Subject: Travel planning question
Hi Janet,

I#m sorry I haven#t answered your questions until now. Actually I#ve only just noticed that the communications that I sent to your email address have been rejected by your spam filter. I#m flattered to think that I#d been so enthusiastic in encouraging you to drive through France that the software figured I must be someone pushing a commercial product. (As an aside, I noticed an actual can of Spam on the shelf of our supermarket. I#d previously thought it was a figment of imagination from the Monty Python team i.e. until my wife introduced me to the real world. Perhaps it#s because I#m still a country boy at heart)

Enough of that. Please excuse the following garbled message. I#m embarrassed not to have checked our computer for a while and I#ve kept you waiting too long.

Where do I start? First of all I hope I don#t dwell too long on value for money issues. We work to the theory that providing we have a comfortable night#s sleep in clean surroundings, we#d sooner use the monetary savings on touring for longer. Same applies to meals. Our city has hundreds of restaurants of quality that we#ve never yet tried so we figure that lashing out on expensive dining means less days away. In fact we#ve come to enjoy searching the shelves for individual products so that we#re almost at the stage of travelling for the enjoyment of picnics in new places.

As for driving in France, I'd heard so many horror stories. We in Australia drive on the other side of the road so it's always a bit hairy for the first couple of days. That#s why we#ve picked up our cars in small centres like Calais (our cheap flights generally land in London rather than Paris) so that we#re not thrown into the turmoil of freeway decision making. Usually we try to keep off their freeway system - we're there to see the countryside and enjoy the small towns. And towns there are aplenty. All secondary roads seem to go through the centre of villages and towns but this is part of the appeal. The streets are often incredibly narrow but so many are picturesque enough to make even the miserly types camera happy. In all our driving there, we've never yet had any one toot a horn, nor flash their lights. Also, driving around the country gives you so much more flexibility than relying on other forms of transport - not to mention the time wasted in waiting rooms.

Areas we've visited. Alsace is my first pick. This region is famous for its ancient half timbered houses. What makes them even more appealing is that they're generally painted bright pastel colours. A photographic delight. What's even better is to see how these lovingly cared for buildings have been adapted to modern life. The area known as Route Du Vin D'Alsace (the wine route of Alsace) has a concentration of these houses and I swear the villages are never more than a mile or two apart. We stayed in a heavily forested area within the low mountains of the Vosges. Even though we were only 45 minutes from Strasbourg we began each day winding our way through these forested slopes (beech trees mainly)-the trees forming a green tunnel while driving beside mountain streams. This certainly wasn't Australia. And yet we had supermarkets within a ten minute drive.

Strasbourg has a park and ride facility. Park all day for free and travel by tram into this pedestrian friendly city. Enjoy riding the canals and gazing at the wonderful historic buildings - we were won over by what city life should be. What a great people watching place it is.

I haven't mentioned picnicking on the banks of the Rhine watching the river traffic negotiate the locks and I could..........No! I better move on.

Burgundy. The country side is unbelievably scenic. It also is an area of chateaux, canals, extensive wine regions and, well it is just great driving country.

Loire Valley. No where else do they do chateaux like they do in this region. The more research you do the more you appreciate the wonder of it all. Some great gardens there too. While the countryside is not as picture perfect as the former two there's so much else to appreciate. We especially enjoyed the surprises in the city of Blois.

We#ve stayed for a week in each of these areas. If you#ve found accommodation near the centre of the region day trips are easy and pleasant. I hate shifting from place to place. You#d certainly never become bored with a lack of things to see or do.

Accommodation. When I mention prices they#re approx. or as close as I can remember without checking. We use gites and the motel chains. The Accor group have two budget motel chains (not self contained). Formule 1 are usually around $US25 a night. You get a queen sized bed, vanity and tv. However you share 2 toilets and 2 showers with eight other rooms (we've never had a wait for either). They also have another chain called Etap that does have ensuite but costs another $US10 a night. (perhaps $40)

Paris. Forget all your doubts about visiting this capital city. It is a must. (there, did I shout that loud enough?) A week is long enough to realise you've got to come back. No one exaggerates the beauty of this city. It is easy to appreciate why wars in the last century avoided this living museum. Paris is a city like no others I've been to - I promise you'll never forgive yourself giving this a miss.

And forget about it being expensive. This hotel is near the city centre. It is only a five minute walk from two metro stations # Republique and Oberkampf. The hotel has an occupancy rate in the high 90's all year so early booking is a must. The building is old but recently renovated. Rooms are cleaned daily, there#s free internet service and a cheap breakfast is available. The staff are very friendly and the management more than helpful. All speak English.

Nearby is a family restaurant we#ve been to on several occasions - a salad, a main, a desert, and a carafe of wine would on average cost us $US15-20 for the two of us. This was not high cuisine but more than adequate. We loved it. Locals would tell us what to order by pointing or trying out their English. It was crowded like you can't believe. There are a couple of others like this nearby. Around the corner from the hotel is a supermarket and all the other shops one could ever need. I mentioned that we picnic regularly - shopping so close was a bonus.

We also found a chain of restaurants in main centres called Flunch. My best comparison is with the casino meals of Las Vegas - not quite as cheap but great value for money.

The underground rail is fantastic. We bought a voucher each - $US15 gave us 7 days unlimited use of the central metro. Some museums and sights can be expensive but I can give you a 'best of' if you do decide to make the trip. There are also short cuts to some entry points rather than join the long lines at some venues # particularly Versailles and Louvre.

We travel from mid May until the end of June. This corresponds with shoulder season and more importantly avoids the worst of the tourist influx.

I#m not being totally honest there. Our climate is similar to San Diego (more rain in winter though). As a consequence we do not want to cope with a European winter. In the last two years we#ve had only one day that was wet enough to keep us indoors. Cold, yes. Cold we can usually cope with by applying more layers of clothing. I read in another posting someone suggesting that the weather in these regions is unpredictable at this time of year. We would concur with that although in both years we mostly had temperatures for light sweaters rather than overcoats. In fact on a couple of occasions this year I caught Penelope perspiring even when in shirt sleaves. I guess it#s a case of balance. Do I travel in the summer and suffer the huge numbers of tourists, plus inflated prices, or so I go either side of July/August?

Okay, I've taken enough of your time. I#d be pleased to pass on any detailed info should you find a need.

Regards from a mid winter Perth.

James Perth, Australia