What is “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”? The easy answer is “Superman”, of course, but if you’re willing to stretch your imagination a bit, the travel booking website Omio would give you an additional answer. In the article entitled, “These routes in Europe are faster on the ground than by plane” they looked at their 100 most popular routes and found 27 that would get you to your destination faster by using the rails. They also surveyed their customers to gather opinions about convenience, comfort, speed, and pollution generated by the various forms of transportation. Twenty-five percent of those questioned were willing to add up to an hour in travel time if that meant a significant positive contribution to the environment. The sample chart below, with a nod to France, lists some of those time savings.
It had been 10 years since we had been inside a movie theater. It’s not that we don’t like films; in fact, just the opposite. In the last house we owned in the US we converted part of the basement to a home cinema with a 10-foot wide screen that we enjoyed at least every weekend. In those days DVDs arrived weekly in the mail plus there were kiosks a short drive away that frequently offered a free rental just to get you to try (or retry) their service so we always had an ample supply to watch. To see something that had not yet been released to the home market, however, meant that we had to go to our local multiplex and our last few experiences there convinced us that we’d be happier waiting until it was available to see on our own screen. At times it felt as if more people in the audience were watching their cell phones than the big screen and talking to their seatmates about the latest news flash on social media. A couple of weeks ago we decided to see how going to the movies in France might compare.
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.
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?”
The last time that Bill started a sentence with, “Let’s…” you can tell what happened by the title of our blog. His most recent suggestion using that word did not involve an international move; simply a train ride up to the capital and a couple of nights in a hotel. It only takes about 5 hours to go from downtown Carcassonne to downtown Paris and with our Senior railcards the one-way fares can be as low as 26€ in 2nd class or 30€ in 1st. Once you’ve arrived there’s a choice of 1600 hotels and 44,000 restaurants so something to appeal to anyone’s budget. With all of those advantages it was easy to say, “Let’s go!”
If your town had been attacked 25 times over the centuries you would definitely want to surround it with solid stone walls (entrance photo here) which is exactly what the Romans did 2000 years ago. Charlemagne expanded them in the 800s, then they were enlarged in the 14th century, and now thanks to some recent restoration work, we were standing on the walls (photo across the top) that still encircle most of what was the medieval heart of Girona, Spain. That’s where we began our walking tour of this capital city that has attracted so much attention from so many potential conquerors including Napoleon Bonaparte.
During the last few years that we lived in the US, we entered a lot of different sweepstakes, as in 400 a day. These were all online so with a push of a button we could autofill each entry form and in a few seconds we were on to the next one. As you might expect, with that many daily entries our chances of winning something were pretty high. Most mornings there would be a “Congratulations!” email announcing our latest prize which was often a candy bar, a music download, or movie tickets but every week or so we’d get gift cards, cash, or trips. One especially festive weekend we scored vacations in New York, New Orleans, the Caribbean, and Paris. By the way, we had to pay income tax on all of those, but it was worth it. Although not as popular here, there are a few sweepstakes in France and a few weeks ago Bill got one of those “Félicitations!” emails from SNCF, the national railway of France, that he’d won 2 First Class tickets to Figueres, Spain. We were off to visit the birthplace of artist Salvador Dalí.