Last June, I passed on some tips about going to Samois. For those of you new to this journey, NOW is the time to start making arrangements (hotel rooms particularly!) I thought I would repost some of these tips and add comments provided by Stephane Boucher and Kimmo Iltanen.
Please, anyone else who has other Samois advice or suggestions, post it here for all to see!
For all you new folks, and those wishing a refresher, here are the tips:
Hints about rental cars: Do you need a rental car? No, you can do just fine without one. However, if you decide to go first-class and get one, here are a few suggestions and ideas.
I've rented a car in Paris and I've rented a car in Fountainbleau. It is better to rent a car in Fountainbleu and skip all the Paris traffic. You take a train from Paris to Fountainbleu and get a rental car there. I made my arrangements via the internet. Pretty easy to do.
The rental car agency I chose closed for a few hours in the afternoon. I can't remember the exact times. Again, the internet will give you the details. Keep this in mind as you arrange your arrival and departure times. After the festival, when we were ready to leave Fountainbleau, we realized we couldn't leave until the rental car agency "reopened" for the day. We lost a few hours we could have spent in Paris.
Also, upon first getting your car, as you leave the rental car agency, take note of your directions BACK. The roads can be a bit twisty and the shops tend to be hidden among themselves. They can be difficult to find if you don't take note of where they were in the first place.
I had an "international" driver's license I got from AAA. I don't remember needing it, but it was fairly cheap and would have been worth the effort if I needed it. Be aware of the fuel type your rental car needs - gasoline or
diesel, and find out where your gas cap is. It's easier to get these answers when you check out the car rather than waiting to get the info later when you're low on fuel - especially if you don't speak French!
The drive from Fountainbleau to Samois is only about five minutes. If you're on the road for like 30 minutes, you better recheck your vector because you're probably lost.
Basically, once you leave Fountainbleau, there are two round-abouts that lead you to Samois. The first one you'll run into will probably be the "lower" round-about - only about 5 ks from Fountainbleau. One exit will take you across a bridge to the Samoreau camp sites, grocery store and GAS STATION; another exit will take you along the river to the festival site (on an island along the river) and the restaurants along the banks; another exit will take you to the "upper" roundabout which leads you to the upper part of Samois where you can reach the town center and the cemetary with Django's grave; one exit will take you to Paris (I believe) and the last - the one you're on - will take you back to Fountainbleau.
Parking near the site - especially on the festival weekend - can be challenging. Plus the traffic can get dead-stalled with all the pedestrians. It might be better to park a bit away from the festival site itself (something that's hard to gauge until you've actually driven up to the site...) Try to park in place where you won't get boxed in by other cars. People really pack 'em in at the site and it's easy to get in place where you can't move your car.
Let me preface this section by saying that last Samois I attended (in 2003) was the most crowded ever. Hopefully, you will have a bit more "breathing room" this year. With that said...
Anticipate your needs and stay ahead of the pack in everything you do, such as getting food, tickets, and especially seats for important shows. Everyone packs the seating areas and then stand by the zillions in the space between the ground seating and the bleachers. If you're going to go through all the trouble of getting good seats, get the ground seating - or sit high enough up in the bleachers so that you can see over the crowd.
Food! Try to eat when everyone else is doing other stuff. If you wait until the "normal" eating times, you will run into crowds and lines(surprise!) The center of town - about a 2 k walk from the island - has a couple of nice restaurants. One year, there was a quick and easy pizza sandwich van there. Good cheap eats are also available at the Grill on the backside of the camping area. Ask anyone at the site and they can tell you where its at. There are lots of restaurants in Fountanbleau, but most people don't want to make the drive back and miss out on the festival. There's a grocery store in Samoreau, and it's a good option for carry-around food.
By the way, the next time I go, I plan to buy all my toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, etc., at the Samoreau store - It's a great way to get nice French toiletry products. Also, there are tons of great cheeses, yogurts,and wines.
I always had cash. I used credit cards whenever possible, but always had ready cash. Some places refuse credit cards that lack your photo or an embedded "gold-chip". Some places won't take a credit card for small purchases. Credit cards, however, give you the most current ate of exchange and help you reserve your cash flow. Expect everything on the island to require CASH. (NOTE: Stephane Boucher emphasized this point, noting no merchants take "plastic" on the island). You will want plenty of it too for tickets, food, t-shirts, posters, CDs (and maybe even a new guitar).
The beer is good and cold on the island, but shop around. Some booths have better prices than others.
If you have a car, be generous and give people rides. Not only will you be a very popular person, but you will get to meet new folks, find out what's going on, and learn the turf. (Note: both Stephane and Kimmo brought up good points about walking rather than riding a car. Stephane mentioned how a walk gave him to to reflect on life and Kimmo mentioned how it helped to cut down on motor vehicle congestion. Kimmo also recommended using the public transportation and not trying to park to close to the island or venuue.)
Samois is not a dangerous place. Far from it. But it is a lot like a carney that pulls up on the outskirts of town. You need to keep your situational awareness going. If it's getting late, and you see people getting a bit buzzed from all the wine and beer, it might be a good time to move on elsewhere - like to the campground or a close by hotel for a jam session. After all, hey - you got a car!
One final note: For the past four years or so, the festival has made a point of featuring a North American band. This is to a great degree thanks to Patrick Saussois. I have not heard about the lineup for this year, but I hope they continue with the tradition.
And speaking of tradition, for those who will be raising a glass of wine to Mary Honcoop at her camp site, I too will be there in spirit.