Key Cities of Interest: Paris
From inside Europe the most common form of transportation to France is airplane or train. While many airlines fly to France, not many discount airlines have headquarters in France. However, a few discount airlines such as the UK’s EasyJet, have set up operations in France and fly from there to some European destinations.
The train system in France is excellent. France is a leader in the highspeed train industry, with several highspeed lines such as TGV, Eurostar and Thalys criss-crossing the country. One thing to note is that many of the national train systems end at one of the six train stations in Paris. What does this mean? If you want to go from North France to South France, or East France to West France, often you must go through Paris, get out at one of the train stations on one side of the city, take a metro to the station other side of the city and catch the train to continue your journey.
- Capital City: Paris
- Languages: French is the native language. In touristic areas English may be spoken. However, at this time, language knowledge is not high with the French population. If you do not speak French, you may find it difficult to communicate with the locals.
- Size: France is a relatively large country. At 551,000km2 it is the 48thth largest country in the world. For comparison France is larger than Spain and Germany but smaller than the state of Texas.
- Population: With nearly 62 million people, France is one of the most populated countries in Europe. It has more citizens than the UK, but less than Germany.
- Money: The official currency of France is the Euro. Other currencies such as the US Dollar are not generally accepted, however exchange booths and ATMs are widely available.
- Visas: US citizens do not require visas only a valid passport. Schengen visas, accepted by many European countries are valid here. For information about visas to France, see this list of French Embassies and Consulates.
- Religion: The majority of the population (65-85%) is Roman Catholic. The second most popular religion in France, representing 5-10% of the population is Muslim. This is due to immigration from former French colonies in North Africa. Jewish and Protestants make up less than 5% of the population combined.
When is the best time to travel to France?
As can be seen from the chart below, you have a 1 in 3 chance of precipitation in Paris all year round. So, when you go to Paris, prepare for rain or snow and you wont be disappointed. However, between November to March, the temperatures can get very cold. You will find the summer months of June through August, sunnier, a little dryer and considerably warmer and more comfortable.
Brief history of France:
In the first century BC, Romans conquered the Celtic inhabitants of what was then known as Gaul. The Romans imposed the Latin language on the locals and this gradually evolved into the French language. From the 5-10th century, the region was dominated by the Franks, a Germanic tribe, which controlled much of the central European continent. In 843 the Frankish Empire divided into Western and Eastern Frankish Kingdoms. These kingdoms eventually evolved into the countries known today as France and Germany. The name France is directly derived from Frankia or Francia.
On 21 Sept 1792 the monarchy fell and France became a republic, ruled by legislature. However, France went back and forth between being a republic and being run by a king, dictator or emperor. These periods are often spoken of as the five republics which reigned during the periods of: 1792-1804, 1848-1852, 1870-1940, 1946-1958, 1958-Present. The end of the first republic marked the rise of Napoleon I, the little general who conquered most of Europe. His nephew, Napoleon III ruled as president of the second republic and then brought it to an end by proclaiming himself Emperor of France. From 1852 to 1870 Napoleon III ruled as the last monarch of France.
France and Britain have long had a rivalry that goes back to medieval times. There were wars between the countries throughout much of history, both in Europe and in colonies abroad. The rivalry between Britain and France still continues to this day. Some of this rivalry has resulted in friendly competition. A recent example of this was the channel tunnel which completed in 1994, finished in a race to see which country could get to the center first. Britain won. The channel tunnel now connects the British Island to the mainland of Europe by train. A train ride from Paris to London takes just three hours.
From the late 17th century until the early 19th century, France dominated much of Europe. Due to this, French language, art and culture strongly influenced international affairs. French was spoken by everyone in Europe who considered themselves educated, especially with regards to the arts and diplomacy. Most European nobility could speak and write in French.
During this period Montmartre, a little hill in Paris, became the center of the artistic world. Possibly due to the stunning view of Paris, or the fact that, as it was then just outside of the city limits and was free of Paris taxes, or the fact that it was a poor and low-rent district, struggling artists from around the world gathered in Montmartre and established their studios. Through the years, thousands of artists such as Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso had studios in Montmartre. As French military domination of Europe ended, Montmartre ensured that France would continue to dominate the artistic world for decades to come.Read More
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and is geographically considered part of the mid-East. In 1974 Cyprus was invaded by Turkey and is today a divided island, with a Turkish army in the North, several UK military bases in the south and a UN peace-keeping force at the boarder of north and south. The line goes through the capital city of Nicosia (also known as Lefkosia). The southern, Greek Part of Cyprus has been part of the European Union since 2004. It might seem that this division would give the island a strange tension, and it does when you see the fences and warnings. But this is quickly forgotten. Cyprus is a peaceful and fun place.
This discussion will focus on Greek Cyprus. As a former colony of the UK, Greek Cyprus has very strong british ties. You see the british influence everywhere, in the food, the driving (traffic is on the left) the electrical connections (bring a UK adapter with you for your devices). For the tourists, the advantage is that English is widely spoken.
Cyprus does not have a well developed public transportation system. While there are some bus lines running to a few locations, there is no national bus system. Bus information is poor and buses run infrequently. This generally means you will have three choices, stay in a centrally located hotel, keep within the confines of your hotel or rent a car.
To see the website of the company we rented a car from Click Here. Oasis offered good rates and friendly service though the car was quite old. They left the car for us at the airport and asked us to stop in Limmasol on the way to Paphos to fill out the paper work. This gave us a chance to see Limmasol and we decided that it was not a holiday location for us.
Cyprus is probably not for everyone, but it does have alot to offer. For example, there is a great range of scenary and climate on this little island. On the beaches it can be a sweltering 40 degrees, while just two hours away, in the Troodos mountains, it can be cool and refreshing. But Cyprus has been, in places, over developed and due to this it has lost much of its natural beauty.
The cities of Paphos, Larnaca, Limmasol, Nicosia and Agia Napa, in general, are not as attractive as the Greek villages of Mykonos, Hydra or Fira. Also, the main beaches for swimming are in the north east of the island. The shores of Limmasol and Paphos did not look inviting to us. But there is a relaxed holiday atmosphere in Cyprus that will spoil all but the travel purists.
There are some wonderful beach resorts that offer the travelers everything that they will want from a summer holiday in the sun. A few that we can recommend are written below (The contents of this website are copyrighted by TravelsWise.com, the
The Elysium hotel in Paphos is five star hotel that charges five star hotel prices. It is expensive, but you get what you pay for. The hotel is very well tended, with a very beautiful swimming area. The service is very good and the rooms are well designed. We took a small suite with a small private swimming pool, but would not recommend this option as the pool was not as private as we would have liked. The hotel is located outside of the main city area, so a car or taxi will be necessary if you will want to visit the city of Paphos or the nearby sites which include, the Paphos Harbor, the temple of Aphrodite and the Tomb of the Kings.
The Napa Plaza Hotel in Agia Napa is one of the best hotels we have seen for Price/Quality. This hotel is located directly in the center of Agia Napa, next to the square. It is large, luxurious and beautiful. The pool area is pretty, though perhaps a bit crowded during peak hours. The breakfasts are generous and at the time of our visit, the dinners were amazing. Prefering to test the local fare, we generally eat in restaurants rather than our hotel. But Napa Plaza offered irresistable dinner bufferts at exceptional prices. The best part is, due to its location, a rental car is not necessary. You can easily walk all over Agia Napa and to the beach. Agia Napa is a fun town, with lots of restaurants, activities and outdoor events. Also, there is bus service from the city of Agia Napa to Laranaca Airport. At the time of this writing, the Napa Plaza is still classified as a three star hotel, though it is equal in quality and luxury to some five star hotels we have visited. As a result, the Napa Plaza is possibly the best bargain in Cyprus.
Do you want to have four star luxury but pay two star prices? The small Nissi Park Hotel is a sister hotel of the much larger Nissi Beach Hotel. The latter has a beautiful swimming pool, beach access, fitness center etc. Guests of the Nissi Park are invited to enjoy all these facilities. The hotel rooms and the pool of the Nissi Park, are nothing special. In fact, they are very basic. But the Nissi Park does have a pretty patio bar which is covered with vines and flowers that is beautiful in the evenings. And the day at the Nissi Beach or its swimming pool are very nice. Other than a few restaurants and shops, there is not much around these two hotels, so a rental car is advisable if you want to go into town or enjoy the nightlife. This would be a good choice for a young couple on a budget, but probably not the best selection for a family with small children. Even the short walk from the Nissi Beach to the Nissi Park, in the mid-day Cyprus sun will be too much for a small child.
The Dome is a modern well designed hotel with a beautiful pool area, near a pretty beach. And while we enjoyed our time there, one can’t but mention a few problems. First, it is isolated. If you stay at this hotel, and you have no rental car, it is likely you will take all of your meals there, because there is little else around. Second, there was a competition amongst the guests to get up early and reserve beds near the pool, or under an umbrella. The nicest locations near the pool would disappear very early. We did not like the look of the food from the buffet, so we never ate there. The Dome was very pretty and well designed. This would be a great location for people who just want to stay at their hotel. But as we prefer a more central location, we would probably not return
Paralimni is a family beach resort just north of Agia Napa with some of the nicest beaches in the island. It is quieter, calmer and generally more relaxed than Agia Napa. If you stay at any of the central hotels here, a car will not be necessary. Evening walks along the main street, to one of the many restaurants and pubs are easy and pleasant We stayed at Odessa Hotel, part of the Tsokkos chain of hotels which also owns the nearby Constantinos the Great hotel. As a guest of one we were allowed to enjoy the services of the other hotels which we frequently did. The Odessa is classed as a four star hotel and the Constantinos is classed as a five star. While both hotels were fine, neither deserves its class. Odessa should probably be considered a three star and Constantinos a four star hotel.
We ate well in Cyprus. Everything is on offer from fast food, pizza, Italian, Chinese. But if you want to eat traditional Cypriotic food in a beautifu. This is a restaurant that Cypriots go to, in the tiny village of Sotira. It is only possible to get there with a car. The Taverna is a short drive from Agia Napa and is well worth the trip.Read More
Here is a list of our 10 favorite things to do in Minsk:
1. Take a walk around Minsk Center. See our suggestions for walking routes.
2. Go to a circus performance!!! Click on the video below to watch highlights from a recent Belarus Circus performance.
3. Visit the Opera and Ballet Theater or go to a concert at the Musical Theater.
4. Check out central Minsk restaurants where for example you can have a traditional Belarusian meal at Pechki Lavochki or try freshly brewed beer at the Belarusian micro-brewery-restaurant Rakovski Brovar. See a list of our favorite Minsk Restaurants
5. Enjoy the nightlife. See a performance of singing or dancing in a nightclub or restaurant or go to a casino.
6. Take an excursion around Minsk or for a special taste of Belarusian culture go to Dudutki Open-Air Museum
7. Go shopping to one of the many department stores or have a Belarusian shopping adventure and go to one of the markets. Go bargain hunting! See our list of Top things to buy?
8. Got to the gym at Minsk Hotel, have a Sauna at one of the hotels like Minsk, Orbita or Zvezda
9. Spend an afternoon on the bank of the River Svisloch in Troitskoe Suburb where you can also enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer at one of the many cafes.
10. Go to one of the many Minsk parks such as Children’s Amusement Gorky Park or Chelyuskintsev Park and ride the Ferris Wheel. After that go to the Botanical Gardens where you can have a beautiful walk and feed the swans in the pond.
We lied, there are more than 10
11. Have a lunch or dinner at the top floor restaurant of the Hotel Belarus where you can enjoy a Panoramic view of Minsk with your meal.
Please tell us your favorite thing to do in Minsk. We will try it at our next opportunity and if we like it, we will include it in our list.Read More
Introduction to the Belarus Travel Guide
Belarus travel can be a wonderful experience. Belarus is rich in culture and history, relatively inexpensive and not yet over-run by tourists. However, because English is not common and information is not widely available, Belarus travel can be challenging for the first-time visitor. This Belarus Travel Guide goes into depth to give Belarus travelers much of the information necessary to get here and get as much from the visit as possible. The pages of this Belarus Travel Guide offer information about visas, accomodation, sightseeing and transportation for Minsk and the rest of Belarus. On the bottom of each page of the Belarus Travel Guide you will find a comment box. Your suggestions will help us to develop the Belarus travel guide to be an important source of travel information for Belarus travel.
Arriving in Belarus
Belarus travel allows you to experience a different world. Belarus still clings to the Soviet past and has a very different atmosphere compared with neighboring countries, such Lithuania. In fact, a trip to both Lithuania and Belarus, two ex-soviet states and very close neighbors, is a remarkable experience. Lithuania has rapidly become very Western-oriented while Belarus is still very much Eastern-oriented and you feel the difference instantly. (The contents of this website are copyrighted by TravelsWise.com, the Europe Travel Guide).
Clearing customs and the border to Belarus can be stressful, but foreigners usually have an advantage: Belarusian boarder guards rarely speak English. Most of the time, they look quickly at your passport and leave you in peace.
Checking into your hotel may be unpleasant. You may not feel the warm welcome you would expect at a hotel reception desk. Don’t take it as a sign that you are not welcome. Most hotels in Belarus are state owned and customer satisfaction is not the priority on their minds. However, enter a restaurant and the attitude is very different.You will be welcomed at the typical restaurant and treated with a high level of service. Why the difference? Most restaurants are privately owned and their survival depends on customer satisfaction.
Geography, Climate and Lifestyle
Belarus is a relatively flat country. The difference between its highest point and its lowest point is only 264 meters. The highest point at 346 meters above sea level is Dzyarzhinskaya hill, located in Minsk Province, named after ‘Iron Felix’ Dzerzhinsky the founder of the KGB. The lowest point in Belarus at 90 meters above sea level is Nyman River, one of the three major rivers of Belarus. (the other two are the Prypyat and the Dnepr. The Dnepr is Europe’s third longest river after the Volga and Danube). Forests cover approximately 47% of the country. This makes Belarus the 7th most forested country of Europe (behind Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Russia, Estonia and Austria) and the 37th most forested country in the world.
Belarus weather is extreme; extremely pleasant in the summer and extremely cold in the winter. The average temperature in Minsk in January is -7 degrees Celsius; however, temperatures of -25 or -30 are not unusual. So if you go in winter be prepared! The average temperature in July is a mild +17 degrees Celsius.
To get an idea of standard of living, the United Nations Development Program creates a Human Development Index (HDI) which is composite index measuring average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development—a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living. In 2004 the HDI of Belarus ranked number 67 out of 177 countries measured. For comparison Mexico was 53, Brazil 69, China 81, Turkey 92 and Egypt 111.
You will certainly notice that police are everywhere. In the streets, in the shops, on almost every corner there is a policeman walking around or flagging down cars and making controls. However, you will likely never be approached by a policeman. Other than pick-pocketing, we do not hear about much crime in Belarus. This is not to say it doesn’t happen, it probably does as in every large city. While we do not know the statistics, we assume that the crime rate in Minsk is probably similar to or lower than in most cities of a comparable size.