Purchasing Airplane Tickets
- While there has been a proliferation of websites to help travelers compare rates, high oil prices, recent airline bankruptcies, and industry consolidation have all but eliminated the number of travel bargains.
- Likewise, the proliferation of ways to earn points makes it difficult to use frequent flier miles economically.
- As a general rule, off-season travel is cheaper than summer travel; and mid-week travel is cheaper than weekend travel.
- Stopovers can be cheaper too; but they increase the chance of missing a connection, and losing valuable time on the trip.
- Icelandair offers cheaper flights; but travelers must live with the inconvenience of a mid-night stopover in Reykjavik.
- A good rule of thumb is to start watching rates several months ahead of the trip.
- The webmaster’s preference is to travel in October or in March/April. In most cases the fields are still clear, enhancing visibility, and the weather is pretty good. However, American school schedules often do not allow for the flexibility.
- The webmaster is currently tracking flight prices from EWR to BRU in August 2014, and weekend rates are currently about $1,400.
Which Airport: CDG or BRU?
- CDG offers a broader number of flights; but it is bigger and more difficult to exit. BRU is smaller and easier to exit.
- CDG is about three hours West of the Meuse-Argonne; BRU is about four hours Northwest of the Meuse-Argonne.
Visiting by Train or by Car?
- Make no mistake: Travelers should rent a car to visit the sector’s battlefields. Even the Verdun battlefields and museums are situated several miles outside of town.
- In June 2007, the T.G.V. (fast train) started operations between Paris and Strasbourg; including a new station entitled Meuse T.G.V., situated between Verdun and Bar le Duc.
- It appears that the travel time from Paris Est to Meuse T.G.V. is only 59 minutes!
- Tickets and information can be obtained on the Rail Europe website, www.raileurope.com, under the TGV East heading.
- The Conseil Général de la Meuse provides bus service between the Bar le Duc, Verdun and Meuse T.G.V. stations.
Car Rental Tips
- Car rentals are very limited, if not non-existent, in Verdun. Therefore, the best choice is probably to rent from one of the large companies at the arrival airports.
- Be sure to understand the insurance coverage on a rental car: The webmaster usually rents from Hertz at CDG. In France, liability insurance is included in the rental price. However, collision and theft is not included; so one has to purchase collision and theft insurance. But here’s the catch: Hertz’ collision and theft insurance still comes with a €1,500 deductible—unless one purchases a “super damage” policy at the Hertz rental counter in that country.
- That translates into the following rates for a theoretical C-class (compact) car rented at CDG from 16 – 24 August with a AAA discount:
-Rental Alone €293.47 $407 or $51 per day -Rental with Collision and Theft €426.10 $590 or $74 per day -Super Damage Insurance another €120 $166 or another $21 per day
- Some credit cards do offer insurance coverage, but travelers should read their policies carefully: Often, one has to charge the transaction using the credit card. Also, one of the webmaster’s cards would not provide coverage on unpaved roads. As the webmaster has a “habit” of driving on these from time to time, it would be unwise to rely on the insurance coverage provided by that card.
Automatic Transmission: Probably Not. Diesel: Probably
- Travelers should not expect the car to have an automatic transmission, unless they specifically request one. Generally, they are available only on the (more expensive) luxury cars.
- Approximately half of Europe’s cars are powered by diesel engines; which are significantly more fuel efficient. Diesel technology has come a long way in recent years.
Space is a Premium in Europe:
- Roads are generally MUCH NARROWER in Europe than in the U.S.; with MUCH LESS room for taking evasive action. As a result, driving is a much more “active” activity.
- This also means that cars are generally smaller than in the U.S.—especially in terms of trunk space.
- On a recent trip the Webmaster’s family of three fit into their Skoda Yeti (5-person small SUV). However, the addition of a fourth passenger and his luggage mid-way made for a very cramped car from CDG to Verdun and back.
- Some guides suggest getting an international driver’s license from the local AAA office before traveling. The webmaster has never had a problem using only his American driver’s license.
Traffic Signs and Laws:
- AAA and the various rental car companies should be good starting points for information on international rules of the road.
- The following website can also be useful: www.americansinfrance.net/Driving
- Europe drives on the right side of the road, the same as in the U.S.
- Right of way, except at roundabouts! There, drivers must yield to cars already in the roundabout. They are usually marked with the sign “cédez le passage.”
- Unless otherwise marked, speed limits are 130kmh (about 90mph) on the Autoroutes, 90kmh (about 55mph) on other roads and 50kmh (about 30mph) in villages.
- On the Autoroutes stay out of the left lane unless passing! American drivers are notoriously terrible at maintaining right-lane discipline—i.e. keeping right except to pass another vehicle. European drivers are generally just the opposite; and right-lane discipline is enforced by the police.
Directions and Navigation:
- While Americans navigate with directions and route numbers, the French navigate via towns. Thus, it is essential to know the towns that are on the way to the destination. It is highly unlikely that drivers will see signs for the end destination until they are relatively close.
- The Michelin 1:200,000 scale maps are ideal for navigating from town to town.
- When exploring the battlefields, the IGN 1:25,000 scale maps are essential.
Common Sense Tip: Have a Co-Pilot, if Possible
- Driving in unfamiliar territory, with different road signs and laws, can be quite a challenge.
- One can find the locations of gas stations and compare the cost of gas on the following website: www.zagaz.com. The Meuse is Department (i.e. State) #55.
- Be ready for sticker shock: At the time of this writing the price of a gallon of diesel in Verdun was approximately $7 per gallon. (€1.34 per liter x 3.78 liters per gallon x an exchange rate of $1.38.)
- Tip: The gas sold by retailers such as Carrefour and Cora is generally cheaper than that sold at gas stations.
The Police, Cash and Credit Cards:
- When the police stop a driver for speeding, they can insist on immediate cash payment or send the driver to jail.
- This happened to a friend of a friend. However, she was able to pay her fine via credit card; which the policeman simply scanned in his car.
Lock the Car. Watch out for Theft—Especially in the Tourist Areas:
- There have been numerous warnings about locals spotting and robbing cars not registered in the local Department.
- It is always a good idea to keep valuables in the trunk and out of site.