6 Days to Go

John and I like to play this game the week before a trip. It’s called, “a week from now we’ll be in . . . .” So a week from right now we will be driving up the coast from the Barcelona airport to our hotel in Mataro. The Tour pulled into Barcelona today and it was pouring rain. I totally forgot about rain! That may sound silly. But when I imagine us walking around in Spain and France I never picture it raining. I can’t remember the last time I saw real rain. It sprinkled here last month, but I haven’t seen rain since–well I can’t even remember.

I have filled in a few more items on our spreadsheet. I found a website that estimates cost for toll roads and gas while giving driving directions. According to the site we will travel about 1,922 kilometers, and spend $143.30 on toll roads and $226.96 on gas just to get from town to town. I am gussing in-town travel will add a bit on there.

Another great find was the new Schwab Visa card. We usually use our US Airways card so we get miles, but they charge a 3% foreign transation fee. I read an article in the New York Times about the Schwab Visa card, which gives 2% cash back on purchases, deposited into a Schwab One brokerage account each month, plus ZERO foreign transaction fees. So I got one of those, so it’s like we will get a 5% discount on our European purchases.  (Okay, true, 1 dollar is only worth 71 Euros, so we’re still not making out real well.)

So far, we’re looking at a cost of $400 a day for the trip. Memories of Europe: Priceless.

Airfare       $    346.00
Lodging      $ 2,188.00
Activities      $    370.00
Car Rental      $ 1,000.00
Gas      $    226.96
Parking      $      59.22
Tolls      $    143.30
Meals      $ 2,370.00
Petsitter      $    500.00
Total       $ 7,203.48
Cost per day     $400

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.

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.

The Driving and The Lodging

I have been very slow at starting this blog, which makes me sad because my mom would have loved reading it. Four days before she died she sent me an email asking about our trip and I didn’t have many answers because I was still struggling to find time to put details together. Now I have the driving and the lodging figured out, but I still need to choose lots of activities and restaurants. That is the more fun part, I think, since it involves fewer calculations and fewer hard decisions. To see all the details so far, including the hotels and houses, click here.

Planning this trip makes me really appreciate my mother because when she took me to Europe when I was 16 she had to do all of this work through phone and mail. I can’t imagine trying to plan this without the internet and email. Mom worked really hard to make that trip special and it obviously had a big impact on me because I still have the travel bug. Thank you Mommy!

John and I go to a new country every year, and though I lived in France during college I never did get to Spain. That’s lucky for us because when our friends Kirk and Corinne called and said “We rented a house in France, come join us,” our answer was a big yes! Kirk and Corinne are the same friends who called us in 2000 and said, “We’re going to China, want to come?”  That was another big yes! So the four of us went to China, and Kirk and Corinne fell in love and 9 years later we’ll be vacationing in France with them and their two children Justin and Emma.

Here's the house Kirk and Corinne rented.
Here's the house Kirk and Corinne rented.

I’m really looking forward to this trip. It will be wonderful to spend time with friends, show John some of my favorite places in France (Carcassone and Sete), see the second to last stage of the Tour de France, and explore brand new territory in Spain. Our lodging is a mix of 5 hotels, 2 house rentals, and a 4 night package we purchased from Luxury Link. We are spending 10 nights in France and 7 nights in Spain.

I’m very sad that because of the trip I will be missing my Aunt Lynn’s 80th birthday party on July 17. But as a lifetime lover of travel herself, she promises me she forgives me. Plus I’ll be going to see her in Minnesota on her actual 80th birthday August 21, and I’ll bring plenty of pictures so she can see my adventures. I’ll be thinking of you Auntie Lynn!

Now. I still have a lot to do today. Boy it’s hard to balance a busy life. We got the dogs walked, the chores done (oops–there’s laundry to fold still) and soon John will start grilling his amazing Tequila-Lime shrimp. I still need to write a poem for my online Poetry Group (that’s due tomorrow at noon) and I need to write a piece for my Graduate course in Creative Nonfiction (that’s due Tuesday at 6pm). I need to answer a few student emails too. I better log off before the whole day passes me by.

John’s Tequila Lime Shrimp

1 lb Big Shrimp
1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tequila
3 garlic cloves
cayenne pepper

Zest the lime, then squeeze it. Place the lime zest and juice, plus all the other ingredients in a ziplock bag in the fridge for about 2 hours. Grill in a grill-basket just until pink. Don’t overcook ‘dem Shrimps or they’ll be tough.