5 Things I Learned in England

  1. The subway in London (they call it the Tube) is more expensive and seems slower and less efficient than other European cities I’ve been (and I only used it in Zones 1 to 4…the main area where I would think the Tube would be at its most efficient).  It could just seem slower because the distance between stations is greater than in Paris, where I was right before London, but that’s just a guess.
  2. I started seeing them the first day in London, so what is an off license store?  Off license stores (liquor stores basically) sell liquor that you cannot consume on the premises. On license stores (bars, restaurants, etc.) sell liquor that can be consumed on the premises.  I put this in because stores with ‘off license’ in the name are everywhere, in every town I visited in England.
  3. Most small family owned stores/shops don’t seem to specialize in one type of service or product line.  Example: a small store in Nottingham with a name like ‘Joe’s Off License Liquor’ also sells groceries, postage, prepaid phones and phone credits, magazines and newspapers, tobacco and accessories, fresh fruit and vegetables…you get the idea.  I wonder if it’s always been like this in the UK or if the mom and pop stores are doing everything they can to attract business these days.
  4. Public Houses vs. Free Houses.  What are they and what’s the difference?  (skip to the end of #4 for the short answer)  Before getting to England last month I knew what a public house was.  It’s a bar.  A tavern.  A pub.  Whatever similar name you want to use.  But I had never heard of something called a free house.  Being a budget traveler, and always looking for cheap accommodations, I was immediately interested when seeing ‘FREE HOUSE’ through the bus window on my way to Norwich.  As luck would have it a free house has nothing to do with a cheap place to sleep.  So what is it?  Basically the name free house evolved to denote a pub not tied to any particular brewery and ‘free’ to sell whatever beer they want.  Historically public houses in England were tied to (or owned by) specific breweries.  That said, the lines have become blurred in recent decades and nowadays looking at the name, public or free, may not give you an idea of the type of bar it is.  The short answer is: for most patrons in modern times there is no discernible difference in a public house and a free house.
  5. London’s weather.  It’s always talked about by travelers and locals alike.  London and rain, rain and London…they’re kind of synonymous.  Here’s what I learned: It always seems to look like it could rain…like it might rain.  But then it normally doesn’t, or at least not much. I know my 7 day sample size is pretty small but that’s all I’ve got to go from.  And as you can see from the picture below, the ‘nearly’ raining weather doesn’t spoil your time in London…there is always something awesome to look at!
    Tower Bridge - London
    Tower Bridge – London

    Bonus thing I learned!!

  6. The lesser known cities and areas are worth the visit.  I visited several cities, from large to small, and enjoyed everyone of them.  One in particular, Whitby, is an incredible city on the North Sea coast.  There is enough stuff to keep busy for several days and I’ll go back if I get the opportunity.  For the historian, a small but fantastic museum houses many interesting items including some impressive dinosaur fossils, all found within 20 miles of Whitby, and the ancient Abbey and Church sitting above the city on a cliff are an excellent visit.  For the outdoorsman there is a beach and several different hiking trails.  For the adventurer you can go fossil hunting along the cliffs and find anything from ammonites to crocodiles to dinosaurs.  Or you can just sit and watch the tidal river as I did on my first night in town (Abbey Ruins in the top right corner of this picture).

    Low Tide on the River Esk - Whitby
    Low Tide on the River Esk – Whitby

England in Pictures!

Highs and Lows of Solo Travel

I must admit, in a way I’m kind of a loner.  Being a never married (or close to it) thirty something lends itself to having a lot of ME time over the years.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a recluse, I spend as much time with my family and friends as anyone.  But while others were having long-term relationships that inevitably led to marriage and families I had shorter relationships that inevitably led to being single again.  I don’t mean to sound bitter; I’m not, because being a single thirty something has afforded me the opportunity to venture into this unknown lifestyle of ‘traveler’.  I won’t go so far as to say my time alone prepared me for long-term solo travel but I do think in certain situations it can help, especially if you’re naturally an introvert, like me.

Here are a few pros and cons of solo travel I’ve encountered while traveling:

Pros

  • At times travel makes even the most reticent introvert come out of their shell (which is a good thing!).  Since there isn’t anyone else to count on you are the doer.  So…say you want to try the native cuisine but don’t speak the language, you can’t figure out the automated ticket machine at the train station, or you just want to tag along to the pub with some people at the hostel…it’s on you.  You must step out of the shadows wallflower and ask that girl to dance.  If you don’t; there’s only one person to blame.
  • There’s no compromising.  You get to pick what you spend your time doing, all of your time.  If you don’t want to go to another museum…don’t.  The only person you have to please is you.  Recently I met another solo traveler, Jana, on a bus to Newcastle and she put it perfectly: “I get to be as selfish as I want!’
  • If you’re traveling unmapped, like me, you can make decisions on the fly about when/where you go, how you get there, and how long you stay…without needing a consult from anyone except Mr. Budget.

Cons

  • The opposite is true for the first point above.  It’s on you…always on you.  That can get old.  There’s nobody else to make reservations, buy and cook food, wash clothes, decide when/where to travel next, etc.  As nice as it is to have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, and how you want, having another decision maker on board is nice once in a while.  I think that’s one reason solo travelers, if only for a day, join with groups or each other.  They not only gain the camaraderie that’s missed in a ‘table for one’ setting but also someone to share the decision-making ‘burden’ with.
  • At some point you’ll want to get away, lay in your favorite recliner, and be alone.  The problem is your favorite recliner will be 7000 miles away and all you’ll have is the common room at the hostel.  It’s not always the best place to just veg out.  (a good hack to fix this problem is to find a scenic park, pop in your ear buds, and ignore everyone around you)
  • When you cook…it’s hard to only cook for one person.  Hostel refrigerators are usually small and full of other people’s food items so you won’t often be able to save ‘leftovers’.
  • You can’t take advantage of the discounts given to two or more.  Some include railpass discounts, plates for two at restaurants, and rooms for two at hostels.

This is a small list but whether you’re solo traveling for a weekend, a week-long work trip, or a gap year…at some point you’re bound to encounter some or all of these situations…and more.  I’d love to hear your ups and downs from being on the road alone.  Comment here with your solo travels pros and cons!

Workaway in Brittany

From the beginning part of my travel planning has always been to travel slowly…to get to know an area instead of seeing few sites everywhere I stop and breeze through on a whirlwind tour. Another part of the planning was to find ways to cut travel expenses. In my research I found many work-in-trade programs where a host and traveler work out an agreement which is normally a set amount of work hours over the course of a week in exchange for room and board. Stumbling across these programs was an awe-inspiring moment and I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do. It would allow me to stay in locations for longer periods AND cut costs. Win, win!

There are several different programs out there; one of the most well-known being Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms. While I have nothing against organic farming I wanted other opportunities also and decided to join a site called Workaway (workaway.info). This site has a variety of work types literally all across the globe. From help with childcare and household chores in Paris to helping learn English in Brazil to helping at a center for abused women and children in Tibet to helping with renovation projects in Canada to …well, you get the idea. Below is one of my Workaway adventures. Enjoy!

I’d been wanting to visit Brittany since seeing some travel show host visit there a few years ago (probably Anthony Bourdain), but it’s been so long I don’t remember what about the show drew me to the area.  Nevertheless, when Philippa contacted me about coming to work and stay with them in Brittany I jumped at the chance for two reasons.

  1. I knew I wanted to see Brittany
  2. I needed something to refresh my memory as to why

I thought being there was the best way to figure that out.  About 48 hours after arriving I’d fallen in love with the small towns, like nearby Josselin, and smaller villages like the one I was staying in, and the countryside.  I assume that’s because I’ve traveled for over 3 months now and in a way the area reminded me of where I grew up.  After realizing why I loved the area I also realized that it WAS NOT my initial reason for wanting to travel to Brittany.  The travel show host was on the coast, not in the countryside.  So the next time I’m in Brittany maybe I’ll go to Brest.  Being the largest city in the region, and on the coast, it should be a totally different experience.  Maybe there I’ll find what drew me to Brittany in the first place.

Enough of all that…

I woke up early on the day I was to travel from Paris to Brittany, talked a few minutes with my new friend, and one night hostel roommate, Glennise, and left for a walk in the rain. After a 5 minute walk, about 30 minutes on the subway, over an hour waiting for the second train going west that morning (though I was there on time I missed the first train…it took me 3 ticket windows, all for the same train company, to buy my ticket!), 2+ hours on the train, an hour waiting for a bus, almost 90 minutes on the bus, and 15 minutes in a car…I was in a small village in the center of Brittany, France.

It’s a quaint French village, smaller than the small Kansas town I grew up in, but big enough to have a tall church (Europe does tall churches like Kansas does wheat fields; they’re everywhere!), small general store, pâtisserie and even a bar/restaurant. I was there to stay and work with Philippa and Allan, an expat couple from Yorkshire, England, just north of where Stilton cheese comes from. They normally live alone but along with me, there was another Workaway visitor, Dave, Philippa’s oldest son James visiting from Germany, her teenage twins and one of the twins’ friends, all from England. So instead of their normal two they had eight people in the house. Luckily they have a big house. Actually it’s not a house, it’s an old barn. A very old barn; over 300 years old.

Initially, while still living in England, they bought only part of the property, which is almost a third of the building, as their holiday home. Soon enough they bought the rest of the property and turned the other end of the barn into a holiday rental gite, where Dave and I were staying, and a few years ago they moved to France full-time. Us Workawayers were there to help with the renovation work on the main part of the barn, which will be Philippa and Allan’s house when it’s completed.

Decorative Stone Wall
Decorative Stone Wall

I filled most of my sixteen or so days with helping James build a decorative stone wall in what will be a sitting room.  I use ‘helping’ very loosely here because I was basically the apprentice to James who is a trained stone mason  (and the week Dave was there James had two apprentices).  I would bring stones (mainly sandstone or granite but also a few chunks of marble) inside for him to choose from, mount anchors into the existing wall, mix mortar, and clean up the scrap…basically a gopher.  But by the time the wall was nearly finished I could help James pick out stones and even set a few myself.  Watching James work was very impressive; he’s truly an artisan.  And actually an artist as well; he’s an accomplished painter and sculptor.

I also spent several hours punching a hole for a new doorway, which will connect the gite and main barn, in the 300 year old wall.  It was over three feet thick and, for something mainly made of dirt and grass, amazingly hard to break with the jack hammer.  There were also various small jobs I helped Allan and Sean the contractor with.  Basically I was a laborer for five to six hours a day.

A Foggy Morning in Josselin - Josselin Chateau
A Foggy Morning in Josselin – Josselin Chateau

In my downtime I did a lot of writing and visited several nearby, and not so nearby, towns.  One of those, Josselin, is a beautiful medieval town with an old chateau and every Saturday an outdoor market.  I love markets and was glad we went both Saturdays I was around.  All told I think I spent about seven hours walking around Josselin (which included a terribly embarrassing walk into a church for Dave and I) over three different visits.  It is a little touristy but awfully cool nonetheless.  We also went to a vide grenier (flea market) one day.  Amazingly the same junk that’s sold at US flea markets gets sold at French vide greniers. And some of it was the EXACT same junk; I saw the same old American movies and records, and half-broken Stanley tools you would expect to see in the US.  There were also a lot of interesting ‘French’ things, but for the most part it wasn’t too different.  More nights than not we spent with a glass (or bottle) of wine enjoyed over a hard-fought card game.We had a couple different BBQ’s, went to a trivia night contest at the local bar, went to a classic small town French restaurant with a 4 course meal, and I spent a couple of hours one afternoon walking around the countryside.

View Toward Josselin Chateau From Atop the Josselin Lock on Canal de Nantes à Brest
View Toward Josselin Chateau From Atop the Josselin Lock on Canal de Nantes à Brest

All of that is what I was expecting.  I knew I’d love Brittany (even though I wasn’t sure why). I knew I’d be helping with a renovation project and I like to do that kind of stuff.  I knew they lived in a rural area so I was anticipating small towns and fields and open spaces.  What I wasn’t expecting was meeting so many British people.  Based solely on my small sample size, 90% of people living in Brittany are British!  Even while writing this more than two weeks after leaving Brittany, off the top of my head I can think of over 35 Brits.  And those were just Brits we ‘ran into’ and close friends of Philippa and Allan.  My second day there I had already met about 15 people, all British, and made a comment that I felt like the only foreigner in France.

Philippa and Allan’s good friends Sean, Donna, Sally, Julian – British.  The electrician – British.  The plasterers that got the job (and the one that didn’t) – all British.  The six or eight people I met at Trivia night (plus the 10 I didn’t meet) – all British.  A guy named Gator that gave me some great advice about meeting women in England, more friends, etc. etc. – ALL British.

I really had a great time in Brittany, mainly because Philippa and Allan, their family, and all the Brit expat community I got to know for two weeks were fun and entertaining and crazy and made me feel at home.

I look forward to, if when I go back to Brittany, figuring out why I wanted to go there in the first place.  But mainly I look forward to stopping to say hi to my new friends Philippa and Allan, playing cards, and making sure that wall is still standing!

Workaway in Portugal

From the beginning part of my travel planning has always been to travel slowly…to get to know an area instead of seeing few sites everywhere I stop and breeze through on a whirlwind tour. Another part of the planning was to find ways to cut travel expenses. In my research I found many work-in-trade programs where a host and traveler work out an agreement which is normally a set amount of work hours over the course of a week in exchange for room and board. Stumbling across these programs was an awe-inspiring moment and I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do. It would allow me to stay in locations for longer periods AND cut costs. Win, win!

There are several different programs out there; one of the most well-known being Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms. While I have nothing against organic farming I wanted other opportunities also and decided to join a site called Workaway (workaway.info). This site has a variety of work types literally all across the globe. From help with childcare and household chores in Paris to helping learn English in Brazil to helping at a center for abused women and children in Tibet to helping with renovation projects in Canada to …well, you get the idea. Below is one of my Workaway adventures. Enjoy!

Upon signing up for Workaway I initially starting sending requests to hosts randomly across Europe because I didn’t know where I’d be starting my travels. After booking my ticket to Lisbon I really began looking for a host in Portugal and after sending several requests out and talking with a few hosts, one host seemed like a great fit for me; Janet. Janet is an English woman who had retired to Portugal a few years earlier, in part to continue with her passion of teaching natural horsemanship.

Janet picked me up from the bus station in Caldas da Rainha, Portugal and after running a couple of errands we went to the beach where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Obidos Lagoon. I thought it was a great start to my first Workaway experience! After having my first ever cup of hot tea we went to Janet’s property. Janet lives just off the lagoon and I knew from her pictures it was a beautiful place, but sometimes pictures are deceiving. If you’ve ever been disappointed when arriving at a hotel room and finding it is half the size the website pictures made it look, you know what I mean. There was no such let down at Janet’s property as it is just the idyllic location her pictures showed. She lives in a complex of 6 houses and owns two of them (I think the other four are also owned by Brits). I ended up staying in the main house with Janet and her three English Springer Spaniels.

Workaway at Obidos Lagoon
Workaway at Obidos Lagoon

Janet is an impressive gardener, and told me her neighbor is even better. It was awesome seeing all the different vegetables in the gardens (yes, multiple gardens) and fruit trees in the yard. It was much more impressive than the large garden my family had when I was a child, sorry Dad.

I was with Janet for a week and worked about 26 hours I think. In return Janet cooked great meals every day, a private bedroom and bathroom, and great company. This is what I worked on:

  • I painted a large kitchen cabinet that had previously been built
  • Built and painted another cabinet and mounted it on the kitchen wall
  • Helped plant a couple of trees
  • Spent a few hours moving horse shit from the muck pile to her new permaculture garden bed

That’s about it I think. I didn’t do any specialty work like electrical or plumbing. But I did spend time playing with her dogs and watching the horses. With virtually zero experience with horses I was hesitant to get too close for too long so I mainly watched from a safe distance. Other than that, I went for a run on the back roads along the lagoon one evening and did some writing. I also did some much needed relaxing after several days of sightseeing in Lisbon, Sintra and Obidos. For a little Portuguese culture Janet provided an impromptu Port wine tasting and took me on a trip to an adega. Both of which were great, check out the links!

Obidos Lagoon Looking Toward the Atlantic Ocean
Obidos Lagoon Looking Toward the Atlantic Ocean

It was a great first Workaway experience and really set the bar high for any I do in the future. Thanks Janet!

Real Ale – European Beer Culture Unfiltered #1

Way back in my college days I was like most Midwestern College students in that I drank what I could afford.  And like many Midwestern College students I seemed to drink more often than not so what I could afford was usually the cheapest bulk case of shitty beer in the liquor store cooler.  But for the better part of a decade my beer pallet has been evolving.  I’ve become a craft beer (particularly ales) junkie!  I love brown’s, red’s, pale’s, hefe’s…the list goes on.  While I don’t claim to be a connoisseur, I do enjoy trying beers from previously unknown breweries and new beers from my favorite regional and national craft brewers.  So it should come as no surprise to those who know me that I’ve tried local beers at nearly every stop on my travels so far.  Actually that may have been one of the things I‘d been looking forward to most when I started traveling!

Southern Europe was all about wine but now I’m getting to the areas where beer is king; England, Ireland, Belgium, the Czech Republic…  I’ll visit these places and more in the next few months. And doing ‘research’ along the way I’ll try to write in-depth blog posts about Europe’s beer culture.  Here’s my first report!

Real Ales in a London Pub
Real Ales in a London Pub

On my first day walking around London I kept noticing restaurants and pubs having ‘real ale’ advertised.  Real ale?  It’s a term I was unfamiliar with so like any good ale junkie I had to investigate.  The jaded tourism cynic in me thought this would be some London gimmick to trick tourists into paying a little extra for a pint but that couldn’t have been further from reality.

Here’s a simplified explanation of real ale but it should suffice for this post.  Real ale is a recent term (1970’s) given to beer made from traditional ingredients that goes through a secondary fermentation either in the cask it’s dispensed from or the bottle, and served without an extra carbon dioxide source.  In layman’s terms, real ale isn’t put in a keg like most people in the states are familiar with (while pouring ‘keg’ beer, additional CO2 gets added), isn’t pasteurized and isn’t filtered.  For real ale no extraneous CO2 is needed, the second fermentation provides all the CO2 needed.

So that’s the boring technical stuff.  Now,the real question…how does it taste?

Honestly, I was disappointed.  I tried six to eight different beers, from different brewers, in three different cities, within ten days of taking the Chunnel from Paris, and (with the exception of rhubarb ale, NO THANKS!) I tasted anything the bartenders suggested, and they all tasted about the same.  Forgettable.  From what I’ve read about real ales, adhering to the ‘traditional’ process is supposed to let hop and malt flavors develop but I thought they all tasted flat and a bit bland. Flavorless.  Even the so called ‘hoppy’ ales I tasted didn’t have the big flavor I was expecting (and accustomed to with hoppy craft varieties enjoyed across the pond).  I know it’s possible these real ales taste flat to me because I’ve become accustomed to beer with added CO2 stateside, but that doesn’t account for a lack of flavor in my opinion.

I remember several years ago when I first strayed from the volume pilsner producers in the US and began trying craft beers, I wasn’t immediately a fan.  I could tell it was something different but it was an intriguing difference so I kept trying them.  Not long after, there was no turning back. When trying the real ales here in the UK I thought my lack of enthusiasm could be, like before, because it was something new and different.  Maybe something that would grow on me.  But it hasn’t.  The difference between then and now, at least for the real ales I’ve tried so far, is they are boring.  You know when you try something and you aren’t sure if you like it or not so you keep trying it until you figure it out.  That’s not what is happening here.  I am 100% sure I don’t like what I’ve tried so far.  Let me put it this way: if I hadn’t been planning to write this article I don’t think I’d have tried more than two different flavorless real ales before moving on to something else.

After coming to this conclusion I thought there must be others that have this same opinion.  Either that or I’m a dumb Yank that doesn’t understand British hops.  To my surprise, it was the former.  Not only did I find those with like thinking, I found some in Britain…the hub of real ale production and drinking worldwide.  Check out this article for proof that I’m not a dumb Yank (at least not in this situation):

Craft Beer vs. Real Ale

The one redeeming quality I’ve gleaned from the real ale experience is the way it’s dispensed.  It’s either gravity fed from a tapped cask (cool) at the bar or manually drawn with a hand pump from the cellar up to the bar (very cool to a dumb Yank!).  While this is an interesting way of getting my beer poured it’s not nearly enough novelty to make up for the lack of taste.

Nottingham Bartender Manually Pumping Real Ale
Nottingham Bartender Manually Pumping Real Ale

On a completely off topic note (but still drinking related!); while walking through Norwich this week I passed by a whisky shop (no vodka, gin, rum or beer…just whisky).  After popping my head in I was pleased to see they not only had hundreds of different scotches, bourbons, and worldly whisky’s for sale, they also had three tapped oak barrels of their own blends and single malts (8 yr, 10 yr, 12 yr).  Customers could fill any of three sizes of bottle to purchase or take a bit as a taste test.  It was a good day!

Postcard Contest #2

Hello friends of Unmapped Travels!  Tomorrow I’ll be traveling to York, England and staying for a few days.  Then about July 14th I’ll arrive in Edinburgh, Scotland.  In between there is about 2 weeks I don’t have a plan for.  Any suggestions?  Keep in mind…it must be budget friendly, but if it achieves a certain level of awesomeness, I might break the budget a little.  If someone gives me a great idea (that I can make happen), I’ll reward them with a postcard from that area and a shout-out on the website!

Thanks!

The Shortest Night of the Year

Let me preface this post by saying I’m not normally a theater goer, I’ve never been a reader of Shakespeare and I knew next to nothing about the play I was going to see.  To say my expectations were low is an understatement.

Early on during my week staying at the Dover Castle Hostel in London’s Southwark neighborhood I did what I normally do in a new city.  I went for a walk.  It’s one of my favorite things to do upon arrival because it gives me a feel of the city layout (which is sometimes difficult to do from a map alone) and a feel of the city vibe.  It helps me understand the public transportation options and lets me see a lot of the sites along the way.

After a couple of hours I found myself on the south bank of the River Thames.  This eclectic area is a mix of trendy, historical, and touristy attractions, restaurants, hotels, and shops. It’s a nice walk even during the frequent London drizzle (which I found out a couple of days later) and while exploring I happened to come across Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  Adjacent to the Tate Modern

Shakespeare's Globe Theater Surrounded by South Bank Activity
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater Surrounded by South Bank Activity

Art Gallery, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater is a modern recreation of the original Globe Theater which was associated with William Shakespeare and burned in 1613.

Not being an avid theater fan, going to a play has never been high on my things-to-do list but I decided to go see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater for a few reasons:

  • It’s kind of the touristy thing to do
  • The ticket was surprisingly cheap (5 pounds for a standing ticket in the Yard, the best view in the place)
  • Seeing a play written by Shakespeare being performed at Shakespeare’s Globe at midnight of the summer solstice seemed damn cool to me

    Front Row at Shakespeare's Globe
    Front Row at Shakespeare’s Globe

My ticket was for Friday, June 21st, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Queuing about 10:45 near the front of the line that night allowed me access to a front row spot in the Yard.  When I say front row I mean close to the action, elbows on the stage…front row.  Of the 700 groundlings in the Yard and 1500 people attending the sold out show I was one of about 30 with the best (and cheapest) ticket in the house and I wasn’t even a theater fan.  In the final minutes before showtime, talking with a steward who has been working at the Globe since it’s opening in 1997, I thought if any situation could change that fact, this is it!

Stage Set for the Taming of the Shrew
Stage Set for the Taming of the Shrew

I was there to see ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and the all female cast took the stage one minute before midnight, one standing literally right above me (I could have touched her shoes).  She played several characters including one of the leads.  If you are unfamiliar, as I was, with this comedic play, It’s about trying to marry off 2 sisters.  One of which (the shrew) is notoriously difficult to deal with.  All 7 actresses were multi-talented; singing, dancing, all played at least one musical instrument (many 2 or 3), and of course acted…with brilliant comedic timing.  It was a perfect night for an outdoor event and watching it from the Yard where you can almost interact with the cast makes this one of the most memorable things I did while in London.

So yes, seeing this play in this space with this cast in the middle of the night definitely made me at least a casual fan. And it’s not just because I had the lowest of low expectations.  The mainly avid theater going audience, and I, had the cast come out for 3 curtain calls.  My problem now is it’s all downhill from here.  I don’t know if the next show I’m able to see will measure up. But I’ll find out.

Inside Shakespeare's Globe Theater
Inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

5 Things I Learned in France

  1. The Paris subway system is a behemoth!  It’s vast but efficient and apparently you’re never more than 400 meters from a subway stop.  I thought it was great!  Easy to understand and navigate  ….and a good value. 
  2. In Brittany the church bells ring a lot…even during funerals.
  3. The French people are not as PC as I thought.  While in Paris there was a huge demonstration against the newly passed law allowing same-sex marriage.  The authorities
    Visiting Hours Don't Stop For Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
    Visiting Hours Don’t Stop For Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

    estimated over 150,000 people but the promoters claimed it was closer to one million strong.  I happened to walk through the area as they were setting up in the afternoon.  There was a big stage and for a quarter-mile  there were several video boards, and cranes with speakers hanging from them.  I thought it was for a concert or I would have taken some photos.

  4. It’s possible to spend two weeks in Brittany and only hang out with expats from the UK.  My tally for the 16 days in Brittany:  I met 2 or 3 French people and about 45 Brits.
  5. Notre-Dame is quite amazing even when there is a zoo of tourists (like me) roaming through in the middle of Mass.

go where you want!