Travel Trouble

Trip Start Jun 30, 2012
Trip End Jun 04, 2013

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Flag of France  , Brittany,
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Our time in Cornwall was magical, at all levels. I think maybe only in our wildest dreams, did we hope it would be so good.  But it turns out that our trip has some more difficult sides as well, and the last two weeks we've experienced them too.

I’ve already mentioned the travel insurance saga which went on and on, almost to the last second of us boarding the ferry to France.  We spent hours on phone calls and inquiries, delaying flight reservations and accommodation, and fearing we might be forced to choose between flying without insurance or flying back to Israel for a few days first. But in the end, we sorted it.

We chose to take the ferry to France, as it seemed a more convenient way compared to the hassle of airports, and we wanted to experience the gradual transition from remote isolated areas in England to their French equivalent, named Brittany after Britain.

We reached the ferry at 11 at night, tired after a full day of sightseeing (via the picturesque and charming town called Polperro, highly recommended).  We struggled dragging our suitcases and four items of hand luggage.  Even Naomi, excited about being on a ship, joined the effort and carried her own car seat.  After a walk that seemed to me to last forever, we reached the ship and could not believe our eyes - in front of us was an extremely steep and high staircase, which would be challenging even without luggage.
After discussion with the staff, we were instructed to retrace our long walk and enter the ship where the cars do instead.  

We’d planned a long comfortable night aboard, but because of the time difference and an early wake-up call, we ended up getting less than five hours of sleep.  When we arrived at the French side, we found that the car hire office was closed on Saturdays and we had to collect our car from the airport, an hour away by road.

But it was a lovely sunny day, and once settled into our car, we went on our way tired and excited about the new country.  Road signs were among the worst I've ever seen, and we gave up on a few places we wanted to see simply because we couldn't find them, and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery, wild beaches, and picturesque towns.

The biggest cultural shock for us has been the food. It is said that French food is good, but I must say that after a week and more here in France I’ve barely had any of it, and the main reason is that most restaurants are only open for very limited hours. If you're hungry at any other time, and especially if you're traveling with young children who tend to eat early, that's your problem. Between 2pm and 7pm the kitchen is closed, and if you’re very lucky you might find a sandwich shop somewhere, and succeed with pidgin French to order something edible.

We arrived in France on Saturday, and bought some food at the supermarket, which in retrospect saved us from starvation. On Sunday we started looking for a restaurant at around 12:30, and after checking all the restaurants in two different towns, we realised that not only are all shops shut on Sundays, but also most restaurants, and any restaurants which are open require reservations, not pleas for help.

 Fortunately by the time we almost gave up completely, a nice lady took pity on us and directed us to a bakery which was open and had some bread. We gratefully sat on a bench in the town square to eat.

Supermarket visits are no less challenging.  Beyond the problems of language, the French apparently believe in home cooking only.  No matter which supermarket we tried, ready-to-eat food is unavailable, except for pizza or pot noodles, and so our diet consists of a lot of pasta, salad, bread, eggs, and tuna salad. The big compensation comes in the form of fine French wine at less cost than Coca Cola.

Naomi found an excellent solution to the language problem, by speaking her own version of French, which to anybody else sounds like an advanced version of gibberish.  She then asks us in confusion why other people do not understand her French.

Organising accommodation was easier.  We are gaining experience and identifying web sites that are easy to use, establishing what's important to us, and treating the experience as a learning process.
Transportation was and remains one of the more difficult issues.  We have too much baggage to travel light.  We considered returning to England by train, but after the ferry experience we concluded that European domestic flights will be the best solution.  After several years of living in Europe, we are used to the difference between the advertised price and the real one, but we were still surprised to end up paying more than 10 times the listed price on the site, after accounting for extra charges such as using a debit card (just try buying tickets in cash), a suitcase each (before even addressing our excess baggage), taxes, the use of e-tickets (not that there is any other option), and so forth.  For those of you who've never experienced it for yourselves, I recommend this hilarious link, well worth watching.

Phil's Version:

Plain sailing all the time would be boring.  Bring it on!

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