Transcript for Episode 409: French Professor Visits France

Category: Family Travel

Discussed in this Episode

  • Brittany (Bretagne)
  • Paris
  • Saint Etienne
  • Lyon
  • The Rhône Alpes area
  • Toraine
  • Dordogne
  • Roscoff
  • Ile de Batz
  • Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueysac
  • Saint Etienne
  • Museum Museum
  • Pilat
  • Sainte-Maries-de-la-Mer
  • Camargue
  • Auvergne
  • Issoire
  • Lac Pavin (an eerie circular lake)
  • Vulcania
  • Le Puy de Sancy
  • Le Pal
  • Le Chateau de Val
  • Michelin tires museum

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent:

[00:00:14] Intro

[00:00:14] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France episode 409, quatre cent neuf.

[00:00:21] 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 and news related to travel to France.

[00:00:36] Today on the podcast: French Professor Visits France

[00:00:36] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Brooke Cunningham Koss who is a French professor, about her fast-paced trip through France.

[00:00:46] Annie Sargent: Brooke went places where most people don’t go because she has friends in France that are so dear to her that they feel like family. We also talked about how to practice your French in France and strategies for improving your speaking skills. She’s been teaching this stuff for a long time. She knows what works and what doesn’t.

[00:01:10] Podcast supporters

[00:01:10] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service and my GPS Self-guided Tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. You can browse all of that at my boutique

[00:01:29] The France bootcamp is SOLD OUT

[00:01:29] Annie Sargent: I sent out the newsletter about the France Bootcamp on Monday evening as promised, and by the time I got up on Tuesday morning, there were already 25 people signed up. It’s probably gone up since then, so the maximum number of participants is 40. Bootcamp participants, you’ll hear more details from me via emails.

[00:01:52] Annie Sargent: To find out about events such as the 2023 Bootcamp in Toulouse, sign up for the newsletter by going to I’m also working on a new theme for the newsletter that I’ll hope to send out next month.

[00:02:09] Annie Sargent: I’m going to be away exploring France for four days this week, so I’m having to schedule this episode earlier than normal. It’ll come out on Sunday, 6:00 PM France time as always, but by then I’ll be visiting La Grotte de Chauvet.

[00:02:26] Thank you new patrons

[00:02:26] Annie Sargent: Because of the shortened work week, I will not include any remarks after this interview, but I do want to thank two new patrons this week Ellie Jenkins and Margaret Reeder. Thank you so much for becoming patrons and making this podcast possible. To become a patron, and make sure you keep hearing new episodes of the podcast every week, go to and next week on the podcast, it’ll be an episode with Elyse Rivin about Classic French soups. It’s getting to be soup weather in France. Perhaps you’ll enjoy some culinary inspiration.

[00:03:04] Brooke Koss Interview


[00:03:13] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Brooke Koss and welcome to Join Us in France.

[00:03:19] Brooke Koss: Bonjour Annie. Merci beaucoup.

[00:03:21] How did you learn French so well

[00:03:21] Annie Sargent: Lovely to talk to you, and we could have done this whole interview in French because your French is excellent, but of course, we’re not going to, but I do want to know how you learned French so well.

[00:03:34] Brooke Koss: Oh man. Annie, it’s been a really interesting journey. So I grew up in Louisiana. My childhood was spent there, which was my first exposure to the French language and French culture. But I didn’t officially start taking French classes until I was 19. So I am a late, late learner of French. It’s my second language, and I started in college, just like a bunch of other people do. And from there, it became my passion. I was a sociology major and I decided to double major because French was just where it was at. I loved it. And here I am at 36, still speaking French.

[00:04:11] Teaching French

[00:04:11] Annie Sargent: And you teach French, right?

[00:04:13] Brooke Koss: I do. I am an adjunct professor at a local university, and I also offer classes in my local community in Texas.

[00:04:21] Trip to France

[00:04:21] Annie Sargent: Wonderful. Okay. So now we’re going to talk about your trip to France. And you sent me a lovely outline. We’re mostly going to talk about places outside of Paris but I assume you’ve been to France many times, right?

[00:04:35] Annie Sargent: I have, I’ve had the great fortune of going to France several times, first as a student, and then as an “assistent anglais”, an English teacher in public schools, or an English assistant, not really a teacher in France. So I’ve been traveling back and forth to France since about 2008, many times. Yeah. Les assistants, they’re the ones we like to torture .

[00:04:57] Brooke Koss: Oh, my gosh. Yes, you’re absolutely right, especially “les collégiens”. Oh goodness, my middle school students, they were wild.

[00:05:04] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes. Oh, anybody works with middle school, deserves a medal.

[00:05:10] Tips about how to actually use your French in France

[00:05:10] Okay. So you had some great tips about how to actually use your French in France. I want to hear about that.

[00:05:18] La politesse

[00:05:18] Brooke Koss: Yeah, I think you have done such a great job of promoting La politesse, just courtesy language in France to get people to break the ice, so to speak. And I would recommend the same thing. If you are in a train station, at an airport, at a cafe, the best thing you can do is to initiate in French with a simple Bonjour Madam, Bonjour Monsiuer and kind of take the conversation from there based on your level of French.

[00:05:44] Brooke Koss: I think that’s a really great, easy tip.

[00:05:46] Annie Sargent: Yeah, because French people will assume, if the first word out of your mouth isn’t Bonjour, they will assume that you’re not a friendly person, that you’re not, like you don’t belong. Like it’s weird, we have this immediate judgment of others. If they don’t say Bonjour, because in America you can totally start a conversation without saying Hello, right? Nobody cares. But here they do.

[00:06:11] Brooke Koss: Yeah. And this is something curious that maybe we can talk about another time, but it’s just kind of the rules of courtesy in France, I think are highly valued by French people. And so as a foreigner coming to France, it’s really important, even just from like a sociological perspective to think about how you can best interact with the people there in the country.

[00:06:34] Brooke Koss: And like you said, saying Bonjour is a super easy way to do it.

[00:06:37] Annie Sargent: That’s all that’s asked.

[00:06:38] Kids as ice breakers

[00:06:38] Annie Sargent: The other thing that you mentioned, this brought a smile to my face, you said that kids are good for as ice breakers as well. Right?

[00:06:47] Brooke Koss: Oh, Yes. My kids have been one of the quickest ways to put a smile on a French person’s face, because usually they’re covered in like melting ice cream or they’re running around in the dirt or just doing things that are innocent and fun that kids do. And so we’ve gotten many comments from people or requests to help us.

[00:07:11] Kids as ice-breakers in France

[00:07:11] Brooke Koss: For example, when we were in La Dordorgne, I was carrying my two year-old at the time in this backpack kind of carrier, and I also had my five year-old on my back. I looked like a camel walking in this Le Jardin Suspendu with these two kids on front of me and behind me. And this lovely French woman walked up to me and she goes Oh la la, c’est beaucoup, non ? And I was like, oh my goodness, you have no idea.

[00:07:38] Brooke Koss: You know, just the burden of these kids on my back, but she was very sweet and they made room for us on the path and offered to give us space when we needed it or assistance for a hand up on the step. So yeah, kids are a really, really wonderful way to kind of melt away that foreigner aura that we sometimes put off because yeah, everyone just generally likes kids.

[00:07:59] Annie Sargent: In France people love kids. Yesterday, Elyse and I were at a museum in Bordeaux and there was this little kid in a stroller. He was just so chatty, you know, he wasn’t talking yet, but he was babbling and the babbling was adorable. And then about half an hour into the visit when he got frustrated with something and started whining, the two ladies who were with him took great care of it, and nobody cared that he was grouchy because he had been so cute this whole time, you know.

[00:08:32] Yeah, totally. I think it’s so sweet.

[00:08:36] Annie Sargent: Of course, dogs play the same role, but you don’t want to bring your dog to France just to break the ice.

[00:08:43] Brooke Koss: Yeah, that might be a little overboard, unless it’s like maybe one of those special assistance animals, maybe that would work for sure.

[00:08:49] Annie Sargent: Of course. All right.

[00:08:51] Staying at Bed and Breakfast

[00:08:51] Annie Sargent: Then the other thing you mentioned was staying at Bed and Breakfast or places like that.

[00:08:56] Brooke Koss: Yeah, we’ve had some really good luck staying with Bed and Breakfast. You can find them on I’ve also utilized Gîtes de France, which I’m not sure if you recommend that label, but I found that it’s a really great way to not only interact with French people who own the places that you’re staying in, but also to ensure that you have top quality place to stay because the Gîtes de France have to register with the government if I’m not mistaken.

[00:09:25] Annie Sargent: I don’t know the details, to tell you the truth.

[00:09:27] Brooke Koss: Okay. I think that’s true, but yeah, every time we’ve stayed there, the hosts have been present, available, they’ve offered to feed us, share with us about their regional history. We had a gentleman, an older couple when we stayed in La Turenne close to Tulle, a couple of years ago.

[00:09:47] Brooke Koss: He was just the friendliest. He came in every morning, knocked on the door, made sure that we were comfortable. He and his wife wanted to bring us some local breads and jams. And of course, they likeshared with us about their experiences, like traveling internationally, but also the things that they enjoyed there locally.

[00:10:04] Brooke Koss: So, we’ve just had some really great encounters with hosts of B&Bs and Gîtes de France.

[00:10:11] Annie Sargent: That’s very nice. When I do itineraries with people I usually recommend B&Bs. Some places like Paris, B&Bs are very, very hard to find, but most of the places in France you have B&Bs in the city. And it’s usually a very nice way, because it’s true that a B&B, the host is there in the morning and you’ll chat for a while, which if you want to practice your French, that’s what you want to do.

[00:10:38] Brooke Koss: Exactly. Yeah. And to your point about the cities, you know, finding it difficult to find a B&B in Paris, that’s just more impetus or motivation to make your travel plans outside of Paris, to interact with people who are profoundly French and who will speak to you only in French. Traveling the rest of the country is a wonderful way to work on your language skills.

[00:11:00] Annie Sargent: And it’s not that the people of Paris are not French, obviously they are, but they are in a big hurry and they just need to get on with it. And if your French is hesitant at all, they will just switch to English immediately. And sometimes, even if your French is not hesitant, they will switch to English. So it is just habit. Like they serve everybody, almost everybody in English. So that’s what they do all day.

[00:11:26] Brooke Koss: Absolutely. Yeah. I found that being right outside of Paris is not difficult. You can go an hour really just from the city center and kind of be more in la campagne you know, more in the countryside. So you can even just do like a couple days outside of Paris and go back.

[00:11:43] Tandem, the app

[00:11:43] Annie Sargent: Right. And of course there are other options. You mentioned an app that you like, Tandem, tell us about that, because I don’t know anything about it.

[00:11:51] Brooke Koss: I just discovered it myself. So Tandem is a free app. You can do a free or paid service through this app to meet other people who want to practice their target languages. So for instance, when I signed up for the app, I stated that I speak English, it’s my first language, and then I chose the languages that I was learning.

[00:12:12] Brooke Koss: And I picked French just because I’m always wanting to improve, no matter what my level is, I always want to be better. And I think I also added German, which was kind of silly at the time, because I don’t really speak German, but I was curious to see who I would be matched with. And then of course, you can add your preferences.

[00:12:29] You can choose the partners based on different criteria, age, gender, even sometimes what their interests are, what they would like to speak about. And the app will match you to people who want to learn the same languages as you.

[00:12:43] Annie Sargent: Oh, nice.

[00:12:44] Brooke Koss: Yeah, it’s really great. So you start with a chat feature where you’re just texting back and forth, which is really helpful if you’re not, if your production skills are not great yet.

[00:12:53] If your writing skills are good, you can start with the text feature and then you can exchange over video chat once you and your partner agree to meet over video chat.

[00:13:02] Annie Sargent: Very nice.

[00:13:03] How long do you find it takes a person to learn French, well enough for travel?

[00:13:03] How long do you find it takes a person to learn French, well enough for travel.

[00:13:12] Brooke Koss: Wow, that is such a great question. So yeah, since it’s my profession, I tell my students that ideally, they would be in an immersive experience where they’re speaking French consistently and regularly for two years to maybe get to like a B1, B2 level.

[00:13:30] Brooke Koss: It’s a criteria that a lot of countries use to determine someone’s language proficiency, and a B1, B2 is probably passable conversation. You can talk about yourself, you can talk about the weather, you can ask helpful or important questions. You can share a little bit more about your job, maybe other interests you have. But to be like what I would consider maybe C1, C2, which is like near native fluency, it takes much longer, and probably takes a lot more exposure to French.

[00:14:00] Brooke Koss: So I was fortunate that I got to spend about a year living in France when I was an English assistant in the schools, and I interacted with my peers and my friends only in French. And I saved all of my English just for my students and the teachers I was working with.

[00:14:17] Brooke Koss: So I really encourage people, if you plan to move even temporarily to France, to try to find, not the expat community, find the French community.

[00:14:27] Brooke Koss: Make friends in like a social club. I joined a volleyball team when I was an assistant and had these wonderful, like intergenerational conversations with older people and people my age, all in French. And it really, really helped me to improve.

[00:14:41] Annie Sargent: Yes, definitely. That’s one of the first things my husband did when we moved to France. He joined choirs. And the choirs had all of these French people who were delighted to meet this American who could speak French.

[00:14:53] Yes. That’s true, there’s kind of that interesting experience of being a foreigner in a predominantly French space because people are curious. I find French people are generally curious about Americans anytime I visit, mostly like the political arena.

[00:15:10] But, you know, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to engage in French. Even if it is about something, maybe contentious like politics or religion, it’s still an opportunity. So take it. Avail yourself of every opportunity is what I say.

[00:15:24] Annie Sargent: Absolutely, yeah.We have to remind everybody listening that if you speak zero French and all you know is Bonjour and you plan to be visiting places in France where there are a lot of tourists, Paris, the Riviera, Normandy, if you go to Strasbourg at Christmas time, there are lots of tourists there.

[00:15:47] They can deal with somebody who doesn’t know any French, honestly, but you still have to do this Bonjour thing, otherwise, they don’t like you.

[00:15:57] Yeah. You’re right on with that, absolutely.

[00:16:01] What places did you visit and what did you like best?

[00:16:01] Annie Sargent: Okay. So tell us where you went on this last trip and some of the things that you liked best.

[00:16:08] Sure, so every time we come to France, our itinerary is based on the people that we’re planning to see. I have friends who are kind of spread out in different regions of France. But for this particular trip, we knew that our anchor points would be Brittany, Bretagne, Paris and St. Etienne, Lyon, that area, so Rhône Alpes.

[00:16:30] Brooke Koss: And we wanted to make kind of a bit of a circle starting in Paris, going north to Brittany, down to La Touraine, Amboise, and then La Dordogne, down to St. Etienne where I have friends and then a little bit further south into Provence. And then we came back North through Auvergne, because I also have friends there and then straight back up to Paris. So it was very, very ambitious, but it was meant to be like a traveling tour to see all of our friends.

[00:17:03] Annie Sargent: Right. And you did this in how many days?

[00:17:05] Brooke Koss: 30 days, Annie.

[00:17:07] Annie Sargent: Okay. 30 days. Well, that’s not bad, I mean, yeah. That’s, that’s good. I mean, you kept moving a lot.

[00:17:13] Brooke Koss: We moved a lot. Yeah. To say the least.

[00:17:16] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. So besides the visits with friends, which are obviously lovely, but most people cannot go visit your friends, what sticks out in your mind as favorites?

[00:17:28] Favorites in Brittany

[00:17:28] Brooke Koss: You know, I was very pleasantly surprised by Brittany. I had heard from so many people that it was rainy and cold and just not the right kind of climate for a tourist. And I was like, oh, I’m never going there. But we have had absolutely gorgeous weather and we were there late September. So, what we really liked about Brittany in particular, was the access to beaches.

[00:17:55] Brooke Koss: And because I have small children, a lot of my plans revolve around what will work with their schedules, and their needs and beaches are perfect for everyone, kids, adults, animals, just real easy relaxing on the beach.

[00:18:09] Brooke Koss: And we were in a town called Roscoff, right across from, it’s on the English Channel side, so right across from Plymouth, England, you can actually take a ferry between the two towns. And there was a tiny island off of the coastline called Ile de Batz. Yeah, we just loved it, we enjoyed the coastal relaxed beachy vibe of Brittany. We felt just very, very relaxed there.

[00:18:33] Annie Sargent: So, this is funny because you know that the locals say Ile de Batz, but me looking at it, I would’ve just said Ile de Batz because I don’t know. You know, so there are a lot of French words like that where until you hear the locals say it, you cannot say for sure how you’re supposed to read that.

[00:18:52] Brooke Koss: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Annie, I laughed at myself last week. I talked to a friend and I said, Mole House. And she said, do not say that when you come to France. I had no idea it was Nu, that right? Meulhouse. Yeah. So it’s to your point, you can look at something and it just like, how, how on the worst, but I say that so.

[00:19:12] So you enjoyed that and so how’d you get to this island? Oh, you take the ferry or is there like…

[00:19:17] Brooke Koss: You take a small ferry. It’s about a 20 minute journey there and a 20 minute journey back.

[00:19:22] Annie Sargent: And it’s a municipal ferry, so it’s not very expensive, I assume.

[00:19:26] Brooke Koss: Yes, you’re correct, it’s not very expensive. I’m not sure if it was a municipal ferry, but yes, it was very affordable. And you can take a bike or a scooter, because there’s not very much car traffic on this little island and yeah, just like cruise around and hang out there for the day and then come back to the coastline and hang out in the Roscoff.

[00:19:43] You know, this year, Brittany was very hot, just like the rest of France.

[00:19:48] Brittany is a great place to vacation, not as hot as the rest of France

[00:19:48] Annie Sargent: I think that because of climate change, it’s possible that in the dead of the summer, so if you’re coming in July or August, because maybe you’re a teacher and that’s when you can come, then it might be wise to go Brittany or North of Brittany because it was very hot, but it didn’t last as long as it did. Like the Toulouse area was just an oven. It was terrible. I wasn’t here most of the time, because I was in Spain, but most of August, I would look at the temperatures and just go, oh geez, it’s never going to cool off, is it? So yeah, Brittany gets plenty of sunny, warm days in the summer, these days. A hundred years ago it wasn’t like that. Well, that makes sense to me now because I thought, maybe I misunderstood about Brittany being cold and rainy, but evidently, a hundred years can change a lot.

[00:20:43] Annie Sargent: Unfortunately, yes.

[00:20:44] Brooke Koss: Unfortunately, indeed. So that was great. We’ve done the Les Chateaux and near the Loire. So I think that’s great. If you’re interested in going to Les Chateaux, more power to you.

[00:20:58] Dordogne

[00:20:58] We also did La Dordogne, which I think a lot of your listeners have gone to before, or have heard a lot about. And I mean, it’s just hard to compete with the stunning vistas in La Dordogne. It’s just a really beautiful, very nature friendly place. So it was great. We really enjoyed it.

[00:21:16] Loire, Chenonceau

[00:21:16] Annie Sargent: Yeah. But you went too fast on the Loire area. So this time, you went to some chateaux, right?

[00:21:24] Brooke Koss: We went to Chenonceau, we just went to the one. It’s my favorite. We’ve been to a couple different castles in the area. Azay-le-Rideau maybe that one is my favorite, I’m not sure. I like Chenonceau because when you walk through the Grand Hall with the checkered floor, you have the view of the Cher going underneath.

[00:21:41] Brooke Koss: I mean, that’s just really, that’s just really gorgeous.

[00:21:44] Annie Sargent: Yes. And with kids, you can canoe underneath the arches, underneath the Chateau. Did you know that?

[00:21:51] Brooke Koss: I did see people doing that. I didn’t take my kids, but I did see people on their canoes going underneath the castle, which seemed really fun. It looked really cool. Have you done it before?

[00:22:01] Brooke Koss: I have not done it. I’ve seen it, but not done it. I’m not big into canoes. Yeah, me neither.

[00:22:09] I’d rather ride a bike.

[00:22:09] Cycling in Touraine

[00:22:09] Brooke Koss: Yeah, and to your point about Touraine, I think that’s a great place to do some cycling, right?

[00:22:14] Brooke Koss: Because it’s kind of flat. So I saw there were lots of places to hire bikes in the area, if you like biking.

[00:22:22] Annie Sargent: Oh, yes. Yes. And it’s very well maintained, is another reason why it’s worth recommending it. Because there are parts of France where the cycling paths are not great. Like right now, the Canal du Midi, if you want to cycle along there, be prepared to have a really sore rear end, because it’s really bumpy and there’s roots and they just don’t maintain it the way they need to.

[00:22:49] Annie Sargent: Sometimes the path gets too narrow and it’s just not a very good experience. Whereas in the Loire, they really keep that biking path in very good condition. So that’s another reason to do it there.

[00:23:05] French roads are generally well maintained

[00:23:05] Brooke Koss: Yeah, I could totally see that. I feel like everywhere we drove, just in terms of the driving, was the roads were very well maintained. I don’t remember hitting any potholes or feeling like it was dangerous to drive in that area, and of course it’s so bucolic because you have all of the rolling hills and the fields.

[00:23:22] Brooke Koss: So it seems like a great place to ride bikes.

[00:23:25] Annie Sargent: Yeah, French roads are usually maintained fairly well. The thing is, in July and August is when they actually close a lot of roads for maintenance. Lots of villages and places like that will have temporary road closures and you’re driving along and you’re like, I gotta find, but usually they will accurately mark the deviation, the deviation.

[00:23:48] Annie Sargent: You don’t say deviation in English, do you?

[00:23:50] Brooke Koss: I think we would say an alternate route, or detour.

[00:23:53] Annie Sargent: Detour, detour that’s it. That’s it.

[00:23:55] Annie Sargent: Detour, which the word detour in French has a different connotation. Un détour it means, like you wanted to go check out some things, somewhere along the route, so you went off and checked this out and then you came back on your original route.

[00:24:11] Annie Sargent: That’s what faire un détour means in French.

[00:24:16] Brooke Koss: Which I suppose is kind of similar. I mean, similar maybe to what we think about for roadways, but that’s curious. That’s very interesting.

[00:24:22] Annie Sargent: So from the Loire you went to…

[00:24:26] Sarlat-la-Caneda

[00:24:26] We went straight south to Sarlat. Which was a town we had heard was kind of like a nice place to stay if you wanted to go out to different points and travel in La Dordogne, which we kind of did. So we stayed in Sarlat, and then we did a boat ride down near, I might need your help on pronunciation, it’s La Roque-Gageac, did I say that right?

[00:24:46] Annie Sargent: La Roque-Gageac, you’re close. I don’t know if people can actually stay in those cliff side villages. Do you know if people can stay there?

[00:24:55] Annie Sargent: In La Roque-Gageac, they have different hotels and B&Bs and places like that. And around it as well. So you’ll find lots of accommodations.

[00:25:03] Brooke Koss: Okay.

[00:25:04] Camping grounds

[00:25:04] Brooke Koss: Well, I mean, it seemed like a great place to do camping. We saw a lot of people out with like their RVs and there were some like camping parks along the river, and they seemed really nice. Like, there was a pool at one, which is kind of unusual in the States. I don’t know a lot about RV camping in the States, but it seems like an RV Park in the United States wouldn’t necessarily have amenities like that.

[00:25:25] I thought that was really cool.

[00:25:27] French Campgrounds

[00:25:27] Annie Sargent: French camp grounds are usually very crowded. So people are very close packed together, I think too close. But they do have pools and things for kids to do and things like that. And they’re usually not far from a river or some sort of attraction.

[00:25:45] Brooke Koss: I had a friend recommend to me doing something called a Camping Terrain, is that campground, like going to a place that might have cheap accommodations?

[00:25:55] Annie Sargent: So un terrain de camping is a campground. Some of them are inexpensive and some of them are more expensive. Also some of them rent bungalows, I think just like they do in the US, right? No? I don’t know.

[00:26:08] Brooke Koss: Yeah, I know that some places in the United States are working more towards having like glamping, so really fancy tents.

[00:26:16] Annie Sargent: Glamping, I like it.

[00:26:18] Brooke Koss: So maybe it would be like the equivalent of glamping to have a nice accommodation on a camping ground.

[00:26:25] Brooke Koss: I’m curious to try it out sometime because you know, traveling to France and paying for all of our trips there can be quite expensive, so we’re always looking for cheap ways to stay in France.

[00:26:35] Annie Sargent: And you would also definitely be around locals. I mean, there might be the ocasional German tourist or English tourist or Spanish tourist. This year, we have a lot of Spanish tourists, I don’t know why, but France is full of Spaniards.

[00:26:53] Brooke Koss: Wow. That’s interesting, because I feel like a lot of people go to Spain or Germany, like I don’t know, but anyway, that’s cool. Interesting.

[00:27:02] Les jardins suspendus de Marqueyssac

[00:27:02] Annie Sargent: So what else did you do in the Dordogne?

[00:27:04] We loved our boat ride. They had this thing called gabarres, which is just I think like a traditional boat that used to carry cargo on the river and you can do a tour.

[00:27:14] After we did this gabarres, the boat ride, we went up to this really cool suspended garden. It’s on a cliff side, it’s called Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac. I think I’m saying that correctly.

[00:27:25] Annie Sargent: And we really liked it because it gave us a lot of outdoor time in shade and there was a playground for my children at the East end, I believe, of the gardens. So again, a lot of our itinerary focused on what would be easy for the kids, lots of outdoor activities, the boat ride obviously, and then finding lots of playgrounds, aire de jeux is what we found a lot of as well when we were driving off on the toll roads, and those were wonderful. So we really enjoyed the gardens. At Marqueyssac, they also have a good ice cream shop.

[00:28:01] Brooke Koss: They do. We indulged in some wonderful ice cream. Yes. I had never heard of those cherries, les griotte, is that a French cherry?

[00:28:12] les griotte, it means cherry, the chocolat a la griotte is like a chocolate with a cherry inside and usually some sort of liquor. I don’t know if a griotte is a specific French cherry, it’s a cherry. I don’t know that it’s any different. But when you can them or put them in something, they often call it griotte instead of cherises.

[00:28:34] Brooke Koss: Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting. It was so confusing to me on the menu because I knew cherises, and when I saw that it was translated to cherry in English, I was like, I had never seen this word before, or I just didn’t remember it.

[00:28:47] Brooke Koss: So that’s very cool. Thank you for explaining that.

[00:28:49] Brooke Koss: But yeah, the ice cream shop was great.

[00:28:51] Brooke Koss: There are peacocks that walk around, so there’s lots to enjoy in terms of people watching and animal watching and nature.

[00:29:00] Annie Sargent: Good views. Really nice photo. If you go to the end of the walk, you see one of the chateaux, I can’t remember which one it overlooks, but you see one of the chateaux. It’s very nice.

[00:29:10] Brooke Koss: Yeah, lots of opportunities for photos and just beautiful calming nature. The gardens are gorgeous. Definitely recommend.

[00:29:19] Rhônes-Alpes, St. Etienne

[00:29:19] Annie Sargent: And then from there you went across to the Rhônes-Alpes.

[00:29:24] Brooke Koss: Yes, this is my French home, le Rhônes-Alpes. This is where I feel the most French. I consider myself an honorary stéphanoise

[00:29:33] Annie Sargent: Oh, so that’s really interesting because St Etienne is not a city, it’s not touristic, right? There’s no tourists there.

[00:29:42] Brooke Koss: It’s not touristy, but it’s very international because of the University and L’ecole des Mines. One of the grandes écoles is in St. Etienne, so they attract a pretty diverse international community, even though it’s not like a hotspot for tourists.

[00:29:58] Annie Sargent: Because it used to be a mining town.

[00:30:00] Brooke Koss: Exactly. Yes. It used to be a mining town and there’s a really cool museum you can actually visit today and go down into the mining shaft.

[00:30:07] Annie Sargent: I have I have been there. It was very nice. You use the elevator, the same elevators that the miners use, it’s like spooky.

[00:30:15] Brooke Koss: Yes, it is. That’s a great way of describing it. It is spooky. Yeah. But they also are really well known for some of their industrial products. So they used to make bicycles and ribbon, and I think also guns. I think they have like a museum called, Le Musée d’Art et d’Industrie. I think is what it’s called. And you can go and see like some of the history of St. Etienne before they had the mines.

[00:30:42] Brooke Koss: So they had the mines and then they had this industrial products that they were putting out before then, I guess maybe like 19th century is when they would’ve been really common to them.

[00:30:52] Brooke Koss: St. Etienne, the city itself, I personally would not recommend people to visit, not because it’s not interesting or historical, but it’s really deep down in a valley and there’s a lot of cool stuff a little bit further outside of the city. I mean, you have some cool museums, because St. Etienne now has like cite du design. So they have a lot of cool stuff in terms of like graphic arts. But when you go outside of the city, you have Pilat these beautiful hills that surround the city itself, and you can visit some farms and you can go on donkey rides and it’s so close to Lyon. There are these really cool little villages, medieval villages around. So there’s just, it kind of serves as a great base to visit Rhônes-Alpes. Yeah. So I have a first cousin who lives in St Etienne, and we used to be very close when I was a teenager. We spent a lot of time together and I’ve seen them on and off, and I’ve been to their house in St. Etienne many times for family things, and they’re the ones who took us to the museum, The Miners Museum, yes. And I thought it was really, really cool because you know, when you have family somewhere, you just go see family and you sit around the table for a long time and you, we don’t really do much else. I haven’t seen them in a few years. I need to really touch base with them and go see them again, because they’re lovely people.

[00:32:16] Brooke Koss: Yeah, maybe someday I’ll meet you in St Etienne.

[00:32:19] Annie Sargent: That would be lovely.

[00:32:20] Regional language, dialects and accents

[00:32:20] Annie Sargent: And they have a wicked accent in St. Etienne.

[00:32:23] Brooke Koss: Yeah. They told me they had like their own regional language called le galin (gaga)

[00:32:28] Brooke Koss: Which I don’t know anything about it, but I think that’s something interesting for people who are curious about the French language, learning about the regional languages, but also les patois, because I mean, Americans don’t really know that much about it, unless they’ve taken extensive French courses. And those regional dialects or regional languages still impact some of the things French people say today, depending on where they grew up.

[00:32:52] I think it’s fascinating.

[00:32:53] Brooke Koss: But I love language, it’s my job.

[00:32:55] Annie Sargent: And St. Etienne used to have a very good soccer team, and they try to have a very good soccer team again, “les Verts”, but they’re not there yet. They might, they might come back.

[00:33:08] Brooke Koss: Oh, poor guys.

[00:33:10] Lovely place. And one that we haven’t really mentioned much on the podcast, because really, the downtown of St. Etienne and I’m like, well, oh, okay, it’s a town.

[00:33:18] Brooke Koss: Yeah, it’s a town. The people for me are the draw to St. Etienne, the city, but just a little outside the city there is a lot of really cool stuff to explore. I mean, I went to Le Puy en Velay, a super short train ride from St. Etienne, and I know that you and Elyse have talked about that before. So like I said, there’s some cool things to see in Le Rhônes-Alpes and even Auvergne that are very accessible if you want to stay someplace like St. Etienne.

[00:33:45] Provence, Arles

[00:33:45] Annie Sargent: Definitely. All right, let’s move on to Provence.

[00:33:48] Brooke Koss: Yeah, this was my first time going so far South, not in the Riviera and not in the West. I had been to Montpellier, and Cap d’Ail like several, several years ago. And I had been to Nice and Menton so I wanted to be close to Marseille.

[00:34:05] Brooke Koss: Okay, so here’s an admission. I really love Marcel Pagnol and I wanted to kind of see, La Trilogie Marseillaise is one of my favorite plays.

[00:34:17] Brooke Koss: I feel silly admitting it, but I just really enjoy it.

[00:34:19] Annie Sargent: I love him too. Those old movies are wonderful.

[00:34:22] Brooke Koss: I really like them. And you know, Daniel Auteuil, he’s done so many remakes of the Pagnol stuff that anyway, I just found it really cool to be in that area and kind of see like, oh, this is the ground, this is the earth where some of these books and things took place. So we decided to stay in Arles,because I felt like it wasn’t too fancy for us. I’d heard that Avignon and Aix en Provence might be more chic, if that makes sense.

[00:34:50] Annie Sargent: Very true.

[00:34:51] Brooke Koss: And so I wanted to stay someplace that had more of that salt of the earth kind of down home feel. And that’s why we picked Arles.

[00:34:59] Annie Sargent: Arles is lovely, it’s actually more French than Aix en Provence. Aix en Provence is a place that has a lot of old money. So these are people that like are between themselves, even the French ones. They don’t really mingle. Whereas in Arles, it’s like they’re more open and it’s more middle class.

[00:35:20] Brooke Koss: Yes, which is exactly what we are. We’re like very middle class mentality and I wanted to find people, like you’re saying, that were open to talking with us and maybe where we didn’t have to present any signs of like exorbitant wealth to even get a nod. I was really happy with our choice of Arles, and we stayed a little bit outside the city in a B&B again, and just loved that. The owner had a bunch of property, because she owns horses. So my kids got to go out every day and see the horses on her property, and she had a pool, which wasn’t open when we were there. But there was enough space that we were able to walk around and she had a children’s playground and she had a small kitchenette for us to use while we were there. So it really worked out very nicely.

[00:36:05] Annie Sargent: Nice. Yeah. And the recommendations for accommodations that you liked are going to be in your guest notes attached to this episode.

[00:36:13] Brooke Koss: Very cool. I know, I’m sure you visited many times, but the city itself seemed really cool in terms of like the Roman architecture.

[00:36:21] Brooke Koss: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard that there’s a lot more Roman architecture, like existing Roman architecture, in France than there is in Italy. Does that sound right?

[00:36:29] Annie Sargent: I’ve heard that too. I don’t know. I couldn’t quantify it, but there is a lot in France as well.

[00:36:35] Brooke Koss: It’s just so fascinating to me coming from a country where that’s just not possible. Like you don’t walk around and see things like huge Colosseums or Amphitheaters that were built thousand years ago or whatever. So it was just really cool getting to do that in Arles.

[00:36:51] Brooke Koss: And their market is really great because they wind you up on the main Boulevard and then you can wind around through town and you can go on the Van Gogh walk that they’ve set up with different plaques everywhere. And again, we found the best children’s playground right there on the, I think it’s called Boulevard des Lices, I think that’s what it is, the main street.

[00:37:10] We really enjoyed it. We thought it was really cool. And I bought my, this is one of my favorite souvenirs Annie, is to get this “senton” the little Provençal

[00:37:18] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:37:20] Brooke Koss: So we bought some of those in town because they had a shop right by the Colosseum or the Amphitheater. It was fun to go in there and chat with the shopkeeper.

[00:37:28] Very nice. And in Arles, they also do in August I think, there’s a festival of Roman kind of life and it’s called Arelate and they dress up and they have fights and they have all sorts of events.

[00:37:44] Annie Sargent: So if you’re there at the right time, that’s a fun thing to see in Arles.

[00:37:48] Brooke Koss: Oh, man, that sounds really fun. Well, they have all the right venues for it. I mean just beautiful history right there in the center of town. So definitely recommend visiting.

[00:37:57] And from there you went to Les Carrières des Lumières which I’ve recommended a million times. And the Pont du Gard obviously, it’s lovely.

[00:38:06] Olive Oil Press

[00:38:06] Annie Sargent: And olive oil press. Is that a place, like…

[00:38:10] Brooke Koss: Yeah, after we did the Pont du Gard, which I think is a little, is in the Southwest, so we were just maybe an hour and a half maybe from Arles, and this oil press was open to the public. You could come in and purchase some of the local products that this gentleman was making.

[00:38:26] Brooke Koss: And we happened to get there when he was really busy, but he took some time out and took us to the boutique and let us sample all the different olive oils and they were so cheap, Annie. I think I paid like six Euros for maybe like a 16 ounce bottle of this oil, this olive oil. So good.

[00:38:44] Annie Sargent: That’s a normal price. No? It seemed cheap to me, but maybe that’s because of the import tax or something on olive oil here.

[00:38:52] There will be links to all of these things in your show notes again. You did some fun stuff.

[00:38:58] Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Camargue.

[00:38:58] Annie Sargent: Oh, you also went to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Camargue.

[00:39:02] Brooke Koss: Oh yeah, you definitely have to go there if you’re in the South. We loved going to La Camargue. We did just a little driving tour down there. Took pictures of the flamingos at sunset. Maybe don’t go if you wear glasses like me, because driving home in the dark was kind of a kind of tricky. But La Camargue is great.

[00:39:18] Brooke Koss: And then of course, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a beautiful beach town. And we were there, I think right at the beginning of October. So there were no tourists, lovely, lovely time. I mean, it was also COVID, so we were really lucky not to like, be bumping into a bunch of people, but I think maybe October’s a bit slower for them. And those are just beautiful, beautiful beaches, right by the Mediterranean. So definitely recommend.

[00:39:43] Auvergne

[00:39:43] Annie Sargent: Yep. Very nice. Okay. And we’ll end on Auvergne because you also went to Paris, but we’ve been talking long enough that we really don’t have time to go into Paris. But Auvergne is one place, another place that we don’t talk about enough on the podcast. So I’d love to hear what you thought.

[00:40:01] Brooke Koss: Oh man, so I did my English assistantship in Auvergne. I was in a little town called, St Pourçain-sur-Sioule, but this time we were a bit further South near Issoire and we climbed up into the volcanic chain. So we wound our way North into this little town, near the Super Besse Ski Resort, because they do skiing in Auvergne.

[00:40:23] Lac Pavin

[00:40:23] Brooke Koss: And there was just some really cool, obviously volcanic rock architecture in this town. And we stayed at a B&B that was like on a cliff side and obviously, geared towards people who come to ski, but they accommodated us in one of their guest cottages. And she told me about this volcanic lake that was a couple kilometers north of where we were called, Lac Pavin. And it was the eeriest, most mystical experience I’ve had in France in a long time. Because you go out to this lake and it’s almost completely round. Like, the circumference is almost like a circle, like a perfect circle.

[00:41:02] Brooke Koss: And then you have the pine trees that reach out behind you, like all across the border of the lake. And when you look down into the water, it’s mossy and green, and not clear necessarily, but clear enough that you can see that there’s not a lot of life right there at the surface. So just very, very cool.

[00:41:23] Annie Sargent: I’m looking at their website. It’s interesting, it does look very round, that’s like, wow.

[00:41:29] Brooke Koss: Yes, cuz it’s right on top of an extinct volcano.

[00:41:32] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s why!

[00:41:34] Brooke Koss: Yeah, it’s super cool. And I think, I don’t know if a lot of Americans know, or even people outside of France know that there are extinct volcanoes in France. There’s a whole chain of them.

[00:41:45] Annie Sargent: There’s even a kids’ attraction park, I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s like a whole thing with rides and things. The one I was thinking of is called Vulcania. It’s a kind of a amusement park around the theme of volcanoes. And then they have another thing that you can visit called Le Puy de Sancy. And have to admit, I have not been there. And they also have rides for kids, something called Le Pal, which I have not been to either anyway. Yeah. There are things to do. This is not a very touristy area, but they do have a very beautiful chateau called, the Chateau de Val, there’s lovely hikes, it’s a really good place. I intend to go sometime, but I haven’t, and Michelin, the tires, is from that area as well, so you have like a museum to the Michelin tires.

[00:42:49] Brooke Koss: That’s right. I think they also produce, is it Volvic, the water?

[00:42:53] Annie Sargent: Probably. Yeah, it might be from there. Yeah, there is a water called Volvic that’s very popular in France.

[00:42:59] Brooke Koss: I feel like it might be from Clermont or Auvergne, somewhere from there. There’s lots to do in terms of like nature, hiking and just enjoying the beauty of Auvergne. I think it’s a lot of farmers though. Like a very pastoral area.

[00:43:13] Annie Sargent: Oh, yeah, it’s very, it’s much more rural and it’s also cold in the winter. This is a place that gets a real winter, you know, like ice and snow and freezing and things like that.

[00:43:26] Brooke Koss: Yes, you’re right. It is very cold.

[00:43:28] Annie Sargent: So you might want to pick when you want to go.

[00:43:31] Annie Sargent: If you don’t want to,

[00:43:32] Brooke Koss: spring

[00:43:32] Annie Sargent: Yeah, summer or spring is probably wisest. All right. Okay.

[00:43:38] Book recomandation for people learning French

[00:43:38] Annie Sargent: One last question before I let you go, what’s a book that you recommend to your learners, French learners, something in French that you think is approachable for people who are like doing 101-102, 201 in college?

[00:43:56] Brooke Koss: So I would probably say if you’re learning French from scratch, you might want to start with an English translation of something that’s kind of a simple text. And what I mean, like as a simple text, is that the vocabulary will not be all in the subjunctive or all in the passe simple.

[00:44:15] So something like L’etranger from Albert Camus is great for beginners, but start in English. So have a dual copy, a bilingual copy.

[00:44:26] Brooke Koss: And now, I’m not saying that from a philosophical perspective, because the philosophy that Albert Camus is pushing in his book there might be more challenging if you’re not very savvy in philosophy, but in terms of the language, the level of the language, I find that book is pretty palatable for a new learner of French.

[00:44:47] Brooke Koss: And I always tell people that plays are really great because there’s a lot of dialogue, but there’s also not a lot of like heavy genre. So reading something like Rousseau would be really hard versus something like Jean Cocteau is one of my favorite playwrights. And I found that reading something from Jean Cocteau would be like La Machine Infernal was really easy for me to read when I was doing my studies.

[00:45:15] Yeah, plays, I find that plays are really easy for learners of French.

[00:45:20] Annie Sargent:En attendant Godot.

[00:45:23] Brooke Koss: Oh, my goodness, yes.

[00:45:25] Annie Sargent: But that’s absurd, so you got to, you have to kind of stay with it, because the story is so weird.

[00:45:31] Brooke Koss: It’s so weird. It’s so weird. And I liked Les Bonnes, which is also absurdist, but you are right, weird stuff.

[00:45:39] Brooke Koss: It’s very weird.

[00:45:40] Annie Sargent: Then I know that, I think that French learners also enjoy Le Petit Nicolas.

[00:45:46] Brooke Koss: They do.

[00:45:48] Sempe, the author, has died recently, so we talked about him quite a bit in French news and stuff. Les Petit Nicolas is good. Of course, Le Petit Prince is also a very good one. Although I think the level of language, I mean, it’s simple short sentences, but I’m not sure how easy it is to read in French.

[00:46:09] Annie Sargent: I haven’t read it in too long to remember if it’s complex or not. I mean, the story is amazing, but I’m not sure what the language is like. It’s been too long.

[00:46:20] Brooke Koss: Yeah. I feel like going with something like Les Petit Nicolas is great, because it’s short chapters, but I also love telling people to look at the B D, Bandes Dessinees, comic books, because those are really great. Yeah, Asterix. And there’s so many people, even today, I have a new favorite author. She lives in Lyon. Her name is Fannie Vela.

[00:46:41] Brooke Koss: And she writes some really cool comic books about childhood experiences, but also like trauma. So, you know, like interesting themes that would appeal to an adult audience, but are written in a more simpler way, so anyway.

[00:46:55] Annie Sargent: Excellent. Excellent recommendations. Well, I think we’re going to have to bring this to a close, Brooke, thank you so much for talking to me for giving wonderful recommendations. And yeah, people check out the guest notes for this episode, because what you sent me is very interesting with lots of links to things you did and everything.

[00:47:15] Annie Sargent: So I think it’ll help people to get an idea of what they might want to do themselves.

[00:47:21] Brooke Koss: Yeah, Annie, thank you so much for having me today. I’m so glad that you started this project so many years ago because I have been a listener and a fan for a long time. And this has just been a real treat to get to talk to you today.

[00:47:33] Brooke Koss: So thank you so much.


[00:47:35] 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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Category: Family Travel