Trains for Christmas

TGV departs Carcassonne station for Toulouse

Fond Christmas memories are centered around trains, stretching from childhood right through 3 years ago when we sold our Atlanta house and all of its contents including the HO gauge model trains that Bill and I had collected over the years. The first engine I remember was a steam locomotive that even emitted puffs of white smoke for realism. That was followed by a bright yellow Union Pacific diesel. No smoke but the passenger cars came with interior lights that added one more touch of realism. When I got a job with British Rail, naturally we had to have our own version of the Flying Scotsman. It didn’t take long to add the Orient Express to our collection and once France became a yearly vacation destination we had a TGV. Who wouldn’t want a miniature version of a train capable in speed trials of going 574 km/hr (357 mph)? Every December we would set up the track around the base of the tree and then try to figure out how to fit all of those engines and cars into that little space. Now our hardest decision with life-size trains is where to go next. Read the rest of this entry

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Christmas windows

A smiling penguin with his champagne

The theme for the holiday season this year in Carcassonne is La Magie de Noël (The Magic of Christmas) and last week I shared the city’s Facebook post about all of the activities on my own FB page. The comment from our friend Barb sums it up perfectly, “Nice, no holding back there!” and we certainly agree. The Mayor has long held that this should be a family event where everyone could meet up to “share moments of joy and laughter” as you can see on their website page devoted to at least 70 events going on this month: http://www.carcassonne.org/article-page/magie-de-noel-2018?liste  Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Bill and I went walking a few nights ago to join in on the celebrations and to see what we could discover.

 

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It’s mutual, I’m sure

Top-up insurance protection from Que Choisir website

In the October blog post Universal health care, I wrote about how everyone in France must have health insurance. We had received our Carte Vitale, the ID card to show that we are part of the French healthcare system, that we present at the doctor’s office, hospital, laboratory, pharmacy, etc. Coverage is generally 70 percent of the cost of the procedure leaving the patient to pay the remaining 30 percent out of pocket or to buy a private top-up insurance policy that costs between 50 and 100 euros per month per person. Coverage for dental, vision, and hearing problems will increase to 100 percent within 2 years. Anyone who has a long term disease such as cancer or diabetes is already covered at 100 percent as are people who are unable to afford additional insurance. We’ve now signed up for assurance maladie complémentaire more commonly called a mutuelle. Read the rest of this entry

A spoonful of sugar

Course announcement from Fun-Mooc website

You probably remember when Julie Andrews as the title character nanny in the film Mary Poppins was trying to get her two charges, Jane and Michael, to clean their room. To introduce the song she begins with “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun” and then the orchestra starts up and you soon hear her sing “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. When you move to another country where they don’t speak your native language it’s important to learn what the local people are saying for a variety of reasons. Once you get past the survival level where you can at least get food and shelter then you can start fitting in with your new neighbors and having fun. But of course, language isn’t the only challenge since there are cultural differences, new rules to learn, and administrative procedures to follow for everything from buying a train ticket to seeing a doctor. Thanks to an online course sponsored by the French government’s Ministry of Higher Learning, you can combine all of those tasks in one place. Read the rest of this entry

A cassoulet Thanksgiving

Hot from the oven

When we lived in America, Thanksgiving was always a big feast day from my earliest memories as a child right up to the November before we moved from the States a few months later. Now that we live in France we no longer celebrate that holiday but that doesn’t mean that we are deprived of the warm feelings that go along with sharing a huge meal with friends and family. In our blog post Sunday in the village I wrote about how we were accepted with open arms by the neighbors on our first street in Carcassonne and I’m proud and grateful to say that the relationship continues even though we are now a 30-minute walk away on an equally friendly street. The phrase “stranger in a strange land” didn’t apply to us for long thanks to the generosity of our new neighbors. With that as a background we readily accepted the invitation to join in on a meal of this area’s comfort food, cassoulet. Read the rest of this entry

When you mix oil with wine

Olive oil tasting bar

Growing up, I wanted to be a microbiologist until I got to college and found out that in addition to biology you had to also be good at chemistry. Bill’s a wiz at that but I still can’t tell the difference between emulsify, liquefy, and puree—unless those are blender settings, of course. That explains why, when I only caught snippets of the conversation between him and our friend Sally regarding something about oil and wine, I didn’t pay close attention. It was only when I saw them get out their calendars to schedule a day trip that I understood that we would be visiting an olive grove and a winery. Naturally there would have to be time for lunch, so let’s go! Read the rest of this entry

Travel Tips and Observations From Bill

First class on an Italian train

First of all we had a wonderful trip using the trains which allowed us to relax while enjoying the view of the countryside and sea. We do take our meals and apero snacks along with us when we are on the train to make sure we are well fed and have enough to drink at the appropriate times. It is possible on most of the major train lines to buy food but it is not always convenient to wait for your meals to be delivered to your seat (if you are in first class) that you might have pre-ordered and the menu pictures do not usually correspond with the items served. You might be able to save enough to add a nice bottle of wine with your lunch, apero or dinner by buying a nice salad, sandwich, cheese and sausage platter from a grocery before entering the station. Coffee brewed yourself is always better than they have the ability to serve on the trains. A half liter thermos is just about right for each of us for breakfast and is easy to pack and manage. One more thing to consider is that all trains do not have food on board so if you bring your own you know it will be there when you are ready. Read the rest of this entry

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