A stellar month in southeastern France

Aug 11th, 2019, 11:54 AM
Join Date: Jun 2003
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I think my friend paid something like $25 for everything at the "Jules Verne" hospital in Saigon. The medicine was about $2.
kerouac is online now  
Aug 11th, 2019, 01:36 PM
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We have had several ER visits all over the world. They patched us up and we finished our travels.
You mentioned long lines at Dulles. Was that for Global Entry?
Hope you are healing well.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 01:42 PM
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Originally Posted by SusanP View Post
Amazing how many of us have had a fall! The care at the hospital in Bangkok was good. Some of the nurses didn't speak English, but if I really needed to ask something, I just said "English?" and they would go and get somebody who did. I haven't been back to Thailand but haven't let it stop me from traveling. Since then have been to South Africa and Swaziland, Greece, Spain, and back to Italy. Just booked a trip to Vietnam for February. Leave for Italy again in a few weeks. Everyone should buy trip insurance!!! My mishap was expensive. Between hospital, doctor, x-rays, etc, plus I had to have a nurse escort home because I couldn't put any weight at all on the leg...came to over $21,000. Insurance covered everything.
Wow! that's a lot. What kind of insurance? Your regular insurance or additional insurance you bought?
yestravel is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 04:24 PM
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While I usually travel independently, the trip to Thailand was with Gate 1 Travel, and I bought the insurance they sell with their tours. Part of the reason it was so much was that the nurse escort was flown over from LA, so in addition to whatever his fee was, there were all his travel expenses. Also, the doctor said I needed to fly business class so my leg could be raised. That one-way ticket on short notice was $4,700!
SusanP is online now  
Aug 11th, 2019, 06:04 PM
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I think we have established that my injury, sustained after returning to the U.S., does not qualify me as a full-fledged member of the Fellowship of Fallen Fodorites -- which seems to be a disconcertingly large group. I hope you will all understand if I choose to stay on the fringes.

@ Kathie: Thank you for your words and for traveling along with me. BTW, I've started reading Olson's Madame Fourcade's Secret War, and I'm finding it well-written and intriguing -- thanks for recommending it!

@ thursdaysd: Oh, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- the injury, the recuperation, the disruption! Thank goodness you had insurance, but how I wish you hadn't needed it!

@ SusanP: Sounds like you had excellent insurance -- thank goodness! Kudos to you for finding a way to manage and to keep on traveling. I hope you enjoy Vietnam, which I hope to visit in the next few years.

@ kerouac: The prices of healthcare outside the U.S. never cease to astonish me. How I hope the U.S. somehow finds a way to implement a more rational and more affordable system of healthcare!

@ HappyTrvlr: You, too!?! BYH(s). My line for passport control was not for Global Entry, just cattle class.
kja is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 06:05 PM
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What a great trip report. You have set the bar high for future trip reports!!! It was lovely to read your impressions and feel the pleasure you had in everything you did. I am also interested to read how you planned everything. While we do quite a bit of research for our trips, I am sure there is more to learn.
rhon is offline  
Aug 12th, 2019, 11:08 AM
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What a plot twist! (no pun intended). This makes these reports doubly impressive, as that injury has to have some impact on typing. Take care.
gooster is offline  
Aug 12th, 2019, 06:26 PM
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@ rhon: I'm glad you enjoyed my report, and oooh, yes, I took a great deal of pleasure in so many things I saw and experienced on this trip! IIRC, we have very different travel styles, but I agree -- there's always room to learn. And thanks again for your insights into the treasures of the area around La Brigue -- I can see why you enjoyed that area!

@ gooster: Even if unintended, that pun made me laugh -- thanks!

Originally Posted by Coquelicot View Post
Maybe when you've finished your day by day report, you can talk about how you weighted what you wanted to see and how you organized your days. I'd be interested in the nitty gritty.
You, and others, may come to regret that request, Coquelicot! But here goes:

Addendum: My approach to trip planning

I do love planning! As a rule, I head to the airport at the start of a trip with an incredibly detailed itinerary. Honestly, it's pathetic -- I plan each and every day; I plan what I'll do if I have "extra" time on any given day; I plan what I'll do if I find myself "running late" on any given day; I even plan what I'll do if I lose my plans! FWIW, I've never denied being a bit obsessive-compulsive.

My plans generally serve me exceedingly well. That said, I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone else should do what I do -- I'm simply responding to a question. And to be clear, my plans serve my particular interests and preferences, which clearly are not everyone's! (Nor should they be, IMO.)

For me, planning a trip is a highly iterative process that involves multiple phases. My strategy varies somewhat for different destinations, and the "phases" I outline below often overlap, but perhaps this description will give you an idea of what I do.

Deciding on a region:
  • I first narrow my list of possible next-trip destination. I consider a number of things:
    • What will be most different from my most recent trips;
    • What will make sense for the time of year when I can get away from work;
    • What will make sense given the amount of time I can allocate to the trip;
    • What will match my aim to have a diverse set of experiences, generally (but not necessarily) involving art, architecture, natural scenery, and/or ancient sites;
    • What will highlight the differences between experiences, despite similarities.
    • What might be harder for me to visit later in life rather than earlier (so, for example, given a choice between destinations that require a lot of walking up and down hills and those that are generally flat, I'll give priority to those with hills in the hope that I'll still be able to enjoy the flatter destinations later, even if my knees or hips don't keep up with my desire to see the world); and
    • Whether there's any other reason -- politics, economics, global warming, whatever -- that makes me think one place is better sooner rather than later.
  • Nothing will make it to this list of possible next destinations unless there are already things that make me want to visit the area, and much of my early thinking involves minimal research, though I do spend some time with guidebooks.
    • My focus during this phase is on thinking through my priorities and learning just enough to narrow my choices until I finally settle on a specific part of the world.
    • I usually consult the UNESCO World Heritage Site list before finalizing a choice (though mindful of some of the problems associated with this designation).
Identifying a core set of priorities:
  • Once I finally select a specific part of the world, I already know at least a few key destinations / experiences that will drive all my other choices -- what I think of as the non-negotiables of the trip. These non-negotiables include the things that made me want to go there in the first place, as well as the things that I'll definitely want to include in any trip that includes those highest priorities. (Example: Marseille had been a high priority for me for as long as I can remember; if visiting Marseille, I knew I would also want to visit Nice.)
  • Then I hit the guidebooks for real -- and that includes obtaining a number of guidebooks, because I find that different books have different strengths and weaknesses. I ultimately take pages and pages of notes, but at this point, my focus is on some basics:
    • How long, approximately, will I likely want to spend in any of the places I visit?
    • What other places might I want to include in this trip?
    • I usually learn about a lot of places I hadn't already known, and I always add some of them to my non-negotiable list. Examples: I hadn't known about either the Fondation Maeght or La Camargue until I began researching this last trip; once I learned of them, I immediately added each to my non-negotiable list.
  • I also start working with Pimsleur's language lessons around this point.
Developing a very hazy initial itinerary:
  • I continue researching, narrowing and winnowing. At this point, I find particular value in
    • maps, which allow me to identify true outliers, as well as intriguing options;
    • information about transportation options, allowing me to identify possible routes and timing constraints and when or if I might need a rental car; and
    • festival / event schedules, including events I might want to either target or avoid.
  • I try to rough out a very preliminary itinerary around this point in my planning -- something like "about a week here, about 10 days here, maybe a half-week here...." Doing so usually reveals some obvious problems. Back to the books!
Narrowing in on a plausible plan:
  • As I make further and further progress in identifying the things and places I most want to include, I typically make much less progress in ruling things off my list. At the same time, I'm well aware that I might have missed something that would be well worth considering. So that's when I normally begin supplementing my research with Fodor's.
    • I read trip reports and planning threads (which are, IME, often at least as valuable as TRs), taking many, many notes.
    • I then usually post a "help me plan" thread -- I've learned that I benefit enormously from input from Fodorites while I'm still fleshing out my trip, before I've become wedded, in my mind, to too many things.
  • By this time, I usually have a fairly solid idea of what flights will serve my needs -- arrival airport, departure airport, and approximate dates, and I still have enough wiggle room to shift a few days one way or the other if it makes a substantial difference to the cost. I book the flights (and travel insurance to include, at a minimum, hospital-of-my-choice evacuation and repatriation) once I'm willing to commit to the endpoints.
Honing a plan:
  • Time for another round with guidebooks, taking detailed notes (if I haven't done so already) on the places on my "for sure" list, anything that remains on my "maybe" list, and making sure I'm at least reasonably comfortable leaving out anything else in the area (and making notes about any hesitations I have).
  • With the help of comments from Fodorites, I eventually put all this information together into an actual draft itinerary (of the number of nights in places A, B, C variety). That takes a bit of what-about-this, what-about-that, what-would-happen-if.... I eventually end up with something that seems at least vaguely possible.
    • I usually post this itinerary on Fodor's for comment and criticism.
    • I also begin making reservations that I can cancel for hotels, aiming to ensure that I have at least one acceptable, affordable option in each of the places I plan to stay.
    • I also generally begin making reservations for key, anchoring events or needs -- anything that is critical to my plans. (If important enough to me, I've been known to reserve specific things even before anchoring down an itinerary or flights.)
  • As already noted, one of the hardest parts of trip planning for me is deciding what to skip. For these decisions, I rely on information about:
    • what is most / least likely to add to the diversity I seek (especially information about what is unique or redundant);
    • what is easiest / hardest to include in this particular trip given the other choices I've made or am considering; and
    • what will be easiest / hardest to include on a future trip.
    • When making these decisions, I frequently find the need to remind myself that it's all icing (or gravy, if you prefer) -- these choices aren't going to change the fact that I'm going to see and experience a whole lot of awesome things!
  • With further tweaks from Fodorite's feedback and additional research, I eventually end up with an actual plan! ... more or less.
Developing a detailed plan:
  • As already admitted, I plan just about every moment, so it's at this point that I turn to day-to-day activities.
  • I study maps and transportation options and walking routes and opening / closing hours and develop estimates of how much time I'll want at any place I plan to visit, and then -- guided by my personal priorities -- I put together a plan for each day.
    • I think about what I'll do if I have less or more time than I expect.
    • I make any activity-related reservations that I think make sense -- site admissions, etc.
  • I start reading and taking notes on various other relevant things:
    • regional / local foods and beverages,
    • unique local architectural elements,
    • natural features (geological, animal, bird, terrestrial, whatever) of the area,
    • local crafts and where to purchase them,
    • local norms (tipping, driving, public behavior, etc.)...
  • I continue to study and tweak my lodging reservations, making adjustments as I learn more about where, exactly, I'd like to be and whether I might be able to pay a bit more for a particularly inviting place because I've been able to find particularly affordable places elsewhere, etc.
  • While working out these detailed plans, I also start planning my dinners.
    • I often start a thread about food, requesting information about both regional specialties (about which I will already have extensive notes) and specific restaurants.
    • As time permits, I identify at least a few restaurants I might consider in each location and I often make a few reservations for a splurge here and there.
Although I prefer to begin each trip with a detailed plan, I usually run out of time to do all the planning I'd like, so at least some things are still very much up in the air when I start.

Once on the road, I treat my plan as a rough guide, nothing more. If I know something is just a stop to see something of mild interest that happens to be on my way to a priority destination, I might intentionally keep my visit brief, but otherwise, I take whatever time I want to see / visit / experience something. If it takes hours more than I thought, so be it! I adjust the rest of my plan accordingly.

It seems to me that my plans have served me well, but perhaps largely because making these plans helps me think clearly and explicitly about my priorities and applicable constraints (opening hours, distances between places), not by actually "directing" my moment-to-moment decisions.

As I said, I enjoy researching my trips, and I think you can all see that I find a LOT of ways to experience that enjoyment. I must admit that I have found it difficult to write this post -- I know my approach to planning a trip is not one that anyone else is likely to want to adopt, and -- just as when I hesitated to post trip reports early in my time here on Fodor's because I knew I was an outlier -- I'm reluctant to reveal just how far I've strayed from what some will think reasonable. But as several of you have noted, we can all always learn from one another, so, acknowledging that I'm an obsessive compulsive planner, I hope these details prove useful,

And I hope that others will also offer trip planning tips and hints!
kja is offline  
Aug 12th, 2019, 07:32 PM
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I can only say "Wow!" I'm fascinated by your approach and I also admire your stamina. If I were able to formulate such a detailed plan, I know that it would fall apart after my first large lunch.
I'm going to come back and re-read this tomorrow when I am more alert, because I'm pretty sure I can learn from your approach.
is it too soon to ask where your next trip will be?
Coquelicot is offline  
Aug 12th, 2019, 07:52 PM
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Even though I plan a tiny bit, I would be considered a total non-planner. Only in the past ten years have I even started reserving hotels ahead of time. I like the surprises of travel and have in mind only a few major sights I want to see. I never plan meals and skip many of them. I am one of those 'food is fuel' people, and even though I appreciate a good meal, it comes about last on my priority list.
kerouac is online now  
Aug 13th, 2019, 08:18 AM
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kja: I really like your approach and appreciate you taking the time to outline it. I start my planning approach similar to yours. We always have things identified that are must-see's and leave flexibility for additions or changes and may switch things around depending on weather and unexpected closings, etc. The only thing we don't plan are meals. We often ask when we arrive at our hotel for recommendations or look up places once we get there and may decide to eat a late lunch as our main meal. While we also appreciate a good meal, we rarely reserve at Michelin rated restaurants. Sometimes we just stop and grab a bite when we are hungry or tired from sightseeing.

I don't know how you have time to put in this much effort and write up such wonderfully detailed TR's, given that you are still working! This adds to my admiration even more.
TravelerKaren is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 11:03 AM
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Where are you planning to travel next, kja?
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 11:12 AM
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Very impressive planning, kja. I'm not surprised you put so much into it. Thanks for sharing.
Over the years my planning has evolved. After thinking about where I want to go and reading a bit on travel boards and in guidebooks, I turn to maps. I love maps and really like to get a grip on the landscape so to speak. I know the main things I want to see in some places but have never planned out day to day or each day. For our trip to Japan for Tokyo because of its size, we have mapped out where things are and opening days/hours and will see sites based on that, but what we'll see when or even what we will see beyond a couple of must-dos I have no idea. I used to travel with no reservations, but because so many of us travel these days that has become too time-consuming to do. I hate spending vacation time searching for a place to stay. Plus you get the best deal on the best rooms early on. So now where and how long is pretty much set. But we are forever leaving early and arriving days later. Thankfully most places are flexible.
yestravel is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 03:44 PM
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I will echo Coquelicot's Wow!! Because of the way we travel- that is we stay a week or two in one spot in self catering holiday rental, we tend to plan week by week. We usually start with a couple of areas and then flesh it out with stops in between. That usually takes a couple of months until we end up with what we think sounds good. I rarely research restaurants as we mostly self cater, with some lunches at what we call ' white van ' places.
I enjoy looking at a new area and get quite excited by even small things such as a route of painted churches in small villages in the Allier. Nothing major just something extra to add to our meanders. The only thing we plan for a specific day would be something like a particular market day or something that only opens on weekends for example. We go with a list of things we would like to include and decide when we are there depending on weather, how we feel, how big the day before was. That is the great thing about having time.
It is interesting how we change. Next year we are returning to an area we stayed in 2010 - the Drome provencal. Our research has thrown up lots of interesting places and I had to get my diary out to see what we did as we seem to have missed a lot. We are a little less destination focused now. In the early days we had a list almost to the exclusion of other places. We would drive through a village and comment on its appeal but keep going to our target. Now we stop and have a wander. We still do the bigger things, but get a great deal of pleasure from the small things we see.
But I agree that some planning does pay off in a satisfying trip. And you certainly had that.
rhon is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 06:44 PM
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@ Coquelicot: I'd be very happy if you find a useful nugget of information in my approach to planning!

@ Coquelicot &
@ HapptyTrvlr:
.....It'll be a while before I choose my next destination -- but whatever it is, I know it will be wonderful.

@ kerouac: I can understand the delights of an unplanned trip! Still, I find plenty of surprises in my travels -- so many things that I couldn't possibly plan, and things that are so much better than I ever imagined.

@ TravelerKaren: I agree that asking hotels for recommendations for restaurants can lead to some great meals -- many of my dinners on this particular trip show the excellent guidance of hotel staff! And thanks again for your many kind words -- I do appreciate them.

@ yestravel: Aren't maps wonderful? I love the things! And I'm with you on hotel reservations. I didn't have advance reservations for my first few trips, and in the days before the internet to boot, and I spent soooo much time in lines at tourist information offices! And sometimes, despite my best efforts, I ended up in a fleabag or without an affordable option. Then I discovered booking in advance, and the ability to find that perfect little place -- the perfect little affordable place! -- that is only available if booked well in advance. Made a convert of me! I don't always find the perfect place, but I do find some decent options and at least know the major pros and cons (and costs) in advance.

@ rhon: The more I learn about travel, the more I believe that there are as many ways to travel as there are people making trips -- and isn't that wonderful? Vive la difference! I think I've been very lucky to find things that work for me, and hope to be able to modify my approach as age and circumstance call for it. Sounds like you've discovered what works for you, too -- and gosh, that can make such a difference! Thanks for taking the time to respond, and enjoy the Drome Provencal!
kja is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 07:02 PM
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kja, your planning is impressive, but that was obvious from your trip report! If I am going to a new place, I do similar research, although probably not quite as extensive as yours. I do think it is important to research your must-do sites so you don't end up at a site when it is closed that day, and I like to research restaurants that are close to my hotel (after a long day of sightseeing, don't want to go far for dinner).
SusanP is online now  
Aug 14th, 2019, 07:26 AM
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Kja, I hear you about having trouble knocking things off your list. I have a long file (I call it my encyclopedia) to which I add anything in France we might ever want to see or do and I put each one on a saved “my map” on Google maps. That map shows 405 places at the moment, too many of them in parts of France we’ll never get to.

I picture you juggling all your many variables as you try to decide on your next destination.

As for us, our foreign travel is only to France, and mostly to two smallish areas there, so here’s what works for us.

For the areas we already know, I follow some French blogs and check one local newspaper online to keep up with the area. All the local tourist offices send out weekly or monthly updates of what’s going on and we subscribe to each of them. Since we’ve been to the area many times and know it pretty well, there’s not a lot that’s new. Always a new exhibit, maybe a change of proprietors at a restaurant, small things. That is fine because we already have more things we want to repeat than we actually have time for.

For areas that are new to us, one thing I use is the regional Michelin guidebook, but I should learn to use them more effectively than I currently do. Ditto Cadogan, Fodor’s, R Steves, etc.

I have a half-page of websites I check out before a trip (I have to admit I’m working on our next trip every day we’re not in France). Manoirs and chateaux are two things we don’t have in the US, so I have several websites for them. I have at least one website for the most beautiful villages, towns and villages that qualify as flower towns, best lesser-known towns, small towns of character, towns of art and history, market days, outstanding trees, gardens, and walks both local and long distance.

I had a website for natural sites in France but it’s not working too well. I need another source for that.

You mentioned the UNESCO world heritage site. That should go on my pre-trip list.

I’m open to learning about any other sources you, or any other Fodorite reading your TR, use for planning.

Kja, thanks for all your time and effort in taking us along to France. I had a ball reading your TR.
Coquelicot is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 05:58 PM
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@ SusanP: I learned the lesson about closing times the hard way on my first trip. I swore I'd never make that mistake again if I could possibly avoid doing so!

@ Coquelicot:
.....Only 405 yet-to-be-seen places on your map of France!?! At least you don't have to worry about running out of wonderful options in the near future, and it sounds like you've identified a wealth of resources for trip planning. I'll definitely check a few of them before I go to France next time!.
.....The UNESCO WHS list is, I think, worth checking. Although there are many places that merit mention that are not on the list, those that are there are generally both exceptional and sufficiently large to support tourism -- and in theory, countries agree to ensure the adequacy of the tourism infrastructure for any places they nominate for the list. Unfortunately, that's not always true in all parts of the world, so some sites end up being damaged by an onslaught of tourists (Pingyao, in China, comes to mind), but the places in Europe are generally good bets.
.....Thanks for reading along! I'm glad you enjoyed your vicarious trip with me. And BTW, I love coquelicots -- and saw some lovely ones on this trip.
kja is offline  
Aug 14th, 2019, 06:02 PM
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kja, I am amazed and extremely impressed, though not surprised, by the effort, work, and time you put into your trip planning. Thank you so much for a really enjoyable read!

And I am also surprised to hear from the number of people who have fallen and injured themselves while traveling. I do worry about falling because I have fallen 3 times and fractured my ankles and needed casts, walking boots, etc.! but these falls luckily happened at home or near my home. So far never on vacation, but that is why I do worry about falling, especially since I have osteoporosis and arthritis. I hope I never have to visit a foreign ER!
KarenWoo is offline  
Aug 15th, 2019, 05:28 PM
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@ KarenWoo: And thanks right back to you for reading along and posting such kind and encouraging words along the way! I'm sorry to hear that you've dealt with so many fractures -- argh! Nonetheless, I am heartened that so many of our fellow travelers found ways to manage serious injuries while abroad and that their determination to travel, and to do so with enthusiasm, has not been diminished. To travel!
kja is offline  

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