Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Too Many Words! …Or Not Enough?

After visiting a good number of museums and historical sights throughout France, we made an interesting observation. Once we got past the Louvre, the Orsay, and a couple of the other big name visual arts places where the artifacts on display could pretty much speak for themselves, we noticed that the displays in other museums were heavily focused on words — attempting to tell and explain rather than show all about prehistoric life, some period of French history, or even, a genre of art or literature. It prompted me to think of the adage, “Show, Don’t Tell” that we often use to direct students in writing or creating an engaging presentation. We encourage them to use all their senses to help the audience experience their story. And, indeed, that’s what people love… to hear and truly experience a good story. Well, at least I think that’s true for Americans. I’m not so sure about the French.

Americans nowadays have very little patience for a lengthy dissertation on any topic and perhaps that’s the fault of the media. However, I don’t think that this visually stimulating world in which live is such a bad thing. It might be acceptable to admit that it’s progress. While touring France, we would often enter a museum and after passing through a few galleries that bombarded us with placards of explanations larger than the artifacts, I would sigh and say, “Ah, too many words!” And Norman would nod in agreement. He pointed out that one thing Americans know how to do well is put on a show. Though I had never really thought about this in comparison to the rest of the world, I realized that it’s true. We know how to tell a story and make it come to life whether real or imaginary. Think Hollywood, Disneyland, Fourth of July Fireworks Shows, Olympic Ceremonies, Presidential Inaugurations, weddings, funerals, the first day of school… the list goes on. Everything large or small has a story behind it and becomes a production either personal or public.

I’ve never been a big fan of reading all the museum curators’ detailed analyses of artwork, but it’s even worse when you are looking at… arrowheads, hundreds of them! Really! Case in Point #1, the newly designed and built National Prehistoric Museum in the Dordogne. From its description online and in brochures, it sounds like an intriguing museum not to be missed. On display are 18,000 pieces from its collection of 300,000 objects. Imagine! This is daunting and impressive at the same time. When you arrive, you soon discover that the majority of the items on display are bones and arrowheads all very neatly lined up in long glass cases. A 10-minute video re-enactment of early man using his tools plays repeatedly on multiple screens throughout the museum. And the rest… words, words, and more words.

The French don’t seem to mind this approach. Case in Point #2, the Musée Marmottan in Paris. We were excited to visit this museum as it houses the largest collection of Monet paintings anywhere. We were not disappointed. In fact, there were so many works on display that it was almost difficult to view them from any appreciable distance. Nevertheless, it was stunning to see so much of Monet’s work. As we made our way downstairs to an additional temporary exhibit of the work of Berthe Morisot, one of the few female members of the Impressionist movement, I noticed that a crowd of people had gathered on the intermediary landing in front of a wall… of words! The entire 12-foot high wall was filled from top to bottom with a written chronology of the artist’s life and work. It was the same information that could be found on the brochure you received when you purchased your ticket. I could understand some people wanting to stop and read it, but one man was meticulously copying it down into a small notebook word for word. On the way back up, I observed a woman doing the same thing. I’m sure they were French. Why were they doing this?

Perhaps this French obsession with words is simply a natural reaction to the dilemma they face in having so few words to express themselves. It’s difficult to get a clear count from any reliable authority on the official number of words in any given language. However, it is widely accepted that English has about half a million words while French has somewhere around 100,000. This necessitates creating multiple meanings for a large number of words as well as using groups of words for a single item for which there is no specific word. I wish I could give you some concrete examples as we ran into this constantly during our travels, but after three weeks back home, we can’t think of any which is slightly ironic and funny. This phenomenon is completely confusing to the novice French speaker. You think you have a few words and phrases under your belt only to discover them employed in a different, unrelated context. There are also many words that are spelled differently but pronounced exactly the same. Sometimes even native speakers had trouble understanding each other. It’s not like we don’t come across some of these same linguistic situations in English, but I could swear they are much more prevalent in French.

I suppose in the end it’s not the number of words you know or that exist, but how well you use them to communicate your ideas, thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. I can vouch for the fact that you can get by with very few in a language you are still struggling to learn and understand. That’s the true beauty of travel when you open your mind and heart to experiencing a different people and culture. Everyone manages to make themselves understood and have a good time in the process. This summer, we had the maximum opportunity for this type of cultural exchange and we will cherish this once-in-a-lifetime journey through France for the rest of our lives.



Our Hay Barn in the Dordogne

Accommodations: This was far and above our most favorite accommodation of the entire trip for so many reasons. The Hay Barn was one of four outbuildings belonging to a two story 19th century manor house that had been converted into a gîte. The current owners, Paul and Philippa, a British couple took it over a couple of years ago. The previous owner who made the original renovations had become too old and ill to maintain it. So when they purchased it, they had a lot of work to do and claim they are still working to improve the facility and, hopefully, see a profit. They live onsite when there is a space available and were there the week we stayed. They constantly checked with us and made sure every need was met. We found a bottle of local wine and a bowl of walnuts native to the area waiting for us upon arrival. Later in the week, we also received a generous sampling of Philippa’s homemade walnut cake.


Theme:French country or perhaps, more specifically, Perigord countryside is the focus here along with its regional products including walnuts, foie gras, and truffles. Aside from the Hay Barn, the other accommodations are the Tobacco Barn, the Walnut Store, and the Roque Terrasse.

Pros: spacious with large living area and open kitchen (including gas stove which we prefer), carpeted floors (a welcome relief), lots of windows all around for great light and circulation, private outdoor terrace with BBQ, table, padded lounge chairs, and umbrella plus a swimming pool shared among the gîte guests. Oh, and lots of English TV channels so we were finally able to follow the Tour de France. Also, the location is perfect for exploring all those wonderful Perigord sites from the historic Roque St. Christophe right across the road to the famous Lascaux caves and every place in between. It is surrounded by prehistoric sites and endless grand castles and chateaus. The area is full of interesting and varied things to see and do. Twice we enjoyed the easy, convenient, and inexpensive opportunity to see the sights by canoeing down one of the main rivers.

Cons: Not too many significant cons. Parking is somewhat limited, the couch was rather mushy and kind of taxing on the back, and water was not consistently hot when needed.

Lessons Learned: The Perigord is our favorite region of France. If given the choice to return to only one of the destinations on our trip, this would be it.

Community: The Manoir des Granges, as the entire complex is known, is located about five minutes from Le Moustier, a tiny community with little to offer. However, down the road about 15 minutes is Montignac where we did the majority of our shopping quite conveniently. Daily farmer’s markets abound in all directions so there is plenty to choose from for your dinner table or picnic.


Overall Rating: 👍👍👍👍👍 Nothing less than superior all around — the accommodations, our hosts, and the area itself. If you have never been here, you need to put the Perigord on your travel wish list. By the way, I should note that the Perigord is divided into four regions: Noir (black), Blanc (white), Pourpre (purple), and Vert (green). This gîte is located in Perigord Noir.

Link: Make sure to stay here: Le Manoir des Granges
Due to the additional availability of the large manor house, it is also an excellent venue for small weddings and several have been held here. Paul and Philippa are currently planning their daughter’s for next May. You may enjoy reading their blog as well which gives first hand knowledge of the area as well as specific impressions of their accommodations.
Le Manoir des Granges Blog

Take a look at the Dordogne page for more photos of the Hay Barn and the many sights we enjoyed during our stay.

Our Fisherman’s House in Bordeaux


Accommodations: Our second gîte was located about 45 minutes northeast of Bordeaux. As soon as you leave this heavily populated metropolitan area referred to by some as a mini Paris, you head deep into lush, green wine country. Our “home away from home” for this week was a restored 18th century fisherman’s house overlooking the Dordogne River in the port village of Asques. The gîte was adjacent to an 18th century mansion occupied by owners Sylvie and Jacques. Sylvie, who also conveniently spoke English, met us and gave us a tour of the house with all the necessary details. We were welcomed with flowers from her garden on the table and an invitation to the evening’s classical music concert at the local church. This was by far the largest and most expensive of our accommodations — two stories — living and kitchen downstairs with spiral staircase leading to bedroom and bathroom upstairs — about 800 sq. ft.

Theme: Since it had been a fisherman’s house, this theme was tastefully carried through in many small details throughout. Think fish.

Pros: very well appointed with many furnishings and household items (just about anything you could imagine you might need), washer, very large drying rack, garden with outdoor table, seating, hammock, and BBQ (yes!!), garage, hardwood floors on second level, comfortable kingsize bed, LOTS of space, and, once again, location, location, location — easy drive to Bordeaux, St. Emilion, Libourne, and many, many wineries in every direction. Plus you are literally sitting on the bank of the famed Dordogne River. How cool is that?!

Cons: stone floors (no surprise), extremely small mini fridge, plenty of IKEA furniture some of which fell apart even with gentle use, isolated area — you have to travel every day if you want to do or buy something… however, this was the mid week of our vacation and we were ready to kick back. Since we had so much space to relax both indoors and out, it was not a big issue for us at the time but definitely a consideration for the future. The residents pretty much keep themselves closed in with their shutters and much of the time it felt like the village was empty so it was super quiet. Additionally, at $800/wk, this gîte was relatively expensive given its isolated location.


Lessons Learned: Tiny communities can hold big surprises like the outstanding concert we experienced at the church. You never know what you are going to discover.

Community: Asques is a tiny port hamlet on the Dordogne (population 476) which is completely residential with no stores of any kind. Occasionally a boat comes in to the port with items for sale. We drove about 20 minutes to Jacques Cousteau’s birthplace of Saint-André-de-Cubzac for our groceries several times during the week.

Overall Rating: 👍👍👍👍 If it weren’t so isolated and the town had a few services to offer, we would probably give it a 5. We had a great experience though. It was perfect for us at the time.

Link: Check it out… La Maison du Pêcheur
See more pics on the Gironde page.

Our Nest in Provence


Accommodations: Our first experience with gîte life was in the small village of Le Paradou in the southwestern part of Provence between Avignon and Arles. Our accommodations were actually billed as an apartment but even apartments are included in the gîte category now. The owner Sophie, a real estate agent, greeted us in English with a lengthy, rapid-fire litany of all the places we should visit during our stay. Fortunately, there were piles of pamphlets to back this up and, of course, we had the Internet to guide us in our adventures. Though it served our needs very well, this was the most rustic and cheapest of our accommodations. It was a small but spacious renovated space with separate bedroom and bath that was originally part of a larger 18th century building.

Theme: Most gîtes have some sort of theme to entice visitors. In this case, the idea is that you spend your day touring the area and then return to your “Paradou Nest”, hence the name Le Nid de Paradou.

Pros: a comfortable couch and bed, an adequate kitchen with a full-size fridge, free wifi with strong, fairly fast connection (albeit a very long convoluted password), bargain value ($500/wk — well within our $100/nt budget), and location, location, location — central to all the big name towns in Provence… St. Remy, Avignon, Nimes, Arles, Orange, Aix-en-Provence, Roussillon, and more.

Cons: rather dark interior, traditional small windows with shutters that close you in every night, front door only three feet from the roadway (don’t step out the door without looking both ways), little cross ventilation (we bought a fan which came in handy throughout our trip), stone floors (very typical but hard on the feet and back), a dishwasher where there should have been a clothes washer, and limited built-in storage for kitchen items. Also, we discovered that the French have an affinity for mixing IKEA furnishings with antiques. Aside from the inharmonious decor this creates, IKEA products don’t hold up too well in rentals. They tend to fall apart with repeated use by so many different people. This place had a high ratio of IKEA items.

Community: Le Paradou is a quiet, completely residential community except for one boulangerie (rather average quality) and what Americans would call a mini-mart. However, just a hop, skip, and a jump down the road is another town, Maussane, where you can find absolutely everything you need for your stay. We generally drove a few miles to Saint-Martin-de-Crau for our shopping and the convenience of the unique outdoor laundromat at the Super U. People everywhere need economical options for their day-to-day shopping and the Super U is the place locals go for groceries, sundries, and even clothing. We discovered them all over Provence and definitely found the best deals there. The whole of Provence is occupied by Brits as they love the warm, dry climate. No exception in Le Paradou.

Lessons Learned: We need outdoor living space. This accommodation had none. We knew that when we rented it, but didn’t think too much of it. We didn’t realize how much we are used to this at home — eating or relaxing on our patio. We felt a little cooped up. So one evening we took a couple of chairs outside and sat by our front door with a glass of wine being careful not to get run over by the passing cars. It was such a relief not to be confined to the four walls of our apartment for a little while. We realized that a patio or balcony has to be on our list of priorities the next time we research places to stay.


Overall Rating: 👍👍👍 Rustic but fun for a week nevertheless. It served our purposes, but we would not stay here again. There are many other options throughout Provence. Now that I know the area better, with a more advanced search I’m sure I would be able to find something more to our liking. That said, it’s not really going to be an issue because of all the places we visited, Provence was the only one that wasn’t green. Too hot and dry for us.

Link: In case you’re curious… Le Nid de Paradou

The Gîte Life


“What is a gîte?” you ask. Well, here’s the story. In France after WW II, people began to leave the countryside and abandon their homes in search of better opportunities in the cities. In order to preserve some of the economy in these rural areas, the government established a program whereby they would provide certain incentives such as money for renovation, advertising, reservation services, and a rating system if people would fix up their homes and other outbuildings and offer them for rent. This idea really caught on and today there are literally thousands of gîtes throughout the country. Many small communities subsist only on tourism trade and several shut down completely during the months of the year when tourists are almost nonexistent. Two of the regions where you will find the most gîtes are Provence and the Dordogne where many of the owners are British. They’re attracted by the warm, dry weather of which they have little in their native England as well as the more affordable price of housing.

A gîte (pronounced “zheet”) is a self-catering accommodation. As such, guests are responsible for maintaining it during the length of their stay. This includes cleaning, making beds, taking out the garbage, and replenishing any supplies that have been provided. Typically gîtes are rented from Saturday to Saturday and guests generally stay from one to two weeks. They vary widely in size, style, and amenities with prices ranging from about $500-1500 per week. It’s really like having your own home away from home while you are on vacation. Gîtes are rated by 1-5 ears of corn called épis based on how much comfort and convenience they provide. There are several reputable sites where you can search for a gîte — two of the more popular are Gîtes de France and Gitelink France.

As we thought about what kind of experience we wanted our vacation to be, this concept really appealed to us. So in February I set out to do the necessary research. Even with a lead of four months, many accommodations were already full. If you are willing to do a little work, you can’t beat the price and convenience of a gîte versus a hotel so they are very popular with travelers from all over the world. In addition, many gîtes cater to larger families or groups. Trying to find one meant to accommodate only two people limits your choices. It presents the same challenge as renting a cabin in a ski area where most offerings will house 8-10 guests.

Aside from saving money on both accommodations and food, the whole point of renting a gîte is to have enough space and facilities to live somewhat like you would at home, or rather, like the residents of that country would live on a daily basis. By necessity, it brings you a lot closer to the people and their culture and helps you learn about the idiosyncrasies of their lives. If you take advantage of the situation the way you should, you need to make a grocery list and go to the local farmer’s market or grocery store and shop for your meals. You have to mix with the locals, read product labels in another language, speak a little of the native tongue, and figure out how to handle the foreign currency. Of course, this means that you need to enjoy cooking for yourself or it won’t seem like a vacation which we do. You will be amazed, even enthralled by the number of culinary choices you have that you won’t find in a restaurant. I think everyone would agree that eating out non-stop for several weeks can get very boring never mind expensive and fattening. If you cook, someone has to do the dishes and clean up, but it’s kind of fun to do that when you’re in a another country. You’d be surprised at how “romantic” it can be. Next you have to figure out where all the garbage and recycling goes. France is big on separating all of these items and depositing them in the proper containers which are sometimes convenient and close by and sometimes not. Occasionally you’ll have to do laundry. Many gîtes have a washer located in the kitchen, but some places have a shared laundry facility or none at all necessitating a trip to the laundromat — another opportunity to mix with the locals and figure things out. At the end of your stay, it’s time to clean house. We both pitched in to do that together and it really didn’t take very long. We do this at home once a week anyway. We usually left the place cleaner than we found it and our hosts were thrilled. Most of them did not charge us cleaning fees or take our security deposits.


All of this is more work than many who prefer the conveniences and comforts of home provided by a 5-star hotel are willing to do. But if you are brave enough to jump into your travels from this angle, you will reap the benefits ten-fold compared to the sterile experience you will have at a hotel with a hotel clerk and concierge, both of whom will likely speak English.

We stayed in three very different gîtes during our vacation as well as an apartment in Paris which for all intents and purposes provides basically the same experience. A couple of other excellent resources I used are VRBO and New York Habitat. Stay tuned for details on each of our accommodations. Then you can decide whether or not the gîte life is for you next time you travel abroad.

Fashion Statement


It would be almost impossible to talk about France, especially Paris, without mentioning fashion at least once. Paris has long been associated with the “haute” of haute couture. As everyone knows, the famous fashion houses and their biannual runway events dictate what we will all be shopping for each season. If you are really into having famous label clothing and accessories, you can certainly find them all over Paris. While I admittedly LOVE to shop, I don’t have a budget for this kind of high-end shopping nor do I particularly care about labels. I’m more interested in style.

Six years ago when I first visited Paris, I immediately noticed that the majority of the women were wearing scarves. Of course, it was a rainy, cool April so this didn’t seem too unusual. I had started wearing them more often myself since I had recently moved to a cooler climate. It was more about staying warm in cool weather than making a fashion statement though. At the end of this first trip, I realized that scarves served both purposes for French women and men as well. Scarves kept them warm while at the same time adding a lot of style to their ensembles. Everyone seemed to be wearing them and they had this really great way of tying them I couldn’t figure out until I made an observation one evening while waiting for the Metro. I watched a man re-tie his scarf and realized that it was ridiculously easy. By the time the train arrived, I had tied my own scarf in the same manner and was very pleased that I had so subtly picked up a French fashion tip. Scarves are a very common item in souvenir shops, so I bought a couple to add to my collection at home.

Shortly after that, the hobby of knitting had a bit of a resurgence. My grandmother had taught me how to knit when I was very young so it was fairly easy for me to get back into it. Not having much time or patience, however, I quickly discovered that the easiest and perhaps most rewarding thing to knit is a scarf. So I invested in some serious supplies, created quite a few scarves for myself, and made a few as gifts. My focus was still primarily on winter and wearing them in cold weather though. As time went on, I noticed scarves appearing more frequently in stores throughout the year and was attracted by the many varied fabrics and colors. I purchased some and enjoyed wearing them into other seasons.


During this year’s trip to Paris, I observed that the scarf scene was pretty much still in full swing. This time I came prepared with my own favorites appropriate for summer weather and my travel wardrobe. I wore them everywhere and, as long as I didn’t say anything, I fit right in with the Parisians. No one was the wiser until I tried to speak French. I kept wearing them throughout our entire journey. While they had plenty of scarves for sale in every region, I began to notice that few French people were actually wearing them. Once you leave Paris, life is much, much more casual especially in the summer. It was interesting to note that when I wore a scarf outside of Paris, it attracted a bit of attention and people were not sure where I was from… particularly as Norman’s French improved. By the time we reached the Basque country in Spain, the Spaniards were sure we were French tourists. The fact that we were also driving a car with French license plates definitely aided our masquerade. It was a lot of fun pretending to be French… if only for a little while.


By now I have seriously adopted this trademark of Paris style — the scarf. With help from various online sites, I’ve learned how to wear them in a multitude of ways and identified some great resources for (Oh no! Oh yes!!) buying more scarves. Ironically, they aren’t much different than the ones you find Paris except that you can’t tell people you bought them there. It’s not easy to buy a scarf that’s actually made in France unless you search out specific places and shell out a lot of money. Most of them come from… you guessed it — China. Thanks to the Internet, Americans have the same ability to achieve sophisticated style as the French. Currently, my favorite site is Scarves Dot Net where you can not only find some great scarves at reasonable prices but also video tutorials on 37 ways to tie a scarf. So get your scarf on and follow this very iconic Paris trend.

It’s Complicated!!! Pt. 3


If you have traveled in other parts of the world, you may already know that bathrooms, especially public restrooms, are not all created equal. Norman has already blogged about the difference in the French attitudes about using bathrooms, but there is another part of that issue — the toilet. Much of France has modernized and the toilets you find in houses, hotels, and restaurants for the most part look similar to ours though there are a variety of designs to the flushing mechanisms which you sometimes have to figure out. However, often when you are at a rest stop, public park, or small cafe with limited space, you will run into the old-fashioned European style toilet — basically a hole in the ground with, if you’re lucky, a cement or porcelain floor. They are usually pretty clean, but obviously men designed these with no consideration for women and their more complicated needs. I mean, it’s the 21st century people. Let’s get with the times. When I would encounter this situation, I was usually at an impasse. I didn’t grow up squatting all my life and with no cartilage in my knees, that’s just not happening without a major disaster. I began to observe that French women dealt with this dilemma by searching out the one handicapped stall which would have a normal toilet. So I did the same, but this was not always an option. There’s no requirement in France to provide facilities for the handicapped. The picture you see here shows a rather “deluxe” version of the basic toilet as it has a handle on each side so you can steady yourself. That was uncommon to find. One solution, if you just couldn’t wait like your mother told you to do when you were a kid, was to stop at a cafe and order a coffee so you could use their (hopefully modern) bathroom.

Occasionally we needed to make a phone call. We had an international phone with us for this purpose — a complicated little device in itself that we had to practice using before we left home. You can use your cell phone, but you have to pay for a separate plan and it will cost you an arm and a leg. Not very practical so you have to turn off your cellular data so you won’t get charged outrageous fees for calls or text messages. This makes you completely dependent on wifi networks (causing a bit of withdrawal from your 3G) for e-mail, Internet use, and, most important of all, maintaining your Facebook page and Instagram posts. We were happy to find that every one of the places we stayed during our entire trip had wifi to which we could successfully connect. It was on my list of standard options when I searched for accommodations. Of course, not without their complications. In one location, we could only connect one device at a time and we had four — 2 iPhones & 2 iPads. We had to learn to share. At a couple of other locations, the network password was so long and convoluted that the only way you could get it into the password field correctly was to type it in another app like Notes and then copy and paste it. Speaking of wifi, if you are even remotely addicted to your devices like we are, when you are out and about you instinctively check to see if there’s an available network. There are usually many and some of them say “free” which we rapidly learned was a lie — also no such thing as free wifi. It’s only “free” to subscribers of a particular service. On a positive note, something which is actually less complicated when traveling abroad these days is that most newer devices such as phones, computers, travel irons, and blow dryers are dual voltage (to accommodate the European 240 vs. the U.S. 120, which, by the way, is really efficient — too bad we don’t have it) meaning that you no longer need to lug around a cumbersome converter, only plenty of little adapters for the ends of the plugs so they will fit into the foreign wall sockets.

Whether you’re driving a car or using public transportation, getting around in a new environment is always challenging for a while. Except for one time, Norman did all the driving on our trip. This is not unusual. You know men, they never really like how their women drive. Besides, I have my own responsibilities as I am usually the navigator. I used to use those old-fashioned maps, but these days I generally depend on Google Maps on my iPad. However, with no 3G availability in France, that wasn’t an option. So we relied heavily on Moneypenny, our friendly and extremely polite GPS navigator. Once we finally learned how to properly direct her, we were pretty successful and she did not lead us astray too often. Only occasionally was she unclear about how far right to “stay right” or tell us to turn against traffic on a one-way street. The problem with this mode of guidance is that you don’t really learn your way around on your own and you probably aren’t carrying a map. One day on a return trip to our gîte near Bordeaux, Moneypenny decided to go on holiday. She just disappeared. Embarrassingly we found ourselves stranded and feeling a little foolish that we couldn’t make the 25 mile trip back to where we had come from. We tried everything we could think of to get her to return with no success, becoming more and more agitated by the minute. Eventually we realized that we had personified her a bit too much. After all, she was just a computer. That made the solution obvious. Restart! So we turned off the car, waited about 5 minutes, and started it up again. Voila! That did it. Whew! She never failed us again which was a good thing because we never did buy a map.

Traffic signals in France are a bit inconspicuous. There are no large looming lights in the middle of the intersection like we are accustomed to. Instead, there is a small light with about 3-inch circles for each color mounted on a pole at the beginning of the lane. It is about the driver’s height and if you happen to be the first one in line waiting at the intersection, it is almost impossible to see. This can cause just a bit of consternation for the driver to say the least. Fortunately, however, French drivers are very patient and we never encountered any road rage. An interesting note — stop signs actually read “Stop” rather than “Arrêt”. Apparently, this is the new EU standard. Funny this didn’t even dawn on me until halfway through the trip. Street signs are another source of frustration. Sometimes they exist and sometimes they don’t, but they are never located on a corner post where they can be easily read from a distance whether driving or walking. They’re always placed up high on the side of a building making it difficult to read them unless you are right in front of them which is usually too late by car. This is where you learn to love those roundabouts. You can go ’round and ’round until you get it right.

When traveling on the Metro in Paris, it is important to plan ahead and figure out what line or lines you will need to use to get to your destination. There are 14 different lines and they are each assigned a specific color on the Metro maps. There is a great app for this called “Paris 2Go” and it doesn’t require a connection so you can use it all over the city. You have to make sure when you board your chosen line that you get on going the right direction. This is fairly easy to figure out if you check on the map for the final destination of that line as the directions are identified by that name. The tricky part is when you get off and you have a choice of 3-5 different exits to the street. They all have designated names, of course, but none of them are ever the names of the street where you know you are supposed to go. So you make a guess and invariably it’s the wrong one. You end up having to cross the street and/or turn around and go the opposite direction. It took us two stays (the first and last week) and multiple tries to finally succeed in correctly exiting at our regular stop en route to our apartment. It was such a joy to finally be able to remember we had to exit at Victor somebody-or-other to land on the main street named Alesia. Of the five exit choices, none of them were labeled Alesia!

Quite often we would stop at the local tourism office when we visited a new location to get area maps and information. The people who work at these offices are multilingual and can communicate with you in English if necessary which is very helpful for directions beyond “gauche” and “droit”. One afternoon I went in to one of these offices to ask for some directions about getting to a gas station that had an attendant so we could pay with Euros. (Our plastic doesn’t work if you recall.) The woman behind the desk started off by saying, “Well, it’s complicated…”. No kidding! In the end, she wasn’t really able to tell me anything I hadn’t already figured out for myself. When I came out of the office, Norman was anxiously waiting for my reply. “Well?” he asked. And I said, “She told me it’s complicated.” We had such a laugh because we had been saying this about so many things for weeks. Even the French agree — life in France can be complicated. While this didn’t solve our problem at the moment, it was somehow reassuring and definitely provided great comic relief.

Despite all these complications, we have to admit that conquering them was part of the fun of the adventure. And next time… Yes, next time, we will be all the wiser.

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