 100+ mph (we sure do here in Michigan) so it won't be all that different from home. All you have to remember is that the left line is for passing and passing only. That's all there is to it. Some of the autobahns (like the one between Munich and Salzburg) are downright sloooooooow because of heavy traffic. Others (like the autobahn between Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Alps and Munich) are zip zip zip. Usually when people are flying, it's because traffic is very light.

Remember that if there is a speed limit posted THEY MEAN IT! Don't go faster than any posted speed limit (even on the autobahn, and especially so in towns). Even on the autobahn you will suddenly have a lower speed limit if it's raining, if you're crossing a bridge, if you're going up a hill....we noticed this summer while there that there were sometimes all sorts of speed limits on the autobahn.

Do a trial run with your child + stroller + all luggage 2 days before your trip (just around the living room is fine) to get an idea of how heavily loaded you are. Is there any way your husband could take some of the luggage with him?

Really try to get sleep on the plane. Your daughter probably will, and you need to also if you're going to be driving when you get off the plane in the morning.

Will you have your daughter on your lap on the plane, or do you have a seat reserved for her? If it is the latter, then consider taking her carseat on the plane with you. That way you can strap her into it and it will be something she is used to chilling out in, rather than wanting to hop about, push buttons, explore. When my kids were very little it was always easier to have them in a carseat on the plane because they went into that "car mode" and just chilled out and slept. There are changing tables in the bathroom on the planes....they're kind of a trip but they work.

Take the train to Paris, absolutely! Your daughter will enjoy the train ride and not being cooped up. You and your husband will be able to enjoy the scenery without trying to drive and navigate. A car in Paris is a huge problem.....last year we drove back from Normandy and dropped our car off in Paris before staying there for 4 days. Driving into Paris to the drop-off spot, we could have walked faster than the traffic was flowing. It's just a big city with lots of one way streets and lots of traffic jams. And no parking whatsoever. There's a reason why most people who live in Paris don't have cars! Once you're into Paris, the metro (subway) system is awesome and kids think it is a lot of fun. Many of them are deep underground and not many have escalators or elevators (or if they do, they're hidden), so realize you that one of you will be carrying your daughter up/down the stairs and the other will be carrying the stroller. Not a big deal, but be ready and don't load yourself down with too much stuff you're carrying. We always travelled with just an inexpensive umbrella stroller. Gate check it at the airport so it is waiting for you as you step off the plane. Fast, light and easy to fold up and carry up or down a flight of steps.

When you arrive in the Paris train station, look sharp and keep your daughter near you and your hands on your luggage and your purse. Pickpockets stand there and wait for clueless people to struggle off trying to juggle too much luggage and chase a toddler and you make easy pickings for them. Pack light for Paris and don't be an easy target. My brother had is wallet taken there but they had way too much luggage and way too many kids running in different directions and simply should have just written "Please rob me!" across his forehead.
 

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Trier is a neat City in itself with lots of Roman Ruins.

Definitely take the train to Paris. Driving in Paris is best described as madness. I once had an Embassy driver take the sidewalks as a means to get around traffic. I sat in the last row of seats because I knew nobody was going to hit us in the back.:eek: BTW, 2nd class is excellent. No need to go the First Class route.

Trains in Germany can be found on www.bahn.de. It has a select button for English if you get the German version when you log on. Take the intercity trains as they make many fewer stops unless you want to spend all day on the train.;)

Definitely stay in the right lane. Germans are very disciplined about passing on the left and having a Smart Car run up your tail at 90 mph is not a pretty sight. The Autobahns are not as wide open as is the general impression. Lots of areas with speed limits and Speed Cameras that will catch you and send you a bill for even a few miles over the limit. Not like the 10 mph "grace" in the States. The roads are in excellent condition so it should be an easy drive.

Paris is a great City to visit. Its easy to get around and many special sights to see. If you get a chance, be sure and go out to Versailles. You can get there via the RER (local train system). I am always impressed by the Hall of Mirrors. The recent spell of bad weather has apparently done a number on the Gardens but they are still very impressive.

I am sure the MWR dept @ Spang can give you all the tips and discounts one can get. Make sure you stop and ask them.

Cheers and enjoy.:whoopie:
 
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There is an intercity express (ICE) train Frankfurt Central St. (Hauptbanhof) to Paris which takes you there in 3.5 hrs. You will need to check the dates you want to travel and dep. times that suit you. Its by far a superior travel mode between the two cities. Driving all the way and back is a non starter.

K,
 

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Hi Laura...

I just got back from Paris, and I took a train from Tours north to Paris, the TGV train to the Montparnasse station. Assuming you'll be taking a TGV (fast) train and not the slow train that goes to Austerlitz train station, a taxicab ride from the train station to your hotel near Eiffel Tour shouldn't be more than 15 euros. I definitely advise getting a taxicab and not taking the otherwise convenient and cheap Metro...since you'll have luggage and there can be lots of stairs in the Metro's underground system. But then again, if $ is more a factor and you and your husband don't mind schlepping stuff up and down stairs, the Metro is the way to go.

As for other Paris tips, feel free to PM me if you want to know my fave restaurants I discovered, fave museums, etc.

P.S. Do not rent a car in Paris. Buy a multi-day Metro pass they sell to visitors. Get them to give you a city map and the little plastic holder for that tiny Metro card, so you won't accidentally damage the magnetic strip or bend the card in your pocket. Oh...if you plan to tour Versailles, the Metro pass will also get you there with a 1.50 euro supplement. The museum pass, which I also bought, will also get you into Versailles. Versailles is wonderful...except for the current exhibition installed there by "artist" Jeff Koons.

The euro is trending downward against the dollar, so it looks like you'll be going at a good time. Have a great trip!
 
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LauraG

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There is an intercity express (ICE) train Frankfurt Central St. (Hauptbanhof) to Paris which takes you there in 3.5 hrs.

K,

Unforunately, Frankfurt is about 2 hours East of the base, so we'd be backtracking if we drove to Frankfurt, then off to Paris from there. I think Trier will probably be our best best, but thank you so much for the input!
 

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I am sure the MWR dept @ Spang can give you all the tips and discounts one can get. Make sure you stop and ask them.

Cheers and enjoy.:whoopie:

Thank you for this tip and for all of the other helpful information. I'm getting more excited and less nervous the more posts I read!
 

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Hi Laura...

I just got back from Paris, and I took a train from Tours north to Paris, the TGV train to the Montparnasse station. Assuming you'll be taking a TGV (fast) train and not the slow train that goes to Austerlitz train station, a taxicab ride from the train station to your hotel near Eiffel Tour shouldn't be more than 15 euros. I definitely advise getting a taxicab and not taking the otherwise convenient and cheap Metro...since you'll have luggage and there can be lots of stairs in the Metro's underground system. But then again, if $ is more a factor and you and your husband don't mind schlepping stuff up and down stairs, the Metro is the way to go.

As for other Paris tips, feel free to PM me if you want to know my fave restaurants I discovered, fave museums, etc.

P.S. Do not rent a car in Paris. Buy a multi-day Metro pass they sell to visitors. Get them to give you a city map and the little plastic holder for that tiny Metro card, so you won't accidentally damage the magnetic strip or bend the card in your pocket. Oh...if you plan to tour Versailles, the Metro pass will also get you there with a 1.50 euro supplement. The museum pass, which I also bought, will also get you into Versailles. Versailles is wonderful...except for the current exhibition installed there by "artist" Jeff Koons.

The euro is trending downward against the dollar, so it looks like you'll be going at a good time. Have a great trip!

Thanks Carol! We definitely won't rent a car, as we plan to stay in a hotel near the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de triomphe. We're only planning to bring a small pilot case, and since we'll be together and we'll only be in Paris for two days, I think we'll be fine without the stroller. Sounds like the metro will be the way to go!

I would love to know your favorite restaurants (but only the "affordable" ones, please). :) We don't want to do "budget" restaurants/hotels, as this could be the only time we go to Paris/Germany. With that being said, I also don't want to use our entire savings account.

I'm also trying to decide which location would be best for a hotel room. Again, we'd like to get something really nice with a great view, but I'm trying to keep it under 200 EUR. Is it better to get something right by the Eiffel Tower or maybe something close, but far enough away to possibly have a good view? Any hotel recommendations?
 

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Really try to get sleep on the plane. Your daughter probably will, and you need to also if you're going to be driving when you get off the plane in the morning.

Will you have your daughter on your lap on the plane, or do you have a seat reserved for her? If it is the latter, then consider taking her carseat on the plane with you. That way you can strap her into it and it will be something she is used to chilling out in, rather than wanting to hop about, push buttons, explore. When my kids were very little it was always easier to have them in a carseat on the plane because they went into that "car mode" and just chilled out and slept. There are changing tables in the bathroom on the planes....they're kind of a trip but they work.

Take the train to Paris, absolutely! Your daughter will enjoy the train ride and not being cooped up. You and your husband will be able to enjoy the scenery without trying to drive and navigate. A car in Paris is a huge problem.....last year we drove back from Normandy and dropped our car off in Paris before staying there for 4 days. Driving into Paris to the drop-off spot, we could have walked faster than the traffic was flowing. It's just a big city with lots of one way streets and lots of traffic jams. And no parking whatsoever. There's a reason why most people who live in Paris don't have cars! Once you're into Paris, the metro (subway) system is awesome and kids think it is a lot of fun. Many of them are deep underground and not many have escalators or elevators (or if they do, they're hidden), so realize you that one of you will be carrying your daughter up/down the stairs and the other will be carrying the stroller. Not a big deal, but be ready and don't load yourself down with too much stuff you're carrying. We always travelled with just an inexpensive umbrella stroller. Gate check it at the airport so it is waiting for you as you step off the plane. Fast, light and easy to fold up and carry up or down a flight of steps.

When you arrive in the Paris train station, look sharp and keep your daughter near you and your hands on your luggage and your purse. Pickpockets stand there and wait for clueless people to struggle off trying to juggle too much luggage and chase a toddler and you make easy pickings for them. Pack light for Paris and don't be an easy target. My brother had is wallet taken there but they had way too much luggage and way too many kids running in different directions and simply should have just written "Please rob me!" across his forehead.


Thank you, Debi! I appreciate all the advice - everything you wrote made me feel better. I would like to think my daughter will sleep on the plane, but I don't think she'll go to sleep until a few hours into the second plane ride. We connect at DC at 7:45pm, but that's only 5:45 Colorado time, so she won't be ready to sleep for at least 3 hours I think. She'll be on my lap. It's SO much money to get a seat for her, and I don't think she would like being in her carseat - she'd probably just get mad and frustrated, so I'd end up holding her anyway. My mother-in-law told me I should give her cold medicine to "knock her out," but you're really not supposed to give infants cold medicine these days. Plus, I wouldn't feel right drugging my daughter just so I could get some sleep, too.

We've definitely decided to take a train from Trier to Paris, and will probably just take a taxi to/from each train station. It sounds like the metro system will be the best way to get around the city, and we don't plan to bring our stroller since it's only two days and we'll all be together, so that should make it easier to get around, too.

Do you (or anyone) know which area is better for getting a hotel room? We'd really like to spend a little extra to get something that has a nice view, but we're not sure where we should stay to get that view we want. Should we stay close to the Eiffel Tower or is it better to stay further and try to get a view of the tower? Any hotel/area recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
 

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Other day trips in Germany?

Does anyone know of other cities/towns near the base that would be fun (and easy) for my daughter and I to go to during the day? I don't want to go too far, as my husband will probably get done working between 4 and 5. (Of course, who knows how long it will take my daughter to get onto European time! She might not even want to wake up until noon.)
 

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One thing you might look into is a cruise on the Mosel River. IIRC, its not to far from Spang and is a nice trip. You can also drive along the river but it can be a little exacting. Many vineyards along the River and places to visit and see.

I also recommend Bitburger Beer which I remember fondly from a visit to Bitburg AB many moons ago.
 
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Trains in Germany can be found on www.bahn.de. It has a select button for English if you get the German version when you log on. Take the intercity trains as they make many fewer stops unless you want to spend all day on the train.;)

x3 skier - I'm having trouble using the bahn.de site. When I try to book tickets online, it doesn't say what the fares are for the trains I want, but then I'm asked for a credit card. If I select a different train that does show fares, it's only having me pay for the return ticket and then says the first trip is "impossible?" Is it better to just order tickets at one of the ticket machines once we get there? Do you have any tips for actually using this site? :confused:
 

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x3 skier - I'm having trouble using the bahn.de site. When I try to book tickets online, it doesn't say what the fares are for the trains I want, but then I'm asked for a credit card. If I select a different train that does show fares, it's only having me pay for the return ticket and then says the first trip is "impossible?" Is it better to just order tickets at one of the ticket machines once we get there? Do you have any tips for actually using this site? :confused:

I have used it for planning purposes only. Never have bought a ticket and it looks like they want to mail it to you. Another source is www.raileurope.com. Looking there shows a price around $90. I would suspect that Spang MWR would be able to help. I usually buy the tickets at the Train Station or on some occasions, order on the web and pick up at the station, like for Eurostar.

Cheers
 

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With kids, in Paris, especially tots......stick more to cafes.
There is a casual, family-run restaurant near the Eiffel Tower (few blocks over) that is tiny and works well with small kids but still delivers yummy French food. Let me dig out the name and address. AND they open early for dinner....so it's kind of on "American Time!"
Let me come back and give you some tips on Paris with kids. What time of year will you be in Paris? Did you say November?
 

LauraG

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With kids, in Paris, especially tots......stick more to cafes.
There is a casual, family-run restaurant near the Eiffel Tower (few blocks over) that is tiny and works well with small kids but still delivers yummy French food. Let me dig out the name and address. AND they open early for dinner....so it's kind of on "American Time!"
Let me come back and give you some tips on Paris with kids. What time of year will you be in Paris? Did you say November?

Thanks, Debi! Any tips you have would be appreciated. We'll be in Paris November 14 (late at night) - November 16 (late afternoon). I know two days isn't really "enough" to see all of Paris, but it will have to do! My husband has to be back at work at the base in Spangdahlem Monday. We're very excited, nonetheless. I never would have thought we'd be going to Europe in November, so this is a real treat. (We kind of figured we wouldn't travel to Europe until our 10th anniversary, in another 5 years.) :cheer:
 

hibbeln

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Hi again, Laura. I still haven't pulled out my Paris books to find "that" restaurant....BUT......look for a hotel in the 7th arrondisement (near either the Champ du Mars or the Rue Cler is very nice). This is a good area with kids for a short visit because it is fun to see the Eiffel Tower all the time, you can hop on the Metro quickly and be anywhere in Paris, it's not all crazy but seems very "Paris", there is a playground in the Champ du Mars (the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower) that is great fun to take a tot to. There are two actually, one for very little kids and one for bigger kids. A great place to meet locals and others on vacation, and it's nice for mom and dad to sit on a bench in the evening (bundle up!) and wait for the Eiffel Tower to do it's "sparkle" (the first 10 minutes of every hour, on the hour....I think starting at 6 p.m. every night, but maybe it's 5 in the winter months????).

On the Rue Cler there is a restaurant called "Cafe du Marche" which is right on a corner (can't miss it). Lo and behold it's actually a very famous restaurant, but is noisy, casual and fun so it is a great place to go with kids and feel hip but still be fine with a toddler. If you go earlier in the evening (like before 7 pm) you can be seated fairly quickly. A great Paris scene that even families can enjoy. MAKE SURE YOU GET DESSERT! (Petit gateaux is divine).
 
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