Full time employment: Posting here.
Join Date: Jul 2009
Trip Summary - England, France and Spain, Sep-Oct 19
Starting a separate thread as a summary - I had started several threads on various specific topics Ö this in the hopes others can benefit!
Prefer United as have some standing with them, but Delta had far better times and connection locations, so Pensacola to Atlanta to Heathrow. Lack of status with Delta relegated us to cattle status, but they were nice, food was OK and we had solid connections with no surprises.
Used Blackberry cars from Heathrow - driver was waiting for us outside a storefront just after clearing access - 90E for about 50 mile trip to Crowborough. Had a fabulous time visiting friends for a few days, toured Penshurst Place and Gardens, Bodiam Castle and Rye. Really enjoyed the weather.
Friends dropped us at Newhaven where we grabbed the morning ferry to Dieppe - arriving early afternoon. 45-60 minutes prior to sailing time was appropriate for arrival, check-in and then bus to the wharf from the building. Ferry was very nice with restaurants and bars, TV rooms, comfortable lounge chairs with easy access to outside for viewing.
Dieppe arrival was opposite process, where bus picked us up at the wharf, then to the check in building, then on another bus to take us downtown Dieppe. Grabbed the train to Bayeux, which required transfers at Rouen Rive Droite and Caen. Walked from the gare in Bayeux to our B&B - an incredibly restored small B&B with two rooms run by the Mertens (Maison Merten). Mrs Merten communicates very well by email, is grew up for a few years in the US, and then moved back to France. I cannot express how wonderful breakfast was Ö sigh, just thinking of it. Two days with a private guide was insufficient, but we simply didnít have more time.
The night before we were to train to Bordeaux Ö aack Ö train strike. Plan B was tax to the Caen airport, rent a car and head to Bordeaux. Nice everyone - Mrs Mertens assisted with taxi driver, and rental agent had everything ready to go right at opening. Raining, but perfect roads! Service facilities every so often were unbelievable in every respect Ö wonderful food, much cleaner than those in the US, fair prices.
Met friends in Bordeaux - had rented apartment (would not recommend, even though it was beautifully remodeled and very central - 1 min to the opera square, 5 min to Le Miroir díeau, they refused to turn the AC on because the weather was cool to them - and there was a problem of some sort with plumbing gases). Great time with friends on wine tour of St Emilion, dinner in St Emilion, tours around town, hit the markets hard. The food - another sigh.
Our group now up to 12, we organized a relocation/tour from Bordeaux to San Sebastian via Biarritz, St Lean de Luz, and Hondarribia. Stayed at the very nice Hotel Marina Cristina on Marriott points - made reservations about 6 months in advance. Tours to the countryside using the same company (BaskMe - owner is Andoni) with wineries, small towns, etc. Self guided pintxos tours every evening!
The 12 split up and we rented a car (Europcar) with another couple and drove to Ribadesella, SP - a way chill, very nice beach community - too cool for swimming, though. Beach community separated from the little town (there are ancient caves there) by a causeway/bridge Ö nice walk, very nice people, great food - including incredible seafood. Easily whiled away three days there Ö so fun and chill. Toured every day for about 4-6 hours between Ribadesella and Cudillero.
Drove to Madrid (our first time) via Segovia - great roads, great food, nice service areas. But, Madrid - UGGGGGHHHHH on the driving there. Finally made it to the Hotel Francisco I (very nice and very central), took two hours to find and the car return about 1 mile away, turned car in and walked to hotel in 15 minutes. Two days and three nights - great food - great wine - nice people. TRAFFIC! I would describe downtown Madrid as Manhattan with Spaniards. Taxi to the airport - took 50 minutes to go 7 miles! Delta back to home - no issues, but a horrible MD-88 ride sitting next to th 20,000 hp engine ...
Thatís about it Ö be glad to answer any questions anyone might have, now or in the future.
1. Donít avoid driving - with the exception of Madrid, and perhaps Bordeaux, everything is easy - road signage great, googlemaps worked great - cars all had ability to accept data from Apple CarPlay. Most of the cars are manual, but some autos are available. Europcar was reliable and organized. Make sure you take lots of photos of your car when you rent it and when you drop it off.
2. Cash? Meh Ö I think I could have done the entire three week trip on 50E cash - seriously. Almost everyone accepts credit cards, except folks like our guide in Normandy who wanted cash, and ATM machines are everywhere (looks like Fidelity picked up all the fees and there were no international fees).
3. Clothing - I did some reading re opinions about what us appropriate to wear. I would now categorize most of the articles on this topic as either way dated, or drivel. Locals wore everything - everything you could imagine. Tourists wore everything. If you think you can fit in, you can try, but my sense is that almost everyone knows exactly who you are - based on how you walk, behave, laugh, and what you wear.
4. Travel light - this is a big deal - everything is easier. We fit everything into a roller board and backpack each. Since we were flying US carriers there and back, we used US size. If you are air traveling in Europe, this size is too big - they will laugh at you and note that our carryone rollers are the size of their checked bags. Buy one of the small rollers! I could have gotten by on a pair of black jeans and a pair of blue jeans, three mesh t shirts, a few pair of mesh underwear, a few t shirts, two lightweight collared shirts, three pairs of socks, and one pair of shoes (everyone wears sports shoes - locals and tourists - locals wear brighter colored sport shoes!). Essential is a lightweight waterproof jacket with hood, perhaps a puffy vest for this time of year). Skip the sports jacket, leather upscale shoes, etc. Donít forget the scarf :-).
5. Study up a bit on languages - even a few words are helpful and the locals know you are trying - and, itís fun. Get good at using an online translator! Take a small book on each language with you, since internet isnít always available.
6. Me - I love the little towns and generally don't care for cities - even nice cities are still icky :-). On the other hand, I had a wonderful time a couple of years back in Amsterdam ...
Thank you to everyone who helped us coordinate all this!