Tag Archives: France

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.)

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“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.
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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.

Fondation Maeght – Modern Art Museum

The South of France is a jewel box, and holds many treasures to explore and discover.  Fondation Maeght museum of modern art is a hidden gem…one of the many treasures in the south of France we’ll be exploring in the next few posts. Compressed Red woman

Set in the gorgeous wooded hills of the French Riviera, the museum lies 20 km west of Nice, and just 500 meters beyond the lovely village of St. Paul de Vence. 

The museum was founded in 1964 by Aime and Marguerite Maeght “to present to the public modern and contemporary art in all its forms” and includes over 500 paintings, sculptures and works by 20th century masters such as Chagall, Miro, Caulder, Leger, Giacometti, and many more. Compressed Fondation Maeght Modern Art Museum

I’ll admit, it’s taken me a while to come to appreciate modern art, as I’ve always been a fan of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.  But this museum changed me, and helped expand my tastes.  The vivid colors and thought-provoking works are beautiful…sometimes whimsical, sometimes desolate….even if I don’t always understand what the artist is trying to say to me.  Compressed Yellow Tree
Compressed Giacommeti Sculptures
Compressed Chagall
Compressed Museum Box
The building was designed by Catalan architect Luis Sert and incorporates important art works into the building and gardens….”the Giacometti courtyard, the Miró labyrinth filled with sculptures and ceramics, mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat, a pool and stained glass window by Braque, a Bury fountain.”  The sculpture gardens alone are worth the trip.
Compressed PitchforkCompressed Man sculpture
Compressed Water Sculpture

Getting there:
Check the museum’s website for arrivals by bus, car and train.  The museum is open every day July 1-Sept. 30 from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm, and October 1-June 30 from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Admission is currently 11 Euros, and children under 10 are free.  Téléphone: +33 (0)4 93 32 81 63.  Opening hours and prices are current at time of posting, but are of course, subject to change.

From Fondation Maeght website

From Fondation Maeght website

Allow a minimum of 2 hours for your visit.  Combine your trip to Fondation Maeght with a tour of the charming perched village of St. Paul de Vence and you will have a wonderful day trip from Nice, Cannes or Antibes.

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.