Archive for August, 2006

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Just a few notes before I hit the bed after a tiresome 700km drive which brought us home. The trip in France has been great, and I will sorely miss quite a few places. Keeping with bullet-point style travel notes, here is what comes to mind:

  • (some) photos are here (Picasa seems to have much better bandwith then Flickr these days, I might even organize them sooner or later). Note to self: photo lenses are supposed to be cleansed from time to time!
  • Normandie, and Calvados to be precise, is now ranking very high in my personal “I want to retire there” list. Where else can you find this sitting right next to this (and this), plus great cheese and fish?
  • French hotels are great. In Italy, everything below three stars means you have a good chance of being stabbed while sleeping, while France has an impressive quality even in two stars (and I wish I could try a B&B as I’ve been told wonders). What impressed me most is that every single hotel but one had real room keys, not a stupid card. I think there is a message behind it: if you have a real key, you’re supposed to leave it at the desk, which means that someone is going to take care of you. “Care” is the key when thinking about French hospitality.
  • French routes are not so great. Today we had to travel for some 180km on single lane roads while getting home from Bourges to Macon. If you’re traveling in the North-South direction, it’s all nice and dandy, but don’t even think you will have a nice time while east/westbound (well, except from the scenery of course).
  • I think I will pretty soon receive quite a hefty bill from the french police given it took me a few days to realize that there are a lot of speed traps, and they are all actually working.
  • Speaking of which, parking in Paris made me learn a new french word: “timbre-amende”. Actually 11€ as a parking ticket is quite a bargain…
  • After shopping for carbonated water in supermarkets, I now understand why every restaurant is serving the italian “San Pellegrino” bottles. There are so many great things in France, but the “eau pétillante” isn’t among them.
  • French cheese… a one of a kind experience. That is unless you happen to drive through Pont l’Eveque and step by a local shop selling farm cheese. Yes, Livarot is great but a very nice way to get a divorce for free is letting it sit in your car overnight and have your wife almost being knocked out by the smell.
  • “Moules frites” doesn’t mean “fried mussels” as I’ve been thinking for a few days. And they taste real good, expecially in beautiful Saint Malo.
  • If you happen to be in the Loire region, don’t miss the Villandry castle, with one of the most amazing and colorful gardens I’ve ever seen.
  • Places I would like to see again: Paris, of course, then all of Normandy and a few bits of Bretagne. Oh, and Auxerre as well.
  • Places I would avoid in future trips: Brest (really sucks, nothing there but a port and a castle) and Nantes (it’s like Frankfurt, without the old town part).

A final note before I go to sleep: thanks Stéphane for the great tip about Poilane. A very interesting and tasteful experience indeed!

Random French thoughts

This is written from an hotel room in Paris, while enjoying our last night in the capital during our driving trip to France. While waiting for more thorough thoughts when I get some more time, here is a quick bullet list from our first few days:

  • having been in Macon, I can now subscribe to Sylvain‘s theory: Beaujolais pretty much sucks. I hope I will encounter much better wines during my trip even though,as an Italian bashing French wine is a duty and a pleasure.
  • French hotels rock, and you should really stay away from big chains to settle for the small stuff. We had a great time in a castle hotel near Macon and we have been able to find a great place in Paris with free Wi-Fi, excellent location and very nice owners. My wife is definitely a great travel agent.
  • my French is surprisingly not so bad as I expected. At a very least, much better than the average English waiters and hotel personnel seem to speak. Problem is I seem to be fluent enough to inspire confidence in whoever I’m addressing, who then starts to speak at lighting speed, which makes me kinda helpless as I start not getting a single word anymore.
  • Paris is (surprise!) great. Too bad we are spending just two days here, but we’ll be back, and that’s a promise. But please, turn those stupid Eiffel tower lights off: at random intervals, the thing starts blinking and sparkling as a gigantic Christmas tree. Would be nice in December, but doesn’t feel right in the middle of August.
  • The Louvre is completely spoiled by stupid Da Vinci Code stuff. They are now renting audioguides with special content devoted to paintings somewhat related to the book. Oh my.
  • We had a load of great dining out tips from Stéphane. Too bad I read my email just a few minutes ago, when we got back from our last night in Paris. But we’ll keep them on hold until next time: merci bien, mon ami!
  • My back hurts. Badly. It seems to be somewhat related to driving, as it takes just a few kilometers to have me moaning and acting like a puppet. Strangely enough, getting out of the car and walking a bit makes (most of) the pain go away. Still, given we’re on a driving trip, this sucks in so many ways.

Tomorrow is driving time again. We’re off to Caen-Le Havre then heading to Mont Saint Michel and Brest. On our way back it will be the turn for Nantes, Orleans, Dijon and Geneve (too bad Bertrand is away), before heading back to Milan. Lots of driving ahead, but also loads of fun!

My dear French friends…

The die is cast. After long sessions of browsing through airlines, hotels and car rental sites, trying to assemble an Ireland trip for our August vacation, me and my wife decided that it doesn’t make sense to throw money away in stupid high-season airline fares, and to keep the Irish trip for September when prices will cool down.

Given we have a brand new (and almost working, yes, it’s not fixed yet) car, we opted for a driving trip through “douce France” instead, most likely up north (Normandie, Bretagne, and a few days in Paris of course). Suggestions on nice hotels, places to see, stuff to eat and golf courses to play are most welcome: the current rough (and flexible) itinerary ia Milan – Bourg En Bresse – Paris – Le Havre – Brest – Orléans – Dijon – Lyon – Milan, spread over 8-10 days to allow for a comfortable driving. It will definitely be a way for me to dust off my poor French, and I’m looking forward to great moments while driving through France. And, again, every kind of travel tip is of course welcome!

Sleepless Mac

Ah, Apple. They’re doing their best to make me switch from the “it rocks!” department to the cynic “well, it just sucks less” party. The latest news is that my Mac doesn’t like being put to sleep: on a regular and worrisome basis, when I open the lid on my MBP, the system is clearly being sleepless, with a glowing screen, some weird messages from airport asking me to join some unknown network from places I have been through, a box hot as if it has been crunching numbers all the way and an almost dead battery.

This is getting increasingly annoying. I started to blame my habit of using the lid to narcotize my computer, but it seems that even using the apple menu and waiting/double checking that the machine is sneezing before packing doesn’t quite help. Somewhat, when I’m carrying the computer around, the silver box awakes from sleep and starts working, which means both draining battery power and using the disk in a bumpy situation, something I don’t really fancy. Is it only my unfortunate machine, or is this a known issue?