Travel Advice

Travel Advice

Over the many years of specialising in French and European Travel I have learned, seen and experienced many things. Here are a few extracts from my Travel Blog which I hope you will enjoy reading.

Car Leasing vs Car Rental?


When it comes to hiring a car for your holidays in France one of the things that concerns me is the way many travelers rush in to their decision for renting a car. As you will know you have the choice of paying a per day rental charge for a rental car, or you can pre-purchase a car under a leasing scheme, which involves you receiving a brand new car. The differences can be quite noticeable.

I have noticed that travel agents in general try wherever possible to book you lease car schemes, rather than booking a rental car. More often than not a lease car is sold to you by an agent when you book your airfares, but my advice is to leave the vehicle choices until the very last, when your whole itinerary is in place.

Firstly you need to realize that with a leased car you are not economically better off unless you lease the car for a period of over three weeks to a month. There are many differences between the two schemes:

  • A lease car has a stand-out white and red number plate, whereas with a rental car you have a local number plate.
  • A lease car has a French language toll free help line, whereas a rental car has an English language help line.
  • If a lease car breaks down then you can not be issued with another vehicle, but must remain with it until the repairs are completed – I have heard from clients who had to wait for two weeks for their vehicle to be repaired! If a rental car breaks down (near a town) you will generally be re-issued with another vehicle within an hour.
  • A Lease car scheme has pick-up and drop off points in only a select number of cities, whereas a rental car scheme allows pick-ups and drop-offs in almost any small towns and all cities.

My own advice is to leave your decision about vehicles until your whole itinerary is completed. Price is only one issue in choosing which scheme to use – sometimes paying a small premium for a rental car may be preferable. For anyone needing a car for long periods over a month in duration then the cost of a lease scheme vehicle becomes very attractive when compared to a rental vehicle.

Make sure that you ask your travel agent for both options whenever you book.


Train Tickets in France


For anyone requiring to purchase a train ticket for their holiday in France it is very easy to do this online.

The first step is to familiarize yourselves with the French Rail website at

You are always best to buy your tickets well in advance in order to get the best prices. I normally advise people to look online from 3 months before your trip and normally then you can make some very large savings on your purchases. As an example it is usually quite possible to at least get a First Class ticket for the price of a Second Class ticket. Sometimes you can buy 90 Euro tickets for only about 20 Euros, so if you are a couple of a family group then the savings can be significant.

After entering in your journey requirements you will be shown the journey times and prices for each ticket. There are several types of tickets available:

  • PREMS : These tickets are non-refundable, and after purchase you print the tickets out directly on your home printer. These tickets you receive are the actual tickets so don’t lose them, and when you arrive at the train platform you go directly to your seats with these tickets.
  • LOISIR : These tickets (and standard tickets) are refundable and modifiable in advance of your journey. Once you have paid for them online you will have seat numbers assigned, and you will be give a booking reference number. This reference number you must keep safe and on arrival at your departing train station, take this number, along with the credit card you purchased the tickets with, to a ticket office to have your actual tickets issued. Once you have been issued with your tickets and are ready to get on the train, take these tickets and you must have them punched in the machines on the platform – this validates your ticket (and is important).

First Class vs Second Class?

Both classes are very comfortable but I do find there is more space in 1st Class, and more room for your luggage. Also in 1st class there is a snack trolley which will pass along the carriage to serve you drinks and snacks (that you pay for). On main trunk line trains there is a dining carriage with a wide assortment of food and drinks. I find that on longer journeys I take 1st class seats, but on the shorter journey I tend to buy 2nd class seats, unless of course I can get a discounted price ticket through the website above!

Safe travels!


Packing your Bags!

I’m off to Europe for three weeks, what am I supposed to pack?

This is a question that is being asked everyday by people heading off on holiday. In fact at this time of the year I have many hundreds of travelers heading off to Europe, and they are all scratching their heads over what to pack.


One Suitcase, one hand luggage - you need to be able to move independently - unless you have your own porter!

So what do we know?

You can take one suitcase, and one item of hand luggage with you. Whatever you pack, you must be sure that you can move around with your two items of luggage – be able to carry/pull your cases out of airports and through train stations!

So now that your have your cases ready we can work out what we pack.

The first thing you need to remember is that you will probably buy new clothes or items while you are away – who wouldn’t? You are probably going to buy things on your travels, so don’t leave home with a full suitcase.

How much can you take? Check with your airline, but normally you’re looking at about 23kg for your suitcase and 7kg for your hand luggage. So when you start your trip you really need to have less than this! Sorry! My last trip away to France I left with 13kg in my suitcase! Plenty of room to expand!

Life is a lot easier to start with room in your suitcase.

So these are my secrets for you all:

You should choose fabrics that are easy care, and easy to travel with. I need to be able to wash a shirt at night and hang it up to dry, so that in the morning it will be ready or nearly ready to wear. Some cotton fabrics dry badly and some dry brilliantly – find this out before you go. Cotton T shirts for me are the worst of all, as they take for ever to dry, but having a good white T shirt is handy under a shirt or jacket. So choose carefully. I have some cotton socks that take days to dry, and if you move regularly on your travels this makes life difficult. You can always get your clothes laundered at a laundry or through your hotel, but expect to pay 30 Euros for a shirt – I can buy a new shirt for that!!!

Any clothes that you pack must be comfortable on a train or a plane, and I always like to choose something that looks good! When you pack make sure that everything can mix and match i.e. that any pants/ shorts can go with any shirt etc.

For me, I usually get away with two pairs of shoes!


These can be worn with shorts, jeans, and even dress up in the evening if they have to! And they can walk all day without a break!

Walking shoes.

That can be worn with jeans and shorts and walk all day, as if they we’re sneakers. I don’t do sneakers!! These shoes can even dress up.

Dress Shoe. That can be worn with your jeans and look sharp, but must be comfortable and “broken in”. These shoes you’d mainly wear in the evening.

There is a third option – a summer mule/ sandal/ jandal for the summer holiday, but they’re not the most practical for walking in cities.

Where you are going and the type of holiday must be well thought of before packing; is it a beach holiday, backpacking, churches, dinner parties, Paris, countryside. Whenever I go to Paris I would never wear shorts, because the locals (except the students) don’t, the men all wear long trousers/jeans. Also in Paris most people wear jackets – so I do too – they also often in Paris wear scarves summer and winter, but you don’t need to do that, but it is a sharp look, and the locals will think you are local too! But if I wore my Paris clothes when touring Provence, the locals would laugh at me and double the bill at the bar!

Now here is the fun part – PACKING!

My SUITCASE – what it contains:

  • Shirts (short sleeve) x 4 (including some dri-fit)
  • Shirts (long sleeve) x 2
  • T shirt
  • Trousers: 1 pair of jeans or longs
  • Shorts: 1 pair
  • Underwear x 3
  • Socks x 3
  • Wind/rain jacket
  • Shoes x 1 pair
  • Swimming togs
  • Umbrella (collapsible)
  • Coat hangers x 2 (for drying clothes on!)

You must assume that if your luggage went missing this will see you through 24 to 48 hours.
Change of clothes:

  • T shirt (white)
  • 1 pair undies,
  • 1 pair socks
  • Toiletries – regulation (including medication)
  • Jersey
  • Scarf
  • Laptop and other technical bits and pieces!
  • Paper work

On the plane I WEAR:

  • Trousers (jeans or longs)
  • Shirt
  • Undies, socks (goes without saying?)
  • Blazer/jacket (pockets galore for boarding passes, tickets, pens etc.)
  • Shoes (of course)
  • Security pouch

So sorry ladies I’m not too authoritative on what you have to wear, but either way just remember these things:

  • You are limited in what you can pack.
  • When you head off on holiday you need free space in your case.
  • Remember to mix and match!
  • You must be able to go from point A to point B carrying your own luggage!

Have a great holiday, and when you come home make sure your case is bursting full!!

Bon Voyage!


Paris – Visiting the Palais Garnier Opera

Ballet and Opera in Paris

One of the places that most people know of, but seldom visit in Paris is the Palais Garnier. People seem to be too busy rushing off to Galleries Lafayette or Printemps to shop, than to pause and see this gem of a building.

You will have especially seen the Phantom of the Opera in the musical drama of the same name as he appears on the grand staircase. So next time you go to Paris make a visit (small charge), and even better see if there are any seats available for a production during your stay.

I have some clients who were wanting to go to the Opera at the end of May, so I asked my darling daughter Sarah Reese, who is living in Paris, to go there to buy the tickets for this couple, as they were unable to buy them online.

So off Sarah went to buy opera tickets. As anyone knows queues are part of daily life, but for her she stood patiently in the line for 5 and a half hours. FIVE HOURS!! Were there any tickets left?? She managed to buy for my travelers two standing only tickets for 10 Euros each!! After all this she is confused and asked “Why didn’t I buy two more tickets for me and my French Beau?”.


Paris – Visiting the Sainte Chapelle

What am I going to do for my 50th birthday?

Hide, throw a big party, enrol for a membership at the gym? All of these??

After much deliberation I chose to take my family to Paris in July for my big birthday. I decided against the big party – sorry to my friends! I didn’t need the gym membership – dreamer!  I didn’t want to hide, and Paris sounded perfect!

For my celebration I invited a family with children of the same age as my children – so there were to be four adults and 6 children under 19 years old – all teenagers.

So the plan was in place, and I would take everyone to a concert in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, followed by a slap-up dinner afterwards. For me the Ste Chapelle offered me the ideal way of imposing two of my passions on the teenagers present – history and music!

Ste Chapelle was the Royal Chapel built by St Louis in the early 1200s. He wanted an impressive chapel befitting of the relics he returned from the Crusades with – a piece of wood from the cross that Jesus died on, and the crown of thorns. In the Middle Ages having relics of the Holy story was great for business, as everyone wanted to see them. It was the equivalent of 20th century tourism. The price paid for relics was extraordinary. To build the St Chapelle St Louis paid one third of the price of the relics to complete his masterpiece.

The Ste Chapelle is barely noticed by the tourist hordes of Paris, and hides amongst the austere surrounds of the Police Department only 400 metres from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Once within the chapel you are greeted by a magnificence difficult to describe. The walls of the chapel are all stained glass windows – walls of glass. As we arrived at our 7pm concert the sun had begun its late afternoon descent. The sunlight had turned the walls of the chapel in to what seemed like a waterfall of multi-coloured diamonds. There was an unequalled brilliance of light of every colour. Even for a teenager that affect made you stop breathing.

It was to this setting that Vivaldi’s Four Seasons struck up creating a precious sensory overload experience.

Before the sun had set for another day the concert was over, and we were back outside in the Police Department car park! I so wanted the young to be moved, and  had a feeling that Vivaldi wouldn’t  stand up against the likes of Britney Spears and Ronan Keating.

I hesitatingly enquired only to receive unanimous support that this was the best thing that they had ever seen.

It was then off to my birthday dinner sitting at a restaurant overlooking Notre Dame Cathedral – almost in heaven!

We are privileged to be able to experience such precious moments.

How to purchase tickets for concerts at Ste Chapelle:

Concerts are held every night during the summer at 7pm and 8.30pm. You can buy these in the week before the night you want to attend or if you turn up half an hour before you should be able to buy tickets at the door.  To pre-book tickets to ensure you get tickets I suggest you go to a FNAC store in Paris. Close by to the Ste Chapelle is a FNAC store on Blvd St Germain mid way between Blvd St Michel and the metro Odeon. Go to the shop and follow signs for “Billeterie” where you can buy your tickets – this is so much easier than standing in a long queue. Also you can purchase tickets to other museums like the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay, which will save you plenty of queuing! Enjoy the concert!!

Sainte Chapelle, Paris


Learning a Language - French

New Zealand is situated on the other side of the world, far from most of the world’s population so really only needs these two languages! We have enough problems hanging on to the bottom of the globe, without having to learn any more languages.

I have developed an interest over the years in learning languages and many years back decided to learn Japanese, and of course wanted to master the French language as well.


Over the years I have developed a formula for learning a foreign language should you be considering it. To reach an advanced level you only need 320 hours of tuition. So getting to an intermediate level seems like a huge mountain but once you’re there, you just have a small step left to become advanced at your chosen language.

Coming from Anglophone countries we can become very insular about learning other languages. Especially when one sees in Europe that most young people now speak two or three languages, not including Gobbledygook!

For learning French in Paris I warmly recommend contacting an Alliance Francaise branch.

The Louvre – Visiting

The Louvre would be one of the most recognisable brands in the world – there would be few people who would not know what the Louvre was, and where it is? There are nearly nine million people per year who visit, which is 30,000 people per day on average,  going there to look at some of the 30,000 exhibits. 

If you ask those nine million people visiting the Louvre what they went to see there, the answer would always be the same. “I’m off to see the Mona Lisa”. Bus tours take their groups to the museum, they walk for 15 minutes along the “Mona Lisa” highway, bypassing other extraordinary works of art, until they arrive at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. It is interesting because even though this painting was painted towards the end of the 15th century it has only become a popular art work since 1913 when an art critic wrote an article on it.

Musee du Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens

Once the tour party arrives at the room where the Mona Lisa is housed, you enter the room jam-packed with thousands of camera wielding tourists, you bump your way across the room until you can finally see something on the wall. There it goes! You can probably get about 20m away from this disappointingly small painting. You hold your camera out and put it on full zoom for your photo of someone’s head in front of you! Got it! Now you’ve got to get back to your bus tour, or the metro to take you to the Eiffel Tower!

That’s the Louvre, and an introduction to an illness I call “MLS – the Mona Lisa syndrome”.

I see examples of MLS throughout the travel world. I’ve met people recently who have travelled via Milan for flight connections, and I have said “Did you get to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper while there?”.  “No, I had no idea where that painting was?”.  I even heard of an art lecturer travelling with a group through Milan recently who advised his group “no you have no need to see “The Last Supper” while here”.  But this group would have all gone to see the Mona Lisa in Paris. Why is this? 

People suffering from MLS syndrome do only the expected things; Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Paris, London. It is rare to find people who will break the route and see some of the greatest roman art in Ravenna, the breath-taking artworks of Giotto at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, the architectural beauty of abbeys of Fontenay or Fontevraud in France, or the Cathedral of Chartres or even St Denis in Paris. Sorry it’s not on the list of things to do. But the sad thing is, these are treasures. To spend a moment in any of these places, is a special moment, a moment to savour the wonders of this world. 


A view of the entrance hall and the glass pyramid of hte Louvre above. Photo: Wai Chu Angus

I have visited all these places mentioned above in the last few years while escorting tour groups through Europe, and even if I have seen them before, without exception I have been moved by each visit. I remember each time, the intense emotion I felt when viewing “The Last Supper”, I remember saying that when I viewed the basilica in Ravenna that this was the closest to heaven I have ever been.

Over the last few weeks I have asked people to recommend to a first time visitor to the Louvre what they should see there? You know what they said don’t you? “But is there anything else you long to see in the Louvre if you were to go there tomorrow?”, I asked.

I feel now, that to help in a small way to cure the MLS syndrome, I have a serious job in front of me. Over the next weeks I will be writing a series of articles, each week covering one work of art in the Louvre that I long to see again. After you have read these I hope that you will have a new awareness of the Louvre and its highlights. If you have your own favourite please can you share it with me in the comments section below. If you don’t want to miss out on my articles on the Louvre please just click on the “Sign up for Newsletter” button on the top right of this article, and you will be advised each time a new article is published. I can’t wait for next week!



The museum is open every day except Tuesday and the following French holidays: December 25, January 1, and May 1.

 Opening hours

 – Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 – Wednesday, Friday: from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.

 – Closed on Tuesday


The Pyramid is the obvious entry point, but for easier entry try going to the Caroussel du Louvre at 99 rue du Rivoli, where there is an entrance. Metro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre.