School field trips

Growing up in southeastern Virginia, there were many school field trip opportunities that could be seen within a day: Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Civil War battlefields, the Chesapeake Bay. In second grade we took a train trip of only 20 miles (32 km) but that obviously made such a positive impression that years later it remains my (our) favorite mode of transportation. When I first moved to Chicago there was a travel agency that specialized in student travel to Europe. The manager was a high school history teacher who knew first-hand how important it was to immerse his students in the topics that they were learning by visiting the places that they were studying. It’s one thing to read about the French Revolution and something entirely different to travel to Paris to stand on the site of the Bastille or to touch the walls of the Conciergerie where Marie-Antoinette was held prior to her execution. Now a university study has measured the value of field trips and lends support to what that teacher knew all along.

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Super trains

What is “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”? The easy answer is “Superman”, of course, but if you’re willing to stretch your imagination a bit, the travel booking website Omio would give you an additional answer. In the article entitled, “These routes in Europe are faster on the ground than by plane” they looked at their 100 most popular routes and found 27 that would get you to your destination faster by using the rails. They also surveyed their customers to gather opinions about convenience, comfort, speed, and pollution generated by the various forms of transportation. Twenty-five percent of those questioned were willing to add up to an hour in travel time if that meant a significant positive contribution to the environment. The sample chart below, with a nod to France, lists some of those time savings.

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All that jazz

We joined a jazz club. Technically it’s an association as defined by the law from 1901 that states essentially,  “Any citizen has the right to associate, without prior authorization.” I knew from studying for the citizenship interview exam that se réunir (to get together, meet up, assemble) was a guaranteed fundamental freedom of being French. Although I had anticipated that the ban on gatherings would have been by royal decree, it was under the signature of Napoleon Bonaparte that clubs were disbanded. Maybe he didn’t like jazz?

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Catherine’s C list

As soon as we made the decision to move to France we created a spreadsheet with all the cities we wanted to consider down the left hand column and everything we were searching for across the top. We wrote another blog post about that process but briefly we had 16 cities and a handful of must-haves such as a weekly market, a train station, and a water view. The overriding factor that eliminated perhaps a dozen of our choices was that we needed to be within walking distance of all of our needs. That driver’s license that seemed so desirable at age 16 was no longer a requirement; in fact, we wanted to live without a car. Several blog readers have told us that they too are using a chart to compare all of the possibilities and we’ve even seen some of these when visitors have come through Carcassonne. Our new friend Catherine has a lineup of what she would like to find in a new French hometown, be it full-time or part-time. She calls this her C list so let’s see what’s included.

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Do it yourself

Our neighbor is 80 and to celebrate, she had a birthday party. Actually, that’s not correct. She had 2 parties, 1 for friends and 1 for family, and she gave both of them herself in what she says is true French tradition. I’m not sure that everyone here has 2 parties but it definitely is true that if you use the word “invite” it’s your responsibility to pay. It might be out for drinks, to a restaurant for dinner, to the movies or a concert. In this case, the festivities were at her home just across the street but still there was a caterer to book, the wines to order, the flowers and other decorations to arrange, and the clean up after we all left. Oh yes, and a special dessert to pick up.

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Does it measure up?

Some American friends who are considering a move to France were passing through Carcassonne so we invited them to lunch. The idea was to incorporate local products in a traditional menu to make the meal as French as possible. We solicited ideas from the neighbors and while there was quite a range of suggestions for starters and the main course, the same dessert kept popping up: Tarte Tatin. I’d always thought of this as an apple version of a pineapple upside down cake—caramelize the apples in butter and sugar, add a crust, bake and flip. Finding the Granny Smiths was easy enough since several stalls at the market had them including two vendors selling directly from their orchards. Choosing a recipe was more of a challenge given that we were presented with words like “the best…unmissable…fast and easy…classic.” Bill found one that he liked and upon closer examination it said to add in environ ½ verre à moutarde of sugar. How much is a “mustard glass” let alone “about half” of it?

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What’s the Point?

The magazine article headline that caught my eye was “A New Neighborhood is Being Built in Utah That Looks Like a European ‘One-Car Town’”. This told the story of developing a 600 acre (243 hectares) site in Draper, UT into a pedestrian-friendly town with favor given to bike lanes over cars. Author Andy Corbley said that this was like something he might see in the Netherlands. Realizing that potential residents could balk at going completely car-free, the developers are focused on making the use of an automobile unnecessary within the confines of the community. At least 45% of the city will be covered by greenery including sidewalks, bike paths, and roads that lead to the perimeter bus system with connections to Salt Lake City. Hikers and cyclists will have easy access to the river parkway and to the mountain trail system. In describing the target market, one of those developers said, “They want more urban features, they want to know their neighbors, they want to be part of a community.” Hmm, sounds like us. By the way, this new town is called The Point.

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