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A Paris Guide for Layovers & Hiking the Great Wall of China

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Paris Guide - Eiffel TowerWant to learn how you can travel Paris in a day, or hike the Great Wall of China without breaking your back?

If you’ve got a burning travel question, The Travel Detective is here to help.

If you’d like to “Ask Peter,” just write us at peter @ petergreenberg.com.


Q: My husband and I have a one-and-a-half day stopover in Paris en route to a cruise that begins in Budapest (we’re flying in one afternoon, then flying out the following evening). We have never been to Paris and would like to see a bit of the city.

Would you suggest staying at an airport hotel and commuting to the city, or staying in a Paris city-center hotel? Do you think we are allowing enough time for a little jet-lagged sightseeing? We have no idea about transportation between Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris or what to see (I only know that I want to eat in a local café and see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night). We are also a little apprehensive about the language issue.

Notre Dame Cathedral, ParisA: Staying in the center of Paris would make more sense, since you’ll likely to want to go sightseeing on the day you arrive and the day you leave. Being right in the heart of the city will preclude you from having to make several back-and-forth trips on public transit to and from an airport hotel for your tours or excursions.

You’re right that a day and a half isn’t a lot of time for sightseeing, but as long as your expectations aren’t too high, you should be fine. When you arrive, I would suggest getting a taxi from the airport into the city rather than attempting public transit. It will cost more but save you time and hassle, and time is what’s going to be most valuable to you.

Since you said you’re interested in seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, you may want to book a room in the 15th arrondissement, which is adjacent to the arrondissement where the tower is located (the seventh). The 15th arrondissement has plenty of hotels, cafés, and shops, but not a whole lot of touristy stuff—although the nearby Champs Elysées offers all the souvenirs you could want.

Arc de Triomphe - ParisPerhaps spend your first evening eating at a local brasserie, then walk over and see the tower all lit up. The second day, you can take a hop-on, hop-off tour to get a whistle-stop view of the major sights or pick a famous museum (or two) to browse, such as the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. Both are easily accessible on public transit.

Another idea would be to take a short cruise on the Seine. Companies such as Vedettes du Pont Neuf offer basic, one-hour “bateaux-mouches” tours that would suit time-pressed travelers like you. They depart from most major bridges over the river.

As for the language barrier: don’t worry about it. Even though Parisians have the reputation of being rude to foreigners, those who work in the hospitality and retail industries have more than a passing acquaintance with the language. If you are really shy about interacting with merchants or getting around, ask your hotel concierge to book your tours and help you out with logistics. And remember, it’s always a good idea to arm yourself with a few key phrases to get around—most good guidebooks will have a glossary of terms.

For more Paris travel ideas, check out:

Great Wall of China mistQ. I would like to hike on the Great Wall in China for two or three weeks in spring 2010. I would also like to see the buried soldiers. I am a healthy, active, 75-year-old female, but I do not want to carry a 60-pound pack around all day long. What do you recommend?

A. There are plenty of companies offering hikes on the Great Wall that don’t require tents, climbing gear, or heavy backpacks. The best time to go is between March and November, when temperatures are milder.

Several companies, such as Tour Beijing, offer multi-day trips to hike the sections of the wall that are near Beijing. A manageable itinerary is one that spends two to five hours on a different part of the wall, and a hotel each night. The most convenient option is if a company can deliver your luggage to the next hotel, so you only have to hike with what you need for one day.

Check out our Senior Travel section for more tips. Or for more on traveling to the Great Wall of China, don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Beijing.

Chinese buildingIf you want to take a longer trip, try a company such as Walking Softly Adventures. Its nine-day tour includes seven days of hiking on the Laolongtou, Dongjiakou, Simatai, and Jinshanling sections of the wall. Simple village hotel accommodations, English-speaking guides, and meals are included in the price.

Two levels of hiking are offered: moderate for hikers of average fitness, and a more difficult option for those who really want to challenge themselves. The best part is that the hikes begin right at the front door of your hotel (or just a short shuttle ride away), and you need only bring a day pack with you.

Most Great Wall tours don’t make a stop to visit the buried soldiers, known as the “Terracotta Army.” However, it is easy to book a separate, one-day tour once you get to China, either through your hotel concierge or the local tourism bureau. Make sure you go with a reputable company and that you only pay between $20 and $40. Beware of swindlers who congregate in places like the Forbidden City and offer you tour tickets for upwards of $100.

By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com.

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