Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Tips for travelers”

Freeway-free in France: the Arches of Languedoc

p1030020docFrom Lunel:

We began the day at 6:30 with an early light breakfast of coffee and fruit, then set out for a shortish hike to the old Roman bridge and assorted ruins at Ambusson. This bridge was famously painted by Courbet.  The old fort is nothing but ramparts and a few walls, but from its height one can see 360 degrees around Languedoc (that’s where we are, just across the border from Provence). Then we went to the musee, where we got to try on authentic Gallo-Roman couture, and see lots more pictures of the famous bridge in less and greater stages of deterioration over the centuries. september-2016-024web







We came back for brunch a la Mediterranee. Lots of leftover quiche, three kinds of soft camembertish cheeses, delicious seedy whole wheat bread, lots of fruit.  Then to the medieval town of Sommiere, with another Roman bridge which is still used by cars and pedestrians to cross the river.  Six of its arches span the water; the other 11 are now land-locked. The river is herded into a narrower channel than in BC times, but periodically floods to its own old level, culverts and levies not withstanding, which means that there are lots of high water markers VERY high on the medieval walls. The old arches are now used for shop fronts and storage chambers along the medieval square. september-2016-055

By the time we had hiked up to the castle on the hill it was after noon and quite warm, so 0ur next stop was a glacier by the river, where there was shade, a pleasant breeze, and 10 flavors of gelato to choose from.  We watched the swans in the river and pondered thoughts of the old Romans who built so well. What would they think of their bridges now?

Travel tip:  Phone service while in France.

20160908_083351webWe had been told in the US that we could easily swap out the SIM cards in our phones for one which would give us cheap European internet, wireless, and phone capability.  We headed for the SFN store in the local Intermarche, where after over an hour of effort by the two very polite and patient clerks, it was clear that NONE of the five phones DM, WB and I had between us would accept data from the SFN SIM card.  Fortunately, I had received a “Welcome to Paris” phone text message from Verizon encouraging me to call if there was any problem, and both DB and I were soon  set up with $40/month international roaming data plans (which we could have easily set up in the US in advance, but thought the local SIM cards would be more flexible.)  WB opted for purchasing a cheap flip phone so she could make calls and text – it turned out having both types of service was very handy depending on what kind of coverage was available in which areas we traveled.

Moral: Technology is never as easy as advertised. Make alternate plans.



Freeway Free in Spain: Don’t Forget to Bring…

Thngs to bring

Note plain dark pants; sensible shoes, hat, shirt jacket are the same

Note plain dark pants; sensible shoes, hat, shirt jacket are the same

Note: raffia had, fanny pack as purse, bulging pockets of cargo pants

Note: raffia hat, fanny pack as purse, bulging pockets of cargo pants

I found my packing list for the Spanish trip today.  Reviewing, these are the things which jumped out as having been most useful:

A fanny pack. Mine is a dark color that can double as a purse or shoulder bag. It has lots of zippers, easy-access compartments, an adjustable strap with a sturdy clasp, and room for a water bottle.

A flashlight in the fanny pack –  in Spanish toilets  sometimes the light is on a timer and goes out unexpectedly, sometimes the switch is on the outside and a well-meaning user turns the lights off on exiting, sometimes there is no window and you need a flashlight to find the light switch.

Bandaids and anti-biotic – you hope you won’t need these, but in my case , both came in handy when I bumped the mirror in our Caceras hotel room and then caught it one-handed as it bounced. It only sliced a bit of the web between two fingers, and the Band-Aids and ointment eased both pain and anxiety.

A shirt jacket with a pocket on the front big enough to carry your camera – easy to get to, but out of sight, so you don’t scream “Tourist!” to every passerby. A dark color looks dressier in an urban setting, and is practical; a light color is more comfortable in heat.

Sensible shoes  The best are shoes that can pass for urban wear, but stay comfortable on a hiking trail or after a day trekking in museums. I swear by SAS Freetime, the classic worn by nurses in white and little old ladies in beige and me at countless trade shows and on myriad business trips in black or navy.

there are layers of long underware, a turtleneck, shirt, T-shirt, lightweight hoodie, and windbreaker rounding me out and keeping me smiling!

Six layers of clothing are rounding me out and keeping me smiling in the snow!

Cargo pants These are great for wear in rural areas where you are hiking, biking, or scrambling over cobblestones. The extra pockets can carry what you need and leave hands free.

Dark Casual Pants.  These should have deep pockets for your wallet, but  look like ordinary daywear for the urban areas where you don’t want to advertise that you are a  tourist.

Kleenex packs – you cannot count on finding tissues in the hotel, or toilet paper in those bathrooms.

Compact tablet computer.  I filled mine with free books and read them on the plane and bus trips.  W loaded hers  with tour books.  In both cases, we saved space by not carrying the actual books which are heavy and bulky. And of course don’t forget to bring the charger.

International Transformer/Adapter American plugs don’t work in Spain, and American power requirements can cause a hotel blackout in rural areas.  In a larger hotel in Madrid you can borrow an adapter from the concierge, but not in the smaller towns.

Laundry Soap packets (they work better than the hotel shampoo and don’t leave your clothes smelling of citrus or jasmine or whatever.)

Lots of Layers of clothing!!!. Maybe it’s climate change, maybe it’s not, but we went from 80 degrees. F. to 30 degrees F. in one day more than once.  I packed:

Bottoms: regular underwear, silk long-johns, and lined pants

Tops: regular underwear, silk long-johns, a knit turtleneck, a long-sleeved collared cotton shirt, a long-sleeved knit crew-neck shirt, a fitted knit hoodie, and a water-proof hooded wind-breaker. I never had to use all 7 top layers, but I came close.

Map Even if you have a GPS in the car, even if you have Google Maps on your  iPhone, a real paper map is invaluable for giving an understanding of distance and direction.  You can see how the distance you plan to travel today compares to the distance you traveled yesterday.  You can see whether a suggested side trip is a reasonable distance.  If the map is a good one, it will also give you an idea of the topography, and tell you the names of those distant mountains.  The one I brought was folded and re-folded until it was falling apart at the seams.

Scarves/Buff – neck warmers are key to sealing in whatever warmth your poor body can generate when you are caught in a cold drizzle or snow flurry.  A Buff can double as a hat or earmuffs.

Sun Hat.  If you are traveling with a friend, make your hats distinctive so you can find each other in a crowd.   W and I had nearly identical raffia hats, which we grew adept at spotting a la “Where’s Waldo?”

Step 1 - 2 can pack as flat as 1

Collapsible Suitcase/Tote Bag Here’s a space-saving trick to provide extra carry power: Pack two large poly-fiber grocery bags (the kind you take to the market instead of getting paper or plastic).  They take up scarcely any space. One of these can serve as a handy carry-all for a day trip.  If you have purchased presents that overflow your suitcase for the return trip, you can pack the presents into one of the bags, put the second bag upside down over the first one, then invert the whole thing and you have a tidy package with handles which you can carry on as a personal item.

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