Of Falling Exchange Rates and Temperature

I mentioned before that Gillian and I had our phones fully charged to make sure we could find each other at the airport.

I should add this only works if the person you’re calling can HEAR it ring.  Gillian’s church-mouse-like ring was no match for the bustle of the train station, and the fact it was in her purse made the vibrating feature equally useless.  Fortunately Gillian is a smart cookie, and although she was unaware of her impotent phone ring she waited in a central area where everyone passes by in the hopes of finding me, which she did.

We went on the Eurostar bullet train, which would get us from London to Lille in just over one hour.  However, there is not much to describe for this trip – it all happened at night.  It’s just like a plane flight in economy class, only you feel you’re flying backwards and can’t see jack.  The only way I could tell I was under the Thames and later the Channel was from the popping of my ears.

During the trip, I wondered how much spending cash we’d have.  I save up just over 400 pounds from my paycheck just for this trip.  I figured this would turn into about 600 euros.

It was actually 500.

I really REALLY wanted to have a “cost doesn’t matter” attitude on this trip.  Honest.  But I’ve been a miser by necessity for far too long.  I had to know what happened.  The exchange rate Gillian got was about 1.25 euros to every pound.  This sucks because when as far as the cost of things go it’s closer to 1.5 euros to every pound.  This was later confirmed when I saw a Nintendo DS for sale at a computer store for 150 euros, whereas in England it costs exactly 100.  What ticked me off more was that when I checked what the proper exchange rate was it was 1.35 to 1, which meant the exchange people effectively helped themselves to 40 euros just for the privilege of converting it.

Nice work if you can get it.

If it turns out we need to withdraw more money before this is over, I intend to take 100 euros directly from my HSBC account and see how the exchange rate (and any charges) works that way.

We arrive in Lille at about 9pm – whoops, 10pm.  France, despite being right below England, is an hour ahead.  The information desk has never heard of our hotel but is able to direct us to where we’ve marked it on our Google map.  My back is acting up again, but it’s not a long walk to the hotel.  I knew roughly where it was, near La Grande Place, where I spent a lot of time before when I stopped over here in my Europe bike trip.  La Grande Place is really nice, and this was just a few blocks away.

Man, things can get pretty run down in just a few blocks.

The Opera Comfort Inn Hotel is called so because it’s close to the grand Opera house.  Comfort Inn is a worldwide chain of hotels you’ve almost certainly driven by at some point in your lives.  I had prepaid for this hotel via lastminute.com, and knew it was a two star hotel.  But come on, how bad can a two star hotel be?

It’s not so hot.

Let’s see, the bathroom door won’t lock.  There’s only a shower, no bathtub.  Both the toilet and the shower room are the size of a closet.  Poorly lit (only two lights meant for reading in bed rather than lighting a room).  The TV is a 14 inch thing that gets only 7 channels (not that it matters, as the only thing in English are CNN and BBC news).

The internet situation deserves its own paragraph.  The hotel has a free wi-fi connection but it doesn’t reach our floor, and even if it did I’d need a network key that nobody seems to know, and even when someone gave it to me it didn’t work for me, even in the lobby.  They have a terminal in the lobby, but if I tired writing this letter on a French keyboard the result would look like this:

They hqve q ter,inql in the lobby; but if I tried zriting this letter on q French keyboqrd the results zould look like thisM

Try fixing that as you go along for a letter this size.  What I did instead was transfer my file to my camera, then plug my camera into the terminal to retrieve it.  Fact is, I’ve stayed at youth hostels that were better, cheaper, better staffed, and included breakfast (which this place does not).


So we have 500 euros to work with over 7 days.  This works out to about 70 euros a day to spend between the two of us, or 35 euros each (I think about money too damn much for someone who promised to make this a “cost  doesn’t mater” vacation…).  Let’ s see how we do with it!

Buying aspirin for my back: 4 euros
Coffee at cafe in La Grande Place: 6.50 euros (uh oh…)
Breakfast tart at Paul bakery: 3 euros
Buying a pair of gloves for Gillian: 1 euro (best deal of whole day,
Gillian’s a bargain hunter)
Lunch at out-of-the-way-restaurant-I-went-to-last-year-and-could-have-SWORN-was-a-hell-of-a-lot-cheaper-than-this: 31 euros (WHAT?)
Going to hospice museum: 6 euros
Buying heat packs for my back: 8 euros
Buying a power adaptor: 20 euros
Realizing food is hella more expensive than we banked on and bought supplies at a super market instead: 20 euros.

Approximate total: 99.5 euros

So much for 70 euros a day.  Granted 12 euros was on account of my back and 20 was the adapter.

Why 20 euros for a travel adapter?  Oh, this is good.  I couldn’t resist, we needed one anyway and found this at a travel store.  You it, it’s awesome.  It’s the power adapter equivalent of a transformer. I swear Starscream uses one as a sex toy.  You can plug anything in it from anywhere, and you can use it anywhere, too.  You just twist it to the right country and the proper extension pops out.  Usually such multi-region adapters come as a bunch of parts you have to assemble like some kind of model airplane.  This is now officially part of my travel kit.

Okay, removing the back stuff and travel adapter from the cost list and it only just comes in under 70 euros, and that’s because we bought dinner from a supermarket.  This was actually probably a pretty smart thing to do.  If we can have breakfast and dinner here we can allow ourselves to splurge a bit for lunch.  And that 20 euros is going farther than you think.  What we bought will probably last us for breakfast and dinner tomorrow as well.  Not bad.

God I’m cheap.  I bet if I became a rich millionaire writer I’ll still do the same thing.

But the point is that MOST of our budget isn’t going towards DOING stuff, but just eating.  Eating?  I can do that back home!  At least the supermarket plan should help in the week to come.

But of course this does not even touch upon the other major obstacle for enjoying our trip.


I mean, what the hell?  Last week it was double digits both here and in London.  The day before we leave and the temperature drops like an adolescent’s testicles.  It’s 2 degrees Celsius out here.  Two tiny degrees above that of frozen water.  Now I know my brother, having to dig himself out of his apartment just to get to work, is playing the world’s smallest violin for me right now, but this is supposed to be a vacation, dammit!  Stupid Global Warming, why can you work FOR me instead of AGAINST me.

Oh yeah, and just because God likes laughing at me, it got warm in London today, double digits.

I am trying VERY hard to ignore the fact that the amount I spent on this trip probably could have got us an all-inclusive trip to some place very warm and sunny.  I’m desperately trying to remember why Lille and Amsterdam in February sounded like such a good idea.

The answer of that will have to wait until we leave for Amsterdam, when I’ll give a synopsis of the cool (argh, pun) places we visited.