Category Archives: Authentic France Travel Tips

The Tour de France in Burgundy this Summer

Bike crazy? Fan of the Tour de France? Here are some tips on combining the world-famous bike race and your Burgundian vacation this summer.

The Tour de France will run from Saturday June 30th to Sunday July 22th 2012. The 99th Tour de France (big anniversary coming up in 2013!) will be made up of 1 prologue and 20 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,479 kilometres.

Here are the 2012 stages that are an easy driving distance from our Grape Rentals in Burgundy:

  • Monday July, 9 – Stage 9 – Arc-et-Senans to Besançon – Individual time-trial / 38 km
  •  Tuesday July, 10 – Stage 10 – Mâcon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine / 194 km
The official map of the tour France 2012
 Here is some more background on the cities close by our vacations rentals on the 2012 Tour de France route. This Information is provided by the Official Tour de France website.
Arc-et-Senans:

“Arc-et-Senans was chosen by Louis XV to house the Royal Salt works in 1771, but it waited until 1996 to see the Tour’s peloton. It was during a stage which set off from there, in Doubs, which finished in Aix-les-Bains. A novice called Michael Boogerd was the winner and this was the first of two victories in the Tour de France for the Dutch rider.”

Besançon:

“The prefecture city of Doubs was already on the 1905 Tour map, which makes it the oldest city associated with the race, after Paris, on the 2012 route. The first finish in Besançon is one of the race’s historical stages as the riders, who had set off from Nancy, went over the Ballon of Alsace, a difficulty which symbolized the future ascents in the mountains, for the first time.

In 2009, Russia’s Sergei Ivanov was the winner there, by shaking off the other breakaway riders not long before the citadel came into sight. And on the subject of time-trials, Lance Armstrong won the last one organised in Besançon in 2004.”

Mâcon:

“The two time-trials that the Tour has held in Maçon have crowned two of the speciality’s champions. In 1991, Miguel Indurain secured the first of his five titles by beating Gianni Bugno and Greg LeMond. And in 2002, Lance Armstrong also maintained his advantage in the last time-trial.

During the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, the stage in Maçon provided an opportunity for the young German rider, John Degenkolb, to confirm his entry in the club of highly regarded sprinters, by winning on the banks of the River Saône, at the foot of Lamartine’s statue.”

 

 

—–   INTERNET RESSOURCES   —–

Tour de France:

http://www.letour.fr/2012/TDF/COURSE/us/le_parcours.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tour_de_France

http://www.letour.fr/2012/TDF/COURSE/docs/parcours.pdf     !!The 2012 Map!!

Arc-et-Senans:

www.salineroyale.com

www.ot-arcetsenans.fr

Besançon:

www.besancon-tourisme.com

Mâcon:

www.macon-tourism.com

Pre-order the map T-shirt 2012:

http://boutique.letour.fr/en_nv_fiche__T-shirt-Parcours-2012-625303.html?partner=1wstdf

Beware France Telecom

This piece of advice applies equally to the short and long term visitor to France.   

When I try to explain to people who have not yet had contact with France Telecom (the most unpleasant form of baptism you could ever imagine) I always find myself frustrated.  Coming from North America, or even England, it is impossible to conceive just how frustrating and distressing this French institution can be to deal with.  For an objective glimpse, just have a peek at Lisa’s blog post today. 

We have unblocked phone and Internet lines at all of our vacation rentals, but the service and line reliability of France Telecom is so pathetic that we are now going to have to start putting a caveat on the “telephone and Internet included” part of our rental conditions that reads “subject to France Telecom”.  Lines stop functioning for no reason then start up again, months later, for reasons equally as mysterious. 

The main part of the problem is that in the interim you have wasted a good portion of your life though cardiac-arrest inducing visits to the France Telecom offices and phone calls where you get shunted around from department to department for hours while you are paying by the minute for the privilege of being on hold.  Then you inevitably get to the death knell – the recorded voice that says cheerfully after you have racked up a 300 Euro phone bill from being on hold for three hours “Nobody can help you right now.  Please call back later.” 

Click. 

The thing I try to explain about France Telecom is that there IS no concept of customer service – I actually think the majority of employees garner considerable job satisfaction from making as many people’s lives as miserable as possible.  And the laziness…mon dieu…the laziness… 

To me what sums up our dealings with France Telecom is a visit we made to the Beaune office a few years ago to have the billing address corrected for one of our gites.  Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Ah, but you forget, we are dealing with France Telecom.  

We waited in line for about an hour and at about 11:30am a haughty France Telecom employee (who are also all civil servants, which is a massive part of the problem methinks) in a knit sweater listened begrudgingly to our request.  Franck outlined it in as few words as possible, as you would to a child.  The man heaved a large sigh, rolled his eyes and consulted his watch.  “I’m going on lunch in half an hour,” he said.  “And I really don’t want to be late.  You’ll have to come back later.”                    

I had a past guest who stayed at my gites who ending up buying a home of her own in Northern Burgundy .  I had warned her about France Telecom but I don’t think she entirely believed me.  Well, in her three years of French property ownership she was never able to set up a functioning phone or Internet line in her house.  She ended up selling and moving back to Canada; she sounded completely unhinged the last time I talked to her.  I often wonder just how many people France Telecom have sent to the insane asylum. 

So, if you are traveling to France and the phone or Internet lines are not working, have pity on your poor vacation rentals owners (us) who are trying their best to deal with the stonewalling of France Telecom on your behalf.  Secondly, if you are renting a place for a long term stay, rent a place already equipped with a phone and Internet line.  Sadly this doesn’t always guarantee you will have phone service (Lisa is the proof of that, much to my chagrin) but at least you are putting all the chances on your side.  And don’t – unless you want to waste years of your life – try to set up a phone line by yourself. 

There have been a lot of new Telecommunications companies arriving in France over the last five years.  Problem is that France Telecom still has a monopoly over all of the equipment and lines.  These companies simply rent line space from France Telecom.   If you have a problem with them France Telecom gets vengeful and takes even LONGER to fix it.  This is the juncture where my eyes start spinning in their sockets and I start tearing at my hair like a character out of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.  The Horror…THE HORROR!!!!! 

And you can’t really go postal on France Telecom employees either.  It is an urban french myth (one which I totally believe) that there is a secret “blackball” list and if a France Telecom employee puts your name down on it you can kiss au revoir the idea of every getting a functioning phone or Internet line again in your ENTIRE LIFE. 

So my advice is buy or rent a cell phone for the duration of your stay in France, and also to locate your nearest Internet cafes.  And if you DO have an encounter with France Telecom even after these precautions, serve yourself a nice glass (or two) of good French wine and remind yourself that they will Burn In Hell one day.  It is surprisingly comforting.

Authentic France Travel Tips #53: Guest Edition

The below Authentic France Travel Tips are courtesy of our recent guests Michael and Kathy Jarvis.

I LOVE the idea of Francophiles passing on their precious travel tips to other Francophiles via The Grape Journal. Tips can be anything; the best deals on train tickets, restaurant reviews, how to avoid stepping on dog poo in Paris…Just email them to me (you will find my email address plastered all over my website) and I will do my best to spread the word to your fellow travellers.

I’ll turn things over now to Michael and Kathy;

“Two possible topics for your Grape Journal, which I follow regularly, and which relate to your rentals:

Thoroughly explore the local supermarché.

If you choose to eat in your “home”, take the time to cruise all the food aisles before you buy. There’s always a large and acceptable patisserie section. As you know, what we in the States might call the deli counter has an amazing selection of local specialties, like parsley ham, various pates de Bourgogne, and an extensive choice of cheeses, all available by the slice, sized to your request.

There’s a section with hot main courses and side dishes “to go”, which are much better than USA takeout. The side aisles hide other packaged, canned or jarred goodies; here is where we found a liter of soupe de poissions. If you like one stop shopping, without the need for much French fluency, this is it; just bring your own shopping bags.

Consider the “Pass Beaune”, but do your homework in advance.

Discounts up to 15% are available for most of the major attractions. A single pass is good for several days, you choose exactly what you want to visit, and then go on your own schedule.
The pass is available at the Beaune tourist office, but it is not widely publicized.

See http://www.ot-beaune.fr/beaune-sejours/pass-beaune.asp (there’s an English version, but you must search to find the Pass info) for all the details of the available sites; make your selections in advance, noting the days of closing.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Merci!

Authentic France Travel Tip #52: Do Paris, But Preferably at The End

Paris is on my mind today. Franck is there right now, staying with our friends Nicolas and Joelle before catching the plane tomorrow back to this rain-sodden little island of ours here in the Pacific (and more importantly, back to me and the Bevy).

Also, last night I stayed up until 1:00am watching the final two episodes of Sex and The City which take place mainly in Paris.

I laughed out loud when the fictional Carrie Bradshaw meets her lover Alek’s Parisian daughter for the first time.

Chloe the daughter is played by quite a well-known French actress, and when Carrie asks (nervously) “how are you?” after being introduced, the Parisian daughter answers, “Well..let’s see know, my life has basically fallen to pieces since this morning. I am totally depressed and all that is left for me to do is slit my veins.”

The look on Carrie’s face is priceless.

But that kind of drama is what makes Paris so riveting. If you haven’t been, you really should go. It isn’t necessary to spend all of your time in France in Paris, but a day or two is really a nice compliment to a little séjour in the French countryside.

I always recommend putting the Paris portion of your France trip at the end rather than the beginning. When you are jet lagged and tired from a long trip, Paris’ magic can quickly become exhausting and disorienting.

Enjoy your Parisian jaunt at the end, when you are well-rested and well enough adapted to French life that you can really make the most of it.

Maybe if Carrie had followed my advice she would have ended up with Alek rather than Mr. Big…but then again, that would have been a shame, n’estce pas?

Authentic France Travel Tip# 51: Travel With Euro Coins

This suggestion came from Franck, who is currently struggling with a bit of jetlag and a lot of heavy duty digestive work from all of those delicious raclettes, choucroutes, etc. he has been enjoying.

He reminded me how handy it is to have about five euros in one euro, two euros, and fifty centimes coins in your pocket when you arrive in France.

First of all, so many things that are often free at home i.e. luggage carts require coins in France.

Also, and far more distressingly to new arrivals to the country, many of the public toilets in airports and train stations cost fifty centimes to one euro to use. This can be a nasty surprise when you really have to go.

It is always nice to have some coinage in your pocket to be ready for such eventualities, and if you have any left over you can treat yourself to a lovely espresso.

One generally can’t get coins from your local bank (they only deal in exchanging bills), but think about hitting up any friend or relative that has been travelling in Europe recently. I’ll bet they have a pile of euro coins in a dusty bowl in their bedroom.

Then you will have an exciting new world of French toilets at your feet!

Authentic France Travel Tip #50: Bring Your Plug Adaptors

As I have had electrical issues on the brain during the past few days, I figured today’s Authentic France Travel Tip should be about power converters and plug adaptors.

Yes, I have a weird mind. Franck has informed me of this fact on several occasions.

Many guests ask the question “Do I need to bring power converters with me to France, and if so, what kind?”

Now being the accommodating vacation rental owner that I am at the beginning of every rental season I buy 2 -3 plug adaptors (not the same as power converters, plug adaptors allow you to plug a foreign electrical cord into French wall socket) for each of our properties.

These inevitably disappear over the course of the season though, not because our guests are thieving scoundrels, but because like me they are often caught up in a last-minute packing frenzy and forget that that plug adaptor at the end of their laptop cord doesn’t belong to them.

Never fear. These cheap little marvels can be picked up at any airport, hardware, or grocery store. It is always a good idea to have one or two with you when traveling in Europe.

Just for the record, a power converter is something quite different. It actually allows you to use foreign electrical equipment in France, even though the machine is made for, say, 115 volts whereas in France the voltage is 220 volts.

I have officially burnt out two hairdryers and one huge CD player with a power converter (the CD player episode was complete with smoke and flames), so I always warn guests to try power converters at their own risk.

Anyway, we keep French hairdryers, irons, and all that jazz at the properties so you hopefully don’t need a power converter at all, not even for your computer.

This is because all laptops made within the last 7 years (and if you are still limping along with a laptop that is more than 7 years old, you deserve a spot in the Smithsonian) have a power coverter integrated inside them, so it does all the work for you without you having to do a single thing – how clever.

So bring your plug adaptors and all your electrical things should work as they should. Isn’t it downright chouette when that happens!

Authentic France Travel Tip #49: Book Early, And Earlier The Longer You Stay

I just had to turn away a potential guest who wanted to rent the months of May and June 2010 at any one of vacation rentals in Burgundy.

This just kills me, as I really think long-stay guests are poised to get so much out of the their stay in France. Problem is once I’m booked, I’m booked. This for me is one of the most teeth-gnashingly frustrating aspects of managing vacation rentals.

Unless Franck can buy, renovate, and equip another vacation rental when he is in Burgundy for the three weeks in November (not going to happen) I just can’t accommodate them, and I would so love to accommodate them.

So, please people, if you are booking during the every-popular months of April to October and are booking for a month or longer, book as soon as is humanly possible. A year to a year and a half ahead of your planned trip is not too early…

Authentic France Travel Tip #48: Don’t Eat Salmon in France, and Please Sign This Petition

To the French people, salmon is a real delicacy. Often in France I will go to someone’s house and they will announce they have made salmon for lunch or dinner. This is supposed to be a special treat.

My reaction (though I’m not so gauche to say it out loud) is invariably “eh, meeeeeeeeeerde…”

The fact of the matter is that if you are served salmon in France, you can pretty much guarantee that it is farmed salmon. The wild salmon stocks have been all but wiped out, in the very same way that all of the virgin forests have been wiped out.

Let me think how to put this….hmmmm….okay…..FARMED SALMON IS DISGUSTING.

That about sums up my feelings on the matter. It is a question of taste (as is so often the case with me). Farmed salmon is a pale, fatty, insipid imitation of its lovely, firm wild equivalent.

On the few occasions when I was obliged to eat some farmed salmon in France so as not to offend my host or hostess, I invariably got a terrible gallbladder / indigestion attack. This is my body telling me that there is something very WRONG about farmed salmon, and that my body doesn’t appreciate being given it one bit.

Salmon is, in my mind, one of the few exceptions to the amazing culinary greatness of my adopted country.

I was very lucky in that until I went to France I don’t believe so much as a flake of farmed fish had ever passed my lips. I was the daughter of an avid sports fisherman, so salmon for me was freshly caught wild salmon.

Of course I didn’t appreciate this at the time. I whinged and moaned about having to eat salmon – baked, poached, or barbecued up to three times a week.

Oh the torture. Tantamount to child abuse, I tell you.

I actually kicked up such a ruckus about eating salmon that one day my parents made good on their threat that if I didn’t eat it for dinner, I would be eating it for breakfast.

That’s right – one morning when I was around eleven I balefully sat down at the breakfast table and had to choke down a chunk of cold salmon from the night before. I vaguely remember doing my best to make my parents feel as though they were subjecting me to medieval torture.

Mon Dieu. Come to think of it, it’s a testament to my parents fortitude that in light of all my pissing and moaning they didn’t make me eat an entire fish – scales, eyes and all.

Luckily I grew up (in spite of the medieval torture practiced at home), travelled to new places, and realized that the salmon back home was pretty darn good.

And since we have moved back here to Victoria my Dad has made sure that we are never without several huge rosy fillets of wild freshly caught salmon in our freezer. Thank goodness my daughters are not as obtuse as their mother. They LOVE salmon.

Frighteningly, however, BC’s wonderful and precious wild salmon stocks have been put into grave danger by poorly regulated Farmed Salmon Practices all up and down the coast.

The wonderful Alexandra Morton is fighting to save BC Wild Salmon by demanding a reform of Fish Farming Practices.

I was privileged to hear Alexandra Morton speak (along with that colourful old sea dog Bill Proctor) just before I moved to France, and I think that now her battle is more relevant than ever.

So in the name of good food, the environment, and the desire to have our children know what a wild salmon tastes like, sign Alexandra Morton’s Petition by clicking here.

Merci.

Authentic France Travel Tip #47: When in Paris, Eat a Fallafel

I admit it, when you think of all the wonderful things there are to eat in Paris, Fallafels may not spring to mind.

They should.

On our Valentine’s Day trip to Paris last year Franck and I had a lovely stroll in the Marais topped off by a Fallafel for lunch on the Sunday before heading back down to Burgundy.

That Fallafel was so damned good that I actually DREAMED about it for several nights afterwards. I am thinking of rerouting our usual flights to France from Lyon through to Paris (and brave Charles de Gaulle) just so I can stop off in the Marais and eat a Fallafel. They are the stuff of which obsessions are made.

They are also one of the best lunch deals to be had in Paris. Here are Laura’s Paris Fallafel tips:

1. The best place to buy Fallafels in Paris is in the rue des rosiers – the Jewish quartier which is extremely interesting and worth a visit in its own right. The best Fallafel place is hands down “L’As Du Fallafel” in the rue des rosiers as seen in the photo below.

Just one look at the lunch-line up will confirm this assertion. If you get lost, just follow la foule, and you will find your Fallafel.

2. If the line-up is big, an employee will come down the line and take your order and give you a ticket in exchange for payment (my advice, bring cash). They are not trying to rip you off – this is just part of the extremely efficient lunch-time system they have devised.

3. After you have devoured your delicious and very Kosher Falaffel, head across the street to what has to be one of my very favorite Boulangeries / Pastry shops in Paris for an unbelievable Jewish pastry.

The entire lunch will only set you back about 10.00 Euros per person, and it will guarantee many happy Fallafel dreams to come.

Authentic France Travel Tip #46: Avoid School Parking Lots At Pick-Up / Drop-Off Times

Better to Take Your Bike Than Brave a School Parking Lot in France…

I was warned repeatedly about the parking lot at my big girls’ new school here in Canada. There were just too few parking spots and too many cars, I was told. As a consequence, for the past week I have been doing the daily drop-offs and pick-ups, expecting parking mayhem to erupt at any time.

It hasn’t.

The worst I’ve had to do is park about a minute’s walk (and enjoy a gorgeous stroll along Victoria’s stunning waterfront) away from the school itself. My mind is still spinning over the ease of parking here. Everything happens in such an orderly fashion. People actually obey the rules and excercise self-restraint. I feel like saying, “You think this is difficult parking!? HUH! You don’t KNOW about true parking problems.”

From what I’ve seen so far, I can conclude that Canadian parents are pretty much the exact opposite of French parents picking up and dropping off their children at school.

The parking lot at Saint-Coeur (the girls’ school in Beaune) was the closest thing to true anarchy that I have ever experienced. Toddlerhood is a close second, but I think the Saint-Coeur parking lot still wins out.

Parents would routinely leave their car idling in the only traffic lane while they went to drop off their children and enjoy a leisurely chat with teachers and other parents (who were likewise blocking traffic). When they were yelled at on their return to their vehicle by the drivers stuck behind them they would respond with complete indignance and rude hand gestures.

It was utter lawlessness; virtually no rule or regulation was respected. It was the French laissezfaire attitude taken to its most chaotic extreme.

For the first two weeks of my first year in France I arrived at the school – nice, law-abiding Canadian girl that I was way back then – half an hour before pick-up in a quest to find a legal parking spot. However, I quickly realized that even that early all the legal spots were already taken (by people who worked in Beaune and illegally parked there for the entire day bien sûr).

So over my five years there I became an expert at double parking (even triple and quadruple parking sometimes), parking on sidewalks and crosswalks, and basically every other method of illegal parking that exists.

Through trial and error I also became pro at the parking lot arguments that inevitably broke out.

Even if I was completely in the wrong, I learned that the only effective method was to hurl back accusations louder than my accuser. This cherished French technique, that is even more effective than the myriad of rude hand gestures I mastered, can basically be summed up as NEVER ADMITTING YOU ARE WRONG.

Before you admonish me about my uncivil behaviour, go and try to park in the parking lot of a French school during drop off or pick-up times, then come and give me a guilt trip.

As I learned for myself, these tactics were not optional – they were the basic tenets of survival that allowed me to emerge from the French school parking maw unscathed (most of the time).

So if you are not prepared to adopt such tactics (and they are not for the faint of heart) take my advice and avoid school parking lots in France during from between 8:30 – 9:15am, 11:30-12:15pm, 1:30-2:15pm, and 4:30-5:15 pm.

Outside of these hours, the French really are a charming group of people.

Vraiment.