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Perpignan day trip

Overlooking Perpignan from the castle

Although we’re less than 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Spain, we can’t get there from here because our favorite mode of transportation, the train, doesn’t cope well with climbing to the 3400 meter summit of the Pyrenees where the border runs along the mountaintop. When we’re going that far south, the tracks first head east towards the Mediterranean before turning to Spain and passing through a city that has existed on both sides of the border: Perpignan. Not unlike Montpellier, where there is little evidence of the 2000-year-old Roman influence found in so many other locations in France, this southern capital wasn’t  established until the 10th century. Read the rest of this entry

Montpellier day trip

Rose window at Montpellier cathedral

Much of France has a definite Roman and Greek history, especially near the Mediterranean Sea where they established colonies in the 1st millennium BC. The remains of amphitheaters, triumphal arches, and city gates from the era abound. Even in Carcassonne where we’re about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the water’s edge, at the base of the giant fortress that overlooks the city you can still the clay bricks laid over 2000 years ago. Somehow, Montpellier, the 7th largest city in the country, was bypassed by those early invaders, not being settled until around 985 AD. We only knew this regional capital from having visited the immigration office there soon after we moved across the Atlantic, so we happily accepted an invitation to lunch with friends that would give us the day to leisurely look around. Read the rest of this entry

Follow that canal

Castle steps from the 11th century

Now they’ve done it; they’ve bought a car. Whenever our friends Sally and Larry have rented a car for a distant journey they always have a day or two left once they get back to Carcassonne before the vehicle has to be returned to the agency. Bill and I have benefited from those bonus days by being taken on road trips to towns, villages, monuments, and scenic views that we couldn’t easily reach by train or bus. An email will suddenly appear in our mailbox asking if we’re available on a certain date, and if so, be ready for a mystery tour. Two weeks ago we got just such a message and when we replied with an enthusiastic Oui, back came the response to bring a camera, comfortable shoes, and money for wine–just like the instructions we got for those elementary school field trips years ago…except, maybe, for that wine money part! Read the rest of this entry

Germany in France

Canal in Colmar, France

The story goes that in the summer of 1935 Walt Disney went on a grand European tour that took him through England, France, Germany, and Italy. He was apparently greatly inspired by what he saw, especially in the majestic castles that each of these countries had to offer, so much so that Cinderella’s Castle that opened 20 years later in California’s Disneyland is said to have been based on what he encountered on this trip. From what I’ve read, a Disney official did confirm that Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle was a great influence but we’ve seen other castles claiming that they too were etched into the memory of the creator of Mickey Mouse. I don’t know if that’s a bit of “Washington slept here” European style but his theme parks and films do sometimes show images we might associate with England…or is it Germany…or maybe France? Read the rest of this entry

Mellow in St. Malo

St. Malo from the sea

We can easily get by train from our part of the south of France to the Normandy coast several times a day but the ferry from there to the Channel Islands only goes once a day outside of the summer season. Since we can choose when to travel, we leave July and August to the families who can only travel together when schools are on vacation. That meant arriving in the port city of St. Malo after the boat had departed for the day but it gave us an opportunity to overnight in a city we’d only seen for a few hours as a side excursion on one our our previous visits to Brittany. Read the rest of this entry

Channeling the islands

St. Aubins bay from the hotel

As close as 14 miles (22 km) off the French coast of Normandy is Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. Every year in October and November they hold a 6-week long food festival called the Tennerfest where restaurants across the 2 big islands offer fixed-price menus starting at 10 Pounds Sterling. The celebration takes its title from the nickname of a 10 pound note, called a “tenner”, although other dining options up to £20 are also available. This allows even Michelin starred establishments to offer lunch or dinner to everyone at reasonable prices. With the coast only a train ride away where a ferry awaited to take us on that short sea crossing, we eagerly hopped aboard to sample Jersey Royal potatoes, Guernsey butter, and local crab and lobster. Read the rest of this entry

The French (Vietnamese) connection

Our local Vietnamese restaurant

There’s a Vietnamese restaurant a short walk from our house. About a block from there is the family-run Saveur d’Asie, an Asian food market. Out of about 300 restaurants in Carcassonne, at least 6 of them are listed  as vietnamiens in the phone directory where you can also find a Franco-Vietnamese cultural association and a travel agency that specializes in trips to Asia. Considering how many neighbors here have made that part of the world as one of their vacation destinations, that agency must be pretty busy. So what is this French Connection? Read the rest of this entry

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