Helen’s Travel Corner

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Paris Vacation – The Nitty Gritty

February 6th, 2011 · 6 Comments

Planning a trip can be a difficult process. And when you’re talking about an expensive European city like Paris, it’s even more difficult. Here are some tips that my boyfriend and I found useful for the pre-planning stages of our recent trip. Maybe they’ll help you as well!

Plane tickets

Plane tickets are ridiculously expensive-just accept that from the start. We cut down on cost by going to Paris in January. This certainly kept the price down and also led to a quieter city with fewer tourists competing with us at the sites. To book our flights, we used www.kayak.com to look at prices at various airlines on various days. Once we had a good idea of which days had cheaper prices and which airlines were less expensive, we went to the individual airline websites and priced out our trips.

We settled on Icelandair, as this was by far the cheapest option. This meant that we changed planes in Reykjavik, Iceland and made the overall trip a bit longer. For us, this was worth it, but if you’d prefer to spend less overall time travelling, you may want to look only a nonstop flights.

Hotels

Reading guidebooks about Paris hotels scared me-I was convinced every hotel in Paris would have teeny tiny rooms with terrible bathrooms. But what we found was that with a little bit of work we could get a decent sized hotel room in a great area for not too much money. We ended up booking through www.hotels.com. Why this site? We liked that we could see the name of the hotel before we booked it, which allowed us to do some additional research. Once we found a hotel that had a good price and good reviews, we also looked up the hotel on TripAdvisor. There, we found additional reviews and also could see where the hotel ranked among other Paris hotels. This helped us choose a hotel that had both a good price and good reviews.

So how did we do? Really well. We ended up at a fabulous hotel in the Grands Boulevards area of Paris, with a Metro stop outside the door. And we got it for a steal–$420 for four nights. We knew that was good, but it wasn’t until we got to the hotel that we realized how good it was. The hotel actually costs 265 Euros a night. So pretty much we got 50% off-not bad at all.

Other Stuff

Just a couple of other things to think about before you go. We ended up changing some money at the airport in Boston, and when we needed more in Paris. Once there we used an ATM. Check with your bank to see if they allow you to use a certain bank with no fee. For example, if you have a Bank of America checking account, you should be able to withdraw money from BNP Paribas with no ATM fee (you just pay a currency change fee of 1-3%). Just make sure you tell your bank that you’ll be travelling–and make sure you have a 4 digit PIN!

Lastly, think about how you’ll get from the airport to wherever you are staying. Since you’ll likely be flying into Charles de Gaulle, just know that it’s a bit outside of the city. There are a couple of options including the RER (basically the commuter train), a few buses (we took the RoissyBus), or of course a taxi. Once you know where you’ll be staying it’s relatively easy to find a way that will be convenient for you.

-Miriam Sznycer-Taub

This is a guest blog post by Miriam Sznycer-Taub who will be sharing more tips about her Paris trip in upcoming posts. Got questions? Connect with Helen’s Travel Corner on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/helenstravelcorner!

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Across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney

November 28th, 2010 · 4 Comments

It’s a little embarrassing when the last blog post I published promised to write more and that was from June 12, over 5 months ago! There’s been demand for me to start writing again (just enough encouragement to get my rear-end focused again!). I can’t thank you enough for your support of this little corner of my world. To kick off the Helen’s Travel Corner renaissance, a dear friend of mine, Courtney Lix, has a guest blog post from her recent trip to Australia. Enjoy!


The wheels of our Airbus a380 grazed the tarmac in Sydney, Australia a few minutes shy of 7:30 a.m.  Chris, my airplane-loathing boyfriend, and I had flown from Friday in Washington DC straight through Saturday and into Sunday morning on the other side of the world.  After that long on a plane, we were ready for a shower, and a nap.  But glorious, sun-drenched Sydney beckoned with sparkling blue harbor, eye-catching Opera House, and plazas filled with strange and beautiful plants and birds—natives to a land completely foreign to us.  Well, to be more correct: we couldn’t get into our hotel room until noon.  And thus we stored our bags, and Sydney beckoned.

But we quickly learned that while our hotel was in a good location for being close to “The Sights”, it was in a bad location for getting brunch.  It was chilly at 8am, so we certainly didn’t want to sit on the waterfront in the howling wind—and none of the places on the harbor, where the concierge had sent us with a vague ‘oh, it will be so pretty’ looked appealing.  We finally lowered our standards and bought a breakfast that cost $35 and tasted like they should have paid us to eat it, as a reward for not wasting food.  And since food is very important to me, Australia was off to a mixed start: beautiful to look at, but possibly a lean 18 days to come.  (It’s also very disappointing when someone gives you a bad recommendation.)

The loveliness of Sydney buoyed our spirits though—at the very least, we weren’t hungry anymore and there were old convict barracks and aboriginal sculptures to distract us.  And the sun—the sun in Australia is a thing of beauty—it will warm the worries right out of you (and give you skin cancer if you’re not careful).  Inspired, we decided to take a chance on another recommendation (but not from the concierge) that afternoon: ride the ferry out to Watson’s Bay and eat at Doyle’s.

I love ferries.  Like a dog sticking his head out of the window of a speeding car, I love to sit on the open top deck, even if the wind is blowing so hard it sucks all warmth from the air.  Which it was.  My teeth were chattering and I loved every moment, especially when we ducked into the side nooks of the harbor—Double Bay, Rose Bay—navigating through dozens of smaller, anchored boats to get to the wharf.  The people of Sydney love their water, and they should indeed be quite proud of it.

Watson’s Bay is the farthest out, a quiet little community with a beach on one side and spectacularly high and rugged cliffs on the other.   We were encouraged by the crowd swarming around the counter at Doyle’s wharf-side restaurant, and—praise be—we weren’t disappointed with our first taste of Australian seafood (flounder and john dory) as we sat looking at the sunset over the far end of the harbor.

Travel is full of uncertainty and excitement—and the start of any trip sets the mood for the days to come.  We spent the next couple of weeks at the whim of unfamiliar places, and we survived being both lost and hungry, and also reveled in glorious, unexpected discoveries of beautiful places and delicious foods, chocolate in particular.  And, really, what better reason is there to endure an airplane flight across the Pacific Ocean?

Thanks Courtney!

To see more photos from Courtney’s trip down under, click here.

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It’s been a while…

June 12th, 2010 · 3 Comments

So I haven’t been the best at updating Helen’s Travel Corner recently. Life has somewhat gotten in the way I suppose and blogging has been put on the back burner. Not that I haven’t wanted to blog, but more because time seems to have played a trick on me and disappeared before my eyes. I’ve also started a company – got the official paperwork in March  – so that has been taking up a lot of my energy and focus. That being said, here’s the quick and dirty highlights from April and May and now that we’re into June, I’ll try to better about writing more. Summer is into full swing and all the adventures that come with it.

Back in April I took the Bolt Bus to Boston for two nights for a Beijing reunion then flew JetBlue to San Diego for one night on business before hopping on a United flight to San Francisco. I was in the bay area for the Facebook f8 conference and stayed the weekend. During that trip, I crashed with Lily, my old roommate from Boston, and it was great to catch up with her. On Saturday we went sailing for free with Jenna, a Boston-turned SF cs-er friend, and her boyfriend David. Jenna, David and I hiked to the Tourist Club on Sunday. The Tourist Club is a German beer garden over a 100 years old hidden in the woods. A journalist from Brooklyn who I met at SXSW in Austin tipped me off about the spot and it is indeed a great discovery! It’s the perfect combination of hiking and beer consumption that one could ask for! Monday I worked from a startup in Silicon Valley which my inner geek loved. That night I took a Virgin flight back to NYC concluding the week. While I’m not a big fan of red eye flights, I was impressed with Virgin a lot. It was the epitome of sleek and sexy travel.

Other highlights include my first Yankees game, an overnight trip to Connecticut during Memorial Day weekend, the Queens beer garden, speak easy bars and discovering amazing brunch places in Manhattan. (Hmmm…a food and drinking theme seems to always emerge with me…)

Since last Thursday I was working on a project in San Diego. I’m sad to report that I didn’t see much more than my hotel room and the office I was working out of. We were in Del Mar and I was able to at least eat some good food of which a Pho place quickly became my favorite spot! It’s also becoming a tradition when I’m in California to at least hit up In-N-Out once. I’m now in Philly for just a night to spend some quality time with Mike and Sarah before they head to Canada for the summer…and then they’ll be back in the fall and will be getting married in October which I can’t be more excited about! Surprisingly it’s also much warmer here than in San Diego – I got to experience ‘June gloom’ first-hand and have to say that being back on the East coast is nice and warmer. Even though I’m sure I’ll be complaining about the humidity and heat before long! Tomorrow night I’ll be back in NYC.

This morning -ah hem 2:30pm – we did brunch and caught the USA-England game. Sarah’s taking a quick nap and Mike is picking up some beer before tonight’s festivities begin. This is their last hoorah and weekend in the states for the summer so tonight should be fun…you may or may not get more details on it ;).

Until next time, Go USA!

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