Secret coastal France

While I generally look only at a few of our local or national newspapers, Bill has a more rounded approach that incorporates sources outside of France, including the US. He spotted an article  by Terry Ward in the travel section of CNN that he knew I would want to see. The title was “The secret stretch of coastal France that’s nicer than Nice” so naturally I wanted to find out where that was. It didn’t take more than two sentences to see the mention of our region, Occitanie, and then our departement, Aude, to know that the author was talking about Carcassonne and our coastal neighbors Narbonne and Gruissan. Now to find out why it’s a secret.

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Geneva in 4 days ꟷ part 2

During the first part of our visit to Geneva, we had spent most of our time on the eastern and southern shores of the lake, so we crossed the bridge for the day. We’d been to the United Nations in New York and now we wanted to see its equivalent at the Palais des Nations (photo on the left) where 25,000 delegates meet each year. We didn’t have time for a guided tour indoors because within the Palais park grounds we wanted to see the Ariana Museum that houses thousands of examples of glassware and ceramics from the Middle Ages through the 20th century and to have a school lunch.

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Geneva in 4 days ꟷ part 1

We’ve now lived in Carcassonne for over 6 years and during that time we’ve had lots of family and friends from outside of France visit us here. When we have the opportunity to see some of those same folks again, we like meeting up with them elsewhere in Europe that gives all of us the chance to see something new. That was the case with our English friends, Gaynor and Pete, who were attending a reunion in France near the border with Switzerland. Since they had to fly into Geneva and we could easily get there by train, that made a logical meeting point for the four of us. 

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You live where?

When we’re on vacation we encounter a lot of people and inevitably in conversations the question of where everyone is from comes up. If we’re talking to French people there is instant recognition when we say, “Carcassonne”, and with other Europeans once we initially say “France” and then add our city, they too seem to know the place. After all, it is Europe’s largest fortified medieval city that is surrounded by 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) of double walls enhanced by 52 towers for surveillance and defense (photos above). In a busy year there can be 3 million visitors, half of whom are Spanish, one quarter French, with the remaining quarter coming mostly from the surrounding countries. That, plus the article highlighted below might explain why, if we meet an American on our travels, we almost always hear, “You live where?”

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San Sebastián in 1 day

It’s taken a month’s worth of blog posts to describe our two-week trip to Spain, but that’s what slow travel is all about. No longer are we limited to 10 days of vacation, where we had to jet across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and then try to jam in as many destinations as possible to make the journey a good value. This trip began and ended as do most of ours these days by a walk to/from our local train station, a relaxed meal onboard with time for reading and listening to music before exiting the train at a downtown station and walking to our overnight accommodations. For this trip’s last night in Spain we were in San Sebastián (cathedral photo on the left), one hour south of the French city that we found to be very similar, Biarritz including lots of Bs: Beach, bay, Basque, and beauty.

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The train in Spain

This train in Spain stays mainly on the plain of España Verde (Green Spain) and “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle, would have felt right at home. The film, set in 1912 London could have easily taken place aboard the El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo that has four original Pullman cars, from the 1920s (dining car pictured here on the left) plus numerous newer cars “that exude the feeling of a bygone, elegant era, and of a more relaxed way to travel” as the brochure says. We’ve just returned from a week on the train that took us from Santiago de Compostela to San Sebastian with daily stops to tour historic towns, take in beautiful landscapes, visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and relax in a thermal spa that’s been operating for hundreds of years.

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Santiago de Compostela in 1 day

For centuries pilgrims have been walking the “Way of St. James” route across Europe to arrive at the cathedral where it is said the remains of the saint are buried. From what I read, this city near the Atlantic coastline of northern Spain to which we took a 4-hour train ride from Madrid, was in the Middle Ages a pilgrimage site as important as Jerusalem and Rome. The purpose of our visit, however, was for different reasons: it was the starting point of a week-long train tour of the España Verde region of the country (next week’s blog post) and because the historic center of town has been selected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

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