Okay, you make the decision to take on a trip of a lifetime, but what now? Let’s assume you’ve defined the goal, in our case our first giant trip was France. Now, I’m not discounting the other places we’ve been throughout the US, England, Canada, a cruise through numerous Caribbean islands, or Mexico, but France was the first one that was out of the US and totally planned by us. There was not only a different language and currency there was the way car rentals were handled, passports, packing, long distance hotel reservations, the lists seemed endless and daunting.But, you know what, the planning was almost as much fun as the trip. You see, this trip was in May of 2008 and we didn’t take the boys with us. Bryan, our youngest was 17 and Chris was already away at college. We were at the point were we were starting to explore us again, Bryan had quit band which meant there was no more volunteering at school and no more friday football games. We were reclaiming our “US” time and we decided to do it in a large way.
Okay, so onward to planning the trip. We decided that Paris was great, Normandy was better, Chateau St. Michelle would be really cool and Chamonix looked to be fantastic. And that last sentence took us months to research! At first we knew we were going to Paris, but being an outdoors people we were debating on how much time we needed to spend in the big city. With much research including a couple Rick Steves videos and many hours on his website we decided to spend the first three days and the last two in the city. The middle of our two week trip would include everything else. Rick Steves suggested plenty of two star hotels and we picked the Hotel De La Porte Doree to be our home for our time in Paris. The information we gathered led us to believe (rightly so) that a two star hotel in a more residential neighborhood (less touristy) would let us enjoy more of the Paris flavor. Yes, we saw all the highlights of the city and getting around was easier than expected, but we didn’t see everything the city offers as it comes down to a personal preference. We did plan all the sightseeing out in advance and found out later that you really need to do all your research before you go and be flexible during your trip.
We planned to leave Paris by traveling to Versailles by train and when we got off the train realized that we had gotten on the wrong train, oops!, nothing that a a mile or so walk couldn’t fix. We found the weather to be crap and the lines unbearable so we decided to just pick up the rental car which we arranged while back in the states. Upon finding the rental car office, which was a shop on a busy street – you have to walk a couple of blocks to get the car, we were greeted with a locked door and a note that said (in French) that they were out to lunch! Being a spoiled american I wasn’t extremely pleased by this treatment. Oh well, I was on vacation and would figure out how to make lemonade out of my lemons! We looked at each other and decided to get a sandwich at a nearby boulangerie, one of the things we liked most about France was the fresh foods they served, american fast food is not really good food. When we walked up to the counter their was an obvious language barrier, which did not hinder our ability to order, but did hinder any real conversation until the guys behind the counter realized that I was bilingual – I can talk sports!!!!! “Where are you from?” came the question “Austin, Texas” the reply – the three guys behind the counter stopped what they were doing and there heads swiveled around as they said in unison “Tony Parker”. For those not into sports Tony Parker is a star point guard who plays for the San Antonio Spurs in The NBA. We talked for a good half an hour and they explained to me (the use of the english language is used a lot more if you get the locals interest) that a close friend of theirs travels with Tony Parker and the Spurs. A disappointing situation turned into a delightful highlight of out trip and as we left the rental office was now open! So remember even the best planning may have a few bumps along the way. We waited for our turn in the office and signed the papers for the car, but then we had to figure out where the car was and come to find out the car was in a parking lot near the train station. Everything seemed to come back into focus after we started traveling by car, we were able to travel to Normandy and find our motel, tour the beaches and the cemetery. Then we traveled to Chateau St. Michelle and stayed the night on the island. Traveled to the french alps where we stayed in Chamonix where we took a cable car up into the mountains and dropped into Italy for an afternoon pizza. After returning to Chamonix and enjoying our stay we headed off through Switzerland where we didn’t plan as well and while we enjoyed the drive through the country we didn’t get a chance to see as much as we wanted to. After are romp through France we returned to Paris at the same hotel and enjoyed the last couple of days before returning back to the states.
That was the best trip yet and I credit it all with the planning, we knew where we were going, knew when to be where and couldn’t have a better time. With the internet you have unlimited resources, use them and you’ll have an absolutely wonderful time.