Category Archives: Travel
School vacations in France. A time to unplug and get out of town for a few days before jumping back into school and work with both feet! We had only been in France for about 5 weeks so we weren’t ready for an epic trip and we were missing some American staples (Mexican food, bagels, …) so why not take a trip to Paris and explore the American food scene there?
The day before our trip, the fine folks at the SNCF (French Rail) decided to strike so our planned train trip became a car trip. A bit of a bummer BUT, we could use that as a reason to visit the American amusement park just outside of Paris known for its special brand and ability to bring people in from all around every weekend. That’s right, we were heading to Costco!
We were at the Greenville, SC Costco at least every 2 weeks to buy milk, Nesquik, giant bags of chips, and gas. Since the trip to Costco France was long and we were still waiting on our container (and our Yeti), there were some things we couldn’t easily buy (looking at you refrigerated items…). However, we were excited to check out the store and see if it was worth a return trip once we were in our permanent apartment.
As soon as we pulled around the traffic circle and saw the enormous building, it was clear that we were ‘home’. Work was underway to put in a gas station but no timeline was available.
After parking (in the massive, American sized, parking lot) we got a cart. Not just any old European cart that takes a Euro to get it and you can’t steer worth crap. No, a real cart with back wheels that only move in a straight line! Yes!
One important difference to note before we got inside. Our dear Costco on Woodruff Road took about 10 minutes and cost us less than 50 cents in gas to visit (not including the membership fee – a gift from Michelin). The Costco in France…
- ~75 Euros in gas
- 75.60 EUR in tolls
- 3h 45 min in the car
- …and that was before we bought a thing!
Thanks to our friends at the SNCF, those were sunk costs for us but still, something to consider before making a visit.
A few of the ‘Costco standards’ that we saw throughout the store:
- Person at the front door in a red vest with a clicker to track the number of guests
- Bunch o’ deals and TVs just after the front door
- Massive quantities of chocolate chips, toilet paper, and real American peanut butter
- Cash registers galore
There were certainly some things that we were hoping to find that we couldn’t – Log Cabin syrup (but they did have 100% maple syrup), Kind and/or Lara bars and skim milk are a few examples. That being said, we were pretty excited with lots of the things we DID find!
- Boxed Mac and Cheese (not Kraft but still…)
- Bacon (we’re coming back for you)
- Mozzarella sticks (coming back for you too…)
- Brownie Mixes
- Tortilla Chips
- Pancake Mix
After the shopping was over, it was time for a visit to the food court for some real, honest to goodness Costco pizza! They had Pepsi (just like in the US) but they continued the French tradition of ensuring you don’t drink too much sugar by limiting you to one serving of Pepsi. Come on French government, if you’re going to allow people to smoke everywhere like chimneys, let the rest of us drink as much Coke as we want!
As we were walking out, there was a standard display of Michelin tires greeting you followed by the classic Costco receipt checker (unfortunately, our kids are too old to solicit the smiley faces any more). After loading up the car, it was time to head home but fear not outpost of amazing, American sized stuff in the middle of France, we’ll be back!
The setting sun made the sky look like a painting and several groups of people watched from the summit of the mountain. As soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, most of the groups began packing up their blankets and cameras, ready for the short hike back to the parking lot. A hearty few stayed at the top and prepared to spend the night in one of the darkest places in the Carolinas.
As I started cooking my dinner, a colony of bats flew overhead, eating their meal on the ‘fly’. The night closed in and the stars started peeking out. The couple beside me started playing country music on a small speaker…and I don’t like country music! (bluegrass on the other hand…) A family camped on my left and the daughter gave everyone within hearing distance a play by play of her trip away from the tent. WAIT! Didn’t I come out here to get away from annoyances like bad music and oversharing?
After a few minutes of focusing on the negative, I realized that I could choose to focus on the amazing (the Milky Way emerging) or the annoying (see previous list). It doesn’t seem like choosing and focusing is a superpower but it was for me that night and I’d propose that it can be for you too!
- Got a million things to do? Set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes (my variation on the Pomodoro Technique) and try to finish just 1 of them. The momentum will carry your forward to the next thing (and the next, and the next…).
- Surrounded by negative people? Find just one thing to compliment and go out of your way to focus on it all day long. You’ll feel better about where you are, even if the environment doesn’t change
- Really hate your situation? Take some advice from former Secretary of State Colin Powell – “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”. Finding just one thing to focus on and be positive about can completely change your perspective.
After a breezy, star-filled night, a group of college students traipsed through my campsite about 5:30 am, preparing to watch the sun rise over the North Carolina mountains. Once again, I had to decide if it was more important to be annoyed by the intrusion or watch an amazing, daily event that we often take for granted. I chose to focus on the amazing that morning.
What will you choose to focus on today?
During my (currently frequent) travels, my family (well, at least one son) likes to see pictures of the things that I’m doing/visiting. I usually try to post 2 or 3 pictures at the end of the day on facebook along with a creative sentence or two. For a recent visit to the French Air and Space museum, a facebook post was more than enough. However, it would be a great disservice to the place I visited today if I thought a pithy sentence (or two) would suffice.
Suresens American Cemetery is the final resting place of 1541 Americans that died during the First World War and the place of rememberence for another 974 whose bodies were lost at sea. In addition, 24 soldiers “known but to God” from the Second World War are buried there. The cemetery is on a beautiful hill overlooking Paris.
(Note: just click on the pictures for more detail)
Despite my many visits to Paris since 2003, I hadn’t yet visited. So, on this weekend between work meetings, I decided to find it. . I tried on Saturday but, unfortunately, I left later than planned and I didn’t realize that there were two ways to get there from my hotel…the 1.5h way and the 25 min way.
Sunday morning was as beautiful as Saturday so I left my hotel planning to arrive between 9 and 10 (most overseas American cemeteries are open 9-5 , 363 days per year) . I got there around 9:40 and apparently surprised the receptionist as she hurried to put on her lipstick as I walked in the door of the visitors center. I had read on the Internet that this cemetery was not visited often and I would have to agree. I saw no one during my almost hour there and just a few names in the visitors log from the past few days.
When I visit these sacred plots of American soil in Europe, I feel personally obligated to walk in front of each grave and say the person’s name aloud (even though I’ve never had/taken the time). I guess I believe that a small act of remembrance shows my appreciation and that the person didn’t die in vain…Europe and the United States are still free because of their sacrifice.
During this trip, here are a few of the folks I visited with/things I saw:
Lewis Sol. Seligman and Hugh Stanley Lawwill – YMCA Secretaries who died in 1919 and 1918 respectively. Lawwill died 2 days after the war ended and Seligman over 7 months later. Since their roles were not on the front line, it’s possible they died from the Spanish Flu
Henry Howard Houston Woodward who flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps and was decorated by the French government is interred beside Henry Howard Houston. I can’t find any indication they were related.
Dorothy K. Cromwell and Gladys Cromwell came to France to work for the American Red Cross and both died the same day. Apparently, the twin sisters were overwhelmed by what they had seen and committed suicide 2 months after the end of the war
I thought that the plot for the 24 unknowns from the Second World War was interesting
until I walked down the hill and saw it from another perspective. A cross made of 24 crosses.
This may sound strange but this is at least the second time I’ve been at a cemetery and, just as I got ready to take a picture, the flag unfurled.
The number of Americans killed in the First World War seems huge until you realize that, in the Second World War, over 360,000 FROM JUST ONE COUNTRY lost their lives.
One estimate I saw was that 60 MILLION people died worldwide (2.5% of the world’s population). That’s just staggering.
In Paris and want to go?
Get on the T2 line (if you’re in downtown Paris, take Metro line 1 to La Defense, then look for the T2 signs. Note that you’ll need a ticket that is slightly more expensive than your classic Metro ticket (mine was 2.65 Euros I believe). Take T2 in the direction of Pont de Versailles and get off at Suresnes-Longchamp. Take a left off the train and then your first right.
Get on Rue CLUSERET (note, it’s shaped like a curvy lightning bolt) and hike to the top of the hill. If nothing else, the hill will make you appreciate the terrain!
When you get to this sign, you take a right and in about 2 minutes walk, the cemetery will be on your left.
When you’re done at the cemetery, cross the street to this wonderful overlook of Paris…
…a view that you can take in thanks to the American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and nurses who rest peacefully here.
For the second day in a row, I was up at 4 am. Was it a noise outside, a cold child, or, (perish the thought!) my alarm clock? Nope, it was just my friend, Mr. Jet Lag (not to be confused with Mr. Jet Li). I spent 10 days traveling and once back in my ‘home’ time zone, my internal clock was adjusting…just a little too slowly for me.
I’m truly thankful for every opportunity to see the world and the other benefits of business travel but, in the aftermath of my most recent trip, let’s look at a few numbers:
November 6-16 – 11 days/10 nights
19,767 miles flown
10 airline flights (GSP-ATL-CDG-CFE-CDG-DEL-MAA-BLR-CDG-ATL-GSP)
7 different beds (including 2 seats in coach)
5 different hotels
3 countries (US, France, and India)
1 week aftermath of jet lag
It makes me tired just to think about it…almost a month after the trip! So, with that in mind, let me list my four worst things about business travel.
I am not known for my adventurous eating. In fact, it took me a couple of years of visiting France to expand my repertoire to include ‘classic’ French food (foie gras, weird smelling cheese – yes, please, but escargot, most things including fish – non, merci). Therefore, adding Thailand, China, and India to my countries visited list induced gastrointestinal consternation upon my arrival. I keep it simple…chicken and rice, folks, chicken and rice.
After waking up to find a bedbug crawling on me at a hotel in the 7th arrondissement of Paris in 2006 (ewwwwww!), hotels are not my friend. I usually check the mattress before doing anything else and keep my clothes in the suitcase if at all possible.
I can soldier on through about a week of jet lag using the “Dave Dewease rule” of business travel. Dave, a former colleague, espoused the benefits of walking around the town you were in (often Paris for us) until about 11 pm, going to sleep at midnight, and getting up at 6 am. This works quite well for about a week (especially when you throw in a 2 or 3 mile run first thing in the morning). However, all great tactics aside, after about a week of travel, I just want to collapse! The return home can also be a challenge. Being ready for bed at 6 pm for a week does not engender family togetherness.
Airplanes are simultaneously great and awful. Although I love the silence at 30,000 feet, it’s a 50/50 proposition on whether I get a decent night’s sleep or not. Food is hit or miss as well. The indian curry veggie wrap that KLM recently served me was pretty bad stuff but the ice cream that Air France serves in the middle of the flight is good stuff. I always have a Lara Bar or two, just in case.
So, what “bugs” you the most about travel?
Next up, a couple of posts for those of you who think ‘Wow, a chance to see the world for free…sleeping in nice hotels, eating in restaurants every night…business travel must be great!’ It certainly can be but, from where I sit (or sat (recently in seat 41A in the next to last row of coach for 10 hours)), business travel has its share of issues too. Today, let’s talk about the good stuff.
To begin with, yes, I have gotten the chance to go some cool places for work. The list includes France, the UK, Belgium, Mexico, Brazil, India, Thailand, China…I kind of feel like that song I’ve Been Everywhere (although I most certainly haven’t!).
During my most recent trip to France and India, I definitely had the benefits of:
Ahhh, the joys of brushing your teeth with tap water, cold milk from the fridge, lots of hugs, and having a conversation with your wife longer than 5 minutes. Nice.
I saw Indians playing cricket in a dusty field at dawn, enjoyed fall on a 6 mile run in our ‘French hometown’ on a Saturday, and feared for my life as our taxi navigated around cows at 40 mph. All memorable things I would have missed in good old Greenville, SC.
Developing Relationships with Colleagues
I got to wander the Chennai airport while looking for the Indian equivalent of milk and cookies (so so) and have an impromptu business meeting in the Bangalore airport ‘executive lounge’ (success!). It was a good opportunity to work with people outside the ‘standard’ work environment.
Time to Myself
Yes, the holy grail of all parents can be found at 30,000 feet. I read, watched movies, and napped at will. I have even had time to write for a couple of hours (which I usually do around 5:30 am). It was admittedly a nice break.
And you, what do you think are (or would be) the benefits of traveling for business?
On June 11, 2013, I left the US for 18 days of travel. The trip had two main goals:
1) Provide Change Management training in China and Thailand
2) Participate in a 3 day meeting in India.
Due to a host of reasons, I left home with an airline ticket from Bangkok to Shanghai but no Visa from the Chinese government that would allow me to enter. After talking with my company’s travel representatives and doing some internet research, it was clear my only option was to go to the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok and apply for the Visa. An employee in our Thai office sent me a checklist of things to bring with me. It was much more extensive than the one on the Embassy website so I diligently prepared:
A colleague also helpfully offered that he had recently been refused a Business Visa but had been allowed a Tourist Visa…so I prepared two copies of that form too!
Armed with forms, letters, and passport I left for the Embassy at 7:30 am expecting a 30+ minute commute through the (infamous) Bangkok traffic. I didn’t think much about it when the trip only took about 15 minutes and I arrived at 7:45. A friendly Thai security guard helped by providing change for me to pay the taxi driver and I was third in line at the doors which opened at 9 am. While standing in line, I talked to a nice Danish guy who offered that traffic was light and the line was short this morning. I started wondering if my good luck was a little more than luck now.
I passed the time until 9 talking to the Danish rubber plantation owner and a German guy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on his tablet. Once the doors opened, the travel agents and people with a pink receipt (indicating they had already applied) were let in first, followed by the ‘new applicants’. We went through security and up a flight of stairs to the application room and we took a number …then rushed to the counter and got in a line. I had expected that they would call us by number but in the end it was more of an ‘admission’ ticket to be handed to the clerk behind the desk.
I waited behind 2 people in my line, silently sweating as I realized that I had one form that I had forgotten to complete. I scampered to finish it while the German hockey watcher had his application rejected. Once I got to the front I had to stoop down to see through a small half circle. The (extremely nice) lady behind the desk took my forms, reviewed them, asked a couple of questions, and said, “I give you 7 days Visa”. Phew. I felt a sense of extreme relief. She handed me a small pink slip that indicated I could come back tomorrow and get my passport (China used to offer same day Visa service but this has been suspended – the hours when I went were 9-11:30 M-F). I held that piece of paper tightly as I left, found a taxi, and headed to work. I’m sure that God doesn’t love me any more than He does anyone else but I sure felt special as I left…thinking the most harrowing part of the process was complete.
The next day, I got to the Embassy around 8:45 with the goal of waiting in line as little as possible. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with a Swedish guy who was 2 people behind me in line the day before. We got ‘moved up’ to the line of people with pink papers and entered at 9. We waited a few minutes to pay. I got out my credit card and looked to the front window to find the familiar Visa/MasterCard logos indicating I could use it. Wait, I don’t see them…what does that say on the middle of the window, “Baht Only”. Oh no. I don’t have enough cash to pay for this! I expressed my dismay to my Swedish friend as he (very kindly) said ‘that stinks for you’. He thought for a second and said, ‘I might have enough for both of us. Let me pay first and if I have enough left, I’ll pay for you and you can go to an ATM to pay me back.’ I could have hugged him. We compared prices and found that the ‘express 1 day’ Visa for Europeans cost less than half of the cost for a US Citizen – the free market at work. Thankfully, he had enough money left over to help me. I paid, we picked up our passports, and headed to an ATM. It took a few attempts as I forgot to use my PIN but I finally got all the steps right and handed over the loan. We wished each other well and headed our separate ways.
As I got in the taxi, I couldn’t help but think about all the ‘coincidences’ that led to me getting the Visa, I was reminded about how helpless I was during the whole process.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36
It just takes a little getting out of your comfort zone to realize how much help we really need. I am certainly thankful for the kindness of strangers and can promise that I’m now looking for more opportunities to be on the delivery end and not just the receiving one!