Author Archives: Bob

Two, two, two trips in one

Ax-les-Thermes in the Pyrenees

Bill will readily admit that he’s not an early riser unless, as our friend Pete says, there’s a treat at the end. When you combine our favorite form of transportation, the train, with bargain fares of one euro per person, and the chance to visit two cities along scenic rail routes, that’s one big treat. It was enough to coax him out of bed at 5 AM three weeks before we wanted to travel to snag those cheap tickets as soon as they went on sale. Where were we headed? It might seem strange that during a summer with record-breaking high temperatures we would visit a town known for its hot springs, but we wanted to see this area in the Pyrenees before its other attraction arrived: snow. Read the rest of this entry

Not today, Satan

A medieval carved head to scare the devil out of you

Comedienne Bianca Del Rio, sometimes known as Roy Haylock, uses the phrase, “Not today, Satan, not today” when things haven’t gone as planned but she’s determined not to let the devil get in her way. We had that kind of day recently. Today’s blog post was supposed to be about a day trip to a hot springs spa town in the Pyrenees with a stopover on the way home in a once fortified Roman town with a 10th century castle still towering over it. We got as far as Toulouse, about an hour into the trip, when we discovered that our connecting train had been cancelled and later departures were likely to suffer the same fate. We then invoked what is second-nature to us and something we discovered that many French people admire about Americans: an inclination to turn a negative situation positive in an effort to make something successful. Even our friends here have confirmed to us this perceived cultural difference we had read about. Read the rest of this entry

Learning English in France

American English or British English

The school year starts here all over the country this week so I thought it might be a good time to talk about a subject that’s often on the minds of French students: learning to speak English. Generally, children around age 10 to 11 receive their first formal lessons of “the language of Shakespeare” as it’s called here, in that transition time between elementary and middle school. Our young neighbor and her classmates are also learning Spanish at the same time which seems wise since half of the 2.5 million visitors that Carcassonne hosts annually come from our neighbor south of the border. It continues to amaze us that seemingly anyone involved in the tourist industry here speaks a minimum of 2 languages, if not 3. On the flip side, we recently had a conversation with a taxi driver who was astonished that we were speaking to him in French despite being Americans since that was contrary to all of his experience with any of his passengers who had arrived from the US. Read the rest of this entry

Monze day trip

Monze across the vineyards

When our friends with a car, Sally and Larry, asked us if we’d like to go with them to the village of Monze, the first thing I had to do was look up its location. That’s when the good news started. First off, it was only going to be about a 20-minute ride and then I looked closely at the map to see some of the street names: rue du Cabernet, rue du Merlot, rue du Chardonnay…. Sounds like our kind of place! Sally went on to say that the restaurant she thought we’d enjoy featured wine from the local area and there were 3 vineyards in the vicinity offering tastings. Naturally we said, “yes, thank you” and we were off on another nearby adventure. Read the rest of this entry

Liberté in Carcassonne

Memorial to the Resistance fighters

It was 75 years ago today that the Nazi troops who had been occupying Carcassonne for almost 2 years received their orders from Hitler to abandon the city. His wishes were carried out the next day by the departing soldiers who had one last despicable act to accomplish. In a compound outside of town where members of the French Resistance were being held prisoner, the Germans detonated all of their remaining munitions in one giant explosion that leveled the building and took everyone inside with it. Several streets in the center of town now bear the names of some of those killed in the blast. While that prison no longer exists, we searched for other buildings that are still standing with stories related to the resistance movement and while this compilation won’t be exhaustive, we did find it as a sign of hope in dreadful times. Read the rest of this entry

Just a coffee for me, thanks

So many choices of coffee

When we took the ferry from Marseille to Corsica in June we arrived in the port city of Bastia at 6:00 AM so you had to be in the dining room at 5:15 AM if you wanted breakfast. We opted to sleep in a bit and Bill volunteered to get us coffee from the vending machine at the end of our cabin hallway. He was gone longer than I expected and explained that there were several people in front of him who had the same idea to get their morning started with a shot of caffeine. As we were leaving the ship and passed by the machine I understood even further why there was a delay. Although it was labeled simply enough, “Café”, anyone who deposited a 1 euro coin was then presented with a choice of 16 types of coffee, 4 hot chocolates, hot tea, and hot milk. Can you imagine the poor soul who must decide among café court, café long, café crème, café au lait, and a dozen other selections when the person waiting back in their room has simply asked for “a coffee”? Read the rest of this entry

Toulouse day trip

Pink mansion on rue de l’Echarpe

If we hadn’t already been to Albi, the birthplace of painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, I would have spent a lot of time during our visit to this city bearing a part of his last name trying to find his connection to the Ville Rose (Pink City because of the color of the bricks). As it turns out, the name meant that he was born into an aristocratic family with roots in the area rather than, as the museum in Albi dedicated to his works can confirm, being from there. All the better for us since we now had that much more opportunity to explore the museums, squares, medieval buildings, cafés, and 2000 or so restaurants in a city less than an hour by train from Carcassonne. Read the rest of this entry

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