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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The Tour returns

In its 118 year history, the Tour de France has made an overnight stop in Carcassonne 10 times, twice since we’ve lived here and this weekend made the third. The city has been making preparations for the arrival for months and the most recent evidence of this was the installation of umbrellas (photo above) in the official race colors of solid white, yellow, and green, plus white with red polka dots all along the main pedestrian walkway through the middle of town. These provide a nice bit of shade from the summer sun plus lend even more cheer to the festivities. Running perpendicular to that, the principal driving street was not left out since it boasts an endless stream of dangling flowers well above the car roofs. All was in place by the time the first of 168 riders rolled over Friday’s finish line having made the 220 km (137 miles) trip from Nîmes in about 5 hours.

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Renewed

An early springtime renewal in our courtyard

To live in France full-time for our initial year here, our first step was obtaining a visa from the French consulate in Miami. Once we arrived in Carcassonne we then had to make an appointment with the Immigration Office in Montpellier for a medical checkup that would qualify us to stay here legally for the duration of that one-year visa. Three months before that expired we visited our local Préfecture (think, Federal Building, in US terms) to arrange for a time to drop off copies of our financial statements, utility bills and a few other documents to prove that we actually lived here and had the resources to support ourselves. A one-year carte de séjour (residency card) has annually been the result.  We’ve been repeating that process each winter since our arrival in February 2016 and you can read about that in our blog post Fort-unate that includes a link to the post from the prior year. This week we obtained our newest carte de séjour with only a few minor changes from the previous experiences.  Continue reading “Renewed”

Banyuls-sur-mer in 4 days

Banyuls-sur-mer from the apartment terrace

Ah, by the sea. Even before we started looking outside of the US for a retirement spot, our spreadsheet of must-haves included being on/near/having a view of water. At the time, the beautiful Florida home of one of Bill’s sisters could have technically qualified on all three of those points. A similar house for sale right next door to her had a one million dollar price tag and while that would have been fun, we decided to expand our horizons across the Atlantic to France. In Carcassonne we’re a 5-minute walk from either the river or the canal, so we’re definitely near the water but you still can’t look out our windows and see the birds gliding across the surface or fish jumping out to catch insects. However, if one of those birds were to fly from our house directly to the Mediterranian Sea, that’s only 67 km (42 miles), where lots of vacation accommodations await with the promise of “les pieds dans l’eau” or “your feet in the water.” Continue reading “Banyuls-sur-mer in 4 days”

Learning English in France

American English or British English

The school year starts here all over the country this week so I thought it might be a good time to talk about a subject that’s often on the minds of French students: learning to speak English. Generally, children around age 10 to 11 receive their first formal lessons of “the language of Shakespeare” as it’s called here, in that transition time between elementary and middle school. Our young neighbor and her classmates are also learning Spanish at the same time which seems wise since half of the 2.5 million visitors that Carcassonne hosts annually come from our neighbor south of the border. It continues to amaze us that seemingly anyone involved in the tourist industry here speaks a minimum of 2 languages, if not 3. On the flip side, we recently had a conversation with a taxi driver who was astonished that we were speaking to him in French despite being Americans since that was contrary to all of his experience with any of his passengers who had arrived from the US. Continue reading “Learning English in France”

Turn the other cheek

Ruby red lips in a shop window

When you move to another country there’s a whole lot more to learn that just the language. Under the general heading of “culture” you might find food and dining habits, daily routines, and social interactions, for example. In that latter category we discovered something that initially was totally foreign to us: a kiss on the cheek (more like an air kiss while touching cheeks in most cases ) when meeting up with friends. I still laugh when I remember a comment from French teacher Géraldine who said that the one way to scare the heck out of a French person is to hug them. Bill and I probably terrified a bunch of people here before we learned the fine art of the bisou and now there’s even a website to help.

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Corsica, top to bottom

Dramatic cliffs and crystal blue water in Bonifacio

Before we moved to France, the only thing that I knew about Corsica was that it was an island in the Mediterranean Sea where Napoleon Bonaparte was born. Now that we live here it’s hard to turn on the TV or open a magazine without seeing a beautiful image of crystal clear blue water, mountain cliffs above the sea, or lots of smiling faces enjoying afternoon drinks on a terrace looking out on all of those same marvelous views. Pair that with the universal reactions we got from everyone here when we mentioned that we’d be going to the island and you could wonder why their tourist office even bothers advertising. The place sells itself. English words like “beautiful, magnificent, fantastic” and their French equivalents rolled easily off the tongues of those around us. It was definitely time for Bill and me to visit this magical spot from which one person said, “you won’t want to come back.” Continue reading “Corsica, top to bottom”