Climbing in Gorge du Verdon

This is not a “weekender” article nor a regular “Outside the 9-to-5” write-up. This one is for the day you decide to get out of the country. I’m here to share with you my own personal experiences of planning and lack thereof, and explain how it worked out for me.

I’m not sitting in Temple or Insight Coffee in Sacramento this time. Rather, I’m sipping on a glass of local wine lounging in a small cafe in Siurana, Spain, after a long day of climbing. This, my friends, is the life.

On June 30 I hopped on a plane to start my two months of travel. No, I didn’t quit my job. Yes, I got (some) paid vacation, also yes: I have a pretty badass boss. She understands the importance of personal growth, a necessity of any well rounded human, in my humble opinion.

Walking on foot through Norwegian fjords

Walking on foot through Norwegian fjords

Sometimes I enjoy planning, but most of the time I just like to “go with the flow.” For this trip, it was a mixture of “I’m too fucking busy to plan anything” excuses along with my usual thoughts of “I’ll just go with the flow and everything will work out one way or another.” The latter of the two is always true, but “one way or another” usually involves some sort of otherwise-unnecessary hardship. Regardless I’m having a fabulous time, and here is what I have learned about traveling abroad in Europe:

Our rental car/home in France

Our rental car/home in France


Eurail: We (my current travel partner and I) still haven’t quite figured out if it has been beneficial or not. Initially a large chunk of money, it gets you on many of the trains, but you still have to pay a “reservation” fee for high-speed trains and if you don’t fill out your pass correctly, you get a 50 euro penalty fee. Yes, this happened to us; yes, I probably should have listened to my professors in college when they talked about following directions precisely.

Renting a Car:
Have you heard you can rent a car in Europe for 5 euro a day!? Yes, it’s true—if you plan ahead and book the car months in advance. We decided to wait until the day we arrived to the car rental shop to book a rental car and spent 8 hours to find a moderate deal. We ended up paying 30 euros a day. This didn’t bother us too much as it was also our home and sleep space. Nonetheless, plan ahead on this one.

Local Bus Transit:
No need to plan ahead for this. We learned it on the go and are officially pros at local transit. Any language you throw at us, we got this.


The Basics:
Before heading to Norway, my friend asked me, “You at least know how to say hello and one-10, right?” I didn’t. I should have. Learn the very basics of the language.

Spanglish: I know a fair amount of French, a smaller amount of Spanish, a touch of German and a hair of Dutch. Upon arriving to Catalunya, Spain, where they speak Catalan, I gave up on any one specific language and combined them all together. I think a lot of other people do this as well. Have no fear if you’re not fluent in one language, just do your best, that’s all we can do.


A special 'les digestif' served in France

Siestas: If you’re going anywhere in the world where they might possibly take part in siesta, plan your day around this. Seriously, you will go hungry. Plan on nothing being open from 1–6 p.m., just to be safe. Oh yeah, Spain has month-long holidays as well, where stores re-open a month from now. Yeah, that’s a thing.

Carbs: If you’re going to France specifically, you sure as hell better not be gluten-free. Just stay home. I haven’t eaten this much bread, ever. Don’t even try to tell yourself you’re going to avoid it. It’s not gonna happen. Same with Spain. Amsterdam also. Norway too. Also Mexico. Just eat the damn bread.

Alcohol and Cigarettes

Everyone Smokes: Here in Europe, it’s the culture. Smoke is always in your face. Not everyone drinks but the alcohol is readily available. Wine can be found everywhere along with a few specific liquors such as “les digestifs”—a must if you have over-indulged. If you’re a good Californian and take part in our top-notch beer culture, don’t bring that IPA expectation with you. You won’t find it here. Go back to the Golden Coast.

All in all, my lack of planning has led me to some beautiful and unexpected places but there have been some moments in which I wished I had planned better. As I continue on with my lack-of-planning adventure, I look forward to the future. Ciao for now, but I’ll be back in Sac Town soon enough with a full report. Adventure on!

Ceuse, France climbing crag

Ceuse, France climbing crag

**This piece first appeared in print on pages 12 – 13 of issue #246 (Aug. 14 – 28, 2017)**

    Ellen Baker

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    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.