Turning off the noise in Europe
A number of years ago, we got into the habit of traveling for Thanksgiving weekend. It started out because it was difficult to string together a useful number of days off at other times of the year and it has since become an annual tradition that is a particularly welcome and timely respite that falls between the muncipal budget season and — every other year — the municipal election season. In short, it’s a great time to leave the country and leave it all behind.
Having the Euro going for $1.50 U.S. isn’t such a great backdrop for European travel right now and we can fondly recall when it was as low as 87 cents. But for all we know, a Euro could be $2 next year — so what’s the point in giving it all up over the exchange rate? With a stash of frequent flier miles and hotel points to play with, the transportation and lodging part of the game was easy enough to cover so the trip wasn’t very pricey on an overall basis regardless (and they can change the rules on that stuff, too — another reason not to wait for better times.)
For this trip, we chose Amsterdam and Paris because they’re familiar and there’s nothing left for us to have to figure out. One of the things that makes it all so convenient is a great transportation system that will do everything from take you in from the airport for a few Euros to taking you to all parts of Europe at reasonable rates. After a couple of nights in Amsterdam, we took the high-speed Thalys train down to Paris for a few days of walking, shopping, eating and Bordeaux (along with the obligatory Beaujolais Nouveau, at this time of year.)
I probably paid too much for the Thalys tickets because I wanted to have them in hand before we left the U.S., but at $108 roundtrip per person from Amsterdam to Paris, it’s still not a bad deal. The train isn’t as fast during the first part of the trip because there are stops along the way at Schiphol, Rotterdam, Den Haag and Antwerp. In addition, the rails haven’t been brought up to a standard that allows for the Thalys to reach it’s maximum potential. But from Brussels to Paris, it really flies and that segment only takes an hour and 25 minutes.
Once in Paris, the Metro system can drop you to within no more than 1,000 feet from any address in the city proper — (although it’s not such a bad idea to spend a lot of time walking, so we get around plenty by that mode, too.) I left the guidebooks at home and it wasn’t a problem. It’s Paris, so who cares where you end up? That said, we still managed to hit a couple of the regular spots and they were everything we remember them for and more. The weather was a little undecided, but comfortable enough in the 50s.
Heading back with some great cheese from Holland and a bit of foie gras from France, we were just a little bit better prepared to face the winter that was just beginning to arrive.