Tuesday, June 12, 2012


View of the Seine, complete with castle, from the Vernon riverbank.
One of the pleasures of staying in a B&B or renting an apartment is that you often find congenial guests or hosts with whom you can share travel adventures and tips. In Vernon, at the lovely Villa Geraldine, we were lucky enough to share breakfast with two well-traveled Canadians, Diana and Peter, who were driving to Nice on the French Riviera after they visited Giverny. David and I talked about our travel style, gave them a card with my book information, and, in return, they shared with us some of their experiences staying in French gites.

When we got home, I was delighted to find that Peter had e-mailed some of the road rules he and his wife use to plan frugal trips. He's agreed that I can share them with you.





One of Vernon's historic half-timbered buildings.

Do some homework before you go to get the most out of your vacation. Guidebooks, Google Maps, and directions to tricky places are invaluable.

We've rented 6 gites in France in 3 vacations - (self-catering flats, apartments, houses and even a converted 17th century cow shed!) We use an English web site, Holiday Lettings,[David and I like this one, too] as most of the owners are English speakers and our French is not up to a sustained conversation. This site has literally hundreds of possibilities. Another good site for comment [about rental lodging] is Trip Advisor.

Except for major cities, do rent a car. There is lots of advice on this topic [on the Internet]- the best rental location, the best rental companies and the issues of insurance - are all covered in many places. A car can save enormous bus/train waiting times and can get you to places you'd otherwise miss.
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What service does this shop provide?


Imperative! Rent, borrow, perhaps even buy a GPS. Put it on the speaker mode even if you let your spouse "navigate." Reason? You have a third party to blame when you take the wrong turn and end up - as we did going to Italy on the Autoroute when we wanted a local road! [Or, if you have an extraordinarily well-organized cartographer like David, you don't need GPS!]

Get all the pamphlets you can, peruse them and choose where to go, but don't bother to take them home because they will substantially increase your luggage weight.

Look at local post cards. The photographers have found all the best places and the best locations, so use their experience. Don't bother to buy the cards unless your camera is on the blink.

Go self-catering. French restaurant food - though once probably the best in the world - is no longer. And it can be expensive. They tend to eat in the middle of the day. If your schedule allows for almost two hours at a restaurant, then go for it. Otherwise take a picnic of the best the supermarkets can provide and save, save.

Avoid the temptations of espresso (or tea for that matter) and other coffee products designed to relieve the innocent tourist of his/her cash. Costs for a smidgen of black stuff at the bottom of a tiny cup can cost so much it would make a Starbucks investor drool.
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View into the Villa Geraldine courtyard from our second-story room.
Try out of the way places. We took two full-day trips by regional trains from Nice into the mountains. We stopped off at several stations exploring the ancient villages they served. One train was a narrow gauge that excites rail buffs. The other, through Roya Gorge to Italy, has several long tunnels and some figure-of-eight turns inside mountains! All the trains were diesel electric and very modern. A day trip for two cost €45 and a little more for a picnic lunch. (We did break down and have espresso! It was a very different price from the city.)

Use the village tourist centres ("i" on signs) for maps and lots of other information. They are usually overstaffed and willing to put up with fractured French. [Most attendants speak English, but this is a comfortable place to practice your French, too.]

I make estimates of our vacations and record the actual figures when we return. We travelled to France in 2005 for 17 days; in 2010 for 27 days; and in 2012 for 20 days. Without airfare, our costs were surprisingly similar - each vacation cost Canadian $105, $105 and $104 per person. I think this is remarkable over a 7-year period. These costs include every expense such as rental cars, gas, food entertainment and even some gifts we brought back with us. [This is remarkably similar to the amounts David and I spend on each trip. Peter and Diana are admirable Tightwad Travelers, and I'm grateful they are willing to share their travel tips!]

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