Inspired by some of the issues previous clients have faced. I thought I would turn them into what are hopefully useful tips for others.
Today as we wait to set off on one of our cruises from St. Martin to Josselin I can see one of our guests wandering round in circles staring at her phone as she tries to find a signal, Why? because she needs to pay her VISA bill. She has just found out that she cannot use our wifi because VISA recognise that it is not her computer on the line so she has to do it by phone, and her own phone at that. The problem is that she does not know how to set her phone to link to different providers.
Moral of this tale is to either make essential payments in advance or set up up minimum payment direct debit mandates. Now learn in advance how to use communication devices when they are in a different country and turn from your best friend into unhelpful beasts!
This one is difficult to comprehend but last October we had a lady guest who asked why it wasn’t hot. When quizzed she actually thought we were in the South of France and said “But you have a picture on your website of someone sitting on deck in the sun and I thought it would be like that.” On that basis she did not bother packing anything other than hot weather clothing.
Moral is that if someone else is doing the planning for you then at least check where you are going and what the average weather will be. Also remember that there are no real weather patterns that repeat each year for anywhere in Western Europe. We are totally governed by Atlantic weather patterns and they do not conform to predictable patterns.
This year we had a cool and showery spring but boy, when summer started it continued and continued with week after week of hot dry sunny weather. When Paris was being flooded we had totally dry weather. It just goes to show how local weather can be and the need to pack a variety of clothing.
Driving in France
Well, on our cruises I do all the driving whether it is the barge or the minibus. However many clients go on to hire a car to continue their holiday and I am often asked the same questions so here goes with a few of the more common ones.
Q) Why is there a big curved arrow in the middle of the road pointing to our side?
This is warning you to get back on your own side of the road if overtaking as there will be a hazard eg the brow of a hill coming up.
Q) Why are there 2 different signs for a cross road?
The sign that has a broad vertical line with a couple of smaller lines coming off it at right angles indicate a crossroads or road junction where you have right of way.
Then there is the much more confusing cross with diagonal lines. This harks back to the days when everyone gave way to the right. In reality you can have a cart track joining a major road yet the cart track has priority. Most folks won’t push their luck but if you meet some old farmer who has been pulling blindly out on that junction for 60 years in the secure knowledge that he has the right of way then life can get suddenly interesting!
Hint. Side roads have a white pole with a red band at the top by the junction.
Q) You seem to give way to the left on roundabouts but to the right in villages?
Yes, the ‘priorité a droite’ (give way to the right) applies to unmarked junctions in villages. They use this confusing system to slow down traffic (and to my mind create work for local car repair businesses) In my personal opinion it is a major reason for many older French cars looking like crumpled crisp packets!
It is supposed to be being phased out but I know of at least one village where they reintroduced it.
This is rather obvious but try to remember that when in France you will get French food. We have had a few American guests who when surrounded by really good restaurants have gone somewhere and ordered a burger only to be disappointed with the result. I believe that in the US a burger can be a proper meal made with choice ingredients and really be quite good. Here, in my experience anyway, a burger is generally regarded as a handy way to get rid of the offcuts that are not good enough for a ‘proper’ meal. Having said that, the Pizza has taken France by storm and it is a rare village that doesn’t have at least one Pizzeria and they are generally pretty good too.
I have discussed the issue of steaks with several American guests and when pushed most say that texture is more important than flavour. ie, a bland tender steak is preferable to one with more flavour but which needs a bit more work. To a Frenchman, flavour is everything. They say “That is why we eat; to enjoy the flavour, and if it needs more chewing then so what.”
I won’t get into the issue of cattle that never see a blade of grass and are filled with antibiotics and hormones to make the meat tender on this site!
Luggage and travel
People seem to fall into one of two camps here. They either use their whole baggage allowance or travel as light as reasonably possible. After you have lugged heavy suitcases on and off several trains (and most French trains have a BIG STEP UP into the carriage) and up stairs in smaller stations where there are no elevators you will wish you had opted for camp 2!
We once even had an Australian couple who travelled for 3 months with just a rucksack apiece. They were using lightweight easy to wash clothes that took up no space at all. A step too far for most travellers but they enjoyed the freedom it brought.
If you buy rail tickets online you will probably have a printed off ticket. These do not need validating in the way that a ticket bought at a station does. The guard will have a scanner to read the barcode on the ticket.
The ticket will have your carriage letter on it. If you look around the platform , you will find a lit display that has a graphic showing the layout of the train’s carriages as well as a series of numbers alongside. The train will stop at the platform like that so if say, you are in carriage C and next to that is a number 22 then just look down the platform for number 22 and wait there. This saves the long slog dragging luggage through lots of compartments looking for your seat.
Crossing the road!
A very simple thing that causes a lot of confusion. In most countries when you see the ‘little green man” it means it is safe to cross and there will be no traffic. Not so in France. Many a visitor is surprised (to put it mildly) to find that when the crossing is by traffic lights, then when the green ‘cross now’ sign comes on the traffic starts to move towards you. The driver is supposed to notice a flashing sign warning him that pedestrians might be on the move and to take necessary precautions. This doesn’t work too well with those drivers who treat every green light as the signal to do a racing start. Take care on crossings!
I hope the above tips and tricks help one or two readers whilst slow travelling.
Ian & Jane Slade run Libje Cruises and offer week long informal cruises through the heart of Brittany, France on their Dutch barge Libje. They live in Brittany on the barge all year round and enjoy showing visitors this ‘celtic corner’ of France that is well known to the French but less so elsewhere.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.