Mar 12

Avoiding Scammers (Destination: Paris, France)

Traveled June, 2014

My friend Dean, who I met while flashpacking in the Philippines, picked me up at the airport in the middle of the afternoon and we drove to his house in Esbly.  His girlfriend was setting up for their party that night – to celebrate their first year in the house and all the work that was done.  They had purchase a 100-year old fishing house and updated it considerably.

That night they had a garden party complete with about 50 guests, a local boy acting as waiter, and a musician!  I had fun taking to many of their friends, many of whom were international (from Britain, Japan, and Colombia) .

Several people stayed overnight after the party, as the national rail service is on strike and there are limited train services.  The musician was one of them and my friend drove us to the train station so we could head to Paris.  He was originally from eastern Africa and he helped me buy some subway tickets and then gave me some advice on staying safe.

I took the subway over to the Montmartre neighborhood and visited the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.

Then I walked around the arty district and on to the red light district, the home of the Moulin Rouge.

From there I took the subway to the Eiffel tower.  The lines were really long and my sister and I had been up the tower about 20 years ago so I decided to skip it.

I watched the scammers in the park with their ball/shell game, watched a visiting Japanese band, and watched some Sri Lankan protesters.

I was planning on heading out to Versailles today, but as I was sitting on the train I didn’t see any other tourists.  Upon reading my guidebook, discovered it was closed on Mondays!  So I hopped off the train in the center of Paris.  From here I made my way to the Arc de Triumphe.  It was relatively early and there were no tourists on a traffic island I was standing on to take a picture of the Arc.  I pulled out my camera, took a pic, turned around, and there was a Roma woman picking a golden ring off the ground.  I pointed at here and yelled no and then hightailed it out of there.  This would be one of multiple scam attempts on me in my few days in Paris as well as stories that others had told me:
* at the basilica, there were young men trying to tie a “friendship bracelet” aka string on my wrist.  I avoided this and later found out they would harass you for 20-50 euros if they stringed you.

*the ring trick – see details above
* all over, there were teenagers trying to get your signature on various petitions.  I heard there are several tricks with this.  One is that you signed something that in some foreign language says “the undersigned promises to give this girl 500 euros” they will then chase you around until you pay them something.  They would also ask for a donation.  A Chinese woman told me she went into her wallet to give them a couple euros and they used the signature paper to cover her wallet and steal the money from it.
* the shell and ball game – they tried hard to get me to play, with planted players in the crowd.  It would be so obvious which shell the ball is under every time, and time after time the planted players win some and lose some.  Eventually they try to get you to bet $50 because you are so sure you know where that ball is, but they palm the ball and take your money.
* I met a Canadian who got pickpocketed when someone dropped some glasses at his feet and then tugged on his pants as an accomplice was taking his wallet.
* guys selling Eiffel tower key chains for 10 for 1 euro – I’m not sure if this is a scam or they’re just stolen goods or bootleg goods, but they all go running when the cops show up.
In general, I didn’t feel very safe in Paris.  Due to immigration from eastern Europe and northern and western Africa, the pickpocketing and scamming risk is really high.

After the Arc, I walked down the Champs Elysees to the Obelisk and then over to the Latin quarter for lunch.  I stopped at the Notre Dame and enjoyed the local ice cream on the island just across from Notre Dame.

For my last day in Paris, I was to visit the Palace of Versailles.  If you know which day you’re going, it’s best to buy tickets on the internet.  I didn’t do this and the hassle was even worse as I was lugging my luggage.
So, a day in Versailles begins as a train full of people descends on this town and the line to buy tickets AND then get in the line to enter the palace itself.  I originally got in a line at the local tourist office where you could pay a couple euros’ commission and buy a ticket to avoid the official tourist line but it was obvious the line was moving very slowly so I took a chance and found a small tourist office just to the left of the gates where I bought a ticket with no line and no commission.  So, I paid my $30+ for the ticket and then got in the official LINE!  It took nearly 1.5 hours of standing in the sun in a snaking line, dragging my suitcase behind.

Inside the palace was beautiful – but packed so you couldn’t really enjoy the palace rooms without being pushed to the next room.

After the palace, I headed out to the gardens where I watched the boaters and swans.  It was a hot day and it was frustrating to be in a garden with sprinklers and fountains but no drinking water – the cost for a small Evian was $4 euro!

After the palace and gardens, I headed back to the very packed train station and was so happy I bought a return ticket in the morning – there were 100s of people in line to buy the return ticket.  Back in Paris, I got off the train near the Notre Dame that was in nice afternoon light.

I had a fixed price meal at a Moroccan restaurant in the Latin Quarter and then headed to the International bus station – it was super easy to transfer from the metro to the station.  At 11pm, my Euroline bus to Amsterdam departed, and very full.

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