Euro2018

Help me, sophisticated travels of the blogosphere! With two months left in the year-long adventure of planning our trip to London and Paris this summer, we’ve arrived at the time for some tough decisions. Today’s debate: carry-on versus checked luggage.

I’m an inveterate over-packer. Nearly two decades of motherhood has made a good boy scout out of me; I like to be prepared. I’m also reasonably organized, and a pro at the jigsaw puzzle of fitting all the pieces we need into our mid-size car and rooftop luggage rack for a road trip. Airline travel, though, is a whole different ball of packing tape.

On the one hand, I can see the merit of packing for carry-on only. It’s quicker, more streamlined, and nobody wants to lug a giant suitcase through the Tube, onto the EuroStar or through the RER in Paris. With carry-on bags, we don’t have to worry about bags going off on a different adventure (although with a non-stop outbound flight, I’m reasonably confident this is not much of a concern.) We could probably fit everything we need into five carry-on bags plus the personal bag you’re allowed to have on the flight. And the boys are getting to an age where managing their own bag is probably an important life skill.

But.

My first problem is that we don’t actually HAVE five carry-on bags. I think we have one, maybe two. The boys can use their school backpacks for their personal stuff, but I’d still need to beg, borrow or steal at least a couple more carry-on bags.

Second, I think while five carry-on bags are manageable in a plane, it seems like it would be awkward everywhere else, like in taxis and on subways and whatnot. The more bags we have, the more chance for error. Two big bags are much easier to keep track of than five little ones, even when each boy has been exhorted to manage his own bags. Yes, I realize I’m micromanaging. It’s what I do.

Third, am I ready to deal with the restrictions of carry-on luggage? We don’t travel a lot, so I don’t have travel-size anything. I almost lost my 20 year old pocket knife in Mexico when I accidentally forgot it was in my purse and had to pay an extra fee to turn my purse into checked luggage or forfeit it. It just seems more – complicated.

Fourth, don’t laugh at me, is that I’m bringing at least one camera body, at least two lenses, and a MacBook – and that’s just me. Hell, that’s one carry-on right there!

We’re not overly nomadic, staying in one place in London for a week and then moving to Paris for a second week. And, we have laundry available at both places, so we can pack on the light side and probably fit everyone’s stuff into one or two larger checked bags, which I picture as being vaguely easier to wrangle than five carry-on bags.

Who knew this would be harder than planning for a month of travel for one with nothing but a backpack, nearly 20 years ago?

Thoughts or advice for a newbie overseas travellers in a large family?


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Euro2018: Walking up the Eiffel Tower

by DaniGirl on April 7, 2018 · 1 comment

in Euro2018

We’re deep into the planning of our once-in-a-lifetime trip to London and Paris next summer. We’ve got accomodations, flights and EuroStar tickets booked, and now we’re starting to look at what exactly we want to see and do while we’re there.

Of course, on our must-go list for Paris is the Eiffel Tower. I’ve been up it before, when I traveled solo through Europe as a young thing back in 1995, and Beloved and I may or may not have gone up during our honeymoon in 1999. He’s not super fond of heights, though, so it’s possible we enjoyed the splendor from the ground that time.

I know at least two of the boys are keen to go up the Tower, though the third is happy to stay with Beloved and keep two feet planted firmly on the ground. And hey, I bet a girl can take a mighty fine photo from those elevated observation decks! But the tickets are not cheap, and not exactly easy to get either. You have to choose your date and time (to the hour) at least three months in advance. An inveterate ENFP, I hate the idea of being pinned down to any particular date or time for anything. What if it’s pouring rain at our booked time? What if we’re doing something else fun that day? What if we get lost in the subway and miss our booked time, just like I missed my flight home from Paris way back in 1995?

I did a little research, though, and one can take the stairs up at a much reduced cost, and with no advance booking required. Rather than €28 for three of us to take the lift to the second level and be tied to a specific date and time, we can pay €17.50 and go whenever our hearts desire. We won’t make it up to the very top for that price, but I’ve heard the views from the second observation deck are just as good, if not better.

There’s only one small thing to consider in this plan: 669 steps. It doesn’t sound too dreadful at first, but I started breaking it down. I work in the 17th floor of an office tower. There are 20 steps between each floor, so ground to 17th floor is only 340 steps. By comparison, there are 328 steps to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, and then another 341 steps to the second floor. That’s TWICE the 17 floors up my office tower, if you’re keeping track. And while I’m reasonably fit, I’ll also be just a few days shy of my 49th birthday. While I imagine the boys will lope up the stairs like the long-legged gazelles they are, I was a little worried about my own stamina. That’s a LOT of steps, in high summer no less.

Ottawa photographerSo, I’ve been practicing. Back in January, I started with five floors. I took the elevator down to the 12th floor and made my way up. I added a floor a week, and tried to find the time in each day to walk the stairs at least once. This week, I did my first full 17 flights! Yay, I can now walk comfortably up to the FIRST observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, needing only a couple of minutes to catch my breath. I have just over three months to work on adding that second flight! I promise to share a sweaty, breathless selfie when we make it.

Have you walked up the stairs to the Eiffel Tower, or something similar? How did you do?


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Euro2018: Booking accommodations in Paris

by DaniGirl on December 18, 2017 · 3 comments

in Euro2018

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we’ve decided to take the boys on the adventure of a lifetime next summer: a week in London, England and a week in Paris. I’m not the world’s most sophisticated traveller, so I thought it would be fun to share the planning process.

I’ve been watching flight costs since late August and haven’t seen any deals (we’re hoping for a January or February seat sale) and though it’s a little risky to book accommodations without having our flights locked in first, it’s so tough finding suitable accommodations for a larger family that I was comfortable locking in accommodations now and hoping to find flights to match later. I’ve read enough to know that Mondays through Wednesdays are the cheaper days to fly, so we’re booking accommodations for Tuesday to Tuesday and hoping for the best!

I’ve been to Paris twice before, once on my own and once on our honeymoon in 1999. Both times, I stayed in a charming and tiny walk-up budget pension on L’Île de la Cité in the very heart of Paris called Hotel Henri IV. I’d have booked it again for the family in a heartbeat based on the location and nostalgia alone, even though the individual rooms on each floor shared a common washroom and part of the hallway to the washroom was open to the outside. Sadly, somewhere between 1999 and 2017, it ceased to exist in its former location.

I spent hours in August and September rifling through vacation rental options. I knew that for five of us, hotel options would be limited and expensive – we’d either be miserably crammed into one room or paying extravagantly for two rooms. Having decided to rent an apartment, I agonized over locations: Le Marais, Sacré Coeur, the Latin Quarter, Bastille, and cross-referenced them against locations of attractions I knew we’d want to visit.

I had a few key criteria in mind, and a few other things that were nice to have but not dealbreakers. We would need at least four discrete beds, because I could not imagine inducing any of the boys to share a bed for a week. It would need to be central to transportation links and preferably within walking distance of several attractions. It had to have “character”, which is a little on the ephemeral side but a key filter to all my searches. And, I really wanted something with boulangeries, cafes and shops within a block or two. I wanted the boys to see “vrai Paris” and how Parisians really live.

By the end of the summer, after countless hours on VBRO, HomeAway, AirBnB, Booking.com and other rental aggregators, I’d built an annotated Google Map of approximately 20 apartments that looked most promising and were in our price range (I was trying to stay under $300 Cdn per night.)

Map of Paris

(Obsessive planner much? Seriously, I am having so! much! nerdy! fun! planning this trip.)

Okay, truth be told, maybe I was a little too obsessive, because having sussed out 20 possible places, I found myself paralysed by indecision – how to choose? So I decided to turn my attention to planning the London side of the trip for a while, and when I came back to look at Paris rentals again, there was a problem. A BIG problem, one that pretty much obliterated the hours I’d invested to Paris accommodation planning thus far.

Apparently, there has been a crackdown by the French government, requiring anyone who rents a property (e.g. through AirBnB and similar services) to register the property and obtain a 13-digit registration number, which must be displayed prominently in any online ads. The registration site opened in October, and all properties need to be registered by December 1st. I’d seen predictions that up to 60% or 80% of current apartments available for short term rental in Paris would no longer be legal (and therefore no longer available) as of the new year.

That certainly put a wrench in our vacation planning. I paused my searching until after December 1st, watching travel forums for advice and speculation, and started revisiting ads in mid-December. None of the listings I’d saved were displaying the registration number — but then it was hard to find ANY listing with the registration number in place. Leave it to me to be searching for a rental in exactly the time period that rentals are in complete upheaval. This is the story of my life as a traveller — missed connections and misadventures abound!

For a while, we considered hotel options. Five of us in a tiny room for a week held little appeal, but two rooms would push us out of our budget. Rooms in a hostel would certainly be an adventure, and it wouldn’t particularly bother me, but other travellers in our party were less enthused by the idea. I worried that when the 80% of tourists who ordinarily rented the now-illegal apartments began searching for accommodations in the new year, even the most meagre hotel options would be swept up. I was just about to resign myself to increasing our accommodation budget by a considerable margin when, driven more by impulse than logic, I saw a previous exchange of messages about a rental I’d put at the top of our list this summer and sent a fresh message to him asking about the registration number. To my surprise and delight, he not only confirmed that he had registered his apartment, but sent me a copy of his documentation from the city of Paris.

I’d had a few concerns about this rental from my searches earlier this summer – it’s about half a kilometer to the Metro, which will be a longish hike carrying suitcases, and it’s a sixth-floor walkup, which will also seem more painful with arms full of bags. The street itself seems rather unremarkable, once you’re used to the sweeping grandeur of Haussmann-designed sidestreets that resemble alleys more than roadways. It definitely wins on character, with two of three bedrooms tucked under attic eaves with skylights looking out over Paris rooftops.

What sealed the deal, though, (aside from the registration number, of course) was location. It’s two blocks north of the Louvre in the 1er arrondissement; if you know Paris, you know the location doesn’t get much better. (It’s the one at pretty much the centre of the map above.) And so we booked!

Photos of Paris apartment interior

Our little pied à terre

So now we have accommodations booked for both France and England, and I’m frankly so relieved I can’t even tell you how happy I am to stop thinking about it. Stay tuned for more details on the London booking in my next post, and may the airline gods be kind to us in finding flight dates to match our bookings!

What do you value most when booking accommodations? Are you a last minute “we’ll sleep wherever we end up” sort of traveller, or do you love to torture yourself by agonizing over every detail like me?


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Every now and then in my life, a luck bomb explodes. Circumstances happen to come crashing together in a way that makes amazing opportunities drop into my lap. One of those resulted in my amazing solo trip to Europe in 1995, and another resulted in our family trip on the Allure of the Seas back in 2012. They don’t always involve travel, but when you’re a family of five, international travel can be prohibitively expensive, and sometimes a luck-bomb is what it takes to make it feasible. In this case, I had a very short window to decide whether to cash out or lock in a severance allowance that I’ve been accumulating over my 27+ years with the government that was being phased out, and couldn’t think of a more spectacular way of investing it than planning a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Europe.

I committed to cashing out the allowance not too long before my dad died. There’s nothing like losing a parent to instill a little “carpe diem” into your outlook. Some of the last afternoons we spent together, my dad and I chatted about places to go and see, and talked about some of our favourite trips. The older I get, the more I’m beginning to value travel over things. It’s been a few months since we’ve committed to the trip, and I’m still breathless with excitement when I think about how lucky we are to be able to show the boys more of the amazing world outside the paths we usually tread.

We chose London and Paris because as much as I loved cramming five countries and 12 cities into a four week solo trip in 1995, I’m not sure my crew is up for that level of nomadic intensity in a travel schedule on an international trip. I loved my time in Paris in 1995 so much that Beloved and I spent our honeymoon there in 1999, and revisiting one of our favourite places in the world seemed like a great way to travel and yet not be completely overwhelmed by everything being new and, for lack of a better word, “foreign.” Also, because Paris!

We chose London because it’s somewhere we’ve both always wanted to go. I have to admit, I wasn’t as keen on the London part of the trip until I started getting into researching what we could see and do, and now I’m not sure how we’ll ever cram everything in, and especially how we’ll ever leave. Platform 9 3/4 and the Tower Bridge and the Thames and fish and chips and Buckingham Palace and the Tube; from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere to Abbey Road to Aziraphale and Crowley feeding the ducks at St James Square, it seems like a lifetime of cultural touchstones are just waiting to be discovered.

In addition to the excitement of actual travel, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to be planning this trip. It’s like a hundred research projects to be managed, all wrapped up into one! From pricing flight options and route itineraries to comparing neighbourhoods; from AirBnBs to budget hotels; from Notre Dame to Paris Disney; there are so! many! things! to learn about. I have spreadsheets and lists and a stack of library books as long as my arm, and I am loving every minute of planning this trip. (Obsessive much?)

Admittedly, we are not the world’s most sophisticated travellers. The last time I actually purchased my own airline ticket was in 1999, for our honeymoon in Paris. And when I was planning my big European adventure in 1995, it was in a pre-internet world. I made my hotel reservations via fax machine! So, I thought sharing the planning process here might be a way to both pick your collective brains, and lay some groundwork for other newbie travellers too.

The biggest expenses will be flights and accommodations. Getting five people to London, and back from Paris, looks to cost us about $5,000, and I’ve been using Google Flights to track prices for a few months. We’re thinking of flying out of Ottawa into London, taking the Eurostar through the Chunell to Paris, and then flying home from Paris. We could drive to Montreal and increase our number of options, but at current prices we won’t actually save anything for the massive inconvenience.

tracking flight prices

Tracking flight prices on Google

I’m also debating between a daytime or an overnight flight. We can leave at 7 am local time and arrive in London at around 9 pm local time, so probably not arriving at our rental flat until nearly midnight. It won’t be too bad from a jet lag perspective, as it will feel like much earlier in the day due to the time change, but navigating a strange city in the dark with kids and suitcases does not seem appealing. What seems even less appealing, though, is the other option of flying out in the evening and cobbling together a few hours sleep on the plane, arriving early the next morning. There are some members of our family who are not at their best (cough cough) when they are tired.

So bloggy peeps, let’s talk about planning flights. Got any tips to share? Do you prefer the red-eye or a daytime flight? How do you find good deals on flights? Am I right to hope for a seat sale for high season travel, or should I just lock in our flights now? Am I crazy to look at Air Iceland flights because they have free wifi and cheaper fares, even though (okay, and because) there is a stop-over in Reykjavik and the flight is four hours longer than the non-stop from Ottawa?

Please share your best flight-planning tips!


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