One of the Four Major Food Groups

It’s a very Paris-centric episode; I’m still trying to drop the weight I picked up on our 10-day stay. I talk about hunts for beer and pastry took us out of the usual Notre Dame-to-Eiffel Tower-to-Louvre tourist triangle, some of the interesting buskers we saw along the way, and my surprise at Munich Airport receiving an airport award. I also continue our on-going discussions about buying international SIM cards and ride-sharing. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #128:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, after a full month of travel. I’m not complaining though, because — first, I had been home, off the road, for 4 weeks straight and was beginning to make the place look untidy; and then more than a week of this travel spurt was in Paris, on vacation with the family. Tough to complain about travel with your mouth full of great food and wine. And mine certainly was. I’m not even looking at a scale for another 2 weeks.
  • In what’s become our usual pattern for European trips, we flew out on a Thursday night. This works out well because typically Friday is a catch-up day at work — more about internal conference calls than client work — so it’s easier to skip out, and then landing on a Friday, more places are open — like rental agency offices, phone stores — if you need them. My wife and I flew into Paris and had a 3-star Michelin lunch to chase away jet lag, while the kids met up in Edinburgh for the weekend and lived off of beer and haggis. They then hopped one of the budget carriers to CDG Sunday night and managed to figure out the train well enough to land at the doorstep of our vacation rental on Rue de Rivoli, a bridge and a couple of blocks straight up from Notre Dame. My wife has this whole vacation rental thing down to a near science. I think I need to nag her into writing it up in a post for the TravelCommons web site.
  • In the travel build-up to the Paris trip, another usual pattern; this one involves a bit more stupid travel — bouncing across multiple clients and cities, to give everyone face-time before I disappear for a week; I found myself in Miami for a couple of days. I flew American back home to Chicago Friday night, and I guess because I was going between two of their hubs, I ended up on one of American’s international 767’s. Now, I typically despise 767’s because the overhead bins are way undersized. But, it was one of the best domestic upgrades I’ve scored. First, because between First and Business class, there’s a whole lot more seat for an upgrade. And then, this 767’s business class had been upgraded, so I had my own “pod” with a lie-flat seat and a 20-something inch screen — much bigger than the screen smaller than my hand that I tweeted from the United 767 I took from ORD to CDG. Made for a very comfortable 3-hr flight.
  • But back to Paris, the trip went without a hitch — the strong dollar made an expensive a city a little less so, the weather was great for March — sunny, a bit brisk. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get around with just English. I know I’m a language sloth, and while I didn’t expect it, I was happy not to have to struggle through with my minimal French. Indeed, the only smirch on trip was at the very end. We landed at ORD after 7pm, after half of Immigration shut down. The resulting lines were insane; Security was walking planeloads of people from the other side of the international terminal to our side and to the back of our line. They were shouting for all US citizens to get stand to the left of the hallway. After about 10 minutes of this, I asked a security person about Global Entry. “Oh, go this way,” she said and pointed down an empty line. We bolted, and were out after another 5 minutes. Customs should’ve had a guy walking that line taking Global Entry applications. They would’ve made a killing.
  • Bridge Music — Bubbly by Ruben van Rompaey

Following Up

  • First up, a belated Thank You to iTunes user California flying for the 5-star review back in January:
    • “As a project manager with lots of travel thrown in, I really enjoy hearing Mark’s travel tales and can very much relate to his insight and observations. It’s an easy and fun listen. Just wish it was more frequent!”
  • Thanks for taking the time to write that review. I’m glad you enjoy the podcast. I am trying on the frequency. This will be 3 straight months of episodes, so we’re starting 2017 in the right way.
  • In the last episode, after deconstructing my own Top 10 travel tips list, I asked for listener contributions. Dan wrote this on the TravelCommons web site
    • “My biggest travel tip right now to my friends is get Nexus! Not only is it great when coming or going to the US (we live in Canada), but it gets you TSA Precheck while in the US which is great to have.”
  • Good tip, Dan. As a US citizen, I’m still a bit confused on the Global Entry vs. Nexus choice. But anything that lets you skip Immigration lines and keep from having to disrobe in the security line is a good thing.
  • Dan Brener and Max Flight both hit the TravelCommons’ Facebook page to say they found the VPN comparison in the last episode useful. Dan said that he also uses PIA and has found that, sometimes, Netflix will let it connect — which I mentioned is kinda the acid test for location shifting. Dan says it is a bit hit-&-miss though.
  • Continuing the thread from the past couple of episodes on buying pay-as-you-go-SIMs when overseas, my Paris experiences were a mixed bag. On that first Friday, between picking up the apartment keys and heading to the George V for lunch, I wanted to pick up at least one SIM so we’d have some connectivity. I walked to nearest Orange store — about 3 blocks down Rue de Rivoli. They didn’t have any regular prepaid SIMs in stock; only the special Holiday SIM which had inter-EU calling which I didn’t need and, at 40 euros, was more than I needed to pay. This became a common refrain. Every company-owned Orange and SFR store I visited was out of prepaid SIMs. Only what appeared to be a franchised Orange store in the bottom of the big underground shopping mall at Les Halles had them, and also very friendly service. That got us through the weekend. On Monday, after another string of Orange stiff arms, we walked up to the main Free store — which I think sells TV as well as mobile service. We walked up to a vending machine in the lobby and pretty quickly had two more SIMs; a much better buying experience except for the fact that the store was inconveniently tucked away down a bland business street north of the Champs Elysee. I’ll be glad when the eSIM gets market traction.
  • And continuing another thread, this one on Uber, while I regularly use Uber and Lyft in the US, I rarely — if ever — use them while traveling in Europe. I got to thinking about this while in Paris when, on Saturday when heading to the airport, we chose to roll the luggage to a taxi rank rather than use Uber. It’s a couple of reasons. First, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a price difference between Uber and taxis. I first noticed this in Lisbon last spring and then again in Paris. Second, most taxis in Europe are not the beaters that many US cabs are. In the US, even at the same rate, I’ll often take Uber because the cars are in so much better shape. The cabs in Baltimore last summer were the most egregious case. There was a cab stand right outside the building I was in, but I’d still wait 5 minutes for an Uber. And third, and maybe the most nebulous (squishy?), I’m maybe a bit less comfortable getting into a ride-share in a country where I don’t know the language and am not confident that I’m solid on the customs and protocols. In the US, I know what’s right and what’s not. Even in the UK, I’m comfortable enough and don’t worry about communicating effectively with the driver. I know zero Portuguese and little more French. So I’m a bit more willing to search out a taxi stand.
  • I was flipping through the online version of the UK’s Telegraph newspaper earlier this month and got clickbaited into a Top 10 Airport listicle from the 2017 Skytrax World Airport Awards. They had all the usual suspects at the top of the list — Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong — but at #4, they had Munich! I was stunned because my last two experiences connecting through Munich — last Nov en route to Pisa and this month on my way back from Paris — were not great as my Twitter followers already know. Probably the worst thing are the lines, and how brutally slow they move. Back in episode #125, I described the security crawl when trying to connect to our Pisa flight mid-morning on a Friday. I was stunned how slow the security staff was moving. No sense of urgency as a dozen lines tailed back through the terminal. I thought a union had called for some job action. But then in March, it was a huge tailback off of passport control. I’m used to Frankfurt where you walk up, answer a question, boom-boom they stamp your passport and through you go. Not in Munich. It was that same meandering pace. Like the place was in slow motion. The same thing at the one restaurant we found in the satellite portion of Terminal 2. Four people were behind the counter. The line trying to ordering tailed back, but only one of the four was helping customers. The other three were having some conversation and doing some paperwork. So why did Skytrax rate Munich #4? Apparently, it has its own brewery, a mini-golf course, and in the winter, a Christmas market and an ice skating rink — none of which I experienced while struggling through lines trying to make a connection. And maybe that’s the problem — Munich is focused on being a shopping mall/entertainment center rather than being an airport. Planning a flight to Budapest in May, I was offered two connection choices — Munich or Vienna. I didn’t even pause to think about it. choosing Vienna, even though it’s nowhere in that Skytrax list. I’m hoping they’ll work harder on getting me through the airport than grooming a mini-golf course.
  • And finally, congrats to Frank Mohnhaupt for winning a year’s subscription to NordVPN. Frank’s entry in the Rafflecopter drawing was subscribing to the TravelCommons’ SoundCloud feed. And thanks again to NordVPN for providing the giveaway prize.
  • And if you have any thoughts, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at
  • Bridge Music — How Do I Work This by The Kokoon

The Hunt for Experiences

  • In Paris, that first weekend when it was just my wife and I — the kids were hunting haggis in Edinburgh — was spent a good chunk of the time on what I call “hunts”. We got up and out early on Saturday — always a good way to fight jet lag — hunting for a pastry. Not just any pastry, because in Paris, that would in no way qualify as a hunt. No, it was a specific kind of pastry — a kugelhopf, a kind of a hat-shaped pastry. And not just any kugelhopf. We were tracking down Vandermeersch, which, according to an article my wife read in Saveur magazine, makes the best kugelhopf in Paris and usually sells out shortly after opening — hence the early morning alarm. So off we go, using Google Maps to tell us the right combination of Metros to get us to the correct outer bit of Paris. We get there shortly after opening and had the full selection of kugelhopfs — small, medium, large. The couple of nice middle-aged women running what was a small shop helped us to by 2 smalls — one to eat right away; the second for Sunday morning — and a medium for Monday morning for breakfast with the kids. We ate that small one fresh, on the street. I don’t know if it was the best kugelhopf because my sample size was (and still is) one, but it was a pretty damn good pastry and worth forgoing the snooze button the early alarm.
  • Saturday afternoon, we went on my hunt — for a microbrewery, in an even further out bit of Paris, that’s only open Saturday afternoons. And where our morning visit to Vandermeersch landed us in a seemingly upscale neighborhood where people were up early for the morning runs along the grass boulevard dividers, that afternoon, we walked up the Metro steps on the main street of a heavily North African neighborhood; definitely outside the tourist bubble. Walking across the park here — no grass, just dirt.
  • But walking into the microbrewery, off kind of a dodgy street, put us in the midst of what seemed to be the standard afternoon outing for Parisian hipster families. Mostly while families with little kids; lots of bikes and beers; everyone eating sandwiches sold by an artisanal baker who looked to be friends of the brewers (his t-shirt read (in English) “More Bakers, Less Bankers”). Nice people; great beer. But an interesting contrast with the surrounding neighborhood. Inside the brewery, I could’ve been in Brooklyn or Portland. Outside, on the main street, maybe Algiers.
  • Good pastry, good beer, but the hunt — searching out these experiences — is as much it’s own reward. It gave us a reason, a goal, to get out of the travel bubble, off the well-trod Notre Dame-to-Eiffel Tower-to-Louvre tourist triangle. Not that we didn’t do that too — we did — but if that’s all we did, it would have been a bit disappointing. And that we did it on our own, rather than as part of some “Hipster Paris” tour, gives an added touch of accomplishment.
  • Bridge Music —Piano Circus by Philipp Weigl

Pop-Up Entertainment

  • Toward the end of our week in Paris, heading out again from the normal tourist zone — in search of a brew pub with my son this time; my wife and daughter were hunting Longchamps bags — we get on the Metro to find a busker on our subway car, a tuba busker. He was an older guy wearing a slightly Tyrolean looking hat with a waist-high battery-powered speaker in front of him taped to a luggage wheelie type of cart and an orange donations can taped to the handle. The speaker played the backing track while he played the main melody on the tuba. After one song (which I can’t say that I recognized), he left the backing track playing while walking the car with his hand out for tips. I think he was on the car for 3 stops.
  • On the way back, during one of the 18 stops back, another busker walked onto our car, a younger guy who turned out to be a rapping busker. He had the same speaker rig and the same cadence as the tuba player — last guy in, stood in front of the door, powered up the back beat on the speakers, rapped out a song between stops, solicited money between the next stops, and then left the train.
  • I also saw what I consider the more typical subway buskers — playing guitar, or a double-bass in the connecting tunnels, taking advantage of the tile acoustics. A little less typical was a couple ating out an opera scene in a wider area where 2 or 3 tunnels came together. Not only were they singing opera (with tile-driven acoustics), they were acting out the scene — the woman fleeing toward one tunnel only to have the man catch her and pull her back. It took just a moment to connect the singing to the action; to realize that this wasn’t an actual assault. It drew a bit of a crowd. I don’t know if this was real busking or just advertising an opera show, but it certainly got my attention.
  • Later on, my son and I were walking in front of Notre Dame and heard another woman singing opera. It took us a minute to locate her. She had her back to a building on the north side of the plaza. It was another good acoustic location — the echo off the building seem to amplify and project her voice across the open space in front of the cathedral. The police seem to keep a heavy presence here. We’d seen them earlier descend on a woman who was panhandling the folks standing in line to get into the cathedral. But this time, they let the woman finish up her aria before moving her along. Quite a change from Chicago’s bucket boys.


  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #128
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
  • Bridge music from Magnatune
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