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Posts tagged ‘Holiday Getaway’

No. 234: Grins and Wisdom from the Marais

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morning spiders (bring) sorrow...evening spider (bring) hope...white butterfly, sign of spring...circled moon, rain ensured

morning spiders (bring) sorrow…evening spider (bring) hope…white butterfly, sign of spring…circled moon, rain ensured

a magpie in the spring signifies dreadful weather...when the rooster crows at night watch, his tail is already wet...if the peacock screams, we stay at home...

a magpie in the spring signifies dreadful weather…when the rooster crows at night watch, his tail is already wet…if the peacock screams, we stay at home…

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Warning! Vicious carrots, carnivorous radishes and crazy parsley…

Vocabulaire

marais: marshland, swamp

No. 231-233: Marshland, Potager, and Groovy Scarecrows

 

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While I enjoyed the medieval houses and formidable cathedral in Bourges, what I really loved was the secret world of the marais. Strolling through les Marias de Bourges is a must for anyone missing green space or the earthy comfort of their vegetable garden or potager.

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Just a stone’s skip away from Sainte-Etienne Cathedral, the marshlands surrounding Bourges at one time assured the defense of the city, but now serve as lovingly cultivated family gardens, supplying the city with fresh fruit and vegetables. The marais spans more than 330 acres—enough space for over 1,000 garden plots neatly carved out of the calm waters and green and flowering foliage and provides a unique space for nature and relaxation for residents and visitors alike.

source: Office de Tourisme de Bourges

source: Office de Tourisme de Bourges

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It was heaven for Superman and Taz, and Button and I were reminded how great it feels to breathe fresh air and wander through a friendly and welcoming place and smile at the locals as they traversed the canals on foot bridges and boats. Each pint-sized plot had some sort of maisonnette (some more appealing than others), a sweet sign announcing what is theirs, and for the creative jardiniers among them, a groovy scarecrow or two to keep the birds at bay.

I was completely hooked. France continues to surprise me with her quaint and quiet charm. I will miss the Fête des Marais this August, but it is the newest item on my bucket list for 2015. If you are in France the end of August, make your reservations now. It is sure to be magical.

 

Vocabulaire

jardiniers: gardeners

maisonnette: small house

marais: marshland

potager: vegetable garden

 

No. 230: Bourges: France’s Heartland

map_france-Bourges.jpgWe are a couple of days back from faire(ing) le pont in Bourges.

This was one of those completely unexpected, point-to-a-place-on-the-map-where-we-can-afford-the-train-tickets type of getaway. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

Bourges lies almost exactly in the center of France, so now if/when I have to leave France, I can say, both that I left my heart in France, and that I have been to the heart of France.

Bourges is a classic French town housing one of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, Sainte-Etienne, a UNESCO world heritage site, known for its stunning stained-glass windows, some dating back as far as the 13th century, an amazingly accurate astronomical clock, and its arched-entrance, chiseled with eerie carvings illustrating a grim Judgment Day.

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According to our bed and breakfast host, guests tend to use Bourges as an overnight stop when traveling north-to-south or vice versa. But I would say Bourges is worthy of a long weekend, to allow you the time to get to know the picturesque town surrounded by rivers, listen to the pealing church bells, soak up the rich history, and experience the relaxed and friendly locals.

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Southeast of Orléans, this hilly city, where Joan of Arc wintered before she was burned at the stake, rises up at the intersection of the Yèvre and Auron rivers in the Department of Cher and will charm the pants right off you with its half-timbered medieval houses, cobbled lanes, sculpted gardens and marshy marais—more on that tomorrow.

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May is the perfect time to visit, as the town hosts Les Printemps de Bourges Contemporary Music Festival, (we were one weekend too late), and les Nuits Lumière (Illuminated Nights), an impressive light, sound and architectural show highlighting the city’s heritage (screened across the ancient buildings) on offer every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, rain or moon-glow.

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Summer may be an even better time to visit Bourges, as there were loads of signs heralding Été à Bourges and an impressive line-up of free, outdoor musical performances, of all shapes and sizes.

When all is said and done, Bourges is a super cool place to visit either on whim or as a planned stop on your itinerary. If you want to hear and feel what makes this complicated country tick, venture au coeur, to the heart of France.

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Vocabulaire

au coeur: in the center, at the heart

Été à Bourges: Summer in Bourges

faire le pont: to take a long weekend, literally to make the bridge

Les Printemps de Bourges: Bourges’ Springtime

No. 228-229: La Fête du Muguet and Faire le Pont

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Now that May is here, we may not be able to enjoy oysters anymore, but in exchange, it is the relaxing month to faire le pont: literally “making a bridge” or bridging the gap, which is a fun way of saying: to take a long (at least four-day) weekend.

This particular May, we are lucky to have three chances to make the bridge.

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As I have mentioned before, the French are very good at les vacances (vacation) and have a rather liberal holiday schedule. They certainly know how to make the most of the random holidays that fall mid-week. For example, cette année, la fête du travail est jeudi, donc on va faire le pont, get out-of-town and not come back until Sunday night.

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Which is a pretty sweet way to turn a one-day holiday into a four-day break.

 

Vocabulaire

cette année, la fête du travail est jeudi, donc on va faire le pont: this year, Labor Day is on a Thursday, so we will make the bridge (take a long weekend)

la Fête du Muguet, also called la Fête du Travail: May Day or Labor Day is a public holiday to honor workers and their rights and to campaign for continuing policies that support workers. The French also sell and give lily-of-the-valley flowers to loved ones and friends on this day. For an excellent explanation of la Fête du Muguet, please check in with the Curious Rambler.

muguet: lilly-of-the-valley

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No. 227: Huîtres: Where Have All the “Rs” Gone?

Yesterday was the end of oyster season. Sigh…

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We have to wait for the next month with an “r” in it to come around before we can enjoy the best of the best huîtres in their proper seasons.

We did have a terrific fall and winter tasting season, and nearly 6-weeks of spring, but now it is May, and May is “mai” en français. Oh why, oh why, can’t “mai” be one of the thousands of French words with a string of silent letters? Why didn’t l’Académie française or one of the 40 all-knowing immortels slip in a silent “r” somewhere between May (mai) and August (août)?

As it is, we will need to wait until September (septembre)—123 days until oyster season rolls around again.

In the meantime, we’ll always have the memories…

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Vocabulaire

huîtres: oysters

 

No. 225: Un Peu de Hollande en France

The windmill in the Bois de Boulogne near the Longchamps racetrack.

The windmill in the Bois de Boulogne near the Longchamps racetrack.

The award winning flowering city of Créteil.

The award-winning flowering city of Créteil.

Bordeaux vineyard

Bordeaux vineyard

 

Vocabulaire

Un peu de Hollande en France: A little bit of Holland in France

No. 222-223: Sundays on the Seine (and Marne) and Créteil

One of my very favorite things about living in Paris is spending Sundays on the Seine and Marne.

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Every Sunday if we are both in town and the weather is even marginally nice, Superman and I jump on the Vélibs and head down to the Seine. The former mayor of Paris made it a priority to make the Seine accessible to families sharing a Sunday stroll and fitness enthusiasts alike. Since we fall into both of those categories (plus do not own a car), we are huge fans of ex-Mayor Bertrand Delanoë and his progressive policies to improve the quality of life in Paris. We are especially grateful for all he did to make it so easy to jump on the path (and closed roads) along the Seine and explore life beyond Paris.

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After almost three years, we have discovered all sorts of chemins, quaint streets and hamlets, and peaceful riverside breaks. We are now very familiar with the point where the Seine and the Marne split, or merge, depending on how you look at it.

We have discovered that the farther you get from the city centre, the more easily the folk smile and dit “Bonjour”. We have come across a few places we would love to live, and admired some striking river front property.

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Our latest fascination is the suburb of Créteil (12km southeast of Paris and part of Val-de-Marne). When you arrive by métro it seems like a gray, university suburb with highrises and little character, but when you arrive by bike along the Marne, it is a whole different story. For two decades, Créteil has been one of France’s “four-flower” Villes et Villages Fleuris. The city flowerbeds, particularly at this time of the year, dazzle.

There are over 70 different species of trees in the “town”, numerous fountains, and even a lake. There is some great architecture, including the Château des Mèches, and gorgeous canal and riverside homes. The residents seem pretty focused on outdoor activities. Families dig in community vegetable gardens and race miniature boats on the canals. We checked in with a kayaking club last week learning to roll. We have come across groups rock climbing and canoeing, fisher people, and of course multitudes of cyclists, runners, and strollers.

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Sundays may be a day of rest, but for us it is definitely worth the two-wheeling effort to escape from the city and enjoy the Seine and Marne and a little bit of the “country life”.

Vocabulaire

chemins: paths, trails

dit “Bonjour”: say “Hello”