Category Archives: France

Day Trips

Every now and then we would pack the car and venture into one of the nearby beach towns. The south of France is where French vacationers flock during summer breaks.

A windsurfer in Sanary-sur-Mer.

A windsurfer in Sanary-sur-Mer.

Towns like Sanary-sur-Mer are crowded with Parisians searching for a recess from their city life. The warm beaches on the Mediterranean sea are very enticing.

Sitting in Sanary-sur-Mer.

Sitting in Sanary-sur-Mer.

The day we visited, the sea was a touch too rough to enter. Braver people than us rode the waves in the sea, while we watched from a rocky outcrop enjoying the sun.

Our vantage point of Sanary-sur-Mer.

Our vantage point of Sanary-sur-Mer.

A different day in a different town, we were able to dip into the Mediterranean. In Saint-Cyr-sur-mer the sea was dead still and perfect for wading through. Although the small city features many resorts, the beaches are among the lesser crowded. Much unlike the city of Cassis.

Siobhan, Seamus and Meadhbh wading in the waters of Cyr-Sur-Mer.

Siobhan, Seamus and Meadhbh wading in the waters of Cyr-Sur-Mer.

Cassis was swarming with tourists taking advantage of the gorgeous summer weather. The beaches were absolutely blanketed with French sunbathers. Instead of squeezing in a spot on the sand, we walked through the city taking in the maritime scenery.

Meadhbh sitting on the outcrop in Sanary-sur-Mer.

Meadhbh sitting on the outcrop in Sanary-sur-Mer.

With no intention of visiting a beach, we went to Arles one day, where we also did some walking. Arles, unlike the other towns we visited, is known more for its history than its beaches. We did a walking tour around the city to see the Roman monuments and to follow the footsteps of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.

A cafe painted by Vincent Van Gogh.

A cafe painted by Vincent Van Gogh.

The city has a collection of Roman monuments the most prominent being the arena known as the Arles Amphitheater. The theatre was reminiscent of the theatre in Rome, although the amphitheater in Arles was obviously not as colossal.

The Arles amphitheatre.

The Arles amphitheatre.

The Van Gogh part of the tour also reminded us of earlier times in the year. We had been to the artists country and had seen a lot of his influence while in Amsterdam. Not to mention we saw a huge collection of his pieces while in the D’Orsay in Paris. Arles is the city where the artist rendered over three hundred of his works. On our walk through Arles we saw several of the bridges, cafes and houses that he illustrated. After exploring Arles we ventured into yet another

A isolated church in the midst of the camargue.

A isolated church in the midst of the camargue.

one of southern France’s many facets. Recollected from references in his elementary French classes, Seamus wanted to visit the area Camargue. The Camargue is unlike any other part of France. It is a marshy wetland that hosts a number of species that do not habitat elsewhere in the country.The site is particularly known for its flamingos. We didn’t spot any flamingos but we had no trouble seeing seagulls, horses, pheasants and clouds and clouds and clouds of midges. We went to a restaurant and one of the small towns that are peppered between the marshes. There they served us fish caught only in the Camargue. Including our time in Paris earlier, we really had seen the most diverse parts of France. We left the country thoroughly satisfied with our exploration there. We made our final French drive into Marseilles where we boarded our first flight since February to the final country of the year, Ireland.

– Siobhan

C’est La Vie

Our return to France was punctuated by a short detour into one more country. We had hit most of the smallest members of Europe and despite the dismal weather, we were not going to miss the opportunity to pass through Monaco. Although not as small as the Vatican city, Monaco occupies only a small space in the corner of France.

Driving to Monaco.

Driving to Monaco.

Eating in Monte Carlo.

Eating in Monte Carlo.

Unfortunately, the terrible downpour prevented us from venturing too far from the car while we were there. Still, from the car on the drive there, through the raindrops running down the window, we were able to discern what would be beautiful views one a dryer day.

The view from the window in Provence.

The view from the window in Provence.

The state’s size does not correlate with its reputation. Monaco’s district of Monte Carlo is renowned world wide for its concentrated wealth. The extravagance of the small location has lured in celebrates, stars and royalty throughout history. The same luxurious presentation appeals to film directors. Monte Carlo has set many feature films and popular television shows. The streets of Monte Carlo can be seen in more than one James Bond film.

The cat next door sitting in our kitchen window.

The cat next door sitting in our kitchen window.

Jordan's cat visiting.

Jordan’s cat visiting.

Sadly, we weren’t able to see these scenes because of the deluge. Instead, we enjoyed a meal at a cafe before entering back into France. The rain followed us through France into Aix-en-Provence, the nearest city to our destination. About twenty minutes outside Aix-en-Provence, in the midst of France’s finest country sides, we found the house where we would be experiencing a little bit of French lifestyle.

Seamus relaxing by the pool.

Seamus relaxing by the pool.

The rain poured as our landlord, Jordan showed us around the property. The next day, in cheerful weather we saw better the house where we would spend the next month. The house and surrounding area was extremely pleasant and we had no trouble making  it into our temporary home. With the exception of a few day trips, we mostly kick-backed  and enjoyed the French countryside.

Meadhbh picking strawberries.

Meadhbh picking strawberries.

Fresh strawberries from Jordan's garden.

Fresh strawberries from Jordan’s garden.

There were a few things to attend to. Meadhbh buckled down on her school work while I managed some details for my first year at university this fall. Wanda practiced her art and Seamus arranged the final schedule of including our return to Canada.

The gaps between completing these tasks was filled with cooking and baking in the spirit of the French, lying by the pool and strolling through the country side.

Our fresh cherries.

Our fresh cherries.

The baking was particularity enjoyable. France’s grocery stores are undoubtably more diverse than the groceries in Canada. In addition to that, Jordan offered us full access to  her garden. With both these resources Meadhbh was able to try out some of the French recipes of Julia Child and she also made Seamus’s all time favorite French dish, canard a l’orange.

Canard a l'orange prepared by Meadhbh.

Canard a l’orange prepared by Meadhbh.

Choux pastry swans as prepared by Siobhan.

Choux pastry swans as prepared by Siobhan.

To accompany the meals, I attempted some new treats such as macrons and practiced some of desserts I’m more familiar with like lemon meringue and apple pie.

A neighbour thankful that Meadhbh doesn't know how to make escargot.

Our little neighbour who was lucky that Meadhbh doesn’t know how to make escargot.

The month flew by and every day was truly delightful.

 – Siobhan

Honeymoon Part Two

A long, long time ago, after the marriage of my parents they honeymooned in the resort town, Antibes. Antibes is in southeastern France near Cannes. Because of its proximity to Cannes, the city was flooded with tourists, most of which were French. The visitors had not come to Antibes for the sandy beaches and nice hotels, rather they were preparing for the Cannes film festival. During the festival, all the accommodations in Cannes and the surrounding cities are fully booked.

One of Antibes beautiful beaches.

One of Antibes beautiful beaches.

We, on the other hand, planned to relax in Antibes. At that point, the beaches were still a little bit chilly to dwell on. Instead, we vegetated in the hotel rooms, watching news of the festival and all the top celebrities that were supposed to be seen, on the television. One night we went out and got some Lebanese takeaway and watched the recent stop-motion movie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Occasionally, we would stroll into town to sit in the parks or watch the locals lawn bowling, which was amazing popular in Antibes.

Seamus and Wanda on the beach of Antibes.

Seamus and Wanda on the beach of Antibes.

The gentle energy of Antibes was a nice contrast from the nonstop touring we had been doing. This time in Antibes was very different from my parents first experience in the city, over twenty years ago. I don’t suppose they would have imagined themselves back in Antibes one day with two extra Quiggs.

– Siobhan

Come to the Cabaret

Previously in Paris, we had seen the tomb of Victor Hugo. Particularly known for his novel Les Miserables, especially with the popularity of the recent film, Hugo has produced many of the classics of French literature. We saw the setting for one of his most famous stories, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The story, as the name suggests is set in the Parisian Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The front side of the Notre Dame.

The front side of the Notre Dame.

 The Cathedral is immensely large and beautifully designed. We spent a period of time admiring the interior of the cathedral before walking around the outside to enjoy the architecture.

Quasimodo and Esmeralda figurines in a nearby shop.

Quasimodo and Esmeralda figurines in a nearby shop.

As we left, we thought we caught a glimpse of Quasimodo scaling the edges searching for Esmeralda. Or perhaps we were seeing one of the buildings many gargoyles.

Seamus and Wanda at the back of the Notre Dame.

Seamus and Wanda at the back of the Notre Dame.

From the Cathedral we wandered over to Paris’ legendary cabaret, the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge is found in the bohemian district of Piagalle, which has a reputation which is close but not quite as rascally as the cabaret itself.

Seamus and Wanda outside the Moulin Rouge's famous windmill.

Seamus and Wanda outside the Moulin Rouge’s famous windmill.

The Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge.

Many good times have been had inside the Moulin Rouge. The high-spirited energy of a typical night at the Moulin Rouge represented by nothing better that the dance born in the cabaret, the can-can.The sky was just beginning to dim so we waited around in order to see the trademark red windmill light up.

Seamus eating snails.

Seamus eating snails.

Once the natural light had completely diminished and Piagelle was lit only by the artificial bulbs of the bars, shops and shows we began scouting for a place to eat dinner. We found a small, comfortable cafe. Feeling the spirit of France, we shared a plate of escargot for our last dinner in Paris.

– Siobhan

French Greats

France has produced many great people. People of all areas, from artist to author have proudly called France their home. France is as proud of these individuals as these individuals are of France. Proof of this can be found in the Pantheon of Paris. The Pantheon, based on the Pantheon in rome, contains a mausoleum dedicated to outstanding French individuals.

Seamus and Wanda in front of the Pantheon.

Seamus and Wanda in front of the Pantheon.

The building is outstanding. It is an amazing spectacle held up by columns and topped with a dome. However, the true treasures are underneath the building. Down the stairs in the back of the

Seamus by Hugo's tomb.

Seamus by Hugo’s tomb.

main hall we found ourselves in the graveyard of some of the greatest French people. It was difficult not to get lost in the tombs. All the corridors had the same polished facade but the labels next to the tomb doorways distinguished which French great remained inside. Several of the celebrated individuals were honored with statues or decorated graves. Voltaire, Hugo and Rousseau were three of these Frenchmen. The population was largely male, but one female was particularly notable among the names. We had read all about Marie Curie in the Nobel center in Stockholm. Curie had been buried beside her husband Pierre but she had earned her spot in the exclusive mausoleum on her own right.

The tomb of Mare Curie.

The tomb of Mare Curie.

The mausoleum contained quite the collection of influential French people but there was a distinct absence of the remains of, in the opinion of many, the greatest Frenchman of all time.

Napoleon's Tomb

Napoleon’s Tomb

The ceiling above Napoleon's remains.

The ceiling above Napoleon’s remains.

Seamus, in Napoleon's pose, outside his tomb.

Seamus, in Napoleon’s pose, outside his tomb.

The reason for this is that Napoleon Bonaparte rests in a magnificent tomb in the L’Hotel National des Invalides among France’s war heroes. We explored the huge property dedicated to the Army of France and saw the sarcophagus of France’s greatest emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte.

– Siobhan

The Most Famous Smile

France has a rich history of art that dates back to 15,000 BC with the cave paintings in Lascaux. Since then the French have created and collected art and today have the world’s greatest art museums.

The Louvre with the Eiffel tower in the background.

The Louvre with the Eiffel tower in the background.

While in Paris, we were face to face with the world’s most famous smile. In the world’s ranked first art museum, The Louvre, we saw many of the masterpieces that shaped the history of art. The walk to the museum was lengthy. Part of the journey included crossing the river Seine on the Ponts des Arts.

The Louvre from inside the glass pyramids.

The Louvre from inside the glass pyramids.

Siobhan, Meadhbh and Wanda in front of the pyramids.

Siobhan, Meadhbh and Wanda in front of the pyramids.

The river has thirty-seven bridges over it, several of which are completely covered with locks. The custom known as love padlocks are apparently fairly common throughout Europe and particularity associated with Paris. Testaments of love or simply existence are written on the front padlocks and are put through the chains of bridges and locked. To complete the custom the key is thrown in the water.

Seamus and Wanda on the bridge.

Seamus and Wanda on the bridge.

The Louvre from the bridge.

The Louvre from the bridge.

The locks on the bridge.

The locks on the bridge.

Past the Ponts des Arts we waited in tremendous queues by the glass pyramids for our chance to see the greatest pieces of art of all time. The interior is utterly giant. We were given Nintendo DS converted into guides in order to manage through the endless corridors and chambers, each with walls lined with priceless pieces.

Meadhbh using the DS to enjoy the museum.

Meadhbh using the DS to enjoy the museum.

Using the DS we ventured towards the Mona Lisa. After loosing our way twice and asking direction we reached her and saw for ourselves the girl who changed art forever.

[The Mona Lisa is] the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.

John Lichfield

Once in the same room it was clear where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait was situated. The entire museum was crowed but the wall supporting the Mona Lisa was absolutely packed. We wiggled our way through the congestion to see the her.

Seamus in front of the Mona Lisa

Seamus in front of the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa has been victim to a several incidences of theft and vandalism. During our visit she was encased with a glass bulletproof cover and for good reason. This security measure has prevented damage in several events including when a terra-cotta teacup was chucked at it.

Greek statues in the museum.

Greek statues in the museum.

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A collection of paintings.

A painted cherub.

A painted cherub.

The Louvre’s greatness is not only because of the quality and quantity of the pieces but also the variety. The collections include every type of art imaginable from photography to Islamic art.

Wanda taking in the art.

Wanda taking in the art.

The Venus de Milo.

The Venus de Milo.

The D’Orsay, however is more specific to impressionist and post-impressionist art. That said, the D’Orsay contains the largest and best collection of this genre in the world. For this reason, the Musee d’Orsay is ranked as the third greatest art museum in France and the second art museum we visited in France.

Two rooms of paintings.

Two rooms of paintings.

 We saw some familiar pieces that reminded us of our time in Tahiti. In a gallery dedicated to Paul Gauguin, we saw many of the originals of the copies we had seen in his former home and office in Tahiti.

The Louvre at night.

The Louvre at night.

We spent many hours managing our way through the endless museum. We saw a lot, including the popular self-portrait done by Vincent van Gogh. The museum contained many of van Gogh’s pieces (not his ear).

– Siobhan

Great Heights

Until relatively recently there was strict building code in place in Paris. The alignement law states that building heights are restricted according to the width of the street it borders. Because of this law, Paris has few tall buildings compared to most capital cities. Its tallest structures is the Eiffel tower.

Meadhbh in front of the tower.

Meadhbh in front of the tower.

At the time of its construction the tower was the tallest man-made structure. Eventually, the Chrysler Building in New York claimed this title. By this time, the Eiffel tower did not need a title to attract visitors.

A cafe nearby.

A cafe nearby.

Tourist from all over the world continued to flock to Paris to see the tower which in turn earned the tower a new title. The Eiffel tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world. We were only four of the two hundred million visitors that the tower has hosted since its construction.

In the elevator going up the tower.

In the elevator going up the tower.

After a long queue we were carried to the top of the tower in a glass elevator. We ventured outside where cold gusts of wind whipped at us, but the views were worth it.

A view from the top of the tower.

A view from the top of the tower.

Being the on top of the  tallest structure in Paris, the rest of the city was literally below us. When we could take the cold no longer we returned inside the viewed the city from the windows.

Seamus and Wanda by the arc.

Seamus and Wanda by the arc.

From there, we spotted our next destination. We walked from the tower to the Paris’ second most famous monument. The Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile was built at the western end of the legendary avenue, Champs-Elysees by Napoleon to commemorate French soldiers. Directly under the arc is the tomb of the unknown soldier. On the walls of the arc we saw more than five hundred names of French victories and generals.

The inscriptions on the arc.

The inscriptions on the arc.

The arc is massive. Biplanes have been flown through it. In the same pattern of the Eiffel tower’s record, the Arc de Triomphe once claimed the title of largest triumphal arch until it was outdone by the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang. Unlike the tower, however, the arc’s elevator was out-of-order. Instead we climbed the two hundred and eighty-four steps to the top of the arc.

The Champs-Elysees  from the top of the arc.

The Champs-Elysees from the top of the arc.

We were not at the height we were at earlier that day, but the sights were still spectacular. In the distance, we saw the tower that we had just left. Again we saw our next port of call. We headed down Champs-Elysees, the avenue which is said to be the most beautiful and exclusive of the world. The name itself only suggests good things, translating to Elysian Fields, the site of paradise afterlife for heroes from Greek mythology.

The tower from the arc.

The tower from the arc.

At the end of the strip we saw a familiar site. Protruding from the center of the square, Place de la Concord, the Luxor Obelisk, nicknamed Cleopatra’s needle, is located. The obelisk was absent from the Luxor temple when we visited it in Egypt because it was given to the French in the 1800s. The government had added a touch of French flair to the Egyptian treasure with a gold leafed pyramid cap.

Seamus and Wanda by Cleopatra's needle.

Seamus and Wanda by Cleopatra’s needle.

We walked around the square admiring the statues, fountains and impressive buildings from the in the area. The place holds a unique spots in history as the guillotine site of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette among others during the revolution. At Antoinette’s place of death we suddenly got a hankering for cake or brioche but alas there was none to be found. Instead we enjoyed a couple of hotdogs from a stand nearby. We were surprised to find that the French hotdog is classier than sausage in a bun. Of course, we were served sausages in baguettes. Unused to the extra bread we had plenty left over so we continued from the square to the Tuileries Gardens to feed the birds.

Shyer birds watching from the side lines.

Shyer birds watching from the side lines.

Siobhan and Seamus bird feeding.

Siobhan and Seamus bird feeding.

The French fondness towards bread also carried over to the birds, who enthusiastically branched on our arms and hands pulling the excess baguette from our fingers.

 – Siobhan