The umbrellas of C…?

Pedestrian shopping street in Carcassonne

Did you ever see the movie from the 1960s starring Catherine Deneuve entitled The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? It takes place in that French port city along the Normandy coast and tells the story of two young lovers separated by war and then reunited years later. By the time the soldier returns, however, the woman has married someone else although it is clear that she still longs for her first love.  The film features the song I Will Wait for You but that clearly didn’t happen as the two main characters go their separate ways. Flash forward 50 years to a much happier take on that theme, at least as far as those umbrellas are concerned. Read the rest of this entry

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Montpellier day trip

Rose window at Montpellier cathedral

Much of France has a definite Roman and Greek history, especially near the Mediterranean Sea where they established colonies in the 1st millennium BC. The remains of amphitheaters, triumphal arches, and city gates from the era abound. Even in Carcassonne where we’re about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the water’s edge, at the base of the giant fortress that overlooks the city you can still the clay bricks laid over 2000 years ago. Somehow, Montpellier, the 7th largest city in the country, was bypassed by those early invaders, not being settled until around 985 AD. We only knew this regional capital from having visited the immigration office there soon after we moved across the Atlantic, so we happily accepted an invitation to lunch with friends that would give us the day to leisurely look around. Read the rest of this entry

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

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

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