Thank you for taking a look at the travel journal from our France and Italy trip in spring 2017. We will be sharing installments over the next few months. We plan for most of the posts to include notes from one to three days worth of travel.

Most of what follows was written same day or within just a couple of days of it happening, and you may find verb tense bouncing between present- and past-tense. Forgive me that; we are editing the writing as we post, but it may not be 100% perfect. We also hope to inject a little humor, a little knowledge transfer, and what we believe may be some helpful travel tips in the mix.

17 Mar 2017

We are going back to Europe! We can’t afford this trip, and we can’t afford NOT to do this trip, so here we go. Maleada drove us to AVL, and she dropped us off at 1030 EDT so that she could get back to the Addison Farms Vineyard tasting room in time for noon opening. Our flight to CLT left at 1245p.

Dianne with a cup of coffee and Facebook in the American lounge at CLT

We spent a couple of hours in the American Admiral Lounge in CLT. It was a bit of a strange realization for me. It was the first time I had been in there, despite all of the hundreds of times I had connected through CLT. From CLT, we then flew to JFK at 410p. We had a six hour layover at JFK, and it probably was for the best. A travel tip and something we learned: It is not possible to go between terminals and stay in the secure area at JFK, so it took us a bit to figure that out. We are impressed with the helpfulness of our NYC neighbors; we have found most folks around there are more than happy to offer guidance when asked. The TSA agent making the same journey from Terminal 8 to Terminal 7 was no exception. We finally made it over to the international terminal, picked up new boarding passes from BA, back through security, and then we headed up to the British Airways lounge.

They may be showing a bit of age, but the 747 is still an impressive piece of hardware

Our flight left a little after midnight, and on that flight, they do not serve a dinner meal. Instead, they offer dinner in the lounge. We nibbled on some stuff, but neither of us ate very much. Our flight from JFK to Heathrow was on a 747-400, and we had seats on the upper deck. Neither of us had ever flown on a 747, so it was a treat, and being on the upper deck makes you feel like you are on a much smaller aircraft. I don’t know if it was real or just my imagination, but that take-off, landing and flight felt smoother than smaller aircraft.

18 March 2017

We arrived in Heathrow just a couple of minutes ahead of schedule, went through security [not immigration] again [our third pass through security…] and sat down at an empty gate, waiting for our final leg to get a gate assignment. That popped up about an hour before the flight left, we made our way to the gate, waited just a couple of minutes, then boarded for Toulouse. Two hours later, we deplaned, and breezed through French immigration. We actually had a harder time leaving France last year than we did entering France this year.

From the immigration desk, we walked to baggage claim, and got there one minute before the marquee said bags were to arrive. Forty-five minutes later, they actually did show up. Despite the longer-than-expected wait, all three of our pieces of luggage made it. We took an extra bag with us because we took six bottles of Addison Farms Vineyard wines to share with our Airbnb hosts, and we knew it would make a great way to bring back a few bottles as well!

Off we went to the Hertz counter to stand there for a really long time because the guy who just beat us to the line was paying cash. Cash. For a rental car. And it was an ordeal. The Hertz folks finally got him settled, then we stepped up.

The lady was very friendly, English-fluent, and we got a Toyota Yaris, the only automatic they had. Dianne is perfectly capable of driving a manual transmission, but she was nervous since it has been a while since she drove one on a daily basis. That was easy enough to solve, so we reserved the automatic. We walked to the garage, started to pack the car, and realized it really was much too small for us.

After several minutes of ‘should we ask for another car, shouldn’t we’ back and forth, we did ask for something else. The lady working the garage counter was also all of the things I mentioned about the first woman plus she was extremely patient. This time, she gave us a Renault Captur that Dianne evaluated before the contract was written. It was a great fit for us and our luggage.

It was nice to be finally settled in a rental car, nearly two hours after landing in Toulouse. We never figured out how to turn off the bloody radio, but we did get the volume turned down to mute. The rental car lady looked at it, but she did not know how the radio controls functioned either. The Captur had a built-in navigation system, which was a real benefit because our Garmin just refused to work properly. I was able to get the navigation system to both speak to us in English, and display in English.

Dianne hit the road, and only killed the motor once as she entered a roundabout. Fortunately, the guy behind her was paying attention, and traffic at that moment was fairly light. A little extra throttle and a little clutch-riding meant that we were on the way. It was a two hour drive up to Saint-Genies, just north of Sarlat. About 20 minutes away from our destination, Dianne pulled over to let me finish the drive. She was just so sleepy, she was struggling to stay awake. We got to Saint-Genies, but we did not have a street address for Bel Estiu, our Airbnb. I had found it on Google Maps before we left home, but could not remember exactly where it was, likely because we had been traveling for something like 30 hours. We stopped in the middle of Saint-Genies, called Emilie, our hostess, and she met us there and led us the rest of the way to her place.

The courtyard at Bel Estiu, as seen from our room.

What a beautiful place it is too. Airbnb has been a huge success for us in our European travel, and we anticipate continuing that grand tradition. Bel Estiu is the name of Emilie’s place, and it is tres belle. Bel Estiu means ‘good summer’ in the local dialect. Emilie showed us in, showed us around, then offered us something to eat. And it was welcome. We had not had lunch or dinner, and we were starting to get hungry. We opened a can of sausage and duck cassoulet, prepared it in the oven, adding a loaf of French bread for the final 10 minutes. It was a fantastic can of French beanie-weenie’s. We used that analogy, but it really was a tasty meal, a much better first dinner than our peanut butter crackers in 2016 [not that I am knocking the crackers!]

We both took a quick shower to wash off the travel funk, set the alarm for 0700, and off to bed for some sleep.