Tue 29 Mar 2011 - Sun 3 Apr 2011
Observations: small things
Everything but the portions are small. Bathrooms are small, hallways are small, elevators are small, showers are small, and alleys are small; so much…so small! We continue to wonder how pregnant women manage to get around but to tell you the truth we haven’t seen many out and about. Maybe France exiles these hippos to their houses and doesn’t let them come out until the day comes to drive to the hospital. If you happen to lift any weights or just tend to be a bit broader than the average Scooby Doo Shaggy looking teenager, walking down the hall to your room may come as a challenge! It seems European towns were built to cram as much people into as small a place as possible. We came to “the lift” or elevator in all our rentals and it says on the wall inside “3 persons!” Three persons, I have a hard time fitting into the elevator with one suitcase and when you add a second suitcase and a pregnant wife it is sometimes impossible! Often I take the stairs when Monica goes with the suitcases. One time we sent the suitcases down the elevator alone! Seems mean that two inanimate objects get to ride carefree down four floors and we should walk! Oh the bathroom! Most shower tubs are not tubs at all but a square basin that if you can imagine is about 2 feet by 2 feet square. Again, when I was a stick of a teenager I may have been able to squeeze in just fine but I haven’t washed my back in a five days! Usually bed and breakfasts have ample room in the bathrooms and the accommodations are much better but as far as the little rinky dink of-the-beaten-path hotels and such…..they’re small.
Observations: a squawk on the train…the claws of terror!
We just sat down on the train and got settled in when something strange happened. I looked up to see two elderly folks, a woman in front of a man, getting on the train. Then suddenly I heard this squawk that could be a half scream by someone with widdled down vocal chords, a parrot yelling for a cracker, or a puppy yelping in pain due to its paw being stepped on. I thought that the last option may be true so looked down towards the elder woman’s feet. No dog! Monica began laughing to tears quietly and I knew that the first option was the real one. What had happened, that I saw, but didn’t register was that she got stuck. First what you need to understand is that every train that runs through France and probably Europe in general has an electric latch or button that you must push to open the doors into your train car. It may be compared to the sliding doors in Star Trek but a little more modern. Please if you ever come to such an obstacle as this don’t let these doors become claws of terror. Simply hold the latch down or the button in to keep the doors open. You will not get more than a few seconds to dart through, and as this poor woman learned these doors don’t wait. Unfortunately hubby just stood there with an abandoned look on his face. When I looked up the doors likened more to King Kong’s jaws just chomping away, eating the poor woman alive, and thus…. SQUUAWWWWKK!
Notice: no one was harmed in the events described.
Observations: the metro
This last observance should be easy and quick. I think this is the same for all big cities but it has been such a while since I’ve lived in a city as large as Paris. i.e. New York, Philadelphia. We have had to lug around suitcases which is very difficult and cumbersome. I highly recommend that if you are traveling for a short time through Europe to travel as light as possible. In fact, most people carry luggage with them but they carry small wheeled carry-on sized luggage that could fit in an overhead compartment of an airplane and it helps cut down on the difficulty they endure. We have a bit of a different situation as we are often traveling for months at a time between a few different countries and we’ve had to take suitcases out of necessity. Anyway, in the metro stations and getting between trains we’ve noticed that the herd mentality reigns. If you are too polite and try to allow everyone to move on before you it will be impossible to travel effectively. Don’t get me wrong we are not rude and ridiculous, we try to move our heavy suitcase tugging selves to the side and try to stay out of the way but this can also bring trouble. I will say this as nicely as I can. Nobody in the metro is looking for a fight and no one is looking for apologies either. Most people will, if they see you hopping out of everybody’s way, just keep right on stepping all over you without a care in the world. They will certainly not apologize. Today I just walked straight into the people and usually one would get hit and jump out of the way. Funny thing was, after the first one got knocked….and yup, no apology, the rest seemed to move right out of the way. Maybe Yale could do an interesting study on herd behavior in subway systems of the world and see if we all act like dumb herds of buffalo when going from car to car.
There may be no place to eat in town, no place to sit and have coffee. There may be no hospital, nowhere to exercise; nowhere to get groceries; and nowhere to use the bathroom. It’s possible that if Mary and Joseph strolled into a French town they in fact may find no place for Jesus to rest his head. Although they would find twenty three open salons for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all to get their heads updated with the latest hairstyle on the runway! Priorities!
An Honest Look at Bed and Breakfasts in France
So far this applies to all the bed and breakfast locations that we’ve been to thus far. Although some locations have been better and some have been worse, these points seem to apply to all of them. First off, we think that the concept of bed and breakfast is far different in the rest of the world than it is in France so it may not be quite fair to criticize, but we’ll keep to the basics. Here’s the list maybe of gripes but there are some good concerns here! Here’s the top ten “Don’t Do That” list….
1. Be consistent: People are creatures of routine. If you give a great breakfast every day, than keep it consistent even on the day the guest is leaving. We stayed at one such place where fresh fruits and other good breakfast stuff was offered everyday and then the day we were leaving it’s like the people took the day off and cut back the good stuff.
If your thing is to go into our room when we aren’t there and clean, refill stuff, and rearrange all our undies into interesting folded stacks make sure you do it every day (a little weird). The day I come back and my undies aren’t folded nicely on my bed I feel something’s wrong…(well maybe something’s wrong already) but still…You broke the routine….Don’t do that!
2. Get Out of Town! No really, if you plan on starting a bed and breakfast BUSINESS than you need to be deliberate. If you find yourself saying “oops, we didn’t really want that to happen but it seems like it could work,” then you need to change gears and get with the program. If the summer house in the country turned out to be a terrible idea or the sustainable farm didn’t turn out so cheap and carefree than you need to get serious. Go check out some bed and breakfasts and experience what they are giving their clients. This seems like it should be common sense to most business people or entrepreneurs starting a new business. At the very least check out online what others are doing better than you and then try to raise the bar. We have had the opportunity to stay at many B & B’s over the years and some REEEAALLLY stand out and heres why….
3. Ambiance: Generally listening to jamming pop music isn’t what people are expecting at a B & B. Try some soft classical or jazz or anything that doesn’t have Britney Spears or Duran Duran blasting in my ear so loud that I can’t hear my wife talk to me when she’s right next to me! A nice musical environment is tasteful, but a pop star whether from the 70’s or from the present has turned the breakfast room into an unwanted concert. Where’s my lighter!
4. Good Food: Here’s something that the French people need to get in tune with quick. Okay so you don’t care about your income and you think that you have a good enough location to not hear this criticism, fine, but for the rest... In almost every place we have gone the one thing we look forward to at a BED AND BREAKFAST is the SLEEP and the BREAKFAST. Make sure the food is up to par people. If I can go down to the corner street supermarket and get the breakfast you’ve prepared for a couple of dollars or euro’s something’s very wrong. People get attached to the experience by the SENSES. If the food is bad (taste) than I probably won’t decide to come back. Okay so you have a place right next to a massive tourist destination. That will not sustain you through the off-seasons unless you really have something to come for. Food is a huge draw for most people. Instead of the cold sliced bread and yogurt go a little crazy and give your guests an option from around the world. Maybe Belgian Waffles, English eggs and toast, American pancakes and maple syrup; throw a little fresh fruit or fruit juice in there and possible options for the health-nuts out there and you’ve got a winning breakfast. Make the food the destination. Plain, crappy food, nope… don’t do that!
5. Destination: Simple…make your place a destination. Offer historic explanations of the surroundings, stories of the people who’ve stayed there, food people can’t get anywhere else, ghost stories, animal rides, tell people Michael Jackson is buried in the foundation, I don’t care just offer something that can keep interest alive and makes people remember your PLACE! What about a plain boring home that has no interesting characteristics…nope…don’ t do that!
6. The Community Table: Most places have a community table where you eat breakfast. You get up in the morning and it doesn’t matter if you are on your honey moon you arrive at breakfast and may be sitting next to Betty Bimbo or Mr. Shut The Heck Up Please You Talk Too Much. This isn’t always the case but either offer separate seating or offer a breakfast in bed option for those people who may want it!
7. Offer wifi: If I have to sit on top of the chimney at your house to get a good signal for my computer to check my email than renovations need to begin. In our digital information age people want to communicate. If you haven’t read the book “The World is Flat” you need to soon. Get with the times and make sure internet is available to your guests so I don’t have to sit in the kitchen or in outside in the cold at the east corner of the pool at specific coordinates to tell everyone on Facebook that this place sucks because I don’t have internet!
8. The Bed: Make sure you have nice beds. In Peru I can tell you the exact place we went to and slept the night of our lives. I have written about this place already in previous blogs so if you want to check out the post just scroll down. We slept on Swedish space age foam tempur-pedic mattresses. I have never slept so well in my life. I don’t care if you have a small enclosed grass lawn for yoga, a dirt track for jogging, pony rides, a guy named Pablo to give massage, or a girl named Sally to give me a pedicure. If your bed is uncomfortable I won’t be coming back and I will tell everyone to steer clear. A BED and BREAKFAST should have nice BED’S and BREAKFAST’S!!!
9. Family run business: Well it’s nice that you, your spouse, and your eighteen children run this place but there is a limit on how much I want to be involved in your day to day lives. Children are actually nice additions to an environment if they are well disciplined. You don’t have to keep them locked up in the dungeon away from us. What you do need to do is have boundaries and be capable of disciplining them even in front of strangers. That not the worst of it though! You and your spouse need to make sure that you don’t argue while your guests are sitting at the table. It is quite uncomfortable when I feel I have to begin refereeing an argument happening right before my eyes. Awkward!
10. I’m no business guru but sometimes I really can’t believe I write this stuff: If you want to make a serious business out of serving Bed and Breakfast accommodations than you need to take heed to these or you can’t truly expect to last the hard economic times. Tah..tah!