Tag Archives: Paris

Romance, art and history all displayed in architecture

Last Entry into Traveller’s Log

We’re flying out today.  After 71 days away from home, we need a bit of a break from this vacationing thing.  We’ve effectively been gone for 20% of the year, so it’s time to water the plants and check the mail.

Tip: Use a wide angle lens to get the whole tower in the photo

How does one do such a trip?  You may ask…how can I do that?  How much planning is involved for such an epic journey?  All good questions…and the first thing is to not have a plan.  It was circumstance that seemed to lead us into this whirlwind journey.  Years of promising each other that when the time was right, we would look at going away for a month.  Life seems to just get in the way though with work commitments, family, business, kids…we just had to set the few things we had aside and go for it.  There were no kids involved if anyone that doesn’t know us was wondering.  As for the planning, we had about 4 weeks notice.  More planning likely could have been done if we had aimed to accomplish such a venture as part of a resolution or bucket-list item, but no…give us a few weeks and internet along the way to figure things out, and we’ll book that return ticket when we’re ready…or out of money.

Accommodation.  We stayed in 12 different cities & towns over that 71 day span, ranging in size from not on the map (Pogerola) to Paris.  Visited another 11 towns on day trips, seeing over-hyped castles and medieval villages.  We likely could have done more…but damn it’s tiring being on the go every day.  We rented 8 different apartments, and only had to bail on one of them.  5 different hotels over that span, nothing worse than an Italian 3-star…nothing better than an Italian 4-star (really there doesn’t seem to be any difference, other than maybe the number of panes of glass in the windows).  Not once did we get caught having to resort to overnight train sleeping, or getting stuck in a bus station in the wee hours of the morning.

This was the back way into Amalfi. Not for the faint of heart.

24 train trips, involving 27 different trains.  Only 2 planes thus far.  With another 2 for the trip home.  If I had only thought ahead, I could have burned up a few more of those credit card travel points on travelling in style…first class.  If you’re looking for us, I think those booking on points are likely positioned next to the most commonly used toilets, in the seats with no legroom and a broken entertainment unit.  Only about a dozen buses.  When in Pogerola, other than walking the 1000 steps into town, the only other way was via bus…and these were almost daily.  Plus the number of connections was uncountable.  The Cannes to Nice run was by far the most terrible of all for duration, making up for the lack of quantity.  Oh yeah, one more bus to the airport.  No taxi for this budget twosome.

Dinner in house…well the last two weeks of the trip almost religiously.  Before that…almost every night out with the goal to eat at a different restaurant each time.  We did well up until Florence…then just gave in to familiarity.  Pizza and pasta is pretty much the same from restaurant to restaurant, and when ordering a half litre of wine every night we were beginning to wonder if we needed the wine to enjoy each other’s company.  Of course we didn’t…it’s our 11th anniversary today, and we’re celebrating with a plane trip home.  In the past we skimped and called the company Christmas party our anniversary, this year British Airways is picking up the dinner and drinks.

Cannes has the sandy beaches…and wind…unbelievable wind!

And with this goal of creating a blog a day of more than 500 words, well it appears to be close to achieved.  This makes 76 published posts, a few of those being all pictures, and aarly posts are a little weak on words and format.  Still 4 posts sitting in the ‘draft’ state, with one behemoth on the ‘history of the pizza cutter’ that will likely never see the light of day due to exhaustive research to ensure the facts discussed are in fact accurate.  Of course this is the internet and fact seems to be less frequent than opinion.

The ‘post-a-day’ goal wasn’t set until a week or two in when it appeared I might be able to do it.  To accomplish such a feat, a dedicated machine was required…both portable and fun to use.  We went with an 11inch Macbook Air, and find now that an external hard drive might also be required for the 50GB of photos we have this thing now loaded up with.  If you don’t have the tools to enable you, then however are you supposed to come up with the motivation?  It now seems we each need one of these machines to maintain peace in the household.  Melanie to work on her pictures, and me to continue writing to appeal to new blog followers in the US, India and Russia.

And how much has this whole escapade cost?  We’ll save that conversation for over a beer or two.  We did have a target in mind to keep accommodation to less than $100CDN per day…and we did that with margin to spare.  Transportation costs averaged out to less than $50 per day…but could have been less without paying cancellation fees for changed train and flights.  Food and entertainment spend…we had a hard cap of $100 per day on that and fell well below that once we started cooking for ourselves.  We’ll say less than a new compact car, more than a large jar of Nutella.  In the end, the dollar amount is irrelevant as this really is an experience that could have been saved for retirement.  Instead we’re spending those retirement dollars now, and why not?

What could possibly be next as a follow up to this trip?  If I knew, I might be able to offer up some hints.  Very little planning involved with this trip.  I can’t say the timing worked out either, or that the funds were there burning a hole in our pockets.

Maybe Australia.  I also wouldn’t mind renting a van and driving through North America though.

A Padlock to Symbolize Your Love?

Lots more room here on the Pont des Arts.

We’re not talking chastity belts, or anything kinky that might involve leather hoods or overly complex harnesses.  Ever consider symbolizing your loving relationship with a lock?  Europeans in many cities have started in on this a few years ago, and it is something we noted last year on Via dell’Amore while doing a day trip to the Cinque Terre.   Apparently, each time you revisit a place, celebrate an anniversary, or find an unused lock on your person and happen to be in the area…you too could attach another to, or next to, the previous one to demonstrate to the world that your relationship is still alive and well.

Who started the love padlock idea seems to be a bit of a mystery.  It’s an interesting alternative to the timeworn practice of carving your initials into a tree or the fresh cement on a sidewalk, then enveloping all in a heart…maybe with Cupid’s arrow neatly puncturing it’s way in, then out.  Why not purchase a lock from a nearby vendor and Sharpie your names onto the securing device, with of course that same heart-shaped scrawl around those illegible initials.  Prior planning could even provide for engraving, if the budget is there.  Add a couple lipstick kisses on each side of the lock, and climb high onto a structure and clipping the lock in place at a point where everyone can see  the result of your actions.    Finish it off with a warm embrace and casting of the key into the ocean, nearby pond or unused well.  Sounds oh so romantic, and much cheaper than a ring of any sort.

But why the lock?  A lock, appears to be permanent but really only as permanent as the structure it’s hanging from.  Bridges get replaced.  City crews come by occasionally with lock cutters in hand to remove this perceived fence clutter as a ‘safety’ issue.  Scrap metal collectors may look at that symbol of commitment as an extra dime at the recyclers.  Sure a lock is more permanent than flowers, and planting a tree to symbolize your bond requires so many more tools…plus property to do the deed.  A lock isn’t eternal, it only means that if someone comes along with the right tools, and presses the right buttons, that object of meaning can become unshackled.

Does size matter?  What about colour and material?  Does price matter, or could a cheap lock be bejeweled in a way to hide the fact it used to secure your gymshorts in high school?  How do you justify the combination lock to that beloved partner?  Maybe a couple shots of absinthe and a shredder to remove both physical and mental evidence?  How does she know that you haven’t committed that combo to heart in the event you want to open that lock again one day?  Sounds like it’s time for a little interviewing…oh yeah, no Italiano.

The bike lock I find to be interesting.  In the end it’s all just a light-hearted display that shouldn’t be mulled over too intensely.  Some may think it’s a disgrace, and near equivalent to graffiti.  I wonder if a similar mass project in Vancouver could also be accomplished.  Critical Mass gained popularity?  Sure Vancouver isn’t the most romantic town out there, but there must be a few sights worthy of coloured locks all displayed for public show.  The wiki on love padlocks does note that close to home in Ucluelet, locks adorn the Wild Pacific Trail…but these locks are seen to detract from the atmosphere.  How about something more urban?  Lover’s Locks on Cambie?  The Cambie Street Bridge because of the centrality and significant foot traffic, plus the terrible green railings that could use a splash of color to brighten the mass of concrete it is.

Maybe overlooking the fancy boats and Science World isn’t quite what you had in mind.

How to: Vacation Apartment Rentals

Sometimes a little surprising what you get

So you’re thinking of renting an apartment, townhouse, villa, or hut on the beach instead of doing the usual hotel thing for your next vacation.  The question is where to start and how to do it.  I won’t say we’re experts by any means.  We have ventured out of the comfort zone that Expedia, Travelocity or Priceline might offer though.  An apartment is a great way to stay in a place that is out of the typical hotel district, and maybe something a little more realistic of how the locals might live.  We have found fewer vagrants huddled in the streets, locals bars full of life, chatty grocers, and the best bakeries making the experience much more unique and memorable.

We have done craigslist.  Sure there is always the possibility of being scammed, but realize that for the most part people are good.  If you live in constant fear that when you arrive the accommodation you thought you arranged isn’t actually there… you can always resort to a hotel as a back up plan.

In Montreal, we rented a great little flat for about 40% of a typical hotel.  The guy that lived there was a student from UVic that needed a few extra bucks.  He simply packed a few things and moved to his brother’s apartment a few doors away.  It was interesting, drawers were full of clothes, condiments were still in the fridge, change was still in a jar by the bed.  It was as if this guy completely trusted a total stranger to stay in his place for three nights.  It was a great little walkup brownstone-type building in a neighbourhood off a park with fresh crepes and lattes only 20 steps from the front door.  You definitely don’t get that in the downtown, commercial districts.

Craigslist also worked out well in NYC, where a lady who splits her time between London and NYC decided some time ago to have her father rent out the place while she was gone.  The proceeds from the apartment rental went towards the charity her father managed from the first floor of the building.  Now, these types of reservations may be a little hit and miss.  Pics of places can be a little misleading, sometimes in a good way…sometimes in a bad way.  There are never any reviews either, and considering anybody could do it…I guess whoever has keys to our place while we’re away may also be renting it out while we’re away for beer money.  Let’s hope that’s not the case as I hate scrubbing other people’s filth.

Imagine waking up to this each day?

We were in Bermuda back in May, and for that stay we found a place through vrbo.com.  One week in a place with few hotel options made a vacation rental near essential.  Of the few places noted, we decided to splurge a little and go for a three unit vacation villa rental where the owner resided on the top floor.  Reviews were great and the owner was responsive and cooperative… but as a buyer there always has to be a little hesitation.  Apparently that hesitation was not required as a driver was there to pick us up from the airport, even with a delayed flight, and everything was included in the rental…all the way down to a loaf of bread, jam and some milk to get us started.  Complimentary kayaks down at his little dock as well… sorry, I don’t seem to have any pics of the inside of this place…but what does that matter when you have a view like this.

Quaint, balcony and great views...but those nighttime kitchen bugs were offputting

For this trip, we have been using vrbo.com and homeaway.com.  Both sites have a wide variety of accommodations and do some vetting of the entrepreneurs advertising their places (of course that vetting may be just extraction of an annual fee, but it’s something to qualify these people as real).  Each site also makes it easy to search out an area, check photos of places, and reviews from previous clientele.  Reviews seem to be the only real source of information from the web these days, but as with any movie I have been told that I must see, and have been greatly disappointed with…everyone has an opinion and it definitely isn’t yours.

When was the last time you mentioned to anyone the hotel you stayed at?  How eager the concierge was? What was the star rating was on the hotel?  For the most part, people don’t really care about those stories, and if they do…it’s a short conversation.  I could say that with our Paris apartment, it was all an adventure.  Emailing a deposit to the guy, coordinating collection of the key (secretly duct taped to the underside of the doormat).  Discovering no elevator on arrival, and 111 steps needed to be ascended with two overstuffed suitcases. Finally, meeting the owner for a final cash payment.  It turns out the guy is just a prof at a local university who has written some whitepapers on coding and how to write apps for the iPhone.  Decorating style and cleanliness were not big strong points.

So new and clean...a welcome sight for a week

Munich required standing in the rain for 20 minutes waiting for the guy to arrive, let us into the building and do the key exchange.  Once again, cash in hand to complete the transaction…but we had a stunning apartment all renovated in the last month.  So new the Ikea barcodes were still stck to the bottoms of the dishes.  Not all was simple though with the lack of a shower door soaking the entire bathroom every time you rinsed off the grime from a day wandering around town.  No bio on the guy, but he was there promptly to deliver any requested items, and was also the cleaning staff when we left the apartment on the final day.  A nice experience.

Vienna was arranged relatively last minute, with only a few days notice.  Another cash transaction this time with no deposit required to even secure the room.  Local hotels in the same area were going for 200+ euro/night and we worked out an 80/night deal.  Upon arrival, we had a brand new european bathroom on the third floor of an amazingly located building, and a storage bed with a fabric dating back at least three decades.  The room was topped off with a chandelier over the bed!  When was the last time you woke up thinking you were about to be served for dinner?

Bigger than our place at home! Clean! Awesome!

Finally, Prague.  A few apartments found through homeaway.com, which were managed by Prague City Apartments.  I haven’t specifically listed the individual vendors above, but feel I must put together a specific shout-out for these guys.  Unlike the typical property managers, these guys were always very quick to respond, had updated calendars, and offered several other services such as train or airport transfers for local rates.  Prices that were a fraction of hotels, in locations you couldn’t beat.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as everything seemed too good to be true.  A price only 40% of nearby hotels.  Excellent reviews from previous customers.  A location only 5 minutes walk from the Old Town Square.  All I can say is the company really knows what they’re doing and customer service is number one here.  Something we haven’t seen in previous rentals is a maid service…here we have our towels also changed daily.  Unprecedented!  Even the dishes from breakfast are cleaned on a daily basis.

So, this article may be a little long, but is intended to share a little of our varied experience while renting.  If you’re a newbie and scared to try it…maybe this will be that push you need.  Give it a shot and you may be nicely surprised.