What to wear/pack... Part 7

Old Sep 27th, 2008, 05:02 PM
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Day 6: BRE to STN via Ryanair

So, this is it, the moment of truth. Will I be able to meet the Ryanair carry-on requirements? Will they even bother to weigh my carry-on? Bremen is, after all, not exactly a Ryanair hub, and some of their less popular destinations are reportedly staffed by contract employees who don't necessarily enforce the rules.

All will be revealed tomorrow. ;-)
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Old Sep 27th, 2008, 11:04 PM
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"Bremen is, after all, not exactly a Ryanair hub"

It is one of their most important bases in Germany together with Hahn and Düsseldorf.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 06:39 AM
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You're correct, Pvoyageuse---a look at Ryanair's web site today shows over twenty destinations out of Bremen. None of them, unfortunately, anywhere near Bordeaux.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise to find that the Ryanair staff at Bremen were every bit as rigid in their enforcement of the rules as I'd anticipated.

My flight to London Stansted was originally scheduled to depart at about 9:30. Ryanair had sent me an email notifying me of an earlier departure (at 9:15) several weeks earlier. The email prompted me to accept the change, which is a nice feature for me (as it makes me notice it) and of course a nice feature for them, as I can't later say that I never got the message.

I'd been out a bit late the night before (dancing and inhaling the corn syryp-y goodness of Kellogg's breakfast cereal), so my 6:00 AM wake up call came earlier than I'd have liked, but I got up, bathed, packed, breakfasted (on tea from the hotel, and fruit and yogurt that I'd purchased from a supermarket in Bremen), and made it to the tram by a few minutes after 7:00 AM, arriving at BRE soon after check-in had opened.

In my coat pockets were: the two candy items, my flat iron, my camera, my Blackberry, my "wet" toiletries, and my Bose headphone battery charger. Around my neck were my Bose headphones. On my body were the following items:

high-heeled knee high black boots
black trousers
gray patterned knit dress shirt
green cotton knit casual shirt
purple cotton knit casual shirt
black and white geometric print knit dress
black cotton cardian with embroidered/beaded bodice

and socks/underwear, of course.

So, did I look like the Michelin man? No, not really. Was I too hot? No, as it was cool in Bremen that morning and I didn't have to stand on line (I was one of the first passengers to check in). Was I claustrophobic? No, as it was chilly and I wasn't yet on the plane.

So, the weighing in...

I approached the desk, which was staffed by a young-ish Anglophone woman (so unlikely to be a local contractor). As she looked for my reservation I asked if I should weigh the suitcase and she looked at it and said, somewhat doubtfully, "Carry on?" I answered in the affirmative and up it went onto the scale. We both looked at the readout and she smiled. "Wow, that's impressive. Just inside the limit." It was 9.9 kgs.

She was finishing up, answering my query about how I should go about getting reimbursed for the charge for checking in at the airport (email Ryanair, apparently, which should be interesting), when she noticed my very small purse. She pointed out that I'd have to fit it into my suitcase, which I proceeded to do. I didn't bother to transfer any of the contents to my pockets first (I did remark that one could hardly be expected to carry one's money and credit cards in one's socks, earning a laugh in response) and the total weight came up to 10.3 kgs, but she didn't protest, as at least I didn't have any trouble fitting it into my suitcase (it squished in very nicely on top of my pillow).
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 06:59 AM
  #144  
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Day 6, cont: BRE to STN via Ryanair

Security was immediately after check-in, and staffed by a nice young man who had me take out my toiletries, take off my coat, and take off my headphones (which he referred to as my "mickey mouses" and had forgotten I was wearing). I started to take off my boots, and he said it wasn't necessary, but then of course I set off the alarm and got to get patted down (very thoroughly) by the nice young woman on the other side.

The Ryanair departures area at Bremen includes a small cafe (where I bought and consumed a ham sandwich and an orange juice, a nice late breakfast), a restroom (where I changed out of everything other than the black and white dress and black trousers, moving those items to my suitcase), and duty free. I rarely buy duty free, and this was not exception, but I mention it because it turned out to be an issue for another passenger.

Immediately before entering the gate area is a border control kiosk. Again, staffed by a nice young man who took quite a while to figure out that I'd entered the EU via Paris. The usual questions about what I'd been doing and where I was going, and then it was over and I was headed for the priority boarding waiting area.

I'd paid extra (probably 5 euros) for the privilege of boarding early, and wasn't entirely sure whether it would be worth the trouble. But it looked like it would be, as we'd be walking from the gate directly to the plane.

I was the second person in line when I arrived, but turned into the third person when a middle-aged Engligh businessman took the seat (this area has seats) between me and an older woman. In addition to his carry-on, he had several duty-free bags of liquor, and about 30 minutes before departure this was noticed by the gate agent (who was the same woman who'd checked me in). She told him he had to fit the bags into his carry-on, and he protested and she insisted and he whined quite a bit (apparently trying to enlist the support and sympathy of his fellow passengers, none of whom cared in the least) and whined some more and then finally rummaged around in his suitcase and fit the items in just fine.

Boarding started and I was the second person on the plane (I walk quickly), and scored 1C, exactly the seat I wanted. Lots of space in front of me, flight attendants available for chat if I got claustrophobic, etc.

The seat next to me was finally taken by a Ryanair pilot who was headed to STN for an interview. Pleasant guy (German), and the flight passed quickly. On time arrival. Altogether a very pleasant experience, and one I wouldn't hesitate to repeat.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 07:13 AM
  #145  
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Day 6, cont: STN to London via Stansted Express

No wait for checked luggage, of course, so I headed directly to the platform for the Stansted Express, which would take me to Liverpool Street Station in central London. I'd pre-purchased the ticket (thereby saving GBP1), so just had to have the paper ticket printed from one of the kiosks on the platform. I made the first train, which pulled out of the station as I was getting settled in my seat. Pleasant ride to London that ended at Liverpool Street Station, where I purchased an Oyster card from a full-service window and had it loaded with GBP10. Quick ride via Central line to Notting Hill Gate, and a five minute walk to my friend's apartment (whom I'd called from Liverpool Street Station), who let me in and showed me around. Her apartment is lovely, very bright and sunny, but as it turns out the way to get a bright and sunny apartment is to live on the top floor. Top floor of a building with no elevator. How happy was I to have only one small bag? Ecstatic, believe me. Even climbing these many, many steep stairs (without a bag) left me a bit breathless. [note to self: work out more]

She returned to work, and I made myself a sandwich, started a small load of laundry, and took a nap. Her housekeeper arrived while I was sleeping, and she hung my laundry up to dry. It's a hard life, but somebody has to live it.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 04:07 PM
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Hi Therese,

So glad to read your report after the anticipation of the preparations!

When you added your purse to the bag at the check-in desk, could you have been charged for the resulting .3 over 10 kg if the young woman at the desk had decided it necessary to abide by company rules?

Thanks for the thread. Cheers.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 04:08 PM
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In the end I did laundry twice in London, once when I arrived and once the night before I left, so I quite literally left London with a suitcase of entirely clean clothes. I'll point out that this wasn't necessary, but it did mean that I didn't have to think twice about running through two or more changes of clothes a day while in Bordeaux.

I'd also done some shopping in London: four long-sleeved cotton T-shirts for my daughter, an aqua jacquard jacket and white cotton blouse for myself. It all fit just fine into my suitcase.

I'd off-loaded the candies, of course, leaving them with my hostess.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 04:11 PM
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Yes, scotlib, I could have been charged for being over the limit at that point. Had that possibility arisen I was prepared to take everything out of my purse and put it in my pockets (as it was money, passport, credit cards, and a couple of make-up items), so that only the weight of the purse would have been taken into account. If the weight had still been too high I was prepared to actually put the purse in the trash.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 04:13 PM
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Oops, just realized that I've got my counting wrong: Day 6 is really Day 5. So now we're up to Day 7, where I leave for Bordeaux.
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Old Sep 28th, 2008, 04:29 PM
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Day 7: London to Bordeaux, via easyJet

I'd had a lovely time in London (shopping and eating, mostly) and now it was time to continue on. My flight left early afternoon, and my friend had volunteered to drive me to LUT, from which easyJet's flight to BOD departs. Had I known how much effort this involved I'd have declined the offer, but she is a very generous person and likely would have insisted. We spent the morning over a leisurely breakfast. I packed my bag and she packed me a lunch. Anticipating roadworks, we left earlier than seemed necessary, but in the end this turned out to be a good idea, as traffic was backed up.

I'd already checked in on-line, and easyJet doesn't weigh your single carry-on (and yes, they were very strict about having a second bag of any sort, so my purse was in my suitcase, and passport in my coat pocket), so headed directly to security. There I found a very, very long line, peopled predominanty by prospective passengers without a very firm idea of exactly was expected of them. Very tedious.

By the time I got through security it was very close to boarding time for my flight. LUT doesn't assign gates until the very last minute, so you wait in a central lounge area where you are welcome to pass them time drinking and shopping (hey, they knew I was coming...). Once the gate is assigned an announcement is made and you and your fellow pax hustle to the gate. Your boarding pass is inspected, your carry-on is noted, and you are told which line to wait in. I was in the first line, SB (for Speedy Boarding). The second line is SA (for Special Assistance, mostly families with small children), the third line is for anybody else who'd checked in on-line, and the fourth line is for any hapless soul who'd left things to the last minute. I was third in line, and once again scored seat 1C.

I spent the flight playing with the many, many toddlers and infants on the plane, a crowd of whom had migrated to the open space in the front of the plane.
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Old Sep 29th, 2008, 02:56 AM
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Day 7, cont: BOD to Bordeaux city center, via JetBus

The easyJet flight's departure had actually been delayed by about an hour, but since that information was clearly displayed on the monitors in the departures lounge, as well as the anticipated departure time, it presented no problem. We finally took off and made good time.

BOD is a small, new airport. It's not located in Bordeaux, technically, but in Merignac, an adjacent town. It's not so far from town as, say, the low cost carrier airports that serve Frankfurt, but it's nowhere near as convenient as Bremen (which I'd describe as the most convenient airport I've ever encountered, frankly). There is a convenient shuttle service, the JetBus, that runs between the airport and the train station in downtown Bordeaux there. It costs 7 euro, and you buy your ticket on the bus. If you have packed large bags you can stow them under the bus, but if you've got just carry-on they'll fit easily onto the smaller racks in the bus. There are several stops in downtown Bordeaux, but if you're leaving the airport you need to tell the driver where to stop.

My stop was Gambetta, a central square that was 5-10 minute stroll from my hotel. The hardest thing about the entire trip was figuring out precisely where I was at that point, as of course I needed to know in order to figure out which direction to head. Sorted, I headed for my hotel, rolling my bag over the usual somewhat rugged pavement.

This area of town is largely pedestrianized, and features lots and lots of shops. A bit of foreshadowing there...
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 03:36 AM
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Day 7, cont: check in at Hotel de France

I'd booked my hotel several months prior to this trip. Tripadvisor is a really excellent resource for this purpose, as it lists bajillions of hotels, and said hotels are extensively reviewed by people just like you and me. There are definitely instances in which posts are generated by shills, but these are generally pretty easy to identify (and Tripadvisor both screens reviews before their posted and may delete those flagged as not genuine). My initial scan of hotels in Bordeaux was not encouraging: a few properties outside of town that were nice (and entirely inpractical for me), lots of business-type hotels built before France had quite figured out that it would need to meet international standards for hotel construction, and lots of small 2 and 3-star places (which can vary markedly in cleanliness and service). I initially checked out the hotels suggested by the conference organizers, all of the members of the Accor group (which includes Ibis, Novotel, Mercure, and Sofitel). Accor is generally a very reliable chain at a good price point, but reviews as Tripadvisor suggested that the Bordeaux properties fell well short of the usual standard. And given the weak dollar they were not particularly inexpensive.

So after some searching I came up with Hotel de France: http://www.hotel-france-bordeaux.fr/ If you visit the web site you'll notice that it's in French and Japanese only (no English, that is), so possibly a bit disconcerting if you don't speak or read French yourself. In fact, though, English isn't a problem, as the reviews at Tripadvisor demonstrate. Other strong points to this hotel were the low price (55 euro for single, 59 euro for a double, 7 euro for breakfast which is reportedly very good, though I didn't try it), proximity to public transit (JetBus as well as two separate tramway stops), proximity to the meeting venue (about 10 minutes on foot), and quiet location.

Quiet location is important when considering in-town properties like this one. One of the best ways to do this is to inspect the street level view and look for cafes or bars. Large towns in France (including Bordeaux) can be checked out at pagesjaunes.fr. Many others are available at google maps. Rue Franklin (where the hotel was located) is a street that dead ends onto a pedestrian area, and the street level commercial enterprises are all posh shops (Hugo Boss at one end of the street, for instance). Very little noise from cars, and likely no raucous drinking parties. Probably perfect.

So, having disembarked from the JetBus and found my bearings, I proceeded to the hotel, entering the tiny lobby to find a young Asian woman (presumably one of the owners, and presumably the one who is Japanese) manning the desk. I identified myself as Madame X (well, not really) and she smiled and handed over my key and that was it. No checking of my passport, no scanning of my credit card, etc. Just the key and a smile and I headed to my room.

No elevator, of course, and the stairs were a bit twisty (though very attractive, with a pretty curved handrail) and a bit narrow, and it was four flights up. The room was actually fairly large for a single (at some point it might have been used as a very small double), and the bathroom had been recently redone and was very clean. Comfortable bed, TV with satellite (including CNN, just in case I wanted to watch the financial debacle unfold in real time). No real closet, just an alcove with hangers (fortunately lots of them, though I still had to double up to accomodate my ridiculously large wardrobe).

Probably my favorite thing about the hotel was the set of French doors that opened onto a small balcony (large enough to stand on, not large enough to sit on), right over the entrance to the hotel. Lovely.
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 06:21 AM
  #153  
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A tip re booking hotels in France (or pretty much anywhere else): you don't have to do it in French (or whatever), as English will work just fine. I speak, read, and write French very well, and I still carry out virtually all of my written communication with French hotels in English. Much less risk of misunderstandings all around, I think.

I do typically put a message (in French) at the end of the message pointing out that a response in French is perfectly fine, but the response is invariably in English.
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 06:29 AM
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Another really nice aspect of this hotel was the breakfast room. I pointed out upthread that I didn't eat breakfast there, but since it was left open during the day for use as a lounge I did get to enjoy it. It's a large room right above the reception area. A large flat screen TV occupies the wall at the far end of the room, and the long wall running the length of the room is broken up by several sets of French doors/windows (similar to the one in room) that open onto the street below. About 8 tables surrounded by comfortable wicker arm chairs, several jars of candy out for the occasional snack, guidebooks (including some in Japanese), daily periodicals and magazines.

So if you wanted to read while your husband took a nap you could use this room. Or if, like me, you were stopping off mid-afternoon to drop off some books, your colleague could wait in the lounge.

Very civilized.
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 06:32 AM
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What I didn't like about this hotel?

Well, as it turns out there was some construction going on in the neighborhood, an old building around the corner that was being entirely gutted and remodeled. And say what you will about the French work week, these guys didn't waste any time getting going in the morning. So if I wanted to sleep past 7:00 AM I needed to use ear plugs. Which I did one morning (as I'd been out late the night before) and slept in until 10:00 AM. ;-) I wasn't missed at the meeting, so no problem.
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 06:38 AM
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Okay, here are some tips to share:

1. Small hotels don't always leave every possible convenience in the rooms, but they very often have them available. A plug adapter is a good example. A hair dryer is another. My room didn't have one, so I asked at reception and one was provided, right then and there.

2. Irons (provided by the hotel) are a nice convenience, especially if you're travelling for work and somebody is likely to notice that your shirt collar has gone all wonky. A flat iron designed for hair (the sort that looks like salad tongs) works very nicely for quick touch-ups. I used mine to adjust the ruffled collar of my black and white check cotton blouse, and re-did the crease in the front of my trousers where they'd slipped forward on the hangar and gotten bunched up and a bit wrinkled. No ironing board needed, of course (as there are two surfaces in this appliance).
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 02:53 PM
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I was looking back through this thread (while wondering if anybody's reading it---if you are, feel free to give me an "atta girl" or ask a question, even if you think I'm going to answer it anyway) and recalled the discussion of my tiny purse and potential security issues.

No problems security-wise, and I actually found that it was much easier to simply carry the purse in my hand, as a clutch, rather than use the long over-the-shoulder strap. I used the wrist band, so the weight of it was on my arm, and just rested the purse in my hand, such that the flap was held shut by my grasp. Credit cards and cash all in zippered compartments inside the flap, business cards and tram pass in the outside zippered compartment, and my MARTA subway card and SkyMiles in the credit card slots. Meeting badge, powder, lipstick, pen, gum, and Blackberry all fit nicely in the main compartment.

When I was standing around at coffee breaks or receptions I could let the purse dangle (as my colleagues are unlikely purse snatchers) while I used two hands to eat and drink.

Hmm, now that I think of it, I left the long strap at the hotel.
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Old Sep 30th, 2008, 03:10 PM
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Therese, I love this post! You've done a fantastic job.
I was thinking, if you don't mind, I would post a link to the packing page of my (travelogue) website to show everyone what and how I pack carry-on only. Or I can post it on another thread.

Today my mother emailed me from Germany...
"Do not bring shampoo, conditioner or soap...we have been staying at Sheratons and I have plenty for both of us..."
I immediately thought, "cool, less to go in my liquids bag!" I am meeting her in Paris on Saturday.
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Old Oct 1st, 2008, 01:25 AM
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A link would be great, Kristina. I'm looking forward to checking out your blog.
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Old Oct 1st, 2008, 01:34 AM
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While sorting through my receipts yesterday I came across another purchase I'd made in London, this one at Boots. For those of you not familiar with it, Boots is a chain of drugstores in the U.S., and is well-known for its in-house products. Many of these are now available in the U.S., at Target (where I've seen it) and CVS (where I haven't, but then I haven't looked). The world keeps getting smaller, doesn't it?

Anyway, the item in question isn't a toiletry product but a container, specifically a container for travel. It's a stack of five clear plastic jars in which the bottom of one serves as the top of the one below it. The material is sturdy but relatively thin. This is in contrast to the small jars that tend to come in, say, cosmetic bonus giveaways, as those typically look like they'd contain a reasonable volume from the outside, but are made of very thick plastic to keep the inside volume to a minimum. Add the volume and weight of the fancy lid and you've got a very wasteful product.

I've got another trip coming up in a week or so, so I'll try using it then.
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