Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “May, 2015”

The Little Red Suitcase

imageBefore I even thought about packing clothes in my carry-on, I had to figure out just exactly which miscellaneous items were going to go into the extra carry-on we would check. Spending the summer in France is not equivalent to spending the summer in San Antonio, Chicago, or Miami. You’re not going to find all the big box stores and familiar-looking strip malls to which you are accustomed in your own hometown. Though we recently learned that the first Costco will open later this year just outside of Paris. When I travel within the U.S., my philosophy is always that if I forget to pack something, I can buy it when I get there. Such in not necessarily the case in France as our previous trip revealed. In addition to the fact that you have to conduct transactions mostly in French, it can be quite a task to find that needed item in a store or even to figure out which kind of store will carry it.

So, based on our last experience, here’s what we’re taking in that extra bag…

  • Picnic Supplies – Even though the French are apparently really into “le picnic”, we found it very difficult to locate any of the requisite items for a picnic basket. We managed to find one Cost Plus-type store in Paris and made do with the things we found, but there was very little inventory. So we have packed a collapsible cooler plus a couple of freezer blocks, plastic flatware (from one of our favorite boulangeries), plastic wine cups (the nice ones for the patio that are intended to be reused), plastic plates (reusable but eventually disposible), cocktail napkins (umm… yeah, I know these are not really required, but in my case they are as I just can’t get the right ambience going without them — at least I’m not taking a variety of confetti that is usually part of my tablescapes — well, actually I did make one exception, but we’ll get to that much later), a wine corker (but, of course!), a wine bottle stopper (I don’t know why because we usually drink the entire bottle), and a tablecloth (the same one you may have noticed in photos from our 2012 trip). Seriously, you have to have a proper picnic and I expect we’ll be having a lot of them.
  • Fly Swatter – Yes, really! When we got to our first gîte in Provence, we realized that the French do not believe in putting screens on their windows, but they most certainly have a lot of flies. Our search for what we now know is called a “tapette à mouche” at the local Super U was finally successful once Norman found a roundabout way of describing what we wanted in French. This time we are taking no chances. As an accompaniment to the fly swatter for those picnics and outdoor meals, we are also taking a food tent.
  • Waterproof iPhone Cases – I will not have to worry about getting dumped into the Dordogne again with my iPhone tucked into the top of my bathing suit or Norman’s in his bathing suit pocket. We loved our canoeing adventures last time and plan to repeat them any chance that we get. It’s an absolutely prime photo opp and you can’t keep digging your phone out of that watertight barrel they give you when you rent your canoe.
  • Tea Bags – both regular and iced – The French primarily drink coffee which I can no longer drink. There are plenty of Brits, especially in Southwestern France where we will be traveling, who drink tea, but they prefer blends such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast. Suffice it to say that there’s not the wide selection of herbal teas that we have at home which are required if you have to cut caffeine out of your diet. And, those large Tazo iced tea bags seem to be an American invention.
  • Hand Fans – It eventually gets hot in the summer and unlike here in the U.S., you will hardly find air conditioning anywhere. You can buy fans in pretty much any open-air market, but they cost something like 8 euros and are imported from China. We really wanted a couple but decided we could live without them at that price. Our friendly Daiso $1.50 store supplied us with two that will do the trick.
  • Washcloths – The French don’t use a washcloth as we know it. Instead, they use a “gant” or terrycloth mitt. Even these were hard to come by in the places we stayed or stores we perused. I guess we will have to get used to them when we move to France, but, for the time being, we’re settling on taking a couple of our own from home.
  • Power Adapters – Since our phones and iPads will be traveling with us, these are imperative. After a long plane trip, they will all surely be dead by the time we reach French soil so it’s not practical to wait until you can pick some up at the local “quincaillerie” (hardware store) or electronics store. Fortunately, we don’t need to pack those cumbersome converters as all our devices are designed to work on 110 and 220 volts. We’re also taking a simple car charger which will plug in to the 12-volt port or cigarette lighter of our Peugeot which, thankfully, is identical to those in American vehicles.
  • Plus… Umbrella (to guarantee it won’t rain), Ziploc bags of various sizes (another American fetish), real Maps (so we won’t end up not being able to figure out how to get “home” when the GPS on our car decides to quit — we almost had to camp out in St. Emilion), Aprons (for all that cooking we’ll be doing and washing we don’t want to have to do in sometimes complicated French washing machines), Shoes, Toiletries, and various sundry items.

As you might guess, several of these things won’t need to make the trip home and our luggage will be a bit lighter or so Norman hopes. We don’t generally bring back any souvenirs beyond our photographs so unless we hit up the “Soldes” (sales) somewhere in July, I think there’s a good chance of that happening. By the way, contrary to the almost weekly sales we experience in this country, in France they only occur twice a year in July and December.

You would never imagine taking along such a menagerie of things, but it’s a matter of making sure you are comfortable while figuring out and learning how to adjust to the French way of living.

All Packed!

imagePacking for a trip can be fun and frustrating at the same time especially for women. It’s exciting to think about what you will do when you arrive at your destination while you are filling that suitcase with your favorite clothes, but it can be challenging to figure out exactly what you will need for all your activities and how it will all fit in your carry-on. For someone like me who loves clothes AND shoes AND scarves AND jewelry AND all the other accessories, it is particularly difficult. I love the idea of a simple capsule wardrobe for travel which essentially is a set of clothing with a limited number of items that can be mixed and matched to create a wide variety of outfits. It makes total practical sense. I have read blog after blog on this topic, but I never seem to be quite sold. Plus, travel capsules are usually geared to vacations of no more than one to two weeks. We’re going to be in France for almost 8 weeks ending with one of those (ahem!) big birthday celebrations for which I certainly have to have something special to wear. So I’ve decided on an extended capsule wardrobe.

A trip to France during the summer starts out cool and perhaps wet and ends up being rather, sometimes uncomfortably, warm so it’s definitely important to layer. For me that means a couple of pairs of pants and about five pairs of crop pants all in neutral colors. Added to that will be 6-7 knit tops in solid, brighter colors plus a variety of three-quarter sleeved sweaters and last, but certainly not least, since I am going to be in France — a selection of scarves. Yes!! All items will be rolled to avoid wrinkles and most packed tightly into ziploc bags which when compressed and zipped will conserve space. In order to picture the combinations of my choices, I layed all of the potential main pieces out on the bed a few weeks ago and then photographed them so I would remember what I had settled on. I think this will work out very well and just to make sure, I will be packing two weeks in advance. That way I have time to add or delete items and take care of any last minute inspirations.

But what about all that “other” stuff? On our last trip, we each took one carry-on suitcase and checked a very large suitcase with all of our miscellaneous items. That large suitcase proved to be quite a nuisance. It was a pain to lug around and some of our accommodations were so small that it was nearly impossible to open or store it. We vowed not to make that mistake again. So this time we will pack all of our clothes and a few accessories and toiletries in our individual carry-ons and check one more carry-on size suitcase which happens to be bright red and hopefully, easy to spot in the baggage claim area. And what’s going into that red carry-on? Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned for the next post. It’s rather interesting.

Back to our Future

imageOnly 18 days and counting! It’s almost time for our return trip to La Belle France. This will be our opportunity to decide if retiring there in two years is really the right move. We are traveling more as researchers than tourists and though we will certainly enjoy the sights, our minds will be more focused on discerning what life might be like living in France every day.   

Our last trip in 2012 gave us a broad perspective of the country and its diversity. Based on that experience and much research into various regions, we have narrowed our search to southwestern France which among other things in its favor boasts a climate similar to that of the Bay Area. We are flying to Bordeaux by way of Amsterdam where we will pick up a brand-new Peugeot that will be ours for the duration of our eight week stay. It is imperative to have a car in order to explore beyond the limits of tourism and public transportation. We will travel to eight different locations in the Poitou-Charante and Aquitaine regions staying in most for a week at a time. Our accommodations range from townhouses to gîtes and country homes that are generally larger and roomier (by French standards) than those on our previous vacation. Some are located in cities or towns while others are in the suburbs or completely out in the country. Our goal is to try on a variety of living situations and see how they fit. Granted each one will only be for a short period of time, but at least we will have some real life experience that will contribute to making decisions and plans for our future.

As for speaking French, we have made a concerted effort to study and improve our skills over the past year and are much better prepared to make our best effort to communicate in French. In addition to the fact that he has more time than I do to study, Norman’s musicial ear makes it much easier for him to differentiate the sounds between Spanish and French — a task that’s made more difficult for me due to the fact that I teach Spanish all day long every day. Since they are both Romance langauges (as in derived from Latin spoken by the Romans — not necessarily romantic), it does give us some advantage to be fluent in Spanish. As ever, I remain the grammarian and Norman takes on the role of communicator. Nevertheless, I am determined to get out there and delve into some, albeit simple, French conversation. Immersion is the key. There’s only so much you can learn in a void.

We’d like to invite you to join us on this adventure back to France — potentially our future home. Meanwhile, if you are new to following this blog, please take a look at our previous posts via the Archives on this page where you can get caught up with our past adventures and find more information about how we’ve arrived at this juncture in our lives.

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