Don’t let your rolling wheel luggage spoil your holiday

How much baggage do you take with you when you go on vacation? Do you haul around four piece luggage sets, or suitcases half as tall as you that you can’t lift? 

I used to do that, but not anymore. Now I travel with a small backpack, a travel vest and a jacket with very deep pockets. Today I read a survey concluding that 66% of airplane travelers, when faced with emergency airplane evacuation, would attempt to rescue their baggage before exiting the plane. Let’s think about what we place in our suitcases. Some clothes? Shoes? Soap? Is this stuff really worth our lives?

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Do you need something the size of this bus to carry all your luggage? Photo by Pexel

I decided to write this post after I aided a luggage laden American baby boomer and her daughter at the metro. I spotted them hauling their massive suitcases up the stairway and looking lost. They were at the wrong station, so back down the stairs I sent then, dragging their suitcases behind. I felt badly that I could not help the ladies with their baggage but several months ago I injured my arm doing this exact same thing, hauling bags that were too heavy. I wanted to warn them, especially the baby boomer, about the potential threat to the enjoyment of her vacation that can be caused by taking on too much weight. It wasn’t my place to lecture her, but to my readers I will say, 

Heed this warning! Human arms and shoulders are not designed to drag  excessively weighted items behind us. Do not wait for a disaster. Change your luggage style now!

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Old style luggage was carried by the handle therefore required light packing.. Photo by Pixabay

Luggage has come a long way since I was a international backpacking 20 year old youth hosteler in the 1980’s when I went on a European trip with my sister. Do you remember the old suitcases that you had to pick up by the handle and carry? That’s what my sister had. Can you imagine hauling that around Europe for 2 months? Soon after we returned from Europe, a Northwest Airlines pilot invented the modern rolling suitcase in 1987. He first marketed them to crew members and soon, the traveling public embraced the concept. The result was that suitcases became easier to manage but also became much larger and heavier. That’s the part that got me into trouble. 

Through experience, we learn how much weight we can lift. I knew my limits, then last year, out of the blue, my shoulder started spasming after carrying something that wasn’t really very heavy, so beware!

This is the story of my progression from traveling internationally with a full set of luggage to traveling with a small daypack and my reasons for this transition. You don’t have to read the whole post to heed this advice:

You do not need a gigantic, massive suite of suitcases. Hauling luggage that is too heavy has the potential to result in injury which can ruin your vacation.

Up until now I’ve been traveling with a single 2 wheeled suitcase that I bought back in the 1980’s when rolling suitcases were the new thing. When I began traveling full time 2 1/2 years ago, I was so excited to purchase my first ever four piece set of matching luggage that I brought all of them with me. The first destination on my international travel journey was Vietnam. It only took one day of hauling my 4 pretty purple suitcases over cracked uneven streets to vow never to bring them all again.

I have been traveling full time since 2016. Every year or so I return to the USA to visit family and friends. Each time, I drop off another piece of that four piece matching set of luggage.

Two years pass and I’ve pared it down to 2 pieces, but these were too heavy and resulted in a debilitating disaster which occurs when using one arm to drag heavy items behind us. 

In 2015 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded that 84,000 people were treated in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics for injuries related to luggage.

The suitcases were really cheap and did not move well. Although rolling suitcases are certainly an improvement over old school luggage that we had to carry by hand, human arms are not constructed for dragging heavy items behind us, especially when you latch that extra bag onto the handle putting all the weight at the very top. Because of this action, while dragging luggage over curbs and cobblestones in Turkey, I began to feel a slight tenderness in my triceps muscle, which I ignored.

Sports Medicine Physician David Jewison, MD, said the injuries often occur as people haul their luggage behind them, resulting in a shoulder injury. Therefore, he says it’s better to push your luggage than pull it.

Maybe you are like me and never been concerned with muscle fatigue. I used to be a ski instructor and my thighs would be burning, pushing myself for one more ski run, then the next morning they felt fine. 30+ years later, muscles don’t heal as quickly and this tenderness persisted for 2 months. It was minor and I figured it would go away eventually, so I continued to ignore it. Big mistake! Please head the warning signs!

For 2 more months I continued to drag around my overweight baggage, then one day I carried some plastic bags full of groceries over a quarter mile. They were heavy, so my arm was in a fully extended position, and the next morning I awoke with a full blown incapacitating muscle spasm for which I required medical treatment. I found out later that I had blown out my shoulder, a common ailment associated with rolling suitcases. At the time, I was a month into my 3 month stay in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, so had no choice but to seek help from the local doctor. Being from California I can speak rudimentary Spanish, but certainly not language related to medical terms.  We communicated through a series of gestures and screams of pain. I have no idea about the diagnosis, but the doctor gave me several injections of I-don’t-know-what, but I didn’t care because I just wanted the pain to go away. He also gestured that I should wear a sling. I had already decided that I needed to lighten up my luggage load and the last thing I needed was more stuff to haul around so made my own sling out of a shirt. This was of course inadequate, so I returned a few days later for more injections and purchased a sling as ordered. That was 9 months ago and I still can’t fully extend my right arm

Needing medical treatment due to pulling wheeled suitcases was the straw that broke the camel’s back and after 30 years of traveling, my baggage has come full circle and I have returned to carrying a backpack.

Actually, it not even a full sized backpack. Since I am not hosteling like I did 30 years ago, I do not need a sleeping bag and pillow, so I fit everything into a small day pack. The whole thing weighs less than 20#. It contains my bathing suit, a couple tops and bottoms, and two pairs of lightweight Crocs shoes. Add in a few medications and cleansers and what more do you really need? There are 2 more “germaphobia fighting” items I also carry which are a high quality blow up pillow that weighs about an ounce and a cheap swimming pool air mattress. The air mattress also comes in handy when confronted with spending the night in one of those notoriously hard beds that prevail in Asia and Mexico. 

An added benefit of carrying light luggage is the choice of purchasing airline tickets at “backpacker rates”, a new type of ticket allowing under seat carry on only. 

Here is some luggage handling advise from an expert. While on a travel break to visit the United States, I visited my physical therapist and asked for advise on luggage. She suggested that carrying a bag over one shoulder is the worst thing you can do, dragging suitcases behind you is second, and backpacks are the least dangerous, even with an injured shoulder. The backpack works for me, but if you want to pull the suitcase, buy quality luggage which moves well.

We may be budget travelers, but our health comes first!

What items do you consider a must have for your international travels?

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Solo in Paris: You can dine alone comfortably in French cafes

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If you are a solo traveler, Paris is a vetted destination where you can feel comfortable eating alone in a cafe or coffee shop. That’s what I am doing today, alternating eating in cafes and strolling about in this local, non tourist neighborhood where I have been staying for a few days.

In my foreign travels I usually book an apartment or hotel in a non-tourist neighborhood so I can experience the culture by doing what the locals do. In this French neighborhood, the locals like to be linger in outdoor cafes, so that is what I am going to do on my last day.  I’ve had my 3 days of touring and even though there is soooooo much more to see, I opt for the local experience and decide to remain in this little neighborhood today and behave just like I would if I lived here.  I begin the day at the cafe on the corner enjoying my tea and croissant while people watching. It is very common for people to come to the restaurant alone. As you can see, the venue provides the first 2 rows of chairs just for single patrons, not groups .

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Notice the orientation of the chairs. They are set up for people watching, and for single patrons.
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Some of the people I watch are these schoolchildren enjoying their field trip.

If you are traveling alone and don’t enjoy dining by yourself, you are in luck in Paris. I am watching a woman about 65 years of age, going table to table saying something in French. Table after table is rejecting her and now she’s coming to me. I tell her, “American”, so she moves on to the guy next to me who is around 35 years old sitting alone. Next thing I know, she is sipping coffee with him. They are laughing, smiling, having a good time. They finish their coffees and take off together down the street. I wish I knew what she said? She was approaching all genders and combinations of patrons. It certainly would be informative to have a chat with a Paris local. 

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I take a walk around the neighborhood with no specific destination in mind. I happen upon an American baby boomer and her daughter standing at the metro accompanied by their four piece luggage sets, looking lost. Local people encounter tourists in this situation all the time. I know because many random strangers have offered me assistance in metros all over the world. I decide to return the favor. I always wondered how local people identified my dilemma, but now I know it’s very obvious when someone is lost. These two just finished struggling with their massive suitcases up the stairway and I have to inform them they must proceed right back down. Google maps steered them wrong. Every good deed deserve a……I forget how the saying goes, but I treat myself to a cheese crepe.

 

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Look at this beautiful grilled cheese skirt on my ham and cheese crepe

 

I am determined to have at least one full course French meal regardless of the cost, so it is going to be an authentic French lunch today.  I have a plethora of restaurants to choose from. I’m not in the tourist zone, so all the menus are in French and I take a chance on an $11 menu. I end up with some kind of interesting dried fish for my appetizer, a nicoise salad, scallops and clams for my main course,  French bread, then creme brulee for dessert. The fish appetizer was the most interesting aspect of the meal. I wish I knew what it was? It had such a powerful flavor. I’ve never had anything like it in the states. The creme brulee, well, it could have been better. I’ve tasted creme brulee all over the world, and, hands down, none can compare to the masterpiece created in the United States by my good friend and pastry chef…shout out to ….Kathy Hall.  

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I spend the remainder of the day in and out of shops, sipping a cool drink at an outdoor cafe and just doing what the locals do. For my evening meal, I decide to cook my own. One of the main reasons I stay in an airbnb rather than a hotel is the availability of a kitchen. Of course I love eating in restaurants, but the exact same sauces, cheeses, meats, vegetables and fruit are sold in the grocery store at a much lower cost. Sometimes I am even more excited to peruse a new grocery store than a restaurant menu. For instance, look at this fresh squeezed orange juice machine.

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Whenever I get to a new country, the first question I ask is “Where can I get purchase fresh juice?” It didn’t take long to find fresh squeezed orange juice in Paris as most of the grocery stores have one of these machines. It only cost about $2. At home, fresh squeezed OJ goes for $5, even though California is the largest producer of agricultural products in the world. Needless to say, I never imbibe there.

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Paris does not seem excessively expensive after all. In fact, now that I think about it, Paris may even be less expensive than California. I’d like to extend my stay and visit more of the 73 museums, 37 bridges, 31 monuments, 3 opera houses, 171 churches and temples, 208 theaters and cabarets, 20 covered passageways, 84 cinemas, 14 cemeteries, 108 Wallace fountains and 463 parks and gardens museums, but it is too late for me to change my plans because I have a dog sitting job lined up in England.

I plan to travel Europe for at least the next 5 months, so maybe I will return to Paris and book a cheap flight back to the USA for Christmas. It only cost me $159 to fly to from California to Paris, so hopefully I can get the same price traveling home.  

Thus ends my last full day of my very short stay in Paris, but I’m not finished with France yet. I need to stay overnight in Dieppe so I can catch the ferry to my dog sitting assignment in England. France plays against Croatia in the World Cup finals tomorrow, so I’m glad I will be around for that. 

 

Would you feel comfortable sitting alone in a cafe or coffee shop in Paris?

 

A date with Mona Lisa at the Louvre

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Perhaps Mona Lisa and I sharing a cup of tea 

Will Mona Lisa reveal the secrets she holds behind that enigmatic smile? What was Leonardo Da Vinci’s inspiration for creating this renown painting? Who was the model? Is it actually a self portrait? These are all things I hope to discover, but before I visit Mona Lisa, I make a quick stop at the Army Museum.

The timing of my arrival in Paris has been perfect as yesterday was Bastille Day and I was treated to a parade and free museums all day. 

Today I continue my good luck and perfect timing as I arrive at the Army Museum just in time to watch the troops preparing for an inspection by the French Prime minister. The preparation takes 30 minutes. Shockingly, the soldiers do not stand at attention the entire time. I catch a glimpse of a couple soldiers poking one another in front of 100’s of spectators and their commanding officers. They straightened up when the PM arrived. 

 

The troops have passed inspection and I’m ready to move on to the Louvre, one of the 4 defining structures of the Parisian landscape. Can you name the other three?  

 

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Eiffel Tower
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Notre Dame Cathedral
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Louvre Museum

What do you think of this glass pyramid? Love it or hate it, it’s the very controversial entrance to the Louvre.  It’s designed to shine light into an underground complex so massive it even houses a bus depot. This public underground area did not exist when I first visited Paris in 1986, and there definitely was no pyramid, but Paris was experiencing more and more tourist and the crowded and confusing layout of the museum needed restructuring, so the underground was added in 1989.

The Parisians accepted the expansion but most absolutely reviled the accompanying 71 foot tall glass and metal pyramid.

When the plans for the pyramid were released to the public, 90% of Parisians were against it. The architect, an American named Mr. Ieoh Ming Pei could hardly venture onto Paris streets without facing ridicule. The fact that he was American and not French, added to the insult, but Pei is the man that the president wanted for the job and the pyramid was built. 

I am happy to report that over the years the pyramid has become tolerated and even loved by some. What do you think? 

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Science trivia: Look at a thick piece of glass and notice that the edges have a green tint. What is the reason for this? Why does the Louvre glass not have this tint?

Yesterday was Bastille Day and all the museums were free to enter, but I thought the Loure would be crowded with a long queue to view the Mona Lisa, so I used up my free visits on the Partheon and Cluny museums instead. The Louvre price isn’t bad though, only $20 USD for an entire day of museuming. I was advised to do the audio tour but they’ve run out of headphones, so come early if you want to go that route.

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Just so you don’t waste time walking around the entire outside of the building looking for the entrance as I did, realize that the glass pyramid is the entrance, then once you get inside, go downstairs to purchase your ticket and enter the museum.

 

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Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa

I recommend that you set aside an entire day for the exhibition. In fact, two days would be better, one for each of the two wings. Actually, my recommendation to fully enjoy Paris at a leisurely pace is to stay an entire month, spend your morning at a cafe, then visit one museum each day, but alas, that takes time and money.

 

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St.John the Baptist painting by Leonardo da Vinci

It’s best not to follow the Louvre’s hand held map, because it can be confusing. As far as I can tell, the two wings connect on the ground floor only. The best plan is to go round and round viewing one entire wing from top to bottom, then when you reach the entrance again, switch to the other wing. I can’t even begin to cover everything in the Louvre, so I am providing a link to the official website. https://www.louvre.fr/en

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Photo by Una Laurencic on Pexels.com

The Louvre has been an all day event and large museums burn me out, mainly because there is so much to read and I’m standing and shuffling about for hours on end, taking two steps at a time to read every entry so I don’t miss anything important. I have often thought how much more enjoyable it would be to peruse large museums while seated, you know, like cruising through in a wheelchair, or something like a wheelchair but more stylish. Maybe you can invent something. Any ideas?

Here is a little Louvre quiz for you:  The Louvre holds 380,000 pieces of art but only 35,000 on display at any one time. If you spent 1 second viewing each piece, could you see the whole museum in one day? 

 

Go to Paris now before the Eiffel Tower is closed for good

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I’m in Paris on Bastille Day, the national holiday which commemorates the 1789 French Revolution which began when the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille prison holding political prisons who dared to defy King Louis XVI and concluded with the king and his wife, Marie Antoinette, losing their heads in a guillotine.

The last time I was in Paris was 2006 and things have changed for the worse, as evidenced by what I encountered at the Eiffel Tower. In my previous post, I exclaimed that you need to visit the Eiffel as soon as possible before access is denied. Over the years, entry has become more restrictive. Currently, it is surrounded by metal and wooden fences in defense of terrorist attacks and you must pass a security checkpoint to enter the grounds. I predict that eventually it will only be view-able from a distance.

Save money by planning your visit to Paris on Bastille Day. On this national holiday, most museums offer free entry.

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There are 30 or so choices of free museums and it is difficult to chose one. Finally, I choose the Pantheon as it has the added bonus of  a concert, and the Cluny museum because it is close by. I exit at the Cluny-La Sorbonne metro station. La Sorbonne is a university. It’s not open, but still an impressive building as seen from the street.  I arrive to a convoy of tour buses.

 

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La Sorbonne stretches the entire block and that’s just one side of it.

The sheer size of buildings in Europe never ceases to impress me. Perhaps you are accustomed to large scale old buildings, but if you ever visit California you’ll find that we just don’t have anything that compares in stature. Our history only dates back to 1849 gold mining towns constructed of wooden planks, the highest which is 2 stories tall. 

Onto the Clune, which, like the Eiffel Tower, has a security checkpoint with this  information posted on the wall. The English isn’t perfect, but the message is clear.

 

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The exterior of the Cluny is impressive with its turreted walls, gargoyles, and dormers. The official website describes the architectural style as Gothique flamboyant, whatever that means??

It’s one of the oldest buildings in Paris. Inside I find remnants of a 3rd century Gallo-Roman bath, but the claim to fame for the Cluny is the collection of The Lady and The Unicorn tapestries, often considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages. In one of the most impressive museums presentations that I’ve seen, the tapestries are displayed in the rotunda.  Anywhere you stand you are engulfed by the warm deep red hues of the tapestries accentuated by mood lighting which seems designed to promote an atmosphere of meditation. The expanse of the carpets muffles the sound of dozens of museum patrons which fill the space. Everyone seems to be speaking in whispers.

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It looks like famous travel guru, Rick Steves was allowed to take a flash photo, but it doesn’t capture the mood of the room. If you want the experience, you will need to go there yourself.

Near the Cluny is the French Pantheon, modeled after the original Panteon in Athens. The museum curates on many themes including philosophy, art, history and science, with the underground level supporting crypts of some very famous French men and one woman, Marie Curie.

The French Panteon decorated for Bastille Day.
The Pantheon decorated for Bastille Day.

There are lots and lots of sculptues, but my favorite is the Pantheon’s major work of sculpture, La Convention Nationale. The sculpture features soldiers on the right of Marianne, the symbol of France, and on the left, members of the National Convention which orchestrated France’s deliverance from Royal rule. 

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It was this National Convention who ordered the executions of Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette in 1793 French Revolution.
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This figure stands on the back side of the sculpture. Something about his stance intrigues me.

Also intriguing is a giant 67 meter long pendulum anchored to the very tip top of the Pantheons central dome ceiling. It’s a science experiment from 1851 conducted by a physicist named Léon Foucault to demonstrate earth’s rotation. The story goes that Napoléon was intrigued with the experiment and arranged for a public demonstration in the Pantheon. The pendulum is a copy but the original is still around. If you want to see it, you will need to visit the Musée des Arts et Métiers.

 

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Since Galileo’s time, scientists had searched for a method to physically demonstrate earth rotating. Foucault came up with the idea of a pendulum which, once set in motion continues on a fixed plane and does not rotate along with the earth. Napoleon invited him to attach the pendulum to the central dome of the Pantheon. As it swayed back and forth, a pointer attached to the bottom of the sphere carved a line in sand set beneath. As the earth rotated, the impression in the sand widened into an hourglass shape. Once the earth completed its 24 hour rotation, all areas of the sand had been engaged. 

Napoléon then employed Léon with the job title of: Physicist Attached to the Imperial Observatory. The scientific community discriminated against Léon Foucault. They felt superior because he had been home schooled without their degree of scientific training. Some even tried to claim priority over the concept, but the public flocked to the demonstration of the swaying pendulum, causing Léon to become an overnight celebrity and his name forever attached to the duly named Foucault Pendulum.  

If you want to read more about this experiment, go to this website. https://www.wired.com/2014/05/wuwt-foucaults-pendulum/

 

 

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I purposely arrive half an hour before concert time to secure a seat, but I get so engrossed in the pendulum that I miss out on getting a chair. I don’t know about you, but the days when I could sit on the floor cross legged are past, so I make a beeline to the next best thing, the steps. It’s time for the concert to begin and I’m ready! The Pantheon is the 5th place I have visited today, so I am hot and tired, especially since I was required to stand in the full sun to get entry to the Eiffel Tower. The cold surface of the marble steps feels very refreshing.

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Imagine the cool interior of the Pantheon with a 4 piece orchestra playing in rhythm to a gently swaying pendulum enveloped by a beautiful interior of paintings, statues and exquisite architecture. The Pantheon provides a well-needed respite from a long day of touring. . 

 

Feeling rejuvenated, I opt for one more museum, King Louis IX’’s private chapel, Saint Chapelle on the Palace of Justice grounds. He had it built to house Christ’s Crown of Thorns and other religious relics he’d gathered. It’s also renowned for its expanse of stained-glass windows, most of which most are authentic and survived the war. I only view them from outside on the Palace of Justice grounds, because this is one museum (chapel) which is not on the free tour.

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All the museums I visited today were small and accessible by metro, so if you can’t do a lot of walking, you may want to follow my route. Tomorrow I will visit the Louvre which is huge!  I wonder if they rent wheelchairs in there? or some kind of mobile vehicle so you don’t have to stand for 8 hours or however long it takes to see the whole thing? Seriously, large museums wear me out!

Finally it’s time to head back to the apartment and await the Bastille Day fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower. I’ll grab a crepe and view it from my 7th floor airbnb apartment.

I’ve seen about 100 fireworks displays over the years in different countries. In America we celebrate with fireworks every 4th of July, which is Independence Day. They are allowed on this day only and illegal any other time of the year, so it’s quite a show. Most municipalities present displays for their community and some still also allow personal fireworks to be used at one’s residence. My municipality in California has the best display in the county. It begins 9 p.m. but it doesn’t always go off without a hitch. One year, us residents were on the high school track lighting off our own fireworks and watching the municipal show when all of a sudden every police car in town went flying into the park where the fireworks were being lit. The show ceased and a helicopter began circling the park and track using a loudspeaker to tell us all to go home. We found out later that two guys were engaging in a fist fight on the basketball court. The police definitely overreacted, but suffice it to say that I don’t live in the most prestigious city in California. If I did, I would not be a budget traveler, right? I would be staying in luxury hotels and missing out on the culture. So you see, we are actually better off being budget travelers. Do you agree?

In Paris it was still light outside at 9:00 pm, and at 10:00, 10:30, 11:00 it finally became dark enough and the show commenced. A perfect grand finale to a fulfilling day in Paris.

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If we weren’t budget travelers, we would be staying in luxury hotels and missing out on the culture. So you see, we are actually better off being budget travelers. Do you agree?

 

 

The best time to go to Paris, France is now

 

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Happy days are here again. Flights are cheap cheap, cheap! I just arrived in Paris, France on a $159 flight, all the way from the west coast of North America. Can you think of a better place to begin a European adventure than the famous City of Light? Everybody dreams of going to Paris and now is the time. In fact, there is never going to be a better time. Especially if you want a close up look at the Eiffel Tower, you need to hurry up before it’s too late. More about that later.  

This is my 3rd trip to Paris in 30 years. The first time I didn’t really enjoy it because I got lost the first day trying to escape from a Frenchman who was pestering and following me. This was way back in the 1980’s when I was in my 20’s and traveling meant backpacking and youth hostels. The picture you see above was taken at that time. Cars were allowed to drive under the Eiffel. It was in 1985 that my sister and I took a GAP SUMMER after college to tour Europe. Nowadays it is popular to take a GAP YEAR after college or even after high school, but in the 1980’s we were not so indulgent to have an entire gap year, just gap summers. My sister and I each bought an airplane ticket, a Eurail pass, and $1200 worth of travelers checks, then went to Europe to visit relatives and tour Europe for 2 months. When we returned home we actually had money left over. From a young age, my 2 sisters and I learned how to manage money. My friends are just amazed how I can do so much with so little, and if you follow my blog, you’ll be let in on my little secrets.

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The second time I was in Paris was in my 40’s which meant taxis and hotels. In 2006, as you can see in the picture, cars were no longer allowed to drive under the Eiffel Tower. It was pedestrian only. I stayed in the tourist zone and although I enjoyed the sites, I didn’t really get a flavor for the culture until this year when I stayed in a local neighborhoods.

Now I am in my 50’s, travel should mean tour buses and luxury hotels; however, due to circumstances it still means budget travel. But that is okay, because having a low budget has introduced me to immersion travel. Now I am hooked on immersion travel, also called cultural travel or slow travel. It’s all about taking the time to observe and participate in the local culture, rather than running from one tourist spot to another. There are tons of tourist sites to visit, but the experience is enriched when you stay in local neighborhoods and interact with the people and their community. 

I advocate immersion travel as a more authentic and rewarding type of travel than tourism, and perfect for the traveler who wants to return home refreshed and rejuvenated, rather than “needing a vacation from my vacation”.

July 14, 2018. As luck would have it, I happened to arrive in Paris on Bastille Day, a day of celebration which begins with a military parade, continues with free museum entrance throughout the day and concludes in a spectacular firework show featuring the Eiffel Tower. Luckily I am well rested from the overnight flight so I will be able to partake of the day’s activities. I arrive well rested because I had a whole row to myself for the price of a single ticket in coach by using the SEAT OPTIMIZATION PLOY. I’ll tell you more about that later, but right now, let’s talk about where to stay in Paris when you are on a budget.

I’ve been traveling full time since 2015 and my accommodation of choice is residences located in local neighborhoods.  I’ve stayed in houses and apartments from Malaysia to Mexico. I usually remain at least one month in each place and I have never paid more than $400 USD a month. Right before I came to Europe, I had been living for 3 months in my own 1 bedroom apartment on a Mexican beach for less than $300 USD. Before that I lived all over Asia for 2 years, paying about the same price. It’s more expensive in western Europe, but most hosts offer discounts when you rent for longer terms.  Sometimes up to 70% off. The prices are not set in stone; it is perfectly acceptable to ask airbnb hosts for discounts. Although I advocate one month stays, sometimes it is not feasible financially or time wise. Paris is expensive so a month long stay is out of the question for a me, or so I thought. Now that I am here, I find it is more budget friendly than I believed. Through airbnb, I have my own apartment for $30 per night, right across from a metro station. Not only that, but I can watch the Eiffel Tower fireworks from my window tonight.

When you are in a city with a well planned public transportation system, you do not need to live in the tourist zone, because you have convenient access from almost every neighborhood. Americans have difficulty grasping the concept because our public transportation is all but non existent. Even on USA employment applications, you are asked if you own a car because if you don’t, your chance of getting to your workplace every day is close to zero.

My new apartment is not ideal. It is located on the 7th floor, but that is not a problem since I have an elevator. Well, the elevator only goes to the 6th floor, so I do need to climb one flight.

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But the worst part is that I have to share a toilet with everyone else on the floor. I have my own shower and sink, but, for some reason, not a toilet. If I could afford to stay in Paris longer, I could probably find out the reason for this set up. Is it the norm? I don’t know. This is why I advocate staying in a place for at least one month. Staying just a couple days doesn’t give you enough time to really understand the culture. Everyone on the floor also has a shared hallway. My apartment consists of 2 rooms but they are not next to each other. There is someone else’s apartment in between. It’s a very odd construction, but the location is good. Most of my lodging has been through airbnb, but I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions before I book an apartment. Normally I would have asked the owner, “What exactly does it mean that the toilet is in the hallway as your advertisement says?” but I had to book this one last minute. I’m not kidding when I tell you to ask questions.  I once had a place with no hot water, “Do you have hot water in the home?” being a question that I did not think needed to be asked.

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When I arrive at the neighborhood metro stop and ascend the stairs onto the street, the first shops I see are a French bakery and a fresh fruit and vegetable market right across the street from my apartment.  How perfect can you get! French fruit and croissants for breakfast in Paris!

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The street corner across from my apartment. Every street features a variety of cafes and shops.

 

The neighborhood is very picturesque. A tree canopied pedestrian walkway lends a calming influence to the neighborhood. Cafes with outdoor seating grace the sidelines. Grocery stores, pharmacies and all manner of ethnic restaurants abound. I would love to return to this exact neighborhood someday and spend a month imbibing of the ethnic delights, but since I am only in Paris for a few days, I”ll indulge in French food only. I remember when I visited in 2006, dinner service didn’t open until 9 pm. I hope things have changed because I usually eat dinner at 6. I wonder if 9 is still the norm? Guess I’ll find out in a couple hours.

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My host meets me as soon as I exit the metro since it is only a few steps from the apartment. We’d been communicating since my arrival at the airport. This trip, I decided to spend the money for an international phone plan. For the last 2 years I have been traveling without a phone or data plan, thinking I didn’t need one because internet would be readily available. Well, it’s not. In many countries the only place with publicly available internet is Starbucks. Even if you don’t drink coffee, you would not believe the elation felt spotting a Starbucks in Athens, Greece, when you have no phone or internet service and your taxi driver kicks you out of his cap at 10 p.m. on a rainy night because he can’t read a map, and expects YOU to have a GPS to guide HIM to the address. Heed this warning: Don’t expect taxi drivers in foreign countries to know their way around town or to have GPS . Furthermore, in some countries, especially Asia, ADDRESSES ARE FOR MAIL DELIVERY ONLY AND DO NOT COINCIDE WITH BUILDING LOCATIONS. Take my advice and get an international phone plan. Among other nightmarish searching-for-my-airbnb-without-a-phone stories, last year I spent 5 hours running around in a Thailand Tuk-tuk trying to locate an address that didn’t exist and my poor airbnb host got stuck waiting for me in front of the Family Dollar Store for the same amount of time, all because I did not have phone service and couldn’t find internet. (It is a long story, but suffice to say, Starbucks came to the rescue again). It beats the old days when we had to carry our FROMMERS GO EUROPE book everywhere and rely on public phones and maps. Nowadays, even though the metro stations post maps of their routes, they expect everyone to use their cell phone and rarely give out pocked sized maps. If you find one, hold on to it. I have my South Korea metro map secured in a safety deposit box at home. That’s how precious they are.

You are going to need a tablet or phone with internet if you want a stress free visit.

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Travel in the non-digital age was done with travel books, maps and payphones. Do you remember these Arthur Frommer books?

On the wall of my Paris apartment, my host posted a map of Paris and it’s metro stations. As with most airbnb hosts, he points out some landmarks and gives advice on navigating the metro. Getting around Paris is very easy and I am ready to go. First stop….Bastille Day Parade. Here is a view of the crowd I encounter in the metro station.

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After squishing into metro cars, I exited into a sea of people. We were moving in waves, advancing 10 steps at a time through the station, up the stairs and out onto the street. The last time I experienced something like this was in 1977 at a DAY ON THE GREEN concert in Oakland featuring Foreigner and AC/DC. That was more like a stampede though. I can still picture the random flip flops (called zories or thongs back then), scattered along the path. The Paris metro is much more civilized as parade goers proceed in an orderly fashion.

The crowd moves beyond the metro station and stops along a street behind a police barrier. There are no directions to the parade route and a few hundred of us spend an hour at this location only to discover that the parade is on a different street. I have no idea why seemingly random streets are blocked and lined with police and parade goers??? I finally leave that venue and make it to the Champs de Elysee to see the tail end of the procession, then wait another hour along with the police who were standing guard along the street, not realizing it had ended. When I return to my apartment later, I look at the news and discover that I missed the majority of the parade including the beginning which featured a motorcycle crash right in front of French President Macron.

 

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A quick walk past the police lining the parade route brings me to the famous Arc de Triomphe
COP21: Arc de Triomphe Sun Action in Paris
The city of Paris is laid out like spokes of a wagon with the Arc de Triomphe as the hub.

 

Next stop is the Eiffel Tower. You probably know the history. Built for the 1889 World’s Fair, it’s an international icon. Images of the Eiffel Tower can be seen throughout the world.

I HAVE SEEN IMAGES OF THE EIFFEL TOWER EVERYWHERE FROM MEXICO TO MADRID

As you know, I have done quite a bit of traveling. During these travels, images of the Eiffel Tower pop up in the most obscure places. I have seen paintings of the Eiffel Tower adorn the walls of a Vietnamese cafe in the middle of nowhere, I’ve seen the Eiffel on street art in Mexico and I’ve seen little little miniature Eiffels sold on the street in Thailand. My friend Patty even had one painted onto the walls of her house in the USA. But if you want to touch and feel the real thing, don’t wait. You need to go to Paris now, and this is the reason. Security. I am sure you have heard of the terrorist plots throughout the world, but especially in France. Because of this threat, the Parisians have needed to take some drastic measures. The Eiffel, being their most prominent icon, must be protected. As I view it from miles away in my apartment, I recall not only the sheer size of it, but also the beautiful presentation. The steps leading up from the river, the tour boats awaiting visitors, the chocolate crepes sold by local vendors, picnickers in the park with the Eiffel as the background. This scene no longer exists. Instead, as I walk along the river, I can’t find the entrance. I can see the top of the Eiffel but I can’t see the base of the Eiffel nor can I locate a path leading to it, only fences and barbed wire. The scene is gone folks, it’s gone. Those colorful watercolor paintings of Paris that my grandmother displayed in her home depicting boats tooling lazily along the Seine River while people dine in cafes, sip a coffee or enjoy a crepe in front of the tower have been replaced with fences and glass barriers. Now you can only buy paintings of that scene; you can’t take a photo because there is a big giant fence in the way.

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You must proceed past security in order to view the Eiffel Tower up close.

The Eiffel isn’t closed. Tourists are still allowed to enter the grounds after passing through a security checkpoint to which I suggest you bring an umbrella. Plan to be waiting in an uncovered queue for a while, because the guards check every bag thoroughly.  You are still allowed to ride the elevator or climb to the top and there are still cafes under the Eiffel, but it is a dire scene, consisting of concrete, steel and plywood. The river is blocked from view by a solid fence. Work has commenced to make a little park inside the grounds, but it’s just not the same.

 

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The view towards the River Seine is now obstructed by a wooden barrier

 

The reason I am telling you to go to Paris now is that the situation is likely to become more and more restrictive over time. I expect that eventually, public access will be denied.

 

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          NOW MAY BE YOUR LAST CHANCE TO TOUCH AND FEEL THE EIFFEL TOWER

 

When did you apply for your first passport and what was the first country you visited?