Belfort in 1 day

If you read our most recent blog post, France’s Favorite Monument, you had a clue about the city we were off to explore today. We were especially interested in watching the TV program that aired just over a year ago to see who the 2020 winner would be since we’d visited some of the 14 candidates. The competition included the Chateâu and gardens of Villandry, the Imperial Chapel in Ajaccio, Corsica, Nice’s onion-domed Cathedral St. Nicolas, the stunning stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the one that received our vote, the Canal-du-Midi that runs through Carcassonne. Even though we hadn’t seen the others, we’d at least heard of all but one, the Citadel and Lion of Belfort, so that went on our list of future vacation destinations. With travel restrictions within the country lifted for the fully-vaccinated, it was time to make good use of our Senior Discount Railcards for another trip.

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France’s favorite monument


Monuments, do we have monuments! According to the Ministry of Culture there were 45,684 structures in 2020 that had protected status because of their “historical, artistic or architectural interest.” Television channel France 3 annually asks residents to vote on their favorite and this year’s winner was announced on Wednesday night. (If you scroll through the photos below to the bottom, you’ll see who won.) While visitor numbers might be an indication of popularity, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being chosen as number one. Crowds flock to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, and even to our own medieval walled city of Carcassonne which is the fifth most visited place in France. The Favorite Monument winner last year, however, was the Citadel and Lion of Belfort, about 55 km/35 miles from the border with Switzerland and in 2015 it was the Belfry of Arras, two hours north of Paris. Who were the candidates this year?

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Figeac in 1 day

When a travel website says that in one town you can see examples of the oldest writing known to humans plus perhaps the oldest house in France, in fact a collection of them, it sounds like a place you want to visit. Figeac is only 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Carcassonne as the crow flies but since we like to ride the rails, and this journey was going to take 2 trains plus a bus, we’d put it off. Now that any Covid travel restrictions had been lifted, and we were already going to be in that general area (Thiers in 1 day), it was time to see where, in the year 838, an abbey was constructed that resulted in the founding of Figeac.

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Thiers in 1 day

Since we travel long distances by train, our decisions of where to go next are often tied to a rail map of Europe. The one we use highlights scenic routes in green and although we’d already been to Clermont-Ferrand we returned there via the rails that traverse the Cévennes national park near some of the same pathways that author Robert Louis Stevenson and his donkey followed over 140 years ago. It’s convenient to find a base city from which to make day trips as we did a month ago for both Montauban and Rodez and now we wanted to do the same with today’s post about Thiers and next time for Figeac and its connection to the Rosetta Stone.

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Rodez in 1 day

Bill and I go to the open air market each Saturday not just to get the week’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables but because it’s a lively social event and one that’s observed in thousands of towns all over France. We’ve even picked up supplies at neighborhood markets in Paris when we’ve been there on vacation and rented apartments with kitchens. It’s such a popular event that it was on our list of must-haves when we were searching for a place to live and there’s a website (link below) devoted to market days and locations. It was there that we looked for the information to decide on which day to make a visit to Rodez while we were staying in Toulouse and could make easy one-train day trips from there.

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Montauban in 1 day

To promote tourism in our part of the south of France, the regional government of Occitanie invited cities with “remarkable architectural and/or natural heritage or perennial cultural events” to join in a 5-year program called Grands Sites Occitanie. Forty “majestic, authentic, wild or legendary” places were chosen, naturally one of which was Carcassonne given its status as the best preserved medieval walled city in Europe. Many of the 40 sites are accessible by a direct train from Toulouse so we decided to stay a few nights there to avoid making connections. For our first day trip we chose Montauban which like Toulouse is nicknamed a “pink city” because of the proliferation of buildings made from bricks of that color. But why?

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Applying for citizenship

Home in France for 5 years

Now that we’ve lived in France in a “habitual and continuous manner for five years” it’s possible to apply for citizenship. That time requirement can vary, for example, if you got your university degree here, or have a French sibling, spouse, or parent/grandparent/great grandparent but in my case it will be a Demande de naturalisation par décret (Request for naturalization by decree). That just means that I have to be integrated into the community, have a sufficient knowledge of the language, history, culture and society, as well as the rights and duties conferred by French nationality and adhere to the principles and values of the Republic. Whew, sounds like a tall order so I’d better get started!

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