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9 fabulous reasons why France is the number one travel destination in the world

9 Spectacular Reasons Why France Is The Worlds Most Popular Tourist Destination In The world

9 fabulous reasons why France is the number one travel destination in the world

According to United Nations World Tourism Organization, France has been the worlds most popular tourist destination for over 25 years. Let’s explore some of the things that make France so popular with tourists.

The reasons for France’s popularity are varied. Many people visit France simply because they consider it to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Other people visit France for the numerous tourist attractions, cities of cultural interest such as Paris and Strasbourg, the spectacular beaches, the French Alps, the language, the food and so much more. It’s no wonder France has held the number one position for 25 years. Let’s take a closer look at 9 absolutely wonderful things in France that attract part of the 86 million visitors each year.

1. Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris is the number one attraction in France and EuropeSince 1992, Disneyland Paris, originally called Euro Disney resort has been drawing crowds from all over the world. Currently it is the number one tourist attraction in all of France and Europe, even beating out the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. It is also the 16th most popular tourist attraction in the world.  14.8 million people visited Disney Paris in 2015 according to their annual report.

2.The Eiffel Tower

Eiffel tower was build in 1889to be the entrance to the worlds fairOriginally constructed as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, today it is what people think of first when they think of France. Measuring 321 metres tall, the equivalent to 81 stories, the Eiffel tower serves not only as a national monument and major tourist attraction but also as an observation and radio broadcast tower.

It is the second most visited attraction in France after Disneyland Paris but as far as monuments go, it is the most visited-paid monument in the world. In 2015, almost 7 million people ascended this French treasure. Some by elevator others climbed the 1664 steps by foot from bottom to top. (source)

3. The Louvre and art

Louvre in Paris

The Louvre has a long and sorted history. The Louvre which we know today is not only one of the largest museums in the world, housing over 460,000 pieces of art and artifacts, it’s also one of the most visited galleries on the planet. in 2014 alone it received over 9.3 million visitors.

Initially built as a fortress in the late 12th century, it was converted to the the main residence for French kings in the 16th century. Then in 1682, Louis XIV relocated the imperial home to Versailles, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection. 100 years later during the French revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces to the masses.

Some of the more notable treasures housed at the Louvre include La Jaconde known in English as The Mona Lisa. Winged Victory of Samothrace, Vénus de Milo, Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People,  Great Sphinx of Tanis , Aphrodite of Milos and the list goes on.

4. Palace Versailles The kings palace

palace of versailles in France draws hoards of tourists every yearTransformed from a humble hunting lodge by Louis XIV into the now familiar Versailles Palace which epitomizes royal elegance. Every year over 3 million people travel to Versailles to see how former French royalty lived. Everywhere you look is an amazing delight. It’s embellished by generations of lavish gardes, landscape, architecture, sculptures, decorations, art and more! Some of the more popular things to see at the palace include the State Apartments, the incredible Hall of Mirrors, the Versailles Gardens and The Trianons.

5. The Tour De France

tour de France vintage poster

For over 100 years since 1903, the tour de France has been attracting spectators from around the world. Not only is the Tour de France the globe’s biggest bike race, it’s also the largest sporting even on the planet. For three weeks during part of June and July, people from all over the globe flock to France to watch bicyclists race some 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) mostly around France in a collection of phases. In a typical years race, the Tour de France can attract roughly 12 million spectators along the route of the race.

See also: 15 Bizarre Tour De France Facts YOU Didn’t Know But Should

6.French cheese

illustrated map of French cheeses

photoicon.50xpng.pngPhoto source: Vinepair

You’ve heard of Brie, Camembert and Blue cheese? In terms of types of French cheeses, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As master cheese maker, Pierre Androuët once said “Un fromage pour chaque jour“, which simply means “there exists a different cheese for each day.  Officially, France produces roughly 350 to 450 different varieties of cheese. Some say the number is closer to 1,000. Whatever the number, cheese-making in France is an old art: goat cheese goes back to at the very least 500 AD, the blue-veined Roquefort was discussed in documents of an old abbey as very early as 1070, and tough ranch cheeses like Emmental began to show up in the 13th century.

7.The French Alps

French alps tram on Mont Blanc

Europe’s greatest mountain range system is without a doubt the Alps, stretching 1,200 km across eight Alpine countries including France’s French Alps. There is a wide range of winter and summer activities available to visitors in the French Alps which attract roughly 60-80 million visitors each year. Some activities include skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, biking and rock climbing to name a few.

Every year, approximately 30,000 mountain climbers from all over planet set their sites on making the treacherous 2 day, 4,810 metres (15,780 feet) climb up the highest point of the French Alps -Mont Blanc. Climbing Mont Blanc although beautiful is also dangerous claiming the lives of almost 100 people each year making it Europe’s’ deadliest mountain.

For those visitors who would rather not risk their lives, and climber Europe’s most dangerous mountain, there is always the cable car which will take you up to Aiguille du midi where you”ll have a dazzling 360° view over Mont Blanc-the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Every summer an astounding 5,000 people a day take the cable cars.

8. French food and the French mealtime tradition

French gastronomy granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010 In addition to all the attractions, French food is also a major draw for tourists. The French mealtime tradition, (Gastronomic meal of the French) with all its wine pairing, social rituals, the setting of a beautiful table and associated skills and crafts that the French are renowned for was even granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010 when it was added to the representative list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.

9. The French train transportation

French railway considered to be the best in the world makes it easy for tourists

The Gare du Nord railway station in the heart of Paris France handles approximately 190 million passenger per year and is considered to be the busiest station in Europe and the third largest and busiest in the world. With over 29,000 km of railway, visitors to France can easily travel from one end of France to the other quickly without the need for a car making it even more appealing and easy for tourists to visit every corner of France.

This article was co-authored with Linda Evans from Skywefly.com and Annie from AnnieAndre.com

Europe’s Hot Springs: 5 Spa Cities Worth Visiting

5 spa cities in Europe worth visiting for their hot springs

One of the best things about living in France is that the rest of Europe is an hour’s flight away – or two, at most. And yes, you can get really cheap tickets if you book in advance, with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet, among others. If you’re in the mood to pamper yourself, it’s true that one of your best options is to take a weekend spa break. Although there are a number of great spas in France, today we’re going to look at other spas all over the Old Continent. If you can find the time to travel Europe by train, you’ll find that you’re avoiding the long airport waiting times and actually make the journey part of your holiday.

When we think of spas and thermal baths in Europe, the picture that comes to mind is often society’s elite on vacation, residing in seasonal palaces and dining at great feasts. However, the past few decades have seen spa culture take on another form – one that is much more open to the masses. Today’s spa locations are for everyone and the idea is sparking tourism all over the continent. With a new generation interested in visiting some of the formerly famous baths and spa retreats, a resurgence in tourism and development is changing how we think about a typical spa vacation. 

Take a Look at Leukerbad 

 5 spa cities in Europe worth visiting for their hot springs

Source: www.Badi-Info.ch

Try to imagine the perfect European spa city and what do you see? Probably a small town alpine mountain setting, with steamy thermal baths, skiing, amazing food, and countless other luxuries. For a place perfectly fitting that description, Leukerbad in Switzerland is the most likely candidate. With a population of under 2,000 people, the town is small and offers an intimate feeling that simply cannot be found in larger spa towns. As testament to its draw, almost 40% of the town’s residents are foreigners who have relocated (just like we did!) to enjoy the waters year-round rather than just on vacations. 

Accommodation in Leukerbad can be pricey, but access to the spas is meant to be affordable. While many of the thermal spas are connected to private hotels and only available for guests, the best of the public offerings is definitely Burgerbad hotel and spa. Costing about $30 for an all-day visit, the sprawling complex features tons of pools, some with temperatures pushing up to 50 degrees Celsius. Burgerbad is also family-friendly, with children under the age of 8 being admitted free. If you like getting to the heart of spa culture, then Leukerbad is an excellent place to start and will open the door to other European spa locations. 

Too Many Badens 

5 spa cities in Europe worth visiting for their hot springs

 Source: photoblogotg.blogspot.com

Not to be confused with Switzerland’s Baden or Germany’s Baden-Baden (both of which are also nice spa towns to visit), Austria’s own Baden bei Wien is a city on the rise when it comes to spa tourism. Casually known as the Monte Carlo of Eastern Europe, visitors flock from all corners of the continent to bathe in the waters and try their hand at the famous Casino Baden, which has also played host to live gaming events, such as the European Poker Tour (EPT), a prestigious series of poker tournaments, which began in 2004 and is still going very strong. Casino Baden offers a variety of games, including blackjack, roulette and a number of poker variants. Bathing facilities at Baden might not be as complete as those in Leukerbad, but the serene atmosphere and relaxing settings are what draw in the crowds and make Baden one of the best spa cities in Europe. 

Baden was a favorite vacation spot for composers Mozart and Beethoven and has continued to be a retreat for Europe’s elite. On a trip here, keep your eyes open and you may be able to spot some celebrities on their holiday. If you’re trying to go the budget route, keep in mind that like Leukerbad, restaurant prices in Baden are not the cheapest. One good option to keep expenses down is to buy food from local markets and plan a picnic in one of the city’s many parks or green spaces. 

The Spas of Budapest

 5 spa cities in Europe worth visiting for their hot springs

 Source: Lukacsbaths.com

Moving a hop, skip, and a jump to the east, it’s no secret that Budapest (known as The City of Spas) has become one of the most visited cities on the continent, combining a grand mix of history, architecture, nightlife, and spas. The Hungarian capital actually used to be three cities, which unified in only 1873. While it’s a bit difficult to call Budapest a “spa city,” the truth is that the spas here are on par with any other place in Europe and the number of annual visitors has made it a must-do on any traveler’s checklist. For a truly wild night, check out one of the spa parties, when the baths open their doors all night and essentially turn into a club for the evening, drawing both tourists and locals to the festivities. 

Gellert Bath is arguably the most famous of the many spas on offer, with an impressive 13 pools of different temperatures. Throw in an artificial wave pool, saunas, massage services, and incredible architecture and it’s easy to see why it’s a hotspot (pun intended) year-round.

While Gellert might be the most famous, the largest is clearly Szechenyi. With a metro stop at its front door, the 18 pools of Szechenyi are easy to reach from any point in the city and offer many of the same services as Gellert. The waters at Szechenyi are recommended for joint problems, but have been known to help with many other ailments as well. If a quieter place is more your thing, then be sure to pay a visit to Lukacs. A bit out-of-the-way on the Pest side, those that make the trip will be rewarded by a serene atmosphere and a more intimate spa feel. 

Hidden Treasure in Romania 

5 spa cities in Europe worth visiting for their hot springs

Source: romaniadacia.wordpress.com

If you’re looking for something a bit more off the beaten path, then the best hidden value spa city could easily be Romania’s Baile Herculane. Known mostly to locals and Hungarian tourists, this small city nestled in the picturesque Cerna River Valley has been a refuge for people seeking the healing waters for literally ages. Inhabited since the Paleolithic era, the resort area rose to prominence during Roman occupation during the early second and third century A.D., with the legend being the Hercules himself stopped to rest and take in the mineral springs. 

In modern times, Baile Herculane has been neglected, leaving a multitude of impressive abandoned architecture and communist-style resort hotels. This may sound like a turn-off, but actually the opposite is true. Prices are extremely cheap given the quality of the thermal baths and a vacation here would cost only a fraction of other locations like Baden. However, development has started recently and word is getting out about this hidden gem. A massive casino is currently under construction and it’s only a matter time before it starts to appear on the standard tourist trail. Take our advice and go there now while the getting is still good. 

Turkish Delight 
5 spa cities in Europe worth visiting for their hot springs

At the eastern end of Europe is Turkey, where there are many stand-out attractions, including Istanbul – a massive sprawling city well-known for the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, and of course, the spas. Some would even go so far as to say that the Turks invented the modern idea of the spa, with Turkish hammams influencing thermal baths the world over. In the older districts of Istanbul like Sultanahmet and Beyoglu, you’ll literally find hammams all over the place. While we would advise checking out a local neighborhood option for an authentic experience, you can also go to one of the hammams that cater to the tourist trade, such as Cemberlitas, Cagaloglu, or Suleymaniye. 

Before checking into an Istanbul hammam, it may help to know that procedures here follow a more strict protocol than in other places. For the full treatment, you’ll start in a dry, warm room that should get you perspiring to release toxins. After working up a little sweat, you’ll move to the hot room – if you’re not accustomed to this type of heat, expect to be releasing fluids like nobody’s business. A wash in cold water prepares you for a massage to work out those tired muscles and the spa treatment ends with a bit of R&R in a cooling room. The entire process often takes several hours to complete, but will rejuvenate you and get you ready for the next leg of your travels. 

Throw a stone in Europe and you’re likely to hit a spa – there really are that many of them. At the same time, separating the wheat from the chaff is another matter and going to the wrong spa could lead to disappointment. When in doubt, choose one of the options above and you’ll see why spa culture continues to thrive all across the continent. Depending on your preference, you may want to combine your spa holiday with a ski holiday or another attraction. Whether it is for a couple of days or longer, go for it: you won’t be disappointed.

10 Reasons We Choose To Travel Europe By Train, Not By Plane!

10 reaons whe chose to travel across Europe by train and not by plane

If you’re considering a visit to Europe and you’re unsure or on the fence about whether you should travel Europe by train or not then you should read this article where I share 10 of the top reasons we chose train travel over the usual plane travel. This article is just one part of a multi-part mini series on the entire process we went through.

10 reasons why travelling across Europe by train is a must at least once in your life.

Sure there are faster, maybe even cheaper or less chaotic ways to travel across Europe, especially as a family of five but lets face it…there is a certain “je ne sais quoi” about train travel.

Putting aside my totally romantic ideas and subjective point of view that train travel is  magical, there were and are other more practical reasons why we chose to spend our 3 week family summer vacation gallivanting across Europe by train v.s. by plane or by car for that matter.

We weighed all the pros and cons, we took into consideration not only what my husband and I wanted to get out of this trip but also the varied tastes and interests of our 3 children who ranged in age from 8 all the way to 19. We also had a budget to contend with.

In the end, we somehow figured it all out. Here are the 10 things that were important enough for us.

1- NO REGRETS: I didn’t want to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity to slow travel across Europe as a family

Train travel: Don't miss an opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime

Given the fact that train travel was something I always wanted to do and the fact that everyone in the family, including our 8 year daughter and our moody 19 year old son were all keen on the idea of train travel,  I knew we had to seize this opportunity. It is after all a rare occasion when the stars and the moon align and all five members of our family agree on an activity to do together.

But it wasn’t just the fact that we all wanted to do a vacation across Europe by train, it was the thought of one day leaving France having never slow travelled across Europe. Why would this leave me full of regret? Well, once we go back to North America, it becomes much more difficult and expensive to fly to Europe and coordinate a family vacation with work and school schedules. I felt, no- I knew if I let this opportunity slip by, there might not be another one like it for a very long time or maybe not ever again.

Lastly, given how easy it is to travel from country to country and city to city by train in Europe, how could I not take advantage of train travel which brings me to the second reason we chose train travel.

2 LOW HANGING FRUIT: It’s easy to visit multiple countries in a single day by train in Europe

europe is relatively small compared to the US. It can fit 2,5 times in side of the USA. Which means travelling across Europe is relatively easy

The proximity of neighbouring countries, the relatively small size of Europe and the fact that trains across Europe are all inter-connected means travelling from country to country is not only easy but also relatively fast.

To give you some perspective,  France is about the same size as Texas and all of Europe can fit into the US about 2,5 times. So travelling from country to country is a bit like travelling from one state to the next state only easier because the trains take you anywhere and everywhere worth while in Europe.

If Cannes in the South of France (which is 1 hour from our residence  ) is your starting point, here are some sample itineraries you could take.

  • Cannes to Zürich Switzerland roughly 800km ( 497 miles) and 10 hours by train.
  • Cannes to Milan, Italy is about 5 hours from our house.
  • Cannes to Barcelona Spain is about 6 hours,
  • And Cannes to Berlin Germany is about 15 hours.

Why wouldn’t you take a multi-city trip via Rail Europe ?

3- Train travel means you get to skip the hellish airport routine

No annoying security checks, no checking bags, no arriving 3 hours early. Just pay for your ticket and go

Think about the process you have to go through when you travel by airplane. Do you look forward to it?  Do you love it?

You not only have to drive to the airport which is most likely an hour or more, you have to also wait in multiple lines, go through customs and check your bags . Not to mention the fact that you normally have to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight departs.

Train travel eliminates a lot of this wasted time. You can even arrive to the train station minutes before the train is about to pull away from the station.

With train travel, you don’t have to worry about bringing water or liquids on the train. Hell, if you wanted to bring a Swiss army knife on the train, that’s ok too. (Blake my husband likes to travel with his).

4- Trains stop where all the action is and not some far away airport

train stations always put you in the middle of all the action so you can hit the grond running. Pictures is the Amsterdam central station and a passing tram

There is nothing worse than booking your cheap(ish) or maybe expensive airfare online, only to discover once you arrive at your vacation destination that you have an hour’s taxi ride to get into the city. Not only does this put a dent in your holiday funds but it’s a huge time suck.

Which brings me to another things I love about train travel- most train stations in Europe are located smack dab in the middle of a city or town, not 67 miles away like the Munich Airport or 68 miles from Barcelona like Girona airport.

This proximity makes it much easier to hit the ground running once you arrive at your holiday destination.

  • When we arrived at the Central station in Amsterdam, we were on a tram 5 minutes later heading towards our first destination.
  • Same deal in Prague, we arrived at the main train station and jumped on the tram and were at our flat that we rented from (((Airbnb))). 
  • In Bremen Germany, we got off the train and found restaurants to eat at within minutes then jumped on a tram directly to the flat we rented, again from Airbnb

If we really wanted, we could have stopped in a city like Amsterdam to have lunch then catch a train to Antwerp Belgium and arrive before dinner time. We thought about but decided against it because everyone loved Amsterdam.

This stuff just isn’t possible with travel by Air.

5- More bang for your buck

Train travel can give you more bang for your buck

Thanks to the internet and the growing number of companies that are willing to hire remote workers, virtual assistants and freelancers, my husband and I have been able to cobble together a modest living which allows us to work from home. The advantage is more time to work on personal endeavours and to be home for the kids but the downside is less money which is why I like to… no I have to make sure we get the most bang for our buck when we travel.

Our Euro rail pass let us get on and off trains all throughout Europe for a fixed price during a fixed period of time much like a monthly bus pass. This meant that we could visit multiple cities starting in the South of France all the way up north to Holland and beyond if we wanted.

Some of the countries we visited on our train pass were Austria, Germany, Holland, The Czech Republic and a quick Jaunt back over the border of Germany into France to visit Strasburg. All within a 3 week period. The same multi trip itinerary by plane would have cost us a lot more and probably would have taken us much longer if you count all the time needed to get back and forth to the airports.

I like to think we got our money’s worth.

6- Train travel is unique and becomes part of the enjoyment of your trip

Train travel can be unique and maybe even the chance of a lifetime for many people

If you’re like us, the bulk of your travel has most likely been by plane (or by car), so taking another vacation by plane is really nothing new. In fact, after a few trips, the whole process of boarding the plane, finding your seat, checking your bags and waiting in the security line can get rather irritating and uneventful.

With train travel, the journey and what you do on the train is actually what sets train travel apart and makes the voyage so special.

You’re not just sitting in your seat there crammed in your seat with your tray table up waiting to get to your destination. It’s hard to explain but to me it almost felt as if I was sitting in my living room relaxing and socializing only the living room was moving really fast and in a few hours I could leave and be in a new country surrounded by people speaking a different language.

But there’s more to it than that, i’m just not able to put it into words. Perhaps it’s just the idea of train travel but being able to move about the train, look out the window and see the world go by makes all the difference in the world and separates train travel from airplane travel.

To be honest, there really was no one thing that made the experience so enjoyable, it’s the experience as a whole.

7- Train travel (with a Euro Rail pass) gives you more flexibility to make and change plans on the fly

freedom to jump on and off trains with a euro rail pass or interail pass

When we set out to travel across Europe by train, we knew we wanted to visit certain cities like Prague and Amsterdam but we also knew we might like to stop in unexpected cities if we had the choice. luckily there is a train pass which lets you do this and you can buy it from the Euro Rail site.  This pass let us jump on and off trains. (I’ll write about it in another post soon).

In short, thanks to our Interail family pass for EU citizens and non EU citizens who are legal residents like us, we were able to travel by the seat of our pants, take unexpected detours to other cities along the way, extend our stay in certain cities and cut other cities short.  For non Eu Residents, you need to get the Eurail pass. There is no official family pass however if you travel together as a group or a family, each adult and youth get 15% off the ticket price and children up to 11 travel for free.

8- The view on trains is way better than on planes

If we wanted, we could get up and enjoy the views from the big windows, walk around and even get a bite to eat on the food wagon

Travelling by train brings new meaning to the saying “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. When your flying 10,000 feet in the air, you get an amazing aerial view of the clouds going by but when you’re travelling by train you see the world, people and how they live go by.

We saw the countryside of Amsterdam, we saw into people’s backyards in Italy and we saw families jumping in a lake in Germany as we crossed over a bridge. You just can’t see any of that on a plane and it really made the trip amazing.

Pictured above, Blake and I are in the food cart staring out the window as we pass somewhere through Germany.

9- No one cares if your seat is back or tray table is up on a train

Trains were sometimes not full so we could sleep anywhere. We also did not have to worry about putting up our trays or our relinced seats like on a plane

One of the things I really hate about car and plane travel is that you’re pretty much restricted to your seat. On a plane you have to put your seat upright for take off and landing. You have to put your tray table up and turn off your electronics too.

On a train, you don’t have to do any of this and you can actually get up and walk around or hang out in the area that connect two train cars together.

The seat configuration on trains are more varied and comfortable. There are seat arrangements that allow you to face each other and others where you share a small cabin. There usually is a dining car where you can grab a bite to eat and drink which is actually really nice.

10- You get to bond as a couple and as a family

We travelled with just back packs which made it easy to just change plans on the fly. No checked bags, no airport security.

Like most people,  I wanted our family to take a vacation together to bond and to getaway from the stresses and rituals of daily routine and to see one another in a different light. One where I’m not stressing out over homework, dishes and life in general. One where the kids didn’t have us parents nagging them to clean their rooms and take care of chores. One where my husband Blake and I could just be ourselves and enjoy each others company and talk about frivolous things like books and life.

According to a survey conducted by Kelton Global, which asked 1,000 parents with kids age 5-17, 97 percent of parents say that their children have gotten to know new things about them while taking family trips. Families tend to be more excited, silly and affectionate while on vacation.

Train compartment on one of the many trains we rode across Europe. You can close the door for complete privacy.

Unlike plane travel,  travelling by train is almost made for bonding in my opinion.

On a train, you are not bound or crammed in your seat like a sardine for hours. You can actually move around if you like. Seating is usually pretty comfortable and roomy or configured in such a way that makes socializing and chatting easy.

Thanks to the seating configuration on trains, we  were able to find some semblance of privacy on most of the trains we travelled on.

On several trains we found cars with empty seats. On other trains we found 4 seats that faced each other and still other trains we had small cabins big enough for 6 people with a door that closed like the photo pictured above.

Knowing we had nothing but time and being more comfortable made the voyage rather relaxing which as it turns out is extremely conducive to bonding. It was the push we needed because if given a choice, many of us are just so busy with our daily lives that we never take the time to bond and be present for those closest to us.

We read, talked, argues, played games, slept, got on each others nerves and just worried about the minutia of boarding our next train and what to see next. I can’t tell you how nice it was to just get away from our everyday life and have those moments on the train.

I’m not going to lie and tell you that spending 3 weeks travelling together in close quarters was a dream full of rainbows and unicorns because it wasn’t. There were still times where we got on each others nerves, or the kids annoyed us or vice versa. But I knew- just as women are able to endure a painful child-birth and go on to remember childbirth as an endearing memory- I knew our train travel would leave us with meaningful, beautiful and unforgettable memories spent together across Europe.

And I was right.

Do I recommend train travel and would I do it again?

Milan train station. One of the many beautiful train stations conveniently located smack dab in the middle of all the action

Now that I’ve actually travelled on a train across Europe for three weeks with 3 kids and a husband, I can honestly say “yes I recommend train travel and I would definitely do it again”.  But…and you knew there was a but, not all aspects of train travel were pleasant and I definitely would have done some things differently had I known about certain things.

But that’s why I’m writing this for you. So you can get some insight and advice, know what to expect and make up your own mind about whether to travel by train, plane or automobile.

Interested in buying a rail pass and travelling Europe by train like we did?  Click here for Rail Europe !

Is France The Best Country To Live In Europe

Why France Is The Best Country To Live In Europe

Is France The Best Country To Live In Europe

There are a multitude of reason why someone might want to move to France or live in France. Just ask Ernest Hemingway, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. Sometimes those reasons are based on nothing more than idealistic fantasies while other times they are based off more practical things such as work or family. Whatever your reasons, if you’re on the fence about moving to France or need help trying to convince, I mean explain your desire to move to France to your Family and friends, here is some ammo for you.

A first hand, totally unbiased (**wink-wink) guest post by my husband Blake on why France is the best country to live in Europe.

Why France Is The Best Country To Live In Europe!

In a word: Microcosm!

France is a microcosm of Europe. It doesn’t have it all, but it has most of what you’d want to see in Europe.

If you have limited time and money, true for most of us, you’d do well to think about visiting only France, and skipping the rest of Europe. Why travel to England, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Russia when you can experience those countries without ever leaving France, and not having to travel so far for the same or nearly the same experience?

Country names aside, there’s a lot of descriptors to think about western end of the Eurasian landmass: northern and southern Europe; western, central, and eastern Europe; Latin language, Germanic language, and Slavic language; beer drinking or wine drinking; and so on.  And add in country names, and you get more details: NATO countries, former Warsaw Pact countries, and neutrals; those that use the Euro and those that don’t; and while the American system of red state blue state doesn’t really apply here, because all Europeans, to varying degrees, believe that a people should help take care of each other, instead there are light blue countries, and dark blue countries. More than any other place in Europe, you can experience nearly all of these facets of Europe in France.

Why France and only France? Start with the topography: here in this one country are waters and landscapes as good as anything found throughout Europe: the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and La Manche (the English Channel) for those looking for salt water. Indeed, France is one of the few countries that border both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and while you do miss out on experiencing the North Sea, the Atlantic should be cold and rough enough for those looking for that sort of thing. For those looking inland, there is the Seine, the Rhone, the Garrone, and the Loire among many other rivers, and plenty of both alpine and lowland lakes.

On land it’s just as good: flats, meadows, hills, and mountains, including the highest point in Europe – Mount Blanc at 4,800 meters. There’s even a canyon, the Gorges du Verdon, just as good as the Samarian Gorge in Greece, and while there are fjords as Norway has and no steppes as in Russia, it must be said that in the case of the latter you really aren’t missing anything.

For those given to a more technical classifications, the variety of France remains impressive: France has not one (like England), not two (like Germany), not three (like Spain), but four distinct climate zones- count’em: oceanic, semi-continental, Mediterranean, and alpine. France does lack the arctic climate found in Russia, but like the steppes, you’re not missing much.

Looking for a particular country or experience or site? Read on.

Prefer France over these countries

Germany and the Netherlands, also known as the lands of heavy food and beer, Two words for those thinking of travelling to these countries: Alsace Lorraine. These two regions in northeastern France shared their neighbours fondness for cabbage, sausages, and beer. Moreover, Heineken is one of the few drinkable beer sold in France, and you can find aged gouda in all French supermarkets.

Portugal, Spain, and Italy: like these, France, is a Catholic country with a Latin language (those two often go together) on the Mediterranean. All have olive trees, great sea food, hot climates, and lots of great wine. Change the language and the religion, leave everything else the same, and it’s Greece.

Russia? Yes, as mentioned there are no steppes or arctic climates. And yes, St. Basils in Moscow is wonderful, but why go to Russia, when instead you can see the Russian Orthodox Cathedral right on the Mediterranean in Nice? And if you want to meet Russians, they are already on the Cote d’Azur, buying up property to launder money through real estate transactions.

Ireland? There are plenty of sheep and stone walls in France, and the weather is better than Ireland. And because the Irish diaspora is huge, and there’s an Irish pub with Guinness on tap in almost every town. Don’t worry, the French don’t drink real beer, so there’ll be plenty waiting for you.

Scotland? There are plenty of sheep and stone walls….wait…I just wrote that. There’s not much golf in France, and the French don’t go in for men wearing kilts (scarves are okay), but whiskey is available, and instead of haggis eat some andouille which is stuffed with just about every part of the pig:  lips, assholes, and all.

England? No, there’s no Stonehenge in France, but there are there are plenty of primitive stone structures – carnacs, menhirs, and dolmens – throughout France.

5 Reasons You Should Prefer France Over other European Countries

Architecture? It’s all here from Paleolithic waddle and daub replicas, to  Romanesque churches, Gothic cathedrals, Art Nouveau,  Modern, and so on, the only style France seems to have missed is Communist/Facist Unspired, although Le Corbusier comes close.

Fashion? Seriously? Sure, Hugo Boss and Armani are nice, but this is FRANCE! You know: Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Cardin, Vuitton, and YSL.

Food? See Fashion. Disclaimer – if while here and you are looking for some different cuisine, especially Asian, don’t even try. All foreign cuisine has been modified to suit the narrow French palette, and you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for some spicy curry or savoury pho.

Cathedrals, castles, churches, museums? Too many, just like every other country, so save yourself and just stick to a few in France. Not sure where to start? How about if you’re near Paris: Chartres, Château de Vincennes, Notre Dame, and the Louvre. These are as good or better than anything in London, Berlin, Moscow, Rome, or Madrid.

Looking for romance? In the south of France there are Latin dark haired dark eyed passionate Mediterranean types who will love you today and maybe tomorrow, while in the North are the Nordics – pale, blue eyed,  and reserved.  Comme tu veux.

Remember, while France is in Europe, and a lot of Europe is in France, the converse does not hold:  it’s hard to experience France in other parts or Europe.

And that is why France is the best country to live in Europe. Keep it simple and travel to only France.

Saint Patricks day in france

Where And How To Celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day In France

saint Patricks day in france

St Patrick’s Day is nowhere near as popular in France as it is in the US and Canada. In most regions of France it isn’t really noticed let alone celebrated- unless of course you know where to go. Whether you want to find a pub to drink a pint of Guinness beer or listen to some Irish tunes and do the Irish jig, here are a few places you can go to celebrate this iconic day in France.

How to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in France

When I was a kid, if you didn’t wear something green on Saint Patrick’s day, the other kids would pinch you. It wasn’t much of a celebration but I was aware of the day and that’s just what we did.

As I got older, I still put on something green for St. Patrick day but I also added drinking beer at local bars and pubs with friends to my repertoire of Irish festivities. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t of Irish descent, you just did it to hang with your friends. Chances are if you’re reading this,  you might have had a similar experience.

When I moved to France, simply finding an Irish pub with the Irish spirit was a challenge but a good time can still be had if you look in the right places.

Saint Patrick’s Day in France

If you find yourself in a smallish French town or a less touristy part of France on March 17, the day will pass without anyone batting an eye. Most French people will walk around clueless to the fact that it’s St Patrick’s day. **GASP**

You won’t find corned beef stocked up at the supermarket or 4 leaf clovers decorated here and there. And if you see anyone wearing green on this day, it will be purely coincidental.

If however you head over to one of the bigger cities or cities which attract more tourists, your options to celebrate will multiply a thousand fold. Here are a few cities throughout France where you can have a pint and embrace the Irish spirit with other Irish loving lads and lasses in France.

See also: Why the French hate Halloween

Rennes

If you want a more authentic Irish ambiance, well as much as you can get in France, than head over to Brittany to a city called Rennes. Rennes is pretty festive throughout the year but it really comes alive around rue Saint-Michel, aka “rue de la soif” where you will find a number of bars all waiting for you to celebrate St Patrick’s with them. Coincidentally “rue de la soif” translates to “street of the thirsty”

Address : rue Saint-Michel, 35000, Rennes.

Places to celebrate celebrate St. Patrick’s day in Paris

If you want hordes of pub options for St Patrick’s day than you’ll have to head over to the tourist Mecca of the world- Paris, where you will find heaps of things to do in comparison to other towns and cities in France.

Culture

Before you go pub hopping, check out the Irish cultural centre of Paris. On their site you’ll find a calendar of events which you can use to find all sorts of cultural things to do not only for Saint Patrick’s day but all year round. Art exhibitions, concerts, dancers and more.

There are a tonne of Irish pubs in Paris to choose from. Here are a few worth a visit.

Le Coolin, Paris

Kitty O’Shea’s Le Pub Irlandais, Paris

Connolly’s Corner, Paris

Corcoran’s Paris

Guiness Tavern du côté de Chatelet, O `Sullivan à Montmartre, Taverne de Cluny in the 5th arrondissement, Celtic Corner Pub in the 15th arrondissement, Obrien’s near the Eiffel Tower, Shannon Pub, The pure malt and I could go on.

Irish Pubs in other cities throughout FranceWhere to celebrate St Patricks Day in France

If you’re not in Paris on St Patty’s or can’t travel that far, all is not lost. You an still find a few Irish pub in towns across France. It’s a good excuse to explore other regions of France if you haven’t already done so.

Antibes

The Hop Store Irish Pub

Bordeaux

The Connemara, Le Molly Malone’s, The Blarney Stone, The Frog & Rosbif

Lille

L’After Hours, Tir Na Nog

Lorient

The Galway Inn, Le Tonneau de Bière

Lyon

The Smoking dog, Kelly’s Irish pub, The Antidote Pub

The Sherlock Holmes, Le Connemara, Frog & Rosbif

Marseille

O’Brady’s on avenue de Mazargues, The Shamrock

Montpellier

Fitzpatrick’s

Nantes

Brady’s Irish Pub

Toulon

Le Shannon Pub56

Toulouse

London Town, Le Mulligans, De Danu

Find an Irish pub near you in France

If you won’t be near any of the larger cities listed above, you can do your own search and find a pub nearer to your location using an internet search engine. I can’t guarantee big crowds and you may be disappointing by the lack of Irish spirit but it’s worth a try and better than nothing.

Try typing these search terms in the search engine.

  • “un pub Irlandais + name of your French town”
  • “ou fêter St Patricks + name of your french town”

Go to Disneyland Paris and Disney Village for St Patrick’s Day

celebrate saint patrick's day in France at Disneyland Paris

As cheesy as it sounds, you could go to Disneyland Paris on the 17th of March to celebrate Saint Patrick’s day. There are usually Irish dancers, a meet and greet with Mickey and Minnie in Irish costumes, musicians, free make-up, fireworks and loads of other things to get you in the mood. The is also decked out in Green.

Go and celebrate

Just because you’re in France doesn’t mean you have to forgo other traditions or holidays you are used to celebrating. Don’t let some Francophile snob shame you for wanting to either.

I’ve heard too many people say “you’re in France, you should just do “FRENCH” things.” Bull crap! That’s just too narrow-minded for my taste. There are French people that celebrate other customs and it’s all right if you do too. Besides, it’s fun to see how other cultures celebrate something you’re used to celebrating a certain way.

Oh yes, and you can proudly wear green on this day too. I always have my green blazer handy for St Patty’s day.

saint patricks day green jacket

7 Reasons To Visit Menorca Spain The Birth Place Of Mayonnaise

Minorca aka Menorca Spain part of the balearic-islands and birth place of Mayonnaise

Everyone has heard of the Spanish cities Barcelona and Madrid but chances are if you are not from Europe, you’ve never heard of Menorca aka Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the cost of Spain. Here is a high level look and 7 reasons why you should consider Minorca- the birth place of Mayonnaise for your next vacation spot.

One of the many benefits of living in France is exposure and awareness to new destinations and holiday spots. Last year our family discovered one such place in Spain called the Balearic Islands. A place which we had never considered as a destination vacation spot until we moved to France.

Brief primer of the Balearic islands

The Balearic islands mainly consist of four islands located in the Mediterranean sea that belong to Spain. They are Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca and Menorca.

Each has a character different from the rest of Spain and each other.

Ibiza: With plenty of historical sites it is best known for the thousands of clubbers and gay visitors each year. .

Many celebrities also visit Ibiza like P Diddy, Kyle Minogue, even Elizabeth Taylor used to hang out at Ibiza.

Formentera: Much quieter, smaller and more rustic than Ibiza is the isle of Formentera which draws in a lot Italian tourists between July and August. Many of which come on package holidays.

Mallorca or Majorca: By far the largest and best known Balearic island is an extremely popular vacation destination for Europeans from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.

It has sun, high-rise hotels, charming old towns, gorgeous coves, bustling nightlife , hiking and more. It even has a pretty impressive Aquarium which my youngest daughter absolutely loved.

minorca is 130 miles south of barcelona

 

Then there is the isle of Minorca located just 210 km or 130 miles south of Barcelona.

Unlike some of the other Balearic islands like Ibiza and Majorca which have sprawling hotels and a active night-life, Minorca has remained relatively unchanged since 1722 and is perfect for the person or family looking for a more peaceful, relaxing, authentic and somewhat rustic getaway.

Here are just a few reasons to visit Minorca, the most charming of all the Balearic islands in my opinion.

Here are 7 Reasons To Visit Menorca Spain, One of the Main Balearic Islands

1-Menorca Is The First To See The Sunrise In Spain

Minorca is the first place in spain to see the sunrise

Are you a morning person who loves sunrises? Minorca is the first place in Spain to see the sunrise. Just a little trivia for you.

2- Learn To Speak Catalan

Learn to speak Catalan while in Minorca

Even though Minorca and the Balearic islands are part of Spain, the official language is NOT Spanish, It’s Catalan.

Catalan is an autonomous community inside a Spanish state as well as a very ancient form of Spanish which is spoken by almost 8 million people.

Other places Catalan are widely spoken include the Valencian community, Balearic islands, Rosellon France, Andorra, Alguer Italy and Aragon.


4- No high-rise condos or hotels

Stay in rustic converted farmhouses instead of high rise hotels

Due to it’s rich flora, fauna and scattered prehistoric sites, the entire 270 mile island was designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. As a result the island has remained relatively untouched by many unsightly modern developments.

You will see no high-rise condos or massive hotels (they are not allowed to be developed on or along the islands 120 separate beaches.)  Instead, tourists stay in rural hotels called agrotourismos, many of which are 17th and 18th century farmhouses converted to accommodate guests in old world style.

4- Outdoor Activities:

mallorca-aquarium.jpgIf you love outdoor activities: scuba diving, water sports, cycling, hiking,  golf, horseback riding and water sports than Minorca is the place to visit.  Because of it’s Unesco designation, it’s landscape and natural beauty is preserved making it the perfect place to explore and play outdoors.

5- Try Some Allioli: The Original Mayonnaise

In 1756, Duke de Richelieu landed in Menorca with 20,000 French troops in an attempt to kick out Menorca’s British rulers. During the Duke’s visit, he invented mayonnaise based on Allioli, the local Catalan variant of the garlic sauce Aioli.

The original Allioli used only olive oil and garlic but later an egg yolk was add to make emulsifying easier.

“All” means garlic in Catalan, “Oli” means oil.

Some speculate that Mayonnaise was invented in the capital of Minorca in a town called Mahon (Catalan: Maó,Spainsh: Mahón), hence the new sauces name became Mahonesa or Mayonesa in Spanish,  Maionesa in Catalon and Mayonnaise in French where it was first popularized and then took off all over the world to what we know today.

(By the way, Allioli sauce goes great with roasted and barbequed meats. )

6- Attend Boston University’s Summer Menorca Field School In Archaeology & Heritage Management

Excavate in Minorca through the Boston University summer program on the island of Minorca

If you or someone you know is interested in Archaeology, Boston University has a Summer program.

It’s the Menorca archaeology & Heritage Management program which takes place at Torre d’en Galmès on the island of Menorca, Spain.

The program consists of a six-week excavation campaign combined with lectures, laboratory work, and study tours of the island’s cultural and historical monuments.

Who knows what you’ll dig up there.

7- Listen to the island: Free Tour guide

Download Menorca-AudioGuides to listen to.

Get your own personal tour guide for FREE and discover the island of Minorca in four incredible routes:

I just love this.

You can download four different walking and driving tours onto your MP3 player and enjoy a self guided tour that will guide you along and learn about the history, the local customs, the stories and legends in a different and fascinating way. http://www.balearicislandstourism.info/crm/audiomenorca/index.php?idioma=en

The noble Ciutadella, the bourgeois Mahon, the archaeological route through the islands talaiotic culture and the port of Mahon route.

All of the audio is available for download onto your computer or music player in 5 different languages including English, French, Italian, Spanish and of course Catalan, the official language of Menorca and the Balearic islands.

Conclusion

There are so many more reasons to visit Minorca island including the fact that you can go island hopping to the other Balearic islands.

If you do go, just remember that you’ll probably need a car to get to many places.

Many places are closed during the winder so consider going during the spring and summer.

Also, be sure to bring some really good walking shoes.

10 Reasons To Go To Disneyland Paris Even If You Are A Hater!

10 Reasons to go to Disneyland paris: Even if you are a hater

I’m not really into Disneyland. The price alone is enough to make me choke but then you add in the super long lines, back to back people, princesses, pirates and rides that make you throw up…a veritable laundry list of reason NOT TO GO. So why go then? Specifically, why go to Disneyland Paris?  Here are MY 10 reasons why you SHOULD GO, even if you think you will hate it!

No Disneyland for me

Before I had kids, I swore up and down that I would never ever take my future children to Disneyland; despite the fact that I begged my own father to take me to Disneyland as a child. – Oh how quickly we forget.

My Disneyland abstinence lasted several years until my two sons turned five and six. I still remember the look on their faces when we arrived. It was like they had won the lotto.  As I watched them gush with raw unadulterated joy, any and all my reservations and aversions towards taking them to Disneyland melted away. My pocket book felt differently.

History Repeats Itself: Old Habits Die Hard

A decade later I have a third child, a little girl. (yeees so happy)

When my daughter turned 5, we were living in France and it never occurred to me that she might also want to go to Disneyland until one day she just did. I think some of her classmates at school went to Disneyland and told all the kids at school how amazing it was. So once again I am faced with the pressure to take not just my daughter but my sons to Disneyland. I resisted for a while but it is hard to resist my daughters pleas and my then teenage boys seemed to want to go just as much as my daughter.

This time I didn’t have such an averse feeling towards taking the kids to Disneyland. Maybe it was because it was Disneyland Paris? Maybe because we didn’t make it an annual thing? Who knows. In any case, I kept an open mind- here are the 10 things that turned me from a semi-hater to semi-lover of Disneyland Paris.

By the way, if you are planning to go, you should buy your tickets to Disneyland Paris online and save yourself the headache and time of waiting in the long lines with antsy children. With that said, here are my 10 reasons why you should go to Disneyland Paris…

10 Reasons To Go To Disneyland Paris

Even If You Think You Will Hate It

1-It will Make Your Kids Super Duper Happy

Let’s face it, your kids are going to love it. A day of eating junk food, seeing cartoon characters come to life, riding fun rides and seeing cool shows. What kid would NOT like it?

2- Would You Not Go See The Eiffel Tower?

Disneyland Paris is more popular than the Eiffel tower

Would you want someone to tell you that you can’t see or visit the Eiffel tower? Didn’t think so.

In 2010, Disneyland Paris received over 15 million visitors, surpassing the Eiffel Tower as the most popular tourist attraction in Paris?  It is also the fourth most visited theme park in the world.

So in essence, if you don’t go to Disneyland Paris, it would be like not going to see the Eiffel tower.

At least that is how your kids might feel.

3- The Rides

If you enjoy theme parks and rides, Disneyland Paris has a lot of them. From age appropriate rides for little toddlers to the scariest of roller coasters. Here are just a handful of some popular ones:

  • Space Mountain 2: An updated version of the old ride.
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror:
  • It’s A Small World
  • Phantom Manor
  • Star Tours
  • Big Thunder Mountain

4- Jump To The Head Of The Line: The Fast Pass

If one of the reasons you don’t want to go to Disneyland Paris is because of the long lines, there is a solution.

You can always take advantage of the FREE FastPass system. A fast pass allows you to bypass the long line.

All you have to do is find the fastpass distribution area near the entrance of the ride you want to get on. Swipe your park admission ticket at one of the machines and receive a free faspass ticket with a designated time. When you return at that designated time,  you will bypass the bulk of the queue. (only good for certain popular rides and some restrictions apply- of course)

5-VIP FASTPASS!

If you have some money to burn, you could get the VIP fastpass which is like the Fast Pass I mentioned above on steroids.

A VIP fastpass ticket will grant you unlimited FASTPASS use. (some restrictions apply)

All you have to do is book a room or suite at one of the following hotels: Disneyland Hotel Castle Club, Hotel New York’s Empire State Club, a suite at the Newport Bay Club or Sequoia Lodge. 

Then use the fast pass all day at any ride that accepts the fast pass.

6- Fun French Exposure + bargaining chip

If you’re kids are worried about visiting a foreign country or whining about the trip then taking the kids to Disneyland is a sneaky way to get the kids excited about a trip that they might otherwise not be so keen on taking.

7- It’s familiar but foreign

The over all look and feel and many of the rides are similar to the Disneyland in the US but there is a definite French Flair to it.

For instance, the ride announcement will be in French and english and a few other languages.

There are food carts selling fun treats unique to France like Crepes.

8- You will be able to communicate

If you don’t speak French, you will still be able to communicate relatively easy.

There are menus, maps and even signs written in French AND English. Many of the park cast members also speak English because they are recruited from all over Europe and the world.

9-It’s smaller and very doable in a day

One of the things I hated about Disneyland in the US is it was huge. Overwhelmingly huge.

Disneyland Paris is smaller, slightly more manageable and doable in a day with some planning.

10-What’s the harm in it or Why The Hell NOT?

Why not go to Disneyland Paris? Sure it’s cheesy. Sure it’s not really culturally “classy” but if you have kids who are dying to go or even a grown up kid who wants to go, they will worship the ground you walk on if you take them to Disneyland Paris.

What’s the harm it it anyways?

I know part of my own resistance had a lot to do with how other people POO POO the idea of going to Disneyland Paris when you are in Paris.

“You went to France and visited Disneyland Paris???????”

PFFFT!   As if going to Disneyland will lower your social status or make you less classy.

Stop caring about what other people will think.

The worst that could happen is you waste some time and money while your kids, your friends or spouse have the time of their lives.

Who knows you might have a great time too or at least enjoy watching your kids have a great time.

Conclusion

If you have a week  or more in Paris and have kids or people who you are travelling with that want to go, I say GO For IT.

Go check out these personal accounts from other people who actually went to Disneyland Paris and see what they thought about the park.

Disneyland Paris with Kids – A Disney Park with a French Accent – TravelMamas.com

To Europe With Kids: Euro Disneyland

Une Suprise Magique

p.s. The best times to visit Disneyland Paris is on weekdays outside public holidays and school vacations.

Our Trip To Spain: 7 Tips For Families Who Want To Visit Barcelona On A Budget Without Stressing Out:

travel tips for budget conscience families who want to go to Barcelona Spain

Whether you’re a British family looking for a Spanish Holiday or an American couple looking for tips to reduce stress on an inexpensive European vacation, below are some things we did that will help anyone who wants to visit Barcelona on a budget.

What do you do when you live in France and your kids have 2 weeks off during the month of April for spring break? We decided to tackle one of our bucket list cities and visit Barcelona Spain. Not only was Barcelona better than I imagined, I was surprised at just how diverse, affordable and family friendly this city was for our budget conscious crew of five.

1- Find The cheapest way to get to Barcelona

Barcelona, find the cheapest way to get to Spain

It’s a no brainer. The most obvious way to save money on your trip to Spain is on transportation getting there. Will it be by plane, train, automobile or some combination of all three?

Since we live in France, just six hours from Barcelona and since we don’t own a car, we thought it would be fun AND INEXPENSIVE to take the train to Barcelona.

WRONG! The train was the most expensive option. 

One round trip train ticket from La Garde France to Barcelona was over 400 euros. There are five of us so that meant that it would cost us over 2,000 euros for our family to get to Barcelona by train (over 2,500 dollars) which was waaaaaaaay out of our budget.

We decided to rent a car for the week which cost us less than 400 euros. That 400 euros covered the cost of the car, the GPS, gas and car insurance.

There is lots to see when you drive to your destination

Not only was it more affordable to drive but we got to take in the scenery on the drive over. There are some amazing buildings and churches between France and Spain.

Kids love road trips: Rent a car

The kids seemed to really enjoy the road trip too. They sat in the back seat listening to music, watching movies and watching the world go by.

Ignore Kieran on the right, he gets a little car sick and he’s a moody teenager.

Tolls can be expensive when driving in europe. take lots of change and credit cards to pay them.

If you do decide to drive to Spain or anywhere in Europe, take care to bring a credit card and or lots of cash and change for the toll booths.

On our 6 hour drive, we encountered about 7 toll booths. A few were 2 or 3 euros but two of the toll booths were almost 16 euros. In total we paid about 75 Euros in toll booth fees.

Obviously if you do not live near Spain or your only option is to fly to Spain, you won’t be able to drive.

You can still find deals for flights especially during off peak season when prices can drop by half.

2- Save Money And Go during off season but be prepared for…

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing

There is an old saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”.

If you decide to buy ticket during off peak season to take advantage of cheaper tickets, you should be prepared because tickets are cheaper for a reason.

One of those reasons tickets are cheaper is because the weather is not always optimal for sightseeing but that’s ok because there are still plenty of things to see and do when it’s cold and rainy outside.

For instance, during our trip to Barcelona, it rained 2 of the six days we were there.

Rather than stay indoors and cower, we chose to throw on our rain jackets, buy some umbrellas and visit places that involved being indoors.

We then saved the outdoor activities for the days when the forecast predicted sun.

3-Find Cheap Food

la-boqueria in Barcelona a huge outdoor market

Another way you can economize is on food.

Rather than tell you about all the great tasting and inexpensive tapas we had, I am going to tell you to go check out one of the outdoor markets called Mercat de Sant Josep La Boqueria, (open Monday through Saturday) located right off La Rambla. La Rambla is one of the most popular areas to walk around to shop, eat and take in the sites. Every guide book will tell you to visit it..

You have to visit the outdoor market St Josep La Boqueria in Barcelona

The St Josep market is literally a cornucopia of things to see, eat and smell.

It had everything from freshly squeezed juice smoothies, fresh produce and wonderful cheeses to meat counters that sold chicken and sheep heads. (The sheep head I am told is quite popular.)

barcelona-has some weird food too like sheep heads

Kieran and the kids all loved eating at the market. It was a fun exxperience

There were also many restaurant vendors selling the most magnificent foods at the open market. From fried octopus and traditional tapas to nachos and chips.

Lots of great street food to eat in barcelona

We ended up eating at the market several times. The kids all loved it because they each found things they wanted to eat.

Blake and I loved it because it was DELICIOUS AND CHEAP.

shopping at the mercado de la Boqueria. There is nothing you can't find there in terms of produce.

We also bought some fresh fruit and things we can’t find in France like refried beans and hot sauces. The French don’t really like spicy food and I do.

4-Unexpected Normal Things To Do

How do you tell someone to cut your hair if you can’t communicate?

One of the things we did were ordinary things we might do at home but because we were doing them someplace new in a language we did not speak, it added a whole new dimension to an otherwise ordinary situation.

Get A Haircut:

Get a haircut in Barcelona: Turn an everyday activity to a fun new experiece

It was not only cheap, less then 10 euros but also an adventure.

Neither of us speak Spanish so we were wildly flapping around our arms and mimicking scissors with our hands to try to tell the barber how short to cut Blake’s hair.

Fun times! Blake ended up with a crew cut and the shortest haircut of his life. I loved it, he not so much.

First visit to Burger King… BLEH!!!

Turn everyday things into special events when you visit new places

It’s been over 8 years since our family has eaten a meal from any fast-food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King.

That means that our almost 6 year old daughter had never ever eaten at a McDonald’s or Burger King her entire life, aside from an occasional coke here and there for emergency pit stops. That all ended when we visited Barcelona.

Catherine was dying to try fast food but we could never justify taking her there until we were in Barcelona.

Everyone needed to take a bathroom break so we stopped at a Burger King to kill two birds with one stone.

1) Satisfy Catherine’s need to eat fast-food and 2)  let everyone relieve themselves in the bathrooms.

Catherine got some kind of chicken nugget balls ( I hope they were chicken) which she was excited about at first but then quickly became disenchanted with the taste of the chicken ball things. She did however love the paper crown hat which she forced us to take home.  We all just sat around and watched her enjoy her moment.

I think we’ll continue our tradition of no fast food and save it for trips abroad.

Take in the surrounding area

Take in the surrounding area and explore it all

We also did a lot of random exploring.

There was a huge cat sculpture which was just begging to be climbed.

Catherine enjoyed climbing the monstrous metal cat thing but was equally quizzical about the two balls hanging from the cats posterior. Needless to say, we handled the situation very delicately; no pun intended. 

5- Get Lost And Find Unexpected Fun Things To Do

get a chocolate bar as your entrance ticket to the museum of chocolate in barcelona

One spontaneous and inexpensive things we ended up doing was visiting a chocolate museum called “museu de la xocalato”.

It was totally unplanned. We were walking around near the Picasso museum and just happened upon it by accident.

Who doesn’t love chocolate?

It was a rather smallish museum but it was cheap. Less than 6 euros per ticket but instead of a ticket you got a bar of chocolate as your entrance ticket which you get to eat in the museum. That’s what Catherine is holding in the photo above.

Stop by the museum of chocolate in barcelona

Not only were there tons of information on how chocolate was discovered and hundreds of chocolate statues but there was a cool chocolate bar that served melted chocolate in a cup which we ate by dunking croissants into.    It was to die for.

6- Bring Foot Powered Scooters

bring a foot powered scooter to Barcelona and you can cover more ground with the kids

I had never done this before, but I read that Barcelona was a place where you walk a lot.

Having three kids, who have travelled a lot, I knew that one of their biggest complaints and most stressful things for me was going places where there was a lot of walking.

Not only did we cover more ground but the kids really enjoyed having scooters to jet around in some beautiful places. I am definitely going to bring them for our next excursion.

What do you think?   Did they enjoy themselves?

Andre is doing stunts on a scooter in Barcelona

Andre was doing tricks and so was Catherine.

There are lots of places you can ride down hill in Barcelona

One of my son’s rode his scooter down a hill while I took the funicular down the mountain with Catherine.

the kids enjoyed the scooters and rode in big wide open spaces in Barcelona

Everyplace with wide open spaces suddenly became a new place to explore on scooters rather than more walking in the hot heat. 

Bring a big scooter and you can ride with your kid

I am a genius!

I made sure to get a big enough scooter that Catherine and I could share because when she got tired, I just scoot along with her.

barcelona-annie-blake

Meanwhile… Blake and I were actually having a good time relaxing while the kids scooted around. There is nothing worse than kids on vacation who are whining about walking.

7- Go see some of Gaudis Greatest Works.

barcelona-CASA BATLLO by Gaudi

La-Sagrada-Familia

Gaudi was a Spanish architect born in Catalonia whose work was inspired by religion and nature. His works are more like art then architecture.

We went to see CASA BATLLO, this smallest of Gaudi’s famous works which has a dragon and sword on the roof and an interesting front facing façade. You can take a tour of the house which we did and I highly recommend you get the audio tour and get your tickets online since the line to get in can get really long.

Another one of Gaudi’s work is the Sagrada Familia Church. It is possibly one of the most unique and fascinating churches I have ever laid eyes on.  This gothic beauty looks like it could have been made with sand and melted wax to me. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/

There are other Guadi works but I will let you do the research on that yourself.

Barcelona: A great budget friendly place

barcelona-annie-family

If you want to visit Erope on a budget or with kids, I highly recommend Barcelona. It literally has something for everyone on every budget. We plan on going again because one week was just not enough.

Question: Have you been to Barcelona? What did you think of it? If not is it on your bucket list of places to go?

 

school-lunch-around-the-world

15 School Lunches Around The World That Might Freak You Out!

15 school lunches around the world

Would your kids eat goulash soup or mussels for lunch? What about seaweed? Depending on what country you are in, these are things regularly served to kids at school. Here are actual photos of school meals from 15 countries around the world. You may be surprised.

 15 school lunches around the world

After living in the US and Canada as a child and seeing what my own children ate for lunch at school in California, I am all too aware of just how bad school lunches can be. A veritable revolving door of unhealthy fast-food, burritos, tacos, pizzas and enchiladas. Some schools even have onsite McDonald’s’ and taco bell: YUCK!

But not all countries have such unsavoury institutionalized school lunches for school aged children. Take for instance what my daughter ate at her preschool while living in France. On the other end of the spectrum are school lunches in lesser developed countries like in Kenya where some kids only get a bowl of fresh avocados.

Below are photos of actual cafeteria lunches and descriptions of 15 school lunches from around the world.

1- USA

school lunces around the world/ US school Lunch: enchiladas, rice and beans

Photo Source:

Menu: Enchiladas with beans, rice, fresh strawberries and milk.

This American school meal actually does not look too bad. It’s pretty typical for schools to serve Mexican inspired dishes like this one.

Milk is almost always served in U.S. schools.  Unfortunately the variety served at the schools my children went to in the U.S. were usually a rotating menu of burgers, burrito, pizzas, tacos. They even served McDonald’s burgers at school.

2- Japan:

school lunces around the world/ Japan: childrens school lunch

Photo Source

Pre-school Lunch: Rice w/konbu (a sweet seaweed), nikkujagga (beef with veggies), omelets, sausage, potato puff, and apple.
Source: Jevinj

This is a school Lunch at a pre-school in Japan where the kids range in age from 1-6yrs old. This pictures one of the “teachers” lunches which is exactly the same as the kids meals except with smaller portions.

I actually love seaweed on rice so this looks good to me. Espeically Konbu in onigiri. mmmmm

3- China school lunch

school lunces around the world/ China: Childrens school lunch

photo source

Menu: Tofu, rice and vegetables.

Tofu would never be served in a school in the U.S. I grew up eating tofu and absolutely love it.

4- Brazil:

school lunces around the world/ Brasil: Childrens school lunch

Photo Source

Contents: Rice, Beans, Bread, Meat with vegetables, banana and alface, acelga salad

This looks like it could be a home cooked meal to me. Pretty good. I wonder what kids from Brazil think of this.

5- Taiwan elementary School Lunch:

school lunces around the world/Taiwan: childrens school lunch

Photo Source

Menu: On the left: mushroom and minced pork, in the middle: Chinese chives stir fry with tempura, on the right: eggplant (probably stir fry), soup with radish and pork, and steamed white rice.

6- Ghana elementary school lunch

school lunces around the world/Ghana: childrens school lunch

photo source

Menu: Looks like rice with some kind of sauce. Maybe protein?

This doesn’t look like much compared to what eastern kids eat.

7- Thailand

school lunces around the world/Thailand: childrens school lunch

photo source

Menu: Sautéed chicken over rice.

I am sure whatever this is, it is probably pretty tasty.

8- Czech Republic elementary school lunch

school lunces around the world/Czech: childrens school lunch

Photo source

Most of the kids eat at school canteens (it’s convenient and cheaper for their parents).

The lunch usually consists of a soup and a main course. Usually there is a salad or some sort of fruit along with something sweet for desert. There is always tea and water with sweet syrup on tap and cacao if sweet buns are for lunch.

9- Sudan school lunch

school lunces around the world/sudan: childrens school lunch

photo source – udith Kaine

I’m not really sure what this is? Maybe it’s rice or corn paste?

This photo kind of shocked me.

10- Kenya Pre-school lunch

school lunces around the world/Kenya childrens school lunch

Photo source

This meal of avocados may look measly but it is very nutritious. The fats from the avocado are invaluable, especially in a country where malnutrition is so widespread.

11- India: elementary school lunch

school lunces around the world/India, childrens school lunch

Photo source = http://newshopper.sulekha.com/india-world-food-day_photo_1015648.htm

Menu: This is probably a rice and curry dish.

It’s not uncommon for kids in India to eat on the ground outside. And yes, kids in India eat with their hands.

UPDATE** one of my readers pointed something out to me. Harleena said…

“this is the scene in most of the village schools only, where kids eat with their hands, either because there lack of education or they can’t afford. The ones in the cities are pretty different and most kids carry their own tiffin and there’s a lot of options to choose from, which are again healthy and nutritious. Some schools have a proper canteen as it’s an easier option for parents – so there’a a lot of different kinds.”

12- U.K. school lunch

school lunces around the world/UK, childrens school lunch

photo source

Menu: hamburger and grated carrots

13- Honduras school lunch

school lunces around the world/Honduras, childrens school lunch

photo source

Menu: Arroz Con Leche (Rice with milk).

You can eat it cold or hot and it is often seasoned with cinnamon and vanilla.

14- France school lunch

school lunces around the world/France, childrens school lunch

photo source

Menu: Chicken, potatoes, cheese, salad and desert with water.

school lunces around the world/France, childrens school lunch

photo source

Moules et Frites: Mussels and fries

I had to post a second photo of a school lunch in Francce because this dish is served quite often.

It has been served to my pre-schooler as well as my two teenage sons at school.

A thing to note about French school meals.

Milk is never served. Instead cheese or yogurt is ALWAYS served. Water is the only beverage served to kids.

There is always a vegetable and fruit option along with a desert and bread option.

French fries are shown here because Mussels and fries are a very popular dish in France. Especially in the south of France. Other than that, fries are not served very often.

15- Some Kids Go Hungry At Lunch

school lunces around the world/hungry-kids

It’s a proven fact that children cannot concentrate in class, especially in the afternoon, on an empty stomach.  Unfortunately some children are too poor and can’t eat lunch. This isn’t just in places like Uganda or other third world countries. it’s happening in first world countries too including poor sections of the U.S.

Are You Interested In Learning More

what's for lunch: how schoolchildren eat around the world book

If you are interested in learning more about what schoolchildren eat around the world, you should check out this book called What’s for Lunch?

In What’s for Lunch, Andrea Curtis talks about inequality in the food eaten by a typical school child from thirteen countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Kenya, Russia, Japan, United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

In some countries, the meals are nutritious and well-balanced. In others they barely satisfy basic nutrition standards.

photo source for main photo.

Visit BlackPool: England’s Answer To Las Vegas

Blackpool, englands answer to las vegas

If you are planning on visiting the UK, and want to visit someplace fun for the ENTIRE family other than LONDON, you should visit Blackpool.

Blackpool is and has been Englands most popular and favorite seaside holiday resort since the 1800’s when it became fashionable in England to travel to the coast and bathe in the sea water for health.

Some say that Blackpool is Britain’s answer to Las Vegas because there is literally something for everyone from fun amusement parks, bustling beaches and Ferris wheels, a vibrant night life, gambling, water parks and more.  It even has a sports team.

Located in Lancashire, just 250 mi / 400 km north west of London on the coast of the Irish Sea, it is pretty easy to get to by train, plane or automobile.  Booking a room in Blackpool is easy too. There hotels for all budgets big and small.

blackpool-map-england

10 major landmarks and popular attractions that continue to draw 10 millions visitors every year.

1- Blackpool Tower

blackpool-tower

Inspired by the Eiffel tower in Paris, the Blackpool tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Blackpool. It first opened in 1894 and is over 500 ft. / 158 m tall. If you visit on a sunny day and take the lift to the top you can see for miles then grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants at the base of the tower.

2- Blackpool Grand Theatre

blackpool-grand-theatre

After a day at the beach what could be better than to go see a show at the Blackpool Grand Theatre. A beautiful theatre that is worth a visit even if only to see the building itself because it has been remodeled beautifully. Depending on when you go, you can see a traditional play, musical, opera, dance, ballet or the yearly pantomime show.

3- Sandcastle Waterpark

sand castle water park blacHave kids or love water parks?

Go checkout Sandcastle water park which is the largest indoor waterpark in the UK. Be sure to block out a whole day for this park because there are over 18 rides which you will want to ride over and over again.

If you really want to get daring, take a ride on “the Master blaster”, the worlds longest indoor rollercoaster waterslide which measures over 250 m (820 ft.).

4- Blackpool Pleasure Beach

blackpool pleasure beach

If you love amusement parks than you will love visiting Blackpools pleasure beach, the UK’s most visited tourist attraction and one of the most visited amusement parks IN THE WORLD. There are nearly 40 rides and attractions, including ten roller coasters that are made of wood.. The Pleasure Beach is also one of the few parks left in the world to operate a traditional wooden Wild Mouse coaster.

5- Blackpool Zoo

blackpool zoo

Like Zoos? Blackpool has a zoo with over 1,500 animals from all over the world from lions and tigers, lemurs and gorillas and a children’s farm where kids can pet and feed some cute little animals.

6- BlackPool Tram

blackpool tram: oldest tram system in England

A tram, otherwise known as streetcars, trolleys or light rail depending on where you are in the world are usually powered by electricity.

Blackpool’s tramway is the first electric tramway operated in Britain and also the only first generational tram still in operation in Britain.

Tourists and tram enthusiasts come from all over the world just to ride the Blackpool tram which have been running since 1885. During the summer, there are a total of 65 trams that can run at any time one over 11.5 miles of track.

7- Paris Casino

paris casino blackpool

If you want to do a little gambling, you can head over to the Paris Casino; a relaxed casino with helpful, friendly staff and a good selection of tables and games. Not quite as grand as Las Vegas but for the light hearted gambler it’s perfect.

8-The Blackpool Tower Dungeon

blackpool tower dungeon

If you enjoy a dose of terror mixed with history than you are going to die when you visit the Blackpool Tower Dungeon. Learn about horrifying history from real actors, thrilling rides and special effects.

9- BlackPool FootBall Team

blackpool football fan

Blackpool_FC_logo.svg

Photo Source: January 27, 2012 : Chris Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

If you or your spouse are into football called soccer in north America,  you might be able to attend a Blackpool football game.

Make sure you wear orange like the bloke in the photo above since it’s their official team colour. The team is sometimes referred to as the Tangerines for obvious reasons.

10- Blackpool Nightlife

blackpool nightlife

Blackpool has a very vibrant nightlife for people of all ages and boasts having almost every type of night life venue imaginable form electric discos and dance clubs, to classic pubs and bars. There are even karaoke bars, cabaret bars and a transvestite bar.

Conclusion

There you have it. Blackpool, the UK’s answer to Las Vegas and one of the oldest and most popular seaside resort towns in all of the UK.

If you are interested in learning more about Blackpool, then go to the official Blackpool site http://www.visitblackpool.com/. You will find hundreds more things to do and see there and holiday in true British style.

Question: Have you been to Blackpool? If you are not fro the UK, had you ever heard of Blackpool?

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© 2017 by Annie Annie: How To Live In France
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