Vacation

     Accustomed to buying a plane ticket and figuring out what to do when I got to, say, Bahia in Brazil, it was quite a U-turn to plan in detail a three-week trip to France.
     I was trying to set up a trip in three legs, Paris for roughly one week, Brittany for a few days and then Provence in the South for a final week. So I tackled each leg in order.
     Paris was tough. A host of websites cater to the American dream of spending some time in an apartment in Paris.
     I tried a few French-run sites that acted as agents for individual owners. The French are tight on the information they provide and refuse to list the actual address of a rental.
     On a number of them, you were also required to separately obtain insurance to indemnify the owner.
     But the websites did provide the street and neighborhood of a prospective apartment. And they posted pictures of the apartment and the view onto the street.
     Enter Google.
     With the streetview, it was easy to virtually walk down the street and figure out the address for the apartments, by comparing the view from streetview and the view from the photos posted on the apartment rental site.
     It was bit like the game Where’s Waldo. You looked at a street sign, tree, church steeple – the various details in a posted photo – and tried to spot them as you walked down the street through streetview.
     It turned out to be pretty easy. With the address thus found, I could telescope down onto the exact apartment from Google’s satellite view.
     I found an apartment that looked great and was, according to the rental agency’s online calendar, free at the end of May, I emailed to say I was interested.
     The next day, I received a reply saying in short, “Too bad, it just got taken. But here are some other nice apartments you might want to look at.”
     It happened with three different apartments with two different agencies. Once was understandable, but three times felt like a bait and switch.
     With the departure date bearing down, we turned to one of the few links we had not yet checked, despite a pretty obviously on-point name, VacationinParis.com.
     It turned out be an American agency based in New Jersey.
     With a phone call, the agency suggested an apartment on the Left Bank, address included, that is two blocks from the Seine, with Invalides nearby and a view of the Eiffel Tower. It cost roughly $2,000 which was well in the range of the places I was looking at.
     With the American agency, the process was easy, painless, straight-ahead, and a relief. Included was a bottle of wine upon arrival.
     After the details were ironed out, including a ride from the airport, the agent’s final command was, “Now go and enjoy Paris!”
     On to Brittany. I would be staying with family friends from childhood but taking side trips. I had a vague memory from youth of seeing the giant stone dolmens and menhirs, but never realized they were in Brittany.
     My host and her family live in Rennes, the old capital of Brittany. When I said I wanted to see the dolmens, she said, “They are all over the place. We can just drive around here.”
     Renting a car ahead of time, I was asked if I wanted to pay a hundred bucks extra for a car with GPS. I have never needed a navigator, knowing the byways of Los Angeles pretty well after decades of reporting.
     But I thought that it might just be worth not winding up lost in Bretagne on some dark night.
     The third leg, Provence, went pretty quickly with decisions forced by the countdown to departure. The big choice was between beautiful settings in the Louberon area or the more ordinary but central St. Remy de Provence.
     I opted for the central location, an easy drive to cities set around it, Arles, Nimes, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles. St. Remy was founded by Celts who around 260 AD fled the nearby village of Glanum, a site I wanted to see again.
     Glanum dated back to the sixth century BC, a trading crossroads set at the base of hills opening onto a huge and fertile valley. In the stones are remnants of a Greek temple and a monument dedicated to Roman general Mark Antony, testaments to the village’s ability to deal with its changing conquerors.
     But not with the German Alemanni.
     When they came, they killed, pillaged, raised the village to rubble and left.
     The Allemani in turn were conquered by the first French king Clovis who had arrived at his position by eliminating lesser Frankish kings such as Sigobert the Lame and his son Chloridic the Parricide.
     With a rough itinerary in mind and preparations for France at last settled, it was time to relax and get away.
     

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