14 October 2013

Excitement on the Grande rue

I've written about our street before, even posted photos of boots and the blue bootie baton squad.

But nothing compares to the excitement of a parked car exploding into flames during the otherwise quiet lunch hour just a few meters from your home.

Was it spontaneous combustion? A burning cigarette forgotten in the ashtray? With the amount of water and foam these firemen used to douse the flames, we might never know.

The fire crew raced to the scene and put out the fire within two minutes of the initial explosion, proving yet again their extreme dedication to our health and safety.

Here's to firefighters everywhere - thank you!

1:35:16 PM

1:35:35 PM

1:35:45 PM

1:35:52 PM

28 September 2013

Did You Know...? Part 11

Why "Merde!" means good luck

During the 19th century in France, well-to-do spectators arriving to a theatrical performance would generally be dropped off by horse and buggy where the horses, being horses, would naturally do their thing in front of the theater.

A  large accumulation of merde on the street (that would inevitably get tracked into the playhouse) was synonymous with a larger audience, and was said to be a sign of the show's success. And because the superstition of wishing actors good luck before a play was thought to bring about misfortune, "merde!" eventually became the customary expression for "good luck!".

So the next time someone slings a "merde!" at you before you go for that job interview or important exam, there's no need to take offense. And remember not to thank them, unless you don't believe in thespian superstition.

07 September 2013

And then there were three

Previous urban "footwear" posts here and here.

At this rate, I'd expect to find another pair dangling above the street in approximately nine month's time.

I don't know about you, but as long as someone is going through the effort to display their warn out clodhoppers like this, it would be refreshing to come across something a little more elegant next time. I wouldn't expect a pair of Jimmy Choos - just something with a little more...lift.

Check back in June 2014 and see for yourself.

03 September 2013

Sunset - August 12

For Michel, a faithful reader who never tires of images of the sky.
Lat: 47.286252, Long: -2.521893

26 July 2013

Walking the Volcano - 7 days in the Cantal

The Cantal is a department of the Auvergne region in south-central France. It's one of the country's most sparsely populated departments and is known primarily for its high-mountain pasturelands where farmers graze their cattle during the summer months.

These mountains are the remnants of one of Europe's largest volcanoes, stretching an impressive 70 kilometers in diameter. Active until only a few million years ago, what first catches the eye when you visit the Cantal are the many peaks thrusting nearly 2,000 meters into the air, and the barreled out valleys typical of an eroded, post ice-age landscape. If you're up for a walking challenge, the Cantal might be that next perfect destination.

For our walking tour, we chose to follow the GR 400. The first GR (grand randonée or long distance footpath) was established in 1947 in Orléans and was about 30 kilometers long. Today there are about 180,000 kilometers of signposted footpaths crossing the country in all directions. Some of the more mythic trails take walkers through the Alps, the Pyrénées and across the island of Corsica. Another, known as GR 70 or the "Stevenson Trail", follows the 12 day, 220-kilometer trek Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson made with his donkey in 1878.

The village of Murat.
One of the many trailheads of the GR 400 can be found in the village of Murat, about 100 kilometers south of the city of Clermont-Ferrand. Walking east, you quickly leave Murat's 900-meter altitude and head into higher country. With the exception of the first night, where we camped out on the cold and windy Rombière Pass, we slept in Bed & Breakfasts located in villages roughly seven hours' waking distance apart.

One way to walk the GR 400 is simply to do a seven or eight day loop, beginning and ending in Murat. But one of the advantages of this path is that it also offers several variations that allow you to create your own circuit for shorter day hikes (better if you don't fancy carrying too much weight) or to hook up with other paths that cross through the region, such as the GR 4.

Approaching the Rombière Pass (1, 550 m) - 1st night.

A herd of Salers - buron d'Eylac (1, 423 m)
One of the particularities of crossing the Cantal on foot is that it takes you through one pasture after another, and that means cows - most commonly the reddish-brown or pitch black Salers. If you're not used to being in such close proximity to cows with really beautiful but dangerously sharp looking horns, walking through a herd of them while they're grazing (or sitting!) directly on the path can be a bit intimidating, especially if there's a bull or two around. But all the locals we consulted said not to worry, that we'd be perfectly fine, as long as we didn't have a dog with us, because dogs and bovine aggressiveness don't mix well. That didn't stop us from detouring off the path from time to time to admire them from a more comfortable distance.

Day 3 - descending into La Falgoux.
If you're doing the Cantal volcano, you're either walking up one peak, or down another; with the exception of certain ridge lines, there's very little flat land here. We very quickly fell into a routine, albeit a slow one, of climbing for three or four hours, reaching the peak or pass, stopping for lunch, then crossing into another valley before walking back down again. You don't need to be an expert walker, but it helps if you are somewhat in shape before attempting the walk all in one go.

When you live in a city it's sometimes easy to forget that quiet, wide open spaces like this
still exist. It is possible to walk for miles and hear nothing but the rustle of grass bending in the wind or cow bells ringing up lazily from distant valleys below. You will see other walkers, though, rambling by on their own itinerary, but even they disappear quickly enough, leaving the mountain silence to fill up the space once again.

Signpost with typical GR "balisage", the red and white stripes that tell you
you're on the right path.

In the afternoon of our second-to-last day in the Cantal, we reached the highest point of the entire department, the Plomb du Cantal (1, 855 m). At the top you are greeted with sweeping views in all directions of the other volcanic peaks and verdant valleys that make up this unique mountain range.

To complete the loop from here, it's all downhill, literally, for more than 950 meters or 3,000 feet. Stay overnight at the B&B at the Col de Prat-Bouc and your final day of the GR 400 is an easy, four hour walk back to Murat.

To find out more

highpointholidays - This link provides a geologic description of the Cantal.

cantaltourism - To find out more about what to do and where to go in the Cantal.

ffrandonnee - The official site for the French "hiking club" responsible for maintaining the long distance walking paths and developing la randonée pédestre as a sportive activity. Here you can also find paper and electronic copies of the topo guides for all the signposted GRs throughout France, including the Cantal's GR 400.

28 May 2013

New Lyon City Guide

Developed in partnership with My Little Lyon and Yelp Lyon, Lyon Tourisme et Congrès present their newest creation - more than 200 pages of photos and text offering visitors a fresh look at the city, which includes favorite visits and activities, all chosen by the Lyonnais themselves.

This first issue of "Collector", in both French and English, is available free of charge from the tourism office located in Bellecour Square and from the Information Center at the entrance to the Vieux-Lyon metro stop.

The plan is to publish Collector twice per year; work on the second edition is already underway. Look for it in the fall of 2013.

If you're visiting Lyon in the near future, remember to grab your free copy of Collector...and remember to bring an umbrella!

22 May 2013

Rain Rain Go Away

With unusually low temperatures and above-average rainfall dominating the better part of the season, looking up hasn't given the eye anything very interesting to ponder lately. But there is the occasional break, often at the end of the day, that reminds us the sky is still capable of making magic, and surprising us when we least expect it.

Sunday 19 May - 9:07 PM - Lyon

19 March 2013

Did You Know...? Part 10

Sending mail in France
Sending mail, real mail, in France is pretty much the same as in other places. On the envelope or package, you include the recipient's name (company name), street address, city and finally the postal code, like this:

                    Monsieur President de la République
                    Palais de l'Elysée
                    55, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
                    75008 Paris

In France, the postal code organization was updated in 1972 to the present day's 5-digit system. According to the National Address Management Service (SNA in French - Service National de l'Adresse), an entity of 100 dedicated experts whose role is to make mail an attractive and efficient means of communication, there are 6,300 postal codes that service France's 36,600 communes.

The first two digits of the postal code represent the department: "69_ _ _" for the Rhône, or "75_ _ _" for Île-de-France", for example.

The last three digits identify the location with greater precision: "75008" for the eighth district of Paris. This is critical for your mail to get to the right place, especially when several different communes share the same name. For example, there are at least 15 communes in France named SAINT-SAUVEUR - without those last three digits, the Post Office wouldn't know whether to send your letter to SAINT-SAUVEUR in the Oise, Haute-Saône or Finistère.

And then there's CEDEX
CEDEX is an acronym which means Courrier d'Entreprise à Distribution EXceptionnelle. As it's name implies, CEDEX is an express mail service that gives preferential treatment to large companies, government or public service offices and other large volume users. For these companies, the last line of their address includes the word "CEDEX".

Only the Post Office can authorize the use of CEDEX, a system whose purpose is to increase the reliability of mail delivery, especially in a B2B context. The SNA reports an estimated 21,000 CEDEX codes for 180,000 companies within France.

And finally, remember to put a stamp on your letter before dropping it in the box. Mailing a 20-gram letter in France (with a 2 to 4-day service) will cost you .56€. Unless you are writing to the President, in which case it's free, an exception which symbolizes the equality and democratic right of all French citizens to communicate with their Head of State, regardless of their financial condition.

12 March 2013

Happy Birthday André Le Nôtre

Today's Doodle on the google.fr homepage is a tribute to the most influential French landscape architect of the baroque period, André Le Nôtre.

Born 400 years ago today in Paris, Mr. Le Nôtre is most well known for his design of the gardens at the palace of Verseilles for King Louis XIV. But his fame didn't stop with ambitious garden projects for the French aristocracy. Le Nôtre's influence can be seen in various other gardens throughout Europe, especially in Italy, Germany and Great Britain.

To celebrate his achievements, the Palace of Verseilles is organizing four exhibitions throughout the year to reveal new or little-known aspects of Le Nôtre's life, notably as an experienced art collector and friend and confidant of the king. To discover more about these special events happening at Verseilles in 2013, you can visit this web page (in English).

Verseilles - looking west towards the Grand Canal.

07 February 2013

Did You Know...? Part 9

Having evoked Marie Antoinette in the title of the previous post, I thought it apropos to offer a small bit of historical trivia that I myself only recently discovered.

Marie Antoinette, the Austrian-born queen of France from 1774 to 1792, was actually more French, genetically speaking, than her royal consort King Louis XVI.

This blog here, home to many 'random bits of history', mentions that Marie Antoinette had two French grandparents, whereas Louis only had one (King Louis XV).

But even that wasn't enough to save her from the public beheading at the present-day Place de la Concorde, just two and a half weeks before her thirty-eighth birthday.

17 January 2013

"Let them eat Quinoa!"

2013 - International Year of Quinoa

Ok, so I knew about international observance days and weeks, even months. But I didn't know that for about the past 50 years the United Nations has been dedicating entire years - even decades - to such diverse subjects as Refugees (1959/60), Education (1970), Anti-Apartheid (1978/79) and Peace (1986).

Quinoa, the naturally gluten-free, protein-rich grain-like crop native to the Andean countries of South America, is only the third individual food item to be given a year of its own, a distinction it shares with Rice (2004) and the Potato (2008).

The resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations affirms "...the need to focus world attention on the role that quinoa biodiversity can play, owing to the nutritional value of quinoa, in providing food security and nutrition and in the eradication of poverty in support of the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals... "

Promoting better global nutrition, food safety and the eradication of poverty is a hefty agenda, and you might think it implausible that one cute little grain from Bolivia can accomplish all this. But if more people around the world cultivated and consumed it, why not?

To read more about quinoa, check out this GFiMP article from June 2010. There's even a Facebook page dedicated to the "year of the quinoa" with various resources, including recipes.

So what are you waiting for? Go buy yourself a bag of quinoa today. If what the Food and Agriculture Organization says is true, our current and future generations may come to depend on it.