Traveling to France. Tips and advice requested. Bonus questions: Morocco and Africa

So, when Cheerleading Dropout was little, she and Attacklad had an occasional french tutor, a lovely woman from the Bordeaux region who was in Canada to work on her English. We’ve kept in touch, and Cheerleading Dropout, now a teenager, is going to go to visit and work on the vineyard. Imp of the Perverse (my wife, their mom) has worked it out so that with any luck, we’re all four going to go - CD will do the vineyard thing mostly, while the rest of us noodle about in this part of France, keep tabs on her to avoid a Simpsons-style escapade, and have a leisurely vacation.

We’re coming from Canada, we’ve already sorted out a place to stay. However:

Car Rental - Any suggestions? U-car?

Bordeaux area - Lascaux seems like it’s going to be worth the trip. Anything else on the to-do list?
Bonus Question:* Morocco and Africa*

I’ve been fortunate enough to get to all of the continents except for Africa. Since I’m nearby in Europe, it seems like I should take a day or three and complete the set. This has it’s own set of questions, starting off with where should I go - so far Morocco seems like the best (safest) bet.

-Is Morocco the best choice? If not, where?
-What’s the best/fastest/cheapest way to do this from the Bordeaux area?
-Other Tips and suggestions?

Personally, I’d take one of the many cheap flights to Senegal or Ghana. I hear Morocco is a good time, but it will be very touristy and not much of an “African” experience. Senegal has great beaches and decent tourist infrastructure along the beaches- French tourists are quite common- and it’s a good place to get a taste of Africa.

Thanks,** even sven**. You’re one of the people from whom I’d hoped to hear.

If you rent a car, do NOT leave any possessions in the trunk (boot). Rental cars are prime targets and for some reason tourists will put their cameras, passports, plane tickets, etc. in the trunk, then show up at the local embassy hat-in-hand for help. If you must carry a wallet, put it in your front pocket. Better yet, carry your money, credit card and passport in one of those carriers that hangs around your neck or in a money belt.

Morocco is supposed to be a great place to visit. Cairo can also be a good experience, but both are very touristy and more Arabic than African, and the recent (and continuing) problems in Cairo probably make it a non-starter. I haven’t been to Senegal, but that’s probably a decent bet. You’ll still be mobbed by people trying to sell you things. Bamako, Mali might be another sub-Saharan place to see, but there isn’t much there for tourists unless you try to arrange a trip to the Bandiagara Escarpment.

Oh, and you’ll likely have to transit Paris to get to north Africa, but I’m guessing on that.

If you want a bit longer journey I would recommend Namibia. There are many nice beaches in Wavis Bay and Swakopmund. Another nice area are the big dunes in the Namib desert and the capital, Windhoek. If you like beer there are several local varieties as well as an import from South Africa, Castle.

Getting there from Europe usually requires a stop in Jo’burg although there may still have non-stop flights out of Frankfurt. If you have the time, return to the US via Cape Town. It is a very nice city as well.

I would offer up rooms in “Casa do DrumBum” but I don’t imagine Luanda is on your families list of travel destinations.

I love Bamako. It’s laid back and very much the real deal. But Mali is tough travel. Tourists do go there, but the infrastructure is pretty rustic. Visiting Dogon country, however, is a really good time and there is surely some more reasonable way to do it than my “show up and hitchhike on a donkey cart” technique.

I’d recommend Mali hands down to anyone up for a bit of adventure. Senegal is where I’d go for a more conventional good time.

Yeah, we had it pretty cushy. A caravan of AWD vehicles and a Peace Corps guide to get us there. A great cross-country drive in a Jeep, though, across fallow fields, driving in dry washes. One could fly into Bamako and then take Air Mali to Timbuktu. I refused to get on one of those Russian-built pieces of crap, but my wife made the trip.

I loved Morocco. I agree that it has a more Arabic/Middle Eastern style than what we think of as an African style. The beautiful scenery, the incredible food, the mobs of “tour guides” who can spot an American at 100 yards, the amazingly well-preserved medieval cities, the squat toilets that don’t flush…it was a great experience.

The best advice I can give about Morocco is: don’t try to look like such an American. :stuck_out_tongue: Not because people will harass you, but because they all want to sell you something. If you’re tall and blond, well, there’s no helping it. But if I went back again I would definitely tie up my hair and put on a djellaba, as a crude disguise. I know some people who reported good results from hiring official government tour guides, who fended off all the entrepreneurs. Also, be prepared to haggle over everything, even the cab rides.

Getting to Morocco from France isn’t going to be a short trip, as they aren’t that close. I took the ferry over from Spain (where I was living at the time) to Tangiers, and then we traveled by (rattling, unairconditioned, broke down) bus from city to city. If you travel from France, it’s probably going to be at least a day and half journey by train and bus and then ferry. I’d take a plane.

We did the day trip over to Tangiers from Tarifa, Spain. (BTW, Tarifa is a nice city to hang out in for a couple of days in the middle of a big crazy trip. It’s small and friendly and had some of the best food we had the whole time.)

I’d definitely do it again, but I’d do it a little bit differently. The old part of town is fascinating and alive and feels tourist-friendly without being truly touristy in itself. All of the guidebooks suggested lining up a guide in advance, both to show you around town and to keep the constant harassment at bay, and ours was great for these purposes. Unfortunately he also steered us to the tourist traps–the rug shop, the high-pressure knick-knack shop, and a ridiculously expensive restaurant where the food was pretty good but the atmosphere was almost cartoonishly contrived. (Of course, the guide got a kickback from all of these places.)

I would recommend it if someone just wants a taste of Morocco during a jaunt through Andalusia, and I would recommend lining up a guide since we saw a lot of things and met some people we wouldn’t have otherwise. But I’d make it clear that you want to shop where the locals shop and eat where the locals eat, and if he takes you to a single rug shop you’ll find your own way back to the ferry.

Take a leisurely drive up the Gironde. There are so many amazing vineyards and churches and chateaux.

Oradour sur Glane.

The Milau Bridge may be out of range.

Thanks, I appreciate the French suggestions in addition to the African suggestions. I was beginning to worry that I’d hijacked my own thread.

We spent three weeks in France a few years ago.

One of my biggest regrets was not renting a more centrally located Parisian hotel. We spent far too much time on the Paris metro. The metro is easy to use but getting from one line to another is not easy.

Get a museum pass if you’re going to Paris.

You can get into multiple museums without the hassle of paying for each one individually.

See the cote d’azure if you can. We stayed in Nice and loved it even though the beach consists of hard stones that are very hard to walk on. We found we didn’t need a car around there. The train allowed us to get around very easily. The bus is also useful as well for places like Eze and the region behind Nice where you’ll find the Matisse and Chagall museums as well as great views.

We probably did need a car in the Avignon area. I hired a guide but her English was poor and she was not particularly helpful. You will want to see the Pont du gard and it is nowhere near public transportation. Avignon and that whole region is fascinating and lovely. We particularly adored Arles. The town is small but filled with charming Roman attractions including a well maintained Roman amphitheater and some great museums. Avoid the region during the film festival in July. We found that out the hard way. Reservations are hard to get and expensive.

Have fun.

The Pays Basque (Bayonne, Biarritz, St Jean Pied-de-Port, St Jean de Luz) is a couple of hours from Bourdeaux. I liked it; there’s both long sandy beaches and high cliffs, very varied architecture, and its own cultural and food heritage… but of course I’m biased, being from the Spanish half of Euskal Herria :slight_smile: That area and the Spanish side were THE vacationing places back when the notion of “vacationing” as opposed to “moving to the summer manor” got invented. Napoleon III and his Spanish-born wife vacationed in Biarritz; there’s a model of a ship in a church at SJdL which they gifted to the church after their ship was caught in a nasty storm coming back from a picnic with the Spanish royals.

Just remember that if you’re driving to Bayonne or Biarritz you’ll probably have to leave your car in the ass-end of nowhere; downtown parking can add another hour easily.

Posting from Bordeaux - Update time.

Attacklad and I did do a quick trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. It was a blast. I decided at the last minute to convince Imp that Attacklad should come along, and we got a good price for a trip to Marrakesh, as well as a good deal on a last minute booking for a motel. We stayed within the city, as we were only there for a couple of days - It’s a sensory-overload experience, especially coming from Canada. I can only hope the trip has had horizon-expanding consequences for Attacklad. I can post li’l stories from the trip if anyone is interested.

Bordeaux has been lovely, but a very different experience. We’ve been staying in a gite (summer rental) owned our friend’s family. Very relaxing, with occasional trips into Angoulême (comics) and Aubeterre-sur-Dronne (canoeing), as well as the long haul to Lascaux.

We’re going to try to find an appropriately castle-y chateaux* today.

*As opposed to a stately home in the middle of a vineyard.

I loved Marrakesh, Morocco. I was invited to a family’s home and given a moroccan bath, a wonderful lunch, and good company. The house was made with straw and mud. The goats stayed right next to the bedroom. We ate under an olive tree. It was a great experience.

Damn, it’s so weird when you go to post something in a thread and realize your past self has already done it.

Attack, I’d love to hear your Morocco stories.

Here are a couple of stories from the Jamaa el Fna and souk:

Attacklad went for the snake charmers like he was late for a flight. By the time I could grab him he’d gotten me covered in snakes and given my phone to the snake charmers so they could take pictures of him, me, snakes, their feet or a passing donkey. I had to shell out in order to be de-snaked. I only wish I knew useful Arabic phrases like “We need to get these M#F%# snakes off my M#%F# neck”.

The souks are tough to describe. Imagine the narrowest streets, maybe 4-5 meters wide, with canopies two stories up spanning the gap and making a cool dark gloom. Then imagine that every possible inch of wall is taken up by small shops, each perhaps two or three meters across, with materials for sale piled up everywhere in vast stacks, bolts, reams and bundles: chess boards, walking canes, hookahs, daggers, brass kettles, teapots, rugs, pashimas, scarves, jewelery, shoes. Then imagine the streets are crammed with masses of people walking, including tourists, shopkeepers, small boys, teenage girls, fashionable women in western outfits, fashionable women in headscarves, veils, sunglasses and long sleeve dresses and gloves.

The only contrast to this is the carpet stores, which have broad open white tile floors, which are soon covered in beautiful carpets.

Throughout all of this there are bicycles, motorbikes and even small cars and trucks whipping along, tootling horns and trying not to kill anyone. It became commonplace, almost un-concerning to have a motorcycle brush past us. Near misses that would cause screaming matches in Canada were normal and not worthy of comment. We were once nearly flattened by a woman in a scarf, kerchief, sunglasses, long-sleeve dress and leopard print gloves riding a motorcycle.

As all of this chaos passes by, the shopkeepers would try to lure us into their shops - “Hello, have a look at my shop, come inside, there is so much more to see, what are you looking for, rugs?” while the guides would sidle up and say “Hello, how are you? …. Are you looking for the square? I can show you, where you want to go”. They could be amazingly persistent conversationalists, responding to each reply of “no, we’re fine” with a new variation of what we might want from them, or where were we from, or where were we going”. It wasn’t annoying, it was almost an art form.

Attacklad is from Canada. Canadians really don’t bargain much. (Here’s a comic to illustrate how he bargains) The concept of looking disinterested escapes him completely. If he sees something he likes, he yells out to me from 6 inches away in a voice meant for finding lost hikers or hog calling, something like “FEZZES!”. From all around us come voices of shopkeepers in the souk saying “Fez”, “Fez”, “Here, you look at fez, very nice”, “Your son, he is a gentleman, I’ll make you a good deal”. Then the fez salespeople converge on us from all directions and we run away. It was like a zombie movie.

We’d start to bargain for something- they say “400 dirham”, I’d look shocked and say “100 dirham”. Attacklad would say, “Jeez Dad!”. They say 300, and **Attacklad ** would a sort of shrug, like, “hey, that’s a good price, you’re not going to do much better than that.” I’d say “200”. They’d say “275”. I say, “No, thank you”, and start to walk away. Attacklad would stand there and say, “Dad, where are you going?”. When the deal is done, and I’ve paid more than I should, he looked at me and said “I drive a hard bargain”.

Sometimes I think he’s working for the other team.

I did manage to expose him to some cultural aspects of Morocco, notably some of the beautiful mosques and gardens. I’m just glad that Imp of the Perverse didn’t come. She’s not good with heat or crowds.

If you get close to Carcassonne, pass a day there. It’s a great medieval city and a lot of info is available in english there, which is not always the case.
Carcassonne is between Toulouse and Narbonne just north of the Pyrenees… you could take a drive south after that and do some hiking in the pyrenees, or east to the mediterranean beaches and wine regions…