November 26, 2003

Trip To Southern France

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you may be wondering why there haven’t been any entries lately.

The big reason is that we went to France for a week. Unlike the last trip, when I went alone to Italy, and therefore had lots of time to write late at night, this time all four of us went. And when you travel with a 7 month old there really isn’t time to write. And the fact that there weren’t any internet cafes nearby made it even more difficult.

We flew into Perpignan on Ryan Air after booking £1 flights. Of course it wasn’t really £1 after all the taxes and landing fees, but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than taking the train. EuroStar, which goes through the Chunnel, and then changes to TGV in Paris, would have been over £700, or more than $1200. No contest really.

We rented a cute little apartment in a small village called Rodes. The picture at the top of this entry, the one with the snow covered peaks, was taken at the top of the village. What you see is a view looking west, towards the Pyrenees, where there was fresh snow after a rainstorm in the village the night before.

The apartment turned out to be a great idea. Not only did it save us lots of money, but they had a crib and high-chair, both of which were absolute life-savers (and can be hit or miss at hotels or B&B’s).

The trip was a mixed bag. We had gone to the south-west of France (along the Mediterranean, near the Spanish border) to look for places we might want to live. But the idea of France turned out to be different than the actuality of France. If you remember my Italy wrapup from a couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember that I came back less than enthusiastic about moving to Italy. Well, the same thing happened this time, but for different reasons.

If I may be so bold as to generalize about France and the French, I’d say that it was more like the States than not (as opposed to Italy which is less like the States than more). In lots of ways it looks and feels like the States. They’ve got the same “we’re better with a chip on our shoulder” attitude that you find in the States, but with a French accent. Not that they don’t have a reason to think so. They haven’t succumbed to ugly strip malls. Their cities are prettier. The countryside is prettier, and they take care of it much better than we do. The infrastructure is in better shape than the States. And there are very few homeless people (we saw three in seven days). And yes, the bread is to die for.

But it was more than that. When I was in Italy, I never looked around and thought “hmmm, this looks familiar". But in France that happened all the time. I’d look around and think “this is weird, if it weren’t for the fact that everyone is speaking French (or the signs were in French), I’d swear I was in the Midwest somwhere.” At one point we were standing at the coffee bar at the Perpignan Airport, and there was a group of middle-aged couples going to Egypt. If I couldn’t hear them speaking French I would have sworn they were from Iowa or Kansas, or somewhere else in middle America, on their way to Mexico.

We rented a car from Alamo and put about 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) on it. We drove all around the south-west. Narbonne, Carcassonne, Limoux, Quillan, Beziers, and even up to Toulouse and Albi. The countryside was incredibly varied. Rocky and hot and dry looking (though it was cool/cold and rained quite a bit), with the Pyrenees to the west, and flat to slightly rolling hills. That changed as you went north to Carcassonne where the land smoothed out and more trees appeared. Up above Carcassonne there’s even a valley that looks like it came right out of West Virginia and the coal mining regions. The houses are different too – less well kept up, poorer, and sided with slate (which you don’t see anywhere else).

The beaches are another reason we went to this part of France, but unfortunately, they’re nothing to write home about. They’re quite rocky, and where there is sand the sand is dark and grainy. And the beach towns aren’t particularly interesting (except for Colliure), not in the way that St. Tropez and other beaches to the north are beautiful and interesting. We didn’t get down to Spain, but we heard the beaches there are quite a bit nicer, and wish we’d had more time to check them out (or get down to Barcelona).

But the place we liked the best was a town called Albi, as well as the countryside to the north and west of Albi. The town of Albi is built on the Tarn River, and from what we saw of it, it seems to have kept a lot of its charm (in much the same way that Salzburg, for example, has kept its charm). We stayed at the Mercur Hotel, on the banks of the Tarn, and it was wonderful to fall asleep to the rush of the river beneath our room. The picture above is a shot of the left bank of the Tarn River. Our hotel was at the right side of the picture, just below the arched bridge.

We visited several real estates agents (or immobilieres as they’re called). There was quite a bit in our price range, but really nothing with enough bedrooms as we’d want. We did go out to look at one property, just on the outskirts of Cordes-sur-ciel. Very beautiful countryside, similar in many ways to Sonoma Valley in California, but with incredible 12th and 13th century walled cities, and no urban sprawl.

Well that’s enough for one entry. I’ll try and followup with more details tomorrow.

Bon nuit.

Posted by: Frank @ 11:25 pm — Filed under:

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