Happy “apéro” hour

On their way through the south of France, friends Pete and Cameron stopped in Carcassonne, fresh from the Spanish Basque Country that shares a lot of history and culture with its French counterpart right across the border. One of those traditions that they enjoyed was an afternoon aperitivo that included a glass of vermouth made in a town not far from where they were staying. Knowing how much we like taking a picnic on the train, they created a takeout version of the aperitif to share with us and in the photo to the left you can see the result. The gift bag included a bottle of Ugabe vermouth from Artea, an orange to slice for the glass, green olives, and potato chips just as it had been served at a Spanish café. That prompted me to read up on this “before dinner” pause that we knew as an apéro.

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Where do you shop?

When we lived in Atlanta, within a few minutes from home we could be shopping in what seemed like every big box store that exists in America. All were open 7 days a week and even some of those welcomed you 24 hours a day. No need to borrow that cup of sugar from a neighbor when you could easily go get a 5-pound bag, or even a 25-pound bag if you went to the warehouse store, essentially whenever you wanted. Of course when you have a car and a pickup truck to transport all of this back to your 4000 square foot (371 square meters) home it’s no big deal. Now our car is a city bus, the truck is a backpack, and we happily live in about one quarter of the space we had before so we’ve adapted our buying accordingly.

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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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We’ll be home for Christmas

Visits to Christmas markets have been an important part of our vacations in Europe since we first started coming here 30 years ago. An Internet search on the subject turns up numerous websites detailing “the best…iconic…top 5…the most magical” markets in more than a dozen countries, most of which we’ve had the good fortune to have seen. Even with some health restrictions in place last year we were able to spend time in 3 northern French cities decked out for the holidays. This year, after some incredible vacations in Spain, Switzerland, and Ireland we’ve decided to spend Noël right here in Carcassonne.  As Bing Crosby sang in 1943, “Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams, I’ll be home for Christmas”.

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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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