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.
The most helpful internet site that I know of is the festival site:
As far as flying goes, you will probably be coming into aeroport Charles de Gaulle. When booking a flight you should always check out if it might be cheaper to fly to London and then take a separate flight from London to Paris. This is what I did, and it saved $200-300 (although this is Canadian funds). However, if you go this route remember to leave lots of time between your arrival in London and departure for Paris because if the first flight is delayed and you miss the second one, you'll have to buy another ticket. Once you have your itinerary and you know what terminal in Paris you'll be arriving at, go to the airport's website and look at the maps accessible from this page:
http://www.adp.fr/webadp/a_cont01.nsf/$ ... 005A0.html
This will tell you where to catch a bus or where to go to take the train. Alternatively you can rent a car and drive to Samois. If you want to take the bus, go to this page:
and click on "lignes" then choose 4, which will give you the information (prices, times) about the yellow route. This bus will stop at Gare de Lyon, which is the train station you need to get to.
If you want to take the train to Gare de Lyon, you need to go to the one of the airport stations listed on the map above, and buy a ticket (predictably)to Gare de Lyon on the RER B. You will want to take the RER B line to Chatelet les Halles and then get off and transfer onto either the A line or the D line to get to Gare de Lyon. This is what I did - it is pretty easy to do so far. However, Gare de Lyon is confusing - I wasted about two hours there. Once you arrive at Gare de Lyon you have to go up to the main level (street level) and buy a ticket to Fontainebleau/Avon. Unfortunately there is only one specific place you can get these tickets and I don't kow how to decribe it without a map. But anyway, get on the train and get off at Fontainebleau. At this point you might want to hire a taxi. The walk to Samoreau campsite is long, and unpleasant if you have heavy bags, and the walk to Samois is even longer. Alternatively, there is a free bus that takes you into Samois, but I'm not sure how often it runs (or whether it only runs for the three official days of the festival) - check the festival website.
I don't know if you can rent bicycles. A rental car might be desirable, particularly if you are staying at the Samoreau campsite which is 40 mins walk away from Samois. However, it is a pleasant walk and you can often hitch a ride with others.
As far as where to stay goes, I am not sure of all the options - you could stay in a hotel in Fontainebleau, but you would definitely want a car. Another option is the Country Club Hotel in Samois, which is pricey and apparently not so swanky for the price (according to Ted G.) but very convenient because it is in town. You need to book really early if you want to stay there I believe. Alternatively, you could choose to stay at the campground, which is what I did. Although it is a bit of a walk to Samois from here, it is very cheap and there is a great atmosphere - for days before the festival there is lots of stuff going on , and the majority of non-gypsy jam sessions at the festival occur at night at the campsite (sometimes there are gypsies at the campsite too). However, I don't think you can really reserve a place (people just arrive and set up camp) so you might want to get there earlier in the week - it fills up fast!
Potential drawbacks to camping for the more delicately minded are that the lineups for showers get longer and longer as the week progresses, and there are only two or three urinals, four squat toilets and one regular toilet for hundreds of people. however, I found this surprisingly manageable - just try and shower at odd hours.
Camping supplies should include a tent. You can bring cooking stuff if you want, but it is probably easier (especially if you're coming from N America) not to bring anything like that - I mostly ate fresh non-cookable foods which I bought from the grocery store (cheese, wine, fruit, smoked salmon, etc.). There are usually people who have little cooking things set up so you can make friends with them and if you give them beer you can probably use their cooking equipment. There is a little outdoor sandwich place right next to the campground so you can always eat there in a pinch (wine and sandwiches, ice cream, etc.) As I said there is a grocery store which is quite far away on foot - best to hitch a ride with someone. Apart from this there is a bakery near the campground in Samoreau, and lots of places to eat in Samois itself.
There is water on the campsite so you can just fill a bottle up (you will be drinking a lot of water) I'm not sure it's great water, but I drank a lot of it and I didn't get sick
Other than that you don't really need many supplies besides toilet paper and other toiletries.
Now on to other questions:
You did bring a guitar, right?
I did, I bought a Hiscox flight case for it and packed it snugly using shirts underwear socks etc. (make sure to pack the headstock really tightly) and just put it in baggage on the plane. I believe if you live in the US and you show up early for your flight they can't refuse to let you carry the guitar on board, in which case you only need a soft case which would be much easier to carry. Ted knows more about this than I do.
Are there vendors set up as at Djangofest NW? Should I expect to be coming home with a ton of new discs, strings, picks, etc.?
Yes - you probably won't feel the need to get a whole bunch of strings (there is better stuff to spend your money on) but the CDs will be plentiful - I think I came home with 25 new ones! You can get them at the festival site, but also keep your eyes open at the campsite because people often have stuff for sale (including dubious tortoise shell picks)
How crowded is it? Did you need to get in early to find a good spot to see the stage well?
Well last year was supposed to be the most crowded year ever, and yes, it was REALLY crowded - maybe because it was the 50th anniversary, I don't know. In any case, you would have to be pretty early to get a good seat for the big concerts. Strangely enough, the big concerts didn't get as much attention as you'd think - they were always packed, but there were an equal number of people milling around elsewhere on the island and in the town - particularly at the guitar booths, which is where all the really cool stuff happens. I mean if you had the chance to see a band from afar on the mainstage or stand right next to Stochelo Rosenberg/Tchavolo Schmitt/Mandino Reinhardt etc etc as they jam at a booth what would you do?
Basically during the big festival days there are tons of people in and around Samois and Samoreau - you have people jamming at the campsite, people jamming in Samois, people jamming at guitar booths on the island, and people playing the mainstage concerts - all gypsy jazz all the time. I would recommend getting into Samois earlyish on Friday Saturday and Sunday because as cool as the jamming at the campsite is, it is nothing compared to walking around with all of your heroes (and tons of phenomenal players you've never heard of) absolutely tearing it up right in front of your eyes on the island.
However, depending on how long you've been at the festival, and what you're looking for, you might want to leave earlier on Sunday and head into Paris to La Chope des Puces. Every Sunday afternoon you can see live jazz manouche in this tiny little bar, which is the spiritual home of this music - it was pretty much the school for all Parisian gypsy jazz musicians, and it is just magical to go there, where the music was kept alive for so many years.
As for tickets, people at the campsite will be organising groups of ticket buyers in order to get a discount, so be sure you get into one of those groups. Tickets for the concerts on the Barge are sold in advance, not at the door, as I found out last year (which was very disappointing because I couldn't get in) so make sure if you want to get in that you get tickets early (I don't know where you get them from).
Any security concerns? Do things get stolen?
Yes - keep your guitar with you at all times - also keep valuables such as money, cameras etc with you at all times. Make sure things are secure before you stay up all night drinking beer and jamming because you don't want to drop anything.
How important is it to know French? If you know no French, is it worth trying to learn a bit? Worth bringing a English-to-French phrasebook.
Yes - you will find it much easier to get around and people will probably be more helpful (in Paris at least) if you make an effort to speak French. At the campsite English is probably the dominant language among players though.
What else to try to see in the the area?
If you go to Samois and you decide that you are bored and want to do other stuff, then you should not have gone to Samois
for the next samois, if someone is willing to help me out with these issues, i'll gladly serve as translator ... i speak fluent french and english
but I 'll be in europe from april til the end of samois... if i can get more money from the government i'll use it to just book a hotel at samois
As for rental camping gear, can't say. I've never camped there. Mary Honcoop always insist I should, but I never did. Anyways, seemed to me it would be good idea for someone to go the French version of a Goodwill or Army surplus store and buy up a bunch of basic tents and sleeping bags and "rent" it for four days. Ka-ching! They could pay for their trip to Samois!
I'm sure there must be a few more Samois suggestions out there... Any takers, anywhere?
Here's one: If you are traveling with a significant other and plan to spend a few days catching the sites in Paris, do it AFTER you go to Samois. I've done it both before and after. All I could think about when I did it before Samois was playing guitar, trying to get my chops up, da da da... It's much more enjoyable for the both of you if you can give Paris the attention she deserves!
the Samois festival is one of the worst in terms of organization... be careful late at night in samois, since it's a little village, there are no streetlights , taxi, bus or anything like that... at that point if you want to get to fontainebleau or somwhere outside samois, you'll have to rely on the generosity of someone with a car.... or walk!!!
I'm planning to make the sojurn to samois this year with a couple of friends, but i think its going to be on a budget. I'm pretty sure that we are going to camp at the campsite. I was wondering if anyone has had any advice camping?
Is there any place to store your stuff so you can walk around with just your guitar? How big is the campsite? should i chain my guitar to my leg while i sleep?
I was planning to bring the basics: a guitar, wegens(x3), argentines(x3), a backpackand a tent. it would be nice to not carry everything with me everywhere i went, but beggars can't be choosers.
any help would be nice!
As for trains... See Nick's comments about Gare de Lyon. He's absolutely right about it being hard to figure out which ticket counter sells the tickets to Fountainbleau. Knowing which level to go to (main, street-level) is half the battle. When I was there, we never figured it out. We had to jump the train or miss the last train to Fountainbleau. Fortunately, no conductors came by. I don't recommend "jumping the train". Get to Gare de Lyon in plenty of time and figure out the ticket situation. Or better yet, perhaps someone reading this post can give us better directions...
Hotels. Forget about getting one in Samois at this point. Your best bet is Fountainbleau and again check Nick's comments. I booked all the places I stayed in France via the internet and phone. It's pretty easy to do. Since I speak very little French, I wanted to stay at places where they could accommodate English (which most places do). I called each place from the States and simply started the phone calls with "Bonjour, parlez vous Anglais?" If they spoke English, I went from there. If not, I simply thanked them and said goodbye with "Merci, au revoir." It wasn't very graceful but it worked.