Posts Tagged 'France'

Exploring Paris Through its Parks

When you think of Paris, France, things like baguettes, pastries, and the Eiffel Tower come to mind. On a recent trip I chose to experience less touristy parts of the iconic city. I soon discovered some of the city’s best-kept secrets actually lie hidden in its parks. If you want to go where the locals go or spend a little time in nature, then visit one of the many parks and gardens. Not unlike a Parisian café, parks offer a place to relax, have a drink, meet people, take in a beautiful view, and find some free WiFi. With 19 arrondissements, there are countless parks throughout the city. Here are a few to consider.

Buttes-Chaumont

A Waterfall in Paris?

A Waterfall in Paris?

Take a road less traveled in Paris and venture into the 19th arrondissement. Upon entering Buttes-Chaumont you’ll discover something special. After climbing a steep hill you’ll soon see man-made bluffs, bridges, a lake, and a 30-foot waterfall. Don’t expect to run into many tourists, it’s generally locals who frequent this park. You will find plenty of young kids running around as well as families out for their evening stroll. If you wander far enough, you’ll also discover a Roman-style temple offering beautiful panoramic views of the Paris skyline and the Sacre Coeur.

Parc Monceau

Parc Monceau borders the chic 8th and 17th arrondissements of Paris. The park was built by Phillippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres, in the 18th century. During the spring and summer, the park is full of color as flowers and trees are in bloom. Monceau is a perfect place for a picnic and is considered city’s most romantic park.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Don't Miss an Unforgettable View of Paris

Don't Miss an Unforgettable View of Paris

It’s impossible to discuss Paris without mentioning its most famous park. Perfectly situated between the 5th and 6th addrrondissements, le Jardin du Luxembourg attracts every type of visitor. Whether you just grabbed a croissant from the local boulangerie, are taking a break from studies at la Sorbonne, or going for a brisk morning run, the park is always brimming with guests. Established by Italian monarch Marie de Medicis in the mid-17th century, the garden and its Florentine-style palace provide a perfect atmosphere to escape the city. Ponies and puppet shows entertain children while parents relax in the iron chairs.

There are plenty of parks to discover. Check out this site for a more exhaustive list.

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Deck the Halls with International Christmas Markets!

Now that Halloween is over it’s time to look forward to the next celebration.  Although Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, most people already have Christmas on their minds. In Europe, instead of a turkey feast at the end of November, cities transform into Christmas Markets. This festive tradition originated in Austria and Germany and now takes place all over the world. What better way to enjoy the holiday spirit than seeing a city decorated with Christmas lights, warm cider, and other fun treats! Here are a few of the best.

Austria

Vienna has dazzled visitors with its holiday markets since 1294. From Schönbrunn Palace to City Hall, the city hosts more than 25 markets. Lose yourself to the aromas of candied fruits, cotton candy and other delicacies like Christmas punch and roasted chestnuts.  Also special to Vienna, pony rides, express Christmas trains, and fairytale displays.  The best part is that this wonderland is free to explore – unless of course you indulge in some holiday treats.  Vienna’s not the only Christmas market around, you can also check out Innsbruck, Graz, and Salzburg.

Brussels Winter Wonderland

Brussels Winter Wonderland

Belgium

How do warm cider, Belgian waffles, and ice-skating sound? Not too bad, huh? Belgium’s capital city has got you covered. Each winter Brussel’s Place Sainte Catherine transforms into a winter wonderland. Vendors set up dozens of stalls offering holiday toys, clothing, trains, and of course Belgian waffles and fries. The ice-skating rink brings out the child in everyone! From November 27th until early January, Brussels will display a dazzling array of festive lights and one of the biggest Christmas trees you’ll ever see. Live music keeps you entertained for hours as you wait for Pere Noel to stop by. A small word of caution- bundle up or you’ll freeze! Traveling around Belgium? You’ll find other great Christmas Markets in Antwerp, Brugge, and Ghent.

France

A Christmas in France is like no other. Christmas markets, known as marché de noel, highlight most French cities during late November and December. In addition to festive lights and holiday treats, you’ll find great deals on delicious wine, liquor, and the traditional Stollen holiday bread. Easily take the Eurostar to Paris or Lille for a day trip or a weekend getaway. Other popular Christmas markets around France include Lyon, Strasbourg, Tours, and Mulhouse.

Bavarian Christmas Markets are Priceless

Bavarian Christmas Markets are Priceless

Germany

Forget about the cold and explore the Rhine and Moselle valleys, which provide an idyllic setting for a romantic Christmas Market break. At these trendy Christmas Markets, the aromas of cinnamon, gingerbread will grab your senses, while locally produced wine and beer will capture your taste buds. You’re in for a treat no matter where you go. Berlin alone boasts more than 50 grand markets. The Christmas markets in Trier, Koblenz and Mainz are notably famous and quite large. If you’re looking for a small town atmosphere check out Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, Rüdesheim, Worms, Speyer and Ahrweiler.

International Film Festival Season

When I studied abroad in Europe I spent several days in Pordenone, Italy. This beautiful town, about an hour train ride north of Venice, hosts a silent film festival each October. My college film professor encouraged me to attend. It quickly became a highlight of my trip. These festivals not only introduce you to the creative minds of international filmmakers, but also give you the chance to explore new and fascinating cities. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto

Creativity Knows No Boundaries

Creativity Knows No Boundaries

Pordenone’s silent film festival brings you back in time, to the early stages of filmmaking.  No, you don’t shoot a silent film, but you do watch classics from D.W. Griffith,  the Lumière brothers, Erich von Stroheim, Mary Pickford, Harold Lloyd and other international silent stars before the 1930s. For a week every October, film professionals, preservationists, scholars and enthusiasts watch rare footage not available to most. For 30 Euro you receive unlimited access to a full line-up of classic silent films- many of which have recently been restored. While you’re there, explore the small town of Pordenone; take a day trip to Venice; enjoy a homely Italian lunch or savor a creamy gelato. It’s an unforgettable week!

Festival de Cannes

Since 1946, the Festival International du Film in Cannes, France has been one of the world’s premiere film festivals. Today it draws tens of thousands of film professionals from around the world. The festival gives novice and seasoned independent filmmakers a chance to showcase their work before their peers. Check out films by Quentin Tarantino, Michael Haneke, Steven Soderbergh, and Park Chan-Wook. See the work of your favorite stars or expose yourself to a bigger film culture. Located in southern France along the French Riviera- it’s hard to go wrong!

Internationalen Filmfestspiele Berlin

Berlin Comes Alive at Night

Berlin Comes Alive at Night

The Berlin International Film Festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2010.  Selling more than 200,000 tickets each year, “Berlinale” hosts the largest audience of any film festival in the world. The festival in Berlin, Germany showcases more than 400 films over a two-week period each February. Prestigious awards include: the Golden and Silver Bears, the International Jury Award (Alfred Bauer Prize), as well as awards for top Feature, Actor, and Director. Located in one of the world’s most historical cities, attendees can visit unforgettable landmarks, taste delicious food, and explore memorable locals.

Other notable festivals:

End of the Summer Adventures

Wrapping up your trip abroad? Not ready to hit the books? If you’ve got some money saved up, here are a few fun adventures to consider before diving back into the school year.

No Telling What You'll Encounter Abroad

No Telling What You'll Encounter Abroad

Climb Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Intimidated by Mount Everest? You’re not the only one. A better bet- climb Kilimanjaro! Take the less traveled Western Breach route, a challenging path up Africa’s loftiest peak. On your way to the summit, check out the Barranco Valley’s waterfalls, near the Arrow Glacier, and the rocky ridgelines. After the summit, don’t miss wildlife in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park.

Lake Baikal, Russia

Need a break from the hassle of everyday life? Seclude yourself in Russia’s Lake Baikal. Situated in southeast Siberia, this World Heritage site is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest lake in the world. Like the Galapagos, it’s isolation helped it evolve into a unique freshwater ecosystem. Hike along the lakeshores; pass through old fishing villages; traverse craggy mountains; and keep an eye out for unusual species like the nerpa, an endemic freshwater seal.

Pyrenees National Park

Pyrenees National Park

Pyrenees National Park, France & Spain

The French-run Pyrenees National Park stretches 60 miles along the French-Spanish border, covering 180 square miles of lakes, towering summits, rolling hills, and fertile valleys. The park is composed of two regions. The uninhabited central zone offers some of the park’s most spectacular landscapes. The peripheral zone, on the edge of the central area, houses 86 villages and some 40,000 inhabitants. During the summer you can trek, cycle, horseback, and raft. The weather will accommodate all adventure activities.

Italian Alps, Italy & Germany

Get out your road bike and hit the Alps! Experience the blend of Italian and German cultures as you cruise along the Adige River and the western Dolomites.  Pass the famous Strada del Vino, stop in tiny villages, take a detour for wine tastings or a visit to medieval Lazise. Looking for a tour? Check out Ciclismo Classico.

Royal Treatment While Studying Abroad: Monaco

You don’t have to be rich and famous to get royal treatment abroad. If you’re studying in northern France, along the French Riviera, or in northern Italy and don’t know what to do with your free time, head to Monaco. You’ve probably already hit up the Cannes Film Festival, walked along a beautiful beach in Nice, or went skiing in Torino. Yes, life is rough. If you’re looking for something else a little out of the ordinary… take a weekend trip to Monaco!

Be a Bond Girl (or 007) in Monte Carlo

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, behind Vatican City. The capital of Monaco, Monte Carlo, is famous for its hotels, casinos, glamour, and celebrity sightings. Feel like a star with a visit to the Opera, the Cabaret, the Salle des Etoiles, the Monte Carlo Golf Club, and the Monte Carlo Country Club, as well as Casino Square.

Move Over Vegas. This is the Real Monte Carlo

Move Over Vegas. This is the real Monte Carlo

Of course, no trip to Monte Carlo is complete without a visit to the famed Monte Carlo Casino, or Le Casino de Monte Carlo. No we’re not talking about Vegas but the Côte d’Azur (aka French Riviera). Built by famous architect Charles Garnier in 1878, the Casino is paved in marble and surrounded by 28 onyx columns. Nightlife is abound inside. Granted, you can’t just walk in with your backpack and sandals. There is a dress code…and a cover charge just for entering the famed casino. If you’re on a budget, just walk into the main lobby and peek around. It’s worth an extra look.

What’s the Bond connection? Author Ian Fleming used the Monte Carlo as a setting in his first James Bond book, Casino Royale. You’ll also catch it in the 1995 Bond film, GoldenEye.

Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix

Like sports? You’ve come to the right place. The Monaco Grand Prix (or Grand Prix de Monaco) is held each May on the Circuit de Monaco. It’s considered one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world and forms the triple Crown of Motorsport along with the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Royal Family of Monaco

There’s plenty to do in Monaco- including a visit to the Royal Family estate. Monaco-Ville, located on a promontory, is home to the Place du Palais, which houses the Prince’s Palace and State Apartments. Visitors must also check out the Princess Grace Rose Garden, the Royal Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, which sits on a cliffside rock. Other attractions include the Museum of Napoleonic Souvenirs and Collection of the Palace’s Historic Archives, the Wax Museum of the Princess of Monaco, and the Monte Carlo Story, a show on Monaco’s history.

Granted, you’ll probably splurge a little on this royal treatment… so either take an overnight train to Monaco from Paris or

Reward Yourself with some Mussels!

Treat your taste-buds to some Mussels!

Venice (or wherever you’re living) or stay in a hostel in a nearby town. Several trains run to Monaco from Nice every hour (about $6 round trip). You’ll probably also build up an appetite walking around the Palace grounds and Monte Carlo. Reward yourself with some Moules Frites cozze con Patatine (aka. Mussels with Fries)- Molto Buono!


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