The word you never want to hear three times in a row, especially in a foreign language. Well, it happened to us today, and it wasn’t pleasant. So, let me start from the beginning. We deciced yesterday to purchase two city and boat tour passes around Paris. There are about three different carriers, we went with the L’Open Tour by CityVISION. We stumbled on this one by accident. We went out in search of the carrier we found on the web, BigBus, but when we asked for directions we were pointed to a bus stop for L’Open Tour. The driver of the bus spoke fairly good English and gave a quick explanation of the services offered, such as bus, boat, day, night, one-day, two-day, three-day, etc. We went with the one-day bus and boat pass for 41 euro each.
By this time, it was about 1pm. We failed to ask the time the buses stopped running. Come to find out, the bus (day pass) stopped at 5pm and so did the boats. There are four different bus routes, blue, orange, yellow and green. From 1pm to about 5:30pm we were able to complete the blue route, a partial of the green route and no more. We thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask if we could add the second day pass to our original purchase. Much to our delight, they were understanding and let us add the additional day of bus and boat, by only paying the ticket difference of 4 euro each. We were pleased and went on our way for the evening. Our plan for day two of the bus and boat pass was to begin earlier than the day before. First a boat ride along the river Seine, then on to routes yellow and finish green.
Haul ass or Chillax? That’s the eternal question when you are on vacation. I think it’s important for you to get what you want when you are away from the hustle and bustle of work. This trip is going to be a mixture of three very different situations. When we were discussing where we were going and what we were going to do, Reina and I had some decisions to make. Here’s what we faced:
Where do we go?
What do we do?
How long do we take in each place?
But there’s still the question. Haul ass or chillax? Have you ever taken a vacation and then thought, “Damn, I’ve got to get back to work so I can get some rest!” Ha. This comes from high expectations of your trip and you want to cram so much into a certain amount of time. The opposite, total relaxation, may lead to not seeing the very place you want to visit. Is this just my problem? Here’s a perfect example. Our first stop is Paris. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, Shopping (for Reina), Eating (for me), and the River Seine. I feel we are going to be humping around the city to see a lot of this. But we have to sit and enjoy the river and I totally want to sit at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy people watching.
And then there’s knowing that we’ll be on a sixteen night cruise immediately after Europe. Do we haul ass around Europe and wear ourselves out living it up and seeing everything knowing we’ll be lounging around a ship for a couple of weeks? That’s probably more the direction we’re headed. Haha.
I’ve never taken a long vacation like this and I can’t wait to get this thing started. Thanks for reading this blog. I look forward to posting here from the road. Six days from today we leave.
I always get the question, “How much cash should I take when I visit ___________?” I always answer, “It depends.”
Some people are comfortable carrying cash while others would rather wait until they get to their destination and withdraw money. Others aren’t very trusting of using their credit cards overseas or withdrawing money at ATMs.
Here’s what we typically do. Reina works with the bank to purchase some foreign currency. Typically we’ll take a few hundred dollars equivalent of cash. As soon as we get to our destination, we’ll test the ATM to see if it works. Now that the United States is finally upgrading to the EMV standard, which is that little microchip looking thing on your credit or debit card (see below), it will be easier to use cards overseas. We’ve had some pretty significant problems using our cards abroad. You think everything is working great until you get to the ATM and it asks for your five digit PIN. Huh? We don’t have five digit PINs here in the U.S.
Here’s the bottom line for money and traveling. The time of traveler’s checks has passed. You need to have a plan for funds be it cash or credit/debit cards or a combination of both.
Isn’t there an app for that? Ummmmmmmm. Yup. The evolution of apps is amazing. Especially for traveling.
What kind of apps do you need/want/desire when traveling?
Here’s a short list:
- Social Media
- Language Translation
- Financial Management
NOTE: I’m going to focus on iPad and iPhone since that’s what we’re taking with us.
Overall Travel Apps
Tripomatic is one of the better apps out there. It’s very simple to use. You just build your itinerary and based on where your going, the app will inform you of the more common tourist sites. This is a good place to start. If you are like us and want to do something off the beaten path, you will still have to either do additional research or ask when you are at your destination.
I like Tripomatic because it’s like a digital guidebook. It will show you well laid out tours, local weather and places to go. Also, since you’ll probably be using public transportation a good bit, it includes maps of the local subways, etc.
Trover is a photography app that will show you some amazing images of where you’re going. I’ve never been to Prague and I want a quick glimpse into what it looks like. So I open up Trover and type in Prague Czech Republic in the search bar. Below is what came back:
Can you imagine taking a long vacation overseas and not taking a single picture? I cannot. Photos are our history. They remind us of that time when we stood next to the Eiffel Tower. Or while standing on Copacabana Beach. That cool train you rode on across Europe. Or the first time you ate guinea pig in Ecuador. You want to take some good pics and you want to save them for eternity. For this trip we are taking a camera and a Connector Kit for the iPad. After we take the pics, we’re going to back them up to the iPad first, and then to the Cloud. Our app of choice is Flickr, which offers an easy interface to upload our pics. And you get 1,000 Gigabytes of free storage for your photos.
Skype is like the Swiss Army knife of communications products. You can video or voice call people all over the world for a very minimal price. We’ve used it extensively overseas and we’ve enjoyed great success. All you really need is a wifi signal and you can use Skype to call landlines and cell phones here in the United States. Basically we use our iPad as a cell phone. The only weird thing is that it somehow connects to a telephone here in the United States and dials from there. So you need to inform the person that they may get a call from California, which will be you. If that person doesn’t answer calls from an unknown number, they may miss your call.
Reina dragged me from being a cable subscriber to being a fan of Dish a few years ago. I’m glad I made the move. When I purchased Dish, I bought a Sling Media Box. Basically, the Sling Box takes the signal from your DVR and sends it out into the cloud. What that means to you is you can watch your DVR as if you were sitting in your living room. We used this extensively in Ecuador. We streamed movies, news, sports and music to our iPad.
MAPS.ME is a great app because you can use it offline. The give and take of that is it takes a huge amount of space on your device. I’ve downloaded all of the maps in Europe and South America where we’re traveling and it’s taking up over 5 Gigabytes on the iPad. It does a great job showing you restaurants, shopping centers, and metro stations. We have used this extensively and it’s a definite download before you take your trip.
I don’t know about you, but it’s a daily challenge for me to speak my native language. And now we’re going to be in countries that speak French, Dutch, German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. I haven’t been this screwed when it comes to language since I stood in that restaurant in Kuwait City 13 years ago with my hands in my armpits flapping my “wings” trying to order chicken. I’ve also learned that if you speak really loud and really slow, that doesn’t do a bit of good either.
So what and the hell is a traveler to do? Number one, most places that host tourists have someone who can speak at least minimal English. Find that person!!! My strategy through the years has been to learn the phrase “Do you speak English?” in the language of the country I’m visiting. Number two, get an app. And there are good apps for translating languages. Probably the best app I’ve seen is Google Translate. You can either say or type in the word or phrase to translate. It even has an option where you can point your camera at a word and it will translate it for you live. Check this video out to see that feature in action. The problem with most of the language apps is that you have to have data connectivity for them to work. Either Wifi or a foreign data plan.
But what do you do if you don’t have data connectivity? We are going with an app called Translate Pro. It is geared to work with wifi or data but has thousands of commonly used phrases pre-translated for you to use in a pinch.
If none of the above works? Stay calm and use hand gestures or draw something out on paper. Hahaha. Let the adventure begin.
By the way. If you are ever in Belgium and you gotta pee, know that H means men (hombre) and D means women (damas). Trust me, it could save you some embarrassment.
Today I’m going to talk about riding the train around Europe. It’s so prevalent overseas, which is a total opposite of life here in the United States.
If you are from the United States visiting Europe, then you definitely want to consider taking the train. Right now the US Dollar is very strong versus the Euro so Europe is an amazing deal.
Which website do I use to purchase a Eurail ticket?
Eurail.com is probably the best site with all the information. If you are traveling for any length of time AND traveling to multiple countries, I would recommend getting a Eurail Global Pass. Here’s a screenshot of the prices for two I took on 5 Oct 2015:
It seems like a helluva deal for two people to travel First Class on trains for 5 days out of 10 for $884. And it is. What they don’t tell you is that there is a limited number of Global Pass passengers on some of the more popular routes. And it’s a requirement to make reservations on some trains. On others, it’s optional yet recommended. And there is an additional charge to book. It wasn’t much more but it all adds up. I think we paid in the neighborhood of an additional $150 for our entire trip.
The trains look amazing and we are very excited to travel this way. Here’s a pic of the train we’ll be taking from Paris to Amsterdam:
I’ve talked to so many of my fellow service members who have traveled all around Europe this way. They all swear by it. The Eurail people have gotten smart and have located the ticket shipping centers here in the United States. So shipping is free to this country. The deliverables included our global passes, the tickets for the reservations and we even received a free telephone sim card for buying the passes when we did. We cannot wait.
A lot of people misunderstood when I said I was going to “Backpack Europe.” My bad for not being more clear. We are using backpacks as suitcases. We are not in any way hiking around Europe. Ha. I’m soon to retire from the United States Air Force. Roughing it for us is if the batteries go dead on the TV remote. Or, God forbid, we have to share a hotel room.
The backpack will be carried from the airport to the Airbnb property to the train, etc. Here’s our itinerary:
Albuquerque to Paris – Plane
Paris to Amsterdam – Train
Amsterdam to Berlin – Train
Berlin to Prague – Train
Prague to Venice – Plane
Venice to Rome – Train
Rome to Barcelona – Plane
Barcelona to Lisbon, Madeira, Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo – Cruise Ship
Sao Paulo – Rio de Janiero – Unknown at this time (Automobile? Bus? Plane?)
Rio de Janiero to Albuquerque – Plane
Simple right? I think the adventure of getting from A to B, C, D etc is going to be a lot of the fun. And this won’t be like a lot of the other vacations since we won’t really be in a big hurry to see everything. I’ll be done working and will be able to relax and enjoy this.
Hopefully it doesn’t end up like John Candy and Steve Martin with a burning car on the side of the road. Hahaha.