Monday, 17 November 2008

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a very charming village in southern France. It's located in the Camargue region which hosts the famous marsh of the same name, and lies down to the azure water of the Mediterranean with its long white sand beaches.

The legends tell that the three Maria's who saw Jesus' empty tomb after the resurrection sailed from Alexandria in Egypt and stranded where the town lies today. This is one reason why the town is an important pilgrimage for the Christians. The town is also very important for the gypsies who gathers every year to celebrate Saint Sarah. Saint Sarah was perhaps the daughter of Marie Magdalena, or perhaps the dark-skinned servant of the three Maria's. The town is antique and sources relate that the place has been habited since the fourth century. The Romans were in the area and that's marked the region and neighbouring towns significantly. In the ninth century the Vikings spent a winter in Camargue with raids on the area.

The streets re narrow and the houses whitewashed, which brings the charm all the way. It is a beautiful place and the marsh around is famous for its horses, black bulls and flamingos. There's an unique atmosphere where cultures and traditions meet and unfolds. You'll find camping and horse renting outside the town, along with other activities in the marsh and on the sea. On horseback, which of course is the famous Camargue horses, you can explore the marsh or have beautfiul sunset rides along the beach.

There are festivals and religious events several times a year. Bull fighting, horse displays, bull fighting from horseback, herding of bulls and horses through the streets of the town, races, the yearly gypsy festival and lots more. There's always something to experience in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Official homepage: http://www.saintesmaries.com/

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/vandevivere/

Friday, 14 November 2008

Le Mont Saint Michel


Four hours drive west of Paris you'll find one of the most special places in France. Le Mont St. Michel is a small island located on the coast of Normandy full of history, soul and experiences. The first Christian building was built here for more than a thousand years ago, which over the years have been expanded. The monastery covers the top of the island, while a small middleage village takes up the rest of the space.

The island is surrounded by water at high tide, which is rather impressive in that region, and you can only access the place by a kilometre long damn. Even large parts of the parking lot is covered by water. The island is landfast at low tide, and you can walk there without getting your feet wet, if you dare enter the labyrinth of quicksand and seabed.

Once you've crossed the damn and stand before the city walls you'll be transported back in time. They're tall and thick and you can only enter the town by walking through the old gate. This was certainly a place the enemies couldn't easily conquer, especially since the damn wasn't built back then.

Inside the walls you'll find a thriving bustle. There's a lot of tourists during the season, so it's highly recommended to visit outside of the school holidays and religious festivals. The place is a pilgrimage for many Christians. May and the beginning of June (with the exception of pentcote) is a good time to visit, and the same is true for September and October, where the schools have started again and the French are done with their holidays. The weather is still good these times of the year.

The streets are narrow and paved with cobblestone. There are plenty of shops which all sell medieval and tourist products. They're clearly taking advantage of the impressive history the place has. A narrow long street winds its way up the hill and when you arrive at the top of it, you'll be met by a large gate which leads into the monastery itself.

It is like stepping into another world. The place is huge and full fo soul and historical scents. It is an impressive building. At the top you'll find a small garden, where there's a magnificent view over the bay. These days plexiglass covers the opening to protect the visitors and avoid people falling hundreds of feet into their death. Back then it was open and apparently the opening was used for the few who wished to meet God. Standing at the edge will certainly give you a thrill.

There's so much to tell about le Mont St. Michel that it's impossible to cover just a tiny bit of it all. If you think Notre Dame is impressive, then prepare to lose your breath completely. The little island in Normandy is so much more and one of the places in Europe that you must visit before life is over.

Official homepage:
http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/acces_gb.htm

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/jackversloot/ & http://flickr.com/photos/84019257@N00/

Monday, 10 November 2008

Pont du Gard

In southern France you'll find plenty of evidence of the Roman influence and presence. A more beautiful one of those is Pont du Gard. It is a large aqueduct which led the water supply over the river Gard, and is part of a 50 km long pipe transporting water from Fontaines d'Eure to Nîmes. The nature and area is very beautiful and it's certainly a place worth visiting when you're in the region.

I was there on a beautiful day in June back in 2001. Just to lie on a rock at the riverbed and gaze into the air to see how the building rises over you is impressive. You can't help but wonder how the Romans could build such beautiful things which still stands strong two-thousand years later.

The aqueduct is 49 metres tall and 275 metres long at its greatest span. The river runs through a small canyon here and the sides are quite steep. You'll have to catch your breath again after climbing to the top of the aqueduct. The view is magnificent and if you have a bit of fear of heights, you'll feel the thrill. On the bottom level is a road which leads you over the river 22 metres up in the air.

The road has been used since the middle ages and in the eigthteenth century the bridge and road was expanded to stabilize the building. The place was a tourist attraction already back then. Pont du Gard was added to UNESCO's woldheritage list in 1985. Members of the maison guild in France still has to visit the aqueduct to this day as part of their education.

Official hompage: http://www.lepontdugard.com/

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/wolfgangstaudt/

Friday, 7 November 2008

Hyang-Ly - Korean barbeque

There are many opportunities to try exciting food when you visit Paris. The French cousine is an obvious choice, but you shouldn't cheat yourself for trying food from other parts of the world. There are many good ethnic restaurants in Paris and one of them is Hyang-Ly.

Hyang-Ly is an Korean restaurant with a Japanese touch. The specialities are bibmbap and Korean barbeque. Bibimbap is a dish where the ingredients have been put into a very hot cast iron pot. The food is sizzling when served and it's up to you to stir it all and ensure it's all heated and cooked as you like it. As you can expect from the Asian kitchen, there's a lot of green in the dish, much of the stuff which I have no idea of what is. Normally bibimbap is served with a strong chilli sauce, so watch your tongue.

Korean barbecue can certainly be recommended. It tastes wonderful. A grill is placed in the middle of the table, which is turned on and a plate placed over the flames. Several bowls with different ingredients are arranged on the table and then a big plate with very tender meat. The idea is that you fry your meat on the grill and sample from the bowls.

The price is manageable and good compared to the quality, especially when you choose one of the menus, where you'll get a starter with cabbage salad, soup, barbecue and a mini bibimbap. The price for that is under 15€ per person. Add to that a bottle of wine and a cup of coffee for desert and you've gotten yourself a good dinner for two for under 60€.

Practical information:
Hyang-Ly
3, rue de Hanovre
75002 Paris
Metro: Opera line 3, 7 and 8
RER: Auber Haussmann St-Lazare, RER A and E, place de l'Opera exit.

Photo: http://flickr.com/photos/bethanyking/