February 6, 2007
12 Weeks until our trip and counting! It's cold and snowy in Chicago, so I'm dreaming and planning for our springtime trip to Gassin and Paris.
A little background.. Gassin is known as one of the prettiest villages in France. It is a walled city situated in the hills above St. Tropez on the southern coast of France. The area is awash in vineyards and small coastal towns that make up the southern edge of Provence. We exchanged a week of our Carribean timeshare for a week in Le Mas de Chastelas, an 18th century Provencial house just outside of St. Tropez. I've been researching the area, but I have a feeling that the vineyards and ocean will reset our priorities once we arrive.
A little trivia... Mick and Bianca Jagger were married in Gassin in 1971.
From Gassin, we will drive to Martel to visit some friends for a day, then drop off the car and catch a train to Paris. Our Paris plans are detailed in the Itinerary, with Itinerary Notes included for each day. I would have loved to have included a trip to Normandy, but time ran out and we'll need to save that adventure for another time.
We are starting to think about clothes and luggage. Just spent a nice chunk of change on Zappos.com trying to find comfortable, yet stylish, walking shoes. The weather in the south averages 60-70 degrees farenheit in late April, early May. But there is always the chance of the Mistral blowing, those fabled winds that have been known to drive people mad. In Paris, the temps are supposed to be a bit colder 50-60 degrees.
Our luggage is 2 - 25" roller bags that have the ability to expand 2". I believe those, plus a small backpack and duffle bag type carry-on, are enough to see us through. I'm all about the 'travel light' mantra, so it seems like this should be more than enough space, with room to spare for trinkets we plan to pick up along the way. How much wine and pate are you allowed to bring back from France? ;-)
More entrys to follow as the clock counts down to our departure.
March 28, 2007
1 month to go! We are getting final plans in place. I booked the Monet Garden Bike tour. It is someplace I've always wanted to go and this sounds like a great way to see it. The Fat Tire Bike Tours group meets at the train station. Everyone then takes the train from Paris which drops you off about 4 miles from Monet's home in Giverny. Bikes are waiting for you for a leisurely ride into the village to pick up goods for a picnic lunch, then pedal on to the gardens. I hope it's as good as it sounds!
Since our bank debit card doesn't work in Europe, we've decided to take the AMEX Travel Cheque Card. You preload the card with money and you can use it in an ATM to get cash or at shops/restaurants for purchases. Before you purchase the card you need to determine what currency you would like on the card. Since France uses Euros, we are getting Euros on the cards. By preloading it with Euros we won't have to pay the currency conversion charges (1-3% of purchase when converting dollars to euros) when we use it.
Also made copies of our passports, driver's licenses, and credit cards. I just had a friend return from Australia where she lost her passport the day before she was supposed to return to the US. She said it saved her days of trouble by having the copy of her passport. She said it would have saved her even more time if she had carried extra passport photos. I don't think we'll go that far, but we will definately have copies of everything stored in a safe/alternate location.
My husband has food allergies, so we've made up cards in French that we can show to the waiter and chef to make sure he doesn't have any close calls with peanuts. We hope we don't have too many issues since I'm planning on enjoying as much of the food as I can!
That's it for now, just counting down the days and getting ready to start packing!
In two weeks we'll be in France on our way to Gassin! Lot's of getting ready details this journal entry!
We'll be renting a car for the week we are there and I'm starting to get nervous about driving in France. I've been reading a lot of websites about how they are crazy drivers. I've found a few good sites that list translations for road signs. This one is the best I've found: http://www.france4families.com/DrivingInFrance/Roadsigns.htm
I've checked our insurance coverage in the States and we are covered but we are taking out the extra insurance in France offered by Hertz. It's an additional cost but I think worth the piece of mind.
We will keep the car for a week and then drive to see our friends in Martel. Luckily we know how to drive a manual transmission car, because renting an automatic over there is $$$. From Martel, we'll drop the car (Hertz) in Brive and catch a train to Paris. We booked our train tickets online: www.sncf.com You can either pick up the tickets in France or print them out immediately.
We also decided to get travel insurance. We had this 2 years ago when staying in Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. A hurricane decided to visit and we were able to recoup our initial investment plus all our additional expenses (additional hotels, food, etc.). It was the best $60 we ever spent.
I picked up some space bags (www.spacebags.com) for packing. I would not recommend getting them from their website. They do not tell you until after you order that it could take up to 6 weeks to ship and their customer service is horrible. Since then I've seen them in several retail stores. We got the kind that you roll the air out of not vacuum, since we didn't think we'd have access to a vacuum in France.
14 Days and counting!
We've been planning this trip for a year and over the course of the year I've asked my husband 'Is there anything special you would like to see or do while we are there?' about 1000 times. Everytime he's said, 'no, everything you have planned sounds good.'
Today, being the big tennis fan that he is, he finally says, I think I'd like to see Roland Garros. Being the novice tennis player I am, I say 'who is Roland Garros?'. Turns out it's the tennis stadium in Paris where the French Open is played. Who knew it would be in Paris? not me.
Anyway, it turns out that Roland Garros is the last stop on the Metro line that is nearest to our hotel, no transfers even, how convenient is that?!? Plus they have English language tours every day at 11:00 a.m. So one of our itinerary days in Paris is shot and we'll be going to Roland Garros, just can't figure out which day to give up yet.
Hopefully it will be a good tour since they should be getting ready for the French Open that begins at the end of May. We were just a few weeks too early!
Finally! Our departure day arrived. We took the train to the airport station, then the bus to the terminal - not a bad way to go if you live in the NW suburbs of Chicago and don't want to leave a car at O'Hare. We are starting our great French adventure in Nice (via Munich!) Our plane left about 30 minutes late, which left us a bit edgy since we had a short connection time in Munich to make our plane to Nice. When I booked our original tickets with United I mentioned this to the agent and she assured me that 45 minutes was plenty of time to connect in Munich. I should have listened to my gut instincts as even without the delay we would never had made our original flight. After the futile effort of running through the airport, being told we would have to go through security again, and standing in line at the Luftansa counter, we were booked as stand-bys on a later flight. We were also told that if we didn't make the next flight, it was unlikely we'd get to Nice until Tuesday, since it was a holiday weekend in Germany and all of their flights were full. This didn't sit well with us as it was SATURDAY - that meant a several unplanned days in Munich. Boy if this was 'the Amazing Race' we would really be eliminated! We did get on the next flight, but only because a bunch of incoming connections were delayed.
It was a gorgeous day in Nice when we arrived. We picked up our rental car and started navigating our way to St.Tropez. We had some trepiditions about driving in France, but there were no problems. Before we left we found some websites that explained what the signs meant. We printed these out and brought them with us. The traffic circles took some getting used to, but I will say that I now prefer them to our four way stops. They seem to keep the flow of traffic going very nicely.
It took about 3 hours to get from Nice to St. Tropez, and to our hotel in Gassin.