18 July 2009

The final verdict on the trip was that it was a great time. Aside from pissing my wife off at the most inopportune moment, we enjoyed every minute of our stay and saw a lot of things that convinced us that we want to return.

We had zero problems with the allegedly rude French. We tried to start every conversation with a new person in French to varying degrees of success and we almost always got a reply in English or else very slowly spoken French. There were a few places where the waiters were less capable than others, but that's not necessarily rudeness–just incompetence. It's interesting to note that this week the Mayor of Paris is sending out "smile ambassadors" to help repair the reputation of the city. I don't think it needs to be repaired–any time you have a large population condensed into a small space the residents will learn certain coping mechanisms. I mean, you wouldn't want the world to think that we're all like New Yorkers, would we?

Stuff that worked well

  • The Asus EEE PC netbook worked like a charm. At all of 2 pounds, it did exactly what we needed it to do and it took up so little space in the luggage.
  • Camera Gear-Jackie's new Canon G10 took great photos and some video. I'm really thinking about "borrowing" it the next time that I go on the road and leave the SLR and lenses at home. My Pentax K10D plus the DA* lenses did exactly what I needed them to do and I took almost 1000 photos. The Provencal sun was so intense that I'm glad I packed a couple of ND4 and polarizing filters.
  • The Eagle Creek clothing folders helped us condense our clothing into a smaller space, but they also forced us to mentally rationalize every piece of clothing we added to the pile. As it was, I still packed one full day of clothing too much and could've saved a pound and a half by leaving it at home.
  • The REI Cargo Duffel was great because it also has backpack straps. We got all of Jackie's clothes and a most of the trinkets and gifts we bought in the duffel, without having to pull out our emergency duffel bag. We checked the duffel and my wheelie bag on our return trip, but we didn't really have many problems with our luggage.
  • A Paris Metro day pass. We bought day passes one day and rode the Metro 4 times. Turned out to be a pretty good investment. Once we figured out the lines, we had no problems getting around.
  • I wore one pair of shoes the entire time and they worked great. I've been wearing Clarks shoes for about 6 years now and I cannot recommend them highly enough. The pair I wore are no longer sold, but the Charles model is pretty close if they were in black. Jackie wore her Merrells, which served her very well, but she did get a blister on the last day.
  • The Garmin Nuvi 370 worked like a charm, other than one little incident where it really wanted to send us along some country lanes around Avignon rather than the main highways. When I bought the Nuvi last fall, I specifically got it because it had European and US maps and the European maps were more up-to-date than I had for my Vista. My co-workers joke about my mishaps with GPS, but honestly I can get where I'm going fast with the GPS if the data is good and the roads in Europe change a lot less often than roads in the US.

Stuff that worked so-so

  • I bought a PacSafe 85 baggage protection device prior to our departure. The PacSafe itself worked fine, albeit a bit clumsily, but the need for it was way overstated by the guidebooks. Every guidebook we had talked about cars being broken into and things being pilfered from hotels. It had me nearly convinced that every person in France was a thief ready to pounce on my camera gear. I'm sure there is this type of crime, but we saw no evidence of it and the people I talked to said they have little experience with it.
  • Speaking of guidebooks, we had 4 with us–the omnipresent Rick Steves' Europe through the Back Door, Rick Steves' France 2009, Lonely Planet France, and Fodor's Provence and the Cote d'Azur. We pored through them the weeks before the trip and then ignored them most of the time once we were in France. We could've saved 3 pounds by just leaving them at home. Of the 4, I'd say I got the least amount of valuable info from the Lonely Planet guide. I know some people have a love affair with Rick Steves books–I thought they were funny but I took them with a grain of salt at times. We saw a lot of people with his books though.
  • Geneva, Switzerland. I'm going to hold out judgment on Geneva. It was a positively clean city and the airport is small enough that it's easy to navigate. But, the Swiss are just a little too efficient and only as friendly as they need to be to get the job done. True, we didn't spend much time there, but first impressions are lasting impressions.

Stuff that didn't work

  • Camera gear — I packed too much. I really wanted to take a traditional tripod and I ended up using it exactly once for about 5 shots. I also packed the Joby GorillaPod SLR Zoom and I should've just stuck with it, left the big tripod at home, and saved 3 pounds in our luggage. I also packed my big flash, which should've just stayed at home.
  • I'm going to declare the OpenTour bus a bust. We rode it a total of 3 times, which comes out to about $15 per ride. I'm just a little miffed that we bought the tickets and nobody said a word about the Montparnasse tour being suspended for a day because of the Gay Pride parade. To be honest, we saw no evidence of a parade while we were walking around Montparnasse, other than some guys dressed for the occasion walking along the sidewalks. They could've ran that route. Plus, the jacks where you listen to the tour were always corroded and it was difficult to follow along with the narrative.
  • United Economy Plus on a Boeing 767. Didn't sleep a wink coming or going, even with a xanax. I've slept going over on a 777, but the seats in the 767 just aren't comfortable.
  • The US Dollar to Euro exchange rate. I know it's better than it was in October 2008, but it would be nice if we could get closer to parity. We had a blast on this trip, but we could've had a lot more fun if we could've afforded a few more restaurants or a bigger hotel in Paris. I didn't want to stay in the George V or the Crillon, but something more than a shoebox with a twin bed would've made Paris a lot more fun.

So there you have it. It was a fun trip and it's been fun writing these entries. Thanks for following along.