April 22, 2007
After an eight hour overnight flight from Delhi, we arrived Zurich stiff, sore and tired but in relatively good spirits, all things considered. We had woken early enough to stare in awe at the Alps as we descended into Switzerland – almost, but not quite, as impressive as the Himalayas. As we hurried through the terminal to catch our connecting flight to Paris, I marveled at its cleanliness and, for the first time in three months, felt woefully underdressed among the chic travelers rushing by us. I stared incredulously at the price tags on the merchandise in the duty-free shops (really though, who would ever pay 150 Euros for a tie?) and was already starting to miss India where you could eat for an entire day for the price of a coffee in Europe.
After a minor incident at the boarding gate with an arrogant SwissAir flight attendant, we boarded our flight to Paris. By now, our kids were experts at flying and could rank most of the international airlines based on quality of food, in-flight entertainment and, most importantly, kiddie presents (you know, the crap the airlines give to kids to keep them quiet during the flight). So far, Air Emirates was well out in front with their on-demand movies, video games and Santa-worthy goody bags full of toys. However, SwissAir quickly became a close second when the flight attendants brought them their kid-friendly meals in little red tote bags that were filled with games and toys. They literally squealed with joy when they were allowed to select from a collection of tiny stuffed farm animals. After a heated debate, they finally settled on a fluffy yellow chick for Simon and a cute little cow for Alexa which were promptly named Chickie and Lucas (you figure it out). Not since Claude had insisted on leaving the “Snuffies” behind in the RV had I seen my kids so into their toys. Chickie and Lucas quickly became cherished members of the family and were to figure prominently in several adventures later in the trip.
As excited as we were to finally see Europe, we were also more than a little nervous about our budget. Before the trip we had allowed ourselves an overall budget of $200Cdn/day (including lodging, meals, transportation, recreation, etc). We had overshot this budget by quite a bit in New Zealand and Australia but had more than made up for it in Southeast Asia, Nepal and India and were now right on target. However, since Europe is undeniably one of the most expensive travel destinations in the world, we had our work cut out for us to stay on track. After arriving at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, we saved cab fare by jumping on the Metro and headed to a budget hotel in the suburbs. By doing a little research, I had discovered that, since hostels charge by the bed, we were better off in a budget hotel like the Balladins chain. By going outside the city proper, we saved a bundle and found a decent place for 50 Euros a night within walking distance of the Metro (no need to rent a car). The only problem was that France has a strict rule that hotels are not allowed to exceed the listed room occupancy and it is almost impossible to find a room that sleeps four. Luckily, I managed to book a triple room online (1 double and a single) and the manager didn’t notice the extra kid when we checked in. Once we got to our room, we slipped the maid a 5 Euro note to bring us an extra cot and we were all set. Once settled in, it was time for our first excursion – to the grocery store! After three months in Asia, we were thrilled to wander up and down the air-conditioned aisles and marvel at selection of familiar foods available (while gasping at the prices). We loaded up on croissants, peanut butter, jelly, OJ, deli meats, olives, cheese, a baguette, lots of snack foods and a 2 Euro bottle of wine and headed back to our hotel for a feast and a good night’s sleep before starting our adventures in Paris.
Tags: balladins, budget, Europe, France, paris, shoestring