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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Hidden Montpellier

When we return to a city that we’ve already visited, it’s fun to seek out the less well known sites that are still interesting to see. We did so with Bordeaux and that revealed several links back to revolutionary America that I don’t think we ever learned in history class. Now it was time to discover what we missed on our first visit to Montpellier. The featured photo across the top of today’s blog post is one of the best known spots in the city, La Place de la Comédie, but even it holds a secret. Here to the left is a closeup of one of the buildings there that the locals know as the scaphandrier, a word I’d never seen before to describe something that is viewed but perhaps not noticed by thousands of people every day.

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Budget travel budget

When I was growing up, the concept of going on vacation meant that when our dad had a week off from work we would all get into the car and drive for 8 hours to spend a few days with both sets of our grandparents. While there, we might take a picnic to the lake or walk through the woods but otherwise it wasn’t all that different from being at home except that our mother might not have to cook. Those trips continued until I started high school and got a part time job at the public library which changed everything. The responsibility of my first real salaried job meant that I couldn’t necessarily accompany my parents and I was now immersed in a world of books, one of which caught my eye immediately, “Europe on 5 Dollars A Day”, subtitled, “A guide to inexpensive travel.” Genuine vacations were about to begin.

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Where the French are going

If you own a hotel, restaurant, rental car agency or another travel business get ready to say “bonjour” because the French are headed your way. Apparently 80% of our “neighbors”, near and far, are ready to hit the road after a couple of years of not going, or not being able to go, anywhere. The term “revenge travel” has really taken hold as people are determined to make up for lost time. I know that Bill and I too are caught up in that feeling and in fact got a head start in the last half of 2022 with trips to Spain, Switzerland, and Ireland with more plans ahead. The French have always enjoyed vacationing in this country (hillside village of Eus in this photo to the left), and that’s not changing for 2023 with 1/3rd of the travelers choosing to stay within the borders. That still leaves a lot more people to go to a lot more places, so let’s see where they are going.

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Where to next year?

As in the US, there are many foods associated with the traditions of Christmas in France. In our experience with friends the big feast has always been dinner on December 24 that begins with oysters and often foie gras and always served with champagne. Roasted turkey with chestnut stuffing for the main course and it wouldn’t be dessert without the Bûche de Nöel, that cylindrical cake beautifully decorated as a yule log. If you’re in Provence you’re likely to see 13 additional after-dinner sweet treats including dried fruits and nougat. In our house, especially if we’ve partaken in one of those bountiful Christmas Eve banquets we take the next day off from the dining table, preferring to have “small bites” in front of the fire. We then spend the day reading and today it will be with some of the following books to help us answer, “Where do we go on vacation next?”

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Cherbourg in 1 day

Prior to visiting this port city in Normandy, our only connection was through the 1964 musical film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg that starred Katherine Deneuve. We had gone there to catch a ferry the next day to Ireland so we had the afternoon and a morning to learn more about why the Vikings were attracted here in the 9th century. Those Scandinavian conquerors sailed into what would eventually become the world’s largest artificial harbor, a fact that would centuries later draw the attention of the British during the 100 Years’ War followed in World War II by the Germans and then the Allies who freed the people on June 30, 1944. Sadly, all of these wars destroyed a major part of the city; however, the history remains and we were happy to trace some of it simply by wandering the ancient streets.

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Paris for dinner

The last time that Bill started a sentence with, “Let’s…” you can tell what happened by the title of our blog. His most recent suggestion using that word did not involve an international move; simply a train ride up to the capital and a couple of nights in a hotel. It only takes about 5 hours to go from downtown Carcassonne to downtown Paris and with our Senior railcards the one-way fares can be as low as 26€ in 2nd class or 30€ in 1st. Once you’ve arrived there’s a choice of 1600 hotels and 44,000 restaurants so something to appeal to anyone’s budget. With all of those advantages it was easy to say, “Let’s go!”

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