Saturday, April 22, 2017

12 Tips/Tricks for Affording and Enjoying Paris!

It's not like I'm Rick Steves or anything, but I do have a few trips to maximize your money and your fun in Paris. I lived there in college and just traveled there so basically I'm a travel expert (not).  I'm a huge fan of not being a typical tourist, and seeing the real ins and outs of how "real" people live in a place. Of course you've got to hit some of the tourist spots, just because you DO, but then it's fun to do things the locals do too. Here are some tips to actually be able to afford your trip and what to do once you're there:


1. Book Early: The one and only reason we could make Paris happen financially was that back in October I got wild hair and checked ticket prices. We could fly United/Lufthansa round trip for only $450 per ticket. That was insane. You can hardly go from Denver to anywhere, USA, for that. (btw, Lufthansa rocks. After they feed you, they come through with Baileys and Cognac. The flight attendants also wear cute hats).

Image result for lufthansa flight attendant
Not my flight attendant. Not my pillow.

2. Use VRBO, AirBnB or One of Those: There were going to be four of us, and the thought of being in a hotel room for a week with four people wasn't that attractive. Plus, hotels in Paris are stupidly expensive. So, to VRBO I went, having had good luck with this service in the past. Turns out we could rent a 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and amenities for $185 per night (that includes the cleaning fee). Way cheaper and roomier than a hotel.

Our Place - VRBO 432355
3. Know Where to Shop: I did some research on our neighborhood beforehand and found local grocery stores that were for "real" people, not tourists (we liked Carrefour). We shopped there for the basics like wine, cheese, bread, produce, coffee and snacks. I actually found a kick ass bottle of Chardonnay for 4.5 euros (about $5, I don't remember the name because maybe I had too much of it). A huge wedge of brie was $2 and baguettes were about $1, if that. While we didn't cook in many meals, we saved a lot by eating breakfast, snacks and coffee (Nespresso!) in the apartment.

One thing to remember! When buying produce, you weigh and price it yourself. Don't forget to do this or the check out person will be really mean to you (I took the wrath of that one).



4. Use Local/Public Transportation. We rode our butts off using the metro. Fares were about $1-$2 per person. Much cheaper than a cab or Uber. Plus, you really get to mingle with the locals (and smell their B.O.) and there are often musicians on the trains. We did use Uber twice when we were all so exhausted we could barely stand up. Uber rides were only about $13 for four people from one end of Paris to the other.

At first, the Paris metro is kind of intimidating because there are so many stops and lines, but you get the hang of it. There is an app (I'm sure most cities have them) where you can type in your location and where you are going and it tells you the best and most direct route.

Image result for paris metro map
Looks confusing, eh? The app helps. And glasses.

5. No Tipping! We weren't sure how this worked, but we did some research while we were there and found out that in general, the tip  is included (service compris!) in your meal price, so no extra for that. Certainly, if it's great service we would leave a couple of extra euros. Cab drivers do expect about 15%.


Just yum. I drank this in a minute.

6. Check Your Phone Plan Before You Go. If you have T-Mobile, for example all texting and data is included in your plan. Ken has Verizon and he had to pay an additional $10 per day for data, talk and text.

7. Consider a Mini Photo Shoot for a Special Occasion. My daughter, Emma, turned 16 the last day we were in Paris. I wanted to mark it by something special (cause you know, being in Paris isn't enough). I found a local photographer who did "photo shoots." I booked the day before and we met him at the Eiffel Tower on her birthday morning. It was really unforgettable. You can check out his work and website HERE at I Heart Paris Photography. Here are a couple of pictures I took (these are obviously not his professional photos!)




8. If You're Going for the Marathon, Also Do the Breakfast 5k. This is the best deal around. For about $10 you get a cool tech shirt and croissants/coffee at the end. Also, you get to run through the streets of Paris with a flag representing your country!


9. Avoid the lines at the Louvre. Okay, well it may be impossible to completely avoid the lines, but we went inside (underneath the Pyramid) waiting for about ten minutes to buy tickets and then waited in line inside to get in (about 10 minutes for security and another 5 minutes for the entrance). The longest lines were outside by the Pyramid.

My friend and his penis

It was crowded! By this time we were sick of all people!

10. Do the Fat Tire Tours! A friend recommended with do a bike tour in Paris with Fat Tire Tours. This meant having a guide to take us on about a 10 mile bike ride in the evening from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame. We stopped at Berthillon the most famous ice cream place in France (omg the salted butter caramel is orgasmic). Then you take a one hour nighttime cruise on the Seine. If you add on a tour of the Eiffel Tower summit for another day (with no waiting in line) then you get an additional 30% off. Both were amazing tours.




One of the many sites we took in on the bike tour. Le Louvre Pyramid at sunset.
I'm basically a professional iPhone photographer

11. Be Sure to Frequent the Patisseries and Boulangeries (bakeries). Here is where you get the best deals. Satisfying mini quiches, melt in your mouth almond and chocolate croissants, Croques Monsieurs (grilled ham and cheese) - all for each under $3. And, these are pretty much on almost every corner.

At the Patisserie up the street from us.
12. Always Wear a Scarf. Just trust me on this one. All men, women, children and babies do it.



Well, that's all I've got. I am in love with Paris, but more so, I'm simply in love with traveling. One of my favorite sayings is "Travel is the best education anyone can have."

What's the last place you've traveled to? Any tips to share?

Where would you go on your dream trip? Probably India or Africa

SUAR

PS: And a bonus tip. If you eat a really big kebab sandwich for lunch and are walking around Paris and need a bathroom ASAP, Chipotle has nice, warm restrooms to accommodate your emergency. Not that this happened to me or anything. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

2017 Paris Marathon Race Report (aka "Personal Worst" Race Report)

We got back on Tuesday night after 12 hours of flying, which included:

  • Watching two movies (Why Him? and Manchester By the Sea. Why Him? had me busting a gut and nearly wetting myself. Sorry other Lufthansa passengers).
  • Eating two large helpings of pasta, 3 cookies, 2 glasses of wine and two beers. 
  • Finishing a book that had me sobbing in seat 33K (If you must know the book is called Lily and the Octopus and don't read it if you don't like books about loving dogs and then them dying).
  • Flying over Iceland, which made me want to claim I had actually been to Iceland. 

I still don't understand why the f&ck they call it Iceland


I have spent the past two days trying to wrap my head around what happened on marathon day. In the title of this post I wrote "Personal Worst" - which only refers to how I felt on the run physically and mentally. Honestly, in many other ways (running through the streets of Paris, having my family and best friends with me, the gorgeous weather) this race was actually a personal best. Just depends on your perspective and what the focus is.

What keeps running through my head is: why did I spend all that time training, all those Saturday mornings running my ass off, all those speed workouts on the treadmill - just to run a time I could run with likely no training at all? Why the eff did I PAY for a training plan for this personal worst scenario?

But, I suppose that's how it goes. The input we give does not guarantee a certain outcome.

I know my body pretty well. Going into the race I knew that running a sub-4 might not happen. This training cycle was not a strong one for me and I'm still not quite sure why. I could blame it on age, but I think it's more than that. Truly I think more the blame is linked to two words: BURN OUT.

Since I started running about 8 years ago, I've never taken a substantial break (except when injured, but even then I was training in any way I could). This past year alone I did 2 marathons, a 6 day/120 mile trail race, an ultra relay, a half marathon and a few shorter races. Then I jumped right in and started training for Paris.

Standing on the Champs Elysee (the start line for the race) I was in heaven despite jet lag, walking 10 miles per day in the days leading up to the race and feeling just generally tired. My goal/focus shifted from racing to enjoying the day and taking it in. There have been what feel like hundreds of times over the past few years when I was so fixated on my time. In that moment I was weary of all of that and sick of it too.



The first 10k felt effortless, cruising along with 47,000 of my friends (75% of them men!). I hit the 10k in about 55 minutes. Aid stations were every 5k and I would grab a bottle of water and carry it with me. The aid stations had water, oranges and bananas. Some had raisins and sugar cubes. The mixture of water and banana peels on the cobblestone made for the perfect storm to break a hip, which I nearly did a few times.



It was some time after the 8 mile mark that I could feel it happening. My pace was slowing and my drive to hold onto my goal was slipping away. Guys, it is the weirdest thing, but I just stopped caring. I stopped caring about my pace, my goals, running. I started slowly walking through the aid stations and in between. When I walked, a random woman would invariably come up behind me and gently put her hand on my back and say "Allez!" (go!). There was so much sweet encouragement from others and I loved that. I hit the half in about 2 hours. Still not caring.

I saw Emma and Ken at mile 15. Usually in a race I will dash by them with a quick wave and smile. This time I stopped and hung out for a bit, telling them that it wasn't my day, but I'd see them at the finish. Still not caring. My feet were killing me and some cramps were setting in. No bathroom emergencies, thank God. Taking a crap wouldn't have made the day any better.

It was getting hot, about 75 degrees. We were about 8 miles from the finish. I continued to not care about my slow pace.I took in the sights, the people. I listened to the spectators shouting "Allez Beth!" and telling me to have "courage" (the French way of saying "be strong!"). I felt the energy and good love from the crowds. At mile 18, my watch suddenly died out of the blue. WHAT? And, with that my music was gone too, since it's loaded onto my watch.

I crossed the finish, happily. But then I couldn't find friends and family and I was emotionally/physically spent and hot. I kept holding back tears and borrowed someone's phone to text Ken. By the time I found them I was a bucket of tears.

But, nothing a beer and sitting spread eagle in a French cafe couldn't cure.



A cute French runner saw me rubbing my feet and gave me some cream for them. Then he commented, while looking at my disgusting black toenails, "But I don't know vhat to do with zee toes!" Made me laugh

Oh, and then a huge Moroccan chicken kebab sandwich in from of the Arc.



Congrats to my two dear friends Julie and Erika for finishing as well. Julie kicked ass doing a 3:32 and Erika ran her first marathon!

Right when Erika finished!



So, there you have it. During the race I swore off running for a minute, but now I just know I need a break to find the love again. I feel this drive to find some redemption emotionally and physically. There is always another race and always lessons to be learned. I could have dropped out and I didn't. I could have had a pity party and I didn't. I could be unable to run at all and I'm not.

I want to reclaim that girl who has that DRIVE. She'll be back.


In the meantime, time to rest. And, because this trip was bout SO much more than them marathon, in the next few days I'll post some general stuff about Paris and how we did the trip on a pretty decent budget. Let me tell you - we saw and did so much - and I've got some great tips (like don't change your dollars into Francs, because France uses Euros!! < someone in our group did this - honest mistake but he'll never live it down).

If you are at all considering this race, DO IT. The energy, the sights, the people - it was all a dream.

What was your personal worst race? What did you learn?

SUAR



Monday, April 3, 2017

When Life Throws You Curve Balls and Off to Paris!

Life throws curve balls. I've gotten kind of used to it. There is truth in the fact that the things you worry about rarely happen, but other random shit that never occurred to you comes out of the woodwork. C'est la vie.

Did I tell you we leave for Paris in the morning? Paris Marathon is on Sunday.


In a sec I'll get into those curve balls that got thrown at my face, but first...there are firsts for me with this marathon:


  • Largest marathon I've ever run. 57,000 people.
  • Aid stations every 5k (3.1 miles). Longest distance between aid stations I've ever had in a marathon (that's not on trails). Carry water? Gonna be 73 degrees!
  • A doctor's note is required to run the race. First time I've ever had to have my doctor sign off that I am healthy enough to do this.
  • Aid stations have sugar cubes (maybe in lieu of gels?). First time for that - PS and BTW: I'm not a horse or a cup of hot tea.
  • Porta potties are apparently quite scarce. This could be the first time I squat on a marathon course.
And...follow me along on Instagram here for pictures and stories!  HERE

Now curve balls.

Curve ball #1: In case you are really young and don't know, when you turn 50, you're supposed to have a colonoscopy. That's when you prep by cleaning out your system until you basically poop water (but don't drink it), then you are sedated, then they stick a scope up your ass to see if you are healthy. I've had one before and it was no problem, so I was not expecting any surprises when I went in for my second one last week. At the point I was going in for the procedure, I was excited to be put under sedation and to have a nice nap. Then it would just be a matter or showing them I could fart in order to go home. I'm skilled at that for sure!

Yeah, didn't go that way. I was heavily sedated, but conscious. The procedure was excruciating. So painful I was crying and probably cussing up a storm, although it seems like a dream. The reason? Apparently I have an elongated colon (also called a tortuous colon < now I know why they call it that) that has many twists and turns. They had a hard time getting the scope around all the bends in my colon, thus the pain. Here's the thing - if they were putting a scope in my ear or down my throat that would be one thing. But this area is private and I somehow felt violated...all is fine now, but what the hell? Please tell me I'm not the only one who's had this experience.

Curve ball #2: Picture this. Last Tuesday, middle of the night. Ken is in excruciating pain (<seems to be a theme with us). He was saying the pain was in his stomach. Nothing was helping. We go to the ER hoping that he doesn't get checked in then lays one huge fart and feels better. Because with a $200 copay that's an expensive fart. After hours of them trying to get the pain under control (morphine did nothing to take the edge off) and a CT scan they found he had acute appendicitis. Into surgery he goes and we go home that night. 

The surgeon wasn't too fond of him traveling, given the risk of blood clots. But, his surgery was laparoscopic and very uncomplicated. He's doing great, energy is good, so we're going. He'll wear compression and get up every hour to move around. 

As for marathon goals...well, a PR will very likely not occur (sub 3:42). At this point I am just hoping for a sub four hour, but even that is feeling a bit questionable. Just not feeling the speed right now. But magical things can happen with 57,000 people and sugar cubes, so we'll see.

Last long run (15 miles). 


Wish me luck!

Ever had a colonoscopy? Any pain or just a super good nap and then a fart?

Ever had your appendix out? No

What's the biggest race you've ever done? My biggest race prior to this one is the Bolder Boulder 10K

Biggest curve ball thrown at you lately?

Bon voyage!

SUAR