Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Driver's Guide to a French Roadtrip

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That is France.  I tried to draw on the map to show where I recently drove, but I found that a Sharpie doesn't work on a computer screen.  So I'll have to describe the trip:
  1. Started close to Geneva (just East of France)
  2. Went W to near Limoges
  3. Went N to Tours
  4. Went NW to north of Rennes (at the coast)
  5. Went NE to north of Caen
  6. Went E to north of Paris
  7. Went S to Paris
  8. Went SE back to Geneva

Phew!  That's over 28 hours of driving, over 40 gallons of gas, and over 1300 miles.  This is about the equivalent of driving from Indianapolis to New York and back.  And this was all by myself.  Was it boring?  Surprisingly no.  But here's what I learned:
  • Don't let your GPS's battery run out.  After my first stop, this happened.  I needed to re-install the software...wouldn't work=no GPS=I used a map.  Old-fashioned roadtrip.
  • French tolls are HORRIBLE!  If I used the toll-roads, it would have cost me over 80 euros!
  • Not driving on the toll-roads saves money (gas and tolls), makes the drive interesting (winding roads, small towns, complicated directions, pass trucks on small roads, etc), and shows more of the actual country.
  • Instead of having cops patrolling for speeding cars, they have cameras set up.  In theory this is good and efficient.  The problem is, they warn you every time there is a camera coming!!!  You slow down for the camera, and you're fine.
  • France is an OLD country.  At first, its charming.  After a while, it just looks crappy and dirty.
  • You better like McDonald's if you are doing a French roadtrip.  This is the only fastfood.  Boring.  There's a chain called "Quick", but its horrible.  Stick with boring McDonald's.  And buy McChickens...cheaper than beef.
  • Speaking of fastfood...all my avid followers will remember me talking about the packaging McDonald's gives you.  I took a picture of the packaging Quick gave me for a burger, fries and drink.  Look below.
  • Driving in Paris isn't so bad.  Driving around the Arc de Triomphe...horrifying.  After only one time going around the circle, I got honked at 3 times and almost hit twice (really...almost hit).  There are about 8 lanes and 12 streets that run off of it...with seemingly no rules or traffic regulation.
I'll explain the places I visited along the way in my next post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I've Transported My Kids to America!

OK, maybe not.  But look at this next picture and tell me it doesn't look like visual evidence supporting my title.
But now look at this picture.  How more French can you get?  It's February and cold (don't let the sun fool you).  And it's just a normal Thursday afternoon.  If there's 1 thing French people hate, it's fast food.  If there's 1 thing they love, it's McDonald's.  And if there are 2 things, it's that and eating outside...even in the dead of winter.
A few notes on McDonalds:
  • They serve beer.  No wine, though.
  • To us Americans, McDonald's is cheap and fast.  Here, its neither.  It's cheap-ish and fast-ish.  I've never waited in a drive-thru longer in my life.
  • And to me, a Big Mac tastes the same here as it does back home.
  • No, you can't get a 64 oz Coke here.
    • Speaking of Coke...Europe tends to call it Coca.  It sounds weird.
  • Europe is soooo concerned about the environment.  But then you go to a McDonald's.  The packaging!!!  If you get a meal, they give you a whole box.  If you get a drink, they give you one of the 4-cup-holder things...without asking.  They even give you a tray with a paper liner (dining in) even if you just get a muffin.
  • The menu isn't nearly as large as it is back home.  But there are some nice regional treats, like chocolate mousse, Parmesan burgers, croque-monsieur, etc.  Oh!  They have potato wedges instead of fries (only if you want)!  They're great!
  • Thankfully, they keep the American tradition of free wi-fi.  The lack of free wi-fi in Europe is devastating.  Yes, devastating.

Carnaval: This is like their Halloween (without trick-or-treating).  See Aiden as a cowboy (part knight)...
See Aiden on crack...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Skiing Trips

Life is full of ups and downs.  So is skiing.  So was this weekend.

Down: 4 hour car ride (into the Alps...Chatel) with Aiden in the back seat complaining that he has to throw up the whole way and his cousin (Alpair, 2) crying because he couldn't hold his mother's hand.  Traffic was also horrible.

Up: I managed to figure out how to put on snow chains without instructions or any previous knowledge of anything snow chain-related.  They work amazingly.

Down: I had to listen to Aiden's crying and coughing all night and Alpair's crying.  Due to the tight quarters, sleeping was hardly an option.

Up: I had a private lesson my first day.  My instructor (Fenny) was terrific!  It made a HUGE difference to learn from a teacher who spoke the same language as me.

Down: I learned how to go down a slope the proper way.

Up: Skiing became much more enjoyable.

Down: Macsen got sick on Sunday.

Up: I got to take his private lesson.

Down: I learned how to go down a slope even better.

Up: Eating while skiing.  Great food and drinks in the Alps.

Down: Alpair got sick Monday morning, so we couldn't go skiing (my "family" went home Sunday night, so it was only me, Alpair, and his mom).

Up: Alpair threw up in the car on the way home.

Ok...in all seriousness, skiing went really, really well this weekend.  The Alps are simply gorgeous and the skiing was actually fun.  I wish I had a video of my attempt at skiing my first time compared to where I was on Sunday.  I improved to not being able to go down green slopes (1st level) to being able to do reds (3rd level...out of 4) aaaannnd....
When I first started skiing, I noticed crazy lunatics going "off-slope".  I couldn't believe how crazy they were!  Well, on Sunday, Juliette's friend joined us.  Because she lives out there, she showed us all the great "off-slope" areas.  Me!  Off-slope!  I'm serious, I was doing jumps (not on purpose)!  I turned into one of those crazy lunatics!  I don't want to say that I'm really good or anything, but I'm much better than I was because of some great instructors.
  • I uploaded a video of Aiden skiing.  Look to the right.
  • I'm hoping to get some pictures of me skiing.  Juliette's sister is supposed to send me some pics.  I was too worried I would fall on my camera while skiing.