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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Backpacking France & Spain - Tips

Planning - 

The planning remains almost the same for any country. Try to book your flight at least two months in advance. The tourist visa that I applied for from French embassy took me just one day after I submitted all the documents listed in the website. The visa process had been the easiest. VFS global takes care of all the process and there was one visit to submit documents and scan my finger prints. For tourist visa, one does not have to go to the consulate in person. In a day, my passport was returned with a visa stamp for 3 months instead of the my travel plan of 22 days. A medical insurance would be necessary, I would recommend you to buy online from an approved insurance agency for the amount specified in the website. You have to apply for the visa at the embassy of the country where you shall spend the most of your time but that does not mean that you have to stick to the itinerary you produce during the visa process. Please make sure you go through the list of Schengen countries for which the visa is applicable. 

First thing to do when you land - 

As always, I withdraw local currency from an ATM at the airport and a buy a SIM card. I used SFR in France but their Data would not work properly and I did not find much help when I visited the customer service. My friend had initially suggested « Free » but I could not find that SIM in Lyon Airport. Not sure if it has good service. 

In Spain, you have options like Orange. A typical SIM will cost you 10 Euros and extra 5 Euros for data. You can buy them at any grocery store. 

Accommodation - 

I stayed mostly in hostels and booked them through Hostelworld. Many small towns may not have hostels but Hostelworld generally suggests a less expensive hotel in that area. But, if you would like to stay with locals and share a room in their house, AirBnb is very popular in Europe these days. However, I did not find the hostel scene very active in France perhaps it was because of the off season. My AirBnB account did not accept Indian credit card so I could not use it.

Transport - 

Eroupe is well connected by road and rail. There are TGV in France between big cities. and RER trains which are regional. Trains are generally costlier but you can find cheap tickets few hours before the scheduled departure if the train is not sold out. If you are not on a tight schedule you can always get a less expensive ticket the previous day or few hours before the departure time. If time is a constraint, TGV is the best option. But otherwise, I would recommend Buses - Ouibus or Flexibus. They are cheap and fun. The buses also cross borders and thus are best suitable even for cross country journeys. 

You could also try BlaBla car and it will work out really cheap. You will also get to meet cool natives.

In almost every city, there are well established public transports like metro, tram or buses. In small towns, walking could be the best way to get around. Many buses, trams and metros have daily pass. They also have passes that are valid for certain travels. So, depending on how long you are staying, you can pick the card. There are kiosks almost everywhere and almost all have English versions. 

Food - 

Vegan and Vegetarian food is gaining a lot of importance in Europe. In France, every restaurant had at least one veg option and they are really good. But there are also restaurants dedicated to serve the vegans and vegetarians so, its always easy to find something on google. You can refer to my posts to see some recommendations for restaurants. For meat lovers, there are lots and lots of option. Do not miss to visit a Bouchon in Lyon - the gastronomical capital of France. France is a heaven for food lovers and I don’t think I can summarise everything about it in this section. My posts have more details. In Spain, taste the paellas for sure and I have heard that sea food is popular. 

In France, please check if you need to reserve before visiting the restaurant. There are some restaurants that are very particular about reservation. 

Communication - 

Most hostels have free wifi and I have already detailed about the SIM card above.  There is free wifi in some railway stations and bus stations in France. 

Culture - 

Though being neighbours, there is a drastic difference in culture between France and Spain; just like two states in India. France seems much more sophisticated. I know that sounds very cliché, but its true. Everything is so well arranged here. People have a certain demeanour that emanates a lot of elegance. But the café and bars are much more tourist friendly and do not mandate a certain dress code or mannerism. However, I have observed that people are soft spoken here. Spain on the other hand is much more lively. I have only been to Barcelona and Madrid and both seemed like a chilled out place to be. People are very loud even in the restaurants and the atmosphere is very lively. There is not a lot mannerism and rules like what is followed by their neighbours. 

Places to See - 

Please refer to my List of places in detail. If you are visiting museums, look out for free days. 

Posts on  France 

Posts on  Spain 

What to buy - 

France - Wine, Cider, Cheese, Pâte à tartiner, Baba, Chocolates, Baked items, Calissons, Caramel bites, Macarons, perfume, clothings… this list can go on. 

Spain - Turrón, Olives and Oranges are some apart from things already mentioned above. I have not explored Spain enough so, my knowledge is limited. 



My Route -

Lyon->Valence->Avignon->Nîmes->Aix-En-Provence->Marseille->Montpellier->Carcassonne->Narbonne->Barcelona->Vendrell->Tarragona->Madrid.


My Expenses - 

I spent Rs 1,80,000 for 21 Days including flight ticket and visa charges (65K). This can be considerably reduced if you choose to cook at the hostel rather than eating outside. I just could not do that with so many good food to taste. Also, AirBNB and BlaBla car can save some money for you. With all that, I think you can manage 21 days with Rs 1.25 Lakhs.



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