Rennes-le-Château day trip

View from the Magdala Tower

If you’re a fan of the novel by Dan Brown called The Da Vinci Code you’ll know that a large portion of the book takes place in France, mostly in or near Paris. We’ve both read the book and seen the movie twice and even walked friends and family around the nation’s capital to places integral to the story such as the Louvre and St. Sulpice church. Then we moved to Carcassonne only 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of a village that I’ve long associated with this thriller that was inspired by the bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. According to this book, it was here that the local priest found a fortune in gold coins, much of which, the legend continues, remains buried in or near his tiny hilltop church plus proof of the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene who bore their child. Author Dan Brown skillfully wove these bloodline details into his novel and suddenly the village of Rennes-le-Château sprang to life. We decided to join the 100,000 other yearly visitors who travel to the foothills of the Pyrenees to see what we could find. Read the rest of this entry

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Where not to go

Gateway to France: Arc de Triomphe

A program I remember from American TV was called What Not to Wear and featured 2 fashion experts who helped sometimes unwilling contestants update their wardrobes. The show always began by throwing out practically everything from someone’s closet and then counseling them on how to make wise buying decisions at selected clothing stores accompanied by 5000 dollars to put their new skills into practice. In that same vein, there was a popular series of books based on the premise of What Not to Eat; eat this but not that. Another book could have been called What Not to Do because it gave advice to US travelers about questions to avoid asking or gestures not to make, for example, when conducting business overseas. It was no surprise, then, to read an article earlier this year that might have been entitled A Dozen Places Not to Visit This Year. Read the rest of this entry

Confirming the big decision

Safe harbors, literally and figuratively. This is Le Bono in Brittany.

During the 15 months after Bill initially asked “Why don’t we move to France?” we did a lot of online research to make certain that we were headed in the right direction. Before we boarded that Paris-bound Air France flight in Atlanta with our dog Heather and almost all of our possessions in 4 suitcases and 2 backpacks we had looked at dozens of websites, blogs, surveys, and government documents to be as informed as we could. Now that we live here, one online newspaper that we look at daily is The Local that gives news and tips in English on succeeding in another country. In one helpful article they assembled a list of reasons why this land well known for bread, cheese, and wine might just be the best place in the world to retire. Since we’ve now been here for a bit over 2 years I thought it would be interesting to see if we agreed with their list. Read the rest of this entry

I’m looking over

Looking across to the medieval walled Cité

When we were both in the travel industry we worked with a woman named Anne who specialized in trips to western Europe. To convince potential customers of the value of going with her company, she had cleverly calculated the cost of spending several days at a famous amusement park in Orlando, FL to see castles and landscapes created in a Hollywood studio to compare with a similar journey to England, Germany, or France, for example, to see the genuine massive fortresses that were in place centuries before a well-known mouse first piloted that steamboat. Anne succeeded well with that reasoning and we have long believed that history has much more meaning when you live it rather than just read about it. We needed that philosophy planted firmly in our minds last week to provide the push we needed to climb the 232 steps to the top of St. Vincent’s tower. Read the rest of this entry

What did we buy?

Charcoal or spinach?

With the luxury of an open-air farmers’ market three days a week being about a 15-minute walk from our front door, our refrigerator is typically full of a variety of fruits and vegetables that we’ll use within the next few days. Occasionally we’ll be following a recipe that either asks for something that isn’t in season or specifies a frozen ingredient. That was the case when Bill was making a quiche Florentine and the cookbook author recommended chopped spinach from the grocer’s freezer section. We could have picked up some beautiful dark green leaves at the market but then that would have involved guessing about how much to buy, then chopping and cooking it. The ready-to-go version seemed to make much more sense until we opened the package and out poured what appeared to me to be green charcoal briquettes. Bill’s impression was a little more “earthy” since they reminded him of “road apples”, especially after the horse had consumed large quantities of fresh grass.What did we buy? Read the rest of this entry

Follow that canal

Castle steps from the 11th century

Now they’ve done it; they’ve bought a car. Whenever our friends Sally and Larry have rented a car for a distant journey they always have a day or two left once they get back to Carcassonne before the vehicle has to be returned to the agency. Bill and I have benefited from those bonus days by being taken on road trips to towns, villages, monuments, and scenic views that we couldn’t easily reach by train or bus. An email will suddenly appear in our mailbox asking if we’re available on a certain date, and if so, be ready for a mystery tour. Two weeks ago we got just such a message and when we replied with an enthusiastic Oui, back came the response to bring a camera, comfortable shoes, and money for wine–just like the instructions we got for those elementary school field trips years ago…except, maybe, for that wine money part! Read the rest of this entry

Germany in France

Canal in Colmar, France

The story goes that in the summer of 1935 Walt Disney went on a grand European tour that took him through England, France, Germany, and Italy. He was apparently greatly inspired by what he saw, especially in the majestic castles that each of these countries had to offer, so much so that Cinderella’s Castle that opened 20 years later in California’s Disneyland is said to have been based on what he encountered on this trip. From what I’ve read, a Disney official did confirm that Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle was a great influence but we’ve seen other castles claiming that they too were etched into the memory of the creator of Mickey Mouse. I don’t know if that’s a bit of “Washington slept here” European style but his theme parks and films do sometimes show images we might associate with England…or is it Germany…or maybe France? Read the rest of this entry

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