Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last stop on the road trip

I spent a few more days in Toulouse which was really lovely.  The architecture is distinctive and the stones used for building are pink.  I even bought a pink stone ring to remind myself of the place.

I visited one last museum with a selection of French my last Monet fix in.

And bought a leather purse in a market.

Then, on to my last stop on the whistle-stop France tour with Bordeaux.  I didn't have very high hopes for Bordeaux as it's such a tourist draw but I was pleasantly surprised.  Because it was a rich port throughout the past centuries, it has these big wide open boulevards and plazas everywhere.  They've also just spent ten years cleaning the 18th century limestone buildings so the whole city looks sparkly with it's unique classical decorations.

 Also, they've also finally gotten enough money to restore recovered bronze statues that were removed during WWII. 

I did some souvenir shopping and, of course, took a wine tour out in the gorgeous countryside.

Learned some unique things on this tour such as how the barrels are made by hand by a cooper.  Not surprisingly, coopers are getting harder to find these days.

Tried some sweet whites, dry whites and reds.  Although I enjoyed this tour more, I think I  like the Burgundy wines that I tried on my Dijon tour more.

I'm back to Vancouver next and I can already feel myself going into croissant withdrawal...not sure what I'll do!

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Carcassonne is the city built up around a little hilltop that has had people living on it since people were living in France.  The little hilltop became a fortified walled city about 1000 years ago and was added onto and built up over the centuries.  Currently, it's the oldest fully walled medieval city in Europe and it's enchanting.  Now it's filled with shops and restaurants and tourists but you can imagine what it might have been like with knights galloping around and the peasants going about their daily business.  They actually have a few actors wandering around in costume which sounds kitschy but which was kind of cute.

I also had lunch there and tried the traditional 'cassoulet' which is a stew made with white beans cooked in duck fat and then baked with chicken and pork...delicious!


After a crazy day of traveling, I'm now in Toulouse. 

I've only got one more train ride to go so I feel somewhat qualified to make some comments on traveling by train in France.

1. If you have heavy luggage, are disabled or older, you're screwed.  There are always stairs and the lifts and escalators are turned off or non-existent.  I think they're labeling this under 'austerity' measures but I'm putting under 'mean'.

2. There is always one woman on every train who will talk non-stop in rapid-fire French the entire journey.  She will ignore all glares directed her way and will only pause for breath as she's leaving the train.

3. The train conductors are there to make sure you have a ticket.  They are not there to help you with your bag, find your seat or ensure that you know when to exit the train.  Stop bothering them!

4.  The toilet in your car will be broken...always.

5. Never catch a taxi at the train station as they add a luggage fee and a station fee...I think this is basically a stupid-tourist-tax.

6.  Your ticket price is directly related to how popular the route is and how close the departure time is so buy your tickets early and go to boring destinations if you want to save money.

7.  You have a fifty-fifty chance of sitting next to a chain smoker who, of course, won't be smoking on the train, but will have smoked an entire pack before boarding to brace themselves for their journey.  Keeping an emergency scarf in your bag may save you from asphyxiation.

Let's look at the pros;

8.  The view outside your window will be spectacular so always book a window if you can.

9.  Buying tickets online and then printing them at the station is unbelievably easy.

10.  The train stations always have somewhere to buy chocolate croissants which makes them magical places, in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Life of the rich and famous

So to join the rich and famous in Monte Carlo I took the 1.50euro bus from Nice because I'm not rich and famous myself.  It turned out to be a great idea as this was typical of the view en route.

Then to the home of the Formula 1, the world's first casinos and way too much money, Monte Carlo.  I took the hop on/hop off bus and listened to a bit of history as I got driven around.  Apparently, the country used to be quite a bit bigger and have huge orange orchards as their main source of income but in the 1860s those areas seceded and King Charles had to come up with a new source of revenue.  He created Monte Carlo (Mount Charles) and brought in the casinos. 

It was a bit shocking walking through the marina and seeing dozens of these floating monstrosities and the parking lots filled with expensive sports cars...everyone there seems to have money to burn.

To try to get some of that money for myself, I went up to the world famous Monte Carlo casino.  They charge 10 euros just to walk in this lovely building designed by Charles Garnier so I went to the free casino next door.  I didn't win any money or see James Bond but it was fun anyways.

I didn't really think much of the city.  It's overly complicated getting around because of the raceway, it's very mountainous and seems a real hodge-podge of new and old construction side by side which makes it feel disjointed.  There's also a huge, loud and tacky amusement park along the entire waterfront.  An interesting trip but not somewhere I'd want to stay.

The next day I went to a great outdoor flower market in Nice.

I would love to live in a place that had a market like this every day.

Friday, November 7, 2014


I had heard about these cool little trains that took you into the mountains to see the medieval towns so I spent today doing just that.  They have special tourist trains with big windows and, apparently they usually have a tour commentary but they didn't today. 

The train ride wasn't quite as pretty as I had hoped partly due to the sun being so low in the sky this time of year.  It was kind of blinding on one side but when it dipped behind the mountains, the fall leaves were brilliant.
Entrevaux dates back to the 1500s and was repeatedly fought's a list of occupiers courtesy in just six years.

It was a pretty little town but mostly shut down for the winter.  I was going to hike up to the monastery at the top of the mountain but the ticket dispenser was thighs seemed pretty grateful about that.

Nice is very nice

So, Nice is now my favorite place in France.  It's so pretty here and it smells good...strange but true.  My first day, I took a leisurely five hour walk.  I started at the azure blue sea by walking along the beach and then up to the top of the, once fortified, castle grounds.

On the other side of the hill, you can see the marina.

There's a cemetery and beautiful park at the top of the hill.

Then I went back down into the medieval part of town for a wander.

This is my favorite part of the city...narrow, winding alleys with colourful shops and restaurants.

Then, as it was my birthday, I treated my self to a huge Panini with various meats and cheeses on it and a chocolate covered something for desert.


Well, it started raining the minute I walked out of the Dijon train station and didn't stop until I left three days later.  I suppose I shouldn't complain since they've had the best weather this fall that anyone here can remember.  I did go out into the stormy weather but mostly looked at it from restaurant and cafĂ© windows.  It's a shame because the old town looked very inviting.

What to do when it's rainy and windy and icky outside....drink wine in underground cellars!  I took a tour of the local Bourgogne/Burgundy wine area and did a little sipping.  It was a great tour and I learned all about the complicated wine labels and the crazy rules of wine making in the region.