Pretty Pictures

I’m trying hard to stop taking pictures of pretty things (Thanks Karen for ruining that for me).  On my last day of European vacation I am almost prettied out, anyway.  There was so much to take in and I did and I also photographed most of it. I’m full and happy and ready to go home and live simply and work hard again.  That’s the point of a vacation right?  To make you crave the routine you were previously fatigued with living.  I love that we live in close proximity to Europe, but that we go home to the pared down existence of Tunis.  It feels like a good life balance.

            Allan and I are driving our final bit of French countryside as we approach Paris for our flight out tomorrow.  We are going over things that we thought were a success from the trip or cautions we would have for another time.  Here is our list of what we learned.
Packing
            Pack lightly!  For a three-week winter trip you can get by with the following:
·      3 pairs of jeans
·      3-5 long sleeved cotton shirts (some of mine were turtlenecks)
·      One black turtleneck sweater
·      One zippered, hooded fleece sweatshirt
·      1 pair of sweatpants
·      Slippers
·      Underwear (no more than 5 pairs)
·      Socks (no more than 5 pairs, one wool)
·      Down jacket that can layer over other items
·      Hat and gloves
·      One pair of sturdy, comfortable boots
·      Don’t bring a hair dryer
·      Buy toiletries as you need them at a grocery store or pharmacy
·      Ski gear, optional
Laundry
            This is a nightmare.  Compounding the complication that most places don’t have clothes dryers is the fact that the wash cycle alone takes a minimum of 1.5 hours.  I advise that you look for every possibility to run a load and then try to dry them wherever you can.  Radiators are your best ally.  When you run out of washing machine options you can hand wash everything (even jeans) and they will eventually get dry.
Beverages
            Everything to drink is expensive.  An espresso can be as much as 8 Euros, a bottle of wine starts at 25, and even water is around 3 Euros.  Bring a French press coffee maker and ground coffee to make coffee in your room, buy wine and beer in grocery stores, and refill your own water bottle with perfectly drinkable tap water.
Food

            Try everything, especially the regional specialties.  You don’t have to eat a sit down meal at a restaurant to eat well.  Some of the best foods are perfect for take-away like breads, charcuterie, and cheeses.  There are also easily available traiteurs who sell food designed to take home and put in the oven or microwave.  

Accommodations

            We were super lucky to stay at our friends’ apartment for several days of our trip, but for our time in Munich, we pitched a vacation exchange proposition and got a bite.  We don’t have to completely turn over our home to do this.  We’ve got guest rooms and will be happy to give our host a return few nights in our home.  These two apartments really helped us get off the Euros ticker for a few nights.
I use the website TripAdvisor a lot.  I try to find rooms for around 80 Euros in a good location with free WiFi.  I have found that spending more money than this doesn’t necessarily get us a better room.  I much prefer a spare but clean room with simple supplies to a faux-fancy hotel with gross carpet and one of those slick, floral, germ catching bedspreads.  We also took another look at B & Bs after many years of eschewing that option (I don’t know why, now).  Paris can be notoriously expensive and the rooms tiny.  Since we had a car, we stayed in a village near Versailles for a couple of nights and another in a village near Charles de Gualle airport.  For the same or less money than a cheap hotel, these B & Bs were just as convenient, but multiple times more enjoyable than the expensive airport hotels.
Souvenirs
            Here is something that I honestly experienced.  At the end of the day, I got a similar amount of satisfaction from looking at the pictures I had taken that day and thinking about what I might do with them as I would get from laying out a bagful of purchases.  There were some things I knew I wanted, like a few pieces of Polish pottery, but I didn’t need a lifetime supply, just a couple.  I do treat myself to some useful items, generally for the kitchen.  I bought some molds, a bain marie, and a ceramic baking dish and when I use them, I will remember Versailles, the Alps,  and the Bourgogne region where I purchased them.   We also buy food souvenirs that we go right ahead and eat and share with our friends as soon as we return.  We buy that stuff at a local grocery store, not specialty stores.  We both have a lot of fun discovering products available in various cities and leave with treasures like dehydrated shallots, marzipan, and of course some local wines that we transport in wine diapers to hopefully prevent one of them from breaking in a bag and ruining every thing in it.
Transportation
            We were back and forth about riding the train versus renting a car.  Once we priced out the train for five adults and thought about the additional inconvenience of packing around our bags and getting from train stations to hotels, it didn’t weigh out.
The first car we were issued couldn’t even hold 5 people with a bag each so they brought us a Citroen minivan.  It was comfortable enough for us and we thought that was all we had to be concerned about.  On our drive from Prague to Krakow we had to cross mountain passes with icy roads and we realized that this wasn’t a winter-ready vehicle.  We had it inspected by the Citroen dealer in Krakow and he told us we had bald summer tires.  The rental agency wouldn’t do anything to improve the safety of that car because they said we weren’t authorized to go to Poland.  We had no choice but to creep all the way back to Paris, where they did exchange the car for a four-wheel drive that could safely take us to the Alps.
We learned a lesson from this to check about areas that are excluded from service when we make the reservation and to check the tires when we pick up the car.  We were protected with dry, clear roads all the way back, but it could have been a bad situation.
One more consideration about driving is that there are frequent tolls throughout Europe.  They seem to be worth it as the roads are excellent with frequent rest stops, but I would estimate that we spent around 150 Euros on tolls in three weeks.
Our final and perhaps most emphatic recommendation is get a car with GPS.  We are sure we saved ourselves a full day of getting lost and wandering around aimlessly.   There were places we drove right to (B and Bs in dark villages, city apartments) that would have been difficult to ever find.  GPS can save a lot of wear and tear on your relationships and you need all of that you can preserve on an extensive car trip.
Now, it’s back to Tunis and our routines, there.  What I’m most looking forward to?  My bed with 600 thread count sheets, our own washing machine, getting back to some organizing and simplifying both at home and at work, and finally, learning.  I’ve got a lot I want to learn this year and I will try to write it up and share it along the way.  Thanks for reading.

 

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