Table of Contents for this Episode
Discussed in this Episode
- Castellane in the Verdon
- Senez and Barrême
- Route des Grandes Alpes drive
- Plateau de Valensole
- Mont Ventoux
- Notre Dame du Roc which overlooks Castellane
[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 402, quatre cent deux.
[00:00:22] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, but this week there will not be any news related to travel to France because I am still on vacation, but I’ll be back next week.
[00:00:42] Today on the podcast
[00:00:42] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a trip report with Brian Revel about the Napoleon Route in Provence. Brian has visited France many times, and on this trip he was accompanied by his father and they had a great time exploring the Napoleon Route.
[00:00:58] Annie Sargent: Of course, I explained briefly, at the start of the episode, what is meant by the Napoleon Route. It’s really interesting historically, and it’ll take you to some of the best parts of Provence.
[00:01:10] Thank you patrons
[00:01:10] Annie Sargent: But I do want to take just a second to thank the people who make this podcast possible. They are the ones who buy my products and services listed at my boutique, JoinUsinFrance.com/boutique or become patrons by going to Patreon.com/joinus Patreon is P A T R E O N joinus, no spaces or dashes.
[00:01:34] Annie Sargent: Merci Beaucoup.
[00:01:36] Annie Sargent: And if you’d like to receive my newsletter go to JoinUsinFrance.com/newsletter.
[00:01:51] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, Brian Revel and welcome to Join Us in France!
[00:01:56] Brian Revel: Bonjour, bonjour, enchante!
[00:01:59] Annie Sargent: Enchante as well. Lovely to talk to you today, we’re going to talk about a trip that you took in France, and you’ve taken many trips in France, and I’m sure this will come up in our conversation. But your theme for this trip was the Napoleon Route, or at least part of your theme for the trip.
[00:02:15] A Brief Intro on the Napoleon Route
[00:02:15] Annie Sargent: And this is the story of Napoleon trying to regain power in 1815 after being forced to abdicate and his exile in Elba. Now, Elba is a little island in the Mediterranean, it’s close to Italy, between Italy and Corsica.
[00:02:33] Annie Sargent: At any rate, Napoleon was able to organize an escape by rallying between 2000 and 3000 men and getting on a ship, and they regained the coast of France and landed at Golfe Juan, which is what it was called at the time.
[00:02:49] Napoleon Route
[00:02:49] Annie Sargent: Usually it’s called Antives Golfe Juan, and is very close to Cannes. So typically, the Napoleon Route starts in Cannes and goes all the way to Grenoble. So, Napoleon wanted to get to Paris, to topple Louis XVIII as soon as possible, but he had to avoid royalist troops along the way, so he didn’t, you know, sometimes they had to bifurcate a little bit.
[00:03:15] Annie Sargent: The route takes you from the Mediterranean all the way to Grenoble in the Alps, and it’s really spectacular because the landscapes are ever-changing and often really breathtaking. The big hits are, and I’m going to rattle off a bunch of names, but I’ll put them on a map for you, if you look at the show notes. It’s the village of Castellane in Verdon, you have Tauleanne, Senez, Barrême, Chabrieres, Sisteron, Gap and all the way up to Rhone.
[00:03:44] Annie Sargent: And since it’s all tied to the steps of this fallen emperor making his way back to Paris to reclaim what he saw as his rightful place, it makes for a great story.
[00:03:56] The Route
[00:03:56] Annie Sargent: All right, now the authentic way to retrace the steps of Napoleon is to walk it or parts of it.
[00:04:03] There is a GR which is a Grande Randonée, a trail between Castellane and Sisteron. It’s called the GR 406 so GR406, but if you drive it, the views are also spectacular, especially if you also include the Route des Grandes Alpes which takes you through all these breathtaking places that you see on the Tour de France on TV, right? So just a gorgeous, gorgeous area.
[00:04:32] Annie Sargent: And Napoleon and his men, they walked between Cannes and Grenoble and then they rode in various carriages all the way to Paris and the track took three weeks.
[00:04:43] A family trip
[00:04:43] Annie Sargent: There you go. The intro is done. Brian, when did you take this trip?
[00:04:47] Brian Revel: Well, it’s been a while now, it was 10 years ago. My mother had passed away a couple of years before, and this was sort of a way to kind of get my dad out of depression. It was like, come on, dad, let’s go for a trip, and take him some place that I’m passionate about, which is France.
[00:05:01] Brian Revel: And, particularly about the South of France that I had previously discovered. So we went to Nice. We flew to London and then connected and flew straight into Nice and spent a couple of days in Nice before I rented a car.
[00:05:13] Brian Revel: And got out of dodge as it were, and headed up towards La Route Napoleon and, I mean, we didn’t do the whole thing. We didn’t go all the way to Grenoble. We only went partway, but we went through, I think some of the most incredible geography and geology frankly, in the lower Alps region, as we made our way from Grasse up towards thePlateau Valensole, which is just not too far from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.
[00:05:44] Brian Revel: And I know that you did a really, really fantastic interview with somebody who had been Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, which was the inspiration for me, giving you a call and saying, hey, how about a little bit more from that part of the world?
[00:05:56] Annie Sargent: Because on the podcast, we really haven’t talked that much about kind of the what I call, Real Provence, which is North, the north end of Provence. Because most people, you know, I mean, in my headI split up Provence into really clear, separate things. You have the Riviera, which is, you know, along the coast. Then you have what I call, Roman Provence which is all these towns that were heavily influenced by Romans.
[00:06:24] Annie Sargent: And that’s down to Arles-Nimes and goes up to Orange and all that. And then you have the scenic villages, the cliffside villages, the hilltop villages. But you also have the North end, the Mont Ventoux and all of that.
[00:06:39] Annie Sargent: So we haven’t really talked about that area that much on the podcast, so this is a great opportunity, and I thank you for telling us. And you know, the fact that you did it 10 years ago, doesn’t change anything because really, I mean, of course, the restaurant owners and all that have changed in the meantime. So we probably don’t want to spend too much time on that, but the landscape is still the same and that’s what matters in this area.
[00:07:01] Brian Revel: And what’s really cool too, the people are the same too.
[00:07:04] Annie Sargent: Probably.
[00:07:05] Friendly people of Provence
[00:07:05] Brian Revel: Well, just phenomenally friendly people. You know, it’s just the fact that, like for example, I got hopelessly lost, trying to get to Grasse, I was trying, I was, Tom Tom was still very much in its nascent years asa GPS system.
[00:07:21] Brian Revel: And I turned off the auto route at Cagnes-sur-Mer and, oh my goodness. We wound up in some really, really back little, little residential streets and stuff. It was, you know, they say that, you know, people follow their GPS right into the river. Well, I believe it can happen. Anyway, so, you know, getting myself extricated from some of these neighborhoods, you know, just a friendly wave, and I must admit a maple leaf in the back window, the car didn’t hurt.
[00:07:50] Just to sort of indicate that, Hey, I’m a foreigner here. But yeah, people were super friendly and one of them even tried to invite us over for lunch and of like, no, we’ve, we’ve got a destination. Thanks very much.
[00:08:03] Grasse, perfume center of the world.
[00:08:03] Brian Revel: And we went to Grasse, and if I can start by talking a little bit about Grasse, I know that Elyse has spoken about Grasse, but what I found really interesting was, it’s the perfume center of the world.
[00:08:19] Brian Revel: In some ways, it certainly was where it started. So we wound up, you know, it was kind of like, Hey dad, there’s a perfumery over there that makes perfume. And we were there just at the harvest of lavender. So it was lavender everywhere. We were so lucky, I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t know, it was just, it just happened.
[00:08:36] Brian Revel: So we went to one of these places and we did the tour and we learned about how Grasse used to be a leatherworks place. And this was where the gloves for the King of France and the nobility were made. And perfume was used to make the leather lessobjectionable for the royals.
[00:08:55] Brian Revel: And then after the Revolution, all of a sudden there was no more market for these high-end gloves. So all of these people turned to marketing and, to use a very French term, democratizing the perfumes so that people started to wear them, essentially as an accessory on their person, rather than on their leather goods, which nobody could afford anyway.
[00:09:19] Brian Revel: So that was really how modern Grasse really got its start.
[00:09:22] Annie Sargent: Yeah.
[00:09:23] And from there, we just, you know, once I got to Grasse, it was pretty easy because I just simply followed the departmental route, which is 6085, I’m seeing on the map now. I think they changed it. I think it was 4085 when I did it 10 years ago.
[00:09:37] Brian Revel: But, at any rate, I just followed the signs and that got us through Castellane and then up into the hills that way. And, yeah, just unbelievable.
[00:09:47] Car or bike?
[00:09:47] Annie Sargent: This is the sort of route that, of course, if you rent a bike, you know, it’s really on a motorcycle or on a bike, it would be even better than in a car, I think. But a car really is plenty nice. It’s just a gorgeous part of the country, honestly.
[00:10:03] Brian Revel: Well, yeah, bike is great if you’re athletic and can do some of these unbelievably steep hills. The road, by North American standards, and I think probably we should remind people that this is not some wide open highway like we have, like you had back down in Utah, and I have in sort of Western Canada. We’re talking twisty, narrow roads, and there’s one little section even, where you had to use your horn to warn cars coming the other way that you’re coming around a blind corner. It’s really twisty, twisty, challenging driving. So you’re not going anywhere, anywhere in a hurry for sure. So I don’t know, cycling yes, but I think you’ve got to be an advanced cyclist to do a road like this.
[00:10:50] Annie Sargent: Yes, definitely. And I mean, this is Tour de France territory, you know, so they go there because it’s really challenging.
[00:10:57] Brian Revel: You’d do better if you have a yellow maillot.
[00:11:00] What places he enjoyed the most
[00:11:00] Annie Sargent: Yes, absolutely. So tell us about some of the places that you enjoy most along this road, the places that stick out to you.
[00:11:07] Well, to be honest, I’m a bit of a driver, so I did it as much for the drive as anything else. But, the area around Castellane was really impressive. We stopped there probably for an hour or two. We didn’t quite make it to the top, but there’s the Notre Dame du Roc, which it overlooks Castellane.
[00:11:24] Brian Revel: And it’s this little chapel that’s right on top of what must be one solid hunk of granite. One of those outposts from the Catholic Church from medieval times, or even before, so you know, very remote. And the beautiful stone bridge that you take to get there. And then we stopped in Castellane just for a little while, but then we carried on and the vistas, as you climb back up the other side of the valley, where we stopped several times and took in the view. Just magnificent.
[00:11:56] People tend to rush too much
[00:11:56] Annie Sargent: You have to pull over a lot. If you have a good spot where you can pull over, you know, I think it’s important to take the time. Because people tend to rush too much, but I do it too.
[00:12:07] Brian Revel: I agree. When you say on your podcast, you know, sometimes people try to fit too much in, I promise you, I’m screaming in the background going: Yes, Annie, I completely agree! You know, like for us this was a drive. According to Google Maps, it’s supposed to be a two and a half hour drive from Grasse to the town that we stayed in that night, which was Montagnac-Montpezat, right on the Plateau Valensole. And it took us five hours, just sort of toddling along and having a good time.
[00:12:35] Apart from the destination, we had nothing planned for the day, right? And it didn’t help, as I say, didn’t help that I got hopelessly lost somewhere between Cagnes-sur-Mer and Grasse.
[00:12:47] Brian Revel: So I did have a bit of a deadline, but once we got up onto the plateau, everything, like time stopped when we got to the Plateau de Valensole, because it was nothing but lavender and sunflowers for as far as the eye could see. I was stunned at the view and the aroma, so that kind of then took over the day, and by then it was getting to be dusk.
[00:13:16] Brian Revel: So we didn’t have a lot of time that day on that trip, getting to the bed and breakfast that we stayed at. That ultimately was the high point of the day was when we got there.
[00:13:25] Lavender and sun flowers
[00:13:25] Annie Sargent: So let’s make it clear that the high point to see the lavender and the sunflower is going to be July. So depending on the year, it’s going to be, you know, because all of these plants, they have their prime moment and then they’re not quite as good. I mean, like all flowers. So if you want to catch prime moment, you need to be there very late June into very late July and exactly what day, you know, it depends.
[00:13:55] Annie Sargent: What, what do you think is the optimal time?
[00:13:57] What’s the best time to see the lavender fields?
[00:13:57] They harvested the lavender, pretty much all of it on the same day, and that was the 13th of July.
[00:14:04] Annie Sargent: Ah, yeah.
[00:14:05] Brian Revel: And in speaking with a couple of people around in that neighborhood, they said that it had been a particularly warm year that year, so they were able to do the harvest a little bit earlier than usual.
[00:14:17] Brian Revel: But if I wanted to see it again, I definitely would be planning on the first week of July, absolutely. As pretty much getting be the best peak time, that’s right, but it’s too early for any harvesting pretty much, but you can’t be sure anytime after that. Literally, gone overnight.
[00:14:37] Annie Sargent: Yes. The sunflower, they don’t get harvested right away. They are left to dry on the stalks and they don’t get harvested until November, but they look really awful. After their prime, they don’t really look good, they look like a gray, brown stalk, dry stalk. It’s not interesting.
[00:14:54] So, you know, you have to get there at prime time. And usually, around the 15th of July is prime time for sunflowers as well. That’s when they are big and bright and beautiful, and then as the season wears on, they’re going to dry out more and more, which is what they want, because they want to harvest the dry seeds.
[00:15:14] Annie Sargent: So that’s why they leave them on the stalk to dry completely. And then they harvest them, you know, when they get around to it in October or November, before it starts raining a lot.
[00:15:22] Brian Revel: Funny how the birds don’t eat the sunflowers. I don’t know if you do that in Toulouse, but here we put sunflower heads out so that they can eat the seeds.
[00:15:31] Annie Sargent: Yes. Oh, and the birds do, they really do. I walk through agricultural fields every day and you see different sorts of birds coming, depending on what the farmer is doing. So they like different things, but there’s lots of birds in those fields.
[00:15:46] Brian Revel: Oh, yeah. So one of the things about the lavender that really, it’s hard to transmit this, and one doesn’t usually think about this, but not only do you have that scent, that aroma. You know, lavender’s really a form of sage, so it’s got a real sage smell that just the air is just thick with the smell of sage. The sound of the bees. There’s a drone across the whole plateau, as of course, you know, they’ve got the bees out there doing their thing and it just transports you to a different place. really is amazing, the sound, and it’s everywhere. It’s omnipresent. And then of course, you have the cigales on top of that, just, yeah, the soundscapes are just something that you don’t get.
[00:16:31] Annie Sargent: We don’t have a lot of cyclical cicadas in France, because in America you have kind of varieties of cicadas that don’t come back for five years or seven years or something. And they always do stories about those, but in France, we have the cicadas that come back every year, like every season.
[00:16:47] Annie Sargent: So it’s not as exciting.
[00:16:48] Brian Revel: And in Canada we don’t have them at all, we have grasshoppers.
[00:16:51] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it’s too cold, I guess.
[00:16:53] Brian Revel: It is, yeah. It’s an incredible soundscape, especially if you don’t have that.
[00:16:57] La Maison du Bois Doré
[00:16:57] Brian Revel: While we were there, we stayed at a fantastic little bed and breakfast, can I mention it?
[00:17:02] Annie Sargent: Yes, course, of course. Hopefully, it’s still there we don’t know, it’s been a long time.
[00:17:06] Brian Revel: It is, it is, the same people. I’ve done a little bit of research, the same lovely, lovely sisters from Switzerland, actually. They’re still there. It’s called La Maison du Bois Doré.
[00:17:17] Annie Sargent: Mm-hmm
[00:17:18] Brian Revel: And it’s at the end of a gravel road, about 10 minutes outside of Montagnac-Montpezat.
[00:17:25] Brian Revel: And that’s just up the road from. Fantastic little spot. Anyway, they were super, we showed up right at dinner time, we were starving, my dad and I. And we hadn’t made arrangements you know, for them to make dinner, but they offered to make dinner. They made dinner and the ingredients were fresh, the flavors just exploded in my mouth. And that’s, that’s that thing about European cuisine and French cuisine and, you know, Italian cuisine, just everything in is not, in North America, everything you buy from a supermarket’s been dumbed down like a tomato takes like cardboard, but a tomato in France smells like a tomato across the room, and the flavors just explode.
[00:18:08] Moustiers Sainte-Marie
[00:18:08] Brian Revel: Ah, I’m sorry, I’m salivating at this thought. Anyway, it was those lovely hosts that recommended that we go to Moustiers Sainte-Marie and that was again, that was the touchstone with that previous podcast.
[00:18:21] Brian Revel: So we had been to Moustiers Sainte-Marie and had driven down the super twisty little roads to get there and hiked right up to the chapel. Just a phenomenal little place. Terrific little place.
[00:18:31] Brian Revel: The faience there is great too. I know that you’ve had talk about faience, so anybody’s interested in porcelain and the painting on porcelain, moustiers-Sainte-Marie is actually a destination for that. So that was a phenomenal experience too.
[00:18:47] And this is the sort of village where you spend two, three hours tops, because it’s really not that big. I mean, it’s a village. You can visit the stores if they’re open when you happen to go by. When I write itineraries for people, I tell them, sometimes all I have to say is the name of the place, because once you get there, it’ll be self-explanatory what to do. It’ll be obvious, you have this beautiful village with beautiful streets and little shops and a few, maybe one or two or three places where you can have some food or drinks, but that’s it. So there’s not like a need to check the very best boulangerie in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. There’s one, and it’s good. That’s it, you know?
[00:19:32] Brian Revel: Yeah, that’s right.
[00:19:33] Annie Sargent: Because if it was bad, he would’ve gone out of business. And that’s it, you know? You don’t need to do a ton of research on these places. You just need to know the ones that you want to stop at and the ones that you can skip, you know, that’s important.
[00:19:48] Annie Sargent: So that’s why it’s good to have you on the podcast, because you’ve been, and you can tell us.
[00:19:53] Brian Revel: Then, and you’re bang on, we went there for lunch and did the hike and looked in a few shops. You don’t have to buy anything, but you know, you walk in, bonjour, you have that little connection with folks in the shops, in the restaurant, on the streets. You sort of navigate all of the other tourists that happen to be there at the same time.
[00:20:11] Brian Revel: And then you know, you beat a hasty retreat, you can move on to something else. And usually, that just means go and find another place to sit and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, or whatever happens to, you know, slick your thirst with, right? And just to sort of give you a sense of what we did, I think we spent three days in Nice, maybe four, and we went to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and we went to the Villa Ephrussi, and you know, I showed my dad of some of the places that I had been when I was there in 2000, then we went to and then took the car and we did this trip.
[00:20:46] Brian Revel: We went to um,Riez on the last day, on this part of the trip and it was market day. So we were there for market day and, you know, the usual roaming market that’s there on every random Monday or Tuesday or whatever it happens to be. And had a really, really great time.
[00:21:03] Brian Revel: And then the next day we went down to take the TGV up to Paris, because on my bucket list, I wanted to be in Paris for La Fete Nationale, for Bastille Day.
[00:21:14] I drove down to Aix and dropped the car off at the TGV station, and I know on Facebook that there was a question about this recently.
[00:21:22] TGV-only train stations
[00:21:22] Brian Revel: The TGV station, and correct me if I’m wrong, it serves Aix as well as Marseille. So it’s sort of plunked right in the middle of a field somewhere, it’s very purpose-built. So you drop your car off and it’s just a few hundred feet right there, onto the platform. If my memory serves me correctly.
[00:21:40] I haven’t been to that TGV station, but this happens a lot in France, where they build a TGV station, because these are completely different rails. They have to be rated for higher speeds. And so they have to build whole new rails. And sometimes, it’s possible to make those rails go into an existing station if it was big enough, but sometimes they might as well just build a separate station for the TGV.
[00:22:07] Annie Sargent: So sometimes you have two, three kilometers, sometimes up to ten, between the traditional train station. And I know this happens in Avignon as well, there’s Avignon, you have the city center train station and you have the TGV train station. And there’s about six, seven kilometers between the two. There’s plenty, usually public transportation between the two, there’s going to be buses, sometimes they have a tram. You know, it just depends on the city. And there’s always taxis obviously. But yes, train stations are sometimes dedicated to TGV and that happens quite a bit.
[00:22:41] TGV ride
[00:22:41] Brian Revel: So we got on the TGV, and this was my dad’s first time. He was like a kid in a candy store, just sitting back and watching us fly past the cars that were on the auto route right next to us.
[00:22:53] Brian Revel: And as a tip, I always like to share with people this particular tip, because I remember when I was younger and traveling around France, that you can get a lot of school groups riding on the trains. And school groups, you know, kids are lovely and their energy is amazing, but it can get a little bit tiring after a while. When I take the TGV, a, I always try to find a TGV that’s a duplex, because then you have two floors. And a lot of the TGV lines, but especially when you’re going through urban or semi-urban areas, they have sound barriers in order to keep the surrounding neighborhoods quiet from the rushing trains. But the duplexes are just a little bit higher, so you can actually see over these sound barriers so in my view, the view is better. And then you choose the quiet room, the coach that is termed the quiet one. So then the groups generally sit somewhere else, at least that’s my experience.
[00:23:49] Annie Sargent: Ok. So I haven’t run in, I don’t remember if you can choose a quiet room now, but typically, if you take a first class ticket, there’s going to be fewer groups, because if there’s a school group or families with lots of kids, they usually don’t pay extra for first class.
[00:24:06] Annie Sargent: So that’s what I usually do, and if you take first class, when you book the tickets, at least with the French app, with the SNCF Connect app, you can choose your seat specifically. You can kind of decide, you know, where you want to be and is there a quiet, I don’t remember seeing that, but I always get first class and make sure that I’m in aplace isolée, is what they call it in French, so that’s like a, you don’t have anybody sitting next to you. Is what it is. Because I’m always working on my laptop and I just don’t like having people look over at what I’m doing. So I just choose the place isolée and that means it’s just your wide seat then the hallway.
[00:24:48] Brian Revel: The aisle.
[00:24:49] Annie Sargent: Yes, that’s the right word. And then you have two seats after that, on the other side.
[00:24:53] Maybe my dad didn’t travel in first class, darn. I’ll have to take him back, we’ll do first class next time.
[00:24:59] First class is really nice, it’s good. The thing about going upstairs, it’s good, but if you have reduced mobility, it can be a problem, because the stairs are kind of higher than normal by a little bit, you know, by an inch or two, but it makes a difference. If you have reduced mobility, it’s harder. And when the train is moving, up above on top, you have more motion. So if you have motion sickness, probably the bottom floor would be better, but you know.
[00:25:26] Brian Revel: Yeah, but Annie, we’re talking about motion, more motion on a TGV. Don’t compare that to an American or a Canadian train. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, there’s still, you can still put a coin on its edge and put it on the table and it’s not going to fall over. It’s still an incredibly smooth, silent, spectacular ride.
[00:25:49] Brian Revel: Yes, there’s a little bit more motion if you’re going through switches and stuff like that, you know track switches and everything, but it’s marginal. But yeah, if you tend to have issues with motion sickness, you’re a hundred percent right. I won’t disagree with you on that.
[00:26:02] Annie Sargent: Yeah. And the thing that’s important also to remember, is that if you get the TGV you pick your seat, and I like to pick a seat where I can see, because you store your luggage in a, there’s an area that’s designed for storing suitcases, and you can see it from where you are, if you pick it right. Maybe you’ll have your back to it, so you just have to see, the train is going to be like from where I’m going to sit, they show you how the seat is arranged, because they can be in either direction. Some people prefer to face the direction of the train, others prefer to face the other way, whatever. There’s a ton of choices on trains that you don’t have on airplanes, you know?
[00:26:41] Luggage security on the trains
[00:26:41] One of the things that I have read and is obviously a concern for people, is the security of their suitcases and how they might disappear. One of the things I might suggest, and you can usually get these in travel shops everywhere, you can get really, really fine cable locks, and you can actually lock your suitcase to the rack.
[00:27:02] Annie Sargent: Huh? I hadn’t thought of that, but yeah you can.
[00:27:04] Then you don’t have to worry about it. The suitcase is there and it’s secure and you can buy them, what’s really cool is, I have one that’s retractable. So it comes in a little case that’s probably about a little bit thicker than, but about the same size as a cell phone. And it’s a combination lock, so you don’t have to worry about keys and stuff like that. And you just pull it out. I think there’s, three, maybe four feet of cable, and you just loop it through the handle of your suitcase and loop it through the bar that’s part of the structure of the shelving for all the suitcases, and you just lock it in, it’s locked, it’s there, your case isn’t going anywhere.
[00:27:39] Annie Sargent: That’s an excellent suggestion because I have a thing like that, but I use it for my bike helmet, to tie my bike helmet to my bike so I don’t have to carry it with me. I could use it for the suitcase, definitely. What I do usually, is I tie some sort of obnoxious ribbon or something with a bright color, so I can see it easily at a distance. And I’ve never had a problem with people taking anything, especially if you travel first class.
[00:28:02] Brian Revel: I’ve never heard anybody, you know, and this even goes back to when I was backpacking in Europe in the nineties, I never, never heard of anything disapearing, you know, it just doesn’t happen.
[00:28:14] Brian Revel: I mean, it probably does, but you know, it’s so rare.
[00:28:18] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Worry about the stuff that happens and not so much about the stuff that never happens, you know? Because then you don’t go anywhere, if you start worrying about all things that could happen, might happen but don’t, then you get afraid and you don’t go anywhere.
[00:28:30] ATM problems
[00:28:30] Brian Revel: You might as well stay home. I mean, that’s the whole point of that’s the whole point. It’s the excitement that you have to deal with. Like, for example, here’s an example. When we were in Nice, I put my bank card into the bank machine, I’m not going to tell you the bank, that’s not fair, but you know. I requested a hundred euros and the machine gave me 50.
[00:28:49] Brian Revel: So, you talk about how the French love their bureaucracy. Well, the next day, and it’s not just the government, the next day, I went back to that branch, that very, very branch where they had to have audited the machine. And I said, here’s the slip, here’s my request for a hundred euros, and here’s the 50 Euro bill I got out of the machine. And it was the better part of the day dealing with that.
[00:29:13] Annie Sargent: Yeah.
[00:29:14] Brian Revel: And, you know, and guess what, eventually, that particular bank did not give me my 50 euros. It was my home bank back in Canada that said, well, you clearly was taken out of the accounts and you’re pretty insistent that this money never wound up in your pocket. So here, we’ll give you 50 euros if only just to shut you up.
[00:29:35] Annie Sargent: Yeah, this is really hard to prove, isn’t it?
[00:29:37] Brian Revel: It boils down to them doing an audit and then believing that that 50 euros was in fact yours. And the French being the French, the way that they sort of work, you’re right. You absolutely have to be able to prove. Like you have to basically film the machine spitting out the money, missing the 50 euros each time.
[00:29:54] Brian Revel: As a lesson I have learned, I don’t know how the bank machines work, but even here in Canada, if I take money out of bank machine, I will discreetly wave all the bills in front of the machine, in front of the camera. So that like straight out of the machine so that they can hear the machine, they know what the machine is doing and they can then that way maybe one day I can go check the cameras, because it’s missing one of the bills.
[00:30:20] Brian Revel: I don’t know if it would work, but anyway, it’s one of those weird things, those little habits you collect as you move on in years.
[00:30:28] Annie Sargent: I’ve heard of such things happening rarely, but it’s not impossible. So yeah, you do have be careful, you know. Just like I use contactless purchases all the time, I always ask for the receipt and I always briefly check, you know, I just paid 34 euros or whatever, they charged me 34 euros. Because they could add a zero by mistake, because it doesn’t go into the teller’s pocket, you know, they just made a mistake and punched it in wrong.
[00:30:55] Brian Revel: And that can happen anywhere.
[00:30:57] Annie Sargent: So yeah, be a little careful with your transactions, be purposeful, pay attention, instead of just wheee whatever, you know.
[00:31:07] Bastille Day in Paris
[00:31:07] So that leads us to Paris and the next day, which was La Fete Nationale.
[00:31:11] And I just wanted, you know, we’re going to talk about some of the things that shoulda-woulad-coulda in just a minute. I was there for Paris for the Bastille Day. And it was, you know, I was very happy that I was there. The weather was fantastic, the energy in this city was fantastic. Down in Place de la Concorde they had the reviewing stands all ready to go when we were, because we showed up the night before, so we looked at all of the reviewing stands, knowing what was going to be there. And the next day the crowds along the Champs-Élysées were just unbelievable.
[00:31:43] Brian Revel: So we actually wound up just off thePlace de la Concorde, right against Palais Bourbon, right against the fence. So the parade, they come down the Champs-Élysées, they go past the reviewing stands, they turn right, they go across the bridge and then past the Assemblee Nationale at the Palais Bourbon, and then they disperse.
[00:32:00] Brian Revel: So we were there right at the very end of the actual parade. And what was really cool was, you know, they were starting to sort of break up a little bit. They were still formal, but not really. So it was, you got some of that super-formal formality. And then the spouses were coming and meeting their husbands who were, you know, finished their five-mile walk and all of that kind of stuff was starting to happen.
[00:32:22] Brian Revel: So it was a really fun mix of genuine people with all of the pomp and circumstance.
[00:32:28] It’s a good spot, yes.
[00:32:30] Brian Revel: And 2012 was notable, because it was actually the very first time since the second World War that there was actually serving German soldiers walking down the Champs-Élysées.
[00:32:42] Annie Sargent: Mm.
[00:32:43] Brian Revel: And so they were part of a group of six.
[00:32:45] Brian Revel: It was a very small contingent, but it did make, I remember reading it in the paper, you know, made the news that they were going to be there, very symbolic.
[00:32:55] Brian Revel: But you know, Annie, one of the things that I noticed as we were driving the day before to get to the TGV station to take the train, were all of the little towns all along the way, were all getting ready for La Fête.
[00:33:09] Annie Sargent: Mm-hmm
[00:33:09] Would love to try the provincial La Fête Nationale experience
[00:33:09] Brian Revel: And so my experience having now been to Paris to do Bastille Day in Paris, where we were at the Eiffel Tower for the fireworks, and we were there for the parade, was there were lots of big formal things that go on. But I even went to L’office du Tourisme, the Tourism Office in Paris and asked them, okay, can you tell me about where are some of the little local things that are going on?
[00:33:33] Brian Revel: Paris doesn’t have any, because it’s all about the big national show in Paris. So I would like to go back to France and be in provincial France, outside in the countryside, in the smaller towns, to see what, you know, it is like to be in a small town for the national holiday. Because I think it would be a very different, more organic experience, it would be I think a very different experience.
[00:34:01] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I live in a village and what they do in my village, it’s a village of, I think, not quite 3000 yet, and there is other villages nearby, you know, it’s not like we’re in the boonies or whatever, but in our village, they usually do the mayor. And we happen to have a marching band in the village, it’s one of the associations that is, they have their rehearsals and all that in the village. And so they usually march, and actually that’s the music I use for the closing song of the podcast. I recorded my local marching band playing. They march and they will have some flowers and there’s usually a short speech, but it’s not very much, but they do it every year.
[00:34:45] Bring your own utensils
[00:34:45] Annie Sargent: They do something every year and it takes, you know, half an hour, maybe. It’s not a very long thing. And there’s often also a kind of village meal that gets announced. And it’s somewhere between the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, because it just depends on the day of the week that the 14th falls on. So you can join that village and, you know, you have to reserve your spot and, oh, and in France, in those village things, you have to bring your own utensils, plates and cups and everything, because they won’t give you disposable anything.
[00:35:15] Brian Revel: Oh, that’s hilarious. That’s fantastic.
[00:35:18] Annie Sargent: No disposable anything. So if you go to a village event, remember to bring your, I actually have plastic, a set of plastic cups, bowls, and whatever, for that purpose. Because by the time you’ve had your meal at the village thing, you’ve had a little bit of drink and you might forget your utensils and don’t ask me how I know this, and you will never find them again. Because whoever is catering is just going to just clear up and throw it all. So don’t bring anything precious, but no
[00:35:51] Annie Sargent: plastic utensils. You will be looked at like you are an alien from space. Nevermind that we used to all use plastic utensils 10 years ago, but no more.
[00:36:02] Annie Sargent: So you have to bring your own washable plates, cups, utensils.
[00:36:07] Brian Revel: Okay, so in other words, before a Bastille Day, we have to find a flea market and we have to find something where we can get ourselves a cup, a plate, a fork, and a knife and a spoon.
[00:36:16] Annie Sargent: It’s the camping stuff, you know, like the kind of camping store, the type of stuff you’ll find at a camping store. It’s good enough to be reused repeatedly.
[00:36:25] Brian Revel: And you probably, can you find that like in the local Monoprix or obviously, you could in Carrefour but you know, in your Mono?
[00:36:33] Annie Sargent: I’m not sure, I bought mine at a camping store. I don’t think they would have that quality because it’s like a grade of plastic that’s made to be reused, unbreakable, reusable type of things. We’re strange in France, you know, we have our, we have our oddities.
[00:36:48] Brian Revel: Yes, that’s what makes you so lovely and French.
[00:36:52] Annie Sargent: And we keep growing new ones every year. I was just thinking Annie, that you know, again, as I read the Facebook comments and stuff, there’s people who want to pack so much into such a little time. This particular trip that we did was like I said, I think it was three, oh, actually I’ve got it here, three nights in Nice, then we had two nights in Montagnac-Montpezat and then we had four nights in Paris. So that’s 3, 5, 9. So that was 10 days plus travel time to do three locations.
[00:37:25] Brian Revel: And the Montagnac-Montpezat, we had no plans. It was just, let’s drive the route, let’s enjoy the scenery, let’s see what’s there when we get there.
[00:37:35] Brian Revel: And the same thing, you know, Nice, I had a couple of things that I wanted to do with my dad and show him some things, because he’s an avid gardener. So I really thought that going up to the Villa Ephrussi would be fantastic, kind of like, you know, that part of the world’s version of the Butcher Gardens which we have here over in Victoria.And then in Paris, the only thing for me was, I would really like to be a part of the Bastille Celebrations.
[00:37:59] Brian Revel: And then my dad is one of these fantastic person to travel with. If you need someone to travel with and maybe my dad will go with you because he’s game for anything, anything. And you know, it’s like, well, do you have anything you want to do? No, no, I’ll go wherever you want to go, and the only thing he suggested he wanted to do, was actually gopara sailing, off right in the Baie des Anges, right off the Promenade des Anglais.
[00:38:22] Annie Sargent: Yes.
[00:38:23] Brian Revel: It was like my dad, you know, he’s 30 years older than I am, and he’s the one that’s got the, the chutzpah to do that. So we did that, and that was just before we got in the car and started our drive to Grasse.
[00:38:35] Brian Revel: And now that I think about it, we didn’t even leave Nice until after noon. I think we had lunch before we actually left.
[00:38:42] Annie Sargent: Wow.
[00:38:42] You don’t need to plan every little detail in France
[00:38:42] Brian Revel: Because you know, no set itinerary, we’ll get there when we get there kind of thing. And it was relaxed and, yeah. For the work that I did, it was when I got back to Canada, I was, you know, I wasn’t exhausted, we’d had a long flight but, you know, for us from Paris or from London it’s eight hours. You get back to Vancouver, and my dad still had another hour to fly to get back to where he lives. but for me, I was charged and ready to go. I wasn’t exhausted at all because everything had been paced out.
[00:39:11] Annie Sargent: You know, the other thing that, sorry to interrupt, but the other thing that is important for people to remember is they’re coming to France. They’re not going to the moon. So there will be everything you need. It’s not like you need to plan every little detail. It’s actually counterproductive to plan every little detail.
[00:39:31] Annie Sargent: Now, I think in a city like Paris, and that’s why I so enjoy writing VoiceMap tours, it’s good to have kind of a structure, a path that you’re going to follow, because it will take you to all the interesting bits.
[00:39:47] Annie Sargent: But it’s the same with this Napoleon Route. You followed a specific path because you knew it was going to be beautiful and enjoyable, but then the pace at which you do it doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to be anywhere specific at any specific time. There will be cafes along the way. There will be things to stop at. There will be museums, at least in Paris, there will be museums for sure. There will be things for you to do, and you don’t really need to get all like hyper planner on, you know, like, oh, I must be my next stop is in 15 minutes, I must go.
[00:40:23] Annie Sargent: You know, just take it slow, take it easy. There will be plenty of things to do. But this is a problem because if you’re listening to this podcast, obviously you’re someone who likes to hear about France and you are probably a little bit of an over-planner, so just chill and understand that you’re coming to France. You’re not going to the Serengeti. You don’t need to plan every minute of the day, it’s fine. You will see stuff where you want to stop, where you want to look at it, because it’s cool.
[00:40:51] Brian Revel: Absolutely. I do want to talk of your your VoiceMap tours, because I’ve actually downloaded them and listened to them virtually and Annie, I’ve been to Paris, I think I’ve been to Paris 12 times now and you know, just sort of wandered around and I spent a whole week in Montmartre with dad, for example. You know, I downloaded the Montmartre tour the other day and was listening to it and I’ve learned a lot, I’ve been to all of those places that you talked about, but you know, we’re walking up the street and there’s a sculpture of a man emerging from the wall. What’s that about?
[00:41:23] Brian Revel: Well, that’s really cool. And then you move on, but now I know the story behind that.
[00:41:27] Annie Sargent: Yeah, there’s a book.
[00:41:29] Yeah, but you’ve given us the thumbnail, the Reader’s Digest version of the Cole’s notes version, right? But that’s phenomenal. And that’s the thing about the VoiceMap tours, is you get a little, a little taste of really what’s there and why. And that whole, the whole story about the Chevalier, I don’t remember, Chevalier de La Barre, that is tragic, tragic stuff. But I remember walking through that little park going well, you know, that’s nice sculpture and…
[00:41:58] Annie Sargent: Who’s his hat?
[00:42:01] Brian Revel: But now I know. And so the next time I go back, I’m going to see Montmartre an Ille de la Cite and, Le Marais, and you know, for me, Le Marais is all about gay Paris, to be quite honest with you, but you know, all of the other things about, I knew it was also the Jewish Quarter and all those things, but the history of there’s Hotel Particulier that you talk about, and their restoration and their purpose and all of that other, La Bibliotheque. I’m going back to the Bibliotheque. I didn’t know about the bibliotheque, that’s just around the corner from my favorite bar in Le Marais, for example.
[00:42:36] That’s the thing about the way I do this is because I really love French history and I read a lot of books, I’ve always been a bookworm and I continue to be a bookworm, and I read a lot of books that would just actually bore people to tears. But out of these books, I grab the bits that are really fascinating and I tie them to the place.
[00:42:57] Annie Sargent: And that’s why VoiceMap is ideal, because there’s no better way to see an area, I think, than being walked to a place and told a little bit about it. Not a long lecture, not a full book that might bore you to tears, but just that little spice, that little extra. And one thing I don’t like about the way a lot of tour guides work, is that they would rather tell you some silly story that has no historical significance.
[00:43:26] Annie Sargent: I like to go find the stories that have a bit of historical significance.
[00:43:31] I couldn’t agree with you more. I used to be a tour guide you know, the typical bus tours, this was at the Canadian Rockies. And sometimes it was really sad, there’s so much good stuff to talk about, and you know, I ran into a tour guide one day who literally said to me to my face, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? It’s just like, oh, that’s so trite. People spent a lot of money and a lot of time to come and you’re serving them drivel and I got to say, that’s not what you’re putting out. That’s some quality stuff, Annie..
[00:44:05] Brian Revel: That’s an endorsement from an old tour guide, if I can.
[00:44:09] Annie Sargent: Thank you, but you know, it’s because I really love French history.
[00:44:12] Brian Revel: And it shows.
[00:44:13] Annie Sargent: And I like to bring it into the real world. And you know, if you saw my everyday life, you would see thatwhat I do, I walk my dog every day, and while walking my dog, I actually listen to books the same way blind people listen to books, your phone can read you books.
[00:44:29] Annie Sargent: So these are books that I buy on Kindle that never get made into an audio book because they don’t have enough reach, you know? But I listen to them while I walk around. And I wonder what the people around me are thinking like, what is this woman doing? Because sometimes I don’t put it in ear buds and I’m like, they probably think I’m crazy because I just walk my dog, listening to all this historical stuff.
[00:44:49] Brian Revel: Every village has to have a crazy person.
[00:44:52] Annie Sargent: There you go. But that’s how I get through so many books and it’s a very good way to do it for me. But I understand that most people don’t want to do that, and that’s fine.
[00:45:00] Annie Sargent: They don’t need to, because I will just bring the salty bits, but not the made up bits. I don’t make up anything. And I really, really don’t like it when tour guides get obsessed about someone had a meal in this place, like who cares? Like yes, famous people ate here. The end. There is nothing else to say, of course they ate, of course, we all do like, this is not, it does not make this cafe extra special.
[00:45:28] Annie Sargent: It just makes it a place that was convenient for people to come have, you know, socialize and have some meals or whatever. So that makes the neighborhood interesting. So let’s talk about why this neighborhood was in, but instead they just talk about, oh, famous person ate at this cafe. Oh, no, whatever , but that’s just me. That’s just me.
[00:45:46] Annie Sargent: But anyway, so lots and lots to see in the Napoleon Route and beyond, but I just wanted to give people a bit of it, put a bug in their ear that there’s a way to organize your trip around this historical event, this walk that Napoleon did. And if you do, you will see some really, really, beautiful places in Provence.
[00:46:09] Brian Revel: It’s super not touristy, it’s Provence, but it’s not touristy. If you go back into the back country that way. And it’s a perfect way to do that.
[00:46:18] Are French people snotty?
[00:46:18] Brian Revel: Hey Annie, can I just throw one last thing out for you? You know just to sort of share, and that has to do with the fact that it kind of helps from my perspective that I lived in France for a while, so back in the nineties. And that is, is that the impression when I talk to people who have not been to France is they’re all very concerned about how snooty and unfriendly French people are. And I always share with them and and this is a great platform to do this, so I hope you’ll indulge me.
[00:46:48] In my experience, there are really two Frances. There’s Paris, and then there’s everywhere else. And for me, I cannot in good conscience, go to Paris without going outside of the city, some distance, going to some other place in France. So I have to divide my visits to France always in two, and I can’t go to anywhere out in Provence without, you know, not be anywhere outside of Paris, without spending some time in Paris as well, because there’s something just so incredibly vital about that.
[00:47:27] Brian Revel: But the other thing is oftentimes, you know, and this was my experience people’s, you know, Oh yeah, I’ve been to Toronto, therefore I’ve been to Canada. No, no, no, no, it doesn’t work that way. And it’s the same as it is when you go to Paris, and people have this impression that Parisians are cold and unfriendly. But you have to realize that Paris is the center of the Francophone world in the same way that New York is the center pretty much of the Anglophone world. You know, well, maybe London shares that.
[00:47:57] Brian Revel: But at the end of the day, if you’re a tourist and you’re banging around in the middle of the Châtelet–Les Halles train station with three suitcases and two kids in tow, and you have no idea where you’re going, somebody is going to get upset with you because you’re in their way.
[00:48:16] Brian Revel: And the same thing, they’re not going to appreciate if you just waltz right up to them and ask them where the nearest bathroom is, just as somebody in New York, who’s busy with 95 things on their mind, isn’t going to appreciate the same thing, someone coming up to them in a foreign language and asking them where the nearest toilet is.
[00:48:32] So just kind of bear that in mind that there’s a time and a place to be touristy, and the tourist office is a good place, and you’ll never find a grumpy person in a tourist office. At least that’s my experience. But then finally, my impression having lived in France, is that the people who live outside of Paris don’t particularly like the people who live in Paris, and the people who live in Paris, don’t really like much of anything.
[00:49:01] That’s just kind of a, an impression that I have, it’s a generalization of course, but at the end of the day, that’s why I think that there are two Frances. And if you’re going to go and spend a couple of weeks in France, yeah, you know, five or six days in Paris will do all highlights.
[00:49:18] Brian Revel: But then get out, go, you know, take a train, that’s my preferred method of travel, take a train, go to Lyon, which in my opinion, is just as much Paris, except it’s a lot cleaner and a lot slower. Or you know, go to Toulouse, go to Nice, go to Nancy, I have not been to the North-West of France myself. Go to Strasbourg, you know. Go break it up so that you get a little bit of a more broader impression and experience of what it is to be French, to be in France, to experience the world through the eyes of French people.
[00:49:57] Provence and La Province
[00:49:57] Brian Revel: And you know, in French we have the expression, “la province,” so we’ve been talking about Provence and I’m not sure if you can hear the difference. Provence, la Provence is a region, but when in French we say “la province,” with an I, so it’s P R O V I N C E, that means everywhere but Paris. So in English, if you think about it, you don’t have a word for everywhere but Toronto, or everywhere but London.
[00:50:30] Brian Revel: Well, we do because Canada’s divided into 10 provinces.
[00:50:34] Annie Sargent: Well, yeah, but do you have a word that means like everywhere else, right. But we do in French. In French it’s province, la province. You can say, “oh, je vais en province,” and that means. I’m leaving Paris, I’m exiting Paris. And Parisians say this all the time, and to them, there’s Paris and there’s outside of Paris, just like you, just like you put it.
[00:51:00] Annie Sargent: And it’s an important concept because in France, we even have this idea that Paris is utterly different from the rest of the country. And it is. But if you’re going to go out. On the train to go explore one area of province, outside of Paris, make it one area. If you only have a week, 10 days, you cannot go around to all these areas because you will see nothing.
[00:51:25] Annie Sargent: So pick one, on this trip I’m going to go explore the Strasbourg area, or I’m going to explore Lyon, I’m going to explore Nice, I’m going to explore Bordeaux, Toulouse. You could go to Rennes, you know, just pick an area and explore that for a few days. Don’t try to do Dordogne, Provence, Loire Valley, Normandy beaches all in 10 days. You will drive yourself crazy and you won’t have a good time. So don’t do it.
[00:51:53] Brian Revel: And you’ll be exhausted. You’ll need a vacation after your holiday.
[00:51:57] Annie Sargent: Don’t do it, yep.
[00:51:58] Annie Sargent: Brian, thank you so, so much for talking to me, it’s been a delight andcongratulate you on your wonderful French, bravo, bravo, tres bien.
[00:52:06] Brian Revel: Merci.
[00:52:08] Annie Sargent: And hopefully you’ll keep listening to the podcast and you’ll continue to contribute on the Facebook group as well, because that’s really important to have people who understand France to the level that you do.
[00:52:19] Brian Revel: Thank you very much, and Annie, just to say, I had been looking for a podcast and for Facebook pages like this, and I don’t know how it wound up finally on my feed sometime in the last year, but you popped up and you are a gem. I am so thrilled that I’ve come across you that I’ve come to know you a little bit through all of these podcasts.
[00:52:40] Brian Revel: You and Elyse. Elyse is amazing, amazing.
[00:52:44] We can’t leave her out of this picture because she tells some fantastic stories, and it’s just an absolute joy to just be transported sometimes to the places that you guys talk about and the history that you’re able to transmit in a way that’s understandable and enjoyable, and that’s the key part too.
[00:53:04] Brian Revel: So thank you very much, I don’t know, I think that frankly, one day you should maybe be in Légion d’Honneur.
[00:53:11] Annie Sargent: Oh, oh, you’re too kind, but probably not.
[00:53:13] Brian Revel: I think you’re good. The president you wanted got reelected, which I’m really happy for, and at the end of the day, I think he should write you a letter, I do.
[00:53:24] Annie Sargent: Thank you, Brian andhopefully next time you have a wonderful trip to France and go explore some other place, you’ll tell us about it as well.
[00:53:32] Brian Revel: I’d be delighted to, I sure will. Thank you very much for that.
[00:53:37] Annie Sargent: Merci, au revoir.
[00:53:38] Brian Revel: Merci, au revoir.
[00:53:39] Legal notice
[00:53:39] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2022, by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, Attribution, non-commercial, No derivatives license.
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