Tales of exotic adventures, humorous anecdotes,
and musings from The Traveler... The adventure awaits...
June/2004 * 06/25/04
Back to The Traveler
Okay, I'll admit I'm not as young, enthusiastic and athletic as I once was. There was a time my husband and I would buy the cheapest fare to Frankfurt, the best bargain from our airport. After an evening flight, our knees in our noses, trying to sleep, we'd hit the ground running for four weeks, through six countries, twenty cities, bouncing from place to place in second class on the trains. Sometimes we spent three nights in one place but more often it would be one night or two.
We were young and foolish. Our mainstay was breakfast included with the room, where we'd totally fill up. Most other meals were a quick sandwich from a boulangerie; fish and chips really wrapped in newspaper; a sausage or roasted chicken from a schnell imbiss close to the train station. Too many liters in a beer hall or too many glasses of cheap local wine at the bistro around the corner, and the next day we would, thankfully, sleep in a little later and move a little slower.
If we found a room close to the train station we didn't have to drag luggage too far or get a taxi, but it meant long walks to and from the historic town centers. Between toting heavy bags and lots of walking during the day we stayed in great shape for those long evenings in the bierstubes.
Our style of travel changed little over the years, although adding our infant daughter increased our challenges and decreased time spent in bistros sipping wine. We started bringing teenage nieces along to keep our young daughter busy. As she matured, friends or relatives joined us for "comic relief" and we became tour guides, going back to the same cities, museums and cathedrals while trying to show our guests a good time.
I am here to tell you, "NO MORE!" We have finally discovered the joys of renting a house in Europe. I don't know why we didn't think of it sooner.
Three trips ago I was searching for lodging on the internet for our first trip to Provence and accidentally discovered web sites listing houses for rent by the week or month. I was astonished at the range of options from under $100 a night to luxury hotel prices: large homes with swimming pools in the country, studio apartments or one- or two- bedroom homes in villages and cities, with various amenities, some even including daily housekeeping and a chef.
Viola! A seed was planted in my mind that there might be a better way to travel. The following year I talked my skeptical family into renting a house in a small hilltop village in Provence within easy driving range of places we wanted to visit.
In times past, we stopped only in large cities to see famous sites; now we would stay in one place, making day trips to sights in the area. We even discussed the possibility of staying a night or two in a grand hotel in Nice or Cannes, only two hours' drive from our little village.
I arranged on the internet with the owners to rent their house for three weeks in May and wired the deposit from our bank to theirs, with the balance due two months before our arrival. The rent included final cleaning and all utilities (except any long distance charges), and we could contract directly with the housekeeper on our arrival if we wanted additional cleanings.
We flew into Marseille, picked up our rental car and drove less than an hour to our village. The owner gave us a quick tour with a list of things we needed to know, handed us the keys and left us on our own to settle in.
We have graduated to increasingly nicer and more expensive hotels and restaurants over the years, succumbing to the lure of room service, thick towels and soft sheets. Our Provencal house was quite different from anything we had stayed in before. We had three bedrooms with comfortable queen beds and soft linens; a fully equipped kitchen including a dishwasher; dining room and living room with a fireplace, television and movie player with movies in English. There was a small office with a desk, telephone and internet connection. French doors opened onto a deck with table, chairs and barbecue. A washing machine in the basement, a private backyard and clothes lines made laundry a non-issue. The house was not opulent, maybe even rustic, but quite comfortable. We unpacked our suitcases, hung up our clothes and soon felt at home.
We fell into a comfortable routine: My husband and I slept until about 8:00 and then ambled up the hill to the village bar for café au lait and pain au chocolat. When we returned our daughter was dressed and ready, and we drove off to find lunch. In less than thirty minutes' drive we had our choice of several small and large villages with diverse cafés, as well as the many auberges on the roads connecting. We strolled after lunch to the local sights - an 11th century chapel, an old castle, Roman ruins, local crafts or an outdoor market where we filled our woven market basket with local products for the house.
Some days we left earlier to see major sights, such as the Roman arenas, temples and ruins in Arles, Orange, Vaison-la-Romaine or Nimes; the triple tiered 2,000-year old Roman aquaduct, the Pont du Gard, just west of Avignon; or the Palais des Papes, the "Vatican of the north" for the popes from 1309 to 1376. Other day trips included shopping in Aix-en-Provence or bouillabaisse and museums in Marseille. We drove from village to village, stopping for a picnic by the side of the road or to take pictures across a vineyard or field of lavender of another hilltop village. The idea of spending a night in a grand hotel in Nice or Cannes never occurred to us again.
We meandered down country roads to our "home" in late afternoon and sat outside sipping pastis and reading or talking until dinnertime. We invited the owners, staying in the downstairs apartment, for an aperitif, or visited another couple we met in the village. We leisurely sauntered up the hill to eat dinner at a local bistro or drove to a nearby village restaurant or country auberge. Or we feasted at home on locally made cheeses and sausages, fresh farm grown fruits and vegetables, inexpensive Cotes du Rhone wines from vineyards just down the hill, and fresh baguettes, all picked up at open air markets during the day.
Within the first week we began to recognize and were recognized by the locals. The owner at our little bar saw us coming in the mornings and would have our cafés ready on our arrival. Restaurant owners smiled and waved at my daughter when she walked into town for a cup of tea and to read at an outdoor table. The boulangerie-epicerie owner always waved when we passed. We had friends in the village to go to dinner with or to take hikes in the country; my daughter took their dog on daily walks around the village.
We quickly felt comfortable enough with our new friends to discuss and compare local customs, politics, education and lifestyle. Language differences were never a problem. They gestured and tried to come up with English words, we did the same with our French, and pantomiming became part of the evening's entertainment. It was gratifying to learn that we all have more similarities than differences.
By the end of three weeks we "belonged" and leaving became difficult. My daughter begged to stay longer but, alas, the house was booked and we had plans to spend two weeks driving around Germany. We went back to our previous nomadic lifestyle, changing boring hotel rooms every other night, driving like maniacs on the autobahns to get from city to city, too tired to want to see anything once we arrived, and never really getting to know the cities or meeting anyone. "NO MORE!"
One of the unexpected results of our new travel experience after returning home was seeing our own lifestyle differently. Our new goal is a simpler life with less materialism and more meaning - friends, family, faith, health, appreciation, compassion, less stress, more fun. As French poet Pierre de Ronsard said, "Cueillez des aujourd'hui les roses de la vie." Pick from today the roses of life.
you want to truly experience another country and not
just tear through Europe in the "If This is Tuesday
It Must Be Belgium" tourist mindset, become a temporary
local. I know we will never go back to our old way of
La Juana West is a freelance travel writer. This is her first contribution to The Traveler.
Back to TheTraveler.
Published by TDS Information Service
©copyright 2001-2006. All Rights Reserved