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Archive for November, 2010

Snapshots – Saint Malo

Posted by dan on November 28, 2010

Swiming pool and Le Petit Bé

Swiming pool and Le Petit Bé

Saint-Malo is usually thought of as a summer destination, since its long sandy beaches offer a pleasant holiday, but I believe any time of the year is good. While in summer the beaches are a big draw, off season it is much quieter and less touristy. In winter there are only few locals on the beaches and the restaurants and cafes in the old town are also more relaxed. Even if it rains the sun often appears and the dipped angle of the sun and the clouds paint a dramatic background. An awesome sight is when the high tide rolls in hitting the city’s wall hard and sprinkling the streets. In summer, be prepared for crowds – in winter, be prepared for rain.

Saint Malo is also a good place to visit Mont Saint-Michel from, as there is a regular bus link. See blog post: Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel


Travel TipTidal predictions for Saint-Malo with graph for 7 days:

http://tide.frbateaux.net/52

Weather averages for Saint-Malo: http://www.holiday-weather.com/st_malo/averages/

Suggested hotel in Saint Malo:

Hotel Central
Website: http://www.hotel-central-stmalo.com

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Chief Marshal Cruchot of Saint-Malo

Posted by dan on November 28, 2010

Louis de Funès is one of the greatest French comedians, along with actors such as Bourvil and Fernandel. Although he only became known in the USA with the 1974 international hit ‘The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob’, he has performed in several other films, including the hilarious ‘Gendarme‘ series, where he plays Chief Marshal Cruchot of Saint-Tropez.

Source and further info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_de_Funes

The inspectors of St. Malo

Like the port authorities of St. Malo. (Image: wikipedia.org)

Although wearing Police and not Gendarme uniforms, when I was boarding my ferry in Saint-Malo, the port authorities reminded me of the characters played by Funès and Michel Galabru. I am sure you can find the same comic couple everywhere in the world. Anyway, I’ve learned an important lesson from it; if you are a dual citizen, keep your two passports separately.

Attempting to board the ferry, the sharp-eyed inspector noticed right away I had two passports in my valet. “I am just a dual citizen, it is pretty normal” I explained “and the only reason I came is to visit St. Malo and Mont Saint-Michel.” But the inspector and his side-kick are not easily fooled. After searching my bag and me very thoroughly – the ferry was already announcing the last call and I thought I would miss it, even though I was one of the first to arrive – the inspector finally found a ticket to the Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel in my pocket. “Ah, so you really came to visit Mont-Saint-Michel – merci beaucoup, au revoir!”

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The Montparnasse district

Posted by dan on November 27, 2010

Famous for its tower and an important travel hub, the Montparnasse area is a pleasant residential neighborhood with many brasseries, cafes and restaurants. It is adjoining the Saint-Germain des Pres area, and sights such as the Luxembourg Garden are a short walk away, but you could walk to any location on the Left Bank in 30-40 minutes. There is also good metro and bus access to all the places in Paris. Gare Montparnasse is one of the TGV fast train terminals, serving destinations in the west and south-west of France including Tours, Bordeaux, Rennes, Nantes and Saint Malo.


The official site of Tour Montparnasse: http://www.tourmontparnasse56.com/uk/

Suggested hotels in the area:

Holiday Inn Montparnasse ***
See blog post: Hotel Holiday Inn Paris Montparnasse
Official website: http://parishotelparnasse.com/

Hotel Edouard VI ***
Official website: http://hoteledouard6.com

Hotel Aviatic ***
Official website: http://aviatic-hotelsaintgermain.com

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Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Posted by dan on November 26, 2010

Mont Saint-Michel is the highlight of the region, but there is much more to see. The best way to visit the sights is definitely by car – this gives the flexibility and freedom to explore the area and stay wherever one decides to stay.

Organized tours are also a convenient way for getting to the main sights as you don’t have to worry about logistics in advance and worry if the trip will work out well.

You can rent a car and there are many tour operators in the regional cities, such as Cherbourg, Caen, Roscoff, St Malo, Bayeux or Rennes. You can get to these places by train within France and/or by ferry from the UK.

Although very infrequent, public transport is also an option, at least to some of the main sights such as Mont-Saint-Michel (MSM). You can arrange the tickets in advance for longer trips and you can take local services without  advance booking.

MSM can be connected to Paris using the combination of the TGV fast train and local buses. The whole trip can be booked online in advance on the http://www.tgv-europe.com/en/ or http://www.voyages-sncf.com websites. For further info see blog post: SNCF – booking trains in France .

Visiting MSM from the coastal town of Saint-Malo, itself a worthy destination, is even simpler. Saint-Malo can be reached by TGV directly (SNCF – booking trains in France) or by ferry from the UK on the http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk website. For further info see blog post: Brittany Ferries – crossing the Channel .

From Saint-Malo there are two buses a day to MSM, departing from the railway station (Gare TGV) at 9:40 and 16:30 – the bus also stops a few minutes later at the tourist information office (Saint-Vincent), which is 5 minutes walk from the ferry terminal. You have to change bus at Pontorson railway station but there are connecting buses. If you take the morning bus from Saint-Malo, you can get back the same day at 15:45 from MSM or 16:25 from Pontorson. If you take the afternoon bus, you can get back the following day at 9:20 from MSM or 9:55 from Pontorson. If time permitting, the overnight visit is better – you can see the mont at sunset, illuminated at night and early morning – the best colours and least crowds – and at different tides. There is a wide selection of accommodation in the area including MSM itself. The fare for the whole bus trip from/to Saint-Malo is 5.50 euro one way.


Travel TipBooking trains in France: http://www.tgv-europe.com/en/ or http://www.voyages-sncf.com
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Ferry from/to UK: http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk

See also blog posts: Saint-Malo , Mont Saint-Michel SNCF – booking trains in France , Brittany Ferries – crossing the Channel

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Mont Saint-Michel – it’s a rainy day…

Posted by dan on November 26, 2010

 

Rainbow, Mont Saint-Michel, France

Rainbow over Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel, the “Merveille de l’Occident” (Wonder of the West) owes to its original setting and its fine architecture its ranking as one of the major monuments for visitors to France. Around a kilometre in circumference, this rocky islet rises to a height of 80 metres and is linked to the Bay by unfloodable causway built in 1879. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Mont Saint-Michel can be easily reached from Paris or the UK – see blog post: Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel official tourism office site: http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm?lang=en

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Forums and hotel reviews – reading between the lines

Posted by dan on November 24, 2010

No opinion is absolutely objective – and I am not talking about obviously biased ones. If nothing else, it all comes down to personal taste and the experiences one had during a trip. A hotel room – strikingly modern in the style of Karim Rashid, with neon green walls, pink furniture and absurdly contemporary design – might make one rave, but others would be put off to say the least. The experiences one has during a trip depend on many factors, including expectations, interpersonal communication skills, instinctive sympathy and pure luck. So the more opinion we can have, the better picture we can make. Reviews on the popular travel sites can be a good resource, but you have to be aware of a few things.

As a common practice in statistics, disregard the best and the worst reviews. There might be fake reviews either by the hotel to boost its rating or by unethical competitors to drag it down. I have recently noticed a very bad review about a hotel which has hundreds of reviews – virtually all positive. This single one with an unbelievable story just stands out somehow. A bad story can come from a real customer too, who takes revenge for something or blows a small problem out of proportion. I often found that budget hotels have more mixed reviews – I know some of these hotels and they are fine as long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations. Reversely, there can be suspicious reviews raving about a place that receives steadily mediocre-average reviews and giving it the highest score – often these are posted by users who only contributed one or two posts.

There are forums which themselves are biased – a couple of months ago I had a post removed from a site which claims to be impartial and to provide the best advice for travelers. I pointed out that for a 3-night stay booking at a particular hotel would be significantly cheaper directly than through their site – I understand that’s how they make money, but this is not in the best interest of the traveler.

Among the popular travel portals TripAdvisor is a good exception. They don’t make money on bookings, I believe, so they don’t push their hidden agenda. They even have the possibility to compare prices on different booking sites, although it would be better if there was a direct link to the hotels official web-site as well. While many forums are dormant, TripAdvisor is alive and free – the more opinions there are, the better it is for the visitor, the hotels and probably even TripAdvisor which remains to be the leading travel site.

Summerizing it all, forums and reviews are useful – you just have to be able to read between the lines to make informed decisions.

See video of the Semiramis Hotel in Athens by Karim Rashid to decide if this is your style.

About Karim Rashid: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karim_Rashid

Official Karim Rashid site: http://www.karimrashid.com/

exaggerated

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Remembering all – Armistice Day

Posted by dan on November 23, 2010

Poppy flowers on Southsea Beach, a D-Day embarcation point

Poppy flowers on Southsea Beach, a D-Day embarkation point

Although my great grand father died on the wrong side in World War I, being sent as a K und K soldier to the Russian front to fight for the Austrian empire, he was just as a victim as soldiers on the other side or any other innocent people who died, and continue dying, in wars. And although no poppy flowers grow on the streets of cities and the victims of wars are not always uniformed, as far as I am concerned, they all are remembered.

In the UK you could see people wearing the poppy flowers weeks before and weeks after the 11th of November. Chinese officials complained about the use of poppy as it reminded them the Opium wars, but I can assure them this is not the same poppy. A handful of Muslim extremist made a bit of noise, but the Muslim community in general understands that most British people think about this event and the victims of wars the same as I or most of us do. Even we, thousands of miles away from conflict zones, are victims of these same wars, even if in much less drastic ways.

“Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day) is on 11 November and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

After World War II, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day in the United States and to Remembrance Day in countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Armistice Day remains an official holiday in France. It is also an official holiday in Belgium, known also as the Day of Peace in the Flanders Fields.

In the UK after the end of WWII, most Armistice Day events were moved to the nearest Sunday and began to commemorate both World Wars. The new commemoration was named Remembrance Sunday or Remembrance Day. Both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are now commemorated formally in the UK.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armistice_Day

Images of Armistice Day around the world: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-11733602

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Snapshots – Vienna

Posted by dan on November 22, 2010

Fountain in the Burg Vienna Austria

Fountain in the Burg

Vienna, once the seat of the Habsburg empire and famous for its high culture, is another popular tourist destination in Europe. Most of the sights are within or close to the Ring and can be easily explored on foot. (Some sights such as the Schönbruch Palace, Grinzing or the Prater are a bit out.) Following are some random photos of Vienna, made this October.


Vienna official tourism website: http://www.vienna.info/en

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A tranquil spot in an elegant neighborhood

Posted by dan on November 21, 2010

Located close to the upper gate of Monceau Park (the Rotunda), Hotel Elysees Parc Monceau is in an ideal location for those who like to enjoy Paris at a slower rate. With Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe only a short walk away, this is an elegant and charming Parisian neighborhood – green streets and parks, simple and upmarket shops, cafes and restaurants. Hotel Elysees Parc Monceau, as the name suggests, is just around the corner from the tranquil park, a great location for all ages. Located in a smaller street, traffic noise is not a concern either. The hotel is a simple 3-star hotel – a bit of old fashioned elegance with a touch of the contemporary. The lounge area is nicely done, the rooms are good but nothing fancy. The breakfast room certainly has a beautiful character. All in all, it is worth the money, especially if you can get a good deal as it is often the case.

Hotel Elysées Parc Monceau ***
38, rue Cardinet – 75017 Paris France
Tel. +33 (0) 1 47 63 88 60
Official site: http://hotel-elysees-parc-monceau.com/

See also blog post: Parc Monceau – a secluded garden in Paris

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Parc Monceau – a secluded garden in Paris

Posted by dan on November 21, 2010

Carousel and buffet in Paris, Parc Monceau

Carrousel and buffet in Parc Monceau

Although the Luxembourg Garden is probably the most famous of all the parks in Paris, there are other smaller and bigger gardens and parks in every corner of the city. Parc Monceau is one of the better known ones – still, it is much less visited and more laid back. Located close to Champ Elysees in an elegant and quiet residential area, it is off the main tourist path and this definitely adds to its charm. Popular with locals – families with kids, couples and elder people – it is a nice place to retreat. Open from sunrise to sunset and there is free Wi-Fi.


Facts about the park:

“The park was established by Phillippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres, a cousin of the king. He started buying land on which to establish the garden in 1769, and employed Louis Carrogis Carmontelle to design the gardens. He was a close friend of the Prince of Wales, later George IV, and a lover of all things English. As a result, his aim was to create an informal English-style garden in the middle of Paris.”

“In 1793, during the French Revolution, the Duke was executed by guillotine and the garden was taken into public ownership.”

“Claude Monet painted a series of three paintings of the park in the spring of 1876. He painted two further paintings of the park in 1878.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parc_Monceau

Other gardens and parks in Paris: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parks_and_gardens_in_Paris

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Suggested hotels close to the park:

Hotel Elysees Parc Monceau
Website: http://hotel-elysees-parc-monceau.com/
See also blog post: A tranquil pocket in an elegant neighborhood

Hotel Ampere
Website: http://parishotelampere.com

 

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