Category Archives: Uncategorized

Chicago – Family Fun

I’m taking a break from writing on France travel to bring you up to date on my weekend visit to Chicago.  This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend the first (and hopefully annual) Travel Blog Exchange conference, which was the brain child of Kim Mance of GalavantingTV and Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby. TBEX was designed to tag on to the end of the larger BlogHer conference, but TBEX was just for travel writers and travel bloggers. 

Travel writers from all over the country, and as far away as Chile and Laos traveled to Chicago to meet, share and learn from panels of experts, and from each other. The mood in the room was effervescent, and the networking opportunities were the most valuable experience of all for a newbie blogger like me.  It’s hard to describe my excitement being surrounded by 100 other enthusiastic and experienced travelers who love to chat and write about their experiences….such a creative flow of consciousness.    Click here for cool video & Chicago Family Fun

D-Day, June 6, 1944- France Will Never Forget

2011 marks the 67th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, which was the major turning point of WWII in Europe.  Early in the morning of June 6, 1944, the largest military operation in history began as 135,000 Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy, to begin the liberation of Europe, and change the course of history.  The Normandy invasion was a true international alliance, with troops from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

Allied Forces disembark from amphibous Ducks

Allied Forces disembark from amphibious landing craft LCVP. Photo by Robert F. Sargent, US Coast Guard, provided by USCG Collection in US National Archives.

France will never forget the sacrifice of Allied soldiers who came to free them from Nazi occupation on D-Day, and each year, French residents of Normandy host numerous commemorative events to mark this historic date (scroll down for amazing video – I cry everytime I watch it). Normandy pulled out all the stops in 2009 to honor and remember the “Greatest Generation”, as many recognized this could be the last major milestone for veterans to re-visit the site.  However, there are always commemorations every year to remember the extreme sacrifice.

One of the many things I love about the French, they are great “preservers” of history, with such dignity and reverence.  Standing on Omaha Beach, or seeing the German cannons still embedded in Longue-sur-Mer, and the cliffs and bomb craters at Point du Hoc, you feel the years slip away, and imagine what it was like for these brave young boys, so far from home, and so cognizant of the imminent danger all around them.

These are some of my favorite photos of the region:

U.S. troops were met by German cannons embedded in the heavily fortified cement bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer

Allied troops were met by German cannons embedded in the heavily fortified cement bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer

Cliffs at Point du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers 2nd Battalion used fireman’s ladders and grappling hooks to invade the German stronghold.  Two-thirds of the Rangers perished in the assault.

Cliffs at Point du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers 2nd Battalion used fireman’s ladders and grappling hooks to invade the German stronghold. Two-thirds of the Rangers perished in the assault.

Bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc

Bomb craters at Pointe du Hoc

American cemetery at Colleville sur MerOmaha cemetery 1

American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer...9,387 simple white marble crosses and Stars of David mark the final resting place of the brave men and women who lost their lives in the conflict.

American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer...9,387 simple white marble crosses and Stars of David mark the final resting place of the brave men and women who lost their lives in the conflict.

Unfortunately, American troops suffered the largest casualties, because of their landing position on Omaha beach.

Caen Peace Memorial, extremely well done museum documenting conflicts throughout the 20th century.

As a tribute to peace, this sculpture says it all.

As a tribute to peace, this sculpture says it all.

Non-profit group “The French Will Never Forget” organized an extraordinary gathering of 2,500 people on Omaha Beach, July 4, 2007, to commemorate D-Day.  The crowd formed on the sand the letters of the phrase: “FRANCE WILL NEVER FORGET”, aimed at honoring the fallen American heroes who sacrificed their lives to liberate France from Nazi occupation. OMAHA_BEACH_2007_PHOTO

“Our goal is, once again, to demonstrate the deep respect and gratitude of the people of France, for their recovered freedom thanks to America’s extreme sacrifices during the Second World War and which no one can, or will ever forget.” declared the co-founders of the organization. Click here to watch the incredible video of the event.

Here is the link to the Normandy Tourism Office, and where you will find a schedule of events and all the “must see” sights in Normandy.
There are so many sites to tour here in Normandy, I would allow a full day for the D-Day sights, one day for Bayeux, plus a 3rd day to take in the magnificent Mont St. Michel.  You could do the D-Day visit on your own, but I strongly recommend choosing either a full day or half-day guided tour by one of several reputable companies, in order to fully appreciate the history and importance.  Rick Steves site describes the Caen Peace Memorial, and mentions several of the top tour companies (sidebar), so choose your tour, and reserve in advance.
To understand the historical perspective of D-Day, and help set the tone, go rent The Longest Day, and Saving Private Ryan.  Sobering…..sad……but essential to remember the past, and honor those who served.

Great Day Trips From Paris – Reims – Champagne

3-glasses-of-champagne-and-me-compressedAnother great day trip, head off to explore the magnificent champagne region of France. With France’s highly efficient TGV fast trains, you can visit Reims (rhymes with sconce) in a comfortable day trip from Paris. With a population of 200,000, Reims is known as the City of Champagne, for the 155 miles of underground chalky caves criss-crossing beneath the city, which provide the perfect temperature and humidity for storage of the golden bubbly. And while most of the world’s leading Champagne houses are based here, there is more to see than just champagne.
From the train station, it’s about a 15 minute walk to the famous Cathedral de Notre Dame, where 26 kings of France were coronated. Admire the amazing Gothic architecture. Built in the 13th century, it was badly damaged in WWI, rebuilt in 1938, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The cathedral also displays amazing stained glass windows by famous Russian post-impressionist Marc Chagall.

is also famous for being the place where WWII officially ended. Musée de la Reddition (Surrender Museum) at
12, rue Franklin Roosevelt 51 100 REIMS, is the site of the former war room of Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower, where Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945. The former school building has been declared an historical monument, and you can tour the war room, and view the strategic war maps still on the walls. NOTE: The museum has been closed for renovations, and is scheduled to re-open Spring 2009. Check their website or call for re-opening dates.

piper-heidsieck-train-compressedIf you’re not into history, then just take a taxi from the train station straight over to Piper Heidsieck. (51 Boulevard Henry Vasnier). This is Disneyland for champagne lovers. Board the automated champagne train for a 15 minute tour which explains the whole process of growing, harvesting, blending and aging the fine bubbly. D
isplay near the end of famous movies where champagne featured prominently. (Play it again, Sam….of Casablanca fame).


Be sure to stop in the tasting room at the end. You will taste three varieties of the beautiful bubbly, served with a variety of macarons.
(Update – Sadly, Piper Heidsieck has closed their lovely cave in Reims, and moved farther out into the vinyards, so no more champagne train! Sorry!!)

From Piper Heidsieck it’s a short walk over to Taittinger. (9, Place Saint-Nicaise). They offer 1 hour guided walking tours. A gracious interpreter leads you down into the chalky limestone caves and explains the aging and fermentation process, the riddling rack, etc. The caves are quite impressive. You’ll see a museum-like photo display of famous celebrities, and dignitaries enjoying Taittingier throughout the last century. Once again, at the end, you’ll be escorted into a tasting room to sample several vintages. There is a nominal fee for this tour.

Getting there:
From Gare de L’Est there are several TGV trains in the morning, and several retuning in the early evening. 62 Euros is the current unrestricted 2nd class fare, but you may find cheaper tickets if you book in advance. TGV trains ALWAYS require advance reservations. Click
here for the English website for France SNCF train schedules:

Here’s a map of the route. I would probably walk from the train station (A) to the Cathedral (B), then taxi to Piper Heidsieck(C), walk to Taitinger (D), taxi to Musee de la Reddition (E), and then walk back to the train station (A). It’s a full day, but a great one!

Great Day Trips from Paris-Monet’s Gardens at Giverny

If you’re going to be in Paris more than a few days, take advantage of the great public transportation system and venture out to see some of the glorious sights nearby.  I’ll be highlighting 3 of my favorite day trips from Paris in the next few weeks.   You can do all 3 of these excursions via organized tour companies…..but if you like scheduling your own day, and saving money, don’t be afraid to venture out on your own.  Let’s start with Claude Monet’s glorious home and gardens at Giverny. 
Monet’s gardens are one of the most visited attractions, and no wonder why.  This famous leader of the Impressionist movement retired to Giverny and made his home here from 1883 until the time of his death in 1926.  He spent many years planning and planting his famous gardens.  You have seen pictures of them many times…..even if you have never been there.  Monet created his beloved water lily paintings here….dredging the pond, building the Japanese footbridge, framed by weeping willows and wisteria, and planting a riot of colorful blooms, designed to flower all through the growing season.  Rose arbors, delphiniums, spring bulbs.  But Monet was captivated by the water lilies, capturing them in different lights and changing seasons, from many perspectives….close up to far away.

Entrance fee to Monet’s house and gardens is 6 euros for adults, discounts for children and seniors.  Open April 1 – Oct. 31. 

Flowering calendar explains what’s in bloom every month.



Getting There

Take an early train from Paris Gare St. Lazare to Vernon.  Cost is approx 24 Euro round trip, and direct trains make the trip in about 45 minutes.  Here is the English website for France SNCF train schedules:


Public buses depart Vernon train station about 15 minutes after the train arrives.  The short bus ride from Vernon to Giverny is about 2.5 miles, and costs about 3 Euros round trip.     

Try to arrive early, before the hoards of tour buses disgorge their day-trippers. 


Organized bus or mini-van tours are available from Paris through Paris Visions, ranging from 70-89 Euros.,226-visit-giverny-monet-house-and-gardens.htm


For something delightfully different, try Fat Tire Bike Tours.  For 65 Euros, you receive round trip train transportation Paris to Vernon, a guided bike tour from Vernon to Giverny, picnic lunch along the Seine, entrance to Monet’s house and gardens, and a visit to his gravesite.  It’s an easy 6.5 mile round trip bike ride.

Be sure your camera is fully charged and has plenty of storage memory, as you’ll need the space to capture the beautiful surroundings.   



French Sweets for Valentine’s Day

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve assembled some of my favorite French sweets…, videos and recipe links included. 


France has given us countless delicacies:  éclairs, meringues, bon bons, petit fours, mousse, crepes, truffles, soufflé, crème brulee, tarte tatin….and on and on.  Taste the sweet temptations!


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Stroll through the Chocolatier.…enjoy the Nutella Crepe and Grand Marnier Soufflé. 


Are you hungry yet? 


Here’s a link to famous French dessert recipes:


Bon appétit!

Uzes and Pont du Gard

Uzes (oo zes) is a charming medieval town of 10,000. Place aux Herbes is the location of the thriving Saturday market, not to be missed!! I could spend my entire vacation just strolling the square. You’ll find every kind of regional speciality.

Be sure to stop by Philippe Deschamps Chocolatier at 17 Blvd. Gambetta, and ask for Patricia. Tell her I sent you. Heavenly chocolate. Check out my chocolate Christmas tree below. I hope it’s gonna fit in the overhead compartment!!!

Also see my photo with Papa Noel below.

Pont du Gard is our next stop. 2000 year old Roman aquaduct, built by the Romans at the time of Christ to bring water from Uzes down to the city of Nimes. Spectacular!!

 Click on the photo above to enlarge it.  See the tiny red and white dots above the first row of arches?  Those are people walking across the bridge.  The aquaduct is massive, and my photos don’t do justice to the size and magnitude.  It’s so much “bigger” in person!

We had a special tour that allowed us to actually go inside the aquaduct and see the thick calcium deposits the water left behind centuries ago.  I’m standing inside the smallest, topmost arch…this is where the water flowed through the aquaduct.  The bottom arches were just for support.

View from standing on the very top of the aquaduct.  Looking down, you can see the river below.


Carcassonne is the largest and best preserved medieval castle in Europe.

You must come here!! Enchanting!! Walk on the ramparts and imagine what life was like 1000 years ago.

My photos don’t do justice.

When traveling in the Languedoc region you must try the regional speciality, cassoulet, which is a stew of white beans, sausage, and duck meat, cooked very slowly for hours. French comfort food. C’est superb.

We’re leaving now for two hour drive to Nimes. Nimes has best the preserved Roman amphitheater and Roman forum. More later.

En Route to Lourdes

Today is a travel day, as I leave Paris, flying to Toulouse, then transfer by train for the last 2 hour trip to Lourdes. Airport security guard was very cute…..he said, “You go to Toulouse, you have nothing to lose.” I said “Yes, I’m glad it’s not Vegas!!”

More later.

Toulouse train station – le gare

Dinner on the train.

Parlez-vous fromage?

Did you know France produces over 1,000 types of cheese?  Amazing!!  And there is much more to be found that just Brie and Camembert!   These  websites are devoted to the cheeses of France. They have regional maps, showing the areas where each cheese is produced, with description of the flavors, the processing methods, suggested food pairings, and more.



Check theses out.  No Velveeta here! 




        Bon Appetit!