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Money, How do I get it?

ATM machines and credit cards in Europe


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Accepted at this ATM machine

Accepted at this ATM machine

If you are traveling from the United States of America, your credit cards probably do not contain the microchip that is in all European credit cards. You will encounter a few problems but they are not insurmountable. We use debit cards for cash and credit cards for purchases and it works very well. Check your bank to see what their charges are. You may want to look at another credit card company for lower or no charges. The exchange rate changes daily so that is beyond your control and you must factor it into your budget. Find the Exchange Rate[b][/b]

First, you can use your cards in European ATM machines so you can get money. I highly recommend you use only bank ATM machines during banking hours. If your card is eaten or damaged by the machine, you can go inside the bank and get it back. We've had this happen twice and once had to wait through the ending of lunch for the bank to reopen so we could get our card back. We also had a card damaged by a credit card machine in a business so it's a good idea to take at least two cards with you just in case.

Ticket machines are a problem. Most will not accept American credit cards, even the newer ones with chips because most American chip cards still require a signature. This means you can't use automated ticket machines at railroads and subways. In this case, there is nearly always a nearby ticket window with a real live person. They can take your American credit card so get in line and buy your ticket at the window.

*****

Flower Shop in Paris - takes credit cards

Flower Shop in Paris - takes credit cards


Gas stations are another problem. Self-serve gas at hypermarches is cheapest but the pumps won't take your card. Look around because most stations have an attendant. They can take your card but there is often only one gas pump for this transaction. It will be marked so look for it. If you go outside of normal business hours, you have to go to a regular gas station with an attendant, not the supermarket stations that are cheaper.

How do attendants take your card if the machines can't? If you remember the machines at home, you slide your card into them and it is read by the gas pump or ATM or whatever. This is where you need the chip in Europe. In businesses like stores and restaurants, the checkout person (or waiter) will have a hand-carried machine that comes to the table. This machine takes both kinds of cards, with chips and without chips. The Europeans slide their chipped cards into the bottom front of the machine. The joy here is that there is a nearly invisible slot on the side (beside the numbers) that works with the American cards. The checkout person must slide your card through the side and it works just like it does at home. The only problem we've had is in very rural areas without many tourists, checkout people don't know this slot exists. We have had to show them how to slide the card (in French the word is glisser), and then it was just fine. If you don't speak the local language, just make a sliding motion with the card and they'll get the idea. If that doesn't work, just show them. There is nearly always someone around who can help you so don't worry about it and don't carry large amounts of cash.

Before you leave home, call your bank and credit card companies and tell them where you will be and when so your card is not refused while you are traveling. They track these things and are trying to keep you safe from identity theft so let them know where you'll be. They will thank you and you will save yourself a little hassle while traveling.

Posted by Beausoleil 13:59 Archived in France Tagged money atm bank_machines credit_cards debit_cards Comments (0)

What are the different roads like in France?

A brief overview of different kinds of roads in France.


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Route A8 driving from Italy to Nice, France

Route A8 driving from Italy to Nice, France


You've decided to rent or lease a car . . . or take your own. Now, what are the roads like in France?

In a word . . . excellent. There are different types of road and they can easily be differentiated by their numbers.

*****

Driving from Alsace to Reims on the A4

Driving from Alsace to Reims on the A4

The AutoRoute always starts with the letter "A" followed by the route number, i.e. A6, A71, etc. These are dual carriageway roads (double highway with 2 or more lanes in each direction) and most of them are toll roads. The toll is usually lifted as you go around a city as they serve as a periphery highway or ring road.

When you enter the AutoRoute, you go through a toll station, manned or automatic and pick up a ticket. At various points along the highway, you go through other toll stations to pay the toll up to that point. Most are manned and you can use cash. Some are entirely automatic and you have a choice of cash or credit card. We've only been through one that required a credit card and our USA non-chipped credit card worked just fine. You will also go through a toll station when you exit the highway.

There are large digital signs warning of dangers or problems ahead. These are all in French so get the Michelin France Tourist and Motoring Atlas and look in the front for some common warnings and memorize them.

The AutoRoutes are excellent roads (if you are from the USA, they are comparable to our very best Interstate highways). They are well maintained, well marked and well patrolled. They also skirt the towns and cities so you don't see much from the road. We use the AutoRoutes selectively, that is, when we have a time constraint. Otherwise, you miss a lot of lovely French villages, and we love going through all the small towns and seeing the architecture and local attractions. So . . . use the AutoRoutes if you're in a hurry. Otherwise . . . Use the N or D roads.

AutoRoute to Nice . . .

AutoRoute to Nice . . .

The A8 near Nice with traffic

The A8 near Nice with traffic

Warning Sign on the AutoRoute between Menton and Nice, France

Warning Sign on the AutoRoute between Menton and Nice, France


AutoRoute Toll Booth

AutoRoute Toll Booth

*****

The beautiful route D7N near Mallemort

The beautiful route D7N near Mallemort


The N roads are Routes Nationale or National highways, usually 2 lane roads but often with 4 lanes around or through a city. These are well maintained and well marked and go through towns and cities as well as the lovely French countryside. The numbers are always preceded by the letter "N" as in N57, N12 or N59, etc. These are excellent and often very busy roads but good for touring.

If you haven't driven in France since about 2009, you will notice that the government has turned over care of many N roads to the local Departments so what you may have known as an N road is now a D road. It's a good idea to get an updated map so you have correct route numbers if you are doing any extended driving. There was a time between renumbering the maps and renumbering the roads that was a bit confusing, but virtually all the roads have now gotten their new number signs.

Roundabout on the Route de Cagnes

Roundabout on the Route de Cagnes

*****

Driving into Eyguières from Lamanon

Driving into Eyguières from Lamanon


The D roads are Departmental Roads and nearly all are 2 lanes, one in each direction. They are well maintained and well marked and very useful for touring. There are many more D roads now that the national government has turned the care of many N roads over to the local Department. The number will always be preceded by "D" as in D43, D125, D1224, etc. These roads are excellent for touring and often not at all crowded. Especially on high traffic days when the AutoRoute is at a standstill (Bastille Day weekend), the D roads offer a much more pleasant alternative.

Former N roads that have been changed to D are better than standard D roads. In general, the more rural, the narrower the road. Either N or D roads can be very narrow within villages.

Crossing the Loire at Ancenis

Crossing the Loire at Ancenis


Pont de la Vallée, a narrow bridge in Clisson

Pont de la Vallée, a narrow bridge in Clisson

*****

Rural road near Fleurac in the Dordogne region

Rural road near Fleurac in the Dordogne region


There are other roads including C roads with C standing for Commune and these vary wildly in quality. We've been on excellent, though narrow, C roads and we've been on C roads that turn into gravel roads or once, ancient cobblestone not conducive to good driving. We tend to avoid C roads but they are great for hiking and have only very local traffic, i.e. the local farmer and his tractor.

*****

City Street Scene, Barbentane

City Street Scene, Barbentane


You may take a GPS unit (we do), but I strongly suggest a map in addition. The GPS is not failsafe and sometimes you simply want to know what is in the area and a map is very useful. We use the Michelin "France Tourist & Motoring Atlas" along with our GPS. It has all the different highways and local roads, 75 separate town plans, scenic drive suggestions and traffic laws. It is very useful. We get the smaller spiral-bound version as it packs better. There is a larger version (also spiral bound) that would be good if you need larger print. The smaller one is about 9 x 12 inches so easy enough to read.

*****

For planning, use either Google Maps or the Michelin web site. You type in your start and end points and it will give you a route, driving directions, cost of fuel and tolls and an approximate time for the journey. We use Google Maps and Michelin and they are both good. Michelin seems to be more accurate with the tolls. Both web sites give you options of driving, bicycling or walking and several other options if you are driving.

Good map web site for travel planning: The Michelin Map web site

Posted by Beausoleil 13:24 Archived in France Tagged france driving roads maps trip_planning Comments (0)

To use a GPS or not use a GPS

The GPS units, portable or attached, are wonderful, but not completely failsafe. We always take a map.


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Route A8 near Nice at morning rush hour

Route A8 near Nice at morning rush hour


The GPS is fine but take a decent map. It's not just losing the signal (which happens everyplace including in our home driveway); it is the GPS being programmed incorrectly. I think of the peoples' driveway we ended up in three times one spring in France, and being sent to the wrong address in our own town recently. There are programming mistakes because all of this is input by humans and humans make mistakes. There is the famous case of a couple last winter lost in a blizzard because their GPS was programmed incorrectly and they survived by eating some energy bars they had taken along. The local joke is, "don't forget the energy bars" when someone says they are using their GPS.

*****

Driving to Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the rain

Driving to Saint-Remy-de-Provence in the rain

GPS has improved over the years but we still take a map. It is very useful to find things you might want to visit in the immediate area. The GPS is zoomed in on your immediate area but the map lets you see what is in the surrounding area and is great if you are looking for places to visit or just want to see what is around you. No towns for the next two hours and you're hungry? Better stop now. The GPS won't tell you that but a map will.

We also take our own GPS in addition to the one that comes with the car we lease (or occasionally rent). When we arrive in a large town or city and park, I get out our GPS and set the parking place as HOME and tuck it in my purse. That way no matter where we wander in town, we can find the car when we're ready to leave. Some acquaintances of ours forgot where they parked in Florence and it took them hours to find their car. They found it a rather frightening experience. I don't think it would bother me that much, but it would be a time-consuming nuisance and if you have your GPS, it won't happen.

*****

Driving into Eyguières from Lamanon in Provence

Driving into Eyguières from Lamanon in Provence


Here's another reason to take a map along. One very cloudy week in Belgium, our hand-held GPS could not locate a satellite. We fortunately had a GPS on the car which worked and our trusty map, but we kept our own GPS on just to see how long it would take to find the satellite. The last day of a 7-day stay in the country it finally found a satellite and came to life . . . in exactly the same place we'd been trying it all week. It was a nice clear day!

We are never sorry to have our map along. It is particularly important when you don't speak the language because way out in the hinterlands, people may have a second language but it may not be English . . . or Spanish . . . or Italian . . . or German . . . or whatever it is that you speak. With a map, you can all just point and find the right road.
I

I'm a fan of both; GPS and a map are a great combination!

Posted by Beausoleil 09:57 Archived in France Tagged driving europe gps Comments (1)

Rent a Gite de France

Gites are cottages or vacation rentals and usually very inexpensive. They are also a great way to get to know the local people in the area.


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Our gite near Le Plessis-Grammoire in the western Loire

Our gite near Le Plessis-Grammoire in the western Loire


Gite de France in Bard-le-Regulier near Beaune in Burgundy

Gite de France in Bard-le-Regulier near Beaune in Burgundy

We like to fly into Paris or Nice, spend a few days touring and getting over jet lag and then head out into the countryside. We enjoy hotels and the service, but for longer trips, it can be expensive. To save money, we like to rent cottages either in the country or in small villages. That costs a lot less than a hotel. So when we are in long-term visiting mode, we usually turn to the Gites de France, a wonderful organization that rents out houses and apartments all over France, often in picturesque rural areas. We once found a beautiful little house (2 bedrooms, 2 baths, full kitchen) in the tiny village of Bard le Regulier about an hour from Beaune. It is on a dairy farm and the gentleman of the house was a local town councilman.The house was spacious, clean, had a fabulous view and the owners were incredibly friendly and helpful. The cost varied from 180 euros a week in low season to 340 euros a week in high season so, as you can see, it was very affordable even in high season.

*****

Our gite near Mollégès in Provence

Our gite near Mollégès in Provence


What appealed to us was the fact that we were out in the countryside with easy in and out access, could interact with people who lived in the area and had incredible views from our private courtyard. The host family was wonderful; the farm was fun and we could zip all over Burgundy without having to face city traffic getting started each day.

We had a full kitchen but only ate breakfast there. We had our main meal wherever we were sightseeing that day and then had a picnic in our wonderful private courtyard in the evening. We attended the local church and shopped the local shops, indeed, were even sold half of a shop-owners baguette one evening when the entire town had run out of bread. Not many places would offer you half their dinner!

*****

Le Moulin des Landes, our lovely living room

Le Moulin des Landes, our lovely living room

After that experience, we were hooked and turn to Gites de France on nearly every trip. We’ve stayed in farmhouses, village cottages, lakeside cottages, and once in a real château for less than 500 euros the week. With the Gites, you sign a contract and pay before you go so you don’t have to deal with money on the trip. You have a choice of doing your own cleaning or having it done for you. Different places have different choices so read the web site carefully and know what you are getting. We prefer free wifi and a shower. In small towns, parking is useful. In the country, it isn’t usually a problem. If you have questions after checking the web site, contact the owners and ask them. We’ve always received a prompt reply. They aren't guaranteed to speak English so I usually write in both French and English to make certain my question is understood. If you don't speak French, use Google Translate. It isn't perfect, but it is good enough to get the point across. Google Translate

The downstairs bedroom (one end of L-shaped room) - Cauvicourt

The downstairs bedroom (one end of L-shaped room) - Cauvicourt

Stairs to the "first" floor in the Cernuschi Museum in Paris

Stairs to the "first" floor in the Cernuschi Museum in Paris

When looking at hotels and apartments in France, if you're from the USA, keep in mind that in France the first floor is called the ground floor; the second floor is called the first floor in France because it's the first floor above the ground floor. A lot of folks find a first floor apartment and think there will be no steps only to discover a flight of stairs when they arrive. Fine for most folks, but not if you have a handicapped person with you.

So remember, the floor at ground level is the "ground floor" (rez-de-chaussée). The floor above that is called the first (premier) floor but you have to walk up a flight of stairs to get there. Their 2nd floor is our 3rd floor. The French 3rd floor is our 4th floor. In other words, when it says 4th floor walkup apartment, you are walking up 5 flights of stairs. These stairs can be winding and narrow too so check before you arrive and are disappointed.

*****

Domaine de la Chapelle -- the gite rural - Montrichard

Domaine de la Chapelle -- the gite rural - Montrichard

This is also a great way to get to know the local population since you will get to know the Gite owners, the local shopkeepers and sometimes the local market vendors. Most Gites require a full week stay although you can pay for a week and stay only part of it. The prices are low enough that you usually still save money doing that. We’ve rented as long as a month and there are usually lower rates for longer term stays. You do have to ask; this won’t be advertised. If you’re staying for a month or more, be sure to ask if there is a lower rate for this length of stay.

Visit the Gites de France web site in English by clicking here: Gites de France English web site

Posted by Beausoleil 11:28 Archived in France Tagged france rental cottages gites_de_france Comments (3)

Stay where the French stay - Hotels in France

Logis de France are wonderful, friendly, family-oriented hotels


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Hostellerie du Vieux Moulin in Hede

Hostellerie du Vieux Moulin in Hede


Hotel Grillon in Beaune

Hotel Grillon in Beaune


Many people say they want to meet the locals. Generally you can’t avoid them because you certainly will have a local citizen serving you in the restaurant, greeting you at the hotel, guiding you at the tourist sites and waiting on you in the local stores. These are local people so enjoy them. If you want to actually get to know them, stay there for a while and live with them. Even a stay as short as three days will accomplish this, but a week is even better.

Hotel de la Poste in Piriac-sur-Mer

Hotel de la Poste in Piriac-sur-Mer

Hotel Carrer - Ronchamp

Hotel Carrer - Ronchamp

There is a wonderful chain of small, family-owned hotels in nearly every town and village in France. The chain is called Logis-de-France. You will find a pleasant local family running the Logis and its restaurant so will have a chance to get to know them. These Logis range from very inexpensive auberges to rather pricey châteaux so you have a wide choice.

Nearly all of them have an excellent restaurant because the chain has a competition amongst their chefs each year and they take it very seriously. Even when we’re not staying there, we look for Logis-de-France restaurants for lunch when we’re out touring for the day. We have never been disappointed in one.

When we’re staying out in the countryside, far from a good-sized town, we nearly always stay in a Logis with a half-board option. This is breakfast and dinner at the hotel for a reduced price along with your accommodation. At lunch time we’re out touring so eat where we are visiting. This works out well for us and after a day or two, you start to feel like family.

*****

Chateau Fleur de Roques

Chateau Fleur de Roques


Many of the Logis are "theme" hotels. That is to say they have special accommodations for bicycle riders, fisherman, boaters, even equestrian Logis. There are Logis of Character that are in historic buildings and Logis of Silence that are in especially bucolic areas. We have stayed in Logis that were entirely French-speaking, Logis that had shared bathrooms or conversely had private spas, Logis that were in chateaus with gourmet restaurants. There is a Logis for everyone's taste and one for nearly any budget. The central booking agency is very useful but you can also book directly with most of the hotels if that is more comfortable for you. Logis come in all price ranges. Sometimes the meals cost more than the rooms because they nearly all have excellent restaurants. In rural areas, though, prices are very reasonable.

They are often in the Old Town section but sometimes are on the edge of town. Some, particularly Logis de Silence, are far out in the country.

Visit the Logis-de-France Website by clicking here: Logis de France English-language web site

Posted by Beausoleil 11:09 Archived in France Tagged hotels accommodation france logis_de_france Comments (1)

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