Friday, October 14, 2011

Where I've Been

After David and I returned from our Italy/Spain trip this spring, two friends asked me to help them plan their own frugal trip to Europe. Although they could have looked at my blog, since most of the advice is there, my friends wanted me to give them a step-by-step procedure to follow in organizing their first European trip. 

As we worked together over the next couple weeks, I understood why they wanted personal help instead of looking through the blog on their own.   I had trouble, too, finding particular articles I wanted them to read. Most every tip is indeed on the blog....but locating the exact piece of information when you need it can be problematic.

It finally occurred to me that a book was in order. If I consolidated all the tips and tricks David and I have learned along the way and through the years, and arranged all the information in a step-by-step format that anyone could follow, maybe everyone would be able to take a meaningful and affordable trip to Europe (or two or three or twenty) the way David and I do.

So, that's what I've been doing--writing a book that I hope will benefit travelers and would-be travelers. I'd like to tell you a bit more about it in the article below.

Close to the Bone Traveling

In the process of writing this book, my travel philosophy has crystallized.  I realized that not only is my way of travel cheaper than any other approach, but it is also far more meaningful.  Although "cheap" has a negative connotation when applied to products, it is high praise when it applies to travel. I've come to think of it as "close to the bone traveling." 

Jon and Vonda Look, creators of the wonderful blog, Life Part 2, (See my article about them here.) gave me a chance to write about this travel philosophy when they asked me to contribute a guest article (published a couple weeks ago).  This is what I wrote.

Close to the Bone Traveling
The most beneficial by-product of traveling cheaply is that it guarantees traveling close to the bone. Nothing gets between you and the place you came to experience.
Renting an apartment instead of a hotel room means you shop the grocery stores, dicker in the markets, practice your foreign language skills on the clerk who now welcomes you with a smile at the bakery around the corner, and use the subway system like a pro. The apartment, although cheaper, accomplishes what a more expensive hotel never can; it puts you in touch with the pulse of a neighborhood. At the end of a long day, as you arrange the flowers you picked up at the corner stand or have a glass of wine to toast a spectacular sunset, you feel as though you live here. Here in Paris or Rome or Madrid.
Feeling like a resident means you enjoy all the advantages of traveling like a non-tourist. Dallying is an advantage, not a liability. You savor every moment, sleep in late, run across the street to get fresh croissants for breakfast, take the leisurely route to today's museum, amble down the alley chock full of antique shops you stumble across on the way home, and get take-out for dinner. Living in the city, even if only for a few magical days, means feeling and tasting and smelling it. Slowly and completely, with all your senses.

When you "live" in a foreign city, you become intimately acquainted with its history. The first time I went to Paris, my inexpensive B&B was located in the sixth arrondissement, known as St. Germain des Prés, where writer/philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir compared notes and wrote in the mid-1900s, and, later, the "Lost Generation" of writers and artists shared ideas after World War I.  I almost swooned when I realized that the cafe, Les Deux Magots, was around the corner. Now I could go there and have a hot chocolate in the very place where Sartre and Beauvoir wrote and where Hemingway and Fitzgerald bantered with Picasso and Gertrude Stein. This alone would nurture my soul and imagination for months.

After dreaming of seeing Paris for twenty years, the excitement of actually being in the city propelled me out of bed each morning before dawn, but I crept silently out of the house so as not to wake the other guests. My little room, a gold and turquoise Louis XIV gem that could only be reached by going through the dining room and across a terrace, was an extra that Madame rented only when the rest of her house was full.

The day I went to the Eiffel Tower, I used my guidebooks and city transit map to carefully plot my route the night before. Up at 5:30, I quickly showered, tiptoed out of the pension, stopped at my favorite patisserie to practice my college French and order a croissant, and made it to the Metro subway station before rush hour.

When I reached the correct stop, I climbed the steps to the street and looked around for the Tower. But it wasn't there. Only houses and apartments lined the neat streets. The Eiffel Tower was too big to hide, but I couldn't catch even a glimpse of its top. Evidently my carefully orchestrated route had a flaw or two.