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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Béziers in 2 days

We had our second Pfizer vaccination two weeks ago so with a promised effectiveness of 94.6% against Covid-19 we felt comfortable in getting back to our favorite pastime: travel. After all we moved to Carcassonne to have easy rail access to the rest of France and into the neighboring countries. While we wait for border crossing restrictions to be eased it made sense to stay within the “Hexagone” as this 6-sided land is often called. With several direct trains a day and a journey time of only 44 minutes, a visit to Béziers seemed reasonable. Classed as one of the oldest cities in the country, from at least 675 BC, it was time to head to within 12 km (7.5 miles) of the Mediterranean Sea to discover what 2700 years of history has to offer.

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France’s favorite village

France 3 TV program

To be called a “village” in France the population must be less than 2000 people and the houses can’t be further than 200 meters apart. According to the Mayor’s Association, that describes 29,000 places around the country and even if you lower the number of inhabitants to 500 you are still left with 18,000 communities. Each year television channel France 3 runs a contest to whittle down those thousands to just 14: one village to represent each region in mainland France and one from overseas. Now that the shortlist has been announced the fun begins because everyone (as far as I can tell) gets to vote for their favorite village, link below. Continue reading “France’s favorite village”

Collioure in 4 days

Our balcony view in Collioure

Earlier this year during the 2-month lockdown, or perhaps even more descriptive in French, la confinement, our desire to travel never lost its appeal. After all, our vacation plans for both April and May fell victim to the virus but that simply gave us more resolve to try again as soon as it was reasonable to board the train for another adventure. Those two trips had each been several hours away, and we’ll reschedule them later, but one destination less than 100 km (60 miles) from Carcassonne, as the crow flies, really caught our attention for this first venture out closer to home. It didn’t take much convincing once Bill showed me the view from the apartment that you see above accompanied by those magic words: by the sea. Off we went to Collioure. Continue reading “Collioure in 4 days”

Plan that trip

Canal-du-Midi from Office de Tourisme Grand Carcassonne

In the old days, when our annual trips to Europe required a transatlantic flight, our planning began more than 11 months in advance because that was how far ahead we could book the airline tickets. We then had almost a year to do all of the fine tuning and to picture how we wanted our holiday to turn out. Once we moved here and started traveling almost exclusively by train, where tickets are generally available only 3 months in advance, we had to change our strategy. No longer did we have months of anticipation but only weeks and according to an article I read last month it’s that period of looking forward to your break that makes you feel better about life in general and specifically about your health, economics, and social situation. With the article titled, “Waiting for Merlot”, I just had to read it.  Continue reading “Plan that trip”

Florence, Italy in 5 days

Florence from across the Arno River

Our neighbor loves Italy and was delighted to know that we were going to be visiting one of her favorite destinations (in February, before the virus, thank you). She describes Milan, where we stopped over for 2 days in October 2018, as a city with some beautiful buildings and one especially well known artwork, da Vinci’s The Last Supper. On the other hand, she assured us that in Florence we would be treated to buildings that stand out as masterpieces themselves on every corner and sumptuous works of art on display inside each one of them. Wow, that was some recommendation and we did our best to plan out an itinerary that would prove her right. This seemed like a perfect winter vacation where we could spend hours inside art galleries and museums and hope that the chilly outdoor temperatures would encourage some of the 13 million tourists to come back at a warmer time of year. Continue reading “Florence, Italy in 5 days”

Bruges in a week

Bonifacius bridge

It was 15 years ago when Bill and I went to Bruges, Belgium and that was for less than 24 hours. At the time we were staying in Paris which is only 2 ½ hours away by train and in those days we tried to pack in as much as possible to our annual two-week vacations. On that same trip we had already spent the week in a Loire Valley castle making driving excursions into the surrounding areas to see at least one other chateau every day, so why not visit another country too? All I can remember from back then is the chocolate, the beer, and the lace. On our recent return to the city we had the luxury of being there an entire week but we also had to sneak in a day trip to Ghent, only 30 minutes down the train tracks. Old habits die hard. Continue reading “Bruges in a week”