Monday, October 27, 2008

Done, de done, done done!

I'm finally done with the blog, er ah, WE are done.

Terry had the pleasure of uploading the 3,000 photos to photobucket. Not a task I, yes I meaning ME, want to soon repeat, hearing all his #$&@*&^ blipity-blips as photobucket misbehaved. Needless to say, he was happy when HE was done. All the while I tried to keep updating the blog with the fresh, new links and adding a few photos and slideshows of my own to the blog itself. The graphic designer in me will not allow a photo-less page - how boring!!!

Anyway, I've flipped all the days in chronological order, day by day, for easier readability, from beginning to end.

We set up this blog mostly for our own journal and to remember our trip in a permanent setting.

Now all 3 of you people (hehe) who have been following along, thanks!

Hope you enjoyed it!

2008 France, Belgium and Netherlands Trip

Bonjour et bienvenue!

Yeah, another trip planned soon to be scratched off the bucket list!

Terry & I have always wanted to wander around the French countrysides. Seeing so many wonderful sights while watching the Tour de France for years has cemented our desires. Our meandering on our 2004 Germany, Austria, Switzerland countrysides trip far exceeded our expectations, so France it is. We also decided to include a few days in both Belgium and the Netherlands, extending the trip a few more days, but we feel it will be worth it.

After many months of reading, internet surfing, researching, and lots of give and take negotiations, we agreed upon a route we can live with. A lot of the sights are centered around WW2 sights, because yeah, the German’s bombed the heck out of France. So many memorials, towns, and museums still reflect that sad time in France’s history.

The Plan:
Travel September 15th to October 8th.
Fly in and out of Paris.
Map itinerary of where we plan to go:


Getting around:
Whenever we drive in Europe, we have discovered leasing a new car is the way to go. Short term, guaranteed buy back leasing is a tax free French program through either Peugeot or Renault designed specifically for non European members traveling more than 17 days in Europe. Yes, we technically own the car while there.

The price is usually cheaper than renting, you get a brand spanking new car waiting at the airport, no 21% VAT tax added, 24/7 roadside assitance, and 100%, 0 deductible insurance included in the price. We chose car leasing over rental on our last driving trip and WOW, were we happy! We loved our little car so much the last time, that we reserved the same exact car - a Peugeot 207 Diesel.

We are cheating this time, not using road atlas maps, but rather our hand held GPS. We bought a program that covers all of Europe, and have plugged in all of the B&B addresses, sights, towns, etc. We hope it will work as well as when we used it to drive across our country in 2005. It is definitely a time saver not getting lost in the sometimes confusing European cities.

Day to day plans:
Sept. 15 - Sept. 16 - Overnight flight from LAX to Paris
We land in Paris, pick up our car at Charles de Gaulle airport. Leave the Paris suburbs, head NW towards Normandy and the D-Day beaches. Stop in Caen along the way to visit the Caen Memorial Museum with a special exhibit honoring 9-11.
We’re staying at Ferme de la Rosiere  B&B just outside the small town of Bayeux. I’m sure we will be exhausted, but we may stroll around the town for a bit to shake off the jet lag until bed time.

Sept. 17th - night in Bayeux, Normandy
We have an all day ‘American Highlights D-Day tour’ reserved through Battlebus.
There is no better way to grasp an understanding of what really happened on those terrible days than to have a first hand, visual account explained in a private tour.

Sept. 18 - night in Bayeux, Normandy
Free day to explore the whole Normandy area, Arromanches Beach and museum, and anything we missed on the tour. Visit more of Bayeux.

Sept 19 - night near Mt. St. Michel
Leave early to drive to Mt. St. Michel, the medieval Benedictine Abbey perched on a rocky island. We will spend all day exploring the Abbey, narrow streets and buildings.
We are staying at the beautiful, rural Les Vieilles Digues B&B, a few miles up the road from Mt. St. Michel.

Sept 20, Sept 21, Sept 22 - nights in Amboise, Loire Valley
Drive SE to the Loire Valley, famed for the noble, aristocratic, elaborate chateaus that grace the rivers and valleys. Our home base for the next 3 days & nights will be in the picturesque town of Amboise .
Our B&B, Chez Briault B&B is just outside of town in a rural neighborhood.
The next 3 days we will wander the Loire Valley region, hoping to visit the following chateaus:
Chateau d’Amboise

Château de Chenonceau

Château de Montsoreau

Château de Chambord

Château de la Belle au bois dormant

Château de Cheverny

Chaumont sur Loire

Chateau de Chinon

Sept 23 - night in Sarlat
Leave early in the morning, head south into the Dordogne region of France to visit the town of Oradour-sur-Glane.
This town was completely destroyed by the Germans, looted, burned and all the town folk killed. The French govenment have left the town as is since that fateful day, preserving it as a National Monument Memorial and a very sober reminder of war. Every French school age child visits this town on field trips.
Continue south to Sarlat, a well restored town a few kilometres north of the River Dordogne. The old town, famed for it’s outdoor markets and cafes, dates from both medieval and renaissance times.
Staying at the tranquil home B&B CHAMBRES-D’HÔTES-SARLAT just outside of town.

Sept 24 - night in Carcassonne
Head SE to visit Rocamadour, a hill top sacred, ancient town situated atop a rocky plateau overlooking the Alzou Valley.
Continue S, visiting all the rural small towns along the beautiful valleys and rivers ending in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Carcassone. Carcassone is a completely walled, preserved medievel town that was an important stop along the Roman trade routes. Staying at Hôtel Astoria located just outside one of the wall gates.

Sept 25 – night in Arles
Leave early traveling SE to the Provence Region, skirting the Mediterranean along the way. Stop in the historical Roman town of Nimes for lunch and a look at the few Roman ruins still remaining, the Colloseum and pantheon styled Maison Carré. On further W, to medieval Arles, another UNESCO World Heritage Roman ancient city along The Rhône river. The city center boasts an amphitheater arena, a Roman theater and many standing roman ruins around town. There are many sights and museums dedicated to Van Gogh. It is here he lived out his prolific art life creating most of his most famous works.
We are staying at Hôtel Regence, right by the Rhone River on the edge of town.

Sept 26 – night in Avignon
Leave early to visit Pont du Gard, a Roman Empire three level aqueduct.
Spend time in and around all the Provencal villages on our way to Avignon, the cultural capital of the Provence. It is famous for the 14th century Popes Palace. This old city is one of the most important gothic ensembles in Europe, thanks to its architectural and artistic heritage.
Staying in the 18th century Hotel Medieval in the middle of old town.

It’s right about here in our trip that we had to make some big decisions. Do we now head north or go south to the Mediterranean coast of Marsallies, Saint Tropez, Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. After researching those areas, there is really nothing to see but beaches, rich people and their homes and celebrities. No thanks, we prefer the historic towns of significance with sights to actually see. We decided instead to add a few days in Belgium and the Netherlands. It turned out to be a no brainer after all - go North.

Sept 27 – night in Dijon
Head north and as time permits, we hope to visit the Roman town of Orange, lunch in Lyon, visit Beanne and end in Dijon. Dijon is the capital city of the Burgundy wine region and home to what else . . . dijon mustard. We will wander the medieval city center and Cathedral in the evening and rest a bit.
Staying at Hotel Thurot, just outside the old town walls.

Sept 28 – night in Verdun
Leave early into the Lorraine région to visit Verdun, the site of the Battle of Verdun in 1916 during World War I. The area is filled with memorials, battlefields, and forts left from that time period.
Staying at Les Charmilles B&B in the small village of Charny, near Verdun.

Sept 29 – night in Arnhem, Netherlands
We leave early heading N to visit the Belgian town of Bastogne, sight of the WW2 Battle of the Bulge. The movie ‘Band of Brothers’ was based on the battles fought in this area. Arrive in Arnhem, Netherlands late in the afternoon.
Staying at Sonsbeek B&B

Sept 30, Oct 1, Oct 2 – nights in Haarlem, Netherlands
This morning we travel 2 km to spend most of the day at Netherlands Open Air Museum. It is a huge, beautiful, wooded museumpark on the outskirts of Arnhem, depicting life through the ages, complete with actual buildings and demonstations of life and occupations of a bygone era.

Leave late in the afternoon, for the 1 1/2 hour trip to Haarlem. Along the way we hope to stop and see Muiderslot Castle.
And if time permits, the Vestingvaart Naarden star fort, the walled city built to protect Amsterdam during the 1500s. Staying at Canalhouse B&B

The next 3 days, our time will be split between Amsterdam and Haarlem. Amsterdam is a short 30 min train ride right into the city center. Not only do we not want to drive into Amsterdam, but there is virtually no parking with all the canals. Our car will stay safely parked at the B&B in Haarlem.

In Amsterdam, we hope to visit:
Anne Frank House & Museum,

Rijksmuseum Museum
Van Gogh Museum

the outdoor flower markets, take a canal boat ride and stroll the many squares filled with cafes.
And lastly . . . visit the infamous and interesting Red Light district.
And no, we don't plan on visiting a "coffee shop", code words for a legal MJ smoking shop. I may peek in a window though if my curiosity gets the best of me.

Our time in Haarlem will be spent wandering the beautiful town streets, canals, catching up on some much needed rest. We'd like to visit the Corrie ten Boom house,
The Ten Boom home became a refuge for fugitives hunted by the Nazis during WW2.

Oct 3, Oct 4 – nights in Bruges, Belgium.
Up early to make our way SW to end in Bruge. Along the way we may stop in Delft, and the Dutch village Kinderdijk, home to a large windmill park. We will drive the scenic route along the coast, with many small villages, under canal car tunnels, and bridges - should make for an interesting drive. Arrive late afternoon in Bruge also known as ‘the Venice of the North’. Staying at Hobo B&B.

Our 2 Bruge days are complete relax and wander, gearing up for our last days in Paris. No museums, but plenty of BELGIAN CHOCOLATE SHOPS! And boy do we plan on our share of sampling.

Oct 5, Oct 6, Oct 7 – nights in Paris
Oooooo, la la, Paris! Our 3 hour drive on the toll highway should go fast. We’ll drop the car off at Charles de Gualle airport, buy a 4 day metro pass and train into the city. We are staying at Hotel Royal Phare, just blocks from the Eiffel tower and right around the corner from one of our favorite neighborhoods, Rue Cler. Plus it is right across the street from a metro station to wisk us anywhere in the city.

The Rue Cler is a gourmet delight for the mouth and eyes, chock full of open markets, cafes, patisseries, cheese shops, wine shops, flowers - you name it - anything you need to make a picnic lunch to sit by the Eiffel tower. It is the typical Parisian village in the center of Paris.

We plan to visit a few museums we’ve never seen before. Today, the first Sunday of the month, all museums are free admission. We have already spent 3 days in the Louvre on prior trips, so we will skip it this time.
We’ll visit: Pompidou Center, Musée national d’Art moderne, Musée national Picasso. We’d love to again ascend to the top of Arc de Triomphe and see Sainte-Chapelle again, but there may not be time. We’ll either take a Seine River cruise tonight or on Tuesday evening.

Yeah, just gotta get our Disney fix. We’ve visited this park 2 other times and just LOVE it! It has all the European charm and architecture of a real village. Not to mention, we ALWAYS have a great time on the rides and seeing the shows. Nothing like hearing Buzz Lightyear speak French!

We’ll hop on the RER train for the 40 min train ride through Paris to the countryside where the parks are located. Yes, parks. They opened the new Walt Disney Studios Park a couple of years ago. In fact, it was open our last visit in 10-06, but we couldn’t justify the price with very little open yet. But now, they’ve opened quite a few attractions, so we will have a bunch of new things to see. We’re buying a park hopper ticket, that includes admission to both parks. It will be a fun filled, long day, from open to close, ending with the train ride back to our hotel. Bliss!

Oct 7 - Our last full day in Paris, a walking day, exploring the Parisian neighborhoods we’ve not visited before. Paris has very distinct areas, or in Paris-speak, arrondissements, filled with beautiful churches, buildings, memorials and museums. We plan starting the day at the Rue Mouffetard outdoor market for breakfast and buy fixins for a picnic lunch.
On to walk Les Halles, Le Marais, Trocadero. And some repeats, Ile de la Cité/Ile St-Louis & Notre-Dame, Jardin des Tuileries. If time, more of the Latin Quarter, St. Germain-des-Pres. The Seine river cruise if we haven't done it yet.

Oct 8 - We have the morning free to laze around the Rue Cler until check out time. Our plane leaves Paris at 1:30 pm and we arrive LAX 9:30 pm.

Whew - so there you have it!
We hope to have a fantastic vacation, looking forward to lots of adventure and hopefully all will go as planned without a hitch. We will try to update the blog and photos along the way whenever we have access. If you'd like to follow along with us on our trip, be sure to subscribe for updates.

Au revoir et merci pour la lecture ainsi.
(Bye for now, and thanks for reading along.)

Packing Light

We learned the hard way . . .

When Terry & I went on our 11 day cruise to Alaska in 1999, we each packed a ginormous suitcase along with a garment bag for our formal night attire. I swear my suitcase was almost as tall as me and much wider. We trudged to the airline check-in counter and the lady informs us, "Your bags are too heavy and considered oversized, $80 please. "HUH?? Boy, were we in shock having to shell out extra $$ for our clothes!

After that incident, we decided to learn how to pack light. Every article and book we read reiterated limiting each person to one carry-on bag. Oh right, says I - no way, it can't be done.

At this point we were planning our first European road trip to England, Scotland, Wales, and Paris in 2001. Not only did we certainly not want to repeat our last luggage faux paux, but we would be on the move constantly for 30 days. Juggling luggage is NOT our idea of fun. We knew we would have to pack X amount of days and spend time in the laundromats. We decided a week's worth sounded about right.

Next, we went out and bought the largest carry-on size backpacks we could find. Came home, only to find, 7 days of clothes won't fit, plus we still had maps, books, power adapters, toiletries, meds and all the incidentals yet to pack. Back to square one. 5 Days? Still not enough room. We came to the conclusion that we could take our large backpacks each and in addition carry the other stuff in a purse/messenger bag sized allowed carry-on. Done deal.

Our trip came and went, and we learned a lot more than we realized as we traveled.
1. I can't do a back pack, it was way too big, too heavy on my back and too long for my 5' frame. I switched to the max size roller bag and still use it. Terry still loves and uses his backpack.

2. The type of clothes we packed were not suitable for washing and drying quickly. Although, we met a lot nice people and had some very interesting conversations while waiting for the spin cycle. It also gave us some much needed downtime to sit, relax and regroup. But still, cutting our time in the laundromat, would be next on our to-do list.

3. Ziploc bags & plastic grocery bags are your friends. We carried many new empties with us and wish we had packed more. They weigh nothing, pack flat and we used them for everything.

4. Take ONE pair of very worn in, comfortable shoes, that is all you'll need.

As we planned for our 2004 Germany, Austria, Switzerland trip, we took what we learned and applied it.

1. We bought quick dry, travel clothing, head to toe. Plus being lighter in weight, they take up 1/2 the space of normal clothes. Everything we bought was similar color and mix & match, If needed, we were able to wash in the bathroom sink and hang overnight. The beauty of quick dry clothes.

2. Waterproof. lightweight, jackets with hoods rather than cart an umbrella, a waterproof sling purse or messenger bag for books and maps, and sprayed our shoes with waterproofing.

3. Toiletries - take the bare minimum to get by a few days, you can buy whatever you need over there or the B&B/hotel supply them.

4. Wear layers if it's cold, I wear a fleece vest when needed. I wear my heaviest clothes and carry my jacket on the plane.

5. Always wear a money belt or hidden, zippered pocket for money, credit cards and passport.

6. Souvenirs are space hogs. If you must, buy and ship home. I carried the cuckoo clock on the plane from Germany, I'll never do that again. Now I stick to postcards, small trinkets to make photo frames. My memories and photos are good enough for us. Terry LOVES that I'm not a big shopper.

By 2006, when we planned our London, Paris, Italy trip by train, we had it down to a science. I even had room to pack my nebulizer, and meds in the roller, leaving my carry-on purse for actual purse things. We're getting it now.

Planning for this upcoming trip, I will resort back to a larger hand carry-on in addition to my roller. My health needs require more to tote around and they will definitely fill it. Since I have it marked 'Medical Supplies', it doesn't count as an extra carry-on. Kudos to the airlines recognizing this need for the disabled. But I still get the third degree at security, bomb sniffing my electronics and inspecting my refrigerated liquid meds and syringes.

I can honestly say, that since I've learned to pack light , I wouldn't travel any other way. In fact, now I'm always trying to see what I can eliminate. Even when we take a week or two week trip, our luggage remains the same. It's very 'freeing' not to have to hassle and juggle luggage.

I suppose I can tell myself I told you so, it can be done.

Speaking of packing . . . I better get to it!

Today is Trial Pack Day

Only one more week until we leave - YAY!
It still seems so surreal after all the planning, that the day is almost here. I don't actually begin to think it's truly a go until we board the plane. Then it is hand sweat time. Yeah, I still hate to fly.

BTW ~ My name is Jodi and I'm an anal-list-o-holic!!

I've got lists coming out my ears. I have one master vacation list on my computer, but it never fails, that each trip we take, I add to it. My list of things to take and things to do before we leave is a full 3 pages @ 12 pt type.

Lists of clothes, toiletries, meds, electronics, travel documents, flights, emergency info, medical info, doctor info, scans of passports & driver licenses, maps, books, hotel info, yada yada yada and boo-koo MB files on the computer needed for a successful trip. I'm always so afraid I'll forget something important, especially health related.

When you leave for almost a month, there is a lot to think about that needs done while gone, like paying bills. Although this chore has been mostly taken care of by automatic bill pay. This has been a god send for travelers. The painful part? Juggling money to make sure there is enough in the accounts to pay all those bills when they come due-UGH! The rest I'll pay on the road, online. What did we do before computers anywho??

Thank goodness, Josh house and Bucky sits for us when we travel. I don't know what I would do if he couldn't do this for us. Bucky is diabetic and requires 2 shots a day, morning and evening, and Josh is great about giving him his shots. Plus Bucky loves having Josh home, Josh has the magic 'cat hands' that require lap, pet, and purr time. Me thinks Josh enjoys it just as much, since he suffers from cat withdrawls not having a cat at home anymore.

I know if I had to board Bucky, he wouldn't eat or survive. As it is, when we leave for that long, he must think we died. A month is a loooooong period in a no-concept-of-time cat's mind. I just know he is very chilly towards us and snubs us every time we return. He'll give us a sideways glance, as if to say, "Oh, it's just you, you're home again." HA HA!

The second day, a lightbulb goes off and he realizes we ARE home and didn't abandon him after all. He then becomes my shadow for a couple more days until he sees we are home and back in routine.

Today is the day.
My lists start to become physical reality.
Everything that needs washed, is washed.
The crap comes out of the wood work and is piled on the guest bed for inspection.
Check, check and recheck.
The lists are dotted with highlighter swipes until the whole page appears to glow in the dark.

The dryer is buzzing, the lists and highlighter are screaming.
TIme to trial pack - ZOOM!

Mr. Dollar, you can keep on going up

Woo hoo!

The Dollar - Euro exchange hit the .70 mark today, the best it's been in a looooong time.
One of our dollars = about 70 cents in Euro. When we made the final decision to seriously plan this trip in April, the exchange was .60. That number alone was almost the deciding factor if we could afford to take this trip. The way the dollar has been heading down, we assumed it would only get worse. Then our thinking was, well since it will only get worse, we better go now before it becomes unattainable.

So you think the 10% doesn't make much difference? Well it does, in big ways. First you figure the basic exchange you are already losing 30% of your spending ability (40% @ .60). Plus less high Europe VAT taxes not added in, their MUCH higher fuel prices and taxes since we will be driving, accomodations and the high taxes -- it all adds up quick when you're lopping off 10%.

Who knew that the good ole $$ would rebound up, especially with the economy in the crapper.
Whatever the reason, we'll take it.
Way to go, Mr. Dollar.

: )

The Airport Blues

So tomorrow is the day - Yipppeee!
I'm nervous, excited, and sick to my stomach all at once.
Normal before-we-leave-jitters.

I hate flying, period. I break out in a cold hand sweat every take off and landing. Once we're up and going smoothly, I'm fine. But if we hit turbulence, uh oh, let the sweating begin again. You'd think as many times as I've flown, it wouldn't bother me, but it does.

The whole airport, check in, security routine is usually nightmarish for me. I'm always put through the ringer because of all my med schtuff, especially flying international. I've been bomb sniffed, scrutinized, analyzed, patted down, asked 50 questions, given the stink eye and even humiliated, having my underwear and every piece of clothing in my luggage turned inside out, searched and touched in front of other passing travelers. Arg!

Ha, ha - the last few paragraphs sound like I'm being arrested or something bad.

Really, I am looking forward to going, these are my tomorrow concerns only. From then on, I'm going to have a wonderful time.

Well, at least until we go to the airport to return home. ; )

See y'all when we return.

: )

Finally! Internet access

Almost a week in to the trip and we finally have internet access.
Although it is V-E-R-Y slow, I’ll only add the journal part, photos will have to come later.

We are still having problems with jet lag, eating and sleeping. We wake up at 2-3 am starving, which is our normal dinner time at home. I’m so screwed up time wise, I can’t even read my body when it is hungry or not. I think I’m not but once I start, I scarf. I know with the 9 hour time change, jet lag and tons of walking, neither one of us is eating enough to sustain. Terry is having milk withdrawls, since most of their milk is unpasteurized and sold in boxes, warm on the store shelf. Once in a while, we’ll pop into a store and we’ll find a liter sized bottle of cold milk and between the 2 of us we guzzle it – it tastes so good!

Plus our colds we got just before leaving, have flared up again, “blowing” through a box of Kleenex in no time - LOL! Today seemed to be better, but tonight will tell.

So far this is what I have:

9-15-08 Fly out
We leave for LAX airport at 5:00am to catch our 8:30am flight. We had a stopover in Philadelphia, just enough time to find the right gate and we were off again. I was able to nap about 1 ½ hours, first time ever on a plane, Terry didn’t sleep at all.

9-16-08 Arrive Paris
We arrived 40 minutes early but then ended up standing in customs line for an hour. Found an ATM to get some Euros, and had the information desk phone Autofrance for our shuttle pickup to get our car. The lease couldn’t be any easier, we signed some papers, they gave us the keys with a few quick instructions and we were on our way to the nearest gas station. Our car takes diesel, E1.40 per liter, which translates to about $6 per gallon and with the exchange rate about $8 per gallon – ouch! The gas station also had a small store ala 7-11, so we grabbed some snacks and drinks for the road.

The traffic going from the airport into Paris center is reminiscent of LA traffic – took us forever to get out of dodge. I did get a peek of the Eiffel Tower from afar as we drove the ring road. Once out on the highway, the traffic lifted and the landscape turned to farms and cows pretty quick. We drove to Caen to visit the Caen Memorial Museum which lasted a couple of hours. We probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we should have because the tiredness was setting in, we also grabbed a sandwich in their cafeteria. We left the museum and drove ½ longer to our B&B outside of Bayeux, a very peaceful, old farm with antique furnishings and a big room. There was a note on the door to please come in, everything was unlocked. It is now about 4:00, we unpack and settle in, as we smell heavenly food smells. Turns out, our B&B host also has a small restaurant for dinner only. Too bad we weren’t hungry, just tired! We turned in around 8:00, exhausted.