An Update On My Ongoing Love/Hate Affair With European Trains


As longtime gentle readers know all too well, I travel frequently between Rome and Montpellier, France. It is a journey of just over 600 miles, a distance that according to Google Maps would take a hair over 10 hours by car.

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Mid-Week Links and Randomness

  • Sean Keener of BootsnAll and I have started dealing crack to travel addicts in the form of Travel News Daily. Bookmark it now:

Have you ever had a dessert placed in front of you after a great meal, and you think you can’t possible manage another bite, but you stick your fork in it and something wonderful oozes out, and you get all excited and put it in your mouth and it’s the best thing you’ve ever had, and you hope you can eat there again the next night just to recreate that one moment?

That’s Travel News Daily – every half-hour, every day of the week, we’re going to give you juicy morsels of travel-related ephemera we find on the Internets. Get your destination guides, top 10 lists and ways to save somewhere else – this is for those among us who start planning our next trip during the flight home.

Travel addicts unite!

  • I wrote a rant about a completely unbelievable survey that revealed France as the most expensive holiday destination. It’s hilarious and scathing. Read it and weep.
  • A bunch of awesome Italiaphiles I know started a podcast called Eye on Italy. Listen to it.

Clarifying Point #3 of My Rant:

I realize that in my vapors, I was not totally clear about the map above. Here is some context:

Rome/Milan: 2 hrs 45 mins, 389 miles
Rome/Genoa: 5 hrs 22 mins, 326 miles

Genoa/France-Italy border: 3 hrs 40 mins, 100 miles, compare to:
Rome/Venice: 3 hrs 30 mins, 352 miles

Via Genoa, takes me 9 hours to get from Rome to the border. This does not include the mandatory 2-hour stopover in Genoa due to the fact that the earliest train I can take from Rome gets me into Genoa 3 minutes after the previous train leaves for the border.

Absolutely Fabulous Travel Planning

I just received an email from a dear friend who is planning to come over and visit this spring. I’ve traveled with her before, and we never fail to have a completely and utterly awesome time. Her schedule is wide open, and other than having Rome be our base, the continent is our oyster.

Read what we’ve come up with so far after the jump, and then tell me what would be your ideal mid-week jaunt with your old Miss Expatria.
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Fabulous Cousin and I decided to take advantage of the lack of rain, sleet, snow and fog and headed out to Versailles.

We bought sandwiches at a marvelous bakery on rue Saint-Honoré and ate them on the train – it’s a short, cheap ride on the RER C from the Musée d’Orsay, and as you’re told often, an 8-minute walk from there to the palace grounds.

The lines were horrendous, so we opted instead to head to the “backyard.”

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Leading Hotels of the World 1928 Promotion: WIN!

OH MY GOD YOU GUYS, THEY DID IT!  The Leading Hotels of the World “1928” 80th anniversary promotion has finally gone off without a hitch.

The site opened at exactly the moment they said.  The form was easy to fill out and clearly written.  I completed it and got my confirmation number in LESS THAN TWO MINUTES.
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Oh, Leading Hotels of the World, WHY?

If you’ve been following my Leading Hotels of the World 19.28 room promotion obsession, surely it won’t come as a surprise to you that I have something to say about their new do-over.  That’s right – while your Miss Expatria slept, LHW posted their new rules, and they make her want to crawl back into bed.

Let’s take a look at the changes after the jump, shall we?
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Quick Update: Leading Hotels of the World

So, today was the day.  The glorious, shining day when Ted Teng, CEO of Leading Hotels of the World, was to unveil the new plan for the do-over of their failed 19.28 promotion.  Per the website,

We will be posting further details on the actual sale this Friday, October 17 after 4 pm GMT (12 noon Eastern Daylight Time). Please check back here at that time. Thank you!

Two hours later?  NOTHING.

Now, granted, it does say “after 4 pm.”  And, this is after 4 pm.  But really, how much longer do I have to wait??  I’m trying to plan the next two months of jet-setting and country-hopping, and this delay is really putting a kink in my moving forward with said plans. I can’t figure out where I’m going to watch the elections, whether or not I’ll be able to see my friend Matt in Florence the week before Thanksgiving, or if I’ll be able to style gay husband Marco for his 40th birthday in Rome!

Come ON, Leading Hotels of the World!  YOU’RE KILLING ME. The fate of my autumn traveling season is in your hands.

Leading Hotels of the World Still Full of Fail, Poor Things

I feel especially bad for the people in extremely inconvenient time zones today, as they awake to the news that they can go right back to sleep – the Leading Hotels of the World promotion, which was supposed to have an email-based “do-over” today at noon GMT after their servers crashed yesterday under the strain of 150,000 people clicking (and clicking and clicking), sent out an email overnight stating that it is postponed until further notice.


They are very nice and very apologetic in this little “Dear John” letter, and the lady who wrote back to me yesterday was also very nice and very apologetic, and even wrote back to my reply to her!  I just think it’s funny that they didn’t think they’d get the response they did, when all they had to do was look at their Alexa ranking on the days immediately following their VERY promoted promotion for an indication.

So, I figured I’d give them a break and simply post my preferences here for the hotels I’d like to stay in for $19.28 a night (I’ll be staying for the max two nights, thanks, cheers).

Hotel Raphael, Paris. We can get there easily, and their smallest room is over half the size of my entire apartment. Also, truffle omelet delivered by room service? YES PLEASE.

Gran Hotel La Florida, Barcelona. Another hop, skip and a jump for us. And did you see that VIEW? They’ll have to drag me out of there kicking and screaming.

Bauer Il Palazzo, Venice. This was a tough call, because all the Venice hotels on the list are fantastic. But this one wins because, when else would I be able to sit in a hot tub overlooking the rooftops of my favorite city on earth?

Oh, any dates are fine, thanks. We’ve got no particular schedule.

So, tell me, gentle readers – what are your top picks from the Leading Hotels of the World list?

Leading Hotels of the World: FULL OF FAIL


Next week I’m going to be all bloggy and update ALL THE TIME, but for right now I am coming out of a self-imposed Internet exile (due to writing work deadlines) to liveblog a bunch of FAIL.

So, the Leading Hotels of the World is having their 80th anniversary this year.  To celebrate, they are offering a select group of their hotels’ rooms for $19.28 a night.  Nice, right?  You KNOW I signed up for that, baby.

The thing is, the promotion is for 80 minutes starting at noon GMT today. I set an alarm on my slick 30Boxes Internet calendar for noon my time, just to be sure I got in, and dutifully signed on.

Sorry! Due to the overwhelming number of consumers currently trying to access this promotion, your request is being delayed momentarily. Please be patient, don’t get discouraged, and retry in a few seconds by clicking here, or by going back to

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Miss Expatria’s Top 10 Travel Songs

I’ve compiled my list of songs, or parts of songs, that make me want to travel. They’re listed below, along with the guilty-pleasure lyrics that send me packing. They’re in no particular order, so music snobs: Pipe down out there.

These songs are different than “place” songs – those that evoke the sense of a place so strongly, you can close your eyes while you’re listening and be transported there. That, my dears, is a list for another time. Instead, these are all about gettin’ outta Dodge.

I’d love to hear about your favorite travel songs in the comments. Remember, save your “place” songs for another post!
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An Open Apology.

Yesterday, I opened my post about summertime in the South of France by giving a sweeping and greatly exaggerated statement about life here in Montpellier.

I am heartfully sorry about that, and I have since edited it out. I wrote it without thinking of the consequences, and I’ve hurt many people who are close to me.

The culture here is very different than what I am used to. After being away for so long, I have found myself not being able to readjust as quickly as usual.

On Wednesday night, I spent the evening with friends at a place directly across a narrow road from another group of friends. I made a snap decision to stay with the first group, and did not go across the road to see the latter group.

This action, combined with what I wrote yesterday, has left many of my friends here – friends I care deeply for – turning away from me, without speaking to me about it.

I don’t want to lose any of these friends, who mean more to me than I’ve been expressing, obviously. I intend to rectify this, one person at a time, until everything is put right.

Thank you for your time.

Of A Personal Nature

I am loathe to publish personal things on this blog, but I haven’t been writing as often as I’d like, and I’d like to explain why.  Also, I think it’s important to show that the jet-setting life of an expat is not always a glamour parade.  Sometimes, it sucks just as much as everyone else’s life!

Here is a summary of the last six weeks of my life:

– Cal had to commit his best friend into a psychiatric hospital following a devastating saga best told over many, many drinks, but involved a Romanian violin player, Mary Magdelene, and the State Department. Then we both had to stand by impotently as this friend’s parents and doctors sabotaged her treatment and finally released her back into a world she clearly is not ready for. We can only pray she is getting the care she needs where she currently is, which we cannot disclose. The good news: We are able to get back to our regularly scheduled lives.

– I went to the gynie finally, and got a prescription for some homeopathic granule things that will hopefully make me stop with the four-month cycles followed by two weeks of hemorrhaging. I started taking them – it’s a very strict system of 5, 8, 14 days – and noticed after the first dose that the bottle expired LAST YEAR.  Went back and got new granules and have to start the process all over again.  The good news: I’m not dying of anything ovarian-related.  Also, the meds cost under 2 Euro.

– My mother had an alarming-sounding high blood pressure-related attack thing and had to go to the hospital, and when she got scanned they told her she had a brain tumor.  She had to go for like one million tests, and still has more tests.  The good news: She didn’t have a stroke, and the tumor is non-cancerous, has calcified and is totally not affecting her in any way.

– We paid our exorbitant electric bill. They took out double the amount, which with the completely crappy exchange rate almost wiped us out. No one is able to tell us why, or reverse it, or help us get onto a normal rate. The good news: We are paid up through the summer. Also, friends of ours found a non-government-run electric company and will help us get set up with an account there.

– Cal washed his card in a hot washing load and melted it. It looks like an overcooked piece of lasagna. The good news: Carrying it around with us and showing it has had a Jedi mind trick effect, and everyone has been really cool about waiting until we get the new card.

– He had another card sent out express, but UPS doesn’t deliver on Saturdays in the South of France, even though the package was marked OMG SUPER EXPRESS URGENT. Also, the card landed at Lyon, was in Paris for a while, and finally made it to our door yesterday. It took almost one week. The good news: We have the card!

– My bank card expired and I had not received a new one. I had an older one that expires next month, and they reactivated that and said they would send out a new-new one in two weeks. A few days later I called my bank to check my balance, only to find they had closed the account when I canceled the old card. Although this was not my request AT ALL, no one is able to do anything about it unless I personally stop into my bank branch, from which I am 4,000 miles away.  Yes, they know I’m in Europe.  No, there are no exceptions. No, I cannot open a new account with them.  Bye, bank account I’ve had for six years! The good news: Cal immediately called and got me on his account, and they’re sending out a new card with my own name on it.

– If I did not have three American friends who have planned for this for eight months, and are unreachable until I pick them up at the train station – in Rome – this weekend, I would have canceled my trip there.  Last year, two of them came in the middle of my work-related lawsuit and I was so broke I couldn’t pay attention.  This year, I’m arriving on the heels of the above-mentioned shit storms and will have to rely on Western Union payments from Cal when money comes in. The good news: I’ll be in Rome this weekend!

My mother has always told me that God gives you only what you can handle.

Dear God:

I get it.  You think I am strong and fierce.  I got the point. Please to stop now?


Miss Expatria 

Weekend in Paris: Executive Summary

The legendary Girls’ Weekend in Paris went swimmingly!

Some stats:

Combined miles traveled: 8,330

Meals eaten: 8

Dishes cooked, served, taken away and cleaned by someone else: 19

Scarves lost: 1

Scarves found, swung above head as entire bar cheered: 1

Nutella crepes consumed with great gusto by MK: 4

Topics discussed: 5,621

Miles walked: approx. 147

Bottles of wine drunk, paid for: 3

Bottles of wine drunk, stolen from next table: .5

Carafes of wine drunk: 3

Glasses of champagne drunk: 2

American diner breakfasts savored by me: 1

Times my French was corrected: 0

Celebrities in Us, People magazines that were unknown to either MK or myself: 23

Times hotel clerk swiped MK’s card, to no avail, because he wouldn’t listen to me: 442

Amount of money currently in my bank account: 0

Regrets: 0

The Price of Love: A Cheap Flight to Madrid

Cal and I have had quite a year. Actually, for everyone I know – with almost no exception – 2007 has been a year of what I’ve taken to calling “life-altering shitstorms.” QUITE a year.

For me, I went through an ugly legal battle after being laid off from my job. Man, was I BROKE. And very, very sad. But now, as we close out this year, I realize that the life I live now – meaning, my daily, everyday life – is so close to perfect, it’s frightening. AND the rent is getting paid! Next year, with our planned move to Italy, it will actually BE perfect – and my head might explode.

For Cal, this has been a year of getting his head together and breaking through a lot of the mental blocks that have been holding him back from being the man he knows he can be, the man he wants so desperately to be. We’ve taken his tremendous progress on a day by day basis, and I’ve never been more proud of anyone in my entire life.

One part of Cal’s “thing” is his strong desire for routine. The man has never seen a routine he didn’t like. When I first met him, it was the same chair at the cafe and the same route to and from the three places he went to in town. He’s MUCH improved since then, but with our impending move, he still has a bit of head-work to do. Said plainly, moving to Italy freaks him out.

Something we both do, and have always done, is to go away from each other for a while. Whether it’s four days in Barcelona for Cal, where he goes to his favorite expat haunts and gets his American food on at the Hard Rock, or Rome with my gay mafia for me, it is what has kept us sane and otherwise able to be with each other 24/7 given our work and lifestyle.

Recently, he has spoken of his desire to break out of this larger routine of going to Barcelona when he wants to get away – specifically, he’d like to try Madrid, a place he’s never been to. This is, in a word, HUGE. This is a big, big step. This is what is going to get us to Italy eventually, because once he knows he can go to a completely new place alone and survive it, then it will free him to go with me to “my” turf and check it out.

We’ve been checking on ways for him to get to Madrid, and we realized that he can take a train to Marseilles and then fly to Madrid on Ryanair. I’d love for him to go before my weekend with MK in Paris, because I don’t want to yet again be the person who’s running off and doing things while he stays here.

Today, just now in fact, I was checking out prices on Ryanair – and came upon their January sale. For the dates he wants to go, each flight was…

…are you ready…


With taxes and everything else thrown in, the total came to 44 bucks.

I booked it. He doesn’t even know it yet; he’s at his therapy session, of all places, probably talking about going to Madrid. It’s my Christmas present to him. I’m going to go now to the Internet point and print out the confirmation, and I’m going to buy a card and stick it in there, and I’m going to give it to him tonight.