France 2008, preamble
I can't figure out how to start my travel story so I'm going to start with tips. Today's Citizen has three articles on Paris, if you can believe it. One starts "What is your image of the solo traveller in Europe?", the next, "My first encounter with the self-service rental bikes in Paris..." and the third, "How do you approach an iconic city..."
This trip was our first-ever trip to Europe together and it was supposed to be The Big One, for our 25th anniversary, which was last year, never mind. We spent a whole year (or more) wondering where to go and finally settled on Provence for several reasons. Peter had not been to Europe, so the whole thing was wide open for him. I had lived in Europe here and there but I had not been to some places including Provence and didn't want to go somewhere I'd already been. VanGogh painted some of his most famous paintings in Arles. We wanted to go in May to avoid the main tourist months and France was probably warmer in the south in May than some other places. We almost settled on Glasgow because there was a cheap flight there but came to our senses and booked our tickets for Paris instead.
We flew Air France to Paris, took the TGV down to Arles and spent 9 days there and then spent 3 days in Paris before the return flight. It turned out to be a good plan. Our idea was that we would be having a Holiday and therefore didn't need to SEE every darned thing there was to see, which you can't do anyway. We wanted to get a real feel for what Provence was like and Paris was just a bonus. And once you've seen one Roman ruin, you don't need to see them all to know what it's like. It was a great trip and we're already thinking about the next one.
TRAVEL LIGHT. Everybody says this and you can't disagree. We decided this time to carry backpacks and not wheeled luggage. I knew there would be lots of stair climbing in the metro and other places and I thought backpacks would be easier than wheels and in many respects they were. Also, your hands are left free with backpacks. The fact that it's more of a strain on your shoulders is the main drawback. We also thought it would be faster at the airports if we only had carry-on bags but that turned out not to be entirely true. Once you get to the airport, you have to wait to go through Customs first and then claim your bags so it's only marginally faster.
Having large carry-on bags can be a pain because you have to hump them into the overhead compartments but mostly, it's a pain because of what you are not allowed to take on aircraft for security reasons. I cannot live without a nail file so I took my tiniest one and it got through security but I could see that they looked at the bag closely so I won't be trying that again. And you are limited in the shampoo and other liquids department for security so maybe a checked bag is best these days. Even if you do check bags however, travel light.
We did two laundries in 14 days. In Arles, we found an automatic (do-it-yourself) laundry and waited until our laundry bag was fairly full and then spent an hour doing laundry. I wore t-shirts which don't need ironing and Peter had shirts that didn't need ironing. I didn't wash my skirts and jackets and carried a Tide Pen for emergencies. So our backpacks weighed under 2 kilos each and stuffed with clothes they weighed about 7 kilos. A backpack with wheels weighs in at about 4 kilos empty. This is important because carry-on bags are limited to 12 kilos each. In any event, we were way under the weight limit even for carry-on but don't forget that you still have to carry it on your back.
Here's what I looked like, carrying the big back-pack, now weighing 10 kilos with the fabric I bought, and my much smaller (although it looks big) "purse" backpack on my front that held my wallet, documents, maps, etc. It actually worked out pretty well.