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Posts tagged ‘Holiday Guide’

No. 207-209: A Château, Playing Dress up, and the Best Picnic Spot Ever

After living in France for a while, you sometimes begin to take for granted certain things that, to short-term visitors, seem exceptional. Warm crusty baguettes around every corner? Bien sûr! Stunning architecture? Tout à fait. World-class museums? Naturellement. Fairytale châteaux? Toutes sont les mêmes.

En fait, I started this blog to help me avoid becoming one of those jaded expat, and to instead, find the extraordinary every single day.

I was reminded of the crazy wonderfulness of this country yesterday as we got turned around on our drive through Aquitaine and strayed into the Limousin region. In France, one wrong turn, and the next thing you know, you may find yourself standing in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

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Château Rochefoucauld, une petite maison, is easily the most fun and friendly château we have ever stumbled across. As I mentioned, from the outside, it is all Disney, but on the inside, it is like an Italian palazzo with a magnificent courtyard that evokes Renaissance Italy. It is a château that has been in the family for over 1,000 years, and its spiral staircases, elegant rooms, and bursting libraries are still used by the 19th Duke Rochefoucauld and his young family. Not only are there family portraits painted by French masters lining the walls, there are also black and white photographs, glossy Polaroid’s and normal Kodak moment framed and displayed for all to see. It’s like the modern regal family went out for a stroll and left the doors unlocked to (un)wanted guests.

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There are lots of things to see and do at Château Rochefoucauld, from snaking through the strange cave in the basement, to touching the real roche, to pretending to cook up a royal feast in the original kitchens, to resting your weary head on the beds in the servants’ chilly rooms. But most fun of all, is an entire room dedicated to dress up clothes for all aspiring royals, the young and the old included. Think medieval kings and queens, wenches and jesters, mad hatters and knights. Once dressed, you are free to roam the entire castle, ramparts and all.

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After satisfying your theatrical bent and maybe, say, acting out a scene or two from the new princess movie Frozen, the caretakers are happy to let you picnic on the daisy-filled lawn just beyond the castle doors…with your dog!

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C’est bien extraordinaire…even for France.

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Vocabulaire

Bien sûr! Of course!

C’est bien extraordinaire: it’s (very) extraordinary

En fait: in fact

Naturellement: Naturally

Tout à fait: quite, absolutely

Toutes sont les mêmes. They’re all the same.

une petite maison: a small house

 

 

No 206: Bordeaux’s Saint Mark’s Square

Inspired by the winter flooding on Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, the 3,000 square meters water feature on Bordeaux’s well-designed boardwalk, floods with a thin layer of water followed by an apocalyptic mist effect when the water mysteriously disappears on the hour. 
 (Architects: P. Gagnet and Atelier R. Landscape Architects: Michel and Claire Corajoud)

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No. 200-204: Stroopwafles, Canals, Tulips, Friets with Mayo & Bucket Lists

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I’m going to be a bit cheeky again and add Amsterdam to the list of the things I love about France.

I know the Netherlands is not part of France. I know French isn’t the native tongue (although some residents speak French, along with two or three other languages), and I know I should be spending my last few months in France rather than dipping in and out of other countries. But with the high-speed train network crisscrossing France and the rest of Europe, it’s hard not to take advantage of extremely cheap rail tickets and take a peek at how the non-French live.

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After four lively days in Amsterdam and the surrounding areas, I have to say, I’m pretty jazzed about the Dutch and how they run their capital city. First of all, they are so organized, efficient, and clean. Second, they all ride bikes all the time and everywhere. (In fact, there are more bikes in Amsterdam than residents.)

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Third, they speak American English. Fourth, stroopwafels hot off the griddle oozing caramel and dipped in chocolate are to die for. Fourth, their canal system and ability to make land where there was only water is remarkable.

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Fifth, friets, or “French” fries smothered in Dutch mayonnaise, just may make a heart attack worth having.

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But the real reason to travel to Amsterdam in the springtime is the tulips…those flat and insanely brilliant fields of tulips, that seem to go on and on for miles, or kilometers, I suppose. Seeing and smelling these fields of colorful perennials has been on my bucket list since I was a shy 10-year-old girl dreaming about my future beyond the Wild West. I drew the Netherlands from a hat for my fourth grade term paper, “Countries of the World”, and since the moment I discovered the tulip fields in LIFE Magazine in 1974, I have been itching to go.

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And now I’ve been, and seen, and smelled, and it was glorious. So I have another thing to love about France. Life in Paris gave me my jumping off point to realize one of my first childhood desires and see it first hand, just as I planned nearly 40 years ago.