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Posts from the ‘Transportation’ Category

No. 312-314: La Loire à Vélo, Bike Share Programs and Biking in Dresses

la_loire_a_velo_bike.jpgFor a Colorado girl accustom to always having to ride the hills, the Loire à Vélo is a gem of a bike trail. The 800km path spans two regions of France, the Centre and the Pays de la Loire, and connects six cities: Orléans, Blois, Tours, Saumur, Angers, Nantes. There are no hills, en fait, recreational and professional riders are faced with nothing more than minor “bumps” as they make their way to or from the Bay of Biscay. Hands down, it is one of the most enjoyable vélo paths in France. La Loire à Vélo was an enormous public works undertaking that took the better part of two decades and cost a whopping €52 million to develop and signpost. A favorite among the French and tourists alike, over 800,000 cyclists follow some part of the trail each year. Happily our family is a lucky addition to that statistic.

There is really no excuse not to give it a go, as the usually friendly (when not striking) folks at SNCF make it an extremely easy bicycle holiday by allowing you to take your bike with you on their Interloire-trains. Between Orléans and the bay there are over 20 train stations with quick access to the trail, which makes it very easy to cycle as far as you want and then hop the train back to where you started.

We have biked the Loire as day trips from Paris and as long weekends. I plan to celebrate the BIG 50 by biking the whole 500 miles in 2015. Even if you are not as ambitious as me, or don’t have your own bike, it still makes a super fun and undemanding afternoon outing from any of the cities listed above, because the French have made it super easy. If you only want to go for an hour or two, you can rent a bike for a few euros in most cities from their vélib or bike share programs. So even if you spend the morning visiting museums and lunching on the local cuisine, you can still hop on a bike (ladies, go ahead and bike in your dresses—the French are not the “gearheads” that Americans are), and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in France…mais, bien sûr don’t forget your (chic) bicycle helmets.

Bon vélo!


No. 205: More Tulips and Flowering Things

Continuing on with my non-French cheekiness…I have to share a few more photos of Keukenhof and the tulips from the surrounding villages in Holland. Remember Amsterdam is just over 3 hours from Paris by train, and fares start as low as €70 aller-retour. Another thing to love about living in France.






aller-retour: round trip 



No. 178: Bullet Trains


High-speed trains or TGVs are definitely one of the things I love about France.

With Paris as the main hub for the bullet-train network, it makes it very easy to avoid the highways and the airports when traveling around France or Europe. It also makes it very easy to go, go, go and discover new places. The key of course is planning and booking early, although last minute deals can sometimes be had.

Believe it or not, every day an astonishing 450 trains traveling to 230 destinations crisscross the network traveling as fast as 201 mph (322kph)! Nine hundred kilometers from Paris to Marseille in only three hours is ridiculously fast, and ridiculously pleasant. Barcelona is only six hours away and Zurich just four. Plus, with the added bonus of often arriving right in the heart of a city, it always seems like we have an extra day for holidaymaking rather than traveling. Three-day trips are actually three-day tips. Train travel, j’adore.


Meanwhile back at the homestead, I’ve lost track of the various roadblocks the US Congress has thrown in the way of high-speed travel in America, but I sure wish they’d all just get along and get on board and let us get on board, literally. Imagine traveling the 2,500 miles from LA to NYC in a half a day. One can dream…but right now I’m enjoying the high-speed reality in France.

No. 152: Train Station Croissants

croissant au jambon et fromage et croissant aux amandes

croissant au jambon et fromage et croissant aux amandes

In a testament to how seriously the French take their pastries, I have found that even train station pâtisseries are delicious, and I’m not talking about the Paul chain of boulangeries. Even the less known and more mom-and-pop type stands sell high quality croissants and civilized, albeit, not spectacular, espressos.

My very last croissant au jambon before the real regime starts on March 1.

My very last croissant au jambon before the real regime starts on March 1.

After nearly 2 weeks of travelling on the East Coast, and too many train, plane and ferry terminals (where we grabbed far too many crappy and prepackaged meals), I’m happy to be back in the land of buttery flakiness and artisanal bakers.

No. 116: American Optimism

I haven’t posted for a while because, frankly, sometimes the French just get me down. And lately they’ve really been bringing me down.

Some days, some weeks, some months, it seems like nothing is possible in France. I hate to go down the road of crabby expat, but lately many things (from the smallest thing—trying to pay for a baguette with a 20€ note, to things on a grand scale—looking into applying for a work visa, have been branded by the French as: “Ce (n’est) pas possible!”


I was pushed to my last nerve this afternoon as I was biking to a birthday lunch. I was riding against traffic in a clearly marked bike lane, following all the rules of the road. (Bike lanes on streets in Paris are marked with a picture of a vélo and an arrow pointing in the direction you should be biking.) Twice, I found myself blocked by a car driving or stopped in the bike lane, leaving me absolutely no room to pass. There were three alternatives. Hastily hop off my bike and walk it on the sidewalk around parked cars and pedestrians; squeeze into the lane of oncoming traffic and pray the drivers would move over and let me pass rather than knock me over; or three, gingerly tap on the window and ask the driver if they would, “Please move.”

Being the polite (and stubborn) sort, I chose to tap on the window and ask (as if it wasn’t already obvious to them) to move their car, s’il vous plaît.

s'il vous plaît...

s’il vous plaît…

The first time I tried this, the woman just shook her head and muttered, “Ce pas possible.” Although there was a good five feet ahead of her to scoot into, she rolled up her window, refused to make any more eye contact, and laughed aloud like I was the most hilarious thing she had ever come across.

The second time I came fender to fender with another faultlessly coifed femme d’un certain âge, before I could even open my mouth, she told me defiantly, “Ce n’est pas possible!” Then she glowered and added, “Ce n’est pas ma faute.” Well friend, then who can I blame for you driving in the bike lane?

At this point, only 10 minutes into my 30-minute ride, I lost it, and went into my why-are-you-frickin’-Parisians-so-damn-mean-and-rude diatribe, en anglais, bien sûr, because, sadly, I can’t argue or swear in French. (Note to self: work on French “fighting words”.)

The result, of course, was nothing more than a tight-faced smirk from la femme and a feeling of helplessness from moi. When she did finally move, she made sure to hit me with her mirror, c’est normal!

Although my day, thanks in large part to an Anglophone/Italian birthday party held at a new Paris resto run by a native South Carolinian, only got better, I found myself thinking of those two encounters on and off. I felt sullen and defeated as I mounted my bike for the ride chez moi.

But then something small and wonderful happened when I came home and turned on the light in the kitchen. There spread across the rustic fruitwood table were six freshly planted window boxes waiting to be place on the sill…ready and willing, and against all the odds, planning to grow me some herbs.

window boxes

Now this might not seem remarkable, but remember, it is only January 21.

Donc, this Francophile was reminded of one of the great things about NOT being French. For all my countries faults and follies, I am grateful to have grown up in a country brimming with optimism. If Superman wants to try and grow an herb garden in the middle of winter, well then dang it all, give it a go! What have you got to lose? A couple of Euros spent on seeds, and some happy time spent dreaming.

You know what, my dear French amis and enemies, “C’est possible!”

Vive l’optimisme américain!



amis: friends

C’est normal. That’s normal; as usual

C’est possible! It’s possible!

Ce n’est pas ma faute. It’s not my fault.

Ce (n’est) pas possible! It’s not possible!

chez moi: (at) home

en anglais, bien sûr: in English, of course

femme d’un certain âge: literally, woman of a certain age, which in France implies a certain type of sexual prowess, or when it comes to bike riders vs. cars, radically rude women over 50.

la femme: the woman, lady, wife

moi: me

s’il vous plaît: please

Vive l’optimisme américain! Long live American optimism!

vélo: bicycle

No. 96: une grève: a strike

Yesterday we had big plans. We were going to drive the length of the island and see what we could see. Trunk packed with hiking shoes and guidebooks, maps and mosquito spray, rain gear and beachwear, we were ready for anything.

Anything, that is, except une grève.

The French are famous for their strikes, and it appears that Martinique is no exception. Unfortunately the strike involves gasoline and all the gas stations were/are closed. Of course, our tank was nearly empty.

Because we are on holiday, we have not been listening to the news, so we had no idea this was coming, but as it turns out, neither did the Martiniquais. Usually in France, the strikes are announced ahead of time (and often you even know exactly how long they will last), but this one was not. Sprung upon the island, on the day most mainland French vacanciers were arriving and expecting rental cars with full tanks of gas, this one was/is a proper and effective strike.

So, you may ask, how do I turn une grève into something I love about France? The girls had the same question. The answer: forced relaxation.

With no gas in the tank and no place to go, we were forced to head to the small local beach and spend the day resting, talking and laughing, playing cards, reading and eating ice cream, watching the locals’ picnic and play with their beautiful families and remember how lucky we are to have each other.


Fun family time. The silver lining to une grève.


une grève: a strike

vacanciers: vacationers

No.25: Small Cars

I love the small cars in France: infinitely better for the environment and pretty darn adorable. Très mignon indeed.






très mignon: very cute