Articles for October 2014

“Catching the Moment- Using GoPro for Kayak Fishing”

“Catching the Moment- Using GoPro for Kayak Fishing” by Bill Crawford

I’m not one to take photos on a fishing trip.  I just get too immersed in the moment.   But as a blogger I am expected to have photos.  First, I tried mounting a traditional camera but moving it around and stopping the action to take pictures just wasn’t natural for me.

I had no idea how much a good wide angle lens and a remote control would change my opportunities to capture my trips to share.

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The Backpacker has the perfect camera for this in the Go Pro Hero.  It’s a great tool and as you can see below, I’m getting pictures that puts you right into the action!

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Article by Reverend Bill Crawford of Team Backpacker and 2014 Wilderness Systems Fishing Team Ambassador.

 

 

Journal Notes from a Backpacker’s first trip to France

 “Journal Notes from a Backpacker’s first trip to France” by Tyler Hicks

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Day 1 9am Paris Apartment near the Bastille-

This experience seems vaguely similar to the first day of middle school.  We did our lazy American best to prepare for our big first day.  I bought a couple of language apps for my phone and we practiced infrequently for a couple of weeks  We packed clothes that were neither slobbish nor snobbish and shoved them in our Eagle Creek carry ons.

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We did our best to get on the +7 hour time difference by drinking too much airplane wine by the forcing ourselves to sleep (this sounds less like middle school, and more like college).  Anyways, all the prep work has only kept us from being the kid who slips on the front steps of school, but not much else.  Besides my complete failure of getting enough sleep two nights before the trip (I always do that before big trips, all the way back to Disney World when I was 6) and getting barely 30 minutes of sleep on the 6 hours flight, we haven’t faired too badly.  The language barrier is a little terrifying, but we are humbling ourselves through it. It is overcast and cold and we barely packed appropriately for this weather, but we were smart enough to bring our rain shells and a lightweight fleece.  However, I doubt the weather would have affected our feeling of couture inadequacy comparing our traveling duds to all the sharply dressed Parisians hurrying to work at 9am.

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Paris is the French Quarter on steroids.  Cleaner? Oui.  Older? Oui.  Bigger? Infinite OUI!  To fresh eyes, Paris feels impenetrable.  Everything is slightly strange.

Day 2 8:30PM Paris Apartment, Bastille Neighborhood

Paris in a Day

Today, we explored what felt like the center of the universe! 1) Our apartment.  We found this little gem via Air BnB which we used to arrange all of our housing for our trip.  We awoke to some serious jet lag but drug ourselves out of bed out of fear of wasting away our most precious day for exploring the city of lights.  A proper night’s sleep brought back my humanity after 48 hours of little to none and an ocean’s worth of travel.  On our way to the “touristy” part of Paris (which lived up to every bit of its moniker) we picked up some breakfast at 2) a small patisserie near the street than ran across the River Seine.  We ate sweet pastries that were delicious and perfectly fitting for our setting.  After meeting a woman from L.A. who immediately pegged us as Americans (yet also as people who could give her directions…) we found ourselves suddenly staring at the cathedral of 3) Notre Dame.  Frightening and awe inspiring.  Who in their right mind would design such a thing as a house of the Lord?  Beelzebub, with an architect’s doctorate, that’s who.  Still, it is breathtakingly beautiful.  The front of the building hits you like staring into Yosemite Valley.  The back looks like the brain child of Tim Burton and Walt Disney. The interior deserves description beyond what I’m prepared to offer here, so let me paraphrase: Dark, heavy, magnifique.

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After touring Notre Dame (the line moved surprising fast), we strolled along the Seine until we made our way to 4) “Lover’s Bridge”.  Recently “Lover’s Bridges” have popped up all around the world where couples profess their love by locking a padlock to a bridge, usually with their names inscribed.  Interestingly enough, apparently there was just too much love in Paris, as a portion of the bridge collapsed under the weight of the locks just a few weeks after our visit. The grounds of the 5) Louvre and Jardin de Jardin.  Beautiful, crowded, full of pan handlers and sheisters.  Where the line into Notre Dame was refreshingly fast, to enter Louvre would have been like watching paint dry. IMG_0605

6)The Eiffel Tower.  Exactly as advertised.  Don’t believe what anyone says, otherwise: it’s BIG! 20140528_073348 20140528_070234

The round about surround the 7) Triumphal Arch makes for a good time to describe the streets of  ol’ Paris’.  It was interesting to see the difference between our Bastille neighborhood versus the tourist areas.  Our neighborhood impressed us with the singularity in size of vehicle (tiny) where the touristy area looked like any US city with its SUVs and large luxury cars (NO pickup trucks, if you were wondering).  However, both neighborhoods shared a common trait: Parisian drivers are insane and would run you over just as easy as they’d smoke yet another cigarette or buy another black jacket. Back to the Arch.  It was great! Totally worth the 6 Euros and 10+ flights of stairs to get to the top.  We were told, and are inclined to believe, that the view from the top of the Arch is just as good as the view from the top of the Eiffel and less expensive with MUCH shorter lines.

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Then came a long stroll down the 8) Champs d’ Lyse.

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If Paris is to be compared to the French Quarter, than than this was Canal St except only the rich and richer are allowed.

Why? 1)$8000 bottle of perfume

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2) Joyrides in Lambos

3) Tom Cruise.

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Before we knew it, we found ourselves back at the entrance of the 9) Gare Lyons where we first popped our heads out of the darkness of the Metro and into the streets of Paris.  What a difference 36 hours makes.  The cathedral that I was sure must have been Notre Dame because surely nothing could be as beautiful as the very first thing I saw in Paris now seemed rather plain and pedestrian.  It was a nice bookend for our journey, so far. 10) More delicious coffee, and on to another night of delicious cheese, tomatoes, wine and bread in the comfort of our apartment!  Tomorrow, on to Nice!

Day 3 11pm Nice’ Apartment

Do not judge a city by its stop on the train.  The first sights and steps you take can’t allow for the great memories you are about to make.

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Nice’ is a 3rd world country within your first 30 minutes off the train: dirty, plain, and confusing. But in a few hours, you are in love!  First, we thought we were in love the endless shops of its commercial district.  Then, we walked a little farther and fell head over heals for “Old Town” and its well worn, 500 year old streets.  Tiny streets led us here, there, and everywhere.  The streets made us feel like we could disappear into the shadows of its beautiful facades at the height of the noon day Sun. IMG_0656  IMG_0663

At streets end, we poured into the Mediterranean like a salmon into the Pacific. IMG_0811

To our virgin eyes, this jewel was more blue than we could have ever imagined.

Im starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by my surroundings.  When you’re in a foreign land, how long does it take before the mind puts up the white flag and says “I give up!” Surely, I must be on the verge.  I would love to learn the language, but I am more desperate to learn this somehow different way of life.

Day 5 4pm Marseille Train Stop

Things about France that I think I know:

1)Want to stand out in a crowd?  Be a young man with facial hair.  I have yet to find a monsuire below the age of 50 with a respectable beard.

2) Public restrooms are not free, but they ARE far preferable to our “freedom toilets” back in the states.  The public toilets Ive so far encountered in France, Nice’, and Marseille are usually found in public spaces like large, parks, train stations and shopping malls and cost the user .5 Euros.  This tariff pays for a toilette attendant to keep everything cleaned and properly stocked.    Not shocking enough?  Then you are in for a treat when you encounter your first “toilette automatique!”
Automatic Cleaning Toilet in Nice' Automatic Cleaning Toilet in Nice'

These wonders have a slot where you pay your .15EUs or so before you enter.  Thankfully, I never saw the magic happen with my own eyes, but once you exit, the entire room is sprayed down with a high powered disinfectant which ensures a spic and span toilette before each use. Viva la France’!  3) Be prepared for mixed gender restrooms.  Many toilettes have either a shared sink and separate gender stalls or its just a complete free for all.  I didn’t find it to be a big deal, just a shock to my American sensibilities.  EXCEPT for the time that I encountered what seemed to be two urinals around the corner from the sinks, which were currently being occupied by two women who were washing their hands.  I scanned the scene and returned to the urinals.  I told myself that fortune favors the bold and unzipped.  But no, I decided I didn’t want to be the guy banned from France for unwittingly peeing in the children’s face washing station and evacuated myself to the privacy of a stall.  In retrospect, Im fairly confident that “children’s face washing stations” don’t exist, but I’ve been wrong before.

4) French motorists will gladly send a pedestrian back to their personal Jesus and everyone is probably better off for it.  Ive yet to see a speed limit sign in France and by the way cars, buses, motorbikes, and bicycles tear down the streets, Im inclined to believe that the only limits are the signal lights that everyone religiously obeys.  One would think that this situation would result in death and disaster on every street corner but as far as I can see, no!  Not one wreck or even one really close call did I spy, and not even a bit of gridlock, even looking down multiple rues from the top of the Arch. With all the problems we are facing at home regarding gridlock and pedestrian access, it is interesting to see a well run city (two well run cities, mind you!) turning up the sped on its neighborhood streets rather than turning it down as we are currently attempting to do in Baton Rouge.

Day 6 Aix en Provence Apartment

More things I think I know about France.

As I said earlier, do not judge a city by the first impression you get as you pull into and step out of its train station.  Between the babel of graffiti linking miles of rail embankment and the disoriented malaise that is certain to come as you enter a potentially seedy neighborhood, its easy to let your thoughts run wild and feel like you’re entering the “Thunderdome.”

More Thoughts on French Transportation

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Maybe we should judge a city on the promptness of its trains.  If so, France’s centers of population must be near the top of that list.  Paris’ Metro whisked us from the airport to the city center, where we could have transferred to another link that would have dropped us steps from our doorway near the Bastille, had we not elected to orient ourselves with a walk.  Later, the TGV hauled us from Paris to Marseille and then on to Nice’ in what would have been hands down the most pleasant plane ride we’ve ever taken had it not been on a train.  Ive never seen Roman Aquaducts and medieval castles from a 747.

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In Nice’ a local commuter rail glided silently back and forth along the beach, while buses cruised their dedicated lanes delivering people deeper into the city’s center.  Wanna take a guided tour of “Old Town?”  “How about an open air tram to take you site seeings through the many historical and picturesque points of interest?!” Your many passive train options are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to transportation options as one can rent a bike or car from a machine right on the street and return it to another location!

A Final Thought on Trains.. DONT BE LATE.  We nearly missed our departure from Paris when we misunderstood the platform attendant’s direction and seated ourselves only moments before the TGV left right on time.  Later, in Marseille, we were actually surprised when the regional train pulled away 40 seconds late.

A FINAL, Final Though on Trains, Planes, and Buses

Though our 3 tickets from Paris -> Nice, Nice -> Aix, and then back to Paris PLUS the Europass to link the tickets together cost us a pretty penny, it was ultimately cheaper than flying and potentially faster depending on the route you take.  ALSO, you must take into account that you can arrive and walk right onto your train with no pre boarding, boarding, taxiing, and weather related airline BS.  All this while, sitting comfortably in an airplane style seating arrangements but having more room and the freedom to get up whenever you like, use the restroom whenever it is free, empty the charge on your cellphone or other portable electronic device as you please, or keep yourself occupied by simply watching the countryside or city fly by.

Train stops take less than two minutes.  Be ready to GO! Only once was our tickets checked by a helpful attendant who pointed out that simply walking on to the train without getting our tickets validated or our rail passes activated was not proper protocol.  Thankfully, her English was good enough and our desole’s sincere enough for her to be benevolent and pity our American ignorance after asking for our passports.  Otherwise, we easily snuck on to emptyish first class seats on the regional to Aix.

TIP! If you are linking your tickets with a Europass, here is what you do: order your tickets online and have the physicals mailed to you (some tix can be emailed or printed on site, others cannot) a week before your trip.  At your first departure, punch your ticket in the machine as you enter the rail platform.  There will be many attendants on the platform.  In Paris, they were only there to answer questions, if needed.  Elsewhere, they guard each different platform, checking tickets before letting you through.  As far as your Europass, I would suggest finding an attendant to validate your pass.  This is important as failure to do so could result in being forced to pay for the full face value of your individual ticket which is what your Europass is supposed to help you avoid.  Our Europasses were good for 30 days with 3 days of actual travel.  The attendant stamps and writes your start and end date, then you write in the date of each day of travel.  After 3 days of travel all of your spaces will be filled.

Popular long distance TGV tickets must be purchased in advance.  Regional and local passes can be bought on site at preferred time of travel.  The Paris Metro worked similarly.  You can look for a British flag on a lapel pin or ticket window for help in English, but Id just roll the dice and find your own benevolent attendant to take pity on your pitiful American comprehension of the beautiful French language and its transportation system.

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-The coaster train in Nice’ costs about 1.50EU for 40 minutes of use no matter how many times you hop off and on.

-I hear the cabs in Paris are ridiculously expensive.  However, if they drive like everyone else, the cost might be worth the fun of watching your life flash before your eyes.

Words to Live By

1) Desole’- Sorry. “Je suis désole”  I am sorry.

2″J’nai parle pas Francais” I do not speak any French.  Put these first two together and you will have already mastered 50% of my conversations while in France.  The other 50% consisted of:

3)”Bon jour!” Hello, good day!

4) “Bonsoir” Good evening

5) “Au Revoir” Goodbye

6) “deux” 2

7) “Cafe et Creme” Coffee with cream.  Though far superior to “cafe au lait”, the cheapest way to go is “cafe noir”

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8) “Pouvez vous parle anglais?” Do you speak English? Dont spend too much time memorizing these or their opposites phrase word for word as a panicked look and a short but loud ‘no answer’ to a question or phrase in French will work just fine in most situations.  As a friend said, “The French know you are coming, and they are ready for you.”

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End of the line!