Friday, July 30, 2010

Saint-Malo! “Not French, not Breton, but Malouins…”

Last weekend I went to visit my friend Carly in Saint Malo. Andre and I had wanted to go together but he couldn’t get the time off work, and since Carly is heading back to Canada in September, last weekend was the time to go.

Saint Malo is a port city in the Bretagne region of France. It’s just under four hours from Paris by train so from Arras it was about a five hour trip.It is also the birthplace of Jacques Cartier.

Carly and Clément have been living on a sailboat for the summer in a harbour just outside the walls of the old city. When I arrived Carly gave me little tour within the city walls. We stopped in a café/cake shop for a piece of humungous cake, which we couldn’t finish even between the two of us. One of Carly’s friends then met us and we headed back to the boat to relax before Carly went to work for seven.

Carly’s friend and I then went together to get some dinner before going to the Malouin to join a few of Carly and Clément’s friends. The Malouin is a ship that belongs to Clément’s uncle. It’s pretty big and there were quite a few of us there. Everyone spoke mostly French so it was very good practice for me.

Carly and Clément arrived and by one o’clock it was decided that we should go to the Bellecoque; a favourite pub. We ended up going to a discothéque as well, my first discothèque in France. It was a very late night, I’m not sure what time we made it back to the boat but we didn’t get up until one in the afternoon the next day.

- Discothèque! -

Waking up at one, we had just enough time to go get some Moules et frites (Mussels and Fries) before Clément had to go to work. Carly and I returned to the boat and lazed around in the sun for the afternoon. Carly had to work at seven again so I went to hang out with some of the friends of Carly and Clément that I had met the night before. They were at the Bellecoque watching a live band but I got lost in the winding streets and missed the band. I arrived in time for a pint before we headed out to a friend’s house for a b.b.q. It was a big b.b.q. with lots of friends hanging out on the patio and lounging on bean bag chairs in the grass. I even played a game of petanque, or at least I think that’s what it was… We played with small flat metal disks and a board. One disk was smaller then all the others. The object of the game was to get as close as you could to the small disk that was thrown first.

The next day we went for lunch at Clément’s grand parents place. They rent a beautiful little summer home right on the ocean. The tide comes up so high that apparently, when sitting on the balcony, you can get splashed by the waves.

After lunch we did a bit of shopping before heading to the sailing club where Clément works. We had been hoping to go for a sail but since it was a Saturday and very busy Clement was asked to work. Carly and I headed out in a Kayak instead. We went all around the little bay where the sailing club is located. The landscape is incredibly beautiful.

Jacques Cartier's House near Clement's work

Suiting up for a Kayak

After dropping Carly off at work Clément and I got some supper; more moules et frites! Carly finished work a little after eleven and then we went to a party. It was then decided that we should all go to Escalier, a nightclub located out in the country side. I have heard a lot about the French Nightclubs out in the middle of no where. They stay open until seven and some can even have multiple buildings. The one we went to is pretty big, and has large out door space with picnic tables. It was kind of like going to a huge house party. The sun started to come up a little after six and people slowly started to leave to catch cabs and make their way home.

We made our way back to the boat and I had to get ready to go, my train home left at 12:13. It was a wonderful French weekend.

Thank you Carly and Clément!!

Our Trip to Nice – Day Three

Our Hotel

Our third day was our last day in Nice. After a lovely breakfast in the sunroom of our hotel we headed down back to the old city centre. We dropped our bags off in the lockers at the train station and headed out for some shopping and the beach. We had a wonderful swim before looking around for some lunch. Andre and I split a Nicoise Chevre Salad and Assiette. The assiette is basically a plate of appetizers. It was very good, but I think the Socca by Chez Theresa in the Cours Saleya is much better. Socca is a fried chickpea flatbread/galette, and is served warm with lots of pepper and salt.

When we went back to the beach it was completely over crowded! Since it was Saturday and extremely hot I think everyone was spending the day at the beach. We stayed for our last dip in the Mediterranean before ending our day in Nice with one last walk through the old streets and deux petits cafés.

Cafés in Place Masséna

We took the night train home. It was my first sleeper train and it wasn’t half bad. We had little sleeping bags, a pillow, and a pack of some little necessities like earplugs and a water bottle. There were six bunks in our cabin, and each one was full by the last stop of the night before morning. We arrived in Paris with just enough time to catch our transfer home. It was a wonderful little summer vacation!

sleeper train

Our Trip to Nice – Day Two

Monte Carlo Casino

The next day we went to Monaco. We were advised to take the train from the little station near our hotel but that turned out to be a disaster. After waiting at the deserted Saint-Roch train station we opted to take the bus. The bus ride along the coast was phenomenal. Monaco was very interesting, the Monte Carlo Casino was cool to see and so were the flashy cars but it kind of felt like a zoo where tourists get to go and see all the rich people in their natural habitat. We stayed for an hour or so and then got on the first bus we saw, the next stop off for the day was Eze.

Eze from the Botanical Garden

Eze is a beautiful medieval village within the cliffs of the French Riviera. The old city is on a peak that offers a panoramic of the sea and rolling mountainous cliff side sloping into the Mediterranean. We weren’t able to stay long, because the last bus down the mountain was only an hour or so after we had arrived. We saw as much as we could, hiking to the top to see the botanical gardens and visiting some of the artisan shops. The architecture is amazing.

It is such a beautiful spot I wish we could’ve spent more time. The bus back to Nice was packed, we were lucky to get on; many people were left waiting at the stops along the route.

Botanical Gardens

That night we went out for Sushi. It was fantastic! We finished our night with a swim and relaxing on the beach before making the trek back to our hotel.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Trip to Nice – Day One

The Beach Day One

The morning after the fête national we left our hotel in Paris at 4:30 AM to catch our 7 o’clock flight to Nice. It was my first experience navigating the Paris RER subway, and in my early morning sluggish state it was a little bewildering. We did arrive on time at the airport, and landed in Nice before the sun had even hit the yardarm.

The first thing we did, after a quick breakfast, was head to the Cours Saleya. It’s the Nice flower market, everything from local produce and gourmet delectibles to crafts and local wares are sold over the course of the day.

Cours Saleya

We also spent a good hour or so on the beach before taking the tram up to our hotel. We booked a place outside of the city centre on the hillside. It was quite a hike up, since the tram dropped us off at the base, but I think it was really worth it. The view from our room was amazing. The steep cliffs that frame the city were what I was most excited to see.

The View from our hotel

We then returned to the old city centre to climb up to the Chateau de Nice. A pedestrian pathway winds its way up to the top of this small mountain (limestone rock outcropping) where there are the remains of an old cathedral currently undergoing excavation, restaurants and boutiques, park space, man made waterfalls, and mosaics honouring the travels of Odysseus from the Odyssey written by Homer.

Left: Cathedral Excavations
Below: The view from halfway up

We brought a small picnic to hold us over until the French dinnertime. It was an incredibly hot day; the night was a welcome break from the heat. After a nice dinner we decided to head back to the hotel and make it an early night since we had been up since 4am!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

La fête nationale in Paris

The French National Holiday is on July 14th and is the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille. We were able to celebrate it in Paris because Andre and two of the guides were invited to lay a wreath at the Arch de Triomphe! Most of the festivities held on the Champs d’Elysees, the avenue leading up to the Arch de Triomphe, are in the morning. We missed the morning venue; we didn’t leave Arras until noon. We arrived in Paris with enough time to check in and tour the gardens near our hotel before heading up to the ceremony.

Andre and the guides were part of a memorial ceremony with a small parade leading up to the arch. The French police tweeted their whistles and the traffic in the roundabout stopped just long enough for the small party to get through. The wreathes were laid at the base of the Arch de Triomphe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The tomb holds the body of an unknown soldier from the First World War and commemorates all those who died in both World Wars. It also has the first eternal flame lit in Western Europe since the extinguishment of the vestal virgins in 394. (wikipedia!) Andre said that at the end of the ceremony a representative used a sword to bring the flame up to full ignition. There is a special sword keyhole apparatus apparently to do so. (I couldn’t see over the crowd) It was a very beautiful ceremony; the military band was very impressive.

After the ceremony we had a nice bite to eat at an odd little Tibetan restaurant before heading to the Eiffel Tower to watch the fireworks. Dinner took longer then expected but we still got an amazing view from the park in front of the Ecole Militare.

We went straight back to our hotel after the fireworks amongst the massive crowds because we had to catch our plane to Nice the next morning………..

Friday, July 9, 2010

Main Square Festival

Who can resist Canadians and their Birkenstocks?

This past weekend was the Main Square Festival in Arras. Main Square is a pretty big concert venue, especially for the size of Arras, and it attracts some pretty big bands. The concert is usually held in the main square of the city, but this year the square is experiencing some pretty intensive cobble stone street restoration, so the concert was moved to the Citadel. Andre’s good friend from home, who now lives in Europe, came to visit us and attend the concert with his girlfriend and two friends. They arrived Friday night after the football match. We all had tickets for Saturday, so the next morning after touring Arras, and a delicious lunch at Le Carpe Diem we headed to the concert.

It was a bit rainy in the morning

I think the Citadel made a fantastic venue

We got there just in time to catch Phoenix. Their two most popular songs are Lisztomania and 1901. There were two stages, but it was so packed we all opted to stay in the area of the main stage.

who's the mystery man in the middle?

After phoenix was –M-, a French musician, who is…. interesting. His full name is Mattieu Chedid, -M- is supposed to be a superhero alter ego to help the artist over come his shyness. Which might explain why there was someone dancing around in a superman costume shortly followed by “-M-“ returning to the stage sans his extreme getup.

unimpressed by -M-

Following -M- came Ben Harper, who was phenomenal. Pearl Jam was the last to play and ended off the night with many of their old classics. The whole concert and weekend was a lot of fun, especially with our first house guests!

And now it is almost another weekend. Most of my week was spent trying to keep out of the heat. For Andre’s days off we plan to take it easy and maybe check out the soldes!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Quiet Canada Day in France

Canada Day also falls on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel and a memorial is held for all Newfoundlanders who fought in the war. It was Andre’s first on site ceremony, and they have been in preparation mode for weeks. He left early in the morning, and I was able to catch a ride later in the day from some visiting family members of Andre’s co-worker.

It was a very hot day at Beaumont-Hamel. We had arrived around two with more then enough time to tour the site before the ceremony, which started at 4:00. It is a very impressive site with much of the trenches still preserved and intact. Because of the hazardous nature of the landscape sheep are used to cut the grass.

"The sheep keeping cool in the shade"

At four o’clock the ceremony begun with the entrance flag bearers and bag pipers. Short speeches were given and the wreaths were lain at the foot of the monument. The ceremony ended with the Newfoundland provincial anthem the national anthems of England, France, and Canada. It was a beautiful ceremony, and amazing to see the attention, dedication, respect, and effort that is placed in commemorating the loss of World War I.

-Click to read more at the Veteran Affairs Canada website-

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Trip to the Beach

Now to catch up to the present day all that is left is our trip to the beach. This past weekend Andre’s schedule changed to weekends off. Saturday we stayed in Arras; sleeping in and going to the market. On Sunday we went to Le Touquet Paris Plage. Located on the Northern shores along the English Channel, Le Touquet began as a refuge for deserters in the Napoleonic era and from there developed into a resort town for high society vacationers from both England and France. After the Second World War though much of the town was destroyed, and is still trying to recover its lost position in the top echelon of resort towns.

It is still a nice little spot. It seemed almost a mixture of Wasaga Beach and Miami, though a little more Wasaga then Miami of course. We took the train up and arrived in time to have a picnic lunch on the beach. It was packed with people. After a nice lunch, walking up and down the beach a ways, and a quick dip we headed into the town. It was a lot bigger then I had imagined, with picturesque narrow streets making it feel very pedestrian friendly. We stopped at a Café Leffe for a pint and a spot in the shade before getting some sorbet and heading back to catch our train home.