Au Revoir France: Some Parting Pieces of Advice

With one last stop at at Ladurée we are finally ready to return to the states. We are sorry to leave France — even after three weeks. I wish every American could come to visit this country and see the trimuph of man in the arts, food, and culture. When you are getting depressed about our species, these cities and sites remind you of what were are capable of being.

First, I am incredibly grateful to our guest bloggers who filled in for me during this period. Mike Appleton, David Drumm, Mark Esposito, Gene Howington, Elaine Magliaro, Lawrence Rafferty, and Mike Spindell are a brilliant team. They made it possible for me to enjoy this trip with the family while keeping the blog fully active. I will be forever in their debt.

Now for a few suggestions for future travelers.

On the van, we faced the daunting task of renting a van for a long period to drive from the South of France to Normandy to Paris. We wisely got rid of the van in Paris and relied on the Metro. Parking and driving is very difficult in Paris. We used Kemwel and will do so again. They look at all available companies and find you the best deal. They are extremely knowledgeable about driving in Europe and very responsive to any problems. They also guarantee the vehicle — protecting against the all-too-familiar problem of arriving and finding a different car that is too small. We had a couple of issues or questions during the trip and Kemwel always responded promptly and helpfully.

On this trip we went with the GPS (which you can rent from Kemwel). Some cars already come with the GPS so check before you rent. However, I will never do Europe again without a GPS. It took the stress out of driving. Last trip we drove in France it was very difficult following the maps because the street names change in odd ways, particularly in Paris. The GPS is a no miss system that saves you a lot of time. What is fascinating is that in France the police had to warn you about speed traps with large signs. Your GPS also dings when you are approaching one of the cameras. A driver’s delight.

While gas is expensive, we found driving to be a delight — giving us total freedom to peel off to check out little towns. I read many people warning to just take the trains. I have to disagree. I found the trains pretty expensive and, with four kids, logistically difficult. The van was perfect for the family.

We flew out on American and back on Air France. The difference was amazing. We have long preferred Air France and this trip confirmed our inclinations. As noted earlier, American put us on an aged aircraft with no room for anyone of average height and beat up interior. I had to put my knees on either side of the seat to avoid being kneecapped by the guy in front of me. Passengers had to walk shared a few monitors on the ceiling that we broken and difficult to see. There were two movies — both horrible. When you have to choose movies for an entire plane, you generally go with the most insipid and low risk option. The food was virtually inedible. I am still not sure what our dinner was on American beyond tasting like gruel. (True, I have never had gruel, but this much be what it tastes like).

Air France put us on a 777 with more room. Each passenger had his own screen and countless (and good) movies as well as games, television shows, and other interesting options. The food was outstanding. Unlike the one-stop service on American, Air France flight attendants came repeatedly with food and free drinks or just to grab and trash (American has fewer people working the plane and left the trays in front of you for what seemed like hours). Air France also offers free champagne, excellent wines, and other drinks.

As American Airlines cuts back on basic services, it seems intent to be the RyanAir of U.S. airlines — just a touch above a cargo plane. What is now business class on American is coach on Air France. American has long had the reputation for being one of the cheapest airlines. The former CEO even ordered that olives be removed from salads as an unnecessary expense. It is the same mentality that led to the decline of the auto industry as it cheapened their product and yielded market shares to better European and Japanese products. Air France is a much better choice and worth the slightly higher costs.

We made the mistake of not obtaining one of the credit cards with no fees on conversion in Europe. It cost us. I would recommend taking the time and opening one of these accounts before your trip.

Finally, do not buy eighteenth-century plaster panels (or any art or items) unless the store can ship them. We never did find a shipper for our panels which are sitting with friends in Paris who are going to try to find a solution. We falsely assumed that (as in Italy) we would have no trouble in sending stuff back to the states. This is France and employees are not exactly inclined to solve such novel problems. Federal Express was the worst of the lot — sending us to drive to Bordeaux after promising that they could pack and ship the panels. When we arrived at the specific address, it turned out to be an affiliate “France Express” with no one who spoke English. When we finally got someone on the line, Federal Express said that they could not pack such items and simply said that their earlier instructions were wrong. Federal Express has learned the French shrug, simply walking away from such problems despite sending us for a meaningless three hour drive.

I would strongly suggest going to France in the Spring or Fall. While many said that the summer is a good time because residents in Paris are enjoying their guaranteed one-month vacation, it was still super crowded and many stores were closed. To this day, I do not understand how the French economy continues to operate. Stores that depend on tourists still close during August at the peak of the tourist season. Our trip in the fall saw shorter lines and more choices in Paris.

Finally, please find a way of going to France and get out into the countryside. France remains an enchanting and fascinating place. We cannot wait to return.

Jonathan Turley

25 thoughts on “Au Revoir France: Some Parting Pieces of Advice

  1. anon:

    ““Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living,” ”

    Now that is a woman worth remembering and saying a silent thank you to her memory.

    To bad more Americans dont think the same way. If they did we wouldnt be in this shape now.

  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14441032

    Australia WWII heroine and member of the French Resistance Nancy ‘White Mouse’ Wake dies

    One of the most highly decorated Allied secret agents of World War II, Nancy Wake, has died in London aged 98.

    Born in New Zealand but raised in Australia, she is credited with helping hundreds of Allied personnel escape from occupied France.

    The German Gestapo named her the “White Mouse” because she was so elusive.

    Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Mrs Wake was “a truly remarkable individual whose selfless valour and tenacity will never be forgotten”.

    “Nancy Wake was a woman of exceptional courage and resourcefulness whose daring exploits saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel and helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end,” Ms Gillard said in a statement.

    Saboteur and spy
    Working as a journalist in Europe, she interviewed Adolf Hitler in Vienna in 1933 and then vowed to fight against his persecution of Jews.

    After the fall of France in 1940, Mrs Wake became a French Resistance courier and later a saboteur and spy – setting up escape routes and sabotaging German installations, saving hundreds of Allied lives.

    She worked for British Special Operations and was parachuted into France in April 1944 before D-Day to deliver weapons to French Resistance fighters.

    At one point, she was top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list.

    “Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living,” Wake once said of her wartime exploits.

    It was only after the liberation of France that she learned her husband, French businessman Henri Fiocca, had been tortured and killed by the Gestapo for refusing to give her up.

    “I have only one thing to say: I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn’t kill more,” she once said.

    She was Australia’s most decorated servicewoman, and one of the most decorated Allied servicewomen of World War II.

    France awarded her its highest honour, the Legion D’Honneur; she also received Britain’s George Medal, and the US Medal of Freedom. In 2004, she was made Companion of the Order of Australia.

    She returned to Australia in 1949, where she failed several times to win a seat in parliament.

    In 1957 she went back to England, where she married RAF fighter pilot John Forward.

    Wake died in London. She had been a resident at a nursing home for retired forces personnel since 2003.

    She is expected to be cremated and her ashes spread in Montlucon in central France, the scene of much of her heroism.

    Her story inspired Sebastian Faulks’ 1999 novel Charlotte Gray and a 2001 film by the same title, with the lead role played by Australian actress Cate Blanchett.

  3. I have flown on the 767-300. I can relate to not getting kneecapped. As a pilot, I hate to fly commercial. You cannot see much outside and cannot see the instruments. There is only one best seat in the house.

  4. I looked up the 767. Indeed, American does use these planes. Here are the dates of production: “The original 767-200 entered airline service in 1982, followed by the 767-300 in 1986 and the 767-400ER in 2000.” If it was a 767, it would appear the 300.

  5. Thanks for all the travel tips. Tex and I are in the early stages of planning a 6-8 week trip to Italy for next year … going to and from by ship.

  6. No doubt. The 767 is an old plane, and my experience is also that international carriers tend to handle economy class much more comfortably than the U.S. ones do. For comparison’s sake, I flew to London on a British Airways 767 that had in-seat audio/video on demand in Economy. American doesn’t do that on the same plane.

  7. I so enjoyed reading of your trip, now I have many NEW places for my list of places in France that I’d to see. I’ll bet those eighteenth-century plaster panels are gorgeous. Now that you are home it may be easier to find someone who specializes in shipping art and antiquities….a local museum or auction house may have some good connections. Good Luck!

  8. Alan:

    I removed the reference to the airplane, but I will check on it. It certainly was not an newer aircraft. It had the old clunky looking ceiling monitors, seats were worn and stained, and three out of six of our earphone plugs did not work. I was pretty surprised. It looked like the type of worn out plane you see on domestic flights of less than two hours. It was clearly not the best or latest of the fleet, as one expects on these international flights.

  9. Alan 1, August 8, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Professor Turley,

    Great hearing about your vacation, and looking forward to more insightful legal analysis when you return. Need to point out a quick correction, though. Your American Airlines flight wouldn’t have been on an aging 737.

    The professor didn’t mention an aging 737 Alan.

    What I think the professor was saying was that the poor condition of the American Airlines aircraft, the poor service, and poor food, did not compare favorably with Air France’s newer, clean 777 with a great crew, service, and food.

  10. Thanks for the vicarious vacation. The only thing missing was being there with you; however, my French would probably have gotten me arrested.

    Welcome home from the vacation of a lifetime!

  11. Professor Turley,

    Great hearing about your vacation, and looking forward to more insightful legal analysis when you return. Need to point out a quick correction, though. Your American Airlines flight wouldn’t have been on an aging 737. American’s are relatively new, compared to the rest of the fleet, and aren’t used for transatlantic flights. You were probably on a 767.

    Welcome home!

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