Mon 4 Apr 2011 - Mon 4 Apr 2011
On April 4 we met Monica's parents back in Paris. Let the fun begin!
Mon 4 Apr 2011 - Mon 4 Apr 2011
On April 4 we met Monica's parents back in Paris. Let the fun begin!
Fri 1 Apr 2011 - Fri 1 Apr 2011
Beaches of Normandy
We visited the beaches of Normandy and it was very interesting. We went to a Museum and got a large overview of the entire operation from all the participants, the Canadians, the British, the Americans, and French. We learned a lot about Operation Overlord that we never knew about and we recommend visiting if you’re in France.
Tue 29 Mar 2011 - Sun 3 Apr 2011
Observations: small things
Everything but the portions are small. Bathrooms are small, hallways are small, elevators are small, showers are small, and alleys are small; so much…so small! We continue to wonder how pregnant women manage to get around but to tell you the truth we haven’t seen many out and about. Maybe France exiles these hippos to their houses and doesn’t let them come out until the day comes to drive to the hospital. If you happen to lift any weights or just tend to be a bit broader than the average Scooby Doo Shaggy looking teenager, walking down the hall to your room may come as a challenge! It seems European towns were built to cram as much people into as small a place as possible. We came to “the lift” or elevator in all our rentals and it says on the wall inside “3 persons!” Three persons, I have a hard time fitting into the elevator with one suitcase and when you add a second suitcase and a pregnant wife it is sometimes impossible! Often I take the stairs when Monica goes with the suitcases. One time we sent the suitcases down the elevator alone! Seems mean that two inanimate objects get to ride carefree down four floors and we should walk! Oh the bathroom! Most shower tubs are not tubs at all but a square basin that if you can imagine is about 2 feet by 2 feet square. Again, when I was a stick of a teenager I may have been able to squeeze in just fine but I haven’t washed my back in a five days! Usually bed and breakfasts have ample room in the bathrooms and the accommodations are much better but as far as the little rinky dink of-the-beaten-path hotels and such…..they’re small.
Observations: a squawk on the train…the claws of terror!
We just sat down on the train and got settled in when something strange happened. I looked up to see two elderly folks, a woman in front of a man, getting on the train. Then suddenly I heard this squawk that could be a half scream by someone with widdled down vocal chords, a parrot yelling for a cracker, or a puppy yelping in pain due to its paw being stepped on. I thought that the last option may be true so looked down towards the elder woman’s feet. No dog! Monica began laughing to tears quietly and I knew that the first option was the real one. What had happened, that I saw, but didn’t register was that she got stuck. First what you need to understand is that every train that runs through France and probably Europe in general has an electric latch or button that you must push to open the doors into your train car. It may be compared to the sliding doors in Star Trek but a little more modern. Please if you ever come to such an obstacle as this don’t let these doors become claws of terror. Simply hold the latch down or the button in to keep the doors open. You will not get more than a few seconds to dart through, and as this poor woman learned these doors don’t wait. Unfortunately hubby just stood there with an abandoned look on his face. When I looked up the doors likened more to King Kong’s jaws just chomping away, eating the poor woman alive, and thus…. SQUUAWWWWKK!
Notice: no one was harmed in the events described.
Observations: the metro
This last observance should be easy and quick. I think this is the same for all big cities but it has been such a while since I’ve lived in a city as large as Paris. i.e. New York, Philadelphia. We have had to lug around suitcases which is very difficult and cumbersome. I highly recommend that if you are traveling for a short time through Europe to travel as light as possible. In fact, most people carry luggage with them but they carry small wheeled carry-on sized luggage that could fit in an overhead compartment of an airplane and it helps cut down on the difficulty they endure. We have a bit of a different situation as we are often traveling for months at a time between a few different countries and we’ve had to take suitcases out of necessity. Anyway, in the metro stations and getting between trains we’ve noticed that the herd mentality reigns. If you are too polite and try to allow everyone to move on before you it will be impossible to travel effectively. Don’t get me wrong we are not rude and ridiculous, we try to move our heavy suitcase tugging selves to the side and try to stay out of the way but this can also bring trouble. I will say this as nicely as I can. Nobody in the metro is looking for a fight and no one is looking for apologies either. Most people will, if they see you hopping out of everybody’s way, just keep right on stepping all over you without a care in the world. They will certainly not apologize. Today I just walked straight into the people and usually one would get hit and jump out of the way. Funny thing was, after the first one got knocked….and yup, no apology, the rest seemed to move right out of the way. Maybe Yale could do an interesting study on herd behavior in subway systems of the world and see if we all act like dumb herds of buffalo when going from car to car.
There may be no place to eat in town, no place to sit and have coffee. There may be no hospital, nowhere to exercise; nowhere to get groceries; and nowhere to use the bathroom. It’s possible that if Mary and Joseph strolled into a French town they in fact may find no place for Jesus to rest his head. Although they would find twenty three open salons for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all to get their heads updated with the latest hairstyle on the runway! Priorities!
An Honest Look at Bed and Breakfasts in France
So far this applies to all the bed and breakfast locations that we’ve been to thus far. Although some locations have been better and some have been worse, these points seem to apply to all of them. First off, we think that the concept of bed and breakfast is far different in the rest of the world than it is in France so it may not be quite fair to criticize, but we’ll keep to the basics. Here’s the list maybe of gripes but there are some good concerns here! Here’s the top ten “Don’t Do That” list….
1. Be consistent: People are creatures of routine. If you give a great breakfast every day, than keep it consistent even on the day the guest is leaving. We stayed at one such place where fresh fruits and other good breakfast stuff was offered everyday and then the day we were leaving it’s like the people took the day off and cut back the good stuff.
If your thing is to go into our room when we aren’t there and clean, refill stuff, and rearrange all our undies into interesting folded stacks make sure you do it every day (a little weird). The day I come back and my undies aren’t folded nicely on my bed I feel something’s wrong…(well maybe something’s wrong already) but still…You broke the routine….Don’t do that!
2. Get Out of Town! No really, if you plan on starting a bed and breakfast BUSINESS than you need to be deliberate. If you find yourself saying “oops, we didn’t really want that to happen but it seems like it could work,” then you need to change gears and get with the program. If the summer house in the country turned out to be a terrible idea or the sustainable farm didn’t turn out so cheap and carefree than you need to get serious. Go check out some bed and breakfasts and experience what they are giving their clients. This seems like it should be common sense to most business people or entrepreneurs starting a new business. At the very least check out online what others are doing better than you and then try to raise the bar. We have had the opportunity to stay at many B & B’s over the years and some REEEAALLLY stand out and heres why….
3. Ambiance: Generally listening to jamming pop music isn’t what people are expecting at a B & B. Try some soft classical or jazz or anything that doesn’t have Britney Spears or Duran Duran blasting in my ear so loud that I can’t hear my wife talk to me when she’s right next to me! A nice musical environment is tasteful, but a pop star whether from the 70’s or from the present has turned the breakfast room into an unwanted concert. Where’s my lighter!
4. Good Food: Here’s something that the French people need to get in tune with quick. Okay so you don’t care about your income and you think that you have a good enough location to not hear this criticism, fine, but for the rest... In almost every place we have gone the one thing we look forward to at a BED AND BREAKFAST is the SLEEP and the BREAKFAST. Make sure the food is up to par people. If I can go down to the corner street supermarket and get the breakfast you’ve prepared for a couple of dollars or euro’s something’s very wrong. People get attached to the experience by the SENSES. If the food is bad (taste) than I probably won’t decide to come back. Okay so you have a place right next to a massive tourist destination. That will not sustain you through the off-seasons unless you really have something to come for. Food is a huge draw for most people. Instead of the cold sliced bread and yogurt go a little crazy and give your guests an option from around the world. Maybe Belgian Waffles, English eggs and toast, American pancakes and maple syrup; throw a little fresh fruit or fruit juice in there and possible options for the health-nuts out there and you’ve got a winning breakfast. Make the food the destination. Plain, crappy food, nope… don’t do that!
5. Destination: Simple…make your place a destination. Offer historic explanations of the surroundings, stories of the people who’ve stayed there, food people can’t get anywhere else, ghost stories, animal rides, tell people Michael Jackson is buried in the foundation, I don’t care just offer something that can keep interest alive and makes people remember your PLACE! What about a plain boring home that has no interesting characteristics…nope…don’ t do that!
6. The Community Table: Most places have a community table where you eat breakfast. You get up in the morning and it doesn’t matter if you are on your honey moon you arrive at breakfast and may be sitting next to Betty Bimbo or Mr. Shut The Heck Up Please You Talk Too Much. This isn’t always the case but either offer separate seating or offer a breakfast in bed option for those people who may want it!
7. Offer wifi: If I have to sit on top of the chimney at your house to get a good signal for my computer to check my email than renovations need to begin. In our digital information age people want to communicate. If you haven’t read the book “The World is Flat” you need to soon. Get with the times and make sure internet is available to your guests so I don’t have to sit in the kitchen or in outside in the cold at the east corner of the pool at specific coordinates to tell everyone on Facebook that this place sucks because I don’t have internet!
8. The Bed: Make sure you have nice beds. In Peru I can tell you the exact place we went to and slept the night of our lives. I have written about this place already in previous blogs so if you want to check out the post just scroll down. We slept on Swedish space age foam tempur-pedic mattresses. I have never slept so well in my life. I don’t care if you have a small enclosed grass lawn for yoga, a dirt track for jogging, pony rides, a guy named Pablo to give massage, or a girl named Sally to give me a pedicure. If your bed is uncomfortable I won’t be coming back and I will tell everyone to steer clear. A BED and BREAKFAST should have nice BED’S and BREAKFAST’S!!!
9. Family run business: Well it’s nice that you, your spouse, and your eighteen children run this place but there is a limit on how much I want to be involved in your day to day lives. Children are actually nice additions to an environment if they are well disciplined. You don’t have to keep them locked up in the dungeon away from us. What you do need to do is have boundaries and be capable of disciplining them even in front of strangers. That not the worst of it though! You and your spouse need to make sure that you don’t argue while your guests are sitting at the table. It is quite uncomfortable when I feel I have to begin refereeing an argument happening right before my eyes. Awkward!
10. I’m no business guru but sometimes I really can’t believe I write this stuff: If you want to make a serious business out of serving Bed and Breakfast accommodations than you need to take heed to these or you can’t truly expect to last the hard economic times. Tah..tah!
Fri 1 Apr 2011 - Sun 3 Apr 2011 55 °F
Monica and I at the last minute found a little apartment for 550 Euros a week. This is actually very good for the location and just good period for the accommodations. You are hard up to find an apartment usually for less than 600 Euros in the big cities. We had forgotten what city living is like in most places but this apartment was well furnished and had everything we needed and it was fairly quiet the entire time we were here. There were some different things about this apartment than most I’ve been in before. The first thing we noticed was the gauntlet of doors and alleys you had to go through to get to the apartment but this seems to be quite normal in France. It looks almost like this building was an old factory at one time or another thus the reason for the alleys and such, see pictures below. The people in the apartment along with the apartment owner were very nice and friendly to us and our stay was enjoyable. One thing that is odd is that the first alley is quite dark especially at night but again this seems to very normal life here but if you are looking to rent in the city it may be useful to bring a small flashlight with you. Also to note that often the first alley doubled not only as an alleyway to our apartment but also as a helpful toilette for whatever drunk or simply brave enough individual was ready to go.
The Need for Speed: or just to crawl through several miles!
After traveling through France for almost a couple of weeks now the wonderful pastries, brioches, éclairs, and endless other little delights started to catch up with me and I needed to find somewhere to keep up on my running. I searched the net for somewhere in Lyon that was close as we were in the Bellecouer district. Wonderfully enough I read that two beautiful parks had just been recently connected with a path or better two paths, one for runners and the other for cyclists. Immediately I set out that afternoon to find the Northern park. This path was in the afternoon stuffed with people and the grass areas and seating areas were also stuffed with afternoon loungers and teenagers coming back from school. The place that I set out on the run from was a large amphitheater looking set of stairs that were also packed with people hanging out. Pictures of the Disney movie “Bambi” suddenly came to mind as the coming of spring also brings “twiterpated” creatures out to lounge about and fly around each other in love! Anyway, I expected that the path would free up in the morning and I was right. Something else I was greeted with in the morning was a once clear beautiful cement jungle now cluttered with endless amounts of trash, beer bottles, urine stains and other sorts of terrible mess. There was also a contracted company or government employee staff cleaning the mess up and it just seemed terrible that people would do such activities and that it was so acceptable that the city of Lyon had actually hired an army of people to clean up after those rats. Also, as you run you pass under several bridges being right on the bank of the Rhone River and the first bridge I have aptly name the “whiz and piss bridge.” The reason for the name is the overwhelming and devastating reek of urine that you smelled as you passed through. If you made it out the other side without passing out you were free the rest of the way to the park and back, approximately 7 miles roundtrip.
The Little Patisserie
Monica and I found a little patisserie right around the corner from our apartment and everyday decided to stop by and have a coffee and a small something to eat for snack. It is a Fika in France! Seems most European countries have some kind of afternoon coffee and snack time because at 4pm the line of customers was out the door. Something we noticed right off was that there was this desert that was in the window that was very odd looking and native to the area of Lyon. It is called a “Brioche aux Praline.” I refused to try one at first mainly because it looked like someone cooked a nice little piece of bread and then someone came by and stabbed it to death and blood was coming out all over the thing. Basically it is a croissant like piece of bread covered with a red substance. Well Monica finally just said “I’m getting one” and so we tried it. All the red stuff is praline sweet tasting sugary goodness, some crispy and some gooey. It was excellent and you can’t always judge a book by its cover! This was a very nice bit of routine for us in the midst of all the change and travel that can seem to overwhelm you.
Notre Dame and Gallo-Roman Ruins
Lyon is overlooked by a large hill that boasts Lyon’s historical district. This hill accessible by metro has many of the cities really outstanding historical sites as well as an overlook for the city of Lyon. Apparently the city of Lyon used to be the countries capitol way back when and country was designed like a wheel with spokes with Lyon as the center. This was not accomplished by any King or Queen of renaissance France but in fact as we found was accomplished out by the Gallo-Romans. This was the converted Gaelic people of the area into a Roman colony that had then become the center of the entire country. It was a large excavated and renewed site complete with an amphitheater, huge aqueduct system, museum, and more that you can now see in Lyon. This was really impressive as many findings were discovered and well preserved. This visit to the Roman ruins was only after we had gone to the Notre Dame de fourviere. This was the largest church in the city that sits atop the hill overlooking the highest point. The inside was truly impressive and we had come on the right day as the sun sparkled through the stained glass windows. The inside was huge and the details on the walls, the floors, and everywhere you looked were extremely impressive works of art! This took up the larger part of one day that we had set aside for the sites.
The Street Market
When we first arrived to Lyon we knew we had to find a place where we could purchase food. Monica searched the web and found out that along the river every day there was a farmers market that just set up and so we went out to find it. It was quite easy to find and we had to look no further for what we needed. All the finest selections of fresh fruit, vegetable, meats, dairy, pastries, breads, and more were all right there. As part of our daily routine we walked to the market to pick up all our food for the day!
The remaining time in Lyon we just walked around and led a fairly abnormal life living in another country. Each day we arrived to the apartment at about 4pm and we cooked food, read, and I did school work. Well, that’s it, goodbye Lyon!
Tue 22 Mar 2011 - Wed 23 Mar 2011 60 °F
Lessons Learned: Traveling Cheap in France
This week we rented an apartment in Lyon and let me tell you it is nice to sit still for a while. I start another class online and we get a break from the trains. We'll talk about the apartment more later but boy has it been cheaper. This brings to mind some real interesting travel lessons we are accumulating while in France. Monica and I have been taking a real hard kick in the keester our first time through France together and let us tell you times are tough even within Europe. Prices are high and owners seem to be a bit desperate and even at times deceptive. The following info lists some things that we’ve noticed right off that are tips we’ve picked up for traveling “cheaper” in France. First I’d like to say that we are no longer young teenagers who can sleep on subway floors, eat baguettes and honey every day, or sleep in a dorm where you are saying goodnight not only to your spouse but to the eleven others bunking in the same room using the same bathroom. Being two professional adults who have a steady income and time to research efficiently we don’t see the need to live the backpacker or hostelling life. This isn’t to say that responsible adults who have a steady income and money saved for travel shouldn’t be trying to save money and be prudent though. Especially for the reason that if you don’t watch were you spend your Euros and Pounds you’ll find they’ve vanished quicker than you might’ve thought they would. So here’s our small list thus far….
Rent a car – unless your sticking to the large cities believe it or not in the long run it will be cheaper than traveling the train and metro systems and much more freeing. A car may average you about 500 US dollars a week all expenses included but the opportunity it offers will be what saves you the money! So following with this line of reasoning number two is…
Rent apartments and Gites (small houses or holiday rentals) – Rent these places Instead of hotels. A gite is a small rent-by-owner townhouse or addition to a house r something of the like that people will rent for a fraction of the cost of an apartment or hotel. Hotels that average about 100 Euros (140US) a night adds up to 700 Euros a week but a gite often will go for 100-300 Euros a week! Not only this but renting an apartment or gite say on VRBO’s website will offer the opportunity to….
Eat out less often – now we’re not trying to take away the little experience of eating a baguette and sipping a cappuccino in a small French café but we are saying do this in moderation or you’ll run the vacation fund dry simply from eating out every meal. Go to the grocery store and buy some breakfast food for 30 Euros that will last the week instead of spending 30 Euros a day just on one breakfast for two.
Don’t buy things like water – I know this sounds silly but Monica and I just came from the Middle East where water isn’t safe to drink and thus end up buying all our water bottled. You can imagine the savings and surprise we found when we realized filling up at a local tap was permissible. One can end up spending up to 4 Euros a bottle at some tourist destinations but if you simply filled a couple bottles beforehand you would’ve spent nothing! If you’re really just attached to drinking bottled water go take a walk to a corner store and instead of the 4 Euros each you can find a six pack for the same amount! This nicely leads to the next thing which I’ll call….
“Don’t get trapped” and “Try a picnic” – Basically what I’m saying is that you can stroll right into a great tourist destination like a castle not realizing that you may be there several hours. After a while you realize its lunch time and so decide to stop at the little café you saw coming in. What!!! A sandwich is how much! Well now you have a choice, start eating your spouse or girlfriends sweater hoping to stave the starvation that awaits you or dish out a whole lot of money (up to 50 Euros sometimes) for a small uneventful meal. So bring food and snacks along the way and always take a look at the itinerary to see where you’ll be and when and plan accordingly.
Look out for the additional costs – I say this because taxes and fees are something you always have to be leery of when traveling. For instance Monica and I started seeing that when you rent an apartment little things like deposits, cleaning fees, and taxes showed up in maybe 40 percent of places we saw. This is silly as a good owner will include these in the cost up front. For example, you rent a place for 560 Euros a week and upon arriving to your apartment find that they demand a 200 Euro damage deposit n case something goes wrong. (maybe you trip on a cord and smash your head on the floor denting the tile) Added to this they’ve also asked if you saw the cleaning fee of 50 Euros a day that was listed in microscopic font at the bottom of their add on the website? Well no and you can’t back out now because you’ve already made plans and paid for and/or placed a deposit on the rental! Now you’re at 1110 Euros because you didn’t look at the additional costs. Always take the time to look thoroughly at anything you decide to buy I guess anywhere you go eh…
French eat small portions? – When you go out to eat it will be worth your while to note a couple of things. First, you think you’re in France where all the people stay thin by eating full 4 course meals but having very small portions, right! NO! We still don’t know how French people stay so thin but we do know the portions are NOT SMALL! We went into a small soup shop in Carcassone thinking that the small soup was going to be maybe a cup or so in size and my salad even though large would be like about a nine inch plate. Boy were we wrong. Monica’s small soup looked like Marmaduke’s (a fictional massive size great dane) dog chow bowl and my salad may have fed the giant of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Fee Fy Fo Fum. When you eat out its not bad to try eating one meal each and then if you’re still hungry and the portions turn out being too small to then add food.
To Menu or Not to Menu, that is the question – It turns out that at most restaurants that if you’d like they almost always offer course meals in a “menu.” For instance you can have a appetizer, a main meal, and a dessert for a fixed price that says at the top of the page “15 Euro Menu.” You’ll have a choice of maybe four or five of each of the courses and it will indeed save you money if you desire a full course meal. Ah Ha! This little “money saver” could also double as a good marketing scheme. Some people wouldn’t eat this much and may look at the menu thinking it will save them money but would’ve originally just have chosen to eat a small 4 Euro appetizer , an 8 Euro meal, and water. Instead of the 12 Euros you may have spent you went for the “15 Euro menu” page and chose there.
Save your plastic wrap – If you save all your plastic wrap it can double as many useful tools later! For instance try using it as toilette paper, water holder, a band-aid, nope just kidding! This is totally a joke! There you have it for now!
Middle East travel
Mon 21 Mar 2011 - Tue 22 Mar 2011 65 °F
A word on The Past: Looking at Travel between Middle Eastern Countries
All we’ve done today is ride the trains to Lyon so we decided to post some lessons we’ve learned and discuss some issues we never mentioned in the past. Since Monica and I live in the Middle East we kind of figured we could offer some travel info or warnings for traveling through the Middle East. Maybe this will just end up being a place where we can list some of our frustrations and vent them, but take it as you will….
o A REEEEALLY LONG BULLET- Flying the friendly skies – Well maybe not so friendly. Perhaps some of these things may be problems you run into all over the world but it seemed to us that “airport security” in Egypt and some other places were wrongfully taking things out of people’s luggage that they were randomly searching. In most other places in the developed world you at the least have some level of leverage as an air traveler in general but in the Middle East you do not. Your leverage is usually by some kind of recognizable social status (like being rich and prestigious) or by some kind of connection to the people who do hold the power. Never the less it is usually corrupt. In the Middle East you can try techniques to hold onto your possessions like inventorying them, printing off the airlines list of prohibited contraband and having it with you, having an important person write (or not so important) and important waiver letter on “important looking” letterhead (works because if it looks important it must be so) but no matter what, you may or may not get your way. It’s a big crap shoot. Security in this instance especially made a point to search all the westerners’ luggage for cool goodies… I mean dangerous contraband. One of the more frustrating events was when I had a small roll of tape taken from me. At this point in travel I was fed up with traveling and wasn’t in the mood for thievery or buffoonery and when the security guard made a “shame on you” noise with his mouth (tsk, tsk, tsk) and took out my tape I got mad. With the little Arabic I knew I protested but he ignored me and I knew it was gone and I had lost this battle. I wondered how I was going to bring down an aircraft with a simple roll of tape. What danger, what terror, and what kind of sinister acts of violence could I attempt with such a piece of material? Perhaps I could fashion out of seemingly arbitrary items some weapon of mass….you get it! It was ridiculous! When this happens once it is tolerable, but when you pass through “security” (the very word inspires such a picture of absolute humor that I have to put it into quotations) several times and have the “agents” (usually with their shirts all un-tucked and some kind of uniform that looks like it was ordered from Halloweencostumes.com) take things every time like it’s a Christmas grab bag it gets really frustrating. This is especially true when on top of this you know you have absolutely no recourse for complaining or ever seeing the object again. So travelers beware.
o Don’t let anyone help you – As you walk through most airports in the Middle East you will notice strangely dressed uniformed men walking about with luggage rollers or alone. Whatever you do learn to pick them out and keep your situational awareness up. If they come to grab your luggage simply tell them no and tell them to leave. You may with some have to say this in a louder sterner voice as they are sometimes laughably persistent. They will continue to pursue you usually until you do this. If you do want them to help you take your luggage the five steps it takes to get to the check-in line ask “how much?” They will give you a price and generally when you get the check-in line make up some ridiculous reason why they need you to give them more money. Maybe grandpa ding-dong has a triple bypass, maybe that was the price for only one suitcase and you have two, maybe he had to take it extra far (10 steps) and your suitcase was extra heavy, maybe his boss is very cruel and takes all his earnings, and worst of all maybe they will tell you “you have the money, you are a rich man” or bull like this. Give them the money quoted, keeping your wallet close, and then tell them to get lost. If they persist tell them in a louder voice and then just act like you’re ignoring them and they don’t exist. You can make a rather big scene if you’d like and if it makes you feel better, as the airport guards will usually not care at all. For most easy going naïve westerners who are non-confrontational and unaware this whole escapade could turn out to be difficult. Do not go to the Middle East if you are not a confrontational person or with one. That’s all with this portion I’ll post more later but for now just writing this much makes me very mad…..
The Amazing Castle City
Sat 19 Mar 2011 - Sun 20 Mar 2011
Upon arriving in Carcassone from Bordeaux we noticed immediately that our Bed and Breakfast host, Ben, had come to pick us up at the train station. This was a bit of a relief because we hadn’t arranged for a ride to the actual location. The B&B we stopped at was called the Jardin de la Cite and they have truly though of everything. Many times we come to a B&B or hotel and find that something is missing that could’ve been simply remedied by adding it to the room. This place, we found had no faults like this as they had a very well produced accommodation. Jardin de la Cite is run by Ben and his mother and if you don’t have something you need they are extremely accommodating, approachable, and will did their best to help us anytime we had questions or needs. The place was really quiet and seemed to be soundproofed from the next door room as we never heard the other couple. Over all we were very happy with this B&B and each morning found ourselves enjoying a variety of breads, fresh fruit cups of mixed seasonal fruit, coffee, yogurt, and granola to mention some choices. Another great quality of this B&B is that it is a mere 200 meters from the city’s main attraction, the Middle Ages city of Carcassone.
Situated at the center of the larger city is a fully renovated and restored Middle Ages city also called Carcassone. This site, a protected site on the UNESCO list, is truly magnificent complete with a castle, an old church and an entire city of old medieval buildings turned into shops, cafes, and restaurants. For us this has been one of our most exciting experiences to date in France. One of the biggest disappointments actually was the shops. The small city within the great wall has kind of turned into a really cheesy tourist attraction were you will be hard up to find anything worth taking back home with you except possibly some pictures or postcards. Kids are running all around waving plastic armor, shields, swords, and wooden bows and arrows that ma and pa picked up at the little Chinese junk shops that line the inside. I thought that for a moment I was at the mythical fun park in the US called “Medieval Times” and that I was going to have to get on a knight or jester outfit to fit in. Perhaps there is an idea here. Maybe the kids could have their parents buy them all this crap and Carcassone could put up a small arena inside somewhere where the adults can place bets on which child will take the dual, the joist, or other silly event where kids engage in mortal combat with silly plastic toys! Monica and I found perhaps a few places worth visiting, a cooperative artesian art shop, a couple linens shops, and a high quality tapestry shop but that’s about it. I felt for a moment I wasn’t in France at all but in a small tourist trap staring at the countless useless junk that people may buy and later pack away up in some box in the garage never to be seen again. With so much history, stonework, and medieval art that could be represented here it was a real disappointment not to find much worth taking home as memorabilia. All the junk aside, the castle, the church, and many of the restaurants are definitely worth taking a look at.
Exciting and Satisfying: Two Different Things
Up until now we have seen attractive landscapes, impressive buildings, and tasted exquisite foods. As many already know Monica and I live in the Middle East where we have discovered finding and keeping community and friends to be a bit of a challenge. Since so many people come and go so often and because many people and family members don’t find the deserts of the Middle East a cute place to call home, it is common to find it pretty lonely where we live and work. This amplifies our desire to meet people and make friends. The first night in Carcassone we stopped at a little restaurant and met a British couple older than us named David and Barbara with whom we chatted for a while over dinner and it was really wonderful not only to meet English speaking people but people who where warm and welcomed a nice evening chat over dinner. We left the restaurant at about 9:30 pm grateful and unaware of what was to come. The next morning we sat down for our first breakfast at the B&B. Upon arriving we had the pleasure of meeting another couple who was already dining. We hit it off immediately with Ed and Elizabeth, another British couple close to our own age, and had a fun time kicking back some laughs over breakfast. Monica and I are always leery of imposing but as it turned out we both were heading to the market downtown and so we walked together and continued the company. After splitting up for the afternoon we met up for dinner at a restaurant in the city and sat and laughed, ate, and drank a bit until roughly 11:30 pm. Wow! Despite the splendor of the architecture, the beauty of the vineyards, the majesty of the castles, and the taste of the food Monica and I still find the most magnificent human experience to be friendship and community. To sit and dine with someone in many cultures, ancient and modern, continues to be one the most intimate and satisfying experiences a person can have, and this was no exception. We had an outstanding time with Ed and Elizabeth and believe we’ve made some lifelong friends on this trip.