Category: Around France

Why Do I Love France?

Why do I love France? That’s a question I’m asked by those who wonder why, after four years, I’m still here.

A French Collection asked five bloggers who write about France, including moi, “Why do you love France?” After reading each response, perhaps you’ll understand how we feel and why we’re so anxious to share this wonderful place with the world.

Why do you love France? 

Maybe it’s the romantic appeal of beautiful towns and villages, the proud French people and their traditions, mouth-watering food, historical buildings and gardens,  priceless art or diverse landscapes?  Or maybe its simply the appeal of sunshine, long lunches and a carefree life.

Everyone’s love affair with France starts differently and to showcase that I asked my five favourite French bloggers/writers to share with us what they love most about France and how they share their passion with others.  You’ll see they share their love of France through publishing magazines, writing books, leading tour groups, running gîtes and online shops.  Each story is different and engaging.

You will be fascinated at how their love affair of France has changed their work and personal lives.  So let’s meet them and read what each has to say

Love france

…(read more)

 

 

 

 

My Life and Travels in France: The Beginning

Life and Travels in France

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of “faraway places” — like the ones Mother told me about when I was  a child. Escaping into the fairytale world I visited in my mind was my way of dealing with real life.

“Going to China, or maybe Siam, I have the whole world to see,” she would sing in her less than perfect soprano voice.

We didn’t travel much when I was growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina. My mother was a nurse anaesthetist and worked long hours, often on weekends. My father was a merchant and took only a one-week vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as I can remember. So as soon as I was old enough to travel alone, I took off. First stop, New York City to visit my favorite aunt, Rose.

Life and Travels in France

Aunt Rose

Aunt Rose was one of those “bigger-than-life” idols to me. A 1937 graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Pharmacy, and the only female in her class, she was fondly known as the “May West of Chapel Hill.”  We bonded during my first trip to New York. I could see that, even at 50 years old, Aunt Rose was a dead ringer for May West, the Hollywood queen — from the perfectly coiffed blond hair, to the long false eyelashes and blue eye shadow, to the buxom figure.

Aunt Rose owned New York — or so this sixteen year old ingénue from the Carolinas assumed. With only one day dedicated to sightseeing in the city, Rose drove her car from Jamaica Estates, parked it, and handed me our tickets for the Gray Line City Tour. That was my first lessonTake a guided tour of the new place you’re visiting. Do it on the first day. A tour gives you the highlights of the area and helps you figure out where you want to return to explore. A guided tour also makes it easier to understand a city map and to get your head compass oriented.

I learned my second travel lesson that day : wear comfortable shoes. After leaving the guided tour, we walked for miles through Chinatown and Little Italy. Fortunately we stopped along the way, popping into noodle shops and cafes with Italian pastries.

Before the day was over,  my senses were on over-drive.  I was hooked. Right then, I made a pact with myself that I would visit the “real” Italy and China .. and more. My unquenchable quest to see the world had begun.

The Barefoot Blogger is a solo female, retired from a career in corporate marketing and divorced after 40 years of marriage. Four years ago, on a whim and following a dream, she moved from South Carolina to Uzes, France.

Travels for work and play have taken me through Europe, into parts of southeast Asia, West Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, Istanbul and Nepal.

“Life is an adventure” and I want to explore as much as my body and my budget will bear.

Life and Travels in France

Come along as I learn about the world and myself. Especially as I stumble through France where I don’t speak the language. I promise you fun along the way … and we’ll all learn a lot, too.

If you’d like, share this blog with your friends and we’ll all travel to faraway places together!

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Life and Travels in France

“The meaning of life is to give life a meaning”

“The Golden Girls” Loving France: Day 9-10 Port Vendres and Collioure

Revisit the seaside towns of Port Vendres and Collioure, France with me and my North Carolina friends. You may want to put these two on your “must see” list!

When “The Golden Girls” discovered Port Vendres and Collioure, the quaint towns along the Mediterranean, it was quite by accident. We were looking for an airport near Sete that had cheap flights to Italy.  With a little research, we found that the airport in Girona, Spain was only a little over an hour’s drive from Sete. It was not far from the coast, so we could drive along the Med and, hopefully, find a seaside town where we could stop overnight before taking a flight to Italy.

Collioure jumped off the map as the perfect place. The tiny village is the picture-book image of what you’d expect in this part of the world. There was only one problem: Collioure had “no room at the inn.”

Apparently Europeans know Collioure. It was packed with tourists. Not to be discouraged, we settled for the next best thing: Port Vendres, the town just a bit farther down the coast.

Visiting Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Port Vendres

We arrived in Port Vendres in the late afternoon. Having driven south from Sete, staying mostly on the “super” highway until we turned east at Perpignan.  The first town we ran into on the Mediterranean was Canet-en-Roussillon. We stopped for lunch in a Spanish restaurant, Vigatane, then pointed Sally south along the sea toward Port Vendres.

Here’s our view from the car as we went away from the restaurant and drove towards Collioure and Port Vendres.

Tired and anxious to get out of the car for the day, we passed through Collioure, then came to Port Vendres and parked Sally in the town square. Just minutes after calling our AirBNB host, to tell her we were in town, Anna appeared at our car

Anna is a tall, blonde and fair-complexioned woman of Scandinavian ancestry. She spends time between her apartment in Port Vendres and a home in the Pyrenees. To welcome us to Port Vendres, she personally guided us around the small business area showing us her favorite restaurants and wine merchant.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Wine merchant in Port Vendres

Afterwards, we set out for a night on the town.

Returning to our Airbnb “loft” to relax and sleep, we were there just in time to catch sight of the most glorious rainbow — surely a good omen for the next part of our adventure.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Rainbow photo by Arlene Wouters

Visiting Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Collioure

We had a full day planned in Collioure, so we started out early in the morning, giving ourselves just enough time to grab a cafe latte and croissant, and to check out the Saturday Market in Port Vendres.

Backtracking, we arrived in Collioure and parked Mustang Sally at a hilltop rest stop. When we got out of the car, we realized the “rest stop” was, indeed, the parking lot for a restaurant. We went into the restaurant, which was busy with staff preparing for lunch, and assured them we would return later for a meal–not just take a free parking spot.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Mustang Sally looking over Collioure

From here we were able to walk through most of the town, wade in the surf, and do a bit of shopping.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Seaside dining

Thinking the day couldn’t get any better, we headed back towards the restaurant on the hill. Oh my! What a treat. Port Vendres and Collioure, FranceThe entrance to the restaurant was near the top of the hill; but the service area was down a narrow, stone stairway that led to the sea. When we reached where tables were set, we literally stepped onto a yacht, or what appeared to be one because of the shape of the deck. From our table made us feel like we had set sail on a calm sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

The food? It was heavenly.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Mixed seafood- Collioure

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Tuna Collioure

And the wait staff? Well, one Golden Girl thought he was HOT. You judge for yourself.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

We told him he could drive Mustang Sally if we could adopt him.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Visiting Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Musee Collioure. The artist is in the house. Our lunch was long and leisurely with us all agreeing we are the “luckiest people in the world”. Still we had time to wander into the town’s art museum. The small space handsomely displayed a collection of French artists such as Claude Viallat , Joan Brossa , Dominique Gauthier, Henri Marre, Matisse, and Jean Peské.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Francois Bernadi

Our good fortune was that one of the area’s well-known artists, Francois Bernadi, was working in the museum that day. We introduced ourselves and he seemed as thrilled to meet us as we were to meet him. His exhibit, which spanned his career since 1945, had just been taken down to make room for the new show, but we did purchase posters which he proudly autographed with a personal message.

View at the top We had a flight to catch from the Girona airport, which was less than an hour away. Before leaving Collioure we drove to the highest spot in town. From top to bottom, high and low, this is a town that should be on every tour map. Love, love!

Photos: A big “thanks” to the Golden Girls for contributing some of the fab photos for this blog. We wanted to show you the best of the best! Next stop: Pisa, Italy

Next on the Golden Girls’ Tour: Pisa!

Port Vendres and Colliure, France

For more of the Golden Girls’ Tour

Day 1-4 Uzès

Day 5-6 Nimes, Pont du Gard, Avignon

Day 5-8 Sete, Beziers and Bouziques

“The Golden Girls” Loving France: Day 7-8 Sete, Beziers and Bouziques

Golden Girls on the Mediterranean side of France

Side trips from Uzes are now behind us. It’s time for the Golden Girls to hit the super highway and head for the Mediterranean coast of France.

Mediterranean side of France

The Mediterranean Side of France: Sete

The Venice of France
I couldn’t wait to show off Sete to my friends from North Carolina. After a week’s stay last year, I knew my beach-loving travel companions would like the place. Not only is the city itself of interest because of the canals, architecture, and fabulous seafood, also, the beaches outside the city are magnificent. We envisioned at least one full day in the sun being pampered by handsome waiters as we sunned ourselves at a private beach club.

Only one problem. Our days in Sete turned out to be cold and rainy.

Mediterranean side of France

Sete, France

Mediterranean side of France

Oh well, not to be disappointed because of the weather, we found plenty to do exploring Sete’s indoor market and nearby towns along the Mediterranean.

Mediterranean side of France

Mediterranean side of France

 

The Mediterranean Side of France: Bezier

Bezier is one of the oldest cities in France, tracing back to 535 BC. Only a few kilometers from the coast, Beziers was a Roman stronghold along the trade route from Provence to the Iberian Peninsula. It was the scene of a bloody massacre in the 13th century when Cathars, considered a heretic group by Catholics, were murdered — along with all other residents of the town– in a two hour battle. The leader of the crusade, when asked “how the warriors could tell Cathars from Catholics,” reportedly answered: “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” or “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

Today Beziers is well known for the “Feria”, a 5-day bullfighting festival that draws over a million spectators each year to the town’s ancient arena. Gothic architecture and stately English gardens, also, lure visitors to step back into the past.

Mediterranean side of France

Beziers, France

Mediterranean side of France

Mediterranean side of France

The Mediterranean side of France: Bouziques

Bouzigues, a beachside town beside the L’Etang de Thau is well known for its fresh seafood– especially oysters

Mediterranean side of France

Bouzigues, France

From the narrow street that runs through Bouzigues, you can see miles of oyster beds that stretch into the Mediterranean .

Oysters in L’Etang de Thau are grown on posts designed specifically for maximizing the crop yield.

 

Mediterranean side of France

Another attraction in Bouziques is the many seaside restaurants. On a rainy day, however, most were closed for afternoon business.

Mediterranean side of France

Mediterranean side of France

Mediterranean side of France

Mediterranean side of France

The Mediterranean side of France: Getting There

Mustang Sally is the red 1996 Ford Mustang I’ve been blessed to drive in France. She belongs to my dear friend, Geoffrey, who has been the star character in many of my blog posts.

When I first arrived to set up my new life in France, Geoffrey made an offer I couldn’t refuse. We arrived at a lease agreement for the red car with black racing stripes. Now Mustang Sally is living in the underground car park near my apartment. She’s raring to go at a moment’s notice.

The trip down to Sete was no exception. Packed to the brim with suitcases, bags and hats, Sally proudly provided more than transportation down the super highway and scenic roads for my Carolina guests, she was our “touch of class.” I mean, how else would passerbys know The Golden Girls were around? She stood as a beacon wherever we landed.

Mediterranean side of France

Along the highways she hit the 120 KPH speed limit with no hesitation. It was at the many toll booths along the way that she showed her one malady. The driver side window is stuck closed.

After one or two stops, my travel companions and I had the tollbooth routine down flat. Sally would roll up to the gate while I was unbuckling my seatbelt; the front seat passenger would ready the change for the toll; I’d stretch as far as my arms and legs would reach to insert a ticket into the machine to add up the fare; I’d feed the fare into the meter; slam the door; buckle the seatbelt; and we’d speed off before the car behind us could blow its horn in total frustration.

This scenario repeated for most of the two-hour drive to Sete. We went the quickest route, rather than drive on the back roads. Likewise, the stops at Beziers and Bouziques were easy turns-offs from the super highway.

The Mediterranean side of France: Where to stay in Sete

One of my favorite things about the visit to Sete was the Airbnb apartment. Right in the center of town, facing the main canal, the location would please my friends, I was certain. Yes, they were thrilled with the apartment with two private bedrooms and an amazing view, as I suspected. They clicked immediately with our host, Nancy, and soon we were feeling right at home.

Mediterranean side of France

To view the Airbnb listing, click here.

The Mediterranean side of France: What to eat in Sete

There’s only one good answer for what to eat in Sete: seafood! One of the most “productive” fishing areas on the Mediterranean, the town is particularly well known for oysters, sardines and tuna. Restaurants line the streets along the harbor and they seem to serve similar dishes.

Grabbing a plate of raw oysters at the city market, along with a glass of wine or beer, is a treat I was determined to give myself.

Mediterranean side of France

The idea of “raw” didn’t go so well with the other Golden Girls, but they did taste “tielle” which is a local delicacy– octopus pie.

Mediterranean side of France

Another specialty from Sete is fish soup. It is a tomato-based, heavy fish broth served in bowls like chowder.

Mediterranean side of France

The best part of the soup is the croutons that float on top. But before you set the croutons off to sail, you smother the crunchy bits of toast with garlicky aioli, and cover them with flaky Parmesan cheese.

Fish soup from Sete can be purchased online from sites like Bien Manger (click here)

Mediterranean side of France

Helpful hint: Wherever you go

When driving in an unfamiliar place, especially if you don’t know the language, be sure to take note of where you park. It’s easy to get lost if you’re as absent-minded as I am! To insure you get back to the right place, take pictures of your parking spot and direction signs along the way.

Mediterranean side of France

Mediterranean side of France

Next stop: Port Vendres and Collioure

Mediterranean side of France

Click here for more about the Golden Girls’ Tour of France and Italy

Day 1-4 Uzès

Day 5-6 Nimes, Pont du Gard, Avignon

“The Golden Girls” Loving France: Day 5-6 Nimes, Pont Du Gard, Avignon

Tracing the history of the Romans in the south of France is a fascination I am anxious to share with visitors.

Guests visiting from North Carolina were more than happy to take the short ride from Uzès to Nimes to attend the Roman Days extravaganza at the Arena. Even though the event was narrated only in French, we were able to understand the storyline. The anniversary of Augustus Caesar’s death was being celebrated by a reenactment of important events during his life.

On top of it being a beautifully sunny day in Nimes, the opportunity to step back into a time, nearly 2000 years ago, was extraordinary. It was particularly interesting to see the costumed actors roaming through the city before the event. (For more about Roman Days, click here to see the earlier posting.)

Roman Days in Nimes

The Romans in the south of France

The Romans in the south of France

The Romans in the south of France

 

 

 

The Romans in the south of France

The Romans in the south of France

 

The Romans in the south of France

The Romans in the south of France: Pont du Gard

Tracing the Romans in France must include a visit to Pont du Gard.
Even though I’ve been to Pont du Gard four times, there’s no better place to take visitors who come to Uzes. The aqueduct that supplied water to the Romans in Nimes as early as 1AD is still a marvel to behold. Every time I round the bend along the walkway in the World Heritage park and see the magnificent structure, I get chills. Visiting during different times times of year makes it new each time to me.

The Romans in the south of France

The Romans in the south of France

School children at the highest point viewing Pont du Gard put this Golden Girl in her element.

The Romans in the south of France

Avignon, City of Popes.

An afternoon in Avignon is hardly enough time to get a fair impression of the historic city, much less to write a post. For the Golden Girls, it was a beautiful and convenient place to stop for dinner.

The Roman connection in Avignon is difficult to follow because most of the Roman ruins have disappeared. However, the Pope’s Palace, the UNESCO World Heritage–listed “Palais des Papes” reminds us that Avignon was once the center of the Roman Catholic world. It is a place that is definitely worth spending time to explore. The Palais des Papes was the residence of seven successive popes in the 14th century. Avignon’s control by the Papacy ended in 1791 when the city was claimed by France during the French Revolution.

I shall definitely research Avignon and write more later. Until then, enjoy the photos of our quick visit.

Romans in the South of France

Romans in the South of France

Romans in the South of France

Romans in the South of France

Romans in the South of France

How to get there
From Uzes to Pont du Gard is a 30- minute car ride. Buses run regularly to the park area from the station in the center of Uzes, as well. To travel to Avignon, it is another 30 minute ride or drive.

Where to eat
The park at Pont du Gard is very well equipped with cafeteria-type restaurants and snack shops. The park itself is perfect for hiking and for finding places to stop for a picnic lunch.

In Avignon we had a quick meal before returning back to Uzes that night. Nothing to brag about.

Next: Sete to Collioure. Picture book towns along the Mediterranean

Romans in the South of France

Golden Girls’ Tour of France and Italy

Golden Girls’ Tour of France and Italy

Friends contact me for thoughts on where to travel around the south of France on “girl trips.” Let me share the adventures of my buddies, the Golden Girls, from our tour of France and Italy.  Perhaps you’ll get some ideas. 

Two of my long-time friends from work days in North Carolina asked if I’d like to join them on a tour of France and Italy. With the chance to see unfamiliar parts of France and Italy, plus the prospect of traveling with Arlene and Linda, how could I resist?

Tour of France and Italy Itinerary

Tour of France and Italy

Day 1-4 Uzès
Day 5 Pont du Gard, Nimes and Avignon
Day 6-7 Sete, Bezier and Bouzigues
Day 8-9 Pont Vendres and Collioure, France to Pisa, Italy
Day 10-12 Florence, Italy and surroundings
Day 13-16 Rome and surroundings
Day 17-20 Akiris Nova Siri, Italy (a resort along the “arch of Italy’s boot”)

So it begins…

Tour of France and Italy: Day 1-4 Uzès

My two guests from the Carolinas arrived in Uzès a day late after missing the flight to Marseilles from Paris due to an airline strike. They were dead tired. Showing them the 55 steps to climb to my apartment in the tower was not the best way to welcome them, but the excitement of it all gave them the adrenaline they needed to get to the top. Photos below are borrowed from each of my friends.

Tour of France and Italy

The “tower”

Tour of France and Italy

Just a few of the 55 steps

Tour of France and Italy

Top of the “tower”

The guest room was ready and waiting, along with the view — the home of the Duke of Uzès.

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

After a night’s rest they were ready to take in the sights and meet some of the locals in my new “hometown”, Uzès.

Tour of France and Italy

The shops along the plazas

Tour of France and Italy

Hen party at Le Provençal

 

Saturday Market in Uzès

No visit to Uzès is complete without a visit to the Saturday Market. If you’re planning to come this way, be sure to plan to be here on Saturday. It’s the reason I fell in love with this place. It’s still one of my favorite ways to spend a day.

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

 

Tour of France and Italy
A Golden Girl’s View of Uzès

One of the best parts of entertaining friends new to Uzès is to see their reaction to the surroundings.

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

 

 

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

Tour of France and Italy

 

Stay tuned!

 Day 5-6 Nimes, Pont Du Gard, Avignon

Chariot races

 

For more about visiting Uzès, check our About Uzès

 

 

 

 

Learn to Cook Provençal

Learn to Cook Mediterranean with a French Pro

French Cooking with a Pro

One thing I dreamed about before moving to France was to attend a cooking class in Paris. Little did I know that my wish would come true —  without leaving the little town of Uzès. Chef Eric Fraudeau of Cook’n with Class Paris has a cooking school right down the road — Cook’n with Class Uzès. Now I can learn to cook Mediterranean, too!

Learn to Cook Mediterranean 

It’s exciting to know you’re learning to cook with one of the best. With over 20 years experience as chef in acclaimed hotels and restaurants such as the five-star Hotel de Paris MonacoChef Eric Fraudeau has a background few chefs can claim. His early career includes working in the kitchen with both Robuchon and Ducasse.

Chef Fraudeau’s schoolCook’n with Class Uzès, specializes in Provençal & Mediterranean Cuisine — the foods people in the south of France love to eat and often serve in their homes. Classes offered include “French Market Class” and “Cook’n with Fish – Fish and Seafood class”. On market days the Chef and students go shopping together in either of two neighboring towns, Uzès (Wednesday) or San Quentin de la Poterie (Tuesday and Friday). They return to the class kitchen to create and enjoy a meal from the day’s best finds.

“Cook’n with Fish” sounded like the best choice for me, especially since fish is one of my favorite foods. What better way to learn how to prepare seafood Mediterranean-style than from an expert?

“Fish day” Menu

Apéro

Garlic and basil spread, olives, pâtébrandade

Entrée

Pissaladière (a classic Niçoise specialty that’s like a pizza)

Plat

Poulpe (octopus) salad with basil, olives and capers

Sea bream with fennel, mussels and saffron sauce

Cheeses

Dessert

Paris-Deauville

Learn to Cook Mediterranean

Prepping the food

For our Provençal & Mediterranean dinner on “fish day,” some ingredients were more intimidating than others. Squid? Octopus? They’re great to eat, but how to cook them? I was in the right place.

Everything was laid out before us when we came into the chef’s kitchen. One by one the ingredients morphed into a pissaladière, a sauce, a salad, a lovely fish dish, a dessert. Chef Eric, along with his guest, Chef Patrick, from the Paris school, stood by to guide and instruct us.

Learn to Cook Mediterranean

Here are just a few of the tips from the day’s lesson:

Tip #1: Anchovies melt! Who knew? The steps for the pissaladière called for us to slice and brown onions, then add anchovies. Did you know that anchovies melt? They actually disappear when they are heated and stirred into a recipe.

Tip #2: Boil oranges? Chef Eric surprised us all when he popped two oranges from off the counter into a saucepan of water … to boil. “Organic oranges only,” he said. “We’re going to use the rind and all,” he added. The oranges, after they were soft enough from boiling, were going into a blender, then into the batter for the cake we were preparing for dessert.

Tip #3:  How to clean mushrooms. Chanterelles, which are known as “girolles” in France, were spread out on the kitchen counter in all their yellow splendour. Never having “properly” cleaned a mushroom, I was anxious to hear what the Chef would suggest. He recommended that we use our fingers to brush off the dirt, followed by a quick swipe with a paper towel. He said he finds this way of cleaning mushrooms easier than using a brush. It means one less utensil in the kitchen drawer, too.

Tip #4: How to filet a fish

During a gourmet tour of Sète, Nancy McGee from “Absolutely Southern French” taught me how to filet a cooked whole fish, served at the table. To filet a fish to cook, do it the same way.

Tip #5: How to “fix” a cooking mistake?

Every chef has his secrets and, for this cooking class, Chef Eric and Chef Patrick were willing to share everything, including how to recover from making a mistake. According to Chef Eric, almost every cooking error can be resolved.

We watched one “mistake” happen when the “mayonnaise” for the rouille separated.

Rouille” is a creamy, garlicy sauce that’s commonly found in the south of France. You can prepare and serve it in a number of different ways, including as a main course. For our meal, rouille was a side dish.

While preparing the rouille, someone (not me, thank goodness) combined the ingredients too quickly. The sauce curdled. Chef Patrick “fixed it” by working with small bits of the mixture at a time. He pushed a little of the rouille to one side of the bowl, then dropped in an egg — yoke and all. He whipped the egg and rouille by hand. Little by little he incorporated the “bad” mix into the “good,” until it all was a perfect consistency.

Chef Patrick says you can do the same with chocolate if it “goes to seed.”

Tip #6: French etiquette

To cook with “class” in France you should know about French etiquette. There are “rules” on how to serve, eat, toast and drink. For example, before a toast, with drinks in hand, you must look each person straight in the eyes. It may take a little longer to take that first sip, but taking the time to do it right will make a lasting impression.

Learn to Cook Mediterranean

Déjeuner/Diner is served

Déjeuner, or “lunch” is served mid-day in France. Until the 1960s, déjeuner was the big meal of the day. Families would gather at home for a two-hour break from work or school and sit down for a multi-course meal prepared by the mother. With changing times, many mothers work today. Everyone still takes a two hour break; but, the mid-day meal is abbreviated to something much lighter and not everyone comes home to eat.

“Dîner”, or dinner, is seldom served before 7:30pm. If it is the main meal, and especially on weekends and holidays, dîner can last three to four hours. Starting with the apéro, each course is served with complimentary wines, spirits, apéritifs and digestifs.

The Cook’n With Class menu was designed for a typical main meal. Call it “dejeuner” or “diner.”

When all the cooking and the lessons were done, Chef Eric invited us to gather around the side table for our apéro course. We toasted each other with tall flutes of champagne. Moving over to a large, beautifully appointed dining table where we sat, we were served the entrée course, or starter — the pissaladière.  The main course (“plat”) with “accompagnement” (side dishes) followed.

Just when we thought we had eaten enough to literally explode, a wooden platter with an assortment of soft and hard cheeses was passed around — a custom in French dining. Next, dessert — the heavenly “boiled orange” cake with chocolate ganache flowing on top.

Now that a bit of the mystery of Provençal & Mediterranean cooking has been revealed, I feel a little friendlier toward raw octopus and squid. Perhaps a visit to Cook’n with Class Paris will take the fear out of wine and cheese pairings … or unveil the magic of macaroons. Today Uzès, next time Paris. Oh, be still my heart!

More here on my day in Paris!

Look What’s Cooking on Sunday in Paris

 

 

Samuel Beckett’s Roussillon, France

The red hills of Roussillon are an inspiration for artists, but I had no idea how many famous authors came to visit Roussillon.

On my first visit to Roussillon, while riding along the winding roads of the Luberon, I was amazed to see the massive red hills up ahead. They seemed to appear from nowhere. The nearby towns had only small tinges of red.

“How is it possible for so much red to be in one place?” I said to myself.

Then I learned, as others before me, that Roussillon is like a stoplight, insisting that all who pass stay awhile.

Visit Roussillon

Red hills of Roussillon

You only have to look around to understand why artists love Roussillon. It was as surprise to me, however, to discover how many great authors passed this way.

For example, Peter Mayle’s best-selling book, A Year in Provence, was inspired by Roussillon. Laurence Wylie’s, A Village in the Vaucluse was set there too. It was the fact that Samuel Beckett lived in Roussillon that really surprised me. In fact, life in the 1940s village greatly affected his writing, most notably, his play, “Waiting for Godot” (En Attendant Godot).

I remember seeing “Waiting for Godot” many years ago at the Playmaker’s Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC. With season tickets to the University of North Carolina theatre, I saw many popular plays performed by the renowned repertoire cast. To me, “Waiting for Godot” was one of the best. In its simplicity the play spoke volumes.

Perhaps it was “Waiting for Godot” that convinced me I had to travel and see the world.

Indeed, I was not going to spend my life “Waiting for Godot.” 

Visit Roussillon

Caspar David Friedrich painting which may have inspired “Waiting for Godot”

Samuel Beckett’s Roussillon

It is said that Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot” because of a painting by German artist Caspar David Friedrich. To describe it simply, the painting is of two people standing on a pathway staring at the moon.  Beckett’s storyline has pretty much the same theme. The entire play takes place on one spot on a road, beside a tree.

The play is viewed as a masterpiece of post–modernism. Indeed the author paints a simple, rather vague picture of the village, Roussillon.  Some say the characters and their stories are straight out of life in and around the 1940’s village and the War.

For example, the character Vladimir speaks of ochre quarries and picking grapes for a man named Bonnelly. Tales of starvation, hiding in trenches, and threats of beatings are, perhaps, Beckett’s own remembrances of time with the French  Resistance. He pictures Lucky, a man who is starving, tied to a paunchy man with a whip, Pozzo — a scene that calls up thoughts of Nazi concentration camps. Beckett winds all these tales together with vaudeville humor and mime.

Written in French

Perhaps the most astounding fact about Beckett, to this American who somehow refuses to learn French, is that he wrote his most famous works in French. Yes, an Irishman from Dublin chose to pen in French. To Beckett, English was too literal.  He could write in a more colloquial style in French.

Beckett preferred to express himself in French even in his last work,  a poem entitled “Comment Dire.”

In 1988 Beckett was diagnosed with aphasia, a condition defined as the “loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language, as a result of disorder of the cerebral speech centers” (OED). Before he died he regained his ability to speak and to read. His writing, again, showed his determination to understand the unexplainable. “Comment Dire“, “How do you say”, with its dashes and repetitions, shows an artist’s everlasting search for words. 

Visit RoussillonSamuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”

 

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For more about Roussillon:

Why Roussillon is “Red”: Fact and Fable

Fall … In Love With Provence

Lost in the Luberon: Gordes, Goult and Menerbes

For the Love of Bentley

My beloved labradoodle, Bentley, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge this week. I was devastated. Mainly I was sad that I wasn’t there to tell him “farewell.” Ironically, I was on my way back to the States to see him when I got the news he was passing.

I am republishing this post to honor Bentley’s memory.

———————————————————————

I moved to France and left my Labradoodle, Bentley, behind.

“How could you do that?” I’ve been asked by friends and others, especially by animal lovers who believe in taking pets abroad.

How could I do that? I keep saying to myself. Bentley is the best friend I’ve ever had — or perhaps the “best” since my golden retriever, Morgan, went over the “rainbow bridge.”

I mean, it’s easy to take a dog to France. In fact, France loves dogs. All you need to do to take a dog into the country is have a current vaccination record. Or so I’ve been told.

That’s a piece of cake. “Bentley, you’re moving to France!”

Not so fast.

How is Bentley getting to France?

The only route I could imagine for transporting my 70-pound Labradoodle from South Carolina to France was by commercial airplane — along with me. In the baggage compartment. Under the airplane. Down where it’s very noisy and very scary.

The noise and darkness may not be a big deal for some animals, “give him a tranquilizer,” you say.

That might work, but let me tell you a little something about Bentley. Bentley is scared to death of loud noises. He leaps into the bed with you during the night if there’s a thunderstorm. He stands on your head.

He leaves the room if someone sneezes.

He’s been known to have seizures if he gets too upset.

In other words, transporting Bentley underneath an airplane would be a death sentence.

So, what’s the alternative? Stay home because of a dog? Throw away the dream of living in France because you don’t want to leave your dog? All these thoughts certainly ran through my head. They still do. I miss Bentley everyday. I can’t look at another dog and not feel guilty about leaving Bentley behind.

Bentley and I have had long conversations about this dilemma.

You see, Bentley lives with my son’s family now. He moved in with them when I left for France. He shares the family with their Goldendoodle Maddy. He helps guard my three-year-old grandson and one-year old granddaughter/. I get to visit with him for months at a time when I return to the States. When we’re back together, it’s like nothing’s changed. We take walks. He sits on my lap when we’re watching TV. He jumps on my bed when there’s a thunderstorm.

However, when I pull out my bags to start packing to go away, he knows. I know.

We kiss and hug and whisper “goodbye” when I leave the house to take a flight back to France. I get on that noisy airplane and I think of Bentley as we’re taking off down the runway.

He’s with me. We’re together. Always. In our hearts.

The good news is Bentley is happy with his new home because he has an important job. He and Maddy the Goldendoodle take turns watching over my grandchildren and the family.

taking pets abroad

Guard dogs Bentley and Maddy keep a watchful eye out for back yard intruders

If you live or travel abroad and have a story about your pet, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to add a comment to the post or send an email to deborah@bfblogger.com

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french expat visa

French Expat Visa Update: Done!

When you have an appointment at the prefecture to renew your French expat visa, you’d better show up. Rain, shine … or flu! 

Today was the day to update my 12-month French expat visa — or carte de séjour. The event seems to come around much faster each year. I could swear I just picked up mine from last year. Oh well…

It’s not that I haven’t been planning for this day. I’ve been pulling the documents together, with the help of Jennifer at Renestance, for months.  Birth certificate, income statements, proof of address … all together, including translations of each. The only thing I put off until the last minute was getting a new photo. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps I wanted to wait until I had a better hair day. Mistake! I ended up with the flu. Having a photo made when you have the flu makes a bad hair day look absolutely glamorous!

French expat visa — prepping 

I arrived at the prefecture in NImes pretty much on time. Jennifer was waiting for me at the front door, as we had planned. After quick “bisous, bisous” we walked across the street to a cafe. I signed the application papers Jennifer had prepared. All was going well. I handed Jennifer the stack of papers she’d asked me to bring, along with the copies.

Flip, flip” she thumbed through them all.

Where are your bank statements?” she asked? “The ones that show your money coming into France?

Ooops …french expat visa

 

 

 

Thanks to Jennifer’s quick thinking, she captured the bank statements off my mobile LCL account and emailed them to the printer at the prefecture. Promise, I never would have thought of it … in or out of my flu induced stupor!

french expat visa

Here’s Jennifer searching through my bank statements on the tiny iPhone screen

French expat visa — the inquisition

If it all looks pretty tame, you should have seen the room full of people waiting to get to these “windows.”  We were called up to the desk at 11:30 for our 10:30 appointment.

french expat visa

 

French expat visa — expedited

If one good thing did come out of my having the flu, it was that it helped shorten the approval process. All it took was Jen mentioning to the lady behind the glass that I was sick.

Le grippe?” (the flu?) the lady asked in horror.

Oui!” said Jennifer.

In less than ten minutes my papers were scanned, checked and approved. After handing me the receipt for my new carte de séjour, the lady behind the glass announced she was running off to wash her hands.

Conclusion

Could I have made it through the day without the help of Renestance? No way! Jennifer’s familiarity with the process and the system was a Godsend. Not to mention I could never have survived without her French-speaking skills.

Thank you Renestance. ‘Til next year!

 

More about expat visas

Time to Renew the French Expat Visa

french expat visa

 

 

 

 

visit to Marseille

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

A recent weekend in Marseille turned my perception of the city inside out. Now I can’t wait to return.

I’ll admit, a weekend in Marseille was not at the top of my travel list. Even though it’s less than two hours away from Uzés. It’s surely because I’ve watched too many movies and TV shows about seaports and gangsters.The trips I made to Marseille to the warehouse district and to the airport didn’t help either.  The warehouse district is definitely not a place for tourists. The airport is sprawling, uninviting and confusing.

Thank goodness, I was invited to Marseille to celebrate the birthday of a friend from Uzès. That, plus the promise of a great bowl of bouillabaisse, was enough to weaken my resistance. 

Marseille: A stormy past

For any who visit Marseille, start your trip at the History Museum. The totally modern museum that’s within easy walking distance to Le Vieux Port represents the history of Marseille in 13 sequences.

At the History Museum you have a glimpse of the ancient town, formerly known as “Massalia.” As you wander through the sprawling museum, generations of life and events in and around the seaport town unfold. Exhibits tell of of times from the Phocean Greeks of Asia Minor who founded the colony, to the 21st century when Marseille was named “European Capital of Culture.”

 

weekend in Marseille

 

Through its history of fortune and misfortune, Marseille has maintained a unique character that thrives on its diversity. 

 

Your Weekend in Marseille

What’s to do in Marseille over a 3-day weekend? Plenty. Even in the rain.

Tourist Office – Go here first for maps, tours and informations

Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus – Take your initial tour of the city on a bus with multi-language narration. Hop on/off as you please.

History Museum of Marseille – A look back in time 

Notre Dame de la Garde – Climb the steep hill to the Cathedral and enjoy the neighborhood and gardens along the way. 

Maison Empereur – The oldest hardware store in France (since 1827) A HUGE store to ramble through and purchase tools, kitchenware, toys, and more.

Vieux Port – The old seaport of Marseille, now a center of tourist activity with shops, cafes, fishing boats, sea vessels and the site of the Norman Foster “Umbrella”. 

Gare Saint Charles – The train station in the center of town, also a historical monument site, with its magnificent stairway that leads to the city.

La Canebrière – Shop along the lively street for a the taste, look and sounds of Marseille and its diversity. 

La Panier – The oldest district of the city, now an arty, funky tourists’ favorite.

MUCEM – An amazingly striking piece of architecture on the former port pier. Exhibits were disappointing but a visit to the building and adjacent Fort Saint Nicholas are a must.

Hôtel de Ville – Just a walk by is fine, but don’t miss seeing the bust of Louis XIV above the door.

Les Goudes – Just out of town from the city of Marseille, this small village is packed over the weekend, but the coves and views of the calanques are worth the drive.

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

weekend in MarseilleVideo soundtrack by George Brassens. Among his visits to Marseille was this signing event at the bookstore “La Boîte à bouquins” at 1, rue de la Bibliothèque

 

 

 

 

The Romance of Roquefort

All you need is Love and Roquefort… or “How mold found its way into the first Roquefort cheese”

In response to our recent article on cheese etiquette, many readers have wondered just how mould from rye bread found its way into the first Roquefort cheese. Let’s just say that the French are great lovers who also love their cheese. As one might suspect, love and roquefort, therein lies a tale of great romance.

Love and Roquefort

By Nancy McGee, Contributor to Barefoot Blogger
Absolutely Southern French Food and Etiquette

Napoleon and Josephine, de Beauvoir and Sartre, Rimbaud and Verlaine, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette…are just a few of France’s famous lovers, real or legendary. But way back, a largely unknown young couple were responsible for one of the country’s most enduring traditions. Their story is decidedly among the most romantic of all.

Ingredients for a Great French Culinary Tradition
All You Need is Love...

Once upon a time – almost two thousand years ago, as legend has it – a young shepherd took shelter from a raging storm in a cave on Mount Combalou near Roquefort. No sooner had he begun his lunch of ewe’s milk curds on rye bread when a beautiful young shepherdess appeared, rain-soaked, at the mouth of the cave. The chivalrous young man offered to share his lunch, but as they became better and better acquainted, so to speak, lunch was soon forgotten.

Love and Roquefort

When the storm abated, each went their own way – with stomachs empty but with hearts full.

While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night…

...a king was born – that is to say the ‘King of Cheese’ as French philosopher Diderot declared “Roquefort.

A month or so after the young lovers first rendezvous, the shepherd was tending his flock near the same cavern. Fond memories of that romantic interlude surfaced, as did the memory of the abandoned lunch. When he entered the cave, much to his surprise it was still there, but hardly recognisable! Mold blanketed the rye bread and had infiltrated the curds to produced deep blue/green veins.

Love and RoquefortThe shepherd, whose hunger knows no bounds, took a bite of the mouldy cheese.  One can only imagine his reaction – ‘C’est formidable’!

Yes, there’s more. This tale has a happy ending. The shepherdess returned and shared her lover’s passion for the new-born cheese. Together they quickly mastered the art of producing blue-veined cheese in the damp caves of Mount Combalou. An industry was born – along with several heirs who passed on the Roquefort tradition throughout the generations.

Love and Roquefort

As a postscript, the couple probably lived happily for quite a long time ever after. Recent studies have revealed the anti-inflammatory properties of mouldy, blue-veined cheeses – which could explain why French mortality rates from cardiovascular-related diseases are among the lowest.

Long live the King of French Cheeses!

Love and Roquefort

A Few Facts about Roquefort Cheese
Roquefort cheese is made from the perfumed raw milk from the Lacaunes ewe. Lacaunes sheep produce far less milk than cows, making the cheese rare and precious.

Today the mould from rye bread is injected into the sheep’s milk.

Mount Combalou provided a rock-like fortress – hence the name ‘Roc Fort’. In fact it was the only environment capable of creating the blue/green veins; other caves close by did not have the same effect.

Combalou collapsed a million years ago, leaving narrow cracks as long as half a mile beneath the surface. Cool air blows through them into the caves, providing perfect climatic conditions — 48 degrees year round — for cheese maturation.

Roquefort was Charlemagne’s favorite cheese and, according to Casanova, an aphrodisiac.

France produces over half of the world’s cheese and it exports more than any other country, including of course the much sought-after Roquefort. Let’s see what President Charles de Gaulle had to say:

Only peril can bring the French together.
One can’t impose unity out of the blue on a country
that has 265 different kinds of cheese.

Today, France is the home to over 1000 types of cheese. It’s a wonder how a modern President can hold things together?

Love and Roquefort

 

Check out more great information from Nancy about French food and etiquette on Barefoot Blogger’s page,  Absolutely Southern French Food and Etiquette 

Love and Roquefort

Nancy McGee, Absolutely Southern French

 

 

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. A weekend spent there to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend from Uzès totally changed my mind. On top of being an incredibly beautiful city with lovely, welcoming people, Marseille is for foodies like me.

I’ve been to Marseille on several occasions since living in Uzès. Once to the warehouse district to claim a shipment and more than once to the airport. Neither area offers the best of the city. It was hearing that Marseille is for foodies, especially bouillabaisse, that called me back.

Is it food that makes Marseille so appealing to millions of travelers?

Marseille is for Foodies

Food in Marseille is as varied as the people: French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Middle Eastern, African, North and South and Central Americans and more. Restaurants and cafes are on nearly every street and corner. There are over 1000 listed in TripAdvisor, including fifteen Michelin star restaurants. Along Le Vieux Port, where we stayed for the weekend, there were places to eat lined side by side.

My first meal in Marseille was a medley of seafoods at La Brasserie du Port. The waterfront restaurant was right below our hotel, Grand Hôtel Beauvau Marseille Vieux-Port.  The fresh, beautifully prepared seafood and the service couldn’t have been better. The view from the terrace of the brasserie — the architectural masterpiece by Norman Foster against the background of the ancient port — was stunning.

Marseille is for Foodies

The birthday girl’s selection for meals on her special day was eclectic and international — Indian for lunch and Columbian for dinner.  Palais du Maharaja,  chosen from TripAdvisor, proved to be the perfect place to satisfy our appetites for Indian food.

… Indian Food

… Columbian Food

Discovering Columbia tapas at Tapas La Picadita  turned out to be one of the best food finds of the weekend. The menu, the preparation and the friendly staff were so special that we came back the next night for more.

Marseille is for Foodies

… “Little Istanbul”

Even though it rained during part of our stay in Marseille, it didn’t keep us from wandering the streets near Le Vieux Port. A shop overflowing with bins and bags of Turkish delicacies stopped us in our tracks. We loaded up on dried fruits, spices, teas and candies to take back with us. And we laughed a lot!

Marseille is for Foodies

… Street Food

Somehow the rain in Marseille made the atmosphere even more picturesque and interesting. Food vendors and cafes were open for business… and happy to see us .

 

One stop for tea and coffee ended up in a karaoke! The proprietor thought I looked like Petula Clark. We all started singing “Downtown”! What fun!

Marseille is for Foodies

… Bouillabaisse!

I was really looking forward to a bowl of bouillabaisse. Who can go to Marseille without tasting it?

You need to book reservations two days in advance for some restaurants to prepare this Marseille favorite for you. Be sure to plan ahead. We chose to try the bouillabaisse at Grand Bar des Goudes in Le Goudes, a  village outside Marseille. The tiny town is in a district of Marseille on the way to the Calanques. Little did we know that it would take a couple of hours to drive to Le Goudes on a Sunday.  It didn’t help that throngs of people in cars, on bikes and on foot were heading that way after three days cooped up in the rain. Yes, we were late for our reservations, but the drive along the winding road and the views of Marseille were worth the hassle.

 

The view of the fishing harbor from the restaurant in Goudes was pretty special too.

Marseille is for Foodies

 

Back to the main attraction — the bouillabaisse. 

Bouillabaisse is a provençal fish stew traditionally created by the fishermen of Marseilles. It was concocted as a way to use up the bony rockfish they’d caught along the Calanques that they couldn’t sell.

According to the Michelin Guide Vert, “the four essential elements of a true bouillabaisse are the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish; olive oil, and an excellent saffron.” American chef and author, Julia Child, wrote in her book, My Life in France: “to me the telling flavor of bouillabaisse comes from two things: the Provençal soup base — garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay, and usually a bit of dried orange peel — and, of course, the fish — lean (non-oily), firm-fleshed, soft-fleshed, gelatinous, and shellfish.”

Not all bouillabaisse is created equal. The variety I sampled was missing some of the shellfish. I’m taking the fact that there may be the “perfect” bouillabaisse waiting for me. A good enough reason to return to Marseille, don’t you agree?

 

Did you know there’s a proper way to serve and eat bouillabaisse?

Have you been to Marseille? Do you have a favorite restaurant? Where’s the best place for the bouillabaisse? Please let me know. I will return! 

 

 

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseilles: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

 

 

 

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

After my first true visit to Marseille, I can’t say enough good things about the city. While I’m composing my thoughts for a post on the long weekend, I want to share some highlights: the doors and windows of Marseille.

Marseille, the second largest city in France, is one of those places where photographers are compelled to stop every few seconds to take a picture. When walking through the historic heart of Marseille, “Le Panier” district, I snapped photos at almost every corner. The artistic spirit of the area was electric. Paintings and graffiti on walls and buildings were expressions of the culture and the people. They were colorful, energetic, and eclectic. It was the doors and windows of Marseille and Le Panier, however, that made me melt.

These photos of Le Panier district help set the scene for the video of doors and windows shown below. Believe me, it’s only a small sample of the area and its creativity.

 

 

Enjoy this brief look at the doors and windows of Marseille.

Stay tuned for more: the views, the history and the food of the fabulous seaport city.

 

 

 

Only a few spaces are left for the “Memories You Promised Yourself” women’s tour. Please join best-selling author, Patricia Sands, and me for 12 days in September touring our favorite places in the south of France.

 

For tour details visit Absolutely Southern France.

visit the south of France

South of France Memories: Four Reasons to Sign Up Now

How many times have you said to yourself: “Someday I’m going to visit the south of France.”

If you’ve always wanted to visit the south of France, why are you putting it off? 

“I’m afraid to travel solo.”

“I don’t know where to go.”

“I’m too busy.” 

I hear you. I’ve used the very same excuses. Now I want to give you some important things to think about:

 #1

Solo travel is fun.

If you’re a bit nervous about traveling alone,  listen to what one lone traveler had to say about her experience.

 

#2

We’ve done all the trip planning.

The “South of France Memories” tour itinerary was created by one of the top experts in travel in the south of France — Absolutely Southern France. It is designed for all travelers — veterans and novices.  Our itinerary includes some of the most visited places in the south of France — and some that are just getting on the travel radar. From the Côte d’Azur to village markets to historic towns to wild life sanctuaries, we’ll experience it all.

Here’s an overview of the destinations and costs for our women’s tour. It includes 12 days of exploring, touring, eating, drinking and making new friends!

visit the south of France

visit the south of France

visit the south of France

visit the south of France

 

#3

Early Bird Discount Ends January 31st.

visit the south of France

 

#4

Life is short.

Sometimes you have to get packing and make memories you promised yourself.

visit the south of France

 

 

Time to Renew the French Expat Visa

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to renew the French Expat Visa. It’s a gift from France that keeps on giving.

Wish I could say that everything about living in France is wonderful. But when it comes to dealing with French bureaucracy, frankly, it can be a nightmare.

As an American expat, I’m required to renew my long-stay visa yearly.  It allows me to stay in France 12 months. When renewing a visa you have to make an appointment at the local Prefector. You have to make the appointment online no earlier than two months before your visa expires. You can’t submit documents online. Most aggravating, the information you have to provide is the same your gave them the year before. You can’t just update it. You have to start all over again.

Here’s the list of items I have to produce this year. Mind you, not all regions of France have the same requirements. Wherever you are, however, materials except for your passport must be translated to French — including bank statements and proof of revenue.

  • Current carte de séjour
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate and translation
  • Proof of address (less than 3 months old)
  • 3 ID photos
  • Proof of revenue (proof that you have at least 1149 EUR per month)
  • Written statement (in French) that you will not work in France

Once your card is ready to pick up, you pay €269 in fiscal stamps. 

Renewing a French Expat Visa

Renewing my visa last year was a real pain. It was to expire in August. So I went to the website of the Prefecture in Nimes in June, two months in advance, as instructed, to set up an appointment.

“No appointments available. Try again,” it said in French, of course.

French Expat Visa

I tried the website again the next day. Same response. And the next day. And the day after that. The same screen appeared each time. “No appointment available. Try again.”

By the end of July, with no appointment, I was beginning to worry. I was told by others they were having the same problem.

“No need going to Nimes in person to ask for an appointment,” they said. Online only.

French expat visaOh, what to do? Visions of gendarmes at my door were running through my head. Worse yet, what if I finally got an appointment, and it was in September?!  I had plans to be in the Dordogne! How could I be in two places at one time? All those non-refundable reservations! Panic!

I started asking around for help. That’s when I heard about a company that helps expats cut through French red tape. Renestance. They literally came to my rescue.

The Renestance office is in Montpelier.  They can help expats wherever they live in France. Jennifer, whom I got to know quite well, lives in Nimes. We met more than once. She could easily go with me to the Prefecture in Nimes. Whenever we could get an appointment.

Renestance was having the same problem with the Nimes website with all their clients. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Renewing a French Expat Visa…finally

Finally, after sending a registered letter to the Prefecture explaining my carte de séjour had expired, I had an appointment. November 29th at noon. By that time I’d spent a vacation in the Dordogne agonizing that I might miss an appointment date. And I’d cancelled my plans to spend the holidays with my family in the States. Oh, the frustration!

During all the waiting, Renestance was busy working on my case. They were online multiple times each day and night checking to see if the website was accepting appointments. They were managing the translation of my documents. Most of all, they were dealing with me!

For example, the “original copy” of the birth certificate that I ordered from the courthouse in North Carolina, where I was born, the one my son hand carried to France when he visited, was lost. Bless his heart, my dear son went to the county courthouse, in person, picked up another “original” birth certificate for me, and sent it by FedEx to France.

By the time November 29th rolled around, everything was ready for the appointment in Nimes. Jennifer met me at the train station, guided me to the Prefector’s office, which had moved sometime over the past year, and she walked me through the whole process. Which, by the way, would have been impossible for me without speaking the language. Yes, American Jennifer speaks perfect French. It was another three months before I actually had a new carte de séjour in hand, but I had a signed government document that served the purpose.

So now, when anyone asks me if there’s anyone in France who can help Americans or other English-speaking expats through the French bureaucracy, the answer is “Yes!” Renestance. They help with visas, drivers’ licences, relocation issues and more. Jennifer is helping me again this year. She’s already made an appointment at the Prefector on March 5th. It’s all under control.

Thank you Renestance!

 

Read about the first experience with a French Visa

 

Magical Christmas Markets

The 3 Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

After touring the most popular Christmas Market in France — Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg — I have to say, they were pretty spectacular. Yet there was nothing quite like the magical Christmas markets in the very small towns we visited next in Alsace: Eguisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville.

When friend Paula and I started the Christmas Market Tour in France, we knew we wanted to see Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg. Yet, it was the three market towns we saw next that were the most enchanting: Equisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville. Each in their own way was a scene out of Santa’s Workshop.

The animation team for Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” thought Eguisheim was pretty special. It was the inspiration for the opening scene of the movie.

Magical Christmas Markets

Eguisheim’s storybook house “Beauty and the Beast”

Riquewihr was just as charming. A walk through the walled city proved Riquewihr earns its ranking among Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  

Magical Christmas Markets

Ribeauville, however, stole the “most favorite Christmas Market” on my list. Perhaps it was because we were lucky enough to land there the last weekend of their Medieval Christmas Market that put it over the top. However, the village itself was colorful and lively.

Magical Christmas Markets

Here’s a view of the festivities in these three Alsatian towns, all decked out for the season. Enjoy!

Which of the Christmas Markets in Alsace would you like to visit?

Strasbourg

Colmar and Kaysersberg

Equisheim, Riquewihr, Ribeauville

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Very Best Christmas Markets

Best Christmas Markets in France: Colmar and Kaysersberg

The very best Christmas Markets are in the Alsace region of France, or so I’m told. I had to see for myself.

Ask anyone who’s scouted around for the very best Christmas Markets in Europe and they’ll say Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg in France are the among the most famous. Being that I’m on a mission to visit as much of France as I possibly can, the Christmas Markets in the Alsace region were “must do’s.”

Strasbourg was first on the Very Best Christmas Market tour and, as you saw in the previous post, the city and the festivities were pretty spectacular. Colmar was an hour’s train ride away from Strasbourg.  A perfect place to stay for a few days, then visit other nearby towns and markets.

Colmar, the “Venice” of Alsace

Colmar has an interesting connection to the United States. It’s the birthplace of Auguste Bartholde (1834-1904), the sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty. So what was the first thing tour guide Max of Alsace Original Experiences wanted his two American guests to visit? The huge replica of Lady Liberty that stands at the entrance to Colmar. It is the largest reproduction of the statue anywhere in the world. In France Bartholdi is quite a celebrity. One of the tourist sites in the center of Colmar is a museum in his honor. I’ll have to see that next time.

Colmar is a much smaller town than Strasbourg, so right away the difference in the holiday atmosphere was quite apparent. In the old part of the city (on the map below in yellow) there were five different Christmas marketplaces (red stars). Like in Strasbourg, the vendors had set up their food and gift items in temporary wooden huts in the midst of busy shopping areas . The difference was that there seemed to be more handmade and authentic French items at the small stalls in Colmar. Some of the “marchés” were lined up along the canals that seemed randomly interspersed through the town. Streets were closed during market hours so it seemed like we were in the midst of one big Christmas party.

Two favorite things about Colmar were the B&B – Cour de Weinhof (Weinhof Court) — and “dejeuner” at Le Marechal — both of which happened quite by accident. The B&B had a last minute cancellation, so there was “room at the inn.” The restaurant was a lucky choice through Tripadvisor  . Which reminds me. If your holiday tour includes fine dining there are several Michelin Star restaurants in the Alsace area. My thoughts were “good food, good price and let’s get back to shopping in the market.” Le Marechal ticked all those boxes.

very best Christmas Markets

 

Kaysersberg, the Night Market

Touring Kaysersberg at night was not exactly on the agenda, but by the time we’d visited Eguisheim and Riquewihr it was dark. I’m thinking that was a good thing. At nighttime the holiday lights were stunning. With the bits of snow that were falling, it was the perfect mix.

Kaysersberg is a very small town (see map below) and lots of people want to see it. So there was quite a lot of traffic getting into town. It reminded me of Christmases long ago in Charlotte, NC. My family spent hours in our car, behind lines of other cars, to see Christmas lights in McAdenville, a tiny mill town nearby. 

Fortunately, our wonderful tour guide Max, from Alsace Original Experiences, knew exactly where to go to park that was within steps of the entrance of town. He earned a “gold star” for that brilliant move.

Kaysersberg was decked out for the Christmas Market, especially around the route marked with red arrows. The market items seemed to all be from France — not all handmade — but fabuous.  All the way through the shopping extravaganza I reminded myself that I have nowhere to store Christmas stuff in my apartment. I really behaved … well, sorta.

very best Christmas Markets

Bienvenue á Colmar et Kaysersberg

Read more about Christmas Markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

Best Christmas Markets in France: Strasbourg

The Three Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

very best Christmas Markets

Wish for France

Best Christmas Markets in France: Strasbourg

Eleven Christmas Markets in one town … oh my! Strasbourg is a busy city during the Christmas Market. Not only is it home to approximately 300,000 full-time residents, Strasbourg bulges at the seams with holiday visitors during November and December.

Known as home to one of the best Christmas markets in France, the old city of Strasbourg is closed off to traffic during the market because of the crowds. That means you walk down the center of streets filled with holiday goodies and shops on both sides. Also, it means you must carry your bags through a security check and to your hotel. Fortunately, our hotel was nearby. So after dropping off our things at Hôtel Des Arts, we set off to check out the first of eleven Christmas markets we were to visit on our two-and-a-half day stay.

The narrow streets of the old town were crowded and brightly lit. All we could think about was how glad we were that we were in Strasbourg before the “real crowds” showed up Christmas week. Well, that’s not truly all we were thinking about. Visions of choucroute, spaetzle and beef bourguignon were swirling around in our heads.

best Christmas markets in France,

The christmas markets, or areas where vendors show off their wares and food items, were set up in little wooden storefronts. They were all very similar.

The differences were that, along the way, permanent merchants lured shoppers with their over-the-top decorations and window dressings. Many spilled out onto the streets. Every alley, every turn in the road displayed street lighting and banners that were better than the one before.

Of all the attractions, the Cathedral de Notre-Dame  stood out as the city’s centerpiece.

Its majestic buttresses, vaults and arches dominated many of the streetscapes. Its presence added a special luminescence to those market stalls that were fortunate enough to surround it for the holidays.

Although our visit to Strasbourg was for the Christmas Market only, we took a boat tour along the canal that borders the old town. It was a perfect way to get an overview of the city’s history and to get a glimpse of some of the new parts of town. It’s definitely a place I would love to see again.

In Strasbourg the mix of French and German is visible in the architecture, the people, the language and the cuisine. From foie gras to spaetzle — from German beer to fine wine — Strasbourg is where the best of the best meet today in seemingly perfect harmony.

 

 

Read more about Christmas Markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

Best Christmas Markets in France: Colmar and Kaysersberg

The Three Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

The Very Best Christmas Markets in France

I’ve heard the very best Christmas Markets are right here in France so I had to check them out for myself.

If it’s bright holiday lights and decorations, streaming holiday music and festive foods that make a Christmas market rank at the top of the list, there’s no doubt the very best Christmas Markets are in France.  Strasbourg, Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg and Ribeauville to be exact. For five days my long-time friend, Paula, and I crammed in as many marketplaces as we could possibly see. It was truly a tour through Christmas wonderland.

Paula recently moved to Uzés from the US after years of dreaming about living in France. We met each other on a tour of China and now she’s my neighbor! Paula worked in the tourist industry which means she’s pretty much an expert at figuring out where to go, how to get there, where to stay and what to do when you get there. She reads lots of travel blogs and she’s full of great ideas. We put all that know-how to the test on our Christmas Market tour through Alsace. Now I’m happy to share it with you.

Which are the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

very best Christmas Markets After quite a bit of research online and talking with friends who have traveled to markets in France, almost overwhelmingly there’s agreement. The Very Best Christmas Markets in France are in the Alsace region. Most popular are Strasbourg, Colmar and Kaysersberg. With the help of Max, our precious guide from Alsace Original Experiences, we discovered Eguisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville.

How to get to the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

There’s no doubt about it, if you’re traveling in or through Europe to Christmas Markets, go by train. During our visit to Alsace there was rain, sleet and snow. By car we could have had problems. By train there were none. Fortunately there were no train strikes and only short delays.

Where to stay for the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

Probably our best decision when planning our tour of Christmas Markets was to start in Strasbourg, stay there for a couple of days, then take a train to Colmar. Then use Colmar as our base to see other villages nearby. Let me warn you, however, if you’re hoping to visit Christmas Markets in Alsace, be smarter than we were and plan your trip more than a month ahead. Because it took us awhile to get our dates coordinated, it wasn’t easy to find accommodations in Strasbourg and Colmar. That said, we were more than pleased with the outcome.

The Hôtel Des Arts in Strasbourg is small and a bit outdated, but the location couldn’t be better. During our stay the staff was extremely helpful and courteous. The price was right, too!  Finding a place Colmar was a bit of a challenge, but Paula knew to get on the waitlist for the Weinhof Court B&B (Cour du Weinhof) is right in the center of the marketplace. We thoroughly enjoyed the couple who owned the lovely B&B. Before we left, we and their multi-national guests felt like family.

Very best hint for the Very Best Christmas Markets in France?

very best Christmas MarketsThumbs down, the day-long guided tour of Christmas Markets and villages around Colmar was our best idea. Our guide, Max from Alsace Original Experiences, picked us up at the B&B in Colmar at 9:30am in a black Mercedes van. We lucked out to be the only guests on the tour so we could do as we pleased. Max was the perfect host and offered cookies and coffee as we started off. His agenda for the day included visits to Eguisheim and Riquewihr with stops at a cheese maker and a winery. It was dusk before we reached Kaysersberg which was an added treat because we were able to see the Christmas lighting at night.

Going to Ribeauville was an added attraction. It came about when we teased Max about taking us and all our baggage to the train station in Colmar for our departure the next day. He took us seriously, called his boss, and arranged for us to visit Ribeauville in the morning before depositing us and our baggage on the train. What a treat that was! Not only did we feel like royalty being escorted to our train, we loved Ribeauville. It just happened to be the last weekend of their medieval Christmas Market, so with all the trimmings, the village was probably the most colorful of all we visited.

Day-by-Day Tour of the Very Best Christmas Markets in France

There are many ways that you could sort out a tour of the Best Christmas Markets in Alsace. Ours started out in Strasbourg. It was a straight connection from the train station in Avignon — even though we almost missed the train! I underestimated the Monday morning traffic in Avignon. If we’d missed our train, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it would have given us a two-hour later start. Fortunately it was our lucky day and the beginning of a perfect holiday.

Day 1

Strasbourg arrival and Christmas Market by night

Day 2

Strasbourg Christmas Market and canal boat tour

Day 3

Strasbourg Christmas Market; downtown exploring/shopping; visit Cathedral ; train to Colmar

Day 4

Colmar Christmas Market 

Day 5

Van Tour from Colmar B&B to Christmas Markets

Morning – Equisheim 

 

Afternoon – Riquewihr 

Evening – Kaysersberg

 

Day 6

Morning – Van tour from Colmar B&B to Ribeauville

Afternoon – Train to Depart

Stay tuned for more details and a photo visit to each of the Very Best Christmas Markets in France …. Happy Holidays!

Best Christmas Markets in France: Strasbourg

Best Christmas Markets in France: Colmar and Kaysersberg

The Three Most Magical Christmas Markets in France

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