Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On the Move...Again

Before moving to New York City on June 1st I’ll be going home to Minnesota for a much-needed Memorial Day Weekend with family and friends.  But before even that happens, there are suitcases in need of packing, boxes in need of mailing, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning taking place in every nook and cranny of my apartment.  Somewhere in the middle of all the excitement and anticipation (and headaches) I realized it has only been three months since my last move, from Brussels to Washington.  I don’t know whether that fact makes me happy or makes me want to take a very, very long nap.   

As much as I love the new experiences that come with moving to a different city, I don’t love all the work it takes to get there.  Really, how many boxes can you pack and unpack and repack in a three-month span before you decide to just stay put?  Some people move all the time and entire societies have built themselves around the nomadic lifestyle, but right now I’m craving a pretty sizable dose of stability.  After I get back from New York City, that is.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Visiting France, sans Paris

French friends used to be incredulous when I told them I had never been to New York City.  Quoi?!?  How can you live in the United States and never have visited NYC?  Cue me telling them that there is so much more to the U.S. than our most populous city, and, hey!, I’ve been to legions of interesting places all over my country, from the very bottom tip of Texas, to the Hawaiian Islands, to the shores of Lake Superior.  Cue them staring at me with that French look that says, “you poor, sad American.”  

But I stand by my reasoning for not rushing out to see NYC and I’d like to make the same argument for France:  There’s so much more to see than Paris!  If you’re looking to branch out, here are a few suggestions.  They’re by no means hugely off the beaten path – a couple are large cities by French standards – but they might not be the first places you think of when planning a transatlantic trip.

Toulouse – France’ fourth largest city has pink buildings, denizens brandishing a funny accent, good year-round weather, and easy access to nearby medieval sites.   Just remember that in Toulouse, “vin” is pronounced “veng.”  Forget that bit of regional accent trivia and you’ll have a hard time tracking down a glass of rouge.  Been there.

The Mediterranean, West of Toulon – If you’re looking for flashy discotheques and gaudy glamour, stick to Cannes and Nice.  But if you want family-friendly fun in the sun, head west.  Toulon is rough around the edges, but the nearby coastal cities have beautiful beaches, quaint old towns, exceptional markets, and come-as-you-are attitudes

Nîmes – While not as famous as its neighbors, Arles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes, with its impressive examples of Roman-era ruins, is certainly worth a visit.  The city’s Roman temple (called the Maison Carée) sticks out like a beautiful sore thumb, and the amphitheater is still in use for events like bullfights and concerts. You can climb what remains of a Roman tower, and the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct is not far from town.

Lille – Lille has what is quite possibly the ugliest French cathedral in history, but it also has a surprisingly good shopping scene.  The local beers are a nice change of pace from other French regions’ local wines, and it’s only a short Eurostar ride away from London, Paris, and Brussels.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cannes Calling

The 63rd Cannes Film Festival is now underway, which means it's time for me to dust off my annual feelings of regret over the fact that I've never attended.  Ever since studying at the College International de Cannes in the fall of 2001, I promised myself that someday I would return to the scene of my formative study abroad trip to enjoy the city in full-on glamour mode.  But every year, the end of May sneaks up on me, and I suddenly realize I've once again missed my chance to catch a glimpse of the red carpet.

A recent, not-so-favorable article in the Washington Post made me feel un peu better about missing this year's Festival.  According to the author, the festivities are a bit of a downer this year, marred by everything from the economic crisis in Europe, to bad weather, to flight problems resulting from an angry volcano in Iceland.  In short, it might not be the best year for snapping photos of stars or lounging on the beach without a care in the world.

Of course, if my ultimate dream of returning to Cannes with the friends who were with me back in 2001 were to actually come to fruition, I don't think the overall mood of the Festival would matter.  Travel is mostly about who you're with, and less about what you're doing/seeing/experiencing.  If you're with the right people, no amount of poor weather or spewing ash can bring you down.  As long as everyone is happy and healthy, you can have a good time no matter what.  And I'm sure that all of our reminiscing could survive even the dreariest of Mediterranean days.

So, Cannes 2001 guys and gals, you know who you are.  Are you listening?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Rosé

As the weather gets warmer and patio seating reemerges from its winter hibernation, my thoughts automatically turn to a chilled glass of rosé.  It’s the French wine that gets no respect, or at least less than it should.  Bordeaux reds and Burgundy whites get all the glory, while rosés are relegated to second-class citizen status.  Why?

A fruity rosé is the perfect wine for l’apéritif, that very French tradition of drinks and light snacks before dinner.  It’s also the perfect warm weather wine: cool and refreshing.  A glass of rosé makes me feel like I’ve been transported to Provence.  Instead of looking at the trees out my kitchen window I’m gazing at fields of lavender or sunflowers.  At other times it invokes the Côte d’Azur, with its seaside restaurants, glowing sunsets, and perma-vacation atmosphere.

Any wine that can do that is a wine worth drinking.  Often. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

New York, New York

Earlier this year I outlined a small list of travel goals for 2010. It was to be the year of the vacation, with a trip to L.A. in March (done) and big hopes for a trip to Greece. Unfortunately, just as the euro is becoming favorable to Americans, my dream of Greece is slipping away into the abyss of too little vacation time and too many other commitments. Fortunately, I'm on track to realize a travel goal from 2009: New York City. Even better, this trip to The Big Apple is going to be more than just a weekend destination, it’s going to be my home for three whole months.

That’s right: I’m moving to NYC. Much like it sent me to Brussels back in August, work is sending me on temporary assignment to Manhattan, starting June 1st. When I’m not working, I hope to be exploring neighborhoods, checking out the restaurant scene, catching up with NYC-based friends, and sniffing around for anything having to do with Paris, France, or French culture. I don’t know much about NYC, having only visited twice for a total of three days time, but I do know that those visits left me wanting more.

So, I find myself in a very familiar situation, and one many of you know as well: running around like crazy trying to get everything ready for the move. Thankfully, the excitement of setting out on a new trip that will be filled with new adventures hasn't worn off. I've done it time and time again, and it still leaves me giddy with anticipation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How To Get Your French Fix, Offline

You're already using blogs to stay on top of happenings in French society, culture, and politics, but have you ever thought about taking your hunt for all things Francophile offline? There are countless French resources that don't require an Internet connection. Here are three of my favorites:

1. France Magazine - This publication promises the best of "culture, travel and art de vivre," and when I get my hands on a copy I devour every last page. Sure, you can read it online, but isn't it more fun to get a little piece of France delivered to your mailbox every month? Pour a glass of Sancerre and curl up with the most recent edition.

2. News from France - The French Embassy in the U.S. publishes a free monthly newsletter chock full of what's new, popular, and noteworthy in France. Everything from fashion to technology is covered. It also gives information about French cultural events taking place stateside. Did I mention it's free? Email to subscribe.

3. France24 - France's answer to CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera is a 24-hour news station covering international and French events, while also giving considerable time to stories about culture and the arts. If you'd like to watch it on TV, you'll have to first check if and how it's broadcast in your area. If you can't get it over the airwaves, you can resort to watching it online, in English, French, or Arabic.

Monday, May 3, 2010

84 New Ways to get to Paris

A large-scale advertising campaign in the Washington, D.C. Metro tipped me off to the news: Open Skies, an all business airline owned by British Airways, just launched a Dulles - Orly route that promises "an innovative cabin, personalized services, and impeccable quality."

Starting today, discerning travelers can pay from $825 plus taxes and fees for a one way transatlantic "Biz Seat" ticket. If you want a "Biz Bed," get ready to fork over at least $1580 one way. But you'll have to depechez-vous if you'd like to snag a spot on this route. With only five flights per week and 84 seats per flight, Open Skies flights are très exclusive.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thomas Jefferson, the Francophile

If you visit Monticello – the stately Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson - you’ll learn lots of things about our third president. You’ll learn he preferred being there to anywhere else in the world, that Monticello means “little mountain” in Italian, and that hundreds of free and enslaved people once lived on the premises. You’ll also learn that Jefferson was a major Francophile.

The tour guide doesn’t actually all him a Francophile, and that word isn’t listed in the official brochure, but how else do you describe someone who filled his home with art, objects, and ideas from France? Jefferson spent roughly six years in Paris, first as trade commissioner and then as minister, during which time he no doubt worked to build Franco-American ties, but also spent time collecting a ton of French stuff. Dishes, books, paintings, even the wallpaper in one of his guest bedrooms all made their way from France to Virginia. A painting of Lafayette hangs in the parlor, and his personal chef stayed with him on the Champs-Élysées so he could train with the best Parisian chefs of the time.

Jefferson has always been one of my favorite Founding Fathers. He was an inspirational writer, had a tirelessly curious mind, has what I consider to be the most beautiful memorial in Washington, D.C., and, well, I think he looks rather handsome in riding boots. His taste for all things French only makes him that much cooler.