Things I Learned On My Christmas Holiday
January 2003

by James Colburn

1) I intend to start a religion and its deity will be the person that thought up the frequent flyer airline mileage program. Services will be held in cities all over the world, mostly off-season.

2) Think of Brussels as Paris' third airport. You can get from the airport ( to downtown Paris in two hours for less than $60 per person round trip. You take the airport express to the Brussels South train station (20 minutes, $2.50 each way) and then the Thayls-TGV high speed train from Brussels to Paris (1hr, 20 minutes to go 200 miles, $55 round trip if you book ahead via the Belgian railroad web site

3) One hour is not enough time to make a connection through Manchester (England) airport at 8:00AM on a Sunday morning. You'll make it, but your bags will not.

4) If you charge your tickets on American Express OR charge the tax on you frequent flyer tickets on American Express you'll be able to avail yourself of their most excellent baggage delay insurance. It'll give you $500 per person to spend on clothing.

5) There's a superb restaurant on the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower called the Jules Verne. It's expensive but the food is great and the view is to die for. Go for lunch, you'll see more out the window and the price will be slightly less than dinner. A side benefit is that after lunch you can go to the top of the tower for an extra $3.50. Make reservations well in advance (tele:, fax:

6) There's a superb restaurant on the east side of Paris (the 20th arrondissement) near the Pere-Lechaise cemetery. It's called La Boulangerie and it's at 15, Rue des Panoyaux, a short walk from the Menilmontant metro station. It's inexpensive (you can get away with paying $50 for two people including wine but splurge on the pate to start with for $10 more) and the food is great. Get a bottle of their "Wine Of The Month" for $14. Not much of a "view" but it's a lovely place with a wonderful neighborhood feel and the folks that run it are as nice as can be.

7) A freshly baked baguette for breakfast is one of life's little miracles.

8) If you're in Paris and you need a news fix buy a copy of the local paper Le Parisien and look at the weather page at the back. It'll have a few weather maps at the top of the page and a little map at the bottom that show road closures, construction and all the demonstrations that are to be held in Paris that day. Want to see a trade union protest against nuclear power? Want to photograph a demonstration against Israeli occupation in the West Bank? Do you want to see a demonstration by hunters against restricting their rights to hunt STARRING HUNDREDS OF HUNTING DOGS FOWLING THE STREETS, BARKING LIKE MAD AND TRYING TO MATE INDISCRIMINATELY? It's all on the map... And it's fun.

9) And most important of all.... If you have a GSM compatible cell phone from an American cell phone provider they might offer you Europe-wide service for, say $1 per minute. That's $1 per minute for outgoing calls and $1 per minute for incoming calls. If you go to the pleasant young hackers at MKPhone near Place Gambetta (or any one of a number of places through-out Europe) they can plug your cell phone into a laptop computer and "unblock" it (or "deblocage" as the French say) so that you can buy and install a GSM cell phone pay-as-you-go chip from a French (or German or Italian, etc.) cell phone provider. It'll cost you $50 for the unblocking and the service chip. You'll have a French telephone number and $15.00 worth of talk time AND ALL YOUR INCOMING CALLS ARE FREE TO YOU. Give the number to your friends, family and business associates in the U.S. It'll still cost them the price of an overseas call.... But it won't cost you a cent.... Outgoing calls to the U.S. will be anywhere between 45 and 75 cents per minute. When you get back to the U.S. just re-install your American chip and you're back on the American cell phone network. The next time you go to Europe you'll probably have to buy some more European talk-time (at just about any cell phone store) but it's cheap and it's easy.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer

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