Tuesday, April 24, 2012

France and England on $98 a Day - Out the Door

David and I have checked every list at least twice, but the frisson of nervousness that started yesterday is still there. 

The bags may look as though they are listing a bit, but they are ready to go with everything we think we'll need for the next three weeks.  And the scale tells us they are within the airline's weight limits.  Phew....

Next stop, London!

Monday, April 23, 2012

France and England on $98 a Day - Las Vegas First

What do Las Vegas and London have in common? Absolutely nothing. But David's Just for Openers convention meant we had to go.

The place makes you want to scream for help because your senses are violated at every turn. Music blares from speakers lining the streets, buildings careen at odd angles, lights blaze wherever you turn, and boys in sunglasses thrust little packets of photos in your face. Las Vegas is where brass trumps charm.

It's full of excess. The meek have no place in Vegas. While the Bellagio Hotel and Casino gardens are reliably lovely, that's the only area of The Strip that is tasteful.

White clouds and blue skies never change in the Miracle Mile Mall shops--not even when it's "raining" every hour on the hour into the pond below.

The All Saints Spitalfields avant-garde clothing shop has 1,800 old-fashioned sewing machines dressing its considerable storefront.

The people who visit this town also intrigue.

This man, Art Santen, is in The Guinness Book of World Records. He has over 32,000 bottle openers. Yes, bottle openers.

These octogenarian twins still dress the same way every day.

We met a man from the California Coast who said he towed his boat to a Vegas parking garage. He roamed the streets during the day and retired to his private yacht every night to sleep.

We met only one man who tilted at windmills, trying to sell his photocopied booklets of poetry to passersby.

I'm delighted that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because I couldn't pack all the brash bravado of that city in my suitcase no matter how large the bag. 

Practicalities -
If you do go to Las Vegas, consider staying a block off the strip in one of the less frenetic hotels that doesn't have a casino.  We had a lovely room at the Carriage House, complete with its own kitchen. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

France and England on $98 a Day - Suitcase Security

I love taking the train in Europe. I don't lie awake the night before wondering whether the diet I imposed on my suitcase did the trick or if it will be declared overweight. There's no panic about my luggage ending up in Peru when I'm in Paris. And I'm pretty sure no one will rifle through my underwear during a layover in Lisbon since no one else will touch my luggage except me--and David if he's feeling chivalrous.  

In fact, the only aspect of rail travel I do worry about is the getting-off-the-train part. That's when I think it might be easy for someone in a hurry to accidentally grab my suitcase instead of his and be on his way before I even know what's happened. This occurs because the luggage compartment above the seats is narrow so most people store their bags in the area at either end of the train car. There are so many suitcases clustered together it would be easy to mistake one anonymous black bag for another. Mistakes are made. Then, too, of course, a thief would have no problem grabbing a bag and hopping off the train before David or I even got down the aisle.

So, we have decided to ensure worry-free train travel. We've got a handy-dandy cheap solution to the Mistaken Bag Problem, and it's guaranteed to foil thieves, too. We're going to wrap this luggage strap through the handles of our suitcases after we shove them into the train car luggage area and thread it through the luggage rack slat one time before locking it.

It may take five minutes to undo the whole contraption at the end of the trip and make us the last stragglers off the train, but it will be worth it to know that we'll be leaving with the same suitcases we started with.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

France and England on $98 a Day - Our GPS

I have an unerring sense of direction. My instincts are always correct and never fail me. If I know deep in my bones, without a shadow of doubt, and beyond deliberation that I should turn right, then the only sensible thing to do is turn left.
It's uncanny how I can be so accurate, yet David seems unwilling to trust my directional proclivities on this trip driving the back roads of France. He seems to think we need additional verification that we're on the right routes to get us from Vernon to Dinan and on to Calais.

So, to satisfy him, we have investigated global positioning system, GPS, devices. Unfortunately, most of the rental offices in the little town in Vernon near Giverny, home of Monet's water lily gardens, do not carry cars equipped with GPS. EuropCar does offer it for $178.13, but we'd rather get lost than pay that amount.

We called our rental company, Avis, and inquired. A spokesperson today assured us they offer the service, but another agent two months ago just as confidently promised us they did not. I guess we won't find out who's right until we get there.

We also thought about downloading the European maps to one of our United States GPS devices, but according to advice on travel forums, that may or may not be successful.  Spending $79 to find out is too high a price to pay.

David isn't taking any chances. He's used mappy and viamichelin.com (European mapping services similar to Mapquest here in the USA.) to plot our routes, we've received instructions from our hosts on how to reach our accommodations, and I bought several detailed Michelin road maps at the library used-bookstore. And if all else fails, he can simply ask me which way to turn and then go the opposite way.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

France and England on $98 a Day - London's Ceremony of the Keys

The United States has a lot going for it with abundant natural resources, an ingenious populace, and clever inventors who regularly change the way we live with new technology.

What it doesn't have is much pomp and circumstance. With only 235 years under our belt, we just can't compete with a country like England that's been studying Miss Manners for a thousand years or so.

And when it comes to ritual, the Brits brook no nonsense. They have ceremony down pat. If a ritual works well the first time, they see no need to ever change it.

Have you seen the commercial where the woman feels so wealthy with her new credit card that she tries to buy the Crown Jewels?   Hundreds of years before that woman ever thought of approaching the Beefeater in the Tower of London, a ceremony to secure Britain's wealth was born.

The Ceremony of the Keys is a fifteen-minute ritual that locks all the doors in the Tower. It's been enacted every night in exactly the same way with the exact same words following the exact same footsteps of the first Yeoman Warder for over seven hundred years!

And every night a few lucky people are invited to share in the securing of the jewels. David and I will be among them one night in early May.   We can't take photos, but I promise to tell you all about it in the blog.

Practicalities -

The tickets are free. All we had to do was send a request a couple months in advance with a self-addressed (stamps-enclosed) envelope. The only somewhat challenging part of the request process was acquiring the stamps needed for the return address. Obviously US stamps are not accepted by the British postal system, so we had to go to our post office to buy international stamps that the office in Britain exchanged for their British equivalent.

Here's some information about the ceremony and ticket procedure, and here is the official government website.