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Europalooza Trip Report Part 6: Chunnel train, Metro pain

on March 7, 2019

After a wonderful 28 hours in London, we had arrived at the Eurostar terminal on time for our scheduled departure to Paris.  I had scored a great deal on these tickets months ago, and it was time to put them to good use!  Originally, since we were supposed to have this morning “free” after going to Platform 9 ¾, I had planned to leisurely go to Marks & Spencer Simply Food and choose our lunch for the train and some other English snacks (roast beef crisps and Jaffa cakes, anyone?).  But since we had squeezed in the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, that leisure time vanished.  So we got into the security line with plans to purchase something from the shops inside the small terminal.Security was set up airport-style.  X-ray machine for the bags, with metal detectors for people to walk through.  After that, we went through Passport Control.  This was a much better and faster experience than at Heathrow, thank goodness.  It only took about 15 minutes to do everything.

We were then in an open waiting area with lots of seating, a few shops including a currency exchange, restrooms, etc.  There were screens all around indicating what platform the given trains would be boarding at.  Our train did not have an assigned platform yet.  We took advantage of the extra time to go ahead and buy some hot food.  Pret a Manger was our choice, and we each got a hot lunch-sized entree, plus a few snacks and drinks.  It came out to a reasonable £30, about $39.


Soon after we got our food, the screens changed and our platform was announced.  We gathered up our items and made our way to a wide ascending human conveyor belt thingy up to the platforms.  After checking the electronic displays on each car, we found our assigned car and then our assigned seats.  After settling in around our table and connecting to the WiFi, we excitedly awaited our departure.  I was so pleased- the boys were loving the train, with DS asking lots of questions about the mechanics of the tunnel and the speeds we would be traveling.  Many of his questions were answered (in English and French) on the monitors displayed throughout the cabins.

We tucked into our food.  Well, DH and I tucked in.  The kids wound up not really liking what they chose, which was some kind of mac-and-cheese type casserole.  They filled up on the snacks and other little bits of food we had squirreled away.  DS survived the trip on the Ritz crackers I still had from our airplane supply!  Naps were taken, views of the countryside were appreciated, languages from many nations were overheard, and soon enough, we were approaching Gare du Nord in Paris.  It was 4:30p.

paris arrival


Ugh, I wish the US had more high-speed train travel available.  Anyway, it was time to say bonjour to Paris, yay!!!

We made our way into the Gare du Nord terminal and found the entrance to the Metro, or more formally, the Metropolitain.  We were in search of a manned ticket booth, because we had a very important purchase to make.  After comparing various passes, some designed only for tourists and some meant for locals, and calculating which would give the most bang for our buck, I decided on the Navigo Découverte.   I did wonder if buying tickets for each journey would be practical, but with 4 days of travel I decided against it, as I knew that tracking the cost would become annoying.  I wanted unlimited access, baby.  I considered the tourist-focused Paris Visite pass…

How does it work ?

The Paris Visite travel pass allows you to use all of the public transport networks: the metro, tramway, bus, RER and SNCF Transilien networks.

Valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days, the pass allows you to travel anywhere in Paris (zones 1 to 3) or in Paris and the Île-de-France region (all zones, including airport connections, Orlyval, Disneyland Paris and Château de Versailles).​

How much does it cost ?

Zones 1 to 3 (Paris only) Adult Child
Days Fares Fares
1 12.00€ 6.00€
2 19.50€ 9.75€
3 26.65€ 13.30€
5 38.35€ 19.15€
Zones 1 to 5 (Greater Paris area) Adult Child
Days Fares Fares
1 25.25€ 12.60€
2 38.35€ 19.15€
3 53.75€ 26.85€
5 65.80€ 32.90€

Go figure, we needed 4 days.  Also, we needed the “Greater Paris Area” pass, since we would travel outside the city to Disneyland Paris, and then get ourselves to the CDG airport when leaving to Seville.  Total cost for the 4 of us: €230, approx $260. Yikes!  Even with some value-added extras like discounts on attraction entry fees, it was more than I wanted to spend.

I kept searching, and found info on the Navigo passes.  It’s kind of tricky, but the basic pass (Carte Navigo) is only available for residents/workers in the Île-de-France region and attached to a refillable account, while the other pass (Carte Navigo Découverte) is available to anyone for daily, weekly, or monthly use and is not automatically reloaded.  Obviously the second option applied to us, so I compared with Paris Visite:

  • 4-day option available? The Carte Navigo Découverte for weekly use is valid from Monday morning through Sunday evening.  Our days in Paris would range from Thursday to Sunday night, so that worked fine.
  • unlimited travel in the Paris city center? It includes transportation within Paris and suburbs.
  • travel to the airports and Disneyland? Yes! Airports Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY), Chateau Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Parc Disney are all included.
  • Price? €23.80 per weekly pass, plus another €5 for the card mechanism itself (I’ll explain below).  Total cost for the 4 of us: €111.20, or $127.40  🙂 🙂 🙂

The €5 is added to the cost of the weekly pass.  It buys you a little kit that you assemble yourself: a hard plastic cover, a firm paper card with a chip embedded in it, and another firm card with space for your name and an adhesive-backed area for your photo.  You can pay for an appropriately-sized photo at a booth at some bigger Metro stations, or come prepared and bring your own.  Guess which I did?  Brought my own, of course!

It took minimal effort, too.  I simply scanned our original passport photos (they don’t have to be passport ones, just any clear photo of your face), sized them appropriately in a photo editing program (2x3cm, smaller than the US passport photo size of 2x2in), and printed them in color on regular paper (black & white is also OK, and photo paper is not required).  I then carefully trimmed them and tucked them into my travel wallet for the trip.  One of my favorite things about this pass is that it is reusable!  Yes, if we go back to Paris next year, we can simply reload a day, week, or month’s worth of value onto the same physical card and save ourselves the €5.

candace heart eyes

Anyway, back to Paris.  I sent DH into the line to actually purchase the Carte Navigo Découverte because my pronunciation of French is atrocious.  He came back with 4 little card kits and we assembled them right away, putting the 2 firm cards into the hard plastic cover after writing our names and sticking on our photos.  Armed with our passes, we reviewed our plans for the rest of the evening.  Drop our stuff at the hotel, find somewhere to eat, and then if we felt up for an adventure, get back on the Metro to see the Champs-Élysées at night before heading to bed early.  My itinerary included the directions to the hotel: what train to take, and what stop to get off at.  We made our way to the right line: the magenta #4 line that would take us to Châtelet–Les Halles, where we would transfer to the yellow #1 line to Porte de Vincennes.  Sounds easy, right?


It was all going so well.  We made the correct transfer with no problem, having swiped our shiny new passes like locals.  I gave DH the next stop information, and due to my atrocious French and the small print on the itinerary, he understood that our stop was just called Vincennes.  Which was the name of the stop at the end of the line for the #1 train, 3 stops past where we needed to be, and outside Paris proper in a suburban area (full name: Château de Vincennes).  We didn’t realize this until we had exited the station and couldn’t orient ourselves.  It was really cold, and we couldn’t get our mobile data to work to pull up a walking map.  We huddled in the station for a bit to see if the data would work, and no luck.  DH spoke with the people at the ticket window, and they were less than useless.  This was a frustrating moment, honestly.  We decided we’d walk to a main street and ask there, while observing the busses that went by.  We tried hailing 4 different cabs that passed us, and were ignored.  The last taxi driver actually slowed and asked us where we were going, and when we replied with the address of the hotel, he said, “In Paris? No.” and sped off.

DH and I looked at each other, light bulbs going on above our heads.  OK, that a definite sign that we were completely off base- we weren’t even in Paris anymore!  To be sure, we stopped in a pharmacy about 5 blocks from the station.  We were saved by an absolute angel of a woman, who not only spoke pretty good English, but explained exactly what we had done wrong, how to fix it, and did not make us feel bad about it.  Back to the station we went, and already the unlimited pass was paying off.  We got right back on the #1 line, traveled 3 stops to Porte de Vincennes this time, and started looking for the hotel.  A quick stop at a cafe yielded directions to a hotel about 5 minutes from the Metro stop, and we had finally arrived!  It was nearly 7pm.

We had chosen the Best Western Plus 61 Paris Nation.  I immediately liked the quiet street and convenience to the Metro.  DS liked this funky chair in the lobby, which he sat in every chance he got.

bw chair

We quickly got checked in with the friendly desk staff, and the kids experienced their first true European hotel elevator:

bw elevator

DD didn’t even fit in the picture!  It was cramped in there!  We sent the luggage up separately.

All of our spirits brightened when we saw our suite, which was a 2-bedroom Family Room.  The kids had their own room with TV and door.  The bathroom was big and clean with a towel warmer, and DH and I had a nice double bed with our own TV as well.  WiFi was quickly accessed by the teenager 🙂

After all the fuss with finding the hotel, we decided against leaving for tourism purposes.  Our first order of business now was finding dinner.  DH and I set out around the neighborhood to find some takeout and a minimart or something to pick up breakfast to eat on the train to Disney.

We found a small market right away, and chose some milk for DS to drink (he hated it, lol), some juice, a bag of little pastries, ham, and some really delicious packaged petite madeleines.  Further on, we stumbled onto a very strange and wonderful French taco takeout place called, no kidding, O’Tacos.  Here is the menu, which I stared at with a kind of horrified fascination.  I’d never heard of French tacos…

otacos menu

So, after a protracted ordering process which involved DH’s basic French, and the cook’s basic English, with the cashier and I looking confused the whole time, we completed our order and paid.  It was a great value- €25, or $29.

We returned to the hotel and were set upon by ravenous children.  All of us got quite a surprise when we found fries inside the wrap-like taco things.  No one could tell what kind of meat they had, and the portions were comically large.  It was truly one of the most random and bizarre meals I’ve ever eaten, and the kind of hilarious story I will tell for YEARS.  Travel is fun, yo.

Anyway, after we’d all eaten, bathed, and laid our clothes out for the next day, it was time to hit the hay.  Disneyland Paris awaited us tomorrow!!!


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