Lessons Learned in France
We’re back from France. It was an amazing trip, and I’m sure I’ll write about it more in another blog post.. What I want to write about today are the lessons we learned along the way. Before the trip I wrote about the process of packing, and I’ll also write about how that all worked out. Today, though, it’s all about lessons. Maybe some of them can translate to every day life lessons too.
Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Learn the basics of the native language. We didn’t do this. I wish we had. If you learn the niceties of the language as well as a few useful things (perhaps having to do with food and things like the bathroom) people will perceive you less as an intruder and more as a guest. Go ahead, make some flash cards. You can do it.
2) Eat when you can. One day we were in a beautiful small town, but only for three hours. Because we wanted to digest all of our surroundings and record them in photographs, we elected to skip eating in the dining room on board and head straight for town. Our thought was that we would pick up one of the wonderful sandwiches that are at little shops everywhere and maybe a diet coke, and eat them while walking around. Sadly, the three hours we were there were the three hours in the middle of the day that everyone in small town France takes off in the middle of the day to go home and eat with their families. This means that every single thing is closed with the exception of the sit down cafes where you can expect it to take 90 minutes to eat.
Nice tradition, but it sure didn’t fit our schedule that day. We were starving. We did, however, find the worlds most legendary cream puff that day. There was one solitary bakery that was open straight through instead of closing. Probably not very popular with the locals to be open straight through, but were we ever thankful for those cream puffs.
3) Pee when you can. I always made sure I went right before leaving the ship. Even so, sometimes we were caught having to locate acceptable facilities. We usually found them, but even so, it took away from touring time and interuupted the enjoyment of the amazing beauty we were there to see. I will admit it was an interesting cultural experience to stand in line for the potty, pay a Euro and get a receipt indicating that we’d paid to go to the bathroom. It was also fun to put the Euro coin in the other bathroom later in the trip to gain access to the stall. Multicultural lessons abound.
This also leads to a related lesson which is, Have Change for the Bathroom.
4) Be aware of national holidays. The day we took the train from Paris to Arles (pronounced “Ar-La”) was All Saints Day. This meant that the tourist information desk at the train station was closed which meant we couldn’t ask about how to get from the train station to the ship. This also meant that everything was closed. When I say every thing I mean every.single.thing. Even the supermarkets and the pharmacies. Fortunately for us on this trip we overnighted in Arles so we got to fully enjoy the town the next day.
5) Be careful of standing in the street. We primarily visited small towns where the roads were so narrow that to most Americans it looks more like a pedestrian district than an actually street where automobiles would dare to roam. With fair regularity, cars would come by and the drivers would be quite frustrated that the tourists were standing in the street. This isn’t a problem in a major city. I don’t think anyone would make a mistake in thinking a Paris street was anything but a busy major metropolitan throughfare.
6) A photo will look better back at the hotel than it does while you’re standing in front of the actual object. My traveling companion and I both have intimidating cameras with which we digest our surroundings. (She is a much much more skilled photographer than I am. I just have the big camera and try hard.) One thing I noticed is that I would be standing in near this impossibly beautiful thing and would take the best picture I could frame up. I would look at the screen on the back of the camera at the picture I’d taken and see a poor represenation of the magnificience before which I was standing. Many times I hit the delete key on the camera. (Thank goodness for digital photography.)
Then I noticed that when I got back to the hotel and uploaded the pictures to my iPad with a bigger screen, and I was away from the actual object of the picture, I was much more impressed with the picture. So, save those pictures and delete them later while looking at a bigger screen. (Now this doesn’t apply if it’s clearly a picture of the back of the person who stepped into your shot, or if it’s blurry, or something obvious like that.)
7) Remember rush hour. Even though you are on vacation, there are many people around you who are simply moving through their normal lives. People around you are going to work, getting groceries for their familes and trying to survive.
At the end of our trip we had to get clear through Paris on the RER train and it happened to be at 5:30pm. We endured a crush of people surrounding us on the train for the two hour journey. Between really popular stops I had to close my eyes, breathe, and try not to have a panic attack. (I don’t have panic attacks, but I was seriously considering an exception.) If I’d been thinking, I would have stowed our luggage and had dinner in Paris and had a much more enjoyable trip later in the evening.
8) Remember electricity. I always travel with a power strip. This keeps me from having to crawl around a night stand to switch out my cell phone charger to my iPad charger, to my laptop cord. I have plenty of accessible places in which to plug things. My favorite purchase on this trip was a European power strip. I plugged it in and stuck my US adapters in the slots. This essentially gave me my normal power strip (at least for those things that didn’t need a converter – refer to my blog post about Electricity while traveling for more details.)
What lessons did you learn last time you took a trip? Share them in the comments.