Category Archives: Travel in France & beyond

Nancy in a week, part 2

Alpine section of the botanical gardens

Last Sunday I talked about our trip up to Nancy, France. This is the conclusion of that adventure.

An advantage of buying a city’s museum pass is that it generally saves you money over individual tickets but it also entices you to visit places you might not have otherwise gone. Atlanta, where we used to live, has the world’s largest aquarium and it is truly spectacular so going to the one in Nancy wasn’t high on our list but it was part of the package, so we went. What a nice surprise in a couple of ways. It was well laid out as far as what sea creatures you were seeing and in what environment they generally lived. The bonus was seeing small groups of school children being escorted by teachers and aquarium staff explaining to the youngsters what they were seeing and why it was important to protect the animals and the planet. Read the rest of this entry

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Nancy in a week, part 1

Place Stanislas golden gate and fountains

When Bill said that he wanted to buy a museum pass for our trip to Nancy in northeastern France, I got pretty excited. We’d used these in other European cities where we saved money on individual tickets and time waiting in entrance lines. My enthusiasm plummeted when the name of the first museum that we could visit popped up on the tourism website promoting the pass: L’Ecole de Nancy or directly translated, “The School of Nancy”. While historic one-room school houses can be interesting (even Carcassonne has one) to view life as it once was, it’s not what I had envisioned as something you’d typically visit in a city where the word “elegant” often appeared in its description. Then I turned the name around to The Nancy School (think, Venetian, Florentine, or Ashcan School) and suddenly I knew that we were in for a treat. We’d spent hours at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris admiring entire rooms filled with furniture and decorative art pieces designed in the early 20th century with the long, sinuous lines characteristic of Art Nouveau. We were now in this school of art’s hometown for a week with a pass! Read the rest of this entry

Perpignan day trip

Overlooking Perpignan from the castle

Although we’re less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Spain, we can’t get there from here because our favorite mode of transportation, the train, doesn’t cope well with climbing to the 3400 meter summit of the Pyrenees where the border runs along the mountaintop. When we’re going that far south, the tracks first head east towards the Mediterranean before turning to Spain and passing through a city that has existed on both sides of the border: Perpignan. Not unlike Montpellier, where there is little evidence of the 2000-year-old Roman influence found in so many other locations in France, this southern capital wasn’t  established until the 10th century. Read the rest of this entry

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

Follow that canal

Castle steps from the 11th century

Now they’ve done it; they’ve bought a car. Whenever our friends Sally and Larry have rented a car for a distant journey they always have a day or two left once they get back to Carcassonne before the vehicle has to be returned to the agency. Bill and I have benefited from those bonus days by being taken on road trips to towns, villages, monuments, and scenic views that we couldn’t easily reach by train or bus. An email will suddenly appear in our mailbox asking if we’re available on a certain date, and if so, be ready for a mystery tour. Two weeks ago we got just such a message and when we replied with an enthusiastic Oui, back came the response to bring a camera, comfortable shoes, and money for wine–just like the instructions we got for those elementary school field trips years ago…except, maybe, for that wine money part! Read the rest of this entry

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