Table of Contents for this Episode
[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France, episode 464, quatre cent soixante quatre.
[00:00:23] 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.
Today on the podcast
[00:00:38] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a trip report with Robin and Raymond about their love for the French Alps.
[00:00:45] They love an adventure and the Alps deliver!
[00:00:49] Their favorite thing on this trip was parasailing. They explain why to them, snowboarding is better in the Alps than anywhere else they’ve tried, and they’ve tried a lot of places.
[00:01:00] But if you don’t parasail or snowboard, you should listen anyway, because they have wonderful tips about visiting that part of France in general, and they have so much energy.
[00:01:13] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app, or you can take a day trip with me around the southwest of France in my electric car.
[00:01:30] You can browse all of that on my boutique joinusinfrance.com/boutique.
2024 Bootcamp is Confirmed!
[00:01:35] Annie Sargent: I want to confirm that there will be a 2024 bootcamp in Toulouse. It will start at 10 AM on Saturday, May 11th, 2024, next year. And will end at 9:30PM on Sunday, May 19th. So if you’d like to participate, you should be in Toulouse between May 10th and May 20th.
[00:01:57] I have many people on a waiting list for this bootcamp and they’ll get the link to the reservation page first. It’s not ready yet, but as soon as it’s ready, they’ll get it first. Then my patrons will get their chance to secure their spot, and then I’ll open it up to everyone on my email list. I only have 40 spots for this bootcamp and it sold out very quickly last year.
[00:02:22] If you’re not on the email list, and I’ll grant you that I’m not good at sending lots of emails. So perhaps you are on the email list and you don’t know it. You wouldn’t be the first one. You can always sign up by going to joinusinfrance.com/newsletter. And as always, make sure that you confirm that you want to be in the newsletter, otherwise, you know, if you just do the one step, it’s a two-step process.
[00:02:45] I’ll talk more about the bootcamp on the podcast and on the Facebook page and group as well, but I’ll give first dibs to the people who already know they want to do this.
The Magazine part of the podcast
[00:02:56] Annie Sargent: There’s lots to discuss for the magazine part of the podcast, after the interview today. I’ll discuss my recent trip through the French Atlantic Coast, between Arcachon and Foura, which is more or less between Bordeaux and La Rochelle. I’ll share an email I got from Brittany Erickson, she was visiting France with her husband Nate for the first time. They noticed lots of things that I’m sure will help all of you have a great time in France and I want to comment on some of the things she said. I’ll also talk about something else because perhaps you have an… itch for a good laugh? Hmm? Well, I’ll talk about the tiny, but not so nice critters that ruin bedtime stories.
[00:03:38] Lots to talk about, let’s start with Robin and Raymond who are in love with the French Alps.
Robin and Raymond interview
[00:03:52] Annie Sargent: Bonjour, Raymond and Robin, and welcome to Join Us in France.
[00:03:57] Robin and Raymond: Bonjour. Bonjour. Merci.
[00:03:59] Annie Sargent: Lovely to have you both. You had a fantastic trip in the French Alps. I want to hear all about it.
When Did They Travel to France?
[00:04:06] Annie Sargent: So first tell us when your trip took place and why you picked the French Alps.
[00:04:11] Robin and Raymond: We went February 16th to the 26th in 2023, and we chose the French Alps because I am a French teacher and also because Raymond had gone there when he was a teenager. So he wanted to revisit.
[00:04:26] Annie Sargent: Okay. And so you teach high school or college?
[00:04:29] Robin and Raymond: I teach middle school, eighth graders, so it’s their second year of learning French.
[00:04:35] Annie Sargent: Fantastic. Fantastic. Did you get to use your French in the French Alps?
[00:04:39] Robin and Raymond: I did use my French and one of my students was there, she was going on the trip and I waited till about a week before to tell her that I was also going to be there. So that was really fun. We actually met up with them, and met up and got to see her in France, which was neat.
[00:04:54] Annie Sargent: That’s fantastic. All right. So how did you get around? You flew into Switzerland or Paris?
[00:05:00] Robin and Raymond: We flew into Geneva, which is the closest city if you want to go to Chamonix. We rented a car and it’s only about an hour and change. And we needed a car because there was a few other places we wanted to go, including we hit up Annecy real quick on the way through to do some shopping. And then we had planned on going to Switzerland and Italy, so the car really worked out for us.
[00:05:21] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so, I have to ask you because I was just writing something about not getting a ticket while you’re driving in France, did you get any tickets?
[00:05:28] Robin and Raymond: No, I think maybe because I’ve heard your podcast before and others and said, don’t speed. So I didn’t let her drive. She’s got a lead foot.
[00:05:37] Annie Sargent: Yeah, no, you don’t want to speed, not even one over, you’ll get caught.
[00:05:40] Robin and Raymond: Yeah.
[00:05:41] Annie Sargent: They’re very sneaky where they put those speed traps, and yeah, so, well done, congratulations on not getting a ticket.
[00:05:49] Robin and Raymond: Thank you.
[00:05:50] Annie Sargent: All right, let’s talk about your favorite places on this trip. You listed some that are fantastic, some that I would never do, including the very first one.
Parapente off Le Brévent
[00:05:59] Annie Sargent: You did a parapente off Le Brévent, oh, are you crazy?
[00:06:06] Robin and Raymond: A little bit. We’re definitely risk takers.
[00:06:08] Oh yeah, we would do that one again. I think we’d do that one again. Yeah, for sure. It was just the, the view was just spectacular and, you know, it just happened so fast.Years ago here I went skydiving and it was, you know, signing your life away and I’d watch these videos and here it was just, you know, we met them, they had the parapente, the chutes on their backs. We got in the lift with them, rode up and she’s getting everything all hooked up and she says, okay, run. And so I just started running. Next thing you know, we were in the air.
[00:06:38] Annie Sargent: In the air, yeah. So how do you say parapente in English? I’m not even sure how to say that. Is it a glider?
[00:06:46] Paragliding. Okay. Yeah, so this is the one where you’re on the edge of the mountain and you run off and there’s a little, there’s an engine, right?
[00:06:54] Robin and Raymond: No, no, they do, they do have some with that, but, you know, everybody in Chamonix, it’s just, it’s just the sail. It’s just a wing. It’s like a parachute, but you just run off the mountain. And now I know it sounds super scary. But I think both Robin and I, our experience was, it happened so fast, and within a few seconds of you running, you’re 100 feet above the ground, and then you’re 500 feet above the ground, and it’s so peaceful.
[00:07:20] Robin actually at one point, her pilot said, look down below us, there was an eagle flying right below them.
[00:07:26] Annie Sargent: Oh, wow!
[00:07:27] Robin and Raymond: Yeah.
[00:07:28] Annie Sargent: That’s pretty special, yeah.
[00:07:30] Robin and Raymond: And our guides were, our pilots were so experienced, they… Unfortunately, Robin took off rather quickly, and I was like, oh, I missed out on all the opportunity to take pictures of her, and then sure enough, our two pilots got us right next to each other, so I took so many photos of her, and we could, you know, shout at each other, we could talk to each other from a distance.
[00:07:48] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s fantastic. Did you share some of those photos? I don’t remember. Okay. Okay. Okay.
[00:07:53] Very good. That’s excellent. Okay. So how did you arrange that? You booked it online or…?
[00:07:58] Robin and Raymond: I booked it online. Yeah.
[00:08:01] Annie Sargent: And you found it just Googling around?
[00:08:04] Robin and Raymond: Yes. That was certainly something we were interested in and I was like, well, you know, maybe the Alps is not the best place to do it just because we have other stuff going on. But then once I saw pictures of it, I was like, yeah, that’s the place you have to do it, so…
[00:08:16] Annie Sargent: That’s quite hard to beat. I mean, if that was your favorite, I don’t know, going on a boat ride is not going to do it for you.
[00:08:22] Robin and Raymond: No, no. Next time we go, you join us. Three of us will will go.
[00:08:26] Annie Sargent: Oh, no, no, no. I would have a heart attack. I mean, honestly, I am a scaredy cat. I have always been a scaredy cat. I think it’s genetic. My mom was a scaredy cat. My daughter is a scaredy cat. Eh, no. We don’t do this. My brother though, he does this. See? So, yeah, yeah, yeah. He does. He’s done this parapente, not far from, he has a country house and there’s a parapente that, and I hate to say this, but once in a while you read a news article about things going wrong and somebody getting very hurt or dying sometimes.
[00:08:56] It’s not common, but it can happen.
[00:08:58] Robin and Raymond: After we landed, we saw somebody, his chute collapsed and he was falling towards the ground. He opened up his reserve and that one collapsed and his third one opened and he landed pretty hard, but he landed okay.
[00:09:11] Annie Sargent: Oh dear. Well, we know a guy, he’s very old by now, but he jumped out of airplanes many times, he was a paratrooper, and actually had a parachute not open three times.
[00:09:23] Robin and Raymond: Hmm.
[00:09:24] Annie Sargent: He’s full of, he’s full of metal plates. Anyway, on to, on to funner topics.
Snowboarding La Vallée Blanche
[00:09:30] Annie Sargent: Your second favorite was snowboarding La Vallée Blanche.
[00:09:34] I want to hear about that.
[00:09:36] Robin and Raymond: Oh, that was spectacular. We also, because we are snowboarders, we had to have a guide. Well, everybody has to have a guide pretty much. Oh, okay, I thought some locals would just go by themselves. Oh, yeah. But anyway, we had to have a guide because there are ice bridges that apparently can collapse, so the guide knew which way to go and kind of explain things to us about, you know, never take your board off. Your foot could go through and he knew where the crevasses were.
[00:10:01] But it was really just amazing, just to get up there and just the view from the Aguille du Midi and then you walked across this, like ice bridge, to get to where you started to snowboard.
[00:10:14] Annie Sargent: So, Vallée Blanche is a ski resort?
[00:10:17] Robin and Raymond: No, so, off the top of Mont Blanc, which is the tallest peak in that part of Europe, right below that is Aguille du Midi, and that is where you take two trams to get there. And there’s like a restaurant, and there’s a lookout places where you can see a pretty 360 degree view essentially. And then from there you basically jump over this little fence with your gear on and everybody’s roped to each other so if somebody falls off the mountain you can stop them from going and then you hike down a little bit and then you take your rope off and you put your snowboards on and you snowboard on a glacier, making your way back to Chamonix. It’s a half day trip. Actually you make your way to, you take this other lift to Cagrera and that takes you back down to Chamonix.
[00:11:01] Annie Sargent: Wow.
[00:11:02] Robin and Raymond: It was a gorgeous day. It was just, it was bluebird. It was cold up there, but no, not a cloud in the sky. And occasionally you’d see a parapante above you.
[00:11:10] Annie Sargent: Fantastic, and so this is something also that you booked online before you went?
[00:11:14] Robin and Raymond: Yes, I booked that online. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s how you got a day of, it’s you need to, cause those guides are in short and high demand.
[00:11:24] Annie Sargent: So yeah, so not too many people can lead you, so you have to reserve this in advance. That’s very cool. All right.
Street music and Chamonix
[00:11:30] Annie Sargent: Let’s see your number three. Oh, that’s one I could handle. Yeah. Street music in Chamonix. I love that. Poil O’Brass Band. So tell me about this band.
[00:11:42] Robin and Raymond: So that was the night we got there because, you know, by the time we landed, did some shopping, it was dark when we got to Chamonix, so we kind of got to the apartment, got everything put away, and said let’s just walk around the town. And, you know, we were kind of hungry, it was late, and as we’re walking along, we just come across this band, I don’t know, how many, 12 piece?
[00:12:01] Had to be a 12 piece brass band, just playing down the street, and it was phenomenal.
[00:12:06] Yeah, we got there just about as they were setting up and then this huge crowd just appeared because they heard the music. And it was just like, you know, we’ve had some good vacations before, but this was just so phenomenal.
[00:12:19] It was like, they were welcoming us. Like, I just couldn’t get over like how much energy they had. And there’s people dancing in the street. We’re just tourists, just going around to look at architecture, and yet we got this entertainment we hadn’t planned on.
[00:12:31] The last night we were there, it looks like they were doing every Saturday night, so we got to see them again as we were closing our vacation.
[00:12:38] Annie Sargent: So this is probably a regular occurrence. They just go every Saturday night.
[00:12:43] Robin and Raymond: Yeah. I think I also saw their name somewhere that they were playing at one of the mountains.
[00:12:48] Annie Sargent: So were they busking or were they…
[00:12:50] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, they were busking, but the crazy thing is, there was so many of them and they put their guitar case out for people to, and like, nobody was putting money and we actually, Robin and I both grabbed a bunch of different bills so we could walk by and kind of seed the pot, if you will, because nobody, yeah, and then, cause I was like, is that not a tradition out here?
[00:13:09] Annie Sargent: No, it is. It is. But if it’s a regular thing, probably the city or the local restaurateurs have something to do with this. It’s possible. I don’t know.
[00:13:19] Robin and Raymond: Sure, sure. Yeah. There was so much energy in that band. Like they really loved being there.
[00:13:24] Annie Sargent: Well, and 12 people, that’s a lot of people to compensate.
[00:13:27] Robin and Raymond: That’s right, yeah.
[00:13:28] And it was cold. It was cold. Yeah. I can’t believe they’re all playing their horns.
[00:13:34] Annie Sargent: So, that’s great, the little happenstance kind of visit, that’s wonderful.
[00:13:37] Aguille du Midi is number four, and of course, that’s a biggie for most people.
[00:13:42] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, we had to go back and the first time we did that was just so we can get to the Vallée Blanche. And the second time we went back as tourists and brought the cameras and…
[00:13:49] Annie Sargent: Ah, I see, so you went up twice.
[00:13:52] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The first time it was one way and the second time we took the lift back down because we were being tourists and we went in, what is the, what’s the name of the… oh, the Into the Void. Into the Void.
[00:14:03] The glass box. Yeah. And you’re a thousand meters up from… if that thing broke, you’d go a thousand meters before you hit the bottom.
[00:14:11] Annie Sargent: And so of course you did it.
[00:14:12] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, oh yes.
[00:14:14] This woman is very adventurous.
[00:14:17] Annie Sargent: That’s amazing. Oh, I just… that’s great.
[00:14:19] Robin and Raymond: I’m very lucky to have her.
[00:14:21] Annie Sargent: Some tips about how to do this Aguille du Midi thing since you did it twice, did you get your tickets in advance? Did you just buy them at the gate? What did you do?
[00:14:29] Robin and Raymond: You should get tickets in advance. Because this thing is unlike a lot of stuff in Chamonix, this one’s very touristy, and you can book, you’ll book a specific time. You can just show up to the window, but you might not get a trip that day.
[00:14:42] The tickets were timed also. We had to be there at a certain time because remember there was someone who came up behind us and they were late and they weren’t going to let them go.
[00:14:51] Yeah, I think they somehow did get through. Which is good because then when you get to the top, it’s pretty spread out, there’s not a lot of people there. It was if they was that capacity would just be jammed up there. The only thing I would recommend is make sure you check the weather.
[00:15:03] Like, let’s say I’m going to go on Wednesday, make sure the weather is going to be good before you go, because you really want to get that view. It’s just spectacular.
[00:15:10] Annie Sargent: Right. They don’t stop running it just because the weather is cloudy, right?
[00:15:15] Robin and Raymond: No, no. Yeah, they would, unless it was extreme weather, there was a safety issue, that thing runs all day.
[00:15:21] Annie Sargent: Right. But you need to pick your day. If you’re only there for a day, perhaps it’s not going to work out, I suppose.
[00:15:26] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, and it’s kind of expensive. We ended, we didn’t pay, we have the Icon Pass, which is a ski pass in the United States that works elsewhere in the world. And we upgraded to the Chamonix Pass. It was very cheap and that gave us all kinds of perks throughout town, even in Italy.
[00:15:41] And one of the things was we could get that, I don’t know, it was like 60$ round trip and that was free with our Icon upgrade.
[00:15:47] Annie Sargent: Oh, so is this something anybody can do who has a snow pass?
[00:15:51] Robin and Raymond: If you have an Icon Pass…
[00:15:52] Annie Sargent: Icon Pass. Is that specific to your state or I’ve never heard of this?
[00:15:56] Robin and Raymond: Well, so in the United States, there’s two big passes that, there’s ICON and EPIC. ICON pass has like 50 mountains, mostly in North America, but elsewhere in the world, including Zermatt and Chamonix. And we actually paid an additional $60 to upgrade to the unlimited pass and it gave us, like we could use the gym there and the skating rink and the pool and we can go through the Mont Blanc tunnel for a huge discount.
[00:16:24] So we paid $60, we probably got several hundred dollars in benefits from that.
[00:16:28] Annie Sargent: Oh, wow. I’ve never heard of this.
[00:16:30] Robin and Raymond: Yeah.
[00:16:30] Annie Sargent: Is this a common thing? I mean, this is…
[00:16:33] Robin and Raymond: It was a surprise to us, we knew nothing about it until we were getting very close to being there. We thought we could just use it to get on ski lifts, we didn’t know the trains are free with it, the buses are free.
[00:16:44] Annie Sargent: Huh, very cool.
[00:16:46] Robin and Raymond: Yeah.
[00:16:47] Annie Sargent: But you did, I mean, you made it worth it cause you went twice. That’s fantastic.
[00:16:51] Robin and Raymond: Right, right. Yeah. And we went through the tunnel, went through the Mont Blanc tunnel four times. So we saved, you know, it was 150 bucks we saved there.
[00:16:58] Annie Sargent: Yeah, because that’s not cheap, is it? I mean, I’ve never driven it.
[00:17:01] Robin and Raymond: I think that’s, it was 65 euros, round trip or something like that? I think so, yeah.
[00:17:06] Out the past. Yeah. And we still had to pay, but it was 16 one way.
[00:17:10] So it was, it was less than half price.
Dinner and conversation with Chef Chris at Bivouac
[00:17:12] Annie Sargent: That’s really good. All right. Then you had a dinner and conversation with Chef Chris at Bivouac. Okay. I want to hear about the Bivouac and about Chef Chris.
[00:17:23] Robin and Raymond: So, Bivouac is just one of the restaurants, and we found that you really needed to make reservations, but we were at, one of the first nights, we went to a restaurant, we got there early, and they said, you know, we got there, it was probably a little after five o’clock, and they said, well, you’ll need to be out by seven, and we said, oh, no problem.
[00:17:43] We will be out by seven, because that’s when the reservations were. And as we were leaving, it was pretty close to seven because we got raclettes and, you know, took our time. But as we were leaving, it was just like a mob of people at the door and they all came in at the same time. And I thought, well, that’s not that appealing. Oh, to me, that’s not that appealing. I’m glad we went early. So, but we really wanted to, we kept seeing the menu for this Bivouac restaurant. We really wanted to try it. It was small. And so we stopped in one day and made a reservation and it was Chef Chris and he, you know, he’s there prepping for the day.
[00:18:18] No, we have, oh yeah, Saturday night, he makes, he takes a little scrap of paper and writes it down. So we get there for our reservation several days later and he and his wife comes to the, you know, greets us and says, oh, we messed up. Well, but we’re going to give you special seats at the counter.
[00:18:34] And it was wonderful. Like, I could’ve, I would’ve, if I went back, I’d asked to sit at the counter. We sat there and talked to Chef Chris the whole time while he was cooking. He was entertaining us and serving a whole restaurant. We met his sous chef and it’s just the three of them running the whole place.
[00:18:51] And yeah, it was just really interesting. So wonderful. And he was an extreme skier and a back country skier. So we talked about a little bit. Yeah. And he knew a bunch of people from the United States you know, famous skiers who’ve been there. And so it was really, it was really fun.
[00:19:04] Annie Sargent: Birds of a Feather.
[00:19:05] Robin and Raymond: Yeah.
[00:19:06] He climbs up on the mountain and he gathers wildflowers, a particular variety of them. And then he turns that into a liqueur. So every person, when they leave, go to the end of the chef’s bar there and he rings them out and then everybody gets a shot on their way out the door.
[00:19:25] Annie Sargent: Ha ha ha ha.
[00:19:26] Robin and Raymond: This flower liqueur was wonderful. Yeah.
[00:19:29] Annie Sargent: Wow. So he must make a lot, he must make a lot of it. Because I mean, if he serves shot to everybody who comes through the door, that’s a lot of people.
[00:19:36] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, and he serves it out of a huge champagne bottle.
[00:19:41] Annie Sargent: Oh, wow. Wow. So he is, he’s a bit of a ham.
[00:19:44] Robin and Raymond: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
[00:19:45] Yeah. Yeah. He had a full restaurant and he was cooking. It was just the two of them. He was so busy, but yet took time to chat with us, which was quite nice.
[00:19:53] Annie Sargent: So not, not a very big restaurant, obviously.
[00:19:55] How many tables would you say?
[00:19:57] Robin and Raymond: Well, it’s a little hard to tell because it was kind of L shaped, but maybe 20 tables? I would say, yeah, no more than 15 to 20 tables. Yeah.
[00:20:05] He is a, he’s a 10th generation, I don’t know how you say it, somebody from Chamonix. Chamonix? Chamonix? Chamoniard?? I’m not sure. 10th generation and his father owned a restaurant right across the, across the street from where we were at the time and unfortunately his father has passed away since but we got a picture of him on the wall with his father.
[00:20:25] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s great. So it’s always great when you make, you know, happenstance conversation with people like that. And was this whole thing in English or were you speaking French with him?
[00:20:34] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, it was mostly in English. I spoke French with him a little bit, but Raymond doesn’t speak French, so we didn’t want to leave him out. But I’m good, I’m good with that, though. I love, I love hearing her speak French, so. And I love, I just, and just hearing, yeah, French conversations just so, I don’t know, something about it.
[00:20:50] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Well, yeah, it sounds, you know, romantic, I guess.
[00:20:54] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, I couldn’t think of a more romantic place in the world than Chamonix.
[00:20:58] Yeah. Oh, yeah. yeah. It’s like, uh, you know, Wes Anderson, the filmmaker.
[00:21:04] Annie Sargent: No. Tell me about him.
[00:21:07] Robin and Raymond: Well, he’s got a, quite a variety of movies, but there’s a certain look to them. They’re very, kind of like, I don’t want to say like fantasy or not fantasy, like, uh, gingerbread kind of feel, or some of them are very, maybe Alpine, maybe very Bavarian, maybe, you know, they’re very European in the look, and a lot of them have been shot in Europe, but there’s so much about Chamonix that, you know, this 100 year old or 200 year old architecture is just something else.
[00:21:35] Annie Sargent:
Gondola ride home with boys in ski school at the Le Brévent
[00:21:35] Annie Sargent: So number six on your list is gondola ride home with boys in ski school at the Le Brévent. What was so special about this gondola ride?
[00:21:48] Robin and Raymond: Well, we, I love the French, and they are, they were just so gracious and accommodating. The one odd thing in Europe, it seems that nobody knows how to do lines over there, so you are just jammed in with 60 other people trying to push your way onto a ski lift, into something, and there we were.
[00:22:09] And somebody warned us, we met this guy in a grocery store in Annecy, and he said, he goes, he goes, yeah, wonderful people, he goes, just don’t get in a line with them. And then we had to push our way to this gondola, and there was a ski instructor there, you know, probably in his 20s, and with a whole bunch of boys who were maybe 12? 11? 10? Something like that. And we ended up, he got separated from the rest of his group, and it was basically Robin and I, and maybe six of them, on this gondola to head back down to the valley. And we had such a great time with them. Some of them were speaking French, and then they would speak English with us, and then one was speaking German, and I asked him if he could tell me some dirty words in German.
[00:22:54] He said, my mother would not like that. And I said, well, she’s not here. And then they all started rattling off words that I had never heard. We know all the dirty words in English because we listen to rap music.
[00:23:07] Annie Sargent: Oh, well, yeah, that would do it. Wow, that’s great. And how long is that Gondola ride?
[00:23:15] Robin and Raymond: Oh, it’s probably five, eight minutes.
[00:23:17] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so it’s very quick. Yeah.
[00:23:18] Robin and Raymond: But it was just, they were, the kids were so warm. I mean, at first you can see them look at us like, who are these people and why are they asking questions? Yeah. Yeah. And of course I don’t, you know, it’s so odd when you, if you only speak English, you don’t know what other people speak.
[00:23:33] And so it was like trying to feel them out and they were a little, and I think they were kind of saying, Oh, our English is not very good. And anytime somebody said that, invariably, the English was very good. Yeah.
[00:23:42] Annie Sargent: Yeah, it more means that they’re self conscious about it, really. They’re like, ah, I wish I could speak better. Don’t we all?
Lets’s talk about food
[00:23:49] Annie Sargent: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about food because number seven is cheese, baguette and wine in the apartment. So you had an apartment, you were not at a hotel.
[00:23:57] Robin and Raymond: Right. We went to, just to one of the, one of the local shops, the Paillot, I think it was called, the Fugue Paillot, and we just bought some various cheeses and some wine there and a baguette and just came back and had a little snack in the apartment, which was nice.
[00:24:15] Annie Sargent: So did you mostly eat out or did you mostly have your meals at home?
[00:24:19] Robin and Raymond: Mostly out. We ate several breakfasts, we would eat at home, just because we wanted to get, get onto the mountain and have something there, but we kind of, we kind of regretted that. We wished we had gone out more, just to have the experience.
[00:24:34] Annie Sargent: What, was it easy finding a place to have your meals outside or were there a lot of people?
[00:24:40] Robin and Raymond: So many, so many places to eat and such a variety of food and quality. Everything was just so good. The only thing is like Robin said, if you want to go to a specific restaurant for dinner and you want to eat after five o’clock, you have to make a reservation and there’s two seatings and you just have to plan ahead.
[00:24:59] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so they make an early seating in Chamonix.
[00:25:02] Robin and Raymond: Was it 7:30? 7:00 and 9:00 or 7:30 and 9:00. But some restaurants will open at 5:00 and that is just, you know, just walk in. You can’t make a reservation for that. We tend to be early risers, so to have dinner at 9:30, we’re usually asleep by 9:30.
[00:25:18] Explore all day, you don’t have much left in you. But also I think because it’s a tourist town, I think they were certainly accommodating to people who weren’t used to that schedule, because it was so international there.
[00:25:30] It wasn’t like it was just French, you know, the French and italian and people from all over the world.
[00:25:35] Annie Sargent: Yeah, French and Italian probably never eat earlier than 7:30, because that’s what we do. So it’s good that they accommodated people who wanted to eat earlier. I mean, you know, it gives them a third service if they let you eat at five or six and you’re out of there by 7:30, even better.
[00:25:53] That’s fantastic.
Snowboarding in Zermatt
[00:25:54] Annie Sargent: So you went snowboarding in Zermatt, I’ve never heard of this place. Tell me about this place.
[00:26:01] Robin and Raymond: That’s Switzerland. We drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel, so under, under the mountain, which takes you into Italy, the first town is Cormier, which we snowboarded there too, but then we drove to Trevinia, which is, on the Italian-Swiss border.
[00:26:15] We took the trams from Trevinia to Zermatt, and we basically snowboarded back and forth between those two.
[00:26:22] Annie Sargent: Right. So is this a famous ski resort?
[00:26:26] Robin and Raymond: Oh yeah, yeah, Zermatt is one of the most famous in the world, I would say, probably five or ten, maybe.
[00:26:32] Yeah, that’s where the Matterhorn is, so if you know of a famous…
[00:26:35] Annie Sargent: I’ve heard of that.
[00:26:36] Robin and Raymond: Everybody knows what looks like. Yeah, right. Yeah. But I was disappointed. I had heard stories years ago of somebody in the family who had done this and got in trouble because they didn’t have their passport and they got stopped by border patrol. And we were like, let’s make sure we have our passport.
[00:26:51] And I was so disappointed that there was no check. I was like, oh, I wanted…
[00:26:55] Annie Sargent: Nobody cares. Nobody cares.
[00:26:58] Robin and Raymond: There’s a yellow line when you get off the tram, there’s a yellow line painted on the ground and there’s a flag on one side that’s Swiss and the other side’s Italian.
[00:27:08] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. Really, this is, with the EU, all of this has come down. Because of COVID, they put in more things during COVID, so some of these border controls that had disappeared came back, but they still had the houses, they still had the little huts and everything they needed, so they just, you know, put people in the huts and resumed, but it’s back.
[00:27:30] It’s off again. You can drive all over Europe and not be stopped once.
[00:27:34] As a matter of fact, some people have a hard time getting a stamp on their passport when they fly in and they want one because they want to prove, you know, I arrived this date and I’m leaving this date, like, if they’re really staying 90 days, it’s important.
[00:27:47] And sometimes you have to go looking for a customs officer who will stamp your passport because it’s just wide open, really.
[00:27:55] Robin and Raymond: 15 times we crossed borders and only twice we were ever asked for our ID.
[00:27:59] Annie Sargent: And probably that was to board a plane.
[00:28:01] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, that was, yeah, both at airports.
[00:28:02] Annie Sargent: That’s where most of the security happens is boarding airplanes, which is actually, it’s sad, but that’s why so many people who want to come to Europe, they come by boat because they can’t buy an airplane ticket. If they don’t have the right passport or the right visa, the airplane won’t let them on.
[00:28:21] And so that’s why they end up in little boats that are very dangerous, but that’s another subject.
[00:28:29] All right.
PBJ and bubbly on veranda
[00:28:29] Annie Sargent: PBJ and bubbly on veranda. PBJ like, it’s like peanut butter and jelly?
[00:28:36] Robin and Raymond: Yes, yes. That was not on Robin’s list. That was on my list. That was, I want to say that was her biggest complaint about Chamonix. She goes, really? We’re in France and we’re eating peanut butter and jelly on our veranda. And the reason was, that was the day we did the Vallée Blanche with our guide and stopped for a break.
[00:28:56] We thought we were going to do lunch and we just had a little snack and beverage. So we both had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches still in our pack from earlier in the day. It wasn’t dinner time yet. And I said, well, let’s just go open that bottle of, there was some local, sparkling wine.
[00:29:10] I said, let’s just open that up out back, and then she’s like, I can’t believe we’re eating this. We should be eating cheese and baguette, and we’re eating peanut butter and jelly!
[00:29:20] Annie Sargent: It’s fine. Nothing wrong with PB& J.
[00:29:23] Robin and Raymond: That’s what I said, the very same thing she said, but with a different attitude. She said, I can’t believe I’m in France eating peanut butter and jelly, how good is this? It was also the most expensive peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve ever had because evidently the French don’t eat peanut butter, so that tiny, tiny jar was twice what we’d pay for a big jar in the United states.
[00:29:45] Annie Sargent: Yes, yes. You can find it, but not, not everywhere, not every day, and it’s more expensive, yes.
Snowboarding Grande Montet
[00:29:51] Annie Sargent: Alright. And number 10 is snowboarding Grande Montet?
[00:29:57] Robin and Raymond: I think it’s called Grande Montet.
[00:29:58] Annie Sargent: Grande Montet, okay.
[00:29:59] So tell us about that.
[00:30:01] Robin and Raymond: That’s just one of the resorts in Chamonix, and it was just, it was just fun. It was really high, high mountains and steep… Yeah, it was just so beautiful and we, I don’t know, we had something going on earlier in the day, so we went late in the day.
[00:30:13] We would have taken the bus or the train there, but we decided to drive because it was late and we got parking right near the lift and it was just so relaxed and wonderful.
[00:30:23] Annie Sargent: That’s nice.
[00:30:24] Robin and Raymond: And sunny and cold.
[00:30:26] Annie Sargent: All right, this is Annie back. So we had a big break between the first part of this episode and the second part that we’re about to do now because I had a internet meltdown at my house. It wasn’t just my house, it was all the villages around me. So where we left off is Raymond had talked about his favorites in the French Alps and I would love to hear if there were any differences for you, Robin.
[00:30:53] I mean, I know you, you enjoyed everything together. But is there something that you would put higher on your list?
La Calèche in Chamonix.
[00:30:59] Robin and Raymond: I’m just looking at the list I have here, and I, as far as restaurants, I put La Calèche as my first, as my favorite because of the raclette, because I had been hearing about a raclette all these years, and the only time I had it was the kind when you do at home. So when I studied in France and lived with a French family, we did the little kind at home, so it was just the whole experience of bringing the setup and the big kind of iron thing, melting the cheese, and the potatoes, that was such a unique experience, not something that we find here easily in the United States.
[00:31:35] Annie Sargent: So this is La Calèche in Chamonix.
[00:31:37] Robin and Raymond: Yes, yes, it was fantastic.
[00:31:39] Annie Sargent: So you also list Joséphine’s Omeletterie La Poele.
[00:31:45] Oh, Il Rifugio. So, Il Rifugio Maison Vieille di Giacomo. So this is, oh, is this like up very high?
[00:31:54] Robin and Raymond: Yes, yes, and it was actually in Courmayer, so it was in Italy, and it was just fun. That day was really foggy, and we didn’t know the mountain, we couldn’t find it, the signs weren’t that great, and we actually stopped to ask some people, and they said, oh yeah, the signs are not great, get to this point and ask somebody else there, and so we, we happened to see a lift that was called the Maison Vieille lift, so we thought, well, it’s got to be up there.
[00:32:17] Annie Sargent: Let’s do that.
[00:32:17] Robin and Raymond: We get up to the top and we could not see anything. And we don’t speak Italian. So we asked the man working the lift, you know, where’s the Il Refugio? And he said, Oh, and he just kind of pointed off and said that way into the fogs. And so we walked into the fog and it started to clear and we saw the Maison Olivier and we’re like, Oh, there it is.
[00:32:39] Oasis. Yes. Yes. We were worried we were going to starve, and now the oasis, behold.
[00:32:47] Annie Sargent: Oh, that’s great. That’s fantastic. Yeah.
[00:32:49] In general, you didn’t have any trouble finding food, right? I mean, you just went with it.
[00:32:54] Robin and Raymond: Oh, the food was wonderful. Well, I had, I had done so much research. The place that we stayed gave us so much information about places to eat and that kind of comported with the list I had compiled. And I think because I had done so much research, then it just let us go there and just kind of wing it.
[00:33:10] And every day Robin was like, how about this place? I’m like, oh yeah, that’s on the list. Let’s do that. And it was just so wonderful.
[00:33:17] Annie Sargent: Yeah, that’s, that’s wonderful. All right. So you got around by, you didn’t rent a car, did you?
[00:33:24] Robin and Raymond: We rented a car to get mostly from the airport and then go to Italy a couple of times. But most of the, most of the car sat there. It was basically on foot. That’s how we got around.
[00:33:33] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yeah. So perhaps you could have not rented a car and just gotten a lift or something, you know, got an Uber or something.
[00:33:42] Robin and Raymond: There’s an airport shuttle you can do, but the problem with that is we wanted to go to Switzerland, we wanted to go to Italy twice, so it all made sense and it was relatively inexpensive.
Tips for Other Visitors
[00:33:49] Annie Sargent: All right. So what tips do you want to share with the visitors? I see you have a list. It looks like a really good list to me. Eat out is the first one. You’re on vacation. Eat out.
[00:34:00] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, I heard somebody else talk about their trip to Chamonix and they said they got a big apartment and they cooked almost all their own meals. And it’s like, well, I could buy a cookbook and go home and cook French food. I want the French to cook for me and I want that whole experience. And it really was, we thought this trip was going to be more about snowboarding and it was so much about the cuisine and the wine and the views, right?
[00:34:22] Yeah, definitely.
[00:34:24] Annie Sargent: I understand that there are circumstances where it’s best to cook for yourself. Like if you have allergies to certain things, if you’re very picky, whatever, then it makes sense to cook for yourself. But otherwise, you know, you’re on vacation.
[00:34:38] Robin and Raymond: And we wanted to immerse ourselves in the culture, so I wanted to be, you know, I don’t speak French, but I wanted to be around people speaking French and watching them do their thing.
Service continu restaurants
[00:34:45] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, so the second thing you list is interesting. You said don’t bother with the pre-set dinner times. This is interesting because usually I would say they’re not going to let you eat outside of set dinner times, but you negotiated that with several people, didn’t you? A lot of the restaurants had signs, and now we can’t, like, continuous service or something, it was something like that, I can’t remember what the sign was, but it was, you know, restaurants that kind of serve food all day long.
[00:35:10] ‘Service continu’Service continu, so we saw a lot, we found a lot of places that had that, so that’s really nice.
[00:35:18] Annie Sargent: Yes. Yes, service continu just means that they have a cook on staff all day. Because most restaurants in France, the cook just comes for lunch time and then for dinner time, and that’s it. After that, there’s no cook, there’s just waiters. I mean, they will serve you coffee, but they don’t want to serve you anything else, because they’re not cooks.
[00:35:37] Robin and Raymond: I think if you want, if you wanted the most high end meal, you have to make a reservation and you might have to make a reservation a week in advance because some of these restaurants are so busy, you know, being a ski town, being a tourist town. But for us, we were getting up early every morning.
[00:35:52] I run every morning and we’re snowboarding all day. And so we’re kind of tired. We’re not going to have dinner at 9:30. So it worked out for us to have dinner at 5:30 or 6:00.
[00:36:01] Annie Sargent: Yeah, more, more, you kept to more of the American time schedule habits. And if you find a place that does service continu, why not? That’s really cool.
Adventurous, Relaxing, and Pleasurable
[00:36:11] Annie Sargent: So overall, would you say your trip was restful? You know, stressful?
[00:36:16] Robin and Raymond: It was definitely not stressful. We don’t really go for restful, we’re not really relaxing type people. We like to do things. But I didn’t feel like we did too much. I didn’t feel like I was extra tired or anything. A little bit the jet lag and the first day is when we did the parapente and we both, we paid a little extra for the high thrills package where they kind of spin you around and we both were not feeling so great after that.
[00:36:43] So it was kind of the day that the woman who was my guide said, I’ll go, I know it’s not healthy, but go drink a Coke because that will help your stomach feel better.
[00:36:53] We got down to the bottom and we split a Coke and then we went back to the apartment and took a nice long nap and were refreshed and ready to go.
[00:37:01] Annie Sargent: You’re ready to go again. Yeah. Yeah. The jet lag will do strange things to your body. Even if you are very healthy, very active, your brain thinks you should have been asleep for hours because you just skip a night. When you arrive, you skip a whole night and then you have to keep going all day. Most brains do not like this.
[00:37:19] So your three adjectives for this trip were adventurous, relaxing, and pleasurable. I like that. All right.
How did the podcast help you prepare for your trip?
[00:37:28] Annie Sargent: So how did the podcast help you prepare for your trip? That’s one of the last questions on the form here.
[00:37:34] Robin and Raymond: Well, I was the researcher. It was a lot of the little things about like, you know, the tipping and the etiquette, and what it means when somebody says this and that. And so that was, I think, the most helpful thing. Or maybe don’t be speeding on the highway because you’re going to get a ticket.
[00:37:50] Tolls are expensive. But yeah, it was a lot of those, the little nuts and bolts, I guess, of the trip that you wouldn’t necessarily get by watching a travel show thing or something like that.
[00:37:59] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Usually the travel shows, they just want to make it look brilliant, which they do a good job at that, but they don’t tell you the nitty gritty about things to watch out for, you know, that’s that sort of thing. You didn’t bring your own ski equipment, right? You snowboarding equipment. Oh, you did?
[00:38:17] How did that go?
[00:38:18] Robin and Raymond: I think if you were a casual skier or snowboarder, you would rent everything, but we’re kind of hardcore, I guess. So, yeah, that was fine, it just, you know, it’s a little more expensive to fly, you got to buy a higher price ticket, but that was fine. We had a little anxiety about, we know that European cars were kind of small and Robin was concerned it wasn’t going to fit because each of us had four bags, but we made it.
[00:38:38] It wasn’t, it was no big deal.
[00:38:39] Annie Sargent: So you had four bags, meaning you had a carry on, a backpack, and then shoes and…
[00:38:45] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a big snowboard bag and a big boot bag that has your helmet and other gear in it and those two get checked and then you have two, yeah, two carry ons. One is a backpack.
[00:38:54] Annie Sargent: Yeah, and they didn’t bang up your stuff too much.
[00:38:56] Robin and Raymond: No, but we’re used to flying with our gear in the United States.
[00:38:59] Annie Sargent: So you just, you know how to pack it and stuff like that.
[00:39:03] Robin and Raymond: We did get hassled at the airport on the way leaving, they were saying, oh, you have too many bags, you’re overweight. And I had to like pull out the page from their website to show them that the bag was included. They wanted to charge us another couple hundred bucks.
[00:39:15] Annie Sargent: Uh huh! Was this coming back, so this was at a French airport or Swiss airport?
[00:39:20] Robin and Raymond: This is in Albany, New York, Delta Airlines. I made sure we were following all their rules. And this has happened numerous times with me with other carriers. They don’t know the rules when you get to the ticket counter.
[00:39:30] So I just had to pull out my phone and show them the page.
[00:39:33] Annie Sargent: Ha. And they went with it.
[00:39:35] Robin and Raymond: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And on the way back, no, I don’t know. I guess in Amsterdam, they didn’t, we were, I was concerned it was going to happen again, guy didn’t even bat an eye, just threw them on and gave us our receipt.
[00:39:45] Annie Sargent: Fantastic. All right. All right. So are you ready to do this again?
[00:39:50] Robin and Raymond: Yes. Oh, for sure. Yes. We were preparing for this, so we were looking at some of the pictures and I said I want to go back.
[00:40:00] Annie Sargent: What sort of budget is it? Is this like an expensive vacation overall?
[00:40:04] Robin and Raymond: It’s less than I would have thought. It’s, well, one thing people say, oh, it’s very expensive in Europe and Chamonix is very expensive for food. That was not true. It was not expensive. The food is not expensive. It’s actually a little cheaper for us to dine in, in Chamonix than it is in our little city here in Glens Falls, New York.
[00:40:24] And then, you know, the airfare is more expensive to go to Amsterdam than it is to go to the Rocky Mountains, but the lodging was about the same, maybe even a little cheaper, so no, it wasn’t…
[00:40:35] Annie Sargent: Yeah. It wasn’t particularly expensive. And the experiences that you did, you didn’t feel like these were more expensive than the similar experiences you would have done in the US?
[00:40:44] Robin and Raymond: No, no. In fact, I was surprised even like when we went up the Aiguille du Midi and we did the Into the Void that, that was free. I feel like in the United States they would have charged you 50$ for that, you know, like you just had to wait in line and there wasn’t that a long line. Yeah. It’s pretty short.
[00:41:00] Yeah, and the other thing I had mentioned before about the ICON Pass, which you can convert into the unlimited Chamonix Pass, it just includes so many parks. And the skiing is just cheap, even if you didn’t have a pass, instead of, you know, 150-250$ a day, lift tickets are 60, 70, 80 bucks, you know, they’re considerably less than in the United States.
[00:41:21] Annie Sargent: Yeah, I think in the US, I mean, I used to live in Utah. I don’t ski, but family skis, you know, lots of family members do. And they, from what I gather, the prices of ski lifts has gone up like a lot in the last 10 years. It used to be, you know, the few times I went skiing, perhaps we did pay 70 bucks and then, but that was like 15 years ago. And now it’s quite a bit more.
[00:41:45] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, in Chamonix you can get a four day pass for the same price as one day at Steamboat.
[00:41:49] Annie Sargent: Wow. Yeah. So it’s worth going, right?
[00:41:52] Robin and Raymond: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think in 2024 we’re, we’re thinking about. 2025.
[00:41:59] Annie Sargent:
What’s the best time of the year to go to the French Alps to ski?
[00:41:59] Annie Sargent: So, time of the year, what’s the best time of the year you think to do this? Because people ask me all the time, is there going to be snow? I’m like, well, usually there’s snow in the winter. I don’t know.
[00:42:08] Robin and Raymond: Well, if you’re going to do a ski vacation there, I would definitely wait till February or March. You want enough snow that had come earlier in the season. I had a friend who did a Christmas visit, and it was just a bad snow year, and I think that’s just too risky to travel that far.
[00:42:26] But also, Chamonix is such a year round destination, I think there’s more people go there in the summer, so there’s always something to do, it’s, there’s just so much, you know, so much great food, there’s so many activities, hiking, and climbing, and mountain biking, and there’s water sports, there’s all kinds of stuff there, so… Yeah.
[00:42:42] Annie Sargent: There’s lots to do. If you go in February, you’re not going to go water skiing instead of… probably… no? But you might go biking. You might go hiking, you know, there’s plenty of that to do.
[00:42:55] Robin and Raymond: And the lifts are still operating for tourists to get up on top of these mountains, either to go hiking or just to get to the top and take a look around.
[00:43:02] Annie Sargent: I like to walk, but once I get to these high altitudes, I’m not going to be doing a ton of things, I will take a short, you know, an hour long walk. That’s great. But then I’m like, let’s get back. But you could totally do that.
[00:43:15] Robin and Raymond: Oh, and yeah, here’s one other thing that’s different about Chamonix than some other places is, especially like out in the Rockies. In the Rockies, if you want the real mountain experience, you’re sleeping at 8, 9, 10,000 feet. So you have some serious altitude issues, whereas Chamonix, I think is 3000 or 3500. So you’re sleeping, not that far above sea level, and you’re only getting the altitude once you get on a lift to go snowboarding.
[00:43:40] So, you don’t have those altitude issues that a lot of mountain communities have .
[00:43:44] Annie Sargent: Yeah, you can sleep better if that’s an issue for you.
[00:43:48] Raymond and Robin, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
[00:43:52] Thank you so much for talking to me. You’ve been wonderful and you’ve been good sport about the interruption there. I hope I didn’t repeat too many questions because I couldn’t remember. I was like, well, did I ask him this already? I don’t remember. And I didn’t have time to listen to the whole thing again.
[00:44:06] So, thank you for being good sports.
[00:44:08] Annie, thank you so much. And thank you so much for putting the whole podcast together. I learned so much by listening to you over the last year or so. Thanks so much.
[00:44:16] Merci beaucoup. A bientôt.
[00:44:19] Robin and Raymond: A bientôt. Au revoir.
Thank you Patrons
[00:44:28] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for giving back and supporting this show. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that. You can see them at patreon.com/joinus. Thank you all for supporting the show, you’re all wonderful, I love my patrons. And a shout out this week to new patrons: April Abate- Adams, and thank you to Anne Wunch for increasing her pledge. Much appreciated.
[00:44:57] To join this wonderful community of francophiles, go to patreon.com/joinus, and to support Elyse, go to patreon.com/elysart.
Zoom meetings with patrons
[00:45:11] Annie Sargent: This week, I had my Zoom meetings with patrons.
[00:45:13] It hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t tell you how it went, but I can tell you that I love having this face to face time with my patrons. The theme for our chat this month was bringing home some French flair into your kitchen.
[00:45:29] We shared recipes and methods about how to bring some of France into your everyday cooking at home and perhaps prepare a little bit of something French for the holidays.
The Bonjour Service
[00:45:40] Annie Sargent: You can also take advantage of my expertise as your Personal Itinerary Consultant.
[00:45:45] The Bonjour service is where you get to run all your questions by me. And if I don’t know, I will find out! I won’t give you a day by day rundown of suggestions, like I do with the VIP, but I’ll smooth over all the sticky points.
[00:46:02] Recently, someone was delighted because I took a few minutes out of our hour long Zoom consultation to make a phone call to a venue where she had tried to figure out how it worked and it wasn’t clear. She was going off the beaten track a little bit. So she asked me, I looked at it, and it wasn’t clear to me either.
[00:46:19] So I called them, right there and then, and we got the answer right away. Whatever you’re struggling with, I can figure it out because, you know, I’m French. I live in France full time. I was born and raised here. I travel quite a lot through all of France. And if I don’t know, I will find out for sure.
[00:46:36] So that’s the Bonjour service. Just smoothing over sticky points and answering questions, and, you know, just spending an hour on Zoom together, to discuss your trip.
The VIP Service
[00:46:45] Annie Sargent: You can also go with a VIP service where we talk for an hour on Zoom as well. But then I send you a detailed document that outlines everything we discussed, as well as a summary of all the best advice shared on this podcast over 10 years. Of course, I’ll also answer all your questions and make suggestions for a great trip to fit your needs at the VIP level.
[00:47:08] But you know, the biggest difference is that you get everything you need in writing. To get started, purchase the service at joinusinfrance.com/boutique, and then you’ll get emails guiding you through the process.
[00:47:22] Annie Sargent: And you can also take me along in your pocket with my GPS self guided tours available on the VoiceMap app.
[00:47:28] Choose from Eiffel Tower, available in English or French, Ile de la Cité, Le Marais, Montmartre, Saint Germain des Prés, or the Latin Quarter. You download the tours as soon as you buy them, and you can listen at home if you’d like. Then, when you get to Paris, open VoiceMap, go to the appointed start of the tour, and I’ll start talking.
[00:47:50] This is the sort of technology that makes everything easier.
[00:47:54] But I have to point out that if you purchase the tour codes from joinusinfrance.com/boutique you do receive a special listener discount. It’s a nice discount, but that’s not an immediate purchase, the way it is if you buy from the app. Okay? So if you’re in a hurry, buy from the app, if you’re not in a hurry, buy from the boutique.
Review of VoiceMap tour of Saint Germain des Prés
[00:48:17] Annie Sargent: An anonymous visitor left this review of my VoiceMap tour of Saint Germain des Prés. This person wrote: ‘My favorite of Annie’s walking tours, I did all of them on a recent solo trip to Paris. The Spice Shop was a particularly great stop, and my mom is obsessed with the gifts I picked up for her there. I highly recommend all of her tours, especially if you are traveling solo’.
[00:48:42] And it’s true that it works best with, for one or two people, really. ‘It is so lovely to have a story in your ear and spoken directions. So you can just walk and not look at your phone trying to figure out where to go next.
[00:48:54] And I love that I can pause and pick up where I left off later if I want to spend more time, stop for a meal, take a detour, buy them all, you won’t regret it.’
[00:49:05] Thank you very much, Anonymous visitor.
Trip through the French Atlantic coast
[00:49:09] Annie Sargent: All right, let’s talk briefly about my trip through the French Atlantic coast. It’s a long coast, we only visited between Bordeaux and La Rochelle, just a little south of La Rochelle, as a matter of fact.
[00:49:21] My sister in law Katie visited us for a couple of weeks, she’s a wonderful traveler and she’s always game for adventures. So we decided to take a trip through the French Atlantic coast between Arcachon and Foura, to be exact.
[00:49:36] There’s so much cool stuff there, we didn’t see all of it, but we covered quite a bit of ground.
[00:49:41] So we started in Arcachon, beautiful place, went to the Dune du Pila, that’s quite the hike, because you do sink into the sand a lot. We spent the day in Bordeaux, which, you know, I know Bordeaux pretty well, but we visited the La Cité du Vin and we used the BAT3 boats this time.
[00:50:01] The Wine Museum is such a great place. I loved it. It’s not the sort of museum where you just stand and read, and stand and read, and stand and read. They use a lot of different media to tell you the story of wine. All sorts of different videos, a few games, some sniffing. I loved all the interactive stuff.
[00:50:20] I definitely recommend it. Now the boat experience BAT3 is a part of the Bordeaux transportation system just like Batobus is in Paris. BAT3 is what they call it in Bordeaux. It’s not as good as the Batobus, I must tell you. So, but we’ll, I’ll probably talk about it in an episode at some point.
[00:50:39] Arcachon, and many of the towns that we visited on the Atlantic coast are the sort of places where you can go for a week and you don’t do much. Besides enjoying the beach, the bike rides, the walks, the markets, you just chill. It’s a place to go chill. There’s no like world class museum, you know, there’s just a beautiful beach that you can enjoy.
[00:51:02] With a marvelous bench that where you can sit and just have a good time. Okay? It’s not a place where you go if you want to have, you know, check things off your list that it’s not that kind of visit. This was October, so most of the tourists were gone. I’m sure it was really busy, you know, May through September, a lot of these places must feel very busy, but you know, on this very warm October month, it was absolutely perfect.
[00:51:31] Royan is a lovely medium sized city with a lot of history that really surprised me.
[00:51:37] I had heard of it, but I hadn’t been. Well, at least not since I was a kid. I’m pretty sure my parents talked about going to Royan, but I was young enough that I don’t remember anything about it. I’m sure I’ll do an episode about it.
[00:51:48] The Cathedral in Royan really surprised me. At one of the charging stops for my electric car that we took on the freeway, we talked to a couple who live in this area, and he said, don’t miss the cement cathedral in Royan.
[00:52:03] And I thought, that’s a really strange thing to recommend, a cement cathedral, what the heck is that? But we went, and he was right! It was really stunning.
[00:52:13] Rochefort was lovely. The replica of the Hermione, that’s the ship that Lafayette sailed to the Americas, was away, getting refurbished. So it was kind of missing that, you know.
[00:52:25] Ile d’Oléron is very big. I didn’t realize how big it was. We’ll also do an episode about it.
[00:52:32] Fouras was probably my favorite small town because it has so many things I enjoy. A lovely sandy beach, a great food market, friendly locals, a Vauban fort. I loved it. I couldn’t believe the price of fish at the covered market.
[00:52:48] So much better than Toulouse. It was great.
[00:52:51] Talmont sur Gironde is gorgeous, lovely cliffs and a strong Atlantic vibe, you know. Meschers sur Gironde was fantastic. I think it’s mostly for people who are into boating. It seems to be mostly locals, lots of boats. Saint Georges de Didonne has such a beautiful, beautiful long beach. If you love a ride, or jog along a sandy beach, this one is fantastic.
[00:53:19] And we also stopped in Cognac and visited the Hennessy Cognac House.
[00:53:23] So, I’ll be recording episodes about a lot of these places into more details. But all of these places gave me a strong vibe for being conducive to relaxation, which is a wonderful thing to do.
Email from Brittany Erikson
[00:53:38] Annie Sargent: This week I got an email from Brittany Erickson, who gave me permission to read and comment, and I think there’s a lot of good advice here, especially for first time visitors to France.
[00:53:49] So she says: ‘Bonjour, Annie. My husband and I are from Minnesota, and we went to Europe for the first time about a month ago.
[00:53:57] We went to London, Paris and Saint Malo. The advice from your podcast helped me make our time in France so wonderful. One of the tips we found most useful was to get the Paris Museum Pass. At every tourist attraction, there was a line for people buying a ticket there and a line for people who already had purchased their tickets. The line for people who already had their tickets was always shorter. Our museum passes saved us so much time waiting in line. I’m sure we would not have been able to see as many things if we hadn’t had the pass.’
[00:54:29] So actually this is old advice, I now recommend that you just get a timed entry ticket for the places you know you want to visit.
[00:54:38] Sometimes getting the pass gives people the idea that they should rush around from museum to museum all day long, because, you know, it’s only good for 2 days, or whatever.
[00:54:48] I think rushing around from museum to museum is not a good experience. And really, it doesn’t matter if your reservation comes from the museum pass or from buying your ticket, you know, for that single museum ahead of time.
[00:55:02] For the big museums in Paris, you really need to buy your ticket in advance and get a timed entry ticket, that way you skip the line for the tickets and it’s much better.
[00:55:12] The other thing you can do is buy a yearly pass for a specific museum, such as the Louvre or the Orsay Museum.
[00:55:20] That lets you enter the museum early, so no lines, because it’s an hour before they open. So if cost is not an issue or if you know you’ll go back often, the yearly pass is an even better option than getting a timed entry ticket.
[00:55:38] Okay, back to Brittany.
[00:55:40] ‘With the help of your show notes, we figured out how to purchase metro tickets and used the metro quite often. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go quickly and cheaply. We also took the train from Paris to Saint Malo in Brittany and that went very smoothly.’
[00:55:56] Well, that’s fantastic.
[00:55:57] To make it super simple for 90 percent of your bus and metro trips in Paris, you can use the Navigo Easy card. It costs 2 Euros to buy. You can buy it at any metro or RER, or RER booth, I can’t say that quickly.
[00:56:15] You have to talk to a human to get the card the first time, right? But then you can recharge it forever on the machines. And that card will let you go just about anywhere you need to go as a visitor. Now, if you’re going to Versailles or Disneyland, you’ll need a specific ticket for those trips. But otherwise, it’s easy.
[00:56:34] It works perfectly. It’s called Easy and it is easy.
[00:56:39] So back to Brittany.
[00:56:40] ‘Your tips about safety helped us keep all of our things.’ Oh, that’s great. ‘I bought a purse with extra clips on the zippers.’ Oh, I haven’t seen those. ‘My husband put things in his front pocket and kept his hands in his pockets in crowded areas. Only one of us would have their phone out at one time so another person could be aware of the environment’.
What to wear in Paris
[00:57:03] Annie Sargent: Ooh, someone was on the lookout. That’s good. ‘ We also made sure to leave our sports apparel and gym clothes at home. We felt more comfortable in clothes that blended in.’ You know, that’s fine. But it’s also okay to wear whatever you’re comfortable wearing. Don’t look frumpy. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what your body size is or what you like to wear. Just try to look nice, whatever nice means to you. And it really works. It’s a great way to go, I think. ‘We were prepared for restaurant etiquette and remembered your tip to start every conversation with Bonjour. Of course, everyone recognized our American accents and spoke English to us anyway. People did not switch to English as easily once we were in Saint Malo, which delighted my husband as he was hoping to practice his French speaking skill. He has been studying for the last two years.’
[00:57:56] Good for you for learning French, I really applaud that, but you really shouldn’t expect to speak French in Paris. The waiters in Paris don’t have the patience to suffer through everyone’s hesitant French. Don’t take it personally, but if you leave Paris, then you… often get to speak French.
How to handle visits to large museums
[00:58:16] Annie Sargent: ‘Through your podcast, we learned that it was possible to go inside the Arc de Triomphe. The view from the top was breathtaking. The Sainte Chapelle was stunning. It was a highlight for both of us. Monet’s Water Lilies and the Musée de l’Orangerie were beautiful. We also saw incredible art at the Musée du Louvre. I especially liked the sculptures. A tip from your podcast was to make a plan for what to see in the Louvre.
[00:58:41] We found a walking trail on the official Louvre website that was detailed and easy to follow. It’s called the Masterpiece Trail. We saw many famous things, and never felt lost’.
[00:58:54] That is how you do it. Perfect. This is true in most museums. Look up what masterpieces they have before you go. And the walking trails, which we call parcours in French, it’s with a C instead of a K, but they’re big in France, both cities and big museums have them, anywhere you go, you can go to the information desk or tourist office, and they’ll give you a map that you can follow. It’s a great way to do it, it’s free and it’s not rocket science.
[00:59:24] Well, it’s usually free. Sometimes they, I think it was in, one of the towns we went to, they charged me 50 cents for the map, but whatever, not a big deal.
[00:59:33] ‘The Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens were beautiful. It was so lovely to spend time in less crowded outdoor areas. We took a boat cruise on the Seine.
[00:59:43] It was a wonderful way to see the city. We made sure to see the Eiffel Tower at night, which was… breathtaking’.
[00:59:49] Yeah. It’s hard to beat the view from the Seine river in Paris. You know, that’s a must. That’s a must. And it’s not quite so nice in Bordeaux, like I mentioned earlier, Paris is a must.
Things you should know about hotel rooms in France
[01:00:02] Annie Sargent: ‘You prepare American travelers well by passing along the information that hotel rooms are smaller, air conditioning is less common, ice in beverages is rare, and to-go boxes are not available in restaurants. We experienced all of these things, but we’re not surprised since we knew what to expect. We carried around a water bottle and filled it wherever we could, sometimes in the sink in a public restroom. I don’t think Paris is different from any other major city in this regard.
[01:00:32] Use bathrooms where you can find them. Fill water bottles where you can and be prepared to walk and, or take public transportation. In one of your episodes, maybe that was the one about when people hate Paris. You said that some people say they love traveling, but then they only complain about how the new place is different from their home.
[01:00:52] Yeah, this comment stayed with me and helped us maintain a flexible attitude during our trip.’
[01:00:58] That’s so great. Two more tiny details to add to this list. In France, hotels will not give you a washcloth. If you want one, bring it. They also will not give you a flat sheet. It’s either the comforter or nothing.
[01:01:14] So I bring a flat sheet because I’m too hot with a comforter most of the time, but I like to have something over me when I sleep. So, you know, if that’s the thing for you, just be aware.
[01:01:24] ‘We cannot thank you enough for your podcast. A very large part of our trip success was due to you. I will recommend your podcast to anyone who is going to France.
[01:01:33] We hope to return to France in the future and we will use your podcast again. Merci. Merci.’
[01:01:38] Thank you so much for all of that. Thank you for recommending the podcast. It’s not just me though, it’s lots of these trip reports, people who come on the podcast bring so much to the conversation as well.
[01:01:49] So, thank you very much. Personal recommendations to listen to the podcast are very helpful. Some people think to look for a podcast about France, in which case they find Join Us in France, but many don’t think about that, and it’s good if you suggest it to them.
[01:02:04] Annie Sargent: All right, let’s talk about the bugs.
[01:02:06] I got another email this week about the bugs, the bed bugs. It’s a slow news week. Bed bugs were all over the place and I’m surprised I only got one email about it. Well, some people talked about it on the Facebook group as well. So this person said: ‘Bonjour Annie, how are you? We spoke a couple of months ago about our trip plan to the Loire Valley and Provence region. Thanks for the guidance. But the bed bug outbreak in Paris has us very worried now. We fly to Paris and we’ll rent a car. Is it safe to travel to France?
[01:02:36] What a question. Okay, so, I, honestly, I can’t offer a strong opinion on the bed bugs situation. There’s always been bed bugs. Maybe it’s a little worse now, you know, but I have not stopped traveling because of this.
[01:02:51] And I think it’s the sort of thing that you can mitigate with a bit of extra care. So of course, look for signs of infestation and report anything you find immediately. Hotels and B&Bs are taking this very seriously and looking for signs of infestation as well. So we’re on the lookout for it, you know, that’s probably why we’re finding them. If you’re very worried, you should only bring clothes that you can wash in hot water. So, don’t open your suitcase from your vacation on top of your bed at home, but put everything in the wash as soon as you return. Wash everything on a hot cycle and that should take care of things.
[01:03:31] You know, when I saw this email, I was about to go to Bordeaux and Rochefort and all that that I talked about earlier and I didn’t cancel. I don’t think it’s any worse in Paris than in many other places. It’s just that it’s a great topic for reporters who are looking for an easy story, and why wouldn’t they?
[01:03:47] My thanks to podcast editors Anne and Christian Cotovan, they produce the transcript, they make the show sound good. Thank you so much.
Next week on the podcast
[01:03:58] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, an episode about Saint Rémy de Provence and Glanum. So we’re going to Provence next week. An episode with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks. It’ll be a lot of fun. Thank you so much for listening and I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.
[01:04:17] Au revoir.
[01:04:18] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.