Monday, 24 March 2008

Meschers sur Gironde

If you're up for a visit at the Atlantic coast, drinking cognac and pineau, explore historical places and enjoy nature, tides and oysters Meschers is a place worth visiting.

Meschers is a small town on the west coast of France, at the edge of the Cognac district, which makes the town a good base for a vacation. Bordeaux is less than two hours away, and Cognac not even one hours drive away. There are of course also the sea, nature and many historical places. The area was colonized by the Romans and there are old forts, villas and towns in the region which dates back to the Roman empire.

Meschers itself is a charming little town. It's one of the oldest holiday resorts in France and one of the first places that the Parisians went to for holidays back in the 19th century. This was the place where they could relax, get fresh air and sun as prescribed by the doctors of the time.

The town is especially famous for two things; the caves and the fishing.

The caves are found in the steep and high limestone cliffs at the coast. They might have been inhabited for centuries, and especially the last few have been documented. There is now a museum in some of the caves and you can see how people lived back then. Others are still privately owned and there's even a hotel with rooms in the cliff. They were changed from homes to chic cafés and romantic spot for the Parisian tourists.

Another characteristic of Meschers is the fishing, or rather, the oyster hunting. At every low-tide you'll see plenty of locals wandering far into the bay to collect oysters. The fishing huts raised high on poles along the coast is another landmark you can recognize the town on.

Official website: http://www.meschers.com/
Google map

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Seafood

The French love seafood, and that's clearly reflected in their supermarkets. The seafood section is just as large as the meat section or fruit section, and it's a sight for the eyes indeed. The employees do take their time to arrange the seafood in a manner that's appealing for the eyes, sometimes it's all artistic and very creative, such a shark with a fish in its mouth.

These pictures are from Carrefour in Bay2 in Torcy outside of Paris. This Carrefour has a very varied selection of many products, including international ones. You can even find Marmite and parsnips here.

Enjoy!

There are several people attending the fish section, and you can get your fish prepared just as you want it. Prices are per kilo usually.

Yes, it is a stingray that's been partially prepared. I've seen sharks lined up as well, huge tunas and salmon and anything you can imagine.

Oysters are very popular in France and you can find them for any celebration. The shrimps are usually hot water shrimps from the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean, though with luck you can find some from the North-east Atlantic.

The crabs are alive, pretty spooky as they lie there watching you. There are more shellfish available than I even know the names of. You can also find the French lobsters in a tank where they stare at you.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The metro in Paris

Public transportation in Paris and suburbs is excellent. There is always one way or another to reach your destination. The prices are manageble and for most places the departures are often and regular. Within Paris itself it's the metro that covers, while the RER is the train to and from the suburbs. The system is easy and practical, but takes a bit to get used to.

On every metro-station you can find maps over the system. There are 14 different metro-lines where some has their destination outside Paris proper in zone two. All departures are listed according to their destination. Unlike London, where you have to know in what direction you take the train, you in Paris have to know the destination of the line.

To use the metro you need to use the socalled "t+" tickets. They're valid for both metro, bus and RER in Paris. As long as you are within the metro, you can change between lines as you wish. You need to carry the ticket during the entire trip and can't throw it away before you leave the metroe. There are stations where you have to pass the ticket through the machines to get out.

There are different discounts for metro and RER, but the most practical for visitors is to buy a "Carnet de 10 tickets", which is ten tickets with a small discount. One "carnet" costs 11,10€, where a single t+ ticket costs 1,50€. Children from 4 to 9 years are "tarif réduit" which is half price. Children under 4 are free.

As a tourist you can buy a "Paris Visite" ticket, which can be used unlimited during the period it's bought for. It can be bought for zones 1-3 or for zones 1-6, which covers the entire RER/metro system. They're valid from 1 day to 5 days. Prices can be found at the homepage for RATP.

There is one thing you need to keep track of, and that is the strikes. To strike is a people's sport in France, and it's almost always the transport sector which is immobilized. If there's a strike while you're visiting, then prepare for a public transportation which is chaotic, disrupted, and non-functioning. Expect sore feet.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Palais du Louvre

Everybody has heard of the big museum in Paris where there is more art than you can possibly view in a week. There are other good reasons to visit the Louvre if there isn't time or desire for long queues and endless rooms with art.

The Louvre is the oldest art museum in Paris and was officially opened in 1750. The buildings are much older and the original castle is over 800 years old. Over the years the palace has been rebuilt and added to. The palace as we know it today was completed in 1876. The famous glass pyramid was officially opened in 1989.

To walk through the Louvre and see the buildings from the outside is impressive. Sculptures and ornaments covers walls, windows, doors and roofs. There is a lot to explore for the eye and the Louvre is certainly an architectonic masterpiece worth visiting.

Under the museum is a mall and exhibitions. This is where you will find the displays for contemporary art, photography and so on. The shops are expensive and clearly aimed at the tourists, but it's worth exploring the world under the museum. This is where you will find the original fortress walls of the castle, many feet under the surface.

After the visit at the palace it's logic to wander through the Jardin des Tuileries towards the Place de la Concorde which is the beginning of the Champs-Élysées. Louvre is the eastern most part of the Voie Triomphale (Way of Triumph) which goes west and currently ends at the New Arch of Triumph about 8 km away.

Practical info:
Metro: line 1 and 7, Palais Royal Musée du Louvre

Château de Guédelon

Last spring we visited Château de Guédelon, which lies two hours drive south of Paris. Spring had truly started and the weather was almost summery, at least seen with Danish eyes. The sun was warm and the sky blue, the birds singing and the trees spring-green and inviting. It was a perfect day to explore the world.

Guédelon is a new world. It is a unique project which I don't think exists anywhere else on earth. It is a medival castle which is being built in our modern high tech world. What makes the project special is that only medieval equipment and techniques are used. Everything done like in the 13th century. It is a scientific building ground, living museum and historical experiment. All materials for the castle come from the local quarry, which will turn into the moat, from the wood around the site, the clay on the hill and so on. It is impressive and very interesting.

On this beautiful spring-day we wandered around and explored the site which someday in the 2020ties will be a fully built castle with local village. The village appears on its own. The 32 full time employees need a place to live. There are 11 trades on the site, carpenters, stone masons, smiths, horseboys, cooks and many others. As the project progresses there'll be need of more and more specialized careers and the village will expand. It comes all naturally.

We ate the lunch sitting at roughly hewn wooden tables. Medieval fare of course. There is room to enjoy your own picnic and it is specail to hear the bell ring the workers to lunch and the building site grow all quiet.

The entire area is a museum. Explanatory and living. There is a big barn where there are posters and exhibitions about the entire project, and of course also a souvenir shop and information stand. Ouside you will encounter several models showing the history of castles from pre-roman era until the time of the project.

If you are interested in living history Château de Guédelon is a must to visit. When the weather turns warmer we will return to see how everything is progressing. They have started to build the living quarters for the lord of the castle now.

Practical information:
Price: Adults 9€, children 5€, children under 5 for free.
Read more at: http://www.guedelon.fr/
Pictures from the project at: http://philippe.villette.free.fr/guedelon/guedelon.htm