Saturday, March 31, 2012

Traveling Europe with Rick Steves - 1986 Style

I ran across a photo of me reading Rick Steve's EUROPE THROUGH THE BACK DOOR before leaving on my big journey in 1986.

After graduation from college, I grabbed an L.L. Bean pack frame, an open ended ticket to Belgium (good for a year - I did manage to stay just short of 2 days on my plane ticket), my two month Eurail Pass and $800 and my best friend.

Really, I had no clue what I was doing. I'd been to Europe with family but had never headed out on my own. Plus, I was the tour guide for my friend!

Europe in 1986 was really different than now. The wall was not down yet. Everyone had their own currencies, meaning you lost money every time you crossed the border. We used Traveler's Checks (I know, what are those, right?), no internet, no cell phones. We actually hand wrote letters and post cards and plugged coins into the strange pay phones with robotic speed so our mom's didn't think we'd been kidnapped.

I think the most important thing I learned from this book (actually an earlier version with the same cover) was about spending the night on the train. There were plenty of times I ran out of money (I think our budget was $30/day) and so Rick taught us to find a train going to a destination far enough away that we could sleep on the train over night. The idea was to get on a train that was starting from your city (so the train wouldn't be full), dash on and find an empty seating compartment (you can't find these any more). Then close the compartment doors, slide the seats into their down position which would make the entire compartment one big bed. You'd throw your sleeping bags out and all the rest of your stuff and "Occupy" the space. If you were lucky, you'd sleep pretty well until early in the morning when the train would be so full that people would need you to convert your bedroom back into seats. My friend never went over her budget, but I often did and so we did this exercise often!

So, just in case you ever see this Rick Steves - Just want you to know I'm your biggest fan and still travel with you as often as possible, only without the backpack now.

His newest version of this book is also available:
Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door 2012: The Travel Skills Handbook.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Travel Guide LET'S GO PARIS - Review

I just received my new copy of LET'S GO BUDGET PARIS. I was pretty excited since the LET'S GO series had been my best friend in the past. In 1986, LET'S GO EUROPE got me all around Europe with my backpack and Eurail. In 1992, I scored a hotel room for me and my husband for $35/night using the LET'S GO FRANCE. But it's been a while since I bought a current edition.

So I dug into this one last night. I was really shocked at how skimpy it was - actually read most of it in an hour. I suppose, in internet era, there's lots of information to be had in other ways. So this guide didn't need to have every little detail in writing. 

Things I liked: 
  • It made me feel 22 again! And of course, this series is really written for the student crowd.
  • If you're young (or young at heart,) you'll find the latest and hippest places to hang out.
  • The book was skimpy, but this meant it wasn't overwhelming. It made Paris seem like an easy place to hang out and have fun. And I certainly agree with that!
  • Since eating out can really eat into your budget, there are some great suggestions for inexpensive meals. 
  • There were some great bargain places to stay including hostels and hotels. Just be warned, there are age limits on the hostels and the hotels are not luxurious, but fantastic for price and other funky qualities. I was happy to see a really hip hotel I visited in 1987 that's still listed!
  • It didn't get all hung up on the usual tourist attractions, but pointed out some quicker and sometimes more obscure attractions.
Things I didn't like:
  • Let's face it - the humor was snarky. Sometimes I felt it was a bit disrespectful and demeaning. But I'll admit to a snicker here and there.
  • I didn't agree with their assessment of many of the attractions. I feel that they weren't always objective and might steer you away from, what I think are, great things to do.
  • The book does seem like a whirl-wind Paris party. But when I think back to my student days, I was not anywhere too long. So for people travelling around Europe, it's appropriate. If you're planning on a longer stay and are perhaps older or with your family, you should augment this with some other guides.
All in all, no matter what your age, I think this is a useful book to have in your library when researching your trip. Unless you're on an unlimited budget, you will really like the restaurants they list and perhaps find a bargain hotel.

Check out their web site too - they have good information and mobile tools too (just be sure you have a proper European phone to use it on.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Coolness in My (Temporary) Paris Neighborhood!

I was pretty excited when my most recent copy of Budget Travel magazine had an article called: Latest Turnaround: Canal Saint-Martin, Paris. It talked about how this working class neighborhood is getting cool! As I looked at the list of the seven coolest places in the neighborhood, I realized, it was going to be MY neighborhood for two weeks this summer!

Le Pompon
There's a speakeasy called Le Pompon, located in a former synagogue, with a DJ and a smoking room - smoking is not allowed in bars any more without special permission. Locals call it vraiment cool!"  I'm not sure that I'm young enough to be that cool anymore but it does look like a fun place. But hey, I can dream!

Right next to our apartment rental (I mean right NEXT door) is a place called the Sweat Shop. You can rent a sewing machine by the hour and guest designers come and teach classes.

Chez Chiffrons
All of the other places sound cool too, but I'm looking forward to visiting the vintage clothes shop near by called Chez Chiffrons. Since the clothes seem to be retro designer clothes, I'm not sure I can afford anything. But, I'm still going to check it out. 

The other place is called Objet CĂ©leste. It's a shop full of rice paper lanterns, mobiles, and jewelry!

So, now I know what I'll be doing in the afternoons, between afternoon cafe and late evening dinners!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring makes me homesick for Paris

Every year, when Spring finally settles down in Maine, I get homesick - homesick for Paris. Luckily, this summer I will be returning "home" with some of my family!

I bought my tickets and paid my deposit for the apartment that I wanted, way back in October. Then I sort of put my excitement for the trip in hibernation. Now I'm in full excitement - thinking of the possibilities and all the things we can when we get there.

One thing I've wanted to do for the last three trips was to take the barge trip down the Canal Saint-Martin. Some how, it's always fallen off the list for lack of time. But this time, I was sneaky. Our apartment is actually meters from the canal itself!

Megan is only 11 and I'm not sure if the very slow barge trip will work with her. But I'm thinking that walking the canal will be even better!

Although I apparently crossed the canal on my way to a horrible job I had in the 11th (back in 1986), I was shy and walked very fast to my destination. I never even realized what I was looking at. I do remember the amazingly diverse neighborhood I walked through though - all the beautiful African ladies and their bright outfits and markets. It was one neighborhood I knew would be open and lively on Sunday as it was predominately Jewish and Muslim.

So I just can't wait to show Megan these places and retrace my steps. I used to pick up my charge

at his school and entertain him for the afternoon as my job - way back then. Now, I get to escort my own daughter and share the beauty of the city I love most - in all of it's color and diversity!