Friday, November 18, 2011

My all- time favorite travel writer is Art Buchwald who, in the 1960s was the special correspondent for the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. It’s a pleasure to share this humorous insight presented in such whimsical yet subtle observation of how many of our fellow citizens view the world away from the confines of their everyday lives.

As one who has made a close study of tourism, I believe I have isolated a type of tourist that is becoming more and more prevalent. I recently met an American couple who had been touring Europe for a month and were on the home stretch in Paris. In line with my theory, their reactions were predictable. “Jane,” the man said, “didn’t like Rome, but I still thought it was better than Venice.” Jane said: “That’s because Harry didn’t have the experiences I had. I still maintain I’d rather spend four days in Venice than two in Rome.” “It was that bad huh?” Harry said: “Well it wasn’t as bad as Zurich. Jane agreed: We both hated Zurich. It was almost as bad as Copenhagen.” “You didn’t like Copenhagen?” I asked. “Does anyone like Copenhagen?” Harry wanted to know. “We were almost as disappointed in it as we were in London.” “Which,” said Jane, “turned out to be dreadful.” “The funny thing,” said Harry, “ I hated London, but I thought Jane liked it, so I said I liked it.” “And,” said Jane, “I thought Harry like it so I didn’t tell him I hated it. If we had known , we would have left right away.” “But where would you have gone?” I asked. “Not to Monte Carlo, that’s for sure,” Harry said. “I don’t see what Princess Grace sees in that place,” Jane said. “Well what about Paris?” I foolishly asked. “The worst,” said Jane. “The people are so unfriendly and the prices are high, and I don’t see what there is that’s so special about Paris.” “There’s no doubt it,” Harry said. “Europe’s overrated.” I left them on the Champs Elysées. Harry was explaining to Jane why he didn’t like the Arc de Triomphe, and Jane was telling Harry why she didn’t like the Place de la Concorde. You couldn’t find two happier people.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gerard Morgan-Grenville, author of Barging into Burgundy. Here’s an example of my friend’s fascinating and often hilarious adventures and misadventures through the canals and rivers of Burgundy on his own barge, the 100 foot Virginia Anne.

“A little farther on I was distressed to see several adolescents throwing a dog into the canal. Each time the poor creature climbed out they threw him back in and it was nearly exhausted. I ordered them to stop and threatened dire consequences if I saw them repeat the performance. Greatly surprised they desisted, and the bedraggled dog collapsed exhausted on the bank. I fed it several biscuits and, after shaking itself repeatedly, it lumbered off, evidently none the worse for wear. Shortly afterwards it reappeared on its own and proceeded to jump into the canal!”

Gerard was an English country gentleman who lived in a castle in Wales. He was the great grandson of the last Duke of Buckingham, and a well-known environmental pioneer. Other wonderful books by Gerard to laugh yourself through include Barging into France, Barging into Southern France, Holiday Cruising in France, and believe it or not, Cruising the Sahara.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Canal du Nivernais in Burgundy, France

In the Fall of 1988 Mary Lou and I along with our friends Don and Julie Dahlgren decided to spend one week cruising on the Canal du Nivernais in Burgundy, France on a self-drive boat. Maps/Canal du Nivernais.htm

Although neither Don nor I had much experience in the maritime world, let alone navigating through a narrow canal system with 15 to 20 tiny and sometimes crowded locks, we were assured by the owners that is was so easy "that even a cave man could do it", even an American cave man apparently.  The speed limit on the canal was 3.7 mph. Well, that was good enough for us, so after a quick trip to the Super Marche for provisions including a case of the ever popular Aligote, we set off due east with Don at the helm, shouting “ahoy!” and “avast!”, to join one of the loveliest canals in the whole of France.  

Getting through the locks, with our craft (now re-named L’Escargot,) was always a group effort with each of us helping the lock keeper with the necessary pulling of ropes and cranking of wheels. Bikes were used along the tow paths to take us up to the nearest village and the local boulangerie for our morning croissants.  

As the quiet countryside floats by there is simply nothing quite like a snail-paced tour through the heart of France. There are numerous websites out there for planning a self-drive barge trip through France. It is one of the most unique and beautiful travel experiences out there. Enjoy the video!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hot Air Ballooning in France with Buddy Bombard 1978

In 1975 Autoventure became the first company to offer a very unique type of travel experience.  We created customized, detailed itineraries which combined the most interesting routes through the European countryside with stays at beautiful and unique hotels.  In France we chose hotels of style which were two hotel associations known as the Relais de Campagne and the Châteaux Hotels.  Those associations merged to form what is known today as the esteemed Relais & Châteaux.

It was an exciting time in the travel business as everything was changing and Americans embarked on international travel like never before.  So when the one and only Buddy Bombard called me in the fall of 1978 and invited me to join him and his small tour group for a week of floating over the châteaux country of the Loire Valley by hot air balloon I jumped at the chance to experience one of the most unique travel adventures of the time (this is the point in the story where Mary Lou interjects that as I was floating over castles and wining and dining in the vineyards of the Loire she was at home with five small children and a sick Springer Spaniel).  Buddy and I designed a unique trip which combined one week of hot air ballooning with the Bombard Society and one week of custom touring by private care and chauffeur or self drive.

The slide show has some highlights from that unforgettable trip in 1978.  Ballooning is still a common travel adventure and the Bombard Society that started it all continues to offer balloon trips all over the world.

What an amazing trip it was (sorry Mary Lou!). Enjoy the show.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Family Togetherness French Style

Many of the places I recommend visiting in my books hold special meaning for our family and when I saw the New York Times article about child-free flights it reminded me of one trip in particular.
In 1984 Mary Lou and I had the opportunity to rent an apartment on the French Riviera  (Cote d’Azur) for the summer.  We packed up the children and headed to Villeneuve-Loubet, a small seaside town just outside of Nice. Our eldest daughter Carol (Boo) had been studying in Paris and would meet us down south when her studies ended. Our eldest son Rob stayed home to hold down the fort at AutoVenture.
A few years prior we took all five children to northern Norway (where my folks are from) so traveling to France with only four children in tow sounded like a piece of cake.  As the kids got older it was more and more rare that we are all gathered in one place for more than few minutes per day.  All the activity and action left less and less family time all together as the kids got older.  France was a welcome change. At first, ahem.
The apartment sat high on a hill overlooking the spectacular, blue Mediterranean Sea.  Villeneuve was a charming old village complete with a square surrounded by old men in berets smoking Gitanes and playing boules. In the other direction was the beach, which drew hundreds of French vacationers enjoying their extended summer holidays.  We all fell right into the rhythm of the Riviera.  Mornings were spent sipping coffee, eating fresh croissants and mapping out our day. 
After breakfast the kids would head to the beach (doing their best to act nonchalant about the surrounding topless sunbathers). In the afternoons when the sun reached it’s hottest, we’d meet back at the apartment for lunch and the wonderful Mediterranean tradition of an afternoon siesta.  
As any parent will tell you (especially one with five children) it is vital that there is a quiet, sacred place in which to retreat.  My retreat was the back balcony, which overlooked a little-used parking lot for the complex and (more interestingly) a beautiful Provencal hillside covered in olive trees.  The afternoon sun would beam down on this narrow little deck and I would enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet. 
Every once in awhile I was joined for a few moments by one of the kids and on this particular day Mary Lou and I were both outside enjoying the small, quiet balcony when Amy appeared. Then Boo. Then Mike. Then Ann, who proceeded to shut the sliding glass door behind her followed by a deafening CLICK.  With barely room for everyone to stand we jostled and bumped into one another while trying to open the bolted door all to no avail.
With no possible escape route we decided to sit and wait until a neighbor passed by the deserted back parking lot.  The siesta hour (which I had heretofore, praised) now seemed like a prison sentence. One could hear the wind rustling on the hillside and a lone dog barking in the distance.   I was pretty sure I could hear the neighbors’ snoring. My little balcony where I basked in the golden afternoon light had become an oven.  As I sat in the corner (we took turns sitting as there wasn’t room for all of us to sit at once) I pulled out my trusty handkerchief and covered my burning pate.  I dreamed of the days when Mary Lou and I traveled alone through Europe (at least once a year).  I pretended we were sitting in Paris at the bar of le Bristol and the thought of a Kir Royale made me clutch my parched throat.  It was then that the giggling started.  When the door first closed there was the usual finger-pointing/shoving/pushing/pinching bout amongst the children, which petered out as the heat got to them.  The sight of their father sitting in the corner, head beet red with a hanky as his only protection from the burning sun sent them into fits of hysteria.
We perked at the sound of a car in the distance growing closer.  Soon our chic, blond neighbor appeared. “Bonjour!” we all cried desperately. I imagine we looked like the Von Trapps up on there on the balcony waving and grinning foolishly.  Boo, our resident interpreter explained what had happened.  The woman lived next door and in no time she had her husband climb over the front balcony into the apartment to  liberate us. Saved!  I felt vindicated when less than a week later when they rang the doorbell that they were locked out and we sent Mike over the balcony to reciprocate.
I like to think that it was travel that helped shape my the worldviews of my children.  They have all been world travelers.  Rob and Mike work in the travel business and have traveled far and wide with their respective broods.  Boo and her family lived in Bhutan for three months where her husband did volunteer medical work. Amy and her family have taught in the international schools of the Philippines and Tokyo, Japan.  Ann has worked with refugees in London, Tanzania, Jordan and Nepal.  And all four of those kids that were trapped on the balcony have lived and studied in France, bien sûr.
Traveling with kids is never going to be as relaxing as traveling alone. But it is certainly more interesting.   I hope parents brave the daunting task of international travel with kids and I salute those that do.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Plus ça change plus c'est la même...

For more than forty years my business has specialized in individual, customized European driving vacations and I have seen my share of change in the travel world.  When I first started out we made reservations by 'telex' and wore our very best suits on trans-Atlantic flights.  I have seen the business transform and change in ways I could hardly imagine (such as Internet blogging!).  But as the title of this entry suggests the more things change- the more they remain the same.  Whether it is the timeless perfection of the French dining experience, the view of the Mediterranean from the winding roads of the Cinque Terre or the castles of the Rhine- the wonder of Europe never ceases to amaze.  It is that ability to amaze the traveler year after year, decade after decade, century after century- that will never change.

I have always preferred the 'open road' and the freedom that driving in Europe affords. I have spent the better part of four decades exploring Europe by car and creating unique, individualized itineraries for travelers who wish to explore the beauty and uniqueness of Europe on their own terms.

These days I am focusing on my driving guides to Europe and sharing my knowledge with travelers who are looking for their own authentic European experience. Welcome to the Open Road!