Arrival comes before you know it. The flight attendants start opening those pull down shades EARLY! You will have finally fallen asleep and then they come clanging through the aisles serving a strange breakfast. Sometimes it may be a hunk of cheese, a croissant (more like a roll than a real croissant) and strange coffee by French or American standards.
If you have a window seat, look out and you will most likely see French soil – it is getting exciting. The plane will touch down, taxi to the gate and, as soon as the fasten seat belt sign goes dark, people will be jumping to get off the plane. Especially the French. So, just relax for a few minutes, get your thoughts together and then begin your exit. You will be sleepy, excited and a little disoriented – and these feelings may last for a while. You may also be grumpy – keep it to yourself, no one likes a whiner, especially those traveling with you.
Getting Off the Plane
Take your time. There will be lines to wait in after you get off the plane. No matter if you are the first off or the last off. So, take your time. Collect all of your things. Make sure you are not leaving anything in your seat, under your seat, in the seat back pocket in front of you or in the overhead bin.
Ask your family and friends if they have everything – double check each other. My main questions are, “Do you have your passport?” and “Do you have your wallet?” Nearly anything else can be replaced rather easily, but those two things are not easily replaced. Don’t be annoyed by asking each other, once you are off the plane, you are gone and anything you leave behind will be gone too.
Bienvenue à Paris!
You are in another country now and everything will be somewhat different – immediately. All the signs will be in French. Don’t worry, many will be in English as well. And the people will speak French! The bathrooms are a bit different. You may see officers carrying automatic weapons while walking around the airport with you. So many little things will be different and it is fun to notice the differences.
You will know you are in a different country that does things differently than the way we do it in America. Please remember, France was “civilized” centuries before the United States, they know how to do things, too. It is okay for it to be different. Do not react badly and reject the differences. Accept them and enjoy a new experience. You will be way ahead of most visitors and on the way to having a great holiday.
Keep making your way from the plane through the corridors into what may be a mob of people at Border Police/Passport Control. If you need to go to the bathroom, now is the time. Go before you get to passport control. Also, DO NOT pull out your cellphone in this area and DO NOT pull out a camera in this area. Those armed police will come and get you and your phone/camera will never be seen again.
Border Police/Passport Control
The first of your lines at arrival will be the Border Police/Passport Control. Only line up in the lines for “Tous Passeports/All Passports”. Do not get in a line for “Citoyens UE/Citizens EU”. Sometimes these signs will have a European Union symbol of an arrangement of gold stars on a deep blue field. Read the signs above the booths at the head of the lines for yourself.
People in the European Union line may be speaking English, so make sure to look for yourself. Meanwhile, patiently wait and move forward. It goes quickly enough. And when called, approach the Border Police Officer, say “Bonjour,” and present your passport. The officer may ask questions, like, “Who are you traveling with?”, “Where are you staying?”, “How long are you staying?” Answer directly. They are pleasant enough, but they are Border Police – and they are serious. Before you know it, the officer will stamp your passport. Then, you move past the booth/kiosk of the officer and head toward baggage claim.
Next, keep moving along following the signs for baggage claim (Bagages – Sortie/Baggage – Exit and the symbol of the suitcase). If you are waiting on family and/or friends, just move away from the passport control booth and wait.
NOW: When you are all together, secure your passports, confirm the location of your wallet, check each other, and then make your way to baggage claim In baggage claim, find the monitor displaying the number of the carousel for your flight’s bags, go to that carousel and collect the bags that you checked through to Paris. Remember, a lot of bags look alike, so make sure you grab your bag off the belt. Check the tag to make sure it shows your name and home address. Then move away from the belt so others can collect their bags. When all in your group have your bags, follow the signs to customs (“Douane”). The symbol is an officer’s torso, cap on the head reaching into an open suitcase.
Depending on the terminal, you may be able to walk straight ahead, out the door and into a main reception hall of the airport. You may not realize it, but you have passed through customs and out the door into the airport. Customs officers randomly check bags. If you are chosen, smile, say “Bonjour,” and cooperate. You will be on your way in no time.
Exiting Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) Airport
The decision on how you are getting from the airport to your hotel should have been determined ahead of time*. Now that you are in the public space of the airport, all you have to do is find the sign that points you in the direction of your mode of transportation. The easiest thing to do is move to the side, look left, right, behind you and straight ahead to find the sign with the symbol for taxi or train. Then, keep following the signs with your symbol on them and you will reach the place you need to be.
*If you have made arrangements with a transportation company in advance, the person meeting you should be directly outside the door you exit after customs, holding a sign with your name.
Depending on the terminal, you may have only a few steps to walk to take a cab. Remember, it is expensive to take a taxi and can take some time – especially at rush hour. However, the cost and/or delay may be worth it if you do not trust yourself with maneuvering to a train, then through a huge metro stop, and learning a new system of transportation.
Only choose licensed taxis at the airport taxi stands. People will approach you offering to take you into the city, but refuse these offers*. Get in line, and when you get in your taxi say, “Bonjour Monsieur” or “Bonjour Madame,” and then provide the driver with the sheet of paper with your hotel’s name and address that you have with you. By doing this, there is no confusion on where you are asking the driver to take you. Make sure to get the sheet of paper with your hotel name and address back – keep it with you at all times. €50 to the Right Bank, €55 to the Left Bank.
* “An official taxi driver will not approach you to request your business at the terminal exit and always parks in an area demarcated for taxis. Official taxis have light-up signs, a license plate outside the vehicle, and a taximeter inside the vehicle.” From the official Paris airport site.
If you have chosen to take the RER and Métro into Paris, look for the sign with the RER symbol – circle around the capital letters, “RER.” The sign will also probably have “Paris par train/Paris by train” next to the symbol of the RER.
(RER B is the line for those traveling to and from Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Airport. RER C is the line for those traveling to and from Orly airport.)
Once you have found the sign for the RER, stop. You need a ticket to take the RER from the airport into Paris.
Did you bring euros with you? If so, find your way to a metro ticket vending machine near the RER train lines. Keep following the signs with the RER symbol, or to the RER station with a human selling tickets. If you do not have euros with you, find an ATM or currency exchange and obtain cash to purchase tickets for you and your group, then continue following the RER signs to the station.
If you are using a credit card, begin following the signs for the RER. It can be a bit of a walk, but you will eventually near the RER and find vending machines selling tickets, and at the station you will find live humans selling tickets. In the live ticket seller line, if you see a little British flag outside one of the ticket windows, that person will be able to speak English.
A Human Touch and Language
Remember, always say “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Monsieur” before beginning a transaction. The vending machines have English as an option and it will walk you through purchasing RER tickets into the city of Paris. With your ticket in hand, make your way to the train tracks, insert your ticket in the entry gates, then go to the platform and wait for the RER to arrive. Make sure to put your ticket in your pocket so you can present it if the Metro police come by and check tickets. If you do not have it, you can be cited and fined a substantial amount.
If you are waiting for a few minutes, you may want to review your route again. You will know at what stop of the RER you need to get off, and then what Metro you will take from your RER station. Most visitors would get off the RER train at one of the following stops/stations: Gare du Nord for those staying near Sacré Coeur and Montmarte; Châtelet les Halles for those staying near the Louvre; St. Michel-Nôtre Dame for those staying near St. Michel or the Latin Quarter. If you are not staying right at one of these stops, each of these stops/stations have connecting Métro lines that would easily get you to the Metro stop near your hotel.
As the RER arrives into the station, collect all of your bags. Check with your travel companions to make sure they have all of their bags. Then, wait for the passengers exiting to move clear, then board the RER. Depending on how crowded it is, you may have room to sit and put your bags next to you. But, soon many other passengers will board at the upcoming stations and you may have to scrunch up. As the RER departs the airport, you will see above the doors what station is next and the conductor will announce the next stop. Soon, you will arrive at your station and can politely exit the RER.
Find Your Next Train
Like at the airport, it is best to move to the side, out of the way. Take a minute to get your bearings. These stations are HUGE and there will be MANY people everywhere jostling to get to their next train or out of the tunnel altogether.
If you are making a transfer, pull out your notes and double check what Métro line you need. Then, look right and left and find the sign that has your Métro line on it and proceed in that direction. In the larger tunnels continue to follow the signs for your line and when you arrive at the line, look on the boards on the wall to find your destination stop. Go in the direction of your destination, wait on the platform and in a few minutes a Metro will arrive. Board the car after any passengers exit and then get off at your destination.
One more time, move to the side and look for a sign with “Sortie/Exit”. Make your way for the exit. Depending on the station, there may be an escalator or stairs to climb to get to street level.
Exhilaration in Paris!
Caution: Exiting the Métro station after the long journey of leaving your home, flying across the Atlantic, getting through the airport in Paris, being tired and a little discombobulated is one of the most exhilarating feelings. Finally, you are rewarded for your efforts as you arise from inside the earth. The sky appears, then the roofs of buildings, and as you step onto the streets, the whole City of Paris is laid at your feet.
Friends of mine have insisted on taking taxis and have never gotten into Paris any other way. They absolutely refuse to take the RER in, and complain that they have too many bags, etc…. But, if I can convince them to take the RER and Métro in one time, they soon agree that it is one of the best entrances into the city. It can be breathtaking.
Carry a Light Load
However, to take the Métro into Paris from the airport, you MUST have only one suitcase on wheels and maybe one shoulder bag. It is just too difficult to maneuver with more luggage than that. You MUST have the ability to find your way in the Métro, pull your luggage, climb stairs and be calm if you get turned around. If you cannot honestly tell yourself that you meet these requirements, then do not go into Paris by Métro. It is not worth it, you will be tired, dragging bags, and in a foreign country! This is one experience you don’t have to have. It can be fun on your second or third trip – IF you want to do it and IF you CAN do it. If not, ça ne fait rien (it means nothing!).
€11.40 per person for an RER ticket from Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport into the city of Paris and your destination station. For detailed instructions and tons of information, go to ParisbyTrain.
Arrival to the Hotel
If you have taken a taxi, you will be dropped at the front door of your hotel. On the other hand, if you take the RER and Métro, near the exit of the Métro, you can find a plan of the neighborhood. Get your bearings and then start off toward your hotel.
Once you arrive at the hotel, check-in. Reception will want to copy the passports of all people staying at the hotel and a credit card to authorize for payment. If you arrived early in the morning, you will most likely need to leave your bags with the front desk. Generally, check-in is around 3. Don’t be disappointed, you want your room to be clean, don’t you? Leave your bags and start your trip!
If you haven’t done so already, write down your hotel name, address and telephone number on a piece of paper and keep it in your satchel. Take a photo of the front of your hotel with your smart phone.
Walk around the block or up and down the street your hotel is on and notice what it looks like. Get your bearings.
If it is lunchtime, have your first meal on Paris time!
Check with your hotel and find the nearest open top bus tour. Take a ride to see the best of Paris monuments!
Return to the hotel after check-in time, put away your bags and organize yourself in the hotel room. Take a quick nap if you absolutely must. Make sure to set your alarm clock to wake up in 30 or 45 minutes before your eyes close.
Walk and stretch your legs, then enjoy an early dinner and go to bed.