Shameless plug: Our YouTube Channel

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

We’ve been doing a bad job of filming videos during our trip, and when we do, we’ve been doing an equally worse job of uploading them! On top of that, we’ve been adding repetitive YouTube-approved background music to each video! 😀

Anyways, if you haven’t noticed the links in our sidebar, we DO have a YouTube channel, and we try to update it whenever we can obtain a fast wi-fi connection. Please visit and enjoy! 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

Paris Museums – Passes, Costs, Audioguides, and Scheduling

by Karen

Paris Museum Pass
20131027-153947.jpg
Mark & I ended up getting a 6-day Paris Museum pass for 69€. With it, you can go to any one of the 60 museums listed in their pamphlet, and there are a lot of major ones in there. I think the pass is well worth it, if you plan on going to a lot of museums, but you should probably figure out the costs before going. The pass is also sold as a 2-day (29€) pass and a 4-day (49€) pass. Even if you are a few euros shy of making up the cost of the pass, the convenience of skipping ticket lines altogether or going through a “fast lane” will help convince you of its value (you’re only in Paris for a limited amount of time, and your time is very valuable!).

Sometimes, a museum will have a special, temporary exhibition. Your Paris Museum Pass may or may not allow you free access into the exhibition as well, so it doesn’t hurt to stroll up to the exhibition bouncer and flash your pass.

You can buy your pass ahead of time online, but we bought it in Paris a few days before we used it. They are sold at major train stations (like Gare du Nord, look specifically for a tourist info booth), or at the museums themselves (look online for info). We were fortunate that one of our residences was near a museum on the list (Musée de Arts et Métiers), and it’s a small and quiet museum, so there was no fuss to get one. I wouldn’t recommend getting one at the major museums (i.e., Louvre) unless you go super early. There will be long lines for it as well.

When you get the pass (it’s really a thick pamphlet folded up to the size of a business card), you’ll see there’s a place to write your name and the date. DO NOT WRITE IN THE DATE. As soon as you write in the date, the pass is “activated”. Rather, you can just present your pass at the museum and someone will stamp it for you.
20131027-192145.jpg
Cost Savings Analysis

Here’s the breakdown of costs for each individual museum we attended whose admission is covered by the pass:
20131030-230538.jpg
Thus, if we hadn’t bought a museum pass, we would’ve had to pay a total of 102€ for all our entrance fees (I didn’t include the museums where we got in for free).

We had planned to go to three more museums as well, but we were just too tired so we decided to take an off-day. But even in 5 days, we’ve more than made up the cost of our passes.

(Note: If you are under 26 years old, these prices don’t apply to you, you’ll probably get in for free to all museums in Paris. Double-check to make sure!)

Free Museums / Attractions

Worth having its own section. These are all free to the public, and no pass is required:
– Musée Carnavalet, a museum about the history of Paris
– Notre-Dame Cathedral (not the Tower)
– Sacre-Coeur Basilica
– The Tuileries Gardens
– Walking around (but not going up) the Eiffel Tower
– Musée des Arts et Métiers (free after 6pm on Thursdays only)

Scheduling Our 6 Days

It is worth noting that different museums in Paris close on certain days, particularly Mondays & Tuesdays. You will have to check each museum’s schedule.

In addition, some of the same museums are open late on different days, so you will want to check on that too. Here is an incomplete list:

– Louvre – Open til 9:45p Weds & Fri
– Arc de Triomphe – Open til 10:20p daily
– Musée Rodin – Open til 8:45p Weds
– Musée d’Orsay – Open til 9:45p Thurs
– Musée des Arts et Métiers – Open til 9:45p Thurs

In order to fully take advantage of these hours (the term “min-maxing” comes to mind), we structured our schedule as thus:

Day 1, Sunday – Louvre (full-day), Arc de Triomphe (1hr)
Day 2, Monday – Louvre (full-day), Sacre-Coeur
Day 3, Tuesday – Notre-Dame Tower, Notre-Dame Crypts, Cluny Off-day
Day 4, Wednesday – Musée de l’Armée (5hrs), Musée Rodin (2.5hrs)
Day 5, Thursday – Musée l’Orangerie (4hrs), Musée d’Orsay (5hrs)
Day 6, Friday – Versailles (full-day)
Previous week: Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Musée des Arts et Métiers (free)

On days when museums were open late, we’d schedule half a day for one museum, and go to the other museum at night. It was a system that worked pretty well, since many museums usually close around 5pm.

There were other museums that we found interesting that weren’t covered by the pass; however, we didn’t go to them for lack of time, and will probably try again when we come back:

– Paris Catacombs – 8€
– Museum of Erotica – 8€
– Montparnasse Tower – 12€

Skipping Lines
20131028-015208.jpg
One of the main draws of the pass was the ability for us to skip ticket lines. This is true for a majority of museums, but for others we still had to wait. You’re pretty much waiting for the metal detector and bag check more than anything, and in most places you can’t skip this.

In particular:
– Musée l’Orangerie – had to wait in line for an hour, there is a “fast lane” for passholders, but it merges with the regular line. (There was a temp special exhibition going on though, so tons of people around)
– Musée d’Orsay – Separate line in the back, maybe a 15 min wait
– Louvre – passholder entrance is in the underground mall (Carrousel du Louvre), just walk right in.

Audioguides

We used a few audioguides while we were in the museums, including our free Rick Steves guides.

Here’s a review of them:

– Louvre – OH GOD YES, rent the 3DS, best audioguide ever. Lasts 6hrs on one charge. Includes 3 excellent guided tours. It also knows where you are in the museum via magical wifi properties. We had our own. Rick Steves had a good guide for this too, but we loved the 3DS so much more.
– Orangerie – it was ok, the museum is fairly small, so it depends on whether you feel an audioguide is worth it. Uses a standard audioguide handset. We shared one.
– Orsay – an iPod touch, worth it, but battery life sucks, expect to go back to the station and exchange your machine every few hours. The UI could be a bit better. We each had our own. Rick Steves’ podcast is very outdated, as the rooms have changed, but you can still listen to his commentary on the pieces, which are out of order.
– Armée – also an iPod touch, battery life sucked, had to exchange 3x. While it was good for the medieval armor section, it was not very good for the Louis XIV-Napoleon section (it essentially read the information placards throughout the museum, which are all readily available in English). We each had our own.
– Rodin – also a small museum, uses standard handset, but worth it, although we shared one.
– Versailles – it’s free, just get one! We used both Versailles’ official handset and Rick Steves’ guide, and both were pretty good.

The Turkey Shuffle

by Karen

No matter how much careful planning you think you do, there’s always something small that can slip through the cracks. In our case, it was a pretty big crack!

Somehow we got the idea into our heads that Mark didn’t need to apply for a Turkey visa beforehand, that he would be able to purchase one upon arrival for $20. We both could’ve sworn it was true. In fact, it IS true for US citizens, but not for Philippine citizens.

We were thisclose to booking our 14 days in Turkey, when on a whim we decided to read the page about visa requirements.

PHILIPPINES
Ordinary passport holders are required to have a consular visa before travelling to Turkey.

To say that we panicked is a gross understatement. We scrambled to get all his visa paperwork together, going through the motions of booking fake hotels, printing out flight itineraries, filling out forms, and grabbing cash, and raced towards the Turkish embassy in Paris, only to find out they were closed. We then realized that it might take days or weeks to get the visa approved, so we gave up on the idea of going to Turkey for 14 days.

Turkey was an important strategic segment of our trip. Because we’re only allowed 90 days in Schengen territory, and because we want to experience Christmas & New Years in Europe, we needed a way to extend our time in the Europe region through January. An obvious solution would be to fly to Asia, then come back, but we have bigger plans for that trip later. 😉

So what were our other options? We couldn’t go to a country that required Philippine citizens to get a visa in advance, and we couldn’t stay too long in Schengen, lest we go over our 90-day welcome.

  • Extend our stay in Morocco (US & Philippine citizens OK for 90 days)
  • Go to Israel (no visas required for both of us)
  • Go back to London

After e-mailing the Turkish consulate in LA about our visa issue, I found out that there was a loophole for Mark entering Turkey. According to the friendly Turkish consulate worker:

If you come to Turkey by a cruise ship and thereafter leave Turkey for another country by the same cruise ship, all cruise passengers on board are exempt from visa for a daily stopover. If your cruise ship starts from Turkey or ends up in Turkey, all passengers are subject to a visa to enter Turkey. Depending on the citizenship of the passenger, an advance visa may be necessary to disembark.

Really? Even if we have to disembark the ship? *flutter of hope*

Mark found a cruise with Costa Cruises that fits into our itinerary quite well (anyone back home wanna join us???). But, we need to be absolutely sure, for real this time, lest we repeat our mistake:

YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE AN ADVANCE VISA UNDER YOUR CRUISE TRAVEL ROUTE FOR ALL TURKISH PORT OF CALLS. AS LONG AS YOU ARE LISTED IN A CRUISE PASSENGERS LIST, YOU VISIT TURKEY.

Yes sir, we will go and visit Turkey! With the supposed blessing of the Turkish consulate, we went ahead and booked our cruise!

20131022-113852.jpg

Now because we are leaving from Italy, we would be spending extra time in a Schengen zone. We did the math and so far it seems to work out (we hope). So if we’re on a cruise ship, which country are we technically in? I e-mailed the Greek consulate in LA and got back this response:

When you are on the cruise ship in Greek waters, you are considered as being in Greece.  They will stamp your passport when you enter and exit the country.  As a U.S. citizen traveling on a U.S. passport you can stay in the Schengen area 90 days in any six months.

So, hopefully this all works out in the end. A cruise will be a nice break from all the planning, and in addition to Turkey, we get to visit Greece, Croatia, and 2 new Italian cities in the process, something that we hadn’t planned. 🙂

Paris Metro

by Karen

Thanks to Mark’s limited high school French and my iOS translator, we managed to figure out the basics of getting a pass for the Paris Metro.
20131014-142048.jpg
Similar to London’s Oyster Card, the Paris Metro uses a Navigo Card. For non-residents, it’s called a Navigo Découverte card. It gives you unlimited access to their public transportation system (subway, buses, etc) for an entire week, starting on Monday @ 12:00am, and ending on Sunday @ 11:59pm (therefore, if you arrive on a Thurs or Fri, you probably shouldn’t buy it).

It costs 5€ to buy the card (good for 10 years) and 19,90€ to charge it up for the week, as long as you stay within Zones 1&2 (where all the touristy stuff is anyway). A one-way ticket is approx. 1,70€, so if you ride the train at least 10x during the week, you’ll have already made up for the cost.

You’ll also need a passport-sized photo that gets affixed onto your Navigo card, and there are plenty of photo booths in every Metro station where you can get a set for 5€. (Hey, this is starting to add up!)

You can also buy ticket packets if you don’t plan on traveling by bus or subway as much. For 2 weeks in Paris starting on a Monday, getting a Navigo card seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

20131015-004016.jpg

Quick notes about Iceland

Random thoughts about Iceland over the past week, hopefully they’ll be useful for anyone thinking of travelling here!

– Everybody speaks English very well. And the locals seem pretty friendly. It’s pretty safe to walk around at night.

– Downtown Reykjavik is very walkable. You can probably walk anywhere within 30 mins of where ever you live. Our hostel isn’t near the main street, but we can walk there in 20 mins.

– The international airport is 40 mins away from Reykjavik. There is no public transportation, just shuttle or taxi or rental car. You can book a shuttle when you get to the airport lobby, they leave 40 mins after your flight lands, so you want to get out and get your luggage ASAP.

– We’ve never had to use cash at stores or eateries, we’ve used credit cards the entire time. The only time we’ve had to use cash was to tip our tour guides.

– It’s really cold and rainy in September. Bring waterproof shoes, jacket, and pants. And wear layers. People here like wearing woolen knits.

– It can be really intimidating when you go into a store and you see price tags like 1980 ISK (Icelandic Krona) for a roast chicken (totally making that up). I don’t know what the conversion rate is, but (BAD MATH ALERT!) I generally just truncate the last 2 digits and guess how much it costs in US dollars. For example, think of 1980 ISK as $19.80, and currently the krona is weaker than the dollar. So your roast chicken can’t cost more than $19.80.

– Also, if you see a price like 5.000 ISK, it doesn’t mean 5 krona, that decimal is just a separator for hundreds. Just think of it as a comma, like 5,000. So it’s really around $50.00.

– Tours are really expensive, but might be the best way to see more of the country and get out of Reykjavik. Renting a car is ok, just remember you need insurance (especially weather-related ones), and gas is at least $8/gal.

Do NOT book your Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights tours in advance. Book them on the day you want to go, after 6pm. Because these tours are so popular (one company has a fleet of 10 buses each carrying 50 people), you will not have difficulty finding a spot. Also, the companies may decide to cancel the tour for that night if the weather forecast is bad, and 6pm is usually when they make their decisions. So it is best to call companies at 6pm and ask if there is a tour that night, before you pay for a ticket! Almost all companies also have a policy where if you don’t see it, you can rebook it again for free, as long as they don’t cancel it that night. We booked ours months in advance, didn’t see anything the night we went, and had the tour cancelled for the rest of the week due to bad weather. Waste of money, blahhh.

– You can pretty much book any tour 1 or 2 days in advance. There are really so many companies to choose from, and no shortage of seats. We’ve booked our tours after 9pm the night before, and haven’t had any major problems getting stuff done. The Golden Circle is the most popular one. The Blue Lagoon “tour” is also very popular, but is really a shuttle bus to a (fancy and luxurious but awesome-sounding) spa.

– Museums, stores, and attractions can close early during the winter (like 5-6 pm) but have longer hours in summer.

– Food in Iceland can be very expensive (1500 ISK for a drive-thru burger & fries). But if you wanna eat like how they did in the old days, you can go to the supermarket and get flatbread, cheese, and some type of preserved fishmeat (lox, sild, etc). There’s something about Icelandic flatbread where a single slice has a mega-crap-ton of protein. We’re actually pretty full after a single serving of flatbread (looks like a pita pocket) with jelly and some cheese spread. Also, skyr is a type of yogurt that has high protein too that is made in Iceland. We’ve been eating from the same stash over the past few days.

– “Takk” means “thank you”.

Immunizations

Can’t believe Walgreens has walk-in travel immunizations. If I’d have known earlier, I would’ve saved myself time from scheduling doctors’ appointments and just going there directly. Lesson learned!

I’m starting to think we might’ve needed to start our immunizations sooner. Hep A & B sound like they are a series of shots, rather than one shot, so we might need several trips to the doctors’ office. Hopefully we can continue our shots in Boston.

 

Selling Our Stuff

Things I have learned about selling stuff via eBay or Craigslist over the past 5 months:

eBay & Half.com
– Best for: movies, video games, books, toys, certain clothes, collectibles
– Pros: Set it and forget it; easy to deal with customers; little interaction; don’t have to shift your schedule to accommodate sellers
– Cons: Seller fees & shipping charges can eat into your profits; customers may take a while to pay for items; going to the post office is a daily routine; sometimes you need to find a box big enough to fit your items.

Craigslist
– Best for: furniture, electronics, sporting goods, vehicles
– Pros: instant money; get rid of big items fast; local buyers; no fees
– Cons: lowballers; flakes; always need to adjust your schedule; dealing with people can be scary or a pain in the ass (but 80% are ok to deal with)

In hindsight, I wish I had utilized eBay sooner, rather than the 1st week of August. I may have sold a ton of things sooner and been able to have gotten rid of a bulk of my games & movies.

Half.com is not bad, it’s just not as widely publicized as eBay. I do enjoy using it though, the payment is immediate, there’s no waiting for auctions to end, and it’s free to list items (eBay only allows you 50 free listings per month, after that it’s 30 cents per listing.)