Arras in 1 day

Carcassonne has 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites (Canal-du-Midi and the Medieval Walled City) plus 48 listed historic monuments, which I find pretty impressive. Arras also has 2 UNESCO sites (the Belfry and the Citadel) but 225 monuments. Well, it would seem that this city, 45 minutes north of Paris by train would be worth a visit. Since we were already in Lille this was going to be an easy train trip with 2 departures each hour so we would have time for sightseeing, lunch, and still be back “home” to the hotel for dinner. With so many choices of places to visit, where should we start?

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Lille in 2 days

Legend says that Lille was founded in the year 640 and for the next thousand years control of the city included the Dutch, the French, the Vikings, the Spanish, and the Flemish before Louis XIV, the Sun King, took the city back in 1667 and it has remained in France ever since despite periods of occupation by the Austrians and the Germans. Much of the Flemish influence remains today in the baroque architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries in the section of town called “Old Lille”. Since friends had suggested that we stroll along the cobblestones of Place Louise de Bettignies (featured photo above) and rue de la Monnaie, that’s where we began our first day of exploration.

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Why France is so popular

When two news sources in two different countries publish an article asking the same question, it tends to catch your eye. Based in Paris, The Local, and across the channel in London, The Telegraph, both wanted to investigate why France consistently attracts more visitors each year than any other country in the world. One story offered 6 reasons while the other almost tripled that with 17 ideas about why this country had a target of 100 million visitors for 2020 following on from a rising trend from several previous years. Obviously Covid had a huge impact on reaching that goal but the signs are good that people are returning. What is it that everyone wants to see?

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Carcassonne Christmas

Although the big day was yesterday, if we were with friends in the UK, we’d still be celebrating today as well with Boxing Day. Whether the name might refer to alms boxes used to collect funds for the needy or to the boxes of gifts that wealthy homeowners presented to their servants, the fun didn’t last beyond December 26. Luckily for us, we still have over a week left of La Magie de Noël (city’s logo above) here in Carcassonne. Although the sun will set this afternoon at 5:21 PM, that’s really when it gets brighter with all the colorful lights on the castle, the Ferris wheel, the merry-go-round, the skating rink, and in the wooden chalets of the market. Let the season continue!

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Christmas trains

Trains have long been a part of our Christmas traditions. Even growing up there was always an electric train encircling the tree and the big event in early December was going to see the elaborate miniature display set up at my father’s workplace that could keep kids captivated for hours. Bill and I left our French, British, and American HO-gauge train sets behind when we moved overseas but we certainly have not lost contact with the rails; they are now just much bigger.

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Christmas markets

My very first trip to Europe was during the month of December on one of those “8-day, 5-city, Capital discovery” motorcoach tours that started in London, ended in Paris and delivered everything in between as promised: a reasonable price, comfortable accommodations, meals, sightseeing, and transportation. Because of the time of the year, when we arrived in Munich I spent hours wandering the miniature wooden chalet lined walkways of their Christkindlmarkt, glowing with lights, scented with cinnamon and chocolate, and made especially enchanting by the falling snow. Forty years later I’d be doing the same thing, this time with Bill, but it would be in Strasbourg, France where their tradition of the Marché de Noël got started in 1570, a bit later than 1434 in Germany.

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Agde in 1 day

The first time that we had ever heard of today’s destination was when we were traveling for a day trip to Sète and the train announcement said that the next stop would be what sounded to us like “Ah-guh-duh”; three syllables for only four letters. A neighbor happened to be on the same train and while we were stopped at the station said to us, with a wink and a nod, “You know, there’s a nude beach here”. No, I can’t say that we knew that. Heck, we didn’t even know how to pronounce it! That was close to five years ago and since then we’ve learned that with about 500 beaches, campgrounds, and other naturiste places, France is the number one destination in the world for clothing-optional activities. However, that was not what drew us to this place on the Hérault river (photo above) that the Greeks in 650 BC called “Agathé Tyché” that translates to “Good Fortune”. 

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