Cathedrale d’Images – World’s Most Inspirational Places

I’m very honored to be chosen a winner in the World’s Most Inspirational Places travel writing contest, sponsored by Sharing Travel Experiences, the go-to resource for travel information on the web. 

 Mere words cannot do justice to this incredible place, Cathedrale d’Images in Les Baux de Provence, France, but I tried my best to describe the beauty of this extraordinary underground art museum.  You can link to my article here.

Photo courtesy of Cathedrale d'Images website

 

Many thanks to the contest judges, to STE’s parent company Hayes Media Group, and their sponsors, Indie Travel Podcast, and Odyssey Publications.

 ~ Enchanted Traveler

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Lyon -Fete des Lumieres – Amazing Festival of Lights

Photo courtesy of Lyon Department of TourismThis weekend, art, poetry and illumination combine with the latest technology as the city of Lyon, France kicks off their extraordinary Festival of Lights –  la Fete des Lumieres.

Over the past 11 years, this festival of spectacular outdoor urban lighting has become one of the must-see events in France and in all of Europe, attracting over a million visitors, and filling hotels rooms months in advance.  Follow their Twitter updates here  @Fete_lumieres09

While Paris has the reputation of being the “City of Light”, most people don’t realize it’s really Lyon, France’s second largest city, that is the renowned center of the urban outdoor lighting and design industry.  The 4-day festival transforms public squares, buildings, monuments, bridges, cathedrals and more into unbelievable illuminated works of art, using the latest technology in lighting and design.

The current celebration had its humble beginnings in December 1852, when townsfolk gathered in lighted procession to commemorate a new statue of the Blessed Mother, which was erected on Fourviere hill, near the Basilica.  Throughout the years citizens of Lyon marked the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by placing lighted candles in their front windows every December 8, a tradition which continues today.

In 1999, the lighting design industry decided to give citizens of Lyon a true Festival of Lights, and the modern-day Fete des Lumieres was born.  Now in it’s 11th year, the festival runs from December 5-8, with venues throughout the city.  Residents and visitors will be enchanted by the lighting displays, and collectively ask in amazement “How’d they do that?”

Photo by Antoine Taveneaux

Seven major works by noted design artists will be featured, including:

Playing with Time
– laser, light and sound showcasing effects of weather as buildings in the Place des Terreaux are covered in ice, submerged in water, distorted and then melted under the effect of heat

Garden of Light in Flower – 44 giant brightly colored luminous flowers carpet the esplanade of Montee de la Grande Cote, with the illuminated city of Lyon as a backdrop

Public
Garden – between the Hotel du Ville and the Opera, giant plants and flowers welcome visitors

Bells & Light Panels – the façade of the Basilica de Notre Dame, with its set of 23 church bells, will be transformed into a dazzling backdrop of four genres of art: neoclassical, cubist, abstract and contemporary

The Digital Man – a giant 40 ft. tall digital man (made of a carbon fiber skeleton, transparent hoops and electroluminescent wiring) scales the TDF communications tower, a la King Kong

The Builders
– honors 300 years of builders who toiled to complete the Cathedral of Saint Jean.  Two giant hands projected on the façade of the church take visitors through the construction process, with fantastic detail and realism

Tic-Tock – stroll along the banks of the Rhone to view 9 giant lighted panels, illustrating the regular and varied rhythms of time

Photo courtesy of Lyon Department of Tourism

In addition, dozens of other works will be featured around the city by students of France’s art, architecture and design schools.  Also on the agenda is an international symposium of 300 lighting experts, visual artists and architects who will meet to exchange ideas, and learn about the latest technology in outdoor lighting of urban spaces.

But for those of us not in the lighting industry….we get to enjoy, and marvel at the brilliant juxtaposition of history, architecture, faith, and art with modern illumination technology.

Lyon is situated in the Rhone Alps region of south central France, about 280 miles southeast of Paris, 90 miles southwest of Geneva.  The Train Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) network will whisk you from the Gare du Lyon in Paris to Lyon in two hours.

Check out the Fete des Lumieres 2009  Flickr group created to share the amazing photos and videos.

(Photos courtesy of Lyon Department of Tourism unless otherwise noted.  Hyperlinks are accurate at time of publication, but subject to change by site owners.)

Best Blog Award

Enchanted Traveler has won a Best Blog Award!  I’m so grateful for the recognition, and want to thank Rhett at ProMapTraveler  for this award.

Best Blog Award

The Best Blog Award rules are:

To accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his/her blog link. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you have recently discovered and think are great! Remember to contact the bloggers you’ve awarded to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Here are my choices and congratulations to all the winners.

Bonjour Paris

Girls Getaway

My Melange

Chez Lou Lou

Paris Perfect

Rail Europe

Beth Arnold

Dorie Greenspan

David Lebovitz

Mom Most Traveled

Shannon Lane

MinneMom

Travelogged

France Profonde

Parisian Spring

Parisien Salon

Sheila Campbell

 

Beaujolais Nouveau – Est Arrivé

Beaujolais grape

Photo by Karaian, via Flickr, with Creative Commons license

It’s that time again!  The 3rd Thursday of every November marks the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau — light red, casual drinking wine from the gentle rolling hills and golden stone countryside of the Beaujolais region of France.  French law has decreed that the Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be released until the stroke of midnight, on the 3rd Thursday of November, so while the French countryside is sleeping, wine producers and distributors rush to stock their shelves with the new release. 

Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape , and by law, the grapes must be harvested by hand. Sixty-five million bottles are produced annually, and exported worldwide, with the top 3 markets being Germany, Japan and the U.S.   Beaujolais is never aged, but meant to be consumed just weeks after harvest. 

Some wine critics do not believe  the Beaujolais Nouveau to be a serious wine, as it lacks complexity brought on by the aging process. But that is considered by some to be part of its charm.    If you are wine shopping, look for the banners that proclaim “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” 

Celebrating the release of the new harvest was originally a local festival, but thanks to successful marketing campaigns, you will see Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations popping up around the world.  Ask your local wine merchant when they will receive their stock.  Is it a coincidence that the wines hit store shelves just in time for U.S. Thanksgiving? 

In Lyon today, November 15, an expert panel of 70 wine critics, sommeliers, and Michelin-starred chefs gathered at Lyon’s beautiful Hotel du Ville for a tasting and judging competition, to award the coveted Trophy Lyon-Beaujolais Nouveau.  The winners will be announced tomorrow on the Lyon Le Progres website.  

Beaujolais Strolling Minstrels

Strolling Minstrels in Period Costume at Lyon's Hotel du Ville

I toured the Beaujolais region last year on a tour organized by the Lyon Office of Tourism.  We visited wine cellars, and met with the former Mayor of one of the Beaujolais villages.  Madame (adorable lady, center, in the photo below) educated us with the history of Beaujolais and the growing and harvesting process.  And of course, we sampled!
Beaujolais 2 - Former Mayor of Beaujolais Wine Tasting

So no matter where you are on the 3rd Thursday of November each year, you have cause to celebrate!  Santé!

“May I Have the Language of Origin Please?” – Another Reason We Love France

Cat at microphone croppedOur English language is filled with words from French origins.  In part, we can thank the Duke of Normandy for this, as the French spoken in the Middle Ages (a direct offshoot of Latin) was incorporated into English after the Norman Conquest in 1066.  Modern French uses the same 26 letter alphabet as English (both based on Latin), but the vowel combinations and pronunciations are quite different than English. 

 
quimper[1]Take for example the word “quimper”.  In English, it looks like you would pronounce this “KWIM per”, rhymes with “whimper”.  NOT SO!  In the Merriam-Webster’s 3rd New International Unabridged Dictionary (official source for U.S. Spelling Bees), the pronunciation is “kahn PAIR” with accent on 2nd syllable (sounds like “compare”).  Of course, if you’re familiar with France, you know Quimper is a town in the Brittany region of France, and “quimper” is the adjective used to describe the pottery from this region. 

 Because of the tricky pronunciations, French words that have made their way into English are favorite list words in U.S. Spelling Bee Competition.  Upwards of 30% of the words used in Scripps’ National Spelling Bee competition have French origins. But with study and practice, many French spelling patterns are consistent, and not too difficult to master.

My daughter is a spelling whiz, and participated in the Scripps’ National Spelling Bee in 2007 and 2008.  We credit much of her success to her knowledge of French, both from spelling study, and from being immersed in the language, through numerous trips through France. 
Press Conf

Even though she never studied French formally until high school in 2009, her familiarity of common words in French came in very handy when competing.  When riding in an elevator in France, you notice the word “etage” for “floor” or “level”.  Well, the word “étagère” a spelling list word for the open shelf display cabinet, is directly from “etage” root word. 

 Many of the words she was asked to spell in the final rounds of national competition came directly from French:  redoppe, Huguenot, boulangere (method of cooking with sliced onions in a casserole).  Coincidentally, I have this photo of her taken the year before the Bee, standing next door to the “boulanger” which is from the same root word.

L'isle Sur la Sorgue Street Scene
 

Eclat perfumeThe word “Eclat” was also featured in the 2008 Spelling Bee, which means “brilliant”, “dazzling”.  Coincidentally (again), Eclat is the name of the French perfume she wears from famous French perfumery Fragonard.  She found this fragrance on a family trip where we visited the Fragonard perfume factory in Eze, France.  So she was well familiar with this word! 

Cat with Dr. Sietsema at BanquetSo you see, in addition to art treasures, history, cinema,  gourmet cuisine, wine, champagne, cheese, pastries, tourism, literature, architectural wonders, french perfume, fashion, and pomme frites — we have yet another reason to love France and the French!  Spelling Bees!  Vive la France!

TGV – France Train Tips – Riding the Rails in France

tgv[2]France enjoys one of the most modern, extensive, high-speed rail networks in the world.  The renowned Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) network will whisk you across the country in a just a few hours.  And the Eurostar is heaven….central Paris to central London in a mere 2 hours 15 minutes.  Here are some of my top tips for enjoying the trains in France.
 
1. First things first – If you’re heading out from Paris, know that there are 7 major train stations, plus the Charles de Gaulle airport station, each serving a different region, based on proximity.  Know where you’re headed.

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Gare du Nord – Paris’ busiest train station, with Eurostar to London; also Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany

Gare de l’Est Eastern France, Austria, Germany, German-speaking part of Switzerland
Gare du Lyon – Central and south-east France, French Riviera, French speaking part of Switzerland, Italy and connecting service into Spain through Montpellier

Gare Montparnasse – Western and south-western France (southern Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Tours by TGV, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées) and north-western Spain.

Gare d’Austerlitz – South Central France, Toulouse and Pyrenees; night trains to south of France and Spain

Gare du Bercy – near Gare du Lyon, provides service for overnight trains to Italy:  Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice

Charles de Gaulle – Gare Aeroport CDG – most convenient if you are flying in and making an immediate connection – you may not have to transfer to central Paris at all.  Travel directly from the airport via high speed TGV to Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon and Nice.

Gare St. Lazare – serves Normandy, including Caen, Vernon, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Deauville, Lisieux

 Detailed practical information on each station can be found here at Rail Europe’s Paris station pages

 2. Travel like a local – Second class travel is just fine, and you’ll meet more Europeans that way.  Who wants to be upfront with the business travelers?

 3. Tickets – Don’t count on purchasing your ticket at the train station kiosks.  Most accept only European credit cards that have a chip which U.S. issued cards don’t have.  Purchase your France rail pass before you leave home, or purchase point to point tickets at the train station office. Check with a travel agent or Rail Europe for details on the many great options. France rail passes are offered for 3-9 days of travel.  If you plan to travel only 1 or 2 days, you’ll want point-to-point tickets.  Also, if you have a short-haul trip in mind, it may be more cost effective to purchase a point-to-point ticket for that leg, and save your Rail Pass day for a longer, more expensive journey.  Click here for the SNCF website in English, which has point to point schedules and prices. 

 4. Reservations – Eurail and France pass travelers, be aware that the high speed TGV trains and night trains ALWAYS require advance reservations, payment of a nominal fee, and space may be capacity controlled.  Reserve your train early to ensure your place, especially at peak travel times.  When I arrive in one station, I usually visit the ticket window before I leave to make reservations for the next leg of the journey.  You can also make reservations in advance from your travel agent from whom you purchased your pass, or directly on Rail Europe’s reservation page.

 5. Dining – Most French trains of any distance have an informal dining car, with drinks and snacks, and some even offer kids meals in a cute plastic zip container.  Convenience can be pricey though.  Take a tip from the locals and pick up a fresh baguette, some local cheeses, fresh fruit and beverage of choice before you head to the station, and enjoy your picnic onboard.  Many train stations also have surprisingly good patisseries – yum! – and sell sandwiches to go (emporter).
PastriesSandwiches

6. Travel light – Chances are you’ll be lifting all the bags onto and off of the train by yourself.  Most trains have overhead shelves to store smaller items.  Storage areas for larger bags are at the ends of the cars, where you may not be able to keep an eye on your belongings.  If you’re concerned about theft, bring along a bicycle-type lock to secure bags to the storage shelves.
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7. Be alert – Like any major gathering place in the world, train stations have their share of pickpockets.  Carry cash, credit cards and passports in a money belt, and keep a watchful eye on your bags. 

8. Right Place at the Right Time – Note the platform your train will be leaving from and arrive early.  You may need to traverse up and down several flights of stairs to reach your platform, so again, travel light..bring only what you can comfortably carry yourself.  Most platforms have an electronic (or manual) board noting the composition of the trains, i.e. first class and second class cars.  Position yourself accordingly on the platform while you wait for the incoming train.   Each car will be marked with a 1 or a 2, indicating whether it’s first or second class.  Stations stops can be brief, and they don’t wait for you, so be ready to board.  Likewise, be alert as to when it’s time to get off.  Know the names of the stations that are several stops prior to your stop, so you can begin to collect your belongings and position yourself towards the exit doors.
IMG_0331

9. Onboard bathrooms – Okay, maybe not the most glamorous, but serviceable.  Most cannot be used while the train is in the station (I won’t go into detail here), and the water is usually non-potable.  Traveling with your own hand sanitizer and small pack of tissues is always a good idea.

10.  Eurostar – I saved the best for last.  You really can’t beat the convenience and modern amenities.  Easy to see why high speed Eurostar service under the Chunnel beats air travel – no checked bag fees, no long security wait lines, no 2 hour advance check in.  It’s a breeze traveling from Paris’ Gare du Nord station to London’s bright new St. Pancras station. St. Pancras is almost a destination within itself with shops, restaurants, bars, and Europe’s longest champagne bar.  For the best insider tips on traveling Eurostar, check out frequent Eurostar traveler’s Paris Perfect blog post for excellent suggestions, including which cars are most convenient.

Matisse Museum – Nice, France

 The south of France is blessed with art treasures, and one of my favorites is the Matisse Museum in Nice

Matisse Museum -  Nice, France

Matisse Museum - Nice, France

Henri Matisse was one of the most important European painters of the 20th century, rivaling Picasso in his influence.  Born in 1869 in northern France, where his family owned a seed business, Matisse went to university in Paris 1887 to study law, and tried his hand at painting almost by accident.  His mother gave him art supplies to pass the time while he was recuperating from an attack of appendicitis, and discovered what he later called “a kind of paradise” in his painting.  “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”

 Initially Matisse painted traditional still-lifes and landscapes, and was greatly influenced by post-Impressionists Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Signac.  It is said that Matisse nearly went broke purchasing other painters’ works which he admired and hung in his home. 

 Matisse’s career as an artist spanned an incredible 64 years, and this prolific master embraced a wide range of styles, including painting, sculpture, drawings, engravings, and his trademark decoupage cutouts, which he called “painting with scissors”.  His painting styles include post-impressionism, pointillism, and the genre of Fauvism, of which he is the acknowledged master. Fauvism (wild, untamed) is known for vivid colors, flat lines, and an almost one dimensional quality.

 Around 1904, Matisse and Pablo Picasso were introduced to each other in the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, and they began a life-long friendship and friendly rivalry.   Matisse moved to Cimiez, a suburb of Nice, in 1917 and lived there until his death in 1954. 

 At the age of 77, he began the most ambitious project of his life – which Matisse considers his masterpiece – the design of the Chapelle du Rosaire in the hillside village of Vence, France. 

Chapelle du rosaire Compressed [1]

Over a period of 4 years, Matisse designed the building, created the stained glass windows, painted its murals, designed the bronze crucifix, fashioned the Stations of the Cross, and even designed the priests’ vestments. 

By this point, suffering with cancer and confined to a wheelchair, Matisse painted three murals by use of a long stick strapped to his arm, with a paintbrush affixed to the end.

 Matisse also published several books, with collections of his works and paper cutouts, along with his notes. The museum has a wonderful gift shop, so be sure to stop in to purchase a few prints, calendars, or note cards. 

One final tip, be sure to check out the museum’s bathroom with the cool, automatic toilet seat that washes itself after each use. Okay, I don’t think Matisse invented this, but it has high entertainment value for the kids!

 Getting there

The Matisse Museum in Nice, 164 Avenue des Arènes, 06000 Nice,

Tel: 33- (0)4 93 81 08 08 is open 10:00 am – 6:00 pm every day except Tuesday, and is closed on Bank holidays and major holidays. Check the website or call in advance to be sure you will not be disappointed.  Entrance is 4 Euro for adults, 2.50 Euro for students, and admission is free for children under 18.