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From Joseph: (see the last paragraph in bold)
As you know, I visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Taj Mahal in India this past May. Both places were absolutely awsome.
First of all, here are the basic essentials: As a U.S. citizen, all you'll need to visit Paris is a valid U.S. passport. However, to visit India, you'll have to obtain a tourist visa. It's not too difficult ( at least I didn't think so).
Just go to www.travisaindia.com , click on "get a visa" and fill out the application on line. After you complete it, print it out and sign it. You'll also need two passport size photos as well as your actual passport.
You can either mail everything with a check or money order for 73 U.S. dollars to the Indian embassy nearest you, or if you want it fast, you have two choices: Use a visa service. A good visa service can have your visa ready in 24 hours. I know of a service called Visa Express in Houston, Texas. Their toll free U.S. telephone number is 1-800-884-7579, or you can visit them at www.visaexpress.net . The second option if you want to get an Indian visa fast, is to actually visit the visa office in person. This is the option I chose. Since there's an Indian visa office in New York City, and since I don't live too far away, I chose to go in person.
The office is located at 316 East 53rd Street, Second Floor, it's between First and Second Avenues. The telephone number in the U.S. is 1-212-754-9900. If your application is received by 10:30am, it will be ready for pick-up at 5:30pm., although this is not guarenteed. By the way, there's a parking garage directly across the street that is very reasonable.
Once all the formalities were taken care of, it was time for me to shop for flights. I decided to visit India first and then fly from India to Paris. I would definately recommend using the internet travel sites to shop around for your airlines and hotels. You can find great deals. But remember to check each site for airfare and then check each site again for hotels. One site might give the best deal on airfare, while another might give the best deal on hotels. My flight from New York JFK Airport to Delhi, India was only 440 U.S. dollars, from Delhi India to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport it was only 326 U.S. dollars, and from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport back to New York, it was only 330 U.S. dollars.
One word of caution: The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, but there are no direct flights into this city. The closest airport is in Delhi, which is roughly 120 miles north of the Taj Mahal. You have two choices if you want to reach the Taj Mahal after landing in Delhi. You can reserve a car or take a train. Be warned than most flights from the U.S. land in India in the evening and trains from Delhi to Agra don't run in the evening. Also, even if you land earlier, public transportation in India can be unreliable. The Taj Express which goes from Delhi to Agra, doesn't leave directly from the airport. This means when you land in Delhi, you'll have to take a cab from the airport to the train station, and you might have to wait a while until a cab is ready, then you'll have to pray the train shows up and then when you reach Agra, you'll have to wait for another cab to take you to your hotel. This is why I chose to take a private car. It was more expensive, but it was definately worth it, and I would definately do it again. The driver met me right in the airport and drove me staight to the door of my hotel. The name of the car service was Batura Holidays in Delhi. They're on the internet.
The hotel I chose was called The Trident. I was going to stay in the Oberoi since it was just steps away from the Taj Mahal, but it was just too expensive for me. The Trident was about a half mile away, but there was shuttle service to the Taj Mahal. Let me tell you Winston, this hotel was definately a big winner. It's a low-rise, u-shaped hotel with a lush garden, rock waterfalls and crystle blue swimming pool in the middle. It's gated and set far back from the road. The rooms are modern, spotless and tastefully decorated. The waterfalls and the swimming pool were lit up at night and looked so beautiful. I sat outside on the patio beside the garden, had some drinks and listed to a native who was playing beautiful music with a spoon and dishes ( believe it or not).
India is very hot from April to October. So if you plan on going during those months prepare yourself. Bring plenty of sun screen. It's a long walk from the ticket window to the Taj Mahal. Fortunately, the area by the ticket window and the security checkpoint is shaded. Also, I went in the afternoon around 2:30, so there was no line. They don't allow motorized vehicles within 500 feet of the entrance, so you can either walk or take a rickshaw up to the ticket window. Prepare youself to be hounded by natives trying to sell you things. I tried to resist, but I weakened and bought a t-shirt. What can I say, I'm a softie.
I stayed four days and I wish I could have stayed longer. My flight was departing Delhi at 11:55am so I had to leave Agra at 6:00am sharp. I awoke at 3:00am to get ready. This isn't as bad as it sounds. I went to bed early the night before, and I took some Tylenol PM so I got a pretty good rest. Anyway, As I waited in the hotel lobby, I looked outside and saw some headlights moving closer. It was my ride to the airport. He was right on time. As we rode to the airport, I watched the sun rise and got to see India come alive.
I was so pleased with the driver, I gave him a tip ( about 500 Indian Rupees). That's about 10 U.S. Dollars. I checked in and got my boarding pass, filled out a departure slip, exchanged some U.S. currency for some Euros, and then went through customs. I should tell you It was better for me to exchange U.S. Dollars for Euros rather than Indian Rupees. As I walked through security, I remember feeling sad about leaving, but I just continued onward to the gate and waited to board the plane. By the way, I love flying on Air India. I flew with them from New York to Delhi and then from Delhi to Paris. The stewardesses are so beautiful. The flight from Delhi to Paris was about six hours. I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at about 5:30pm. Orly Airport was closer to my hotel, but landing there was three times more expensive than landing at Charles de Gaulle.
I exited the plane, went through customs and then walked to meet my ride. This was another airport shuttle service that I booked online. Unfortunately this shuttle service wasn't as reliable. I went exactly where the driver told me to go and waited for almost two hours, but there was no sign of him. I went to a nearby airport information desk where they were kind enough to call. She got the driver on the telephone, told him I had a reservation, told him my name and told him where I was. She told me to walk back to the spot where I was waiting ( exit , and she said the driver was on his way. I waited about another 30 minutes! A van pulls up and a driver gets out, and I'm wondering if this is my ride so I ask, and sure enough it was. How do you like that? Suppose I hadn't have walked outside and asked if he was my driver. In India, the driver met me inside the airport and had a sign with my name and the name of his car service. Oh, well. At least I waited calmly in the same spot and didn't run around all over the airport like a crazy person.
Anyway, I arrived at my hotel safely and comfortably. I stayed at the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel Hotel which is a four star hotel just steps away from the Eiffel Tower. I would definately recommend this hotel. I had a view of the tower from my hotel room. Like the Trident Hotel in India, the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel Hotel has a currency exchange at the front desk which I found ultra convenient. Be warned that most hotels charge a fee for this service that can be quite steep. I'm generally willing to pay for conveniences like this. Being a foreigner and venturing too far away from the safety and security of your hotel, can be even more costly.
Since I arrived at my hotel so late, I decided to call it a night and start out fresh the next morning. I awoke around 7:00am, showered, dressed and went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. When I finished, I walked to the Eiffel Tower and stood in line to purchase my ticket. I timed it just right. It was exactly 9:15am and the ticket windows opened at 9:30am so I didn't have to wait long. Also, there was hardly any line so I just walked right up to the ticket window as soon as it opened. I bought my ticket and went up. The view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower is awesome. You could see all of Paris: the River Seine, Notre Dame, the famous Arc, my hotel, etc. While I was up there, I met a friendly couple from Canada. I stayed up in the Eiffel Tower for most of the day believe it or not. I was just so struck by the fantastic view that I didn't want to come down. That night I remember going for a walk--- just casually strolling through the streets of Paris. I was struck with the architecture. It was just so quaint. Unlike New York, Paris is not full of huge overbearing skyscrapers or crumbling deteriorating buildings, there are no traffic jams, no litter in the streets, people are laid back and friendly, they smile at you and say hello, and the streets are safe at night. By the way, You're absolutely right Winston. You mentioned in one of your previous e-mails that people in the U.S. are cold, stuck-up and paranoid and there is a lot of disconnectedness and isolation, while in other parts of the world people are more relaxed, laid back and friendly. I always knew you were right about that, but there's nothing like actually seeing it and experiencing it for yourself to get a true sense of what you really mean. It gave your words of wisdom a certain depth that they would have lacked had I not gone abroad. I knew you were right, and I knew what you meant, but now I REALLY know you're right and I REALLY know what you mean.
The next day I awoke around the same time and I went through the same early morning routine. But instead of going to the Eiffel Tower, I spent the entire day at the Louvre Museum. Let me tell you Winston, this is SOME museum. I was never that crazy about museums before, but the Louvre is a "must see" for anyone visiting Paris. You'll really miss something spectacular if you skip the Louvre Museum. Infact, not only did I spent the entire day here, I even went back the next day and spent about six more hours viewing all the famous works of art. The Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, ancient Egyptian artwork and sculptures, ancient Greek and Roman artwork and sculptures, Dutch paintings, Flemish paintings, German paintings, etc.
Another interesting thing about Paris is that it stays light out until 10:00pm - 10:30pm or so. Anyway, I spent another evening just walking around the "city of lights". I sat at the base of the Eiffel Tower and just took in all the wonderful sites and sounds of Paris. By the way, I mentioned earlier that the local people in India try to sell you things as you're walking towards the Taj Mahal. Well guess what,the same thing happens at the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The funny thing is, the people in Paris who try to sell you things at the base of the Eiffel Tower are also Indians ( ha ha ha ). I got into a conversation with one of them. He was a really nice guy. I mentioned that I had recently went to India to visit the Taj Mahal. Can you guess what happened after that Winston. O.K. I'll tell you: I weakened and I bought a souvenir from him. As I said earlier Winston, I'm a softie.
For some odd reason the water in Paris made me a little sick, but the water in India didn't. This isn't what one would expect is it? The water not withstanding, my trip to Paris was supurb. I'm glad I wrote to you about it Winston. As I was writing to you about my trip, I felt like I was reliving it again. It's as if I had just gone on the same wonderful trip all over again. And by the way, on my last day in Paris I booked another airport shuttle service with my hotel. The driver arrived in my hotel lobby promptly at 10:00am and drove me right to my airline terminal for my 2:00pm flight back to New York. This airport shuttle service was 100% better than the one I used when I arrived in Paris.
So long for now Winston. I hope you enjoyed reading my trip report. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Take care.
Yes, you can post this trip report in the forum.
Also, just a word of caution when visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris: There's a scam run exclusively by women. It works like this: a woman approaches you and asks if you speak English. If you say yes, she hands you a note. The note is basically a sob story about how her husband ran off, and that she has a baby and no money. She then asks you if you can spare any change.
Being the softie that I am, I gave her a bunch of my spare change, and thankfully she went a way and didn't bother me anymore. But no sooner did she leave than another woman came over to me with the same sob story. Needless to say, I just dismissed her with a wave of my hand and told her to be on her way. i may be a softie, but I'm not a sucker.
Also Winston, you're absolutely right about foreign women vs American "women". Foreign women are far more cultured, intelligent, sociable and sophisticated than American women. I can honestly say that once you meet a foreign woman, you will never go back to an American woman again. You've mentioned this in your forum, but this trip abroad confirmed everything you said. You're absolutely right. Keep up the good work.
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