Category Archives: Trip Report

Trip Report Loire Valley and Dordogne, Episode 82

Loire Valley and DordogneOn today’s episode Matt from Boston tells us how to have a great vacation in France with young children, specifically in the Loire Valley and Dordogne. Matt tells us how he and his wife and daughters spent three and a half weeks touring around France and what their favorite places were. Today we concentrate on their visit of the Loire Valley and the Dordogne, and as it turns out Dordogne WAS one of their favorites!

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Some of the Topics Discussed on the Show

  • Why did they choose France? Why did they choose late spring?
  • Can they speak French? Did that become a problem? How much French do you really need to be comfortable getting around in France?
  • How did they deal with their daughter’s severe food allergy while in France?
  • French Tip of the Week: How do you say “my daughter is allergic to eggs” in French? “Ma fille est allergique aux oeufs”. Just in case, do what Matt did, print out a card in French that you can show to waiters.
  • How did they like the food in France?
  • What is it like driving in France? See Episode 16 for more on that.
  • Why did they skip Paris?
  • What is it like landing in France in the middle of a huge taxi strike?

A Few Navigation Time Stamps

18:00 Matt talks about driving in France, that it was great and that episode 16 on that subject helped him greatly. He found that French people pretty much don’t speed, don’t pass on the right, don’t honk at you when they disagree with your driving choices, he even loved  the roundabouts. Bring a stand-alone GPS such as a Tom-Tom that rely on GPS signal alone and not maps tied to your smart-phone.

24:45 Matt mentions how it’s lovely that there are so many picnic tables in France. You can bring your own food, it’s encouraged!

29:00 What it is like shopping at French grocery stores? Going to the butcher’s and the open-air market. Great bread everywhere, great fruit and vegetables. Annie explains briefly how food distribution works in France.

35:00 Why some freeways are toll roads in France and others are not.

37:00 How you can deal with hot weather in France if your rental home does not have air-conditioning: open everything up at night and close everything, especially shutters, all day. Go swimming. Don’t cook inside, use the barbecue outside!

Places Mentioned on the Show

Château de Chenonceau, Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo DaVinci), Beynac, Vitrac, Lascaux, Fond de Gaume, La Roque Saint-Christophe, le Gouffre de Padirac, la Fôret des Singes, Castlenaud-la-Chapelle.

Loire Valley and Dordogne
Chenonceau, photo Andrea Schaffer

Matt’s Detailed Itinerary

Wednesday June 24
• Flew from Boston to Paris via Iceland

Thursday June 25
• Arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport during taxi strike, train terminal very busy, missed our TGV reservations
• TGV to Tours in afternoon, picked up rental car in Tours, drove to B&B in La Croix-en-Touraine
• Picnic dinner from food obtained in Blere
• Kids played on the swing set at the B&B

Friday June 26
• Toured the Chateau du Chenonceau in the morning*
• Toured the Chateau du Clos Luce in the afternoon
• Dinner of pasta with sausages from the butcher in Blere

Saturday June 27
• Drove from La Croix-en-Touraine to Beynac (400 km)
• Settled into our gite
• Dinner of roast chicken from butcher in Beynac with potatoes and veggies

Sunday June 28
• Market day in Saint-Cyprien, kids played at the playground in the town center
• Swimming in the Dordogne River at the beach in Vitrac in the afternoon
• Dinner of Toulouse sausage from the butcher and market veggies

Monday June 29
• Toured Grotte de Lascaux II in the morning*
• Toured La Roque Saint-Christopher after lunch
• Toured the Elevage du Bouyssou goose and duck farm in the early evening*
• Dinner of eggs with lardons over greens

Tuesday June 30 (Very Hot Day!)
• Toured the Gouffre de Padirac in the morning*
• Toured La Foret des Singes after lunch*
• Dinner of pork ribs from the Beynac butcher and veggies grilled on the barbeque*

Wednesday July 1 (Very Hot Day!)
• Toured Castlenaud-la-Chapelle in the morning*
• Swimming in the Dordogne River at the beach in Vitrac in the afternoon
• Dinner of pork ribs and Toulouse sausages from the Beynac butcher and veggies grilled on the barbecue

Thursday July 2
• Market day in Domme, toured Domme in the morning
• Canoed the Dordogne River between Vitrac and Beynac after lunch*
• Toured La Roque-Gageac during canoe ride
• Dinner of duck confit from Beynac butcher, eggs, and greens

Friday July 3 (Very Hot Day!)
• Toured Chateau de Beynac in the morning
• Swimming in the Dordogne River at the beach in Vitrac in the afternoon
• Dinner of pork ribs and sausages from the Beynac butcher and veggies grilled on the barbecue

Saturday July 4 (Happy Independence Day!)
• Drove from Beynac to Tarascon (500 km)
• Saw the Canal du Midi at the rest stop along the way
• Settled in to our gite
• Swam in the pool

Loire Valley and Dordogne
Matt and daughter at Clos Lucé



Corbières and Tarn Trip Report, Episode 78

Corbières and Tarn
Shari and Craig

Corbières and Tarn

One of the most important decisions you have to make when traveling is how much can you fit in and where should home base be? In part 2 of their interview, honeymooners Shari and Craig tell us what they decided to do and what they enjoyed most in the Corbières and in the Tarn. Also in this week’s episode French tips for travelers: phrases you’ll hear all the time in France and won’t necessarily understand unless you train your ear!

How to Order Your Meat in French
  • Bien cuit = Well-done
  • À point = Medium
  • Saignant = Rare
  • Bleu = VERY rare

Mentioned on the Show: Corbières, Aude Department, Camplong d’Aude, Lagrasse, Abbaye de Lagrasse, Le Temps des Courges in Lagrasse, Château de Villerouge-Termènes, Tarn Department, Toulouse, Grand Rond, Jardin des Plantes, Jardin Royal, Musée des Jacobins, L’Entrecôte Restaurant, Saint Sernin Basilica, Japanese Garden at Compans Caffarelli, Puycelsi, Bruniquel, Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.

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Corbières and Tarn
  • If you can avoid it, don’t come to Toulouse in August because so much is closed, you won’t experience the city as it really is.
  • Bring a GPS that is not linked to a data plan, make sure it includes France maps!
  • Puycelsi, Tarn: Up on a hill, small village, not too hard to park, beautiful greenery and country-side, beautiful classic cars, not crowded on the Sunday they visited. Also very clean and well-maintained.
  • Bruniquel, Tarn et Garonne: Also up on a hill, with a castle on a cliff, looks down over the river, a bit of a hike up because you have to park at the bottom. Castle was not remodeled, some of the rooms were closed because they might be dangerous to walk there. Le Vieux Fusil movie that was filmed there.
  • Penne: Again, this village is on a cliff, Shari and Craig didn’t have time to visit.
  • Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val: Nice place also, white cliffs, canoeing, there were a lot of people on the river.
  • Albi: Shari and Craig enjoyed staying at the Ibis Style, visited the Cathedral, beautiful French Gardens, river. The whole city is beautiful.
  • Another place you might consider in this area: Cordes sur Ciel, Tarn.
  • Toulouse is a good central location to a lot of gorgeous areas in the south of France.
French Tip of the Week

“Tout s’est bien passé ?” = Was everything all right?

“Sur place ou à emporter ?” = Eat here or take away?

In France, should you sit yourself or wait to be seated? At a terrace you sit yourself, the waiter will come to you.

Corbières and Tarn

Paris Trip Report, Episode 77

Exported Shari and Craig in Paris 2015-07-04 09.34.21-2

Paris Trip Report with Shari and Craig

Shari and Craig are in France on their honeymoon and spent a few days in Paris before coming to Toulouse to explore the South West. In this episode they tell us all about their experiences in Paris and share some tips that will make geeks very happy. Many French language tips too!

To Prepare for Your Trip: Pimsleur method.

Places Discussed on the Show: RER B, Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum, Luxemburg Garden, Arc de Triomphe.

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Paris Trip ReportHow can you tell if the RER you’re about to take is a fast train or a slow train?  What you have to do is look at the display on the platform: if it lists a lot of stops it’s a slow train. Do take a collapsible fan because it was very hot on the train.

inexpensive Paris hotel recommendation: Shari and Craig stayed at the hotel Marignan which is a basic inexpensive hotel with no elevator, no air conditioning, and some of the rooms don’t have a private bathroom. But it’s clean, there is a kitchen that you can use on site (tiny but functional), a laundry room, and is at a great location a few minutes away from Notre Dame, with a lot of restaurants and stores nearby. And they will give you a fan if you need it! Annie has stayed there also and it’s really not bad if you don’t want anything fancy.

Eiffel Tower: Shari and Craig went to the Eiffel Tower a few times. They recommend going up to the second floor and walking down to the first floor. There are new restaurants and shops on the first floor, all the details here on those restaurants. There are a lot fewer people on the first floor than on the second. There is also They also preferred going at night because it’s more romantic.

Musée d’Orsay

Craig found the Orsay museum very nice and not as intimidating as the Louvre. Craig likes to go to the very top and walk down. It’s not as crowded as the Louvre and more laid back. And there are a lot of pieces at the Orsay that you will recognize from popular culture. The line was very short at the Orsay Museum on the day they went.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Shari and Craig went on a Sunday and it was filled with locals. People were playing Boules (or Pétanque). Most people had brought picnics as there aren’t a lot of food options in the gardens and it’s what locals do, so if you do it you’ll fit right in!

Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées

Shari had always wanted to see it, but she found it much different from in her fantasy. It’s busy and touristy and full of American chain stores.  They didn’t go up the Arc de Triomphe. It would be a nice place for shopping, but it didn’t suit Shari and Craig’s personalities very well.

American Cell Phones

Craig’s phone (CDMA on the Sprint network) doesn’t work in France. To make it work he could have gotten a local SIM card, but he chose not to. Annie’s French cell plan works in the US because it operates on GSM. Some US providers use GSM such as T-Mobile, and those would continue to work in France without changing anything, but it would be very expensive. Shari and Craig relied on WiFi at the hotel and in public parks.


In Paris you can get fee WiFi at public parks, look for Paris WiFi. But when you see FreeWiFi as one of the choices it doesn’t mean free of charge, it means it’s a hotspot from the French cell company called Free. If you are not a Free subscriber, you won’t be able to get to it.

How to Browse Google Maps Without a Data Plan

Use My Places on Google Maps. Center the map on the location that you want to save, go to My Places, Add New Place, it’ll ask you if you want to save that map. If you’re zoomed out too far it will be too big to save and the save button will be grayed out. Zoom in more and the save button will come alive. We’re not sure if it’s a searchable map. Let us know if you know! Always have a metro map with you!

Were You Shocked by All the Smoking in Paris?

Not too much, be beware that if you eat at a terrace, there will be smokers around you.

How Did You Choose Restaurants

Mostly by luck. Avoid touristy restaurants, look for people speaking French at the restaurant, don’t go somewhere they have pictures on the menu.

App that Translates for You

Google Translate has the option to download a language pack. If you download it at home you will not need any sort of data to get a translation. Part of Google Translate is a camera App that you can point at a sign and it will translate the sign for you. It’s not great, but it’ll give you the gist of it. In Paris menus are translated into English most places. Outside of Paris it’s not as common.

French Tips of the Week

This episode is chock-full of language tips, and some of those will save you a lot of money too, so be sure to listen!

  • Le Menu vs. La Carte

In France, if you ask for “le menu s’il vous plaît” you are asking for the daily special. If you want to see the list of all the foods that are served at this restaurant, ask for “la carte” as in “à la carte”.

  • L’entrée et le plat principal

In French “entrée” means appetizer and “plat principal” is the main dish.

  • Un pichet de vin

If you want the house wine, ask for “un pichet de vin”. Most people in France drink the house wine, you will not stand out by doing that. Very often they’ll ask if you want the small or large pichet. Small is 3 glasses of wine, large 4 or 5. You can order wine by the glass and they’ll serve you the house wine, but if you’re going to get more than one glass, you’ll be better off asking for a pichet.

  • Une carafe d’eau

If you’d like tap water (free) ask for “une carafe d’eau”. If you don’t specify, you’ll get bottled water, usually in a glass bottle, and it’ll cost at least 5€.

  • Bonjour / Bonsoir / Bonne soirée

What’s the difference between these three expressions? Bonne soirée means “have a good evening”. When you start saying bonsoir vs bonjour is subjective, it probably starts after work.

  • Hôtel de ville = Mairie

It’s not a hotel at all. Neither is the “hôtel de police” or the “hôtel Dieu”.

American Chip and Signature Cards

American banks have decided to go chip and signature, which doesn’t solve your credit card problem in Europe for the most part. Even if you ask for a pin to go along with your chip and signature American card, they’ll consider any transaction you do as a cash advance, which can get expensive. In 2014 vendors were confused by the chip and signature cards, by now they all understand what to do, but chip and sign cards do NOT work at gas pumps where payment is automated or at toll booths. What can you do to avoid problems? Buy your gas at large gas stations that have an attendant. For instance on the toll roads there are always attendants, at least during the day. You won’t be able to us the inexpensive gas distributors at grocery stores as those are almost all automated. For the toll roads, make sure you have a lot of coins with you.