1. Allons-y! (let's go!)


It's not quite 'let's go' yet. There's another four days, and you know how at the end the list of chores seems to grow in inverse proportion to the time you have left? There'll hardly be time enough to put on my beret and say oo la la, before it's Sunday and we'll be off.

Yesterday I put most of my clothes in the suitcase - almost identical to the packing list for Europe in October. Even though it's spring in Europe, there can still be cold snaps, so I've put in jumpers and jackets and scarves as well as summery things.

If you haven't yet seen it and would like some help with your packing, click here for my STYLE GUIDE TO PACKING LIGHT AND FEELING GOOD. If you couldn't think of anything worse, don't click on it. -:)

When I spotted the travel writing course in Paris for late May, I just knew I had to do it, even though it was so close on the heels of India. I had nearly deleted the email it came in, but at the last minute I read it. Definitely an omen from the travel gods. If I'd opened one with a bricklaying course in it, that wouldn't have been an omen. That would have been ridiculous.

I'll take my crocheted Sophie Digard scarf above

At such late notice, I thought I'd travel by myself this time. John said after we came home from India that he wouldn't be travelling again until the end of 2017. But half an hour after I had broken the news (first reaction, dead silence, ooops) he came in to the office where I was working on the computer, and said 'I'll come with you.' I think he's just doing it because he's my mate. But I didn't ask questions. I just did a war whoop and gave him a big hug. He doesn't like big cities, he's fairly adept at getting lost, and he doesn't much like being on his own. All of which (except the getting lost) he will have to do for 5 days in Paris. Isn't he a darling?

Add in a couple of weeks in the country before the Paris course, keeping in mind that John enjoys walking in the countryside. And he doesn't much enjoy driving with me on the wrong side of the road. Who would? I've been known to blow smoke from screeching tyres at an Italian tollway booth.

I was considering a walk in Majorca but the terrain looked a bit like knee-blowout territory. And why not keep the whole trip in France? We've never been to Burgundy which is a big gap in our experience, and Provence is always a good idea. And with the TGV, we can do it without hiring a car. Plus a few extra days in Paris! Voilà!

If you click on the photo above, it will take you to the itinerary. All the accommodation and transfers have been pre-booked, but the daily activities might change. It's nice to be flexible.

I didn't take a clutch on the last trip, and I wished I had, just for phone and lipstick at dinner. I'll take this horsehair one with me this time.

Here are a few details of the planning:

AIRLINE TICKETS: My main aim was to arrive at Charles de Gaulle early in the morning so that we could catch a TGV to Provence that day. And jet lag doesn't seem so bad if we have a full day's activity before we go to sleep in a new time zone. Singapore Airlines gets us to Paris at 7.30am.

PROVENCE:

I did the bookings for the train tickets (www.railplus.com.au), hotels and transfers through the hotel websites (www.crillonlebrave.com and www.bastide-de-gordes.com​)

BURGUNDY:

John and I have done quite a few organised Butterfield & Robinson (Canadian) Walking Tours and we love them. We've been with them to places like Tuscany, Umbria, Piemonte, Provence, Vietnam. They're the top-rated active luxury tour company in the world, very small groups staying at wonderful hotels and doing scenic country walks off the highways. They also do bicycling tours. If they don't have an organised tour when you want to go, they'll organise a private one for you. So I asked them to take their Burgundy Walking Tour itinerary and slot our dates into it. Walking by ourselves also means that when we can take as long as we want taking photographs, looking at villages etc. B & R book the hotels, the transfers, the guides, give you maps of the walks etc. This is the first time we've done this so I'll be interested to see how it goes. http://www.butterfield.com/private-travel/

PARIS:

This part of the trip is of course the raison d'être. I've been subscribing to something called Secrets of Paris for ages. www.secretsofparis.com Sometimes I read the emails, often I delete them. A few weeks ago, one arrived and I was about to delete it. But something stopped me. Surprise surprise! It had details of a 5-day travel writing workshop, just north of Les Halles, run by 2 working American journalists living in Paris. Sounded like a perfect fit.

We added a couple of days before and a couple of days after the course so that John and I could have some time together in Paris. And our daughter's gorgeous in-laws (whom you met on our trip in October if you were a customer then) live in Paris - we'll see them too.

I bought this light-as-a-feather pair of Cole Haan oxfords last year in New York, sprayed them with waterproofer, and wore them nearly every day last year except in the heat of summer. I loved them so much I bought a second pair, and they'll go with me to France. I've seen copies of them in shoe shops here this year.

Since we'll be 9 days in Paris, we thought we'd rent an apartment. We've used Paris Perfect before (an apartment in the 7th), and in October we used Haven in Paris (St Sulpice - a dream). The St Sulpice apartment wasn't available so I kept searching. I didn't want to be too far from the course. Although Paris Perfect had lovely apartments in the 7th near the Eiffel Tower, they were a bit too far away. Then I noticed that they they were doing up a whole building in Place Dauphine on the Ile de la Cité. How perfectly Paris! They're still not finished, but will be by the time we get there. I booked one straight away. (sounds like the start of a Fawlty Towers episode) Paris Perfect has been an absolute dream to communicate with. http://www.parisperfect.com/ There's a couple of videos about Maddy, the American owner of Paris Perfect, renovating the building. She is an amazingly cool woman. Click here for a video of her FIRST PLANNING STEPS. Click here for a video of her DECORATING the apartment.

PHONE AND INTERNET ON THE GO IN FRANCE

Last October, when we went to Turkey and Spain and Paris, I bought the Telstra International Pass so that I could use my phone for calls and data. It meant that I could use the phone as a GPS on the go, which is an enormous help when you're up a French creek without a paddle. But it was expensive and has become more expensive since then.

I've been researching buying a simcard at CDG when we land, and discovered that you can buy one at the newsagency Relay stores. But there seemed to be all sorts of caveats - someone said you have to post a photo of your passport to someone else, or you can be disconnected. Reassuring stuff like that. Plus it's hard to read the small print when it's in French.

Then I suddenly remembered that for the writing course, we are being given a rental phone each, for calls and data. I went to the Secrets of Paris website, and found the answer. There's a company in France called Insidr which hand delivers a rental Samsung phone to you in Paris, in person, for a cost of 6 euro a day, and it includes all calls, texts and up to 20gb of data, all over France. And you can use it as a hotspot to connect your ipad or laptop to the internet as well. And it's already loaded with apps to help you find your way around. I have ordered one for John just for Paris so that we can phone each other, and so that he has a GPS when he's wandering. (By the way, he is doing a couple of photographic tours during the week I'm studying) I ordered and paid for it online in a matter of minutes, and there is an online instant chat line too, to answer your questions. It will be delivered to us at our apartment the day we arrive, and someone will show us how to use it. www.insidr.paris I'll let you know how I like it at the end of the trip.

So there you have it travelling buddies! France in May. Sound like a dream? It isn't. We're doing this, you and me!

It seems such a long time ago that I started sharing my travels. I was sick to my stomach before the first trip, wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. I still wonder that sometimes. I love the photography, the writing, but mostly the sharing. It increases my own enjoyment of a trip a zillion times. And I just love it when you comment at the bottom of a post. So please comment all you like. And thank you for showing the faith in me to become a fellow traveller. I really appreciate it.

You'll get a link from me each day I'm away, wifi and extenuating circumstances permitting. Keep each one of the email links I send you and you'll be able to use them to re-read. If you lose your email links though, just go to the website www.shelleydark.com, click on the travellers page, and enter the password: vivelafrance

You won't hear from me again until I write to you from Crillon-le-Brave. Au revoir mes amis!