Thursday, April 24, 2014

The joys of traveling: The airport - Charles de Gaulle


Like every expatriate living abroad, there comes a time when you must face the consulate (and your visa status!). In my case, I must head back to the Golden State and pay a visit to my friends at the French Consulate in San Francisco. The next few posts will not be from Île Saint-Louis, but from across the bridge and beyond (Northern and Southern California, Canada and the East Coast!). I return to my Parisian island at the end of May! 

Over the years, traveling back and forth from California and Paris through Charles de Gaulle, I have come up with a few airport tips that may aid in your travels.

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The first rule of thumb:  Be at the airport 2 hours before your international flight! When I was younger I always "just made my flight"! It was fun and exciting to make my flight by the skin of my teeth. Now, the idea of "just making my flight" gives me minor heart palpitations and stresses me out. So, I make it a point to always be at the airport checking-in 2 hours ahead of time. 

Transportation to and from Charles de Gaulle:  

I typically take a taxi to and from the airport when traveling back to the US (longer period of time = a bigger suitcase for me!). Taking a taxi is certainly the most stress-free way to travel to the airport with large baggage (but its not the cheapest option). I like to use a taxi service called Taxi G7. The taxi company offers great service and drivers are ALWAYS on time (in my experience they have always arrived precisely at the time they say they will). When you call for a G7 taxi, they usually arrive 5-15 minutes after the call, so be ready! The cars they use are comfortable and the drivers are always friendly (and speak English and French). The taxi drivers also accept credit cards in case you are strapped for cash. Prices usually hoover around the 60 euros mark. A taxi from the center of Paris to Charles de Gaulle takes approximately 45 minutes. Of course when there is traffic the time increases.    

A comfortable ride to the airport, yahoo! 
Taxis G7:  Internet available for use at 15 cents/Min
You can also flag a taxi in the street (which can cost you between 45-60 euros).

Attention: When arriving to the airport in Paris, (after you pick up your baggage) you will have several people asking if you need a taxi. Although they may seem nice and legit, do not accept (haven’t you seen Taken people! No, it’s not that dangerous but these taxi drivers are not officially licensed and may try and rip you off or charge you more). When in the Paris airport, wait in the official taxi line. Sometimes the line for a taxi can be long, but you are getting into an official licensed taxi. 

The car service UBER is also used in Paris. If you are used to using this service, it is also a great way to get to the airport.   

PUBIC TRANSPORTATION: 

Public transportation in Paris is extremely efficient and a very useful way to get to the airport (it’s also the cheapest mode of getting there). With a bit of planning ahead, you can get to the airport by using (RER) or the bus.

The RER Line B (suburban train) departs every 15 minutes from terminals 1 & 2 and arrives in central Paris within between 25-35 minutes (depending on your stop). The trains run from 5 a.m.-12:15 a.m. A ticket costs € 9.50 (Navigo's accepted).

From Terminal 1, take a line 2 Aeroport de Paris shuttle bus (free) departing from gate 22. Get off at Roissypole-Terminal 3 and follow the signs to the RER.
From Terminals 2A and 2B, take a line 3 Aeroport de Paris shuttle bus (departure gates 8 at 2A and gate 6 at 2B) and get off at the "TGV/RER" stop.
From Terminals 2C, 2D, 2E and 2F, follow the signs marked "Paris par train" until you reach the RER ticketing area. 
From Terminal 3, take the footpath (about 1/4 mile) and follow the "Paris par train" signs.
The RER B stops at the following stations within Paris:
  • Gare du Nord
  • Chatelet-les-Halles 
  • Saint-Michel/Notre Dame
  • Luxembourg
  • Port-Royal
  • Denfert-Rochereau
Roissybus is an express bus service that departs every 15 minutes between 6:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., from Charles de Gaulle airport terminals 1, 2, and 3. Roissybus arrives an hour later near metro station Opera in the 9th arrondissement. A one-way ticket costs 10.00 Euros. Follow the signs to "Roissybus" and purchase a ticket from an RATP vendor near the gate before boarding. The bus is equipped with space for your luggage.

Roissypole bus lines 350 and 351 leave from Charles de Gaulle terminals 1 and 2. Bus #350 goes to Gare de l'Est in northeastern Paris. Line 351 goes to the Nation metro station in the southeast. From terminals 1 or 2, follow the signs to ground transport. From terminal 3, take a free airport shuttle to terminals 1 or 2.
SHUTTLES:

Air France operates two shuttles ("Cars Air France") that leave from Charles de Gaulle terminal 2 every 15 minutes and serve 5 stops in Paris. Follow the signs to "Cars Air France" at terminal 2, or take a free shuttle to terminal 2.

The first shuttle runs from 5:45 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and stops at Etoile (on the Champs-Elysées, 1 Avenue Carnot) and Porte Maillot (Blvd. Gouvion St. Cyr), both in Western Paris. The trip takes 35 minutes. 
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TAX-REFUND:

If you managed to snatch up some good buys in Paris and spent over €175 within one store on the same day, don't forget to ask the shop for a détaxe form (not all shops honor this but you can ask before you make your purchase). Non-EU residents are eligible to receive a refund of the Value Added Tax (VAT, or détaxe TVA in French) on goods purchased in France (this is 20% in France). When you request this form at the shop, the person helping you will ask if you want your tax-refund on your credit card or cash at the airport. I always go with the tax-refund credit card option as is the quickest (and the currency exchange rate is usually better). When you bring your détaxe form with you to the airport, make sure it’s filled out BEFORE you get to the airport to save you time. You can only get your tax-refund by making sure you have the form stamped at the airport customs desk before leaving Paris (or anywhere in the EU). The customs agent may ask to see the items you have purchased so be sure to have them accessible. You will also have to have your plane ticket in hand to show the customs agent. After you receive your stamped détaxe form you can either get your cash refund back on the spot (but you must then wait in another line to receive this). If you choose to get your tax-refund back on your card, you simply take your form to the special détaxe mail box (right next to where you just got your form stamped by customs). The form is already in a self-addressed envelope and you do not need a stamp (the store typically gives you both the form and the envelop). You should receive your tax-refund on your credit card within three months. I would give yourself an extra hour at the airport for this (trust me, if you are going to take the time to do this, make sure you have enough of it).

This is a very "tame" and unusual day at the Tax-refund 
Estimated wait times to get your form stamped by the customs agent
If you didn't have the opportunity to get a little souvenir for that favorite co-worker or for friends and family back home, don’t fret! There are many shops which sell Parisian goodies in each terminal. Even before you go through security and into your gate there is a kiosk of the famous Ladurée, the luxury French bakery created in 1862 known for their exquisite macarons. I usually pick up a box before getting on the plane (and usually half of the macarons survive by the time I get to California ;)
We have our food trucks in California and the Parisians have their mint and gold encrusted carriages
Unmistakable packaging (and prices...but each bite is totally worth it) 
An army of colorful and delicious bite sized delights!
Now that you have made it to the airport in one piece and on time, turned in your tax-rebate on the pair killer Parisian kicks you are wearing and picked up some French souvenirs with ease, its time to sit back, relax and catch up on all the movies you missed while you were away. It's nothing but smooth sailing from this point on...

Bon Voyage! 



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