10 Days to Go

I can’t believe we’re leaving for Europe in 10 days. I know I’ve done a lot of preparing already, but I don’t feel like I have done enough. But my summer classes are finished now so I can focus my attention on the trip. My goal is to fill in my spreadsheet with lots of “activities” and “restaurants.”

One of our most exciting activities will be to see the second to last stage of the Tour de France. The Tour started yesterday so we have enjoyed our July tradition each morning of having coffee, reading the paper, and watching the Tour! So many Julys we have watched the cyclists wind through small French towns and said, “We need to go see that.” It’s hard to believe that this year we are actually going to do it.

Tour de France

Another bike-related activity I’m really looking forward to is a Bike Tour of Barcelona. We did a bike tour of Buenos Aires when we were there in 2005, and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

For us, “Restaurants” might be considered a subcategory of “Activities.” One of our favorite things to do when we travel is read blogs and books about delicious meals. So far we have a few good restaurants on our list. First is Pinotxo, a Tapas bar in the market on Las Ramblas. We love markets to begin with, and this one is famous and sounds wonderful.

In France with the Hinckleys, we can’t wait to go to Le Recreation, a restaurant that has a whole town (Les Arques) and a whole book (From Here, You Can’t See Paris) devoted to it. Please plan to view our food photos on a full stomach.

In the next few days I’ll be filling in some more blanks of the spreadsheet.

Traffic Circle

John and I will celebrate our 6 year anniversary in This House on September 30. We like our big master bedroom, but we wish the house itself were smaller. We really enjoy being so close to the mountain, yet we wish we could slow the traffic on our street. Last year we found a smaller house on a quiet street that we wanted to buy, but it sold before ours did so we took ours off the market and decided to just enjoy it.

Clearly we can’t shrink the house. But I wanted to try to do something about the traffic. So I sent an email to my city councilman Greg Stanton describing the view out my window: Humvees and BMW’s with text-messaging drivers going 20 MPH over the speed limit. I asked Greg if there was anything he could do. The speed limit is 25 MPH, but some cars were driving as fast as 60.

Councilman Stanton replied to my email the next day. He said he would be happy to address the issue. He set up a neighborhood meeting at my house. Greg brought Kerry Wilcoxon to meet the neighbors. Kerry is in charge of the Phoenix Traffic Abatement Program, which uses bond money to build traffic circles and other impediments to slow traffic on streets that don’t qualify for speed bumps. Greg and Kerry told us they could build a traffic circle, as long as I gathered about a bajillion signatures.

So I did. For the first petition I needed people in the general area to agree that the City of Phoenix should draw up a design. Those signatures took a while to gather, especially one required signature from a homeowner who was away for 2 months at his house in Mexico. But soon I had the petition in Kerry’s hands, and his engineers went to work. Once the plan was drawn, I needed to gather 40 more signatures indicating that we all wanted a temporary structure to be installed so we could test it. Those signatures were easy to gather, and John even helped me and we got them in one afternoon.

Well, after 80 signatures, 10 months, 3 neighborhood meetings, and 1 dissenting neighbor who thinks I am the devil, today they are installing the temporary structure. I ate my morning snack out in the front yard so I could watch the crew installing the signs and barriers.

Traffic Circle

It’s fun watching the cars whip down the street and slam on their brakes when they see the new structure. Lots of soccer moms in Yukons and Suburbans were on their cell phones and looked up just in time to slow from 45 MPH to the 15 MPH required to safely maneuver the circle. After a few months, I will need to gather another round of signatures and then the city will install a permanent structure. In the meantime, we shall see if this helps. I took this picture of a man in his Porsche Cayenne. He smiled and waved. I hope he continues to enjoy the Traffic Circle, because I think I will.

Porsche Cayenne

22″ Samsonite

Yesterday I did a packing run-through. No, I didn’t “time it.” Everyone always wants to know if I time the packing run-throughs. But the purpose is not to pack quickly, it is to pack intelligently.

I have a love-hate relationship with packing. I have had severe failures, such as the time I took only casual clothes to Vancouver thinking, “It’s Canada. How dressy can it be?” (Sorry Heather). We rented a condo downtown and went to lots of posh restaurants and I was under-dressed for all of them. Then there was the time I went to Puerto Penasco for Spring Break. I brought only sundresses thinking, “It’s Mexico, it will be very hot!” But it was freezing and I had to buy a cheap sweatshirt to wear over all those pretty dresses.

I have been following my friend Aimee’s blog as she and her husband and 2 daughters drive in their VW van up the Northeastern seaboard. I keep thinking, if I had 2 daughters to take care of what would I do! It’s hard enough packing for just me. I wonder how many packing run-throughs Aimee did? I know I can’t take a trip without a few of them. And to think, Kirk and Corinne are bringing their two kids Justin and Emma to France. I hope they have done ample packing run-throughs.

So it’s time for a packing run-through. But there are a few things that make it difficult. First off, John and I are arguing about luggage. He wants to use the old Samsonites we got for Christmas from his mom in 1999. They tip over forward when you let go of them, they are missing zipper pulls, and the telescoping handles no longer telescope. I want to buy new Samsonites at Ross for $50 each but John says if we both use the old ones that’s a $100 dinner out in Barcelona. I did the packing run-through with the old Samsonite, but frankly I might hit Ross for a new one and tell John I borrowed it from a friend.
Ancient Samsonite
Second, we will carry-on our luggage on the flights to Europe. I say flights because we used frequent flier miles, and to get to Europe on frequent flier miles in July, you have to get creative. We have 4 flight segments: Phoenix to LA, LA to Philly, Philly to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Barcelona. Even if we only had 2 flight segments, we would still carry-on our luggage. That’s the rule. Way there: carry-on, Way back: check. That way there’s no chance of luggage getting lost and spending the trip without it. But since we will carry-on our luggage, we have to pack light, and we have to get our liquids into Ziplock bags. After so many years of backpacking, we’re pretty good at packing light. The trick is, pack it once, then take out 25% of what you just packed.

So I did the packing run-through, and I had a few goals. First, fit everything into my 22” Samsonite and my REI backpack. Second, have enough outfits so that I don’t look like I took all my pictures in one day. Third, bring running and swimming gear so I can attempt to limit my weight gain to 5 pounds. When I went to Scotland and Ireland for 2 weeks in 2002 I actually lost 7 pounds even though I consumed nothing but fish & chips and beer. However, I don’t think my metabolism is faring as well now that I’m closer to 40 than to 30. More recently I gained 5 pounds in Buenos Aires, and that trip was only 5 days long.

Especially on a trip that will last 18 days, I want to avoid mistakes. I start the run-through by putting out the packing tools first: packing cubes, toiletry bag, and plastic quart bag for 3 oz liquid containers. Years ago I read this great tip: pack electronics in a toiletry bag to keep the cords organized. Love it! John checks on me a few times during my packing run-through, and he is certain I will not have room for both a dressy bikini and a work-out bikini, much less goggles and swim cap. He smells failure. I want to prove him wrong.

Here’s what I manage:

In my Workout Cube: Running shoes, Visor, Sunglasses, 4 pr socks, 2 running tops, 2 running bras, 2 running shorts, Work-out bikini, Swim cap, Goggles

In my Jammie Cube: 2 pr jammies, 3 bras, All the undies I own.

In my Main Cube: 2 skirts, 2 shorts, 8 dressy tops, 2 cotton T’s, 8 sundresses

In my Swimming Cube: Dressy bikini, Pool cover-up, FlipFlops

In my Toiletry Bag:  GPS & Cord; Camera, Battery Box & Cord; Garmin & Cord; iPod & Cord; Converter; Razor; Inhaler; Qtips, Floss; toothbrush

in my Ziplock Quart Bag: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, contacts, contact solution

Sundry items In my Samsonite:  Black dressy sandals, Laundry Bag, Sun Hat

Sundry items In my REI backpack: Inflatable travel pillow, Clip-on LED light, 2 books, Travel purse with personal id, passport, Travelfolio with itinerary and papers

All in!So there! I did it. There was even some room left in the backpack. When I finished my packing run-through I put on the REI backpack and grabbed the Samsonite and did a twirl for John, who was impressed. I think I thought of everything. Please email me if there is something I missed. I have time for a few more packing run-throughs before we go.

How’d We Decide?

Cousin Peggy asked me a question. She’s curious to know how John and I made the choices for our trip in July. I told her it was kind of a long story, so I’ll answer it here.

Each year John and I go to a country we have never been to before. Last year we ran out of months in the year, and by the time we were ready to travel, I spent about 4 hours on the phone with a high energy agent at US Airways trying to find the one country we could fly to on frequent flier miles withink 3 weeks. That turned out to be Turks and Caicos.

In other years we followed invitations of friends who were living/traveling in places such as Scotland, Korea, Venezuela, and China. In other years we did dream trips, like Argentina and Costa Rica. This year we are again following the lead of friends, meeting Kirk and Corinne at the house they rented in France, and staying for some time in Spain since neither of us have been there before.

So how’d we decide? Well, we knew we would be with the Hinckley family during certain dates, and we also knew we wanted to go see the second to last stage of the Tour de France from Montelimar to Mont Ventoux. We wanted some time in Barcelona, and I wanted to take John to some of my favorite French towns from when I spent a summer semester at the Universite de Paul Valery in Montpellier in 1989: Carcassonne and Sete.

For this year’s trip we also had an Ace in the Hole: I took a graduate course in French Poetry last semester to brush up on my French. The class was really hard. So I hired a tutor, who was born and raised in Toulouse. She was recommended to me by someone in my swimming class, and guess what her job was in Toulouse? Travel agent! So each week we spent half an hour on planning the trip and half an hour on poetry.

We worked at the computer. She showed me the town of Cadaques in Spain and I was hooked. So we made sure to add it to the list. And when every hotel within 60 K of the Tour de France was booked, she suggested we stay in Marseilles and drive up early to catch the action. This was all very helpful for us in picking towns where we could stay. 

As for our lodging decisions: we love to rent houses and apartments whenever possible, and we always use VRBO.com for that. And we have also had great success with the luxurylink.com site. They run auctions for packages at fine hotels. I had almost rented an apartment in Barcelona, but the online service was pulling a little bait and switch, so we found the luxury link package and decided it would be a nice splurge for the end of the trip. The package includes 4 nights, breakfasts, a tasting dinner one night, stone massages, and a suite room with panoramic views.  Another bonus of rentals and auctions: they were paid in dollars from the states, so we did not have to pay the 3% conversion fee from our credit card, or worry about the exchange rate.

We use the website Tripadvisor.com to check out the hotels and neighborhoods. With me working on one computer checking availability, John was on another computer checking ratings and reviews for the hotels and areas. We also look for travel blogs where people report their experiences in differnent areas. We have gotten lots of great ideas from blogs about where to visit and where to stay. We often read a blog of a restuarant or a market and say we have to go there!

So, our plannig does come down to a big investment in time. But I get really excited to read about other people’s travels, so it’s not a chore. More like a hobby.

Running Again

I have 3.5 weeks before the trip, and I better hunker down and get some tone back becasue we’ll be taking lots of pics!  I have had too much rest and too much butter pecan ice cream. So I’m back in the training zone. I love to do 2 runs, 2 swims, 2 bikes, 2 lift sessions, and 2 yoga sessions each week. That’s a perfect week for me exercise wise. It’s why I prefer triathlons over marathons. All that running hurts my feet! I like to mix it up a bit. This morning I tried to get out of the house without the pups, but they gave me that look! You know the one. So I leashed them up and attached them to my hipster Camelback. They really do drop my pace from about a 9:30 to a 9:15 because they like to run fast. Here are the details of the run. This is such an easy trail run to do from the house. Just out the door, and up to the Water Tanks. There’s a trail marker at exactly 1.5 miles, so I make sure I touch it before I turn around. I can’t believe what a blessing it is to live next to this park. I think I’d go a little bonkers if we didn’t have that beautiful mountain just steps away. That was one smart move we made, anyway, getting this house next to South Mountain.

My Park