University town

Long before we knew that we’d be retiring in another country, we looked across much of the US for the ideal place to settle. One option that we considered was a university town where we anticipated the excitement of a diverse environment, i.e., lots of different people with a range of ideas all open to discussion. Our visits to cities like this had shown us endless dining opportunities, a multitude of community events, concerts, films, plays, and art shows, plus—vital for us—being pedestrian friendly since we wanted to live without a car. That was a good idea as was our consideration of a beach house, living by (or floating on) a lake, or even going on-the-road full time in an RV as Bill’s parents had done for years. Then the possibility of retiring in Europe took the lead and here we happily are in a house that’s not on the water in a city that doesn’t have a university. Those thoughts persist, however, so when our local newspaper published an article called “What are the cheapest university towns in France?” I wanted to take a look.

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M M M My Girona

If your town had been attacked 25 times over the centuries you would definitely want to surround it with solid stone walls (entrance photo here) which is exactly what the Romans did 2000 years ago. Charlemagne expanded them in the 800s, then they were enlarged in the 14th century, and now thanks to some recent restoration work, we were standing on the walls (photo across the top) that still encircle most of what was the medieval heart of Girona, Spain. That’s where we began our walking tour of this capital city that has attracted so much attention from so many potential conquerors including Napoleon Bonaparte. 

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Well, hello Dalí!

During the last few years that we lived in the US, we entered a lot of different sweepstakes, as in 400 a day. These were all online so with a push of a button we could autofill each entry form and in a few seconds we were on to the next one. As you might expect, with that many daily entries our chances of winning something were pretty high. Most mornings there would be a “Congratulations!” email announcing our latest prize which was often a candy bar, a music download, or movie tickets but every week or so we’d get gift cards, cash, or trips. One especially festive weekend we scored vacations in New York, New Orleans, the Caribbean, and Paris. By the way, we had to pay income tax on all of those, but it was worth it. Although not as popular here, there are a few sweepstakes in France and a few weeks ago Bill got one of those “Félicitations!” emails from SNCF, the national railway of France, that he’d won 2 First Class tickets to Figueres, Spain. We were off to visit the birthplace of artist Salvador Dalí.

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Photo op

France has been the most visited country in the world for many years and we had a blog post earlier this year that explains some of the reasons. As you would expect there’s food, wine, culture, beautiful villages, and romance. History is another factor and it’s overflowing here since we live in a city with Europe’s largest preserved Medieval walled city with foundations that the Romans built 2000 years ago. None of that potential is lost on the municipal Office of Tourism that has been classified by the government as “Category 1” for their excellence in serving the public and in cooperating with local professionals in national and international promotion. But there’s not just one government organization interested in getting the word out about Carcassonne; there are four and each one has its own list of where to take the best photos of that Cité on your visit here. Let’s see how they compare.

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Dublin in 2 days

We’d been to Dublin twice before when we’d toured inside most of the historic sites, so this visit was to use it as a base for a day trip and to revisit a favorite pub, the Brazen Head, that’s existed since 1198. Somehow that pint of Guinness just tastes better there especially with live traditional Irish music playing in the background. Naturally it’s popular with tourists yet they have managed  “to retain the original features that tell the story of our deep history within Dublin city” as their website says. We went there for dinner and to plot out our strategy for walking around town and for visiting a castle outside the city that was one family’s home for 800 years.

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Cork in 1 day

When Queen Elizabeth II went to Cork on her first state visit to the Republic of Ireland, guess where she wanted to go? To the English Market, of course, that’s been in operation since 1788. I couldn’t find out if she got a coffee and some chocolates as we did, but I’m certain she enjoyed seeing all of the breads, fruits, vegetables, and seafood temptingly on display. This city, the second largest in the country and with ferry connections to France, was going to be our first stop as well when we were planning this trip before Covid arrived but then things changed, as much has in the last two years. We ended up using Dublin as our port of entry and departure (next week’s post) yet we still wanted to spend at least a day here in this culinary capital of the Emerald Isle.

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Christmas in Killarney

No, it’s not yet the 25th of December but that song from the 1950s inspired today’s blog post title and a return visit to a welcoming town in southern Ireland. We had been there several years ago with our London friends, Jan and Bob, and we enjoyed that visit so much, we wanted to return. Since both of us are railroad buffs, we took the train from Galway, with a change in Dublin, to arrive in Killarney just before afternoon tea was served at the Great Southern Hotel (lobby photo here on the left). Built in 1854 the hotel name is from its location beside the railway station that was once owned by the Great Southern Railway when they operated all of the trains throughout the Republic. In keeping with the traditions of other grand station hotels we’ve enjoyed, they too have maintained the elegance from the “Golden Age of Travel”.

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