Archive for August, 2012
Though we choose to focus on France, we champion the very concept of travel – within the states, to adjacent islands and countries and ‘abroad’. Travel allows each of us “living” opportunities to discover new places, appreciate different cultures and communicate with people whose habits and histories offer fresh perspectives and experiences.
A scene from Good Will Hunting drives the point home. Robin Williams explains experience versus knowledge to Matt Damon, with the ultimate message that because you can quote a poet’s love sonnet doesn’t mean you know what love is. And so it is, when you see centuries-old Roman architecture and endless golden fields of wheat. No history book or film can replace first-hand experience.
Leafing through a coffee table book on fine art or history simply doesn’t compare to the breathtaking marvel of standing in front of the Venus de Milo statue. I had seen dozens of photos and films that included the Eiffel Tower, before I rounded the corner of the Trocadero and was emotionally swept from my feet by the sight.
Blend the dimensions of sight and sound with the tastes of regional cuisine and the unique customs of other cultures, and you add layers of color to otherwise black and white knowledge. As important, the experience is reciprocal, as your own experiences and “colors” enrich the lives of others.
On the Puget Sound, Seattle is home to Indians, Asians and, of course, Washingtonians. You may find yourself across the Sound in a typical Indian village, where the aroma of fire-roasted salmon fills the air. In Lexington, Kentucky, residents proudly celebrate their heritage of horses and heroes with monuments to Man-O-War and Henry Clay.
At home or abroad, travel expands your view of the world. You may imagine the fashion and panache of France, but visit this lovely country and you discover worlds well beyond Chanel and Hermes (not that the sight of refined or contemporary fashion will dull your senses!) You will be struck by the French value of family, culture, history and tradition. World renowned museums welcome you for half the cost of a visit to your local science center; Sundays find grown sons, daughters and grandchildren migrating to mother’s table for a traditional feast and, perhaps, a game of petanque.
A restaurant scene in France demonstrates natural curiosity and the desire to communicate. Two elder gentlemen were seated next to an American lady in a quiet bistro. They spoke no English at all, but she knew enough French to carry on a petite conversation. The gentlemen appreciated and envied her ability to communicate in their language.
People the world over are curious. They want to know about the life and places and people you represent. Wherever we go, we carry our flag of origin with us. We can be ambassadors in France, and we can be tourist representatives in Alabama. People with experiences different from our own wonder about those white beaches in Florida, the canals in Amsterdam, and the traditions you celebrate in your own home town.
Whether you travel to the strawberry festival in the next county or to a distant exotic location, your experiences will linger far beyond vacation moments. When you relive those memories over a steaming cup of coffee in your own breakfast room, you appreciate the different sights and cultures that make life rich and renew your own sense of discovery.
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All of this talk about Hurricane Isaac and its’ deadly predecessor, Katrina, reminds me of those days 7 years ago. We were at our lovely little vacation rental apartment on Montmartre, beginning the dreaded packing after spending a ‘pinch-me’ wonderful summer in France.
In the U.S. I doubt we would have learned much about storms in France, but Europe tends to be interested in places and people well beyond their back yards. The news began to pour through with reports of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. We’re from Florida, so hurricane news isn’t shocking to us; but we kept seeing unbelievable footage, breached canal levees, massive flooding, absolute devastation and desolate families jammed into the Superdome.
We wondered what in the world was going on….where is help? What is the government doing? Where is everyone? Why isn’t the Army Corps of Engineers…. The questions flooded as rapidly as the news reports. We felt as if we had a foot in France and a foot in the U.S., but it was a surreal experience to be viewing this catastrophe from such a distance. By the end of the calamity, 1,800 people lost their lives and billions of dollars of property was damaged.
Today, in reporting about the impending arrival of Isaac, France 24 resurrected the Katrina story and its aftermath. After the colossal failure of New Orleans flood system, the Corps of Engineers invested $14.5 billion in defensive walls, levees, floodgates and pumps – a defense system to guard against the kind of surge that inundated New Orleans in the Katrina debacle.
The Lower Ninth is still recovering from 2005, and the onset of Isaac finds residents either leaving or stocking up on water, food and fuel. History seems the best teacher, as authorities are quite proactive in warning residents about storm surges of up to 12 feet and almost certain flooding from torrential rains and the slow-moving storm system.
Some who left in 2005 are staying through the Category 1 storm. After all, they have seen much worse. Those who remain understand the basics – fuel for vehicles and generators, plenty of bottled water, food that won’t spoil.
We all hope the flood system improvements will stand this new, though lessened test. More so, we hope those resilient New Orleans residents will be spared the grief they suffered in the past.
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We are by no means travel gurus, but we hope to take the “I Could Scream!” out of planning travel to France. Beyond personal insights and vignettes about cities and villages, cuisine and culture; we profile specific areas, inns and elegant hotels. We shine the light on insider treasures and outdoor escapes.If you are a birdwatcher or spelunker, a surfing enthusiast or an archeologist in search of relics; we assume you have very specific interests better discovered on sites catering to the niches you worship. We embrace broader experiences.
We discover beautiful villages and seaside retreats, lively festivals and serious artisans – a potpourri perhaps of general interests for those who want to be ‘touched’ by France. Now and then, we slip in a dream-like luxury escape, not necessarily for the aloof bejeweled patron, but for adventurous travelers in search of ‘one in a lifetime’ experiences.
If you have a unique interest, question or desired destination – or if you want to share suggestions and experiences, contact us – firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be delighted to help you avoid endless searches and annoying pop-ups or provide other readers with your insights!
Planning the trip of your dreams requires that you ask yourself some key questions –
1. Location – Rural, as in lovely under the stars and drive 30 km to reach anything, or rural as in grand manor with everything at your fingertips? Office of Tourism sites usually provide plenty of information to help you narrow your choice.
2. Type of accommodation – “I like quaint.” Is that quaint, as in comfy 2-star with bright blue shutters, or quaint as in elegant château with personable touches?
3. Privacy or social? – Small as in 2-room, almost a member of the family, or small as in 20 rooms with your own space but the freedom to mix with international visitors?
4. Things to do – Culture, as in a museum and rampart on every other corner, or culture as in a mix of museums, historic architecture, lively local markets and resident artisans?
5. Can’t live withouts – Bathtub? Wi-Fi? Multiple restaurant choices? On site dining? Figure out your ‘musts’, so you are not disappointed.
Whether I research a favorite, decidedly upscale resource like Relais & Château , an ‘in-home’ gite selection or a vacation rental; I realize I have a ‘built-in’ sifter of sorts. That ultra clean and Wi-Fi connected hotel looks like a Comfort Inn in Louisiana. Are we ready to take on that little gîte or chambre d’hôte in Bonnieux with 3 guest rooms? Do we really want ultra-frills luxury in Saint-Tropez or would we enjoy overlooking the Mediterranean from our self-catered vacation rental? Understanding what you want and need from a holiday trip to France will make your journey more rewarding.
Finally, whether you are ‘on the mark’ – or off – with your choices – whether sun or rain greets you – whether your favorite Salon de Thé is closed – embrace the experience. You are in France, after all!
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Temperatures across the United States have soared this summer, leaving all but those privileged to enjoy home air conditioning scurrying to local movie theatres, open fire hydrants or anywhere else to escape the scorching wrath of heat. This month, the heat moved eastward to Europe. France recorded 38.2°C (100.8°F) at the Orly Airport in Paris – the hottest day in the City of Light, since the deadly heat wave of 2003.
Life, and facing heat waves in the United States, is different than in France. Far more homes and buildings in America enjoy air conditioning. French buildings generally are older. They’re made of concrete, stone or brick and hung with shutters to close against the midday heat. Space is a premium, and energy is expensive; and often historic preservation precludes the addition of the cooling air systems we often deem critical in the U.S.
The 2003 Heat Wave Across Europe
The whole of Europe fell under scorching weather patterns in the summer of 2003, but France was particularly hard hit, recording temperatures as high as 44.1°C (111.4°F) in Saint-Christol les Ales on August 12th. The human toll was especially tragic, with nearly 15,000 estimated fatalities in an aging country with minimal access to air conditioning.
So many lone elders were cooped up in their stifling, airless apartments. How could they know the dangers or the precautions to take against day after day of extremely hot weather? Emergency contingencies were in place for many natural and man-made disasters, but few had considered high temperatures to be a major hazard.
Naturally, no disaster of this type could happen without repercussions and finger pointing. Shouldn’t the nation’s health system have handled the crisis more efficiently? The administration pointed to vacationing families, who left elders behind. Though there was a shortage of doctors – like many families, also on holiday – the primary limitation was locating old people in need of assistance.A French Red Cross official noted another influence. The French family structure is more dislocated, and elders often live isolated lives behind closed apartment doors or in retirement or nursing homes. In essence, they become “someone else’s” problem, removed from the mainstream psyche.
In the wake of the 2003 disaster, the French government created a Heat Wave Protection contingency plan (Plan Canicule) to protect those most vulnerable to heat waves. Various levels of the plan include weather watches and warnings, local alerts and outreach to those at risk by monitoring hospitals and retirement homes and opening up air-conditioned supermarkets, malls and other local buildings.
The recent heat wave brought level 2 (orange) alert warnings to 33 departments with members of the French Red Cross placed on alert and ready for mobilization – certainly good news for elders and others unfamiliar with the dangers of heat. But all of that extreme weather – what’s next?
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