Category Archives: Travelling

Learning new words in French & English while traveling in France: Des Oiseaux / Birds

By   September 4, 2010

Yesterday David and I went to the Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes and then to the medieval city of Pérouges, both in the département of Ain. The only things I knew about Ain were its capital city (Bourg-en-Bresse) and its number (01). I had never been there before or heard much about it. Even though it’s the départment directly to the north and west of Savoie and Haute-Savoie, there really aren’t many mountains and the landscape is mostly flat (at least in the western Dombes area) with lots of cornfields, forests and ponds.  Since it’s bordered by both the Saône and Rhône rivers, fishing and wine are also important industries. It seemed radically different from Savoie even though it’s only 1.5 hours away – yet another reason why I love exploring France. Everywhere you go, it’s as if you enter a new country every few hours.

Département de l’Ain

At the Parc des Oiseaux, I learned several new words in both French and English for different types of birds. I do love animals, but I’m not exactly an expert on the classification of birds or know where their native habitats are. The park was divided into Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and Oceania, with over 100 species of birds and the signs had translations of their names in English and German so I was able to learn more vocabulary in more than one language.

We started in la forêt tropicale des toucans and then walked through la volière (aviary) du Pantanal and saw beautiful colorful birds from Brazil. Next was the crique des manchots where we watched the adorable penguins swim in their little wave pool.


Le bush Australien was my favorite part because there were wallabies! I love wallabies!


La vallée des rapaces (raptors/birds of prey) was a bit creepy because of this guy sitting next to the entrance. Not that vautours (vultures) will kill you… but they wish you were dead so they could eat you already.


Past le champ des cigognes (storks) was la plaine Africaine with the largest bird of all: l’autruche (ostrich). Some males can weigh up to 155 kilos / 340 pounds! They can run 70 kph / 45 mph for half an hour! Their wingspan is 6 ft. 7 inches / 2 meters and their height can reach 9 feet / 2.75 meters! In short, they are one badass bird.  Except for their adorable, funny-looking faces and eyes that are bigger than their brain.


Afterwards, we entered the terre des calaos where I learned about the hornbills. These birds were the most unfamiliar to me. Their beaks are slightly like toucans, but with an extra something (apparently called a casque in both English and French) on top.


We ended our tour du monde of birds with the étang des pélicans and the baie de Cuba with the bright flamants (flamingos). But before returning home so I could look up the differences between nandous, émeus and autruches (rheas, emus and ostriches) or why manchot is the translation of penguin even though most books still say it’s pingouin* (though no one in France ever calls them that), we decided to stop in the medieval town of Pérouges.


Pérouges is listed as one of the plus beaux villages en France and it is indeed a beautiful place. Founded by Gauls returning from Perugia, Italy, in the 12th century, the town officially became French in 1601.


Most of the buildings date from the 15th century.


I don’t think I would want to live in a medieval town today, but they sure are interesting to explore.


Check out my Flickr account for the rest of the Parc des Oiseaux and Pérouges photos!

*Pingouin in French is actually a razorbill in English, which is technically an auk and not a penguin. Manchot is the correct translation of penguin in French, even though most other Indo-European languages also use a word similar to penguin. French just likes to be different. It still doesn’t explain why the character of Penguin in Batman was translated as Pingouin though!

Update on the Easyjet Drama: Refusal to Pay Compensation

By   August 7, 2010

Oh Easyjet, how I loathe you more and more everyday. Remember how they abandoned us overnight in Venice without providing food or hotels like they are legally supposed to? Even though I was reimbursed for the canceled flight, I never received the insultingly low 120€ for alternative travel costs (we paid nearly 1,000€ out of pocket to get home). I sent another e-mail to Easyjet’s customer service explaining our nightmare at Marco Polo airport (along with receipts for car rentals, gas, tolls, etc.) and stating that I am entitled to 250€ compensation per person according to Regulation 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the European Council.

This regulation is supposed to help passengers in case of delays or cancellations in the EU, but there is one problem:  “An operating air carrier shall not be obliged to pay compensation in accordance with Article 7, if it can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.” Extraordinary circumstances is not defined, which unfortunately means that the despicable airlines will claim every cancellation is beyond their control in order to not pay compensation. That is exactly what Easyjet is doing now.

Even though the flight was canceled due to crew shortage, Easyjet is claiming that it was because of the storms. Funny how every other flight was able to take off from the airport after the storms had passed. And funny how Easyjet themselves originally told me the flight was canceled due to crew shortage and not because of the storms. Does lying come naturally to Easyjet employees? Is that in the employee handbook?

It’s bad enough that we were abandoned at the airport for 18 hours with no food, water or hotel accommodation (which is BEYOND ILLEGAL!!!) and that because of this, grandma nearly passed out and had to see the airport doctor. But to have them completely lie to me just to get out of paying compensation makes me LIVID. BOLD LIVID.

Crew shortage is not an extraordinary circumstance – in fact, it’s a rather common occurrence with this “less punctual than Air Zimbabwe” airline – and a standby crew is supposed to be provided in these cases. It’s just fortunate for Easyjet that there were also storms that same day so they can use that as an excuse.

So my next step is to involve the ENAC, the civil aviation authority in Italy (where the flight was supposed to originate) and hopefully they can help me get compensation. After that, hello small claims court!

From Annecy to Bassano del Grappa: Taking Grandma to Her Parents’ Birthplace in Italy

By   July 11, 2010

David’s grandmother was born in France in 1932. Her parents are from the towns of Bassano del Grappa and Solagna, in the region of Veneto, Italy. Her father, Antonio Tosetto, came to France in 1929 to escape le camicie nere (the blackshirts, or Fascists) while her mother, Maria Todesco, stayed behind in Bassano until he could find a place to settle. He wasn’t heading for any particular town, but he came upon Annecy and decided to stay there. At this point, there were already 4 children born, though one would die at 18 months because an incompetent doctor gave her the wrong medicine. Maria finally went to Annecy with the 3 remaining children in 1931 and quickly became naturalized as a French citizen, just as her husband had done. Mamie (colloquial French for grandma) was born a year later, the first of the rest of the seven children to be born in France and not Italy. Mamie’s parents never spoke Italian again once they arrived in France (Annecy was occupied first by the Italians and then the Germans), and Mamie never learned to speak it. Even the first 3 children who had been born in Italy forgot their native language and only spoke French for the rest of their lives.

From Annecy to Bassano del Grappa

Mamie is now 78 years old and had been wanting to go to Italy to see where her parents came from practically her entire life. Bassano del Grappa is about 585 km / 365 miles from Annecy, which to my American brain means that it is right next door and incredibly easy to get to. But no one in the family had been able to take her there, whether because of the cost or the “distance” or the fact that it’s in a different country and a lot of the family members hate to travel or even leave Annecy. So when David mentioned it, I immediately set a date and booked the trip because unfortunately Mamie won’t be around forever and I did not want her to have any regrets in her life.  Even though it’s only about 6 hours from Annecy, we decided to fly so that she wouldn’t be stuck in a car all day with her aching legs since she wouldn’t be able to stretch them out properly. That turned out to be a huge mistake, but at least Mamie got to fly on a plane for the first time in her life.

Grandma on a plane for the first time in her life
First flight at 78 years old

I booked an apartment at Il Magicorto Agriturismo Bed & Breakfast in the countryside just outside of Bassano del Grappa after reading about it in Le Guide du Routard. It was AMAZING. If you are ever anywhere near Venice or Padova or Vicenza or Verona, you should stay here!  It was only about a 1.5 hour drive from the Venice airport. There are two apartments on the ground floor (with wide bathrooms for the handicapped) and six regular rooms upstairs, and they all have TV, internet and air conditioning.  There is also a restaurant, but it is closed in July & August.

Il Magicorto
Entrance of Il Magicorto

Elena was such a gracious host and made sure Mamie had everything she needed. Mamie adored her and said she reminded her of her own mother because she was so lovely and nice (and Italian, of course!). The Bed & Breakfast was in a beautiful yard next to the farm, so we had plenty of place to relax outside and we ate dinner at the picnic table every night. Every morning Elena offered us a delicious crostata with home-made jam and fresh cheese and salami. She even gave us eggs from the farm and they were the best eggs I have ever had in my life. Another great thing about Il Magicorto?


Everybody loves kittens!!!


Everybody loves kittens!!!
You have no idea how badly I wanted to bring them home…

We spent plenty of time in Bassano del Grappa, wandering the streets where Mamie’s parents walked, visiting the church where they got married, and taking photos of the Ponte Vecchio, also called the Ponte degli Alpini.  We drove north of Bassano to find Solagna, the village where Maria originally came from before meeting Antonio. Before WWII, the border with Austria was much closer to Bassano than it is today and Maria’s parents worked as tobacco smugglers, but Maria herself was too young to work. Antonio worked as a barber in Bassano. Maria and her sisters often went there because it was the larger city, and one day Antonio saw her in the street and thought she had le gambe più belle del mondo (the most beautiful legs in the world)… and the rest is history.

Ponte Vecchio

Bassano del Grappa


Old buildings

We returned to Bassano the following day because of the mercato and Mamie bought herself an adorable hat. Then we ate pizza and gelato, of course.

Mamie and her hat


Since we had plenty of time on Sunday, we drove down to Verona before heading to the airport in Venice. It was the hottest day yet so we only stayed for an hour, taking pictures around the arena and trying to stay in the shade.

Arena in Verona


I’m going to end the story there because you all know what happened next! In spite of how the trip ended, Mamie still said it was the best vacation she’s ever been on and the best gift anyone has ever given her. She has fully recovered -we hope – after resting all this week. I don’t know if she’ll ever go back to Italy, but David & I might try to drive her to Valle d’Aosta, an autonomous region bordering France that has both Italian & French as their official languages. It used to be a part of the Kingdom of Savoy, just like the pays de Savoie in France, except that it joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 instead of being annexed to France as Savoie was in 1860. But for now I think Mamie is content with her memories and photos of Bassano del Grappa, as well as the soil she took from the ground of Solagna to remember her mother.

Bassano del Grappa & Verona, Italy, Photo Album

Italian Realia Resources

And the I Hate Easyjet Saga Continues…

By   July 9, 2010

I got an e-mail from Easyjet that we should be reimbursed for the canceled flight, and a whole 120€ of the nearly 1,000€ we spent on rental cars, gas, and tolls. But who knows when/if we’ll actually receive the money. This morning we also found out that the first rental car company, Locauto, charged us extra for damage to the car that we did not do. They were the only agency at Venice airport that had any cars left to rent, so we had no other option. The car was dirty, the gas tank was half full and there was no physical checking of the car before leaving to report any damage already done. I saw a tiny scratch on the door but assumed that it was already noted on the paper, like had been done with the car we rented from Budget during the vacation. Big mistake. Locauto charged us an extra 75€ even though we wrote a long report about getting the car in an emergency situation.  I don’t know what to do now about disputing the charge.

The only other response I’ve gotten from Easyjet is on Twitter (and it wasn’t even directed at me but  Zetourist who RTed what I had said), when they said the flight was cancelled, not because they didn’t want to pay their crew overtime, but because it would compromise the flight’s safety if they worked the extra hours. OK… WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY OF 100 PASSENGERS ABANDONED OVERNIGHT AT A FREAKING AIRPORT WITH NO FOOD OR WATER AND WHO WERE NEARLY THROWN OUTSIDE ON THE SIDEWALK AT 1 AM BY THE COPS??? What about the babies and children who were crying because they were so traumatized? What about grandma who nearly passed out and needed to see the airport doctor to make sure her heart wouldn’t stop beating?

Sorry for going on and on about Easyjet, but I am still a little shaken up about this whole ordeal. I have nightmares that grandma died at the airport and I break into tears just thinking about how frustrated we all were that Easyjet could treat us so badly. And knowing how much money we had to pay frustrates me even more, especially with both car rental companies trying to scam us. I’m not going to stop until Easyjet has reimbursed us for EVERYTHING because 1,000€ is a huge chunk of money for us.

Seeing the article from 2 years ago “Les passagers du vol Venise-Lyon se rebellent” makes me even more angry that they’ve been doing this for so long. Almost the exact same thing happened, except at least those passengers got a hotel and food. How can companies get away with this? Doesn’t anyone sue in Europe?  Easyjet clearly breaks the law and deny passengers their rights. I’m certainly going to “porter plainte” here in France.

I know people always say “you get what you pay for” but why is that we must be rich in order to be treated decently? Why can’t poor people be treated equally? That’s actually why I preferred low-cost airlines in the first place. There is no first or business class and everyone is treated the same. But now I refuse to fly low-cost for fear of being treated like garbage again and I can’t afford regular airlines where I’m still treated a little like garbage for being in economy class and not at the front of the plane.

Looks like I’ll be sticking to driving (though now I’m also afraid to rent cars for fear of being ripped off) and taking the train when I can actually afford to travel again.

Update August 6: I did receive reimbursement for the canceled flight, but still nothing for the alternative travel costs.

How Easyjet Nearly Put Grandma in the Hospital & Our Journey Home From Abandonment

By   July 6, 2010

I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, grandma is fine now and resting at home.  We finally got her back to Annecy at 2 am this morning after waiting at the airport for 17 hours and then driving all day from Venice. We hadn’t slept at all and barely eaten anything so we had to stop several times along the way, including a change of rental cars in Turin. Let’s go back to where I left off at 3 am when I last posted from the airport.

To recap, our flight was supposed to take off from Venice at 6:15pm Sunday. The flight was already delayed by 2 hours when we arrived at the airport. Then it was constantly delayed later and later, and at midnight they finally cancelled it. Our plane never made it to Venice to pick us up because it had to land in Verona because of the storm and then it stayed there (we heard rumors of a mechanical problem, but later we learned that the crew would have to work overtime if they brought the plane to Venice, and Easyjet did not want to pay them the extra money). After the cancellation, there was an announcement to collect baggage from the carousel. Between 6pm and 1am, that was the only announcement about our flight. We only knew about the landing in Verona because some people had smartphones and found information online. David & I didn’t check any baggage so we decided to stay next to the gate, expecting an Easyjet representative to arrive and give us hotel vouchers or at least some information about what to do.

After 6 hours of waiting, cancellato

Easyjet does not have an office at the Venice airport and the people who work on Easyjet flights are not actual Easyjet employees. They had no information to give us, and then they quickly left the airport after making the announcement about collecting baggage. The few of us remaining at the gate decided to go upstairs and see what we were supposed to do and that’s when we discovered that we had been completely abandoned by Easyjet.  We would not get any hotel accommodations or transportation, or even food or water. The only reason they had made an announcement about collecting baggage was so that we would exit the airport and be left on the street to fend for ourselves, because the airport is supposed to close after the last flight arrives and no passengers are supposed to be inside.

Luckily we quickly realized that we were being tricked and refused to leave the airport. This was at 1 am and we had no idea what to do or where to go anyway. There was no public transportation or even taxis at that hour so we would basically be standing outside on the sidewalk if we left. So it was about 100 people abandoned by Easyjet vs. a dozen cops who desperately wanted to kick us out and go home. For the time being, we won. We camped out at security knowing that at 5 am, passengers for morning flights would arrive and see us there.

Staying put at the end of the security lines

We stayed up all night, waiting for an Easyjet representative to arrive. She finally came around at 5 am but was completely useless (turns out she was just the airport’s liaison for Easyjet anyway). There are no Easyjet flights Venice-Lyon on Mondays and the flight on Tuesday was full. We could try to get on the AirFrance flight to Lyon that same morning, but it would cost 450€ and there were only 6 tickets available. There was no extra plane to come get us and take us home, but maybe there would be a bus. Maybe. And we did not want to subject grandma to a 10 hour bus ride where she couldn’t lie down and put her aching legs up. I think we got breakfast around 6am (one croissant! ooh thanks!) but that was all Easyjet was willing to do. [David just informed me that it was in fact the airport and not Easyjet who gave us breakfast.] Easyjet did not care there were children and the elderly or that we had no food or water all night. They did not care that we had to fight with the cops to even stay inside the airport even though we should have been given hotel vouchers.

Sleeping at airports is normal in the US, but in Europe they (try to) kick you out

We formed a wall behind the security lines and made signs denouncing Easyjet and chanted “Easyjet, un avion, pour rentrer à la maison!” (A plane to go home!) Curious passengers asked us what had happened and I made sure all the Anglophones coming through knew our situation (I was the only American/Anglophone on the flight).  Luckily I had my brought my netbook so we could get online and have contact with the outside world since most of our cellphones were dead or didn’t work outside of France.  I passed it around so that people could get information about contacting the press and hopefully getting some journalists to come to the airport.

Grandmas on the couch borrowed from a VIP lounge

And then grandma started feeling sick. She hadn’t slept much and barely eaten anything. There was nowhere comfortable for her to lie flat so she had to sit most of the night and the tension in her legs was really painful. She said she felt nauseated and might vomit. We asked the cops to call the doctor and they made sure we understood that we could not return if we left the area (the first aid station was on the floor below), but I think grandma’s health was more important than trying to get Easyjet to treat us humanely at that point. The doctor came up to get us and we followed her downstairs, saying goodbye to the other passengers because we probably wouldn’t see them again. We wished them luck and hoped they would make it home by the end of day.

Grandma is 78 years old with rheumatoid arthritis. She has trouble walking and takes several medications for age-related illnesses. Her blood pressure was really low and the doctor gave her oxygen and some other medication that I don’t remember because I nearly passed out. I was so hungry and tired and worried about grandma and just wanted to go home. I knew that our only option would be to rent a car and drive back to Lyon and that it would be a really long day and really, really expensive. Needless to say, I was almost in tears and wanted to punch someone.

Grandma got some rest while we tried to find an agency to rent us a car, but we had no luck. An extremely nice airport worker who pushed grandma’s wheelchair helped find an agency that would let us rent a car but we had to leave it in Turin, which is slightly more than halfway to Lyon. The man also said that all the other airport workers hate Easyjet as much as we do because they constantly strand passengers and it’s up to the airport to help them out afterwards even though they are Easyjet’s responsibility. He kept saying vergogna! (shame!) and made grandma laugh and we were so grateful that the Venice airport employees knew how awful our situation was and were willing to help us.

We drove straight to Turin, stopping several times since we hadn’t slept all night, and then had trouble finding another car to get us back to Lyon. The only company that would let us drop off the car in France wanted 567€. We could not return the car to Turin the next day because David needed to work ( he had already missed Monday obviously) plus it’s about 3 hours away. We had trouble with our bank cards too since they also needed to charge a 900€ deposit, which of course we did not have in our bank accounts. I don’t regularly have 1500€ just lying around in my bank account, sorry Europcar. American Express to the rescue though. I honestly don’t know what we would have done if I didn’t have my American credit cards with me. We took off again and made it back to Lyon airport around 10 pm and came across another extremely nice employee who took off some charges since the Turin office was trying to rip us off with fake charges on the rental contract. She got the final price down to 492€, of which 350€ was the ridiculous “abandon” fee for leaving the car in France and not Italy. It’s all Europe, so what the hell does it matter??? Lyon is closer to Turin than Venice!

We actually ran into another passenger at the car rental office and she said they did eventually get a bus to bring them back to Lyon, but that things with the cops got bad in Venice after we left that morning. The woman with the baby had been promised a hotel room since she was taking another flight Tuesday morning, but when she arrived at the hotel, she was sent away because they didn’t have any rooms. She was hysterical by the time she got back to the airport because  she had been lied to and didn’t know what to do for another 24 hours until her flight. Some other passengers were trying to help her and calm her down, and with the confusion of the Italian-French translations and the fact that everyone had been stuck at the airport for 18 hours already, something happened and the cops felt provoked and hit one of the passengers. And then the Togolese man, who had been extremely helpful acting as a translator the entire time, was blamed. Racist bastards.

Another passenger commented on the video: It was the French Consulate in Venice that got the bus for them to come home!

I am thoroughly disgusted with the way Easyjet and the police treated us. How can you abandon your paying customers overnight? How can you not make sure that people are taken care of? How can you just not care at all? David & I had already planned another trip with Easyjet in August (flights + car rental), but we’ve decided to never fly with them again. Now I’m dealing with trying to get reimbursed for the canceled flight, and losing money on the flights we definitely won’t be taking, and going insane trying to find out how to cancel my car reservation as well. I swear the “remove car rental” option does not exist even though their FAQ claims that’s all you need to do. I guess I can kiss another 245€ goodbye. How shady can you get, Easyjet?

We already had to pay nearly 1,000€ on the car rentals, gas and tolls alone so we can’t even afford the trip in August anyway. We may be poor but at least we have grandma, and we’d like to keep it that way. She had her best vacation ruined and her health damaged by the inhumane treatment. We spent a wonderful three days in Italy where she was able to see where her parents came from, something she had wanted to do her entire life. And to have it end with us being abandoned in an airport just makes me sick to my stomach. I am beyond frustrated that companies get away with abusing their customers like this. I’ve heard several horror stories of airlines (especially low-cost) treating passengers like dirt, and even though I’ve never had a bad experience with Easyjet before, this experience is more than enough to prevent me from ever giving them business again.

I hope the other passengers of flight EZY4468 have all made it back home safely by now. David said he did see some journalists at the airport right before we left on Monday morning at 9 am, so maybe our voices and frustration will be heard.


1. I got a response from Easyjet that we should be reimbursed for the canceled flight (which I did receive), and a whole 120€ of the nearly 1,000€ we spent on rental cars, gas, and tolls (which of course I never received).  The only other response I’ve gotten is on Twitter (and it wasn’t even directed at me but Zetourist who RTed what I had said), when they said the flight was canceled not because they didn’t want to pay their crew overtime, but because it would compromise the flight’s safety if they worked the extra hours. OK… WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY OF 100 PASSENGERS ABANDONED OVERNIGHT AT A FREAKING AIRPORT WITH NO FOOD OR WATER AND WHO WERE NEARLY THROWN OUTSIDE ON THE SIDEWALK AT 1 AM BY THE COPS??? What about the babies and children who were crying because they were so traumatized? What about grandma who nearly passed out and needed to see the airport doctor to make sure her heart wouldn’t stop beating?

2. Apparently this also happened 2 years ago with the same Venice-Lyon flight! This article from June 2008 titled “Les passagers du vol Venise-Lyon se rebellent” (in French, but I will translate it soon) says the flight was cancelled and the passengers were abandoned by Easyjet at the airport, the same as us! There were even problems with the Italian police. The major difference is that they eventually did get a hotel and food. We got absolutely nothing from Sleazyjet.

3. A month later, I have written to Easyjet again to request compensation of 750€ (250€ per person on flights less than 1500 km according to Regulation 261/204 of the European Parliament and the European Council) since they clearly broke the law by not providing information, food, water or hotel accommodation and there is no way the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, though I’m sure they will try to claim that.  If they still don’t respond, I will get the Direction générale de l’Aviation Civile involved here in France and get compensation through them.


More reasons to hate Easyjet:

Easyjet denies handicapped man boarding

Easyjet abandons passengers as bad weather cancels flights

Easyjet leaves stranded 100s bound for Bilbao

Lawrence Weston family abandoned by Easyjet

Easyjet and Ryanair top complaints league

Why I Hate Low-Cost Airlines (Notably Easyjet)

By   July 5, 2010

We had a great time in Italy until we tried to get back to France. Our flight was scheduled for 6:15pm on July 4th. It is now 3:42am July 5th and we are still in Venice. The flight was delayed later and later until finally at midnight, it was cancelled. There were storms here tonight, but every other flight was able to take off except ours. There were no announcements at all the entire time from Easyjet so we had no idea what was going on.

Then we find out all the Easyjet crew had left the airport and there was no one to help us. One hundred passengers abandoned at an airport that was closing. The police wanted us all to leave, but go where? All of the hotels are supposedly booked because of the festival, and there’s no public transportation after 1 am anyway.

So we’re still camping out at the security area, annoying the police who were supposed to go home hours ago. Luckily they haven’t kicked us outside yet.

Easyjet is supposed to pay for a hotel and give us food and water and telephone calls when a flight is cancelled. I’m sure they’ll find a reason to say it was beyond their control and it was an extraordinary circumstance (because storms never happen, right?) so our passenger rights don’t have to be respected. I am thoroughly disgusted at the way people are treated. I’ve seen too many children crying and old people suffering that I feel sick.

I know these things happen when dealing with flying and airports, but this is the first time I’ve ever experienced something this bad. People are missing work, have no access to medication they need, and no one will help us. It’s not like there was a volcanic eruption. It was a storm that passed in an hour and every other flight at this airport was able to take off.

Low-cost airlines might be a good deal, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to buy a ticket from them again knowing how they treat human beings.

Bassano del Grappa for the Weekend

By   June 30, 2010

I’m leaving France once again.

We’re going here tomorrow:

Bassano del Grappa is in the province of Vicenza in northern Italy. The parents of David’s maternal grandmother came from this city, and we are taking Mamie there so she can finally see where her parents lived. They moved to France in 1931 because they were against fascism, and they stopped speaking Italian as soon as they settled in Annecy. Mamie was born a year later, and so she is a French citizen and speaks only French. This will be her first time outside of France and first time on an airplane (we’re flying Lyon to Venice). She’s 78 years old and has always wanted to see Italy and I am happy to be able to finally take her there.

If you subscribe to the French Listening Resources podcast, I recently uploaded a 5 part interview with Mamie about her life in Annecy during World War II. It’s all in French, of course, but I hope to transcribe and translate it into English before the end of summer.

Wish me luck on translating from Italian to French!

Traveling in Western Europe on 100€ a Day

By   June 19, 2010

Traveling throughout Europe can actually be quite cheap if you do your research and reserve/buy certain things in advance. Here’s a rundown of the costs for my two week trip. We spent 3 nights in Brussels, 2 in Amsterdam, 2 in Köln, 3 in Munich and 4 in Strasbourg. I paid for one hotel and all major train tickets in advance to take advantage of lower prices and special deals.


Hotels: I try to stay in apartment or residence hotels that have a kitchenette, mostly because I hate eating in restaurants all the time, but also because it is much, much cheaper to buy your own groceries. For example, we stayed at Citadines in Brussels for €39.50 per person per night and at Citéa in Strasbourg for 37.50€. If you can’t find any apartment hotels, you can always try private rooms in hostels that have access to a guest kitchen, like at Flying Pig in Amsterdam, or book private accommodation at regular apartments owned by individuals. Staying in dorms at hostels is obviously a cheaper option (some places are only 8-10€ for a bed), but not such a good idea when you have severe insomnia and are a huge germaphobe (that would be me). Couchsurfing is of course the cheapest option of them all (free!)

Total price for hotels for 14 nights = 575€

Trains: Buy long-distance train tickets 3 months in advance for the lowest price. This means you have to be prepared and know your exact dates, but it is worth it. For shorter trips on regional trains, the price doesn’t change so you can just buy it at the station (such as a day trip to Bonn from Köln). I made sure to buy all of our train tickets as soon as I possibly could and these were the prices:

Chambéry-Paris: 22€
Paris-Brussels: 25€
Brussels-Amsterdam: 25€
Amsterdam-Köln: 21.50€
Köln-Mannheim: 29€
Mannheim-Paris: 39€
Paris-Chambéry: 22€

We also rented a car in Mannheim to use for a week while we were in Munich and Strasbourg and the price was 111€ per person, plus we both paid around 70€ for gas and NOTHING for tolls since Germany does not make you pay to drive on their roads (unlike France, or Switzerland or Austria with their stupid vignettes). I think we paid around 75€ for other trains for day-trips to Bruges, Bonn, Düsseldorf and public transportation in Brussels, Munich and Strasbourg.


Alternatively, I could have met Michelle in Brussels instead of Paris since there’s an Easyjet route from Geneva for as low as 25€. But I would have to factor in another 18€ for the trains to Geneva airport, whereas my train to Paris was 22€ and I could take as many liquids as I wanted. Not having to deal with other air passengers, metal detectors and the liquid ban is worth an extra 4€ to me.

Total transportation costs = 440€

Food: Because of the kitchenette, we always ate breakfast and dinner at the hotel and a few of the places actually had free breakfast included. For lunch, we would usually just buy something light, like sandwiches, especially on days when we would be on the train heading to a new city. Every once in a while we did have an actual meal at a restaurant, but I never spent more than 10-12€. Buying breakfast and dinner at grocery stores was incredibly cheap and I would say we never spent more than 8-10€ for those two meals each day.

Total estimate = 250€ (this is probably a bit high)

Admission: Admission to Mini Europe was 13,10€ and Europa Park was 35€, which were our biggest expenses. Anne Frank House was 8.50€, the waterfalls in Triberg were only 3.50€ and Dachau was free. The rest of the time we stayed outside since we’re more into architecture and nature than museums.  We did do a bus tour when we were in Köln (because I had blisters!) for 11€ but normally we walk everywhere.

Mini Europe

Total = about 75€

Souvenirs: Stamps to the US from Germany are 1€, from the Netherlands 0.92€, and from France 0.85€ so I’d recommend mailing your postcards from here unless you really want stamps from other countries.  I didn’t buy too many things to bring home because my suitcase and backpack were already full.

Total = about 60€

…which brings us to a grand total of about 1,400€ for 14 days away from home.  I basically saved 115€ per month for the year to pay for the trip. We got to explore 12 cities in 4 countries (sorry Luxembourg, maybe next time) so to me, it was definitely worth it.

I’ll be updating my Contributions on TripAdvisor with all 5 hotel reviews and my Travel Tips page with information on traveling around the cities I visited in a few days!

It’s good to be home in France, but I miss Germany. And what is happening to Belgium???

By   June 14, 2010

I returned home from my 2 week trip yesterday with a cold and over 800 photos. Getting back into a routine is a little hard because I’m so exhausted, but I have managed to upload Dutch, German and French realia as well as several new photo albums. We went to Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn, Munich, Hohenschwangau (Schloss Neuschwanstein), Triberg & Titisee-Neustadt in the Black Forest, Strasbourg, and of course Mini Europe in Brussels and Europa Park in Rust, Germany.

Mini Europe

Mini Europe in Brussels: Learn about  the 27 EU members!

Michelle and I only see each other once a year since she lives in Arizona, so we try to make the most of the two weeks and see as much as possible. Next year we’re planning to head to Eastern Europe to visit Prague, Krakow, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and perhaps even parts of Slovenia. Or we were thinking of doing an Adriatic Sea/Greek islands cruise; or even a Nordic/Baltic capitals cruise.  Ah, so many places to see!  After visiting the two educational and fun Europe parks, I really want to see all of Europe (not just the EU) someday, but there are just so many interesting places that I don’t know how I’ll ever find the time or money.

Europa Park

One problem, Europa Park. Finland is not really Scandinavian.

I had been to Brussels and Amsterdam before, but I honestly don’t remember seeing much since it was very cold and I was extremely sick at the time. Plus I could barely speak French back then so Brussels was intimidating instead of familiar. Obviously I feel much less stressed about traveling in French-speaking areas nowadays. I absolutely loved listening to Flemish/Dutch in Bruges and Amsterdam and wished that more people studied it so there would be more resources available to learn it.


I heart the architecture in Bruges

I had also been to Germany before, but not along the Rhine River or in Bavaria. My German was a bit rusty but I was surprised at how much I could understand (much more in written form than spoken, unfortunately). I didn’t feel completely at ease like I do in France or southern Belgium, but ordering food and buying stamps were not too difficult. The only hard parts are when the other person responds in an unexpected way and you can’t understand what they say, or even if you can understand the words, you don’t understand why they are saying it. When buying groceries at a small store in a suburb of Munich, the cashier asked if I wanted Herzen after I paid. I knew that Herzen meant hearts but I had no idea why she was asking if I wanted them or what type of hearts she was referring to. She showed us some heart stickers, but I just said Nein, danke instead of asking what I was supposed to do with them because I was so caught off guard. (Anyone know why German supermarkets try to give you heart stickers?)

Disney Castle

Schloss Neuschwanstein (Disney Castle)

Because of my interest in WWII and Holocaust history, German is my 3rd language and I’m hoping to attain the same level that I have in French. French has an obvious advantage (I’ve lived in France for nearly 4 years and my boyfriend is French) but with enough exposure and interaction with other German speakers, plus plenty of return trips to Bavaria (fingers crossed!), I think I’ll manage. Strasbourg was a lovely place and hearing two languages constantly spoken on the streets because of all the German tourists made me wish I lived there. Not that living in the Alps is bad. It’s just that I would prefer to live in a bilingual nation or at least closer to the border where I can always be exposed to at least one other language besides French. One foreign language will never be enough for me.


Strasbourg in Alsace, France

Speaking of bilingual nations, I am completely fascinated by the elections in Belgium. I adore Belgium and love that they speak French and Flemish, but I can see why there are problems since the two languages are separated geographically instead of nearly every citizen being bilingual such as in Luxembourg. Flemish separatists who want the country to be split into two took the lead in parliamentary elections this weekend. It’s still too early to tell if Flanders will become an independent state, what would happen to poorer Wallonia, and if they both would still be part of the EU, but it’s extremely interesting to follow how the history of language use and politics are so intertwined in certain areas. Luxembourg and Switzerland have far fewer problems with regards to language, but Belgium and Canada have always had vocal separatist parties.

So tomorrow it’s back to work, which will hopefully include catching up on e-mails. I do have another real, bill-paying job that I need to do until the end of July so I won’t be able to devote as much time as I’d like to the website, but I’m really excited about it and will explain more later.


New Photo Albums:

* Belgium and the Netherlands have a few photos from the trip in 2005 first.

Traveling through Germanic Languages and History

By   June 5, 2010

I’ve been traveling for the past week through Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and Munich. I have been trying to listen to as much Dutch and German as possible and collect all sorts of realia to learn more vocabulary. Of course I’ve also been going to educational places like Mini Europe, which I highly recommend for learning more about European Union geography and history.

I returned to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam after 5 years and it was still just as overwhelming, depressing, and humbling as before, yet it remained impossible to not be touched by Anne’s optimistic words in such a dark time. Otto Frank’s remarks on why he started the Anne Frank Foundation – to fight against the prejudice and discrimination of people of different races and religions – is partly the same reason why I learn languages. It’s not just so I can travel around Europe more easily. It’s so I can talk to people who are different from me and learn from them, and hopefully help them if they are being discriminated against because they are “too different” from everyone else.

Tomorrow morning I am going to Dachau, the very first concentration camp. Yet another reason why I learn languages: not merely to learn, but to experience, history. A lot of meaning can be lost in translation and we can never fully understand the how and the why unless we truly understand the language and culture. I know neither the perpetrators nor the prisoners spoke English so why should I only learn the history in English? I want to listen to the victims’ and survivors’ own words, not a translation.

I want to read Anne’s diary in its original version. The words that she actually wrote. When I read Hélène Berr’s diary in the original French last year, it really affected me because I knew the places and dates she mentioned and the significance of them. I could picture her life in occupied Paris until her arrest. It made the diary all the more real to me, instead of simply stories in a book. Anne’s diary is poignant enough in English, but I can only imagine at this point what it must be like to comprehend it in Dutch.