What to realistically expect when traveling to Paris in November

I recently went to Paris in the middle of November. It was cold, rainy, and many shops and restaurants were closed. Even parts of the Metro were shut down due to construction. Despite all that, it was a really good time (and I’d totally do it again).

rainy Paris
As you can see, Paris is still very much Paris in the middle of November. It’s just a slightly wetter (and sloppier) version of it.

Setting realistic expectations for a November trip to Paris

Paris (and France in general) is going to be miserable in November. As long as you can accept that fact, and you know what you’re getting into before you go, you won’t have any issues. Based on my recent experience, here’s what you can expect:

The temperature swings are going to be wild

Packing for a trip to Paris in November is going to be challenging. It won’t be full-blown winter, though summer will be long gone. Making things even more difficult will be the inevitable unseasonably warm and cold days you might experience.

Scott Leazenby in Paris
Not only did I not bring an umbrella, a light hoodie was woefully inadequate for the conditions. Travel is fun!

The best way to prepare for this is to dress in layers. It’s going to be extremely cold in the mornings and evenings. It might reach T-shirt weather mid day though, so be prepared to shed clothing when necessary.

Winter is Metro maintenance and repair season

I didn’t even occur to me that parts of the Metro would be inoperable when I purchased my round trip ticket from the kiosk at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. My plan was to hop on the RER train and head into Paris for a couple hours before returning back to the airport to catch a flight.

Unfortunately, the train was only running one direction that day (away from the airport). The kiosk didn’t tell me this as I was purchasing the ticket.

Paris tourists in November
“Just one last picture before getting on the train back to the airport!” Ha! If only it was that easy.

I made it into the center of Paris without any issues. It was only when I was ready to return back to the airport that I learned that there was a large chunk of track that was out of service.

Long story short, I paid $55 for an Uber back to Charles de Gaulle. I also learned a valuable lesson about doing research ahead of time.

Not everything is going to be open

Visiting Paris in the summer versus visiting in the winter is a completely different experience. Things are much quieter in the winter.

Empty Paris streets in November
*crickets* (or whatever sound crickets make in France).

Many shops and restaurants have winter hours, which is basically a reduction of summer hours. As long as you pay attention to win things open and close in the winter months, you won’t have any issues.

Walking the streets will be a blissfully peaceful experience

I’ve been to Paris during peak tourist season, and quite frankly, it can be challenging. It’s hard to go anywhere without literally bumping into and tripping over other tourists, and it just ruins experience.

Paris streets in November
If it was the middle of July, you’d have a hard time walking down this street without muttering “pardon” every 2 seconds (in an accent that immediately gives you away as American tourist). There’s room to roam here in November.

Paris in November, on the other hand, is a much different thing. The trains aren’t as crowded, the streets are quieter, and it won’t be as difficult to find a seat at a café or restaurant. Just being able to walk down the street without dealing with thousands of other tourists makes it all worth it.

motorcycles and bicyclists in Paris in November
You’re still going to have to deal with motorcycles and bicyclists though. Look twice before crossing the street!

It’s probably going to rain

Unlike packing for a trip to Arizona in February, packing for a trip to Paris in November requires leaving space for your umbrella. It rains a lot in Paris during the early winter months. Even if the forecast is for sun, I promise it’ll rain buckets on you at least once.

rainy Paris in November
Think twice about hiding under the trees to take shelter from the rain. You might will get shit on by a bird who doesn’t like American tourists.

Three tips to make your first trip to Zurich better than mine was

I recently went to Zurich. It was actually a “revenge” trip of sorts, as my first visit (many years ago) wasn’t all that much fun thanks to the miserably cold weather. Which is unfortunate, since it’s an amazing city with rich culture.

I’m happy to report that my most recent visit was much better. Yeah, it was cold, but at least I arrived prepared this time.

Zürich cafés and restaurants
Even though I didn’t see very much on my first trip here many years ago, I knew that this city had a lot to offer and I was determined to see more of it this time. Hanging out in this quaint public square with cafes and restaurants was a fantastic way to kick things off and make me feel less bad about youthful mistakes of the past.

Now that I’m “experienced” on all some things Zurich, I’m chomping at the bit to give you some advice about how not to be like me and make sure that you get the most out of your next trip to this amazing city:

Do NOT go in the middle of winter

It was the middle of January first time I visited Zurich, and I’m going to be blunt: it was a miserable experience. With temperatures hovering just 1° above freezing the entire time, all I really wanted to do was stay inside and plan my next trip to someplace warm.

It was a struggle to get myself feeling like I wanted to go outside and do any sightseeing, and I really tried, but I gave up less than an hour into it. What a waste to travel all that way and not see anything!

Thankfully, the weather was much better on this trip and it was easy for me to spend an entire day walking around and checking things out.

There were also many more people outside enjoying nice weather as well, which made it a much more entertaining experience and made the city feel more alive and energetic then I remembered from last time.

SANspotter selfie Zurich Switzerland
Selfies in the sunshine! It’s amazing how much blue skies and bright sun can lift the spirits and fuel the desire to explore.

I’d actually recommend going in May or September. I was there in late April this time, and the weather was so close to being perfect – but not quite as nice as I would have liked (a little warmer would’ve been better).

Avoiding the heat of summer and the freeze of winter will ensure that you’ll have no excuses to not get out there and get your travel on.

Rent a bike for free and see more of the city

Yes, you read that right. All kinds of bikes (e-bikes, kids bikes, city bikes) can be rented for free in Zurich providing that you have a valid ID and 20CHF for the deposit. Note that this is limited to visitors only, and you can register at the main north or south bike stations.

Cycling in Zürich
For city that has such an amazingly good infrastructure for cyclists, I saw a surprisingly few amount of them here. Next time I come here I’m showing up wearing revealing spandex and a goofy helmet!
Cycling in the city of Zürich
Just look at those wide dedicated bike lanes! (ignore the car driving right through the center of it though)

As an avid cyclist myself, I found the city of Zurich to be very bike friendly and I wouldn’t have any issues riding around on two wheels as my main mode of transportation (except in January). If you’re a visitor on a very tight time limit, getting around the city via bike for free is the best way to do it!

Do a proper chocolate tour

Even if you don’t like chocolate, you’re going to have to bring back a few bars the stuff for friends and family as souvenirs. But who doesn’t like chocolate?

I’m going to go right ahead and assume that you can’t get enough of it (like me), so making sure you have enough time to visit some chocolate shops should be a mandatory part of your visit to Zurich.

Cafés and chocolate in Switzerland
There’s a smell of chocolate in the air everywhere you turn, and it was difficult not to become as distracted as a bloodhound fixated on the scent of something good.

Unfortunately, I did very little research before my trip and I felt really lost once I arrived due to the sheer number of really nice looking chocolate shops and factories all over the place. It wasn’t until the very end of my trip when I discovered a really good solution to this problem: an in-depth guided tour!

It was actually a hotel employee who told me about the Sweet Zurich tour just as I was checking out, and it sounded so good that I was kicking myself silly for missing the opportunity.

What’s not to like about a very in-depth tour of some lesser known (but amazingly good) chocolate producers? Tours of large factories mass-producing well known brands of chocolate wouldn’t be as interesting to me as something like this, and I’m totally going to do it the next time I’m in Zurich.

In conclusion

If there’s anything that you can take away from this, it should be the fact that Zurich has a lot to offer and you’re going to need to slow down a bit and make sure that you have the time to experience it properly (and don’t go in January).

I’d recommend at least a week for first-time visitors, as that would be plenty of time to explore all the nooks and crannies while allowing for the opportunity to venture outside of the city limits a bit as well. Switzerland is an amazingly beautiful country, and it would be foolish not to head out into the greenery at least one day during your stay.

SANspotter selfie Zurich
I wish that I could caption this picture in a way that would suggest that I was heading out to the country for the day, but the truth is that this was just an Uber ride to the airport.

Focusing on the country is going to be the goal of my next trip to Switzerland. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good sense of what Zurich is all about now (finally!), but the Alps and I need to get acquainted in a very big way. I’ll bet there’s some amazing chocolate out there in the hills as well…

4 important things every first time visitor to Lisbon should know

I have a newfound love for the city of Lisbon – despite my only reason for going being the business class award availability that I found for the return portion of this much-too-short Euro trip.

There weren’t all that many options available, but it was hard to resist turning down the opportunity to fly TAP Portugal across the Atlantic for the very first time. Basically, I went into this trip most excited about the flights, but after returning home the only thing I was thinking about was how much I loved having the opportunity to explore Lisbon for a couple days.

Suffice to say, I arrived in Lisbon having done very little research and not having a clue as to what I wanted to do or see during my time on the ground. As a matter fact, I was simply thinking of Lisbon as a necessary layover between two awesome flights.

The time spent there would simply be my recharging time, allowing me to get rested for the return portion of this very aviation-centric journey. The thought of doing a lot of sightseeing never really crossed my mind actually.

SANspotter airport selfie Lisbon
Minutes after arriving at the Lisbon airport from Frankfurt. I had no idea what I was about to discover…

Of course this all changed soon as I got there and I experienced firsthand the beauty and culture of this amazing place. It hit me instantly – all I wanted to do was walk down every street and pop my head into every little restaurant and café just to soak in as much of the local vibe as I could.

I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and laid-back energy of Lisbon, and right away I felt really stupid for focusing so much on my attention on the flights and not the destination.

All was not lost though – I still had two full days to wander and explore and I immediately started pouring through Google Maps on my phone trying to figure out a plan.

Lisbon breakfast cafe
My first 10 minutes in Lisbon, and I couldn’t resist kicking things off with breakfast at this little cafe. It was the perfect welcome to this amazing city!

It turned out that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about Lisbon. After returning home, I spoke with many other travelers who had the same feelings as I did – not expecting much going in, but having strong feelings of not wanting to leave.

There’s just something about this place that makes people fall in love with it in an instant, and because of that I encourage you to go and see the place for yourself. Go ahead, put it on your bucket list. It’s totally worth it.

Now that I’ve convinced you to go (I hope!), I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you 4 things that I feel each first time traveler to Lisbon should know. Hopefully these tips will save you time when it comes to planning your own trip.

If I would’ve known the stuff beforehand, things would’ve gone so much smoother and I would’ve felt like I could have seen so much more due to not having to figure it all out when I got there. So without further ado, here we go:

1. You need to be in fairly good shape to walk around Lisbon

I was actually quite surprised how hilly it was, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m in pretty good shape myself thanks to regular cycling and running there’s no way I would’ve been able to see as much as I did just walking around.

There are some very steep hills in the heart of the city and if you want to see everything you’re going to have to climb.

Hilly Lisbon streets
There are hills down every alleyway it seems. Be prepared.

It also goes without saying that comfortable shoes make a world of difference. There’s so much to see here, and you’ll be tempted to turn down every street, so hit the treadmill a couple months before your journey to prepare yourself for all the climbing you’re going to be doing.

2. The hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses are totally worth it

One of the very first things that I did in Lisbon was to get on one of the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses that go around the city. I’m not really much of a tour bus kind of guy, but it was really hot out and I had three or four hours to kill before my hotel room was ready, so I figured that a three-hour bus ride would be a great orientation. And it was.

Lisbon hop on hop off sightseeing bus
Ok, I felt like a complete tourist getting on this bus, but it was totally worth it.
Lisbon tour bus interior
Most everybody chooses to sit on the upper deck, but it’s quiet solitude down here on the lower level.

For roughly US$20, I was able to see more of the city than I could have by simply walking on my own while trying to decipher maps along way. There are several buses to choose from, each focusing on their own section of the city, and they all meet at the Bus Terminal (Marquês de Pombal) in the heart of the city.

Simply go into to the ticket office, look at the map, and choose the route that is most appealing to you. That ticket will allow you to ride the bus for an entire day, hopping on and off as you please at all the stops.

3. The city really comes alive in the early evenings

I spent a lot of time outside trying to see as much as I could during my short stay, so I got to see what Lisbon is like at all hours. My favorite time? The early evenings. It felt like everybody poured into the streets around 5 PM, and there was a definite feeling of energy that I didn’t feel during the morning or afternoon hours.

It almost felt Carnival-like with music, dancing, laughing, and playing all over the core of the city, which was a completely different vibe than what I had experienced in the first half of the day.

Streets of Lisbon
The city comes alive in the late afternoon and early evenings!

I’d recommend you work your schedule around these early afternoon hours, saving enough energy during the day so that you’ll feel like pounding the streets when everybody else comes out to play.

4. Lisbon may look rough in spots, but it’s a very safe city

If I’m being honest, I was a little bit surprised how different two adjacent streets could be all around the city. It wasn’t the case everywhere, but sometimes I felt like I was walking down a street which just oozed money (Gucci and Rolex shops), only to turn down the next one and find myself surrounded by decaying architecture and graffiti on every surface.

It was a bit offputting at first, but after walking around for a while and talking to the locals, I came to the conclusion that these differences are all part of what makes Lisbon so charming.

Lisbon graffiti
The graffiti only adds texture to this place. And as you can see, I wasn’t lying about those hills! I swear I heard profanity from these tourists as they were trying to find their hotel…
Lisbon is safe
Looks sketchy, but I never once felt unsafe wandering these side streets.

Lisbon is very safe, so don’t feel hesitant walking down that dark alley covered in graffiti and decaying cobblestones. These sidestreets we’re actually my favorite part of the exploration that I did, and I’d recommend checking them out for yourself. This is the real Lisbon, and I’m willing to bet that you will find it as charming as I did.

So there you have it. This is by no means an extensive list covering all you need to know about the city Lisbon, but I hope it’s a helpful guide which will prepare you for your first time visit. I would also be very curious to know what you think of the city.

Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what your experiences were in Lisbon and Portugal in general. I’m planning to go back for sure, and I would also love to hear some suggestions for making my second trip as immersive as I can. I’ve already got the basics, but I’m looking for your help to tell me what I need to see next time!

The 3 things that I love most about London

I’ve been traveling all over the world for 20 years now, and every now and then I visit a place that instantly makes me feel like I belong there. It’s an interesting feeling to say the least and it’s special enough that it doesn’t happen all that often.

San Diego was the first place in my life that rocked me to the core when I first visited way back in 1997, and I remember the feeling vividly. I was fresh out of school at that point, still quite native and not well traveled, and the world still seemed like a huge and mysterious place.

The laid back beach culture of San Diego was so different from my overly-sheltered life back in the midwest, and I wasn’t out of the airport for 5 minutes before I knew that I had to find a way to move there. 9 months later I packed up my things, headed west, and made San Diego my home. 19 years have passed, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

Hawaii, Hong Kong, and London are three other places that keep pulling me back. I could be very happy living in any of these places – the serenity of Hawaii would calm my nerves, the energy of Hong Kong would satisfy my need for hustle and bustle, and London…well…it’s got everything I need for a happy and successful life (culture and business opportunities galore).

Yeah, the weather kind of sucks, but LHR is a big airport with plenty of flights to places where the sun shines every day. It wouldn’t be all that hard to make a quick escape back to San Diego or Hawaii whenever I need my sunshine fix.

There are a ton of things that I like about this city, and I could probably go on forever about the things that make me want to keep coming back. But to keep things short and (somewhat) interesting, I’ll stick with just three. These are the three things that I love most about London:

1. The London Underground: so easy that a midwestern farm boy can use it

There are a lot of things in life that I can’t quite wrap my head around, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that public transportation is one of them. Hey – I grew up in the midwestern United States about as far as one could get from the big city and the conveniences of buses and trains.

We didn’t have any of that stuff out there! If you wanted go somewhere, you had three options: walk, drive, or bum a ride off someone else. And we liked it.

I’ve always had trouble understanding the intricacies of intercity bus and train routes, but the London Underground is a system I got from the very beginning.

Well, staring at the route map for the first time on the wall of the LHR terminal 3 station way back in 1997 did make me gulp hard enough to nearly swallow my head, but it only took a minute for me to get my bearings and I was soon off and on my way exploring the city of London without a worry in the world.

London Underground westminster station
The London Underground is by far my favorite thing about this city.
london underground
Clean, fast, and easy to understand. The Tube is a perfect example of what public transportation should be.
london underground
Every station is clean, bright, and very safe.

The same was true for this trip. I didn’t even prepare or do any research before arriving. I simply arrived at LHR, looked at the map, and easily found my way to my hotel without a single hiccup.

It was my main mode of transportation for the entire duration of my trip, and I didn’t have a single problem. Not bad for a midwestern farm boy!

Hanslow West Tube station
That’s me, looking like a satisfied traveler at the Hounslow West Tube station.

2. London is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever been to

There’s something about the city of London that makes me want to take a picture and capture the moment every time I turn the corner. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is the old-world architecture that we don’t have here in the United States.

The way the old classic buildings intermingle with modern steel and glass is something that I’ve always been fascinated with (most recently in Mexico City) and there’s just something special about the way it’s done in London. It’s classy. Royal. And quite hip if I might add.

London at night
London at night. The perfect combination of the old word mixed with the hustle and bustle of modern life!
london at night
Everything about this city is so iconic and unique.
london eye at night
The London Eye looking good bathed in soft red light.

Putting these feelings into words isn’t easy, but there’s just something about the combination of gloomy skies, big red double-decker busses, black cabs, and the perfectly-preserved architecture from generations ago mixing together that makes London one of the most unique and iconic cities in the world.

There’s just so much to appreciate soak in, and capturing it all in photographs is something I could spend a lifetime doing. And I really mean that – I shot nearly 50GB of photos and video on this two-day trip and I still didn’t feel that I captured enough.

london bridge
From certain angles, the feeling of having stepped back in time by a century can be quite strong.
london at night
There’s just something about the way the colors and textures mix together that makes London feel so alive.

3. The food

Once you’ve wiped the tears out of your eyes from laughing so hard, please read on to understand why I declare the food of London to be one of my favorite things about this magnificent city!

First of all, I think it’s safe to assume that most foodies would agree that there’s nothing special about the culinary situation in the UK.

The food is dull and bland compared to what you would find in other nations around the world, and I dare say that it can be some of the heaviest and most difficult to digest stuff on the planet.

Blood sausage, pot pies, fish and chips…not quite what anyone would consider to be exotic or high-end cuisine. It’s probably also the reason why you don’t see many traveling foodies on TV flocking to England the first chance they get.

london food
The food in London is generally pretty far from exotic and high-end, but I’m OK with that.

But here’s the thing: I LIKE the fact that the food is so uninteresting. One of my biggest weaknesses in life is food, and even though I eat clean and healthy while at home, I tend to “let go” a bit when I travel.

All of that first and business class airline food is just as tempting as what I find once I land at my destination and it’s so hard for me to eat in moderation – despite how much I promise to myself that I’m not going to overindulge.

My trip to Mexico City earlier this year was a perfect example of how I succumbed to the temptation of exotic and delicious food everywhere I turned, and I ended up feeling miserable by the time it came to go home.

But here in London, I don’t feel that sense of temptation. The food just doesn’t do anything for me, so it’s much easier to manage my intake and keep myself feeling great for the entire trip.

Final thoughts

There’s a lot to like about the city of London, and picking just three things that I love the most about it was a lot more difficult than it sounds.

Heck, I could have easily wrote 2000 words on why I like those cliche red double-decker busses so much! Then there are funny crosswalk markings, the feeling I get when listening to someone speak proper English, and the way that the steady stream of A380’s, 777’s, and other large airliners from all over the world fly low and slow over the city on their approach into LHR.

There’s just so much to like about this place, and I’m already thinking about my next excuse to return. But is an excuse really necessary?

The more time I spend here, the more I understand that there’s nothing wrong with visiting this place for the sake of strolling the streets and just blending in like a local.