After eight months, we are home! We started the blog as a record of our trip and so our close family and friends could see what we were up to. We didn’t tell anyone except a handful of people about the blog because we weren’t sure if we would keep up with it, if it would be of interest to anyone, or how/why we would broadcast it.
As we got into the routine of travelling, keeping the blog became a pleasure. Based on feedback, we also realized that it could be of service to a wider public. Our blog can offer a fun distraction during the day, a chance to travel vicariously and a place to find logistical information that is difficult for the independent traveller to come by.
Although we have a large family and a small budget, I think the information in this blog is of interest to independent travellers regardless of family status or budget. To make the blog as useful as possible, we would like to make it more available to the public. Here is what we plan for the blog moving forward:
- We still have things to say about the recent trip – for example regarding our Peugeot van “buy-back” lease.
- We want to add a section for various ethnic recipes and cooking techniques (Fahbio is a chef).
- We would like to add an online store.
- We want to write more conservation-related articles (SWMBO is a Heritage Conservation Specialist).
- We want to write travel articles about North America for visitors.
- We would like to create a more dynamic and interesting lay-out.
Firstborn has set up a Facebook page for the blog. If you have read and enjoyed the blog and you are on Facebook, please stop by and “like” it. We would also be happy if you would “share” it. We have moved the blog to travellargefamily.com but if you go to the old blog, you are automatically redirected so no need to do anything if you want to continue reading. Oh, speaking of continuing reading, here is today’s post.
Returning from Dublin to Paris, we picked up a 2-day rental car. Although I had tried to book a car one month in advance, almost all mid to large size vehicles were gone. In the end, I found a mid-size vehicle with Europcar and 10 days before my pick-up, I went to the site office in person and told them to save me a van if one became available. The agent assured me that he would have a Renault Espace Van for us. Let me say definitively that there was NO Renault Espace Van when we got in late at night, tired and hungry.
We squeezed ourselved into a car where Lastborn had to sit in the trunk with luggage piled all around her. We drove 1/2 hour to a lousy Gite de France (apartment/b&b) where we were supposed to bring our own towels and sheets and to clean after ourselves. And by clean, I mean scrub the bathroom, wash the floor etc. For anyone thinking about visiting the area due north of Paris heading to Belgium, let me suggest you reconsider that plan. My reasons are: poor public transportation, poor highways, poor accommodation, and lack of facilities like car rental offices and grocery stores. This advice is based on three visits.
The next day we headed to join our couch-surfing bikes (to read the story on that click here ) in Rosny Sous Bois near Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. But first we went to a grocery store and bought a new suitcase. We spent the afternoon trying to make 250 kg of stuff look and feel like 138 kg while the kids played in the backyard. It was our last night so we invited our host to join us for a restaurant meal we could walk to. We settled on Indian and it was delicious. To get there, we had to walk right by the Dresden building.
Our host told us that on August 31, a gas leak caused an explosion in the apartment building killing 8 people. It happened in the morning. One man had just run out to the market to get some breakfast when his family was killed. Many people were injured.
Because Europcar had not come through for us, we would have had to make multiple trips to CDG airport during rush hour. Our CS host offered to drive the passengers in his car so that the rental could be entirely devoted to luggage. He then woke up at 5:30 am to drive us 25 minutes to the airport. Our last CS of the trip and the perfect way to end the journey.
At the airport, we discovered that each of our bags was overweight. Zut alors! We had to take 10 kilos/16 pounds (!!) out of each of 2 of the suitcases. And a few kilos out of each of the other 2 bags. Let me re-iterate that we started our journey with a backpack for each person and two suitcases: one filled with sleeping bags/outerwear and the other with tents and kitchen equipment. All the rest was picked up along the way.
Lest you think that we are decadent shopaholics, let me say that the things we were bringing back are: a trouser press bought at a junk store in Holland, two new board games we discovered, homemade jams from my relatives, elderberry syrup we foraged to make, green gold (aka pumpkin seed oil), slate we found on the beach in Wales, bows and arrows the kids made themselves. And all the groceries we never got a chance to eat: cans of tuna, a jar of jalapeno peppers, curry paste from Singapore, capers in brine, tins of paprika from Hungary and so on and so forth.
Our strategy was to assign each person their carry-on allowance: a large knapsack and a “personal” bag. Then we took as much heavy stuff out of the suitcases as possible and traded it for the clothes in the knapsacks. The maximum weight for a carry-on is 7 kilos but they never weigh carry-ons unless they look crazy-heavy. We also took the “personal” bag to a whole new level, each kid getting a shopping bag crammed with stuff. Paris was less than thrilled by this but I told her that lots of people buy duty-free stuff and have such shopping bags. Her response was, “They buy the duty free stuff AFTER they go through security. No one goes through security with this much stuff.” Too true.
At some point, we came to the realization that even with all the reorg, there would be no room for the canned goods. I placed them all in a plastic bag and taped it shut with masking tape. Then I asked the ground staff if there was a food bank at the airport. She looked at me like I was insane and told me to put the stuff in my suitcase. I told her we were already at 23.5 kg for each bag (they will let you be slightly over as long as you don’t make it to the next kilo – the dreaded, 24 kilos).
After some explanation, she told me to repack the groceries and that she would check the bag through without charging us extra. So kind. Airports should have a food bank drop off outside the secure area. So many people realize they have food items like maple syrup that they have forgotten to pack in their checked luggage. They mostly end up in the garbage.
We managed to get our luggage checked and headed for security. Once you get there, there are no more trolleys. Zut encore!! We dazzled the airport security with the size of our group and the fact that we had young’uns with us. We got away with packing our carry-ons and personal bags super heavy without anyone cottoning on. Anyone except the young’uns who were supposed to carry more than their own body weight. Zut! Zut! Zut!!! And even Merde!! Pardon my French.
The kids did awesome and so did the parents if I do say so myself. The flights were comfortable and uneventful and both Team Saigon and Team Hanoi came home to dear family and friends who loaded all our gear into numerous vehicles. Good thing too because our little arms were shaking so bad from overexertion that we couldn’t have managed it on our own. In fact, we couldn’t have managed any of this epic trip on our own. Most sincere thanks.