Steph travels to Paris, Germany and Switzerland

Staff member: Stephanie // Trip date: Feb 2014

 

Arriving into CDG and RER to Paris

 

CDG surprised me as being a hassle free arrival airport. After previous experience arriving into Heathrow, I had expected something as busy and hectic. No arrival cards had to be filled in for
France and there was only a quick passport check done by Immigration before heading to the bag collection area. After collecting my bag it was straight out into the arrivals area without having to line up for any bag checks. I'm not sure if it's always this quick and easy, but I was impressed and would prefer to fly into CDG over Heathrow any day.

 

I was travelling with a Paris Visite card, zone 1 - 5 which allowed me to take the RER B line into Paris. After a quick look around I located the signs for the RER. Having landed in Terminal 1, I realised that I would need to make my way to Terminal 3. The RER signs led me to an airport train, which I boarded (free service) and got off about 5 minutes later at Terminal 3. From the airport train it was a very short walk to the RER station.

 

There wasn't much information here, just one ticket machine and the ticket gates to go through. I put my ticket in and got a red X and error noise in return. The ticket was spat back out, and so I tried putting it in the other way round and was relieved for the green light and doors to swing open. I found the sign "To Paris" and took the escalators heading down a level to the station platform. On the platform there were two sides, both had a train soon to arrive, and the electronic board showed both were heading to Paris Nord. I wasn't sure if there was one I should take over the other, as on the electronic board it listed both stopping in Paris Nord. I boarded the next train that came through. Although almost empty when I sat down, the train filled up quickly with other passengers on the next few stops. About 30 minutes later I disembarked at Paris Nord.

 

Here I found it was slightly confusing, although it could have been my sleep deprived brain making it more complicated than it really was. Nord is big and busy, there seems to be signs everywhere (in French) and a huge volume of people moving through the station. I found an escalator heading up to take me off the platforms, however once on the next level I had no idea which way to go. I couldn't see an exit, only connecting corridors to the other RER lines. After a bit of wondering I found stairs heading up another level, I couldn't see an escalator or lift anywhere, so flexed my muscles and started to lug the suitcase upwards. I was surprised by a kind French man who came to my rescue and carried it for me to the top.


I was pleased to find myself in the main station area, with all the SNCF platforms - I knew from here I could find a way out and carry on to my destination. The taxi stand was empty so I jumped in the next cab which took me just a few kms to the Montmarte area and my hotel.
All up, from the time the plane landed to arriving at my hotel, it took about 3 hours.


Paris


By foot it took me a couple of days to see the main sights. I think for first timers to Paris a hop on hop off bus is a good idea. It will help you to get your bearings quickly and decide where to go and see more of.

 

The Paris metro is a bit daunting in the beginning, but if you throw yourself into it you can figure it out fairly quickly. The Paris Visite is so easy and useful if you do plan to do your own sightseeing rather than taking organised tours. Stations are located everywhere, you can't walk too far without coming across a metro station.

 

Lido

 

Lido is a glamorous live cabaret show located on the famous avenue, the Champs- Elysees. We were booked in for the Champagne and Show, a 9pm start.
After a few sips of Champagne the action started. The lighting, costumes and sets were quite extraordinary; I was very impressed with the scale of the show.
The show was not only dancing and singing, but also included a comedy skit, ice-skating and circus style acts which all combined made for an entertaining evening.

 

Bateaux Mouche

 

Cruise the Seine River on one of the Bateaux Mouches 9 boats. These depart frequently through the day, year around. The cruise takes just over an hour and will take in many of the most famous Parisian monuments and sights.


We cruised in the evening, which I personally would think is the best time due to the fantastic night lights. The monuments lit up at night are breath-taking, my highlights being the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.


If you have limited time in Paris, want to see as much as you can and are not keen on taking the Hop on Hop off buses, this is a fantastic alternative.


France - Germany TGV

 

This Duplex TGV service departed right on time out of Paris Est Station, I was bound for Karlsruhe, not far over the France/German border. I was reserved in an upper deck seat and I found the stairwell was wider and easier to get up than I had imagined. Those with mobility issues or very heavy cases would of course be better off sitting on the lower deck.

 

We raced through the French countryside, and I couldn't help but feel childishly excited as I watched the digital display of our speed steadily climb up to speeds of 320kms an hour!

 

This train is very modern and comfortable, 2nd class seating is really not a lot different to first. There is plenty of luggage storage throughout the train and a bar/bistro car to service passengers.
Being in 1st class, we were offered a meal, similar I thought to an airplane type meal. Pasta, prawns in a mild green curry type sauce, salad and little cake type desert. We also were offered a choice of drink including wine and a bottle of water.

 

Karlsruhe

 

Bombed during the wars, so unfortunately this city has only a few historic buildings left. Currently Karlsruhe is undergoing extensive renovations and infrastructure improvements such as putting the tram lines underground. I can see that in the near future Karlsruhe will be a pleasant city to visit. It's a city that you can see in a day, but can use as a base to explore further afield easily.
Karlsruhe is very flat so bicycle is a popular mode of travel and it is easy to walk around.

 

Karlsruhe - Baden Baden


On the German Rail Pass you can jump on any train you like domestically without a reservation with the exception of the ICE Sprinter trains. Frequent intercity and regional trains run between Karlsruhe and Baden Baden, the journey being just under 30 mins.

 

Baden Baden railway station has been relocated to the outskirts, so a taxi is required to take you up into the old town about 10 minutes drive away.

 

Baden Baden

 

This city, known for being a health & spa retreat is surrounded by the black forest. This city is picturesque, retaining its historic buildings but also with a nice modern mix. It's pleasant to walk the cobblestone streets and explore this city. There is also a beautiful stretch of parkland to stroll through with museums dotted along the way and immaculate gardens. Baden Baden is also very proud of its casino, which has to be the most exquisitely decorated casino I have ever seen - like being in a palace. Keep in mind, they are very strict on dress code here and everyone makes an effort to dress to impress.

 

Having a few hours free in the afternoon before dinner, I made my way to one of the spa's called Caracalla. The spas are very popular with the locals, and even the French will drive across the border to visit Baden Baden and dip in the warm mineral rich waters. It has to be one of my highlights of the trip to sit in the warm steaming waters on and outside terrace looking over the evening lights of the city.

 

Baden Baden - Freiburg Breisgau


Frequent ICE trains operate between these towns, only a comfortable 45 minutes, making it an easy connection. Again being on a German rail pass, it was a matter of just boarding and choosing any seat.

 

Freiburg


This is another city with a mix of old and new. The old quarter is worth spending time to explore. The cathedral is impressive and the town retains a number of historic buildings, streets and narrow alleys. This town is popular with the Swiss, being so close to the Swiss border, they come here especially around Christmas to do their shopping as it is much cheaper than what they can get in Switzerland.

 

Freiburg Breisgau - Lucerne via Basel


Only a short ride away on the intercity, the trains will first stop on the German side, Bad Bahnhof station, and then continue through to the SBB Station, Swiss side. Using the German pass, you can disembark at SBB without having to pay a supplement.
The connecting train to Lucerne was easy to find, and I was surprised that we were able to do it within only a few minutes. Basel is a fairly large station; however they make it easy for passengers to find their connecting platform.

Out of Basel we began using the Swiss Flexi Pass, valid on any train, bus or ferry in Switzerland. I wished we were staying longer so I could make better use of the days! Similar to the German Pass, there isn't really any need to reserve seats on Swiss trains. Only international trains and scenic trains will need reserved seating.

 

Lucerne


The train station is located right next to the bus terminal as well as the ferry terminals (for connections on to the Wilhelm Tell). Lucerne is a nice town to explore with the wooden bridge and lake. We also had the opportunity to visit the Transport Museum which was an unexpected highlight of the trip. There are numerous day trip opportunities out of Lucerne like the excursions to Mt Pilatus or Titlis.

 

Lucerne - Montreux: Golden Pass Line


This scenic route involves 3 trains with changes in Interlaken and Zweisimmen. The journey uses a variety of train types, some modern and panoramic, others are older with Belle Epoque style carriages.
The journey will take up most of the day, and travel through a range of scenery. If you can plan to arrive or depart Montreux in daylight, there is a stunning view over Lake Geneva. It is not compulsory to reserve the Lucerne - Interlaken - Zweisimmen trains), only the Zweisimmen to Montreux trains must have a reservation made prior to boarding.
Every connection is very easy with the next departing train waiting on the opposite platform. No food or drinks are included in the journey, however you can purchase this onboard.

 

Montreux


This is a really lovely town located next to Lake Geneva, it is smaller and quieter than Lausanne and Geneva and a good spot to be based to explore the lake and surrounds. If coming to Lake Geneva, all visitors should stop by Chillon Castle, a few minutes outside Montreux. This is one of the most visited castles in Europe, perched on a rocky island and has a rich history. Numerous vineyards stretch along the side of the lake up the mountainside. This is the Lavaux region, a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you like your wine, you need to stop in at least a few of the wineries in this region for a spot of wine tasting.

 

Montreux - Paris via Geneva


Trains depart about every 20 minutes from Montreux to Geneva, there is no point to reserve seats on these trains, and many can't be reserved anyway. This journey is lovely, with constant lake views on one side and mountains on the other.

 

Geneva CFF Station was again fairly easy to find your way around for connecting platforms. However with the TGV connection to Paris, we had to walk outside to a slightly separate platform where the French trains depart from. It is no longer used, but we walked through rooms where passport control and luggage scanning used to take place.

 

TGV Lyria is a single level train, it felt like a slightly older train but still comfortable. Luggage racks were not quite as accessible as those on the France-German TGVs. This train was very busy, with every seat in our carriage reserved (quite surprising for January I thought). I would be strongly recommending reserving any of the Swiss to Paris trains well in advance at any time of the year.

 

We were offered a snack in first class with a non alcoholic drink. Extra food or drinks can be purchased onboard during the journey.

 

We spent the first hour travelling out of Geneva into France winding through mountains and valleys, following a river and crossing bridges - quite beautiful scenery. As the journey was very windy, the train travelled fairly slowly, however once we exited the mountain region and hit flat countryside, we picked up speed and arrived into Paris only 3 ½ hours later.

 

Travelling from Paris into these beautiful parts of Germany and Switzerland is so easy by rail. It is not just a transfer from a to b, but an experience.


Exploring Germany and Switzerland is a breeze using rail passes, with frequent departures and comfortable trains which can take you to almost any small town you please. You have such flexibility to decide on the day when and where you want to go, and have someone else drive for you!

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