On the road again

Today, tomorrow and Saturday are all travel days. Today we drove from Clamecy to Valence and tomorrow we drive to Nice. Saturday we are off to Istanbul.

We have spent the month driving our trusty ride, a Dacia Sandero, all over France. For those of you who have never heard of Dacia, it is a Romanian subsidiary of Renault. We got the car through a program called Auto-TT. For reasons that I don’t really understand there is an incentive to car companies to create short-term leases to non-EU citizens. The leases are tax free as long as they are 21 day or more. For us, it was significantly cheaper than a rental car and allowed us both to drive it. Per the terms of the lease, we “own” the car the for the period of the lease and then simply return it to Renault. Renault provided all the insurance.

A quick recap of our travels included this month:

Paris to Clamecy; Clamecy to Chambery (the Alps); Clamecy to Brugge, Brussel & Chimay (Belgium); Clamecy to Dijon (Mustard); Clamecy to Strasborg (the German border); and now Clamecy to Nice (Côte d’Azur). All in, about 5,000 kilometers (about 3,000 miles).

We have noticed a few things about driving here:

  • The majority of the highways are toll roads and they are relatively expensive. The drive to Strasborg cost about €50 ($60) in tolls.
  • Gasoline is very very very expensive compared to the US. The average litre of gas has been about €1.70 ($7.50 per gallon).
  • The country is much hillier that I expected. We are routinely going up or down 7% grades.
  • The roads seem to be either highways (A roads) or two lane “country” roads.
  • There are rotaries (traffic circles? roundabouts? rond points) everywhere. In Paris, the cars entering the rotaries have the right of way over those in the rotary; everywhere I have ever driven, the driver in the rotary has the right of way.
  • When approaching an intersection, the person on the right has the right of way, unless they have yield or stop sign. That means that if you are on a main road and someone on a side street doesn’t have a traffic sign, you have to let them in.
  • I had forgotten how much I enjoyed driving a manual transmission car.
  • With the exception of a faulty front radar sensor, the car performed admirably.

We had one recurring issue when driving – buying gas. For some reason, virtually none of the gas stations would accept our credit cards. I checked with our banks and they both insisted that the gas stations were declining the transactions before it was passed to the bank for approval. We ended up using a debit card, which worked everywhere, but at the supermarket. We had the very odd experience of paying for groceries with a card, then having the same card be declined trying to buy gas outside the store. Very odd. When we used the debit card, they initially put a charge of $345 on the card, but then adjusted it to the actual amount in a couple of days.

Tomorrow we will complete our drive to Nice, and then return the car to Renault.

Saturday morning we hop an Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.

The home stretch

We are into the home stretch and somewhat surprisingly, we are thinking that the packing is nearly done. We are down to just a few kitchen things that we still need, our linens and a few clothes that are all going into the suitcases. We have decided to finish packing by Tuesday the 20th, and are then spending the 20th-24th at our granddaughter’s house (oh yeah, with her parents too). The movers are coming on the 22nd, so we will just swing back to the house on that morning and supervise. We figure we will return on the 23rd and do a final clean and that will be it for our time in Edgewater, MD. It was a good place to land for COVID, but it’s not going to be a home base for us.

Some boxes and stuff (we have a lot of stuff but not as much as before).

We are packing for four different locations all at once. Paris, our first stop in August, should be nice and warm so we will need summery clothes. We go to Burgundy in September and Nice in Oct./Nov., so it should be cooler (highs in the 60s and lows in the 50s, which means we will need sightly warmer clothes. When we return, we fly directly to Chicago which will be cold (highs in the 40s lows in the 30s) as it is the end of November when we are there. From there it’s back to Baltimore, which will be warmer than Chicago (highs in the 50s lows in the 40s). All this on one suitcase each, which is proving a little bit of a challenge. Just pointing out that my suitcase is lighter than his by at least 5 pounds.

We made a small concession to the space issue and packed a box of winterish clothes which we are sending to our friend in Chicago. She will store it until we arrive. Hopefully, the ride from the airport to her place won’t be too terrible as we really won’t have much in the way of warm clothes.

More boxes and stuff, plus a suitcase that isn’t packed for France, Fes or Chicago.

We also decided that we would put together a suitcase of things that we thought we might want but couldn’t fit. We are going to leave that in one of cars and when we return from France, we will swap out anything we are tired of/didn’t use/don’t need any more for our trip to Morocco (highs in 60s lows in the 40s) and wherever we decide for the couple of months after Morocco (right now Italy and Amsterdam are the leading candidates).

All the other clothes are going into boxes and are destined for the storage unit.

We have been watching with interest the changes to the COVID rules in France, and it now appears we will need a card from a doctor or pharmacist that shows we have been vaccinated. The reading we have done seems to show that our CDC vaccine card should provide us with the documentation that we will need to get the French card, but as with all of these fast changing regulations, we are going to just figure it out as we go if we need to. We think the worst case scenario is that we have to get a PCR test before they issue us the card. My uncle (who speaks French) has kindly provided us with the phrase we will need to ask the pharmacist for the card (or at least I think that is what he sent…he does have an excellent sense of humor, so for all I know his phrase says something like “I am an ugly American and your country sucks, I don’t need no stinking medical card”, perhaps I should run his phrase through Google translate 😉)

As you can imagine, we are getting very excited and are counting down the days.

Packing (Extra) Light

As our faithful readers know (thank you, Judie), we are heading out on a grand adventure. So many details to consider and what feels like so little time. I let Steven do most of the thought-spinning since he is so good at it, especially in the middle of the night (I practice two hours a night every night, whether I need it or not). But I am not completely immune. Mostly I am really excited and am trying not to look past the summer, which is going to be a lot of fun amid the packing the house up again.

And speaking of packing (like that segue? Smooth, huh? My wife has the smoothest of moves!), I have been puzzling over what to pack. The weather will be what I consider warmish fall (high 50s to maybe 70), so no winter coat. BUT, then we fly directly back to Chicago in November, so winter coat for me for sure. Hey Chicago friends, want to lend me a winter coat (and a hat, gloves, mittens, long underwear and hand and foot warmers)?

The chart below shows what we’re trying to avoid. We will probably end up paying $100 for a third bag between the two of us … but maybe not. Look at all the money the corporate jackals are making off your inability to wear the same shoes two days in a row!

Infographic: The U.S. Airlines Cashing In The Most On Baggage Fees | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

I have read many travel blogs and websites on tips for packing light. They pretty much all come down to this: Wear the same clothes over and over, wear your hiking boots instead of packing them (and its corollary: No more than three pairs of shoes) and hope your hotel/AirBnB/host has toiletries. If you must bring cold weather gear, buy backpacking-friendly, lightweight clothes. Remember the limit is, 22 kilos, which is less than 50 pounds. Jeans are heavy, sweaters are bulky, packing cubes give you space to pack more weight, so they’re not good.

Luckily, I’m not a fashion snob, so I’m OK with a few pairs of hiking pants, one pair of jeans and a semi-decent dress (I prefer her indecent dresses) just in case. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. We will be putting the clothes in the front of the storage unit so we can refresh before heading to Morocco after our Thanksgiving in the States. That gives us a bit of wiggle room if we find we have packed all wrong (or because I will be bored with my five shirts).

My current clothing packing list looks like this:

  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 5 bras (including jog bra)
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of running shoes that doubles as an everyday shoe
  • 1 decent pair of shoes just in case
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 3 pairs of convertible hiking pants
  • 1 pair of Under Armour in case the hiking pants are too light and to double as pjs if it’s chilly
  • 5 cotton, long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 sleep shirt

I will need some contact lenses and a few other toiletry items, but they have pharmacies in France.

So, that’s kind of what I’m telling Steven but … I really have a secret plan. (I guess the concept of a secret from Steven eludes her since she is writing it in the blog.) I know he will read this blog, but I am counting on his failing memory. I am going to bring an empty suitcase and buy everything I need in France and Morocco. Let’s face it, it’s not the best to stand out as an American. It’s going to be tough enough with my two months of Duolingo French (Je habite à Clamecy; Je parle français un peu), I don’t need my wardrobe to make it worse. Besides, I plan on working maybe 20 hours a week, unless I get ambitious, so I have to find something to fill my time. Vintage shopping sounds like a great way to kill some time and practice my French.

Any suggestions? All are welcome.

Just some updates

We are continuing to make plans and knock items off the to do list. This week has been, for lack of a better term, workmanlike….oh god…sorry Sue…workPERSONlike. 😉 (Finally, my positive influence sinks in.)

We are grappling with a list of necessary, but fairly uninteresting, things we will need to arrange while we are away. We need a place for our mail to be sent and a place for our cars and stuff to be stored; we need to order power converters, find movers and research local phone plans. All of which are to a greater or lesser degree being moved forward.

For the French portion of the trip, we have been looking at all the secondary arrangements such as car rental, place to stay in Paris for our final weekend, transport between Clemacy and Nice and then Nice to Paris. Sue is trawling through a bunch of guidebooks that we borrowed from the library looking for interesting things in Burgundy [apparently we can go wine tasting…who knew ;-)], and on the Côte D’Azur (I would like to digress for a moment to whine about WordPress…They introduced new editing software which has removed non-English letters such as ô from our version. So when I want to use characters with an accent, I have to go Word, insert the character and then copy it into WordPress. I hate when software upgrades remove useful features – especially when the feature is then re-released as a paid for upgrade – sorry about that digression. (No, I am really disliking the latest WordPress version. Try someone else, if you ask me. It seems less intuitive and less user-friendly.) Somewhat surprisingly, wine tasting is also available near Nice!

We decided to rent a car for the month we are in Clamecy, as we will be pretty isolated and we want to be able to take day/weekend trips (remember – wine tasting is available). I checked all the normal sites and found reasonable pricing, but, as always with rental cars, insurance and additional drivers are extra. Those two requirements nearly doubled the price of the car. The French government has a program that allows auto manufacturers to provide new cars on rental periods of 21 days or more, tax free to non-EU residents. This is the link to the Renault information on the program which is called Temporary Transit. The program provides brand new cars, includes all insurance, allows multiple drivers and does not charge to drop the car off in a different location from where it was rented.

Our original plan for traveling from Clamecy to Nice was to drive back to Paris, drop off the car and then fly to Nice. However, the flights to Nice (including our expected luggage) and the car pricing have us thinking we will drive. It looks to be an 8-hour drive, which is significantly longer than the 1-hour flight, but once you add in traveling back to DeGaulle, getting to the airport early, and my time insanity, it seems like it will be a couple of hours longer to drive, but not as big of a difference as one would expect. We are considering stopping for one night somewhere along the way just to get in a bit of touring.

We are planning on taking the train from Nice back to Paris on Nov. 12. We think it might be good fun to watch the countryside roll by from the south of France. I think it is about a 6-hour journey, but the train schedule and tickets are not yet available. Sue found a nice AirBnb in Paris for our last weekend (Nov. 12-16). It is in the 10th arrondissement on Faubourg Fishmonger street (I think Sue is sending me a message. I won’t add the message here; it’s subliminal). It is a ground-floor studio which means we won’t have to haul our luggage up any stairs, and that makes me very happy.

We also decided that on our way to Fez in December, we would stop for a few days in Barcelona. One of the challenges of going to Fez is that the flights only run on certain days of the week. Tuesday and Thursday gave us the most flights. We found that the cheapest nonstop route from the U.S. that would connect to Fez is through Barcelona. Once we knew that, we figured we might as well stay there for a few days and see the city. (It is high on my really-want-to-visit list.) We found a nice AirBnB near to Las Ramblas and booked it.

The extended trip now looks like:

Aug. 30: Fly to Paris

Aug.31: Arrive in Paris, rent car and drive to Clemacy

Oct. 1: Drive to Nice

Nov. 12: Train to Paris

Nov. 16: Fly to Chicago

Nov. 22: Fly to Baltimore

Nov. 30: Fly to Barcelona

Dec. 6: Fly to Fez

Mar. 6 (ish): Go to somewhere else (Roma, Barcelona, Greece, Amsterdam…who knows?) (All ideas welcome!)

May 10 (ish): Fly to Baltimore

That is all for now.