Mots Croises de Noel (Christmas Crossword Puzzle)

Try your hand at this Christmas French vocabulary puzzle – I had to do it to get the answers (posted below).

Bonne Chance!



2- crèche


Paris et Ses Alentours – My ‘Like’ List

From my most recent trip to Paris, here are my ‘likes’ / personal recommendations:

Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee

Soupe a l’Oignon in Montmartreâ

This can be tricky! Some brasseries and typical restaurants will take a boxed oignon soup, add onions, bread, and cheese and pass it off as the “real” thing. You can sometimes tell, as it will be very salty and have a more gravy-like texture. I always order (authentic) onion soup, as the entrée on the fixed menu, at the Cadet de Gascogne restaurant in Montmartre – you would think the food here would be just average, since this is a very touristy area of Paris, but I have been more than satisfied each time. I love to sit by the front window to people watch, as I enjoy a delicious meal there.


Since I usually travel outside of Paris to the Château of Versailles, I usually eat lunch at the nearby Taverne de Maitre Kanter. The entrance to this very large, Parisienne-like brasserie was theatrical: entering through a pair of red velvet drapes as if arriving on stage. It’s amusing to watch the lively hustling and bustling of the friendly and efficient staff, while enjoying “les delices.”

Chocolat chaud

This trip, I went to Angelina’s on Rue de Rivoli to take in the wonderful hot chocolate, decoration, and atmosphere of this well-known establishment. Their reputation precedes them, so expect to wait in line (yes, even in off season). During a previous trip, I had hot chocolate at Le Grand Colbert, featured in the 2003 movie “Somethings Gotta Give.”  You can also stroll through the nearby, covered galleries on Rue Vivienne to walk off the calories.

Château on the side

Photo: Official website

At the Chateau in Fontainebleau, I inquired about the horsedrawn carriage rides and was told that they only take place during the summer – WRONG!  I had spoken by phone, about a month prior,  to the carriage driver so knew he operated in November.  As I walked around the chateau, I happened to see a sign for the “calèches” and that one was running every 30 minutes or so.  It was a two-horse carriage taking riders around the grounds with a short narrative by the driver; ride lasted about 20 minutes and involved the horses both walking and trotting – very amusing and enjoyable.

Paris Walks

This well-known and highly recommended company provides 2 hour, guided thematic walks, which I always try to do while in Paris. The group walks are amusing and informative, taking you through back streets and areas off the beaten path. I first met the owners, during one of their walks, back in 1997, while I was living and working in Paris, and I still enjoy them.

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Fairies of the Forest: A Royal Ballet

Seeing that the Le Ballet des Fees de la Foret de Saint-Germain was being held at the Versailles Royal Opera during my recent trip to the area, I thought it might be fun to attend and watch a little classic ballet (read Baryshnikov).  I love baroque style decor, and this is the place where Queen Marie Antoinette performed – I was very excited!

The Opera was dimly lit and bigger than I imagined, although not huge, as I was escorted to my ground floor seat.

Stage curtain

The orchestra music began, with works right out of the time of Louis XIV and Molière, and I felt transported back in time.  The cast acted out a theatrical play, including Cirque de Soleil-type acrobatics and entertaining feats. What an absolutely delightful surprise – it was so well done and truly entertaining! (videos below)

Video clips:

Doomsday Mountain is in France

Since December 21st is only 9 days from today, I decided to post this article published in The Telegraph newspaper.  I was particularly amused about the wine  mentioned, as it’s such a French iconic idea!

Do you believe in the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world prediction?

Article and English translated video link

Winter Driving: A Guest Blog

With snow on the mountains, this guest blog is timely.Pyrenees

A big MERCI to my guest blogger, Eve Walsh, who has kindly written the following article about winter weather driving for my blog. She is a freelance writer with a keen interest in travel writing as well as a dear love of France and French culture. It is her dream to retire to Brittany and immerse herself in French life fully.

Driving to a French Ski Resort – Safely Does It

France offers some of the best skiing in Europe and over the next few months millions of people will be taking advantage of this for their winter vacation. While a lot of people will fly in to one of the nearby airports and rely on a transfer by coach to their chosen ski resort, many more will get to the French Alps or Pyrenees under their own steam – either using their own car or hiring one. This doesn’t pose too much of a problem for those used to driving on snow – indeed many French families make the trip to the Alps each year and have become accustomed to winter driving – but for people who don’t have this experience, driving in the Alps or Pyrenees over winter can be hazardous. Although it is no substitute for experience, taking the necessary precautions before a journey on snow covered roads in France can reduce the chance of you coming into difficulties or having an accident.

Extra grip

While winter tyres aren’t mandatory when driving in France, it is still worth considering their use. The material used in their manufacture and their tread pattern means that they perform better in colder conditions, so they provide better grip when driving on snow, reducing the likelihood of your car skidding. Do check that when using winter tyres that their tread depth is at least 3mm to ensure that they work effectively. Although they are no guarantee that you won’t have an accident, if you are unlucky enough to be involved in one, using them will work in your favour; not doing so could shift the blame for the accident on to you. However, many French roads at higher altitudes indicate that snow chains must be used; though on some signs they advise that winter tyres are a permissible alternative. Snow chains provide traction on compacted snow and have the advantage that they are a lot cheaper than buying alternative tyres, though they can be tricky to fit the first few times that you try to do so.

Extra provisions

In case the worst should happen and you breakdown or have an accident, ensure that you have all that you need to keep you safe and warm till help can arrive. A well charged mobile phone will be vital should you need to raise the alarm. It is compulsory to carry a warning triangle in France for use when you need to warn other drivers that your car is stationary, as is a first aid kit, which you may need to use before help can reach you. Carry extra clothing and a blanket in the car along with a hot flask and some high calorie snacks – a bar of chocolate is ideal. You never know whether it might be day or night when you get into difficulty, so always keep a torch in the car.

Ensure visibility

Before you even think about driving away, ensure that your windscreens, windows, mirrors and lights are free from snow and ice to ensure that you can see others and that they can see you; your licence plate should also be clear. It is advisable to clear any snow from the roof of your car before you set off, as when you drive this can easily fall on to your windscreen or fly off on to another car, potentially impeding visibility. If it is snowing heavily during your journey, consider stopping when it is safe to do so to remove further snow.

Driving on snow

Many people forget that stopping distances can be up to 10 times higher, so drive at a slower speed on snow. This also means that you will have to reduce your speed in plenty of time should you need to stop. The road conditions mean that harsh braking is out of the question, so instead use your gears to slow your car by moving down into a low gear before gently applying the brakes.

Stuck in snow

If you come back to your car and you find that when you try to drive off you have become stuck, don’t be tempted to rev the engine, as this will actually make the rut worse. The best approach is to gently move your car backwards and forwards using the highest gear you are able to. Should this fail, having a shovel in the car will allow you to remove the snow surrounding the wheels and help you get on your way. However, if you need help to push your car out, there are usually plenty of friendly people around in ski resorts who are more than happy to help you. Becoming stuck in a snow drift is a more serious situation, so call for breakdown assistance or the emergency services. While you wait for them in your car, don’t be tempted to run the engine, as if the exhaust is blocked with snow carbon monoxide could enter the vehicle, which could be fatal.

This forward planning will hopefully see you safely on your way to problem free driving on your ski trip. However, if you are in any doubt of your driving ability in snow, consider alternative means of transport.

A Wifi Rip-off

Isn’t it only logical that the higher the hotel rating, the more amenities and services are provided and included in the upward prices to match? You would think, right?

Well, I recently traveled to Paris and the surrounding area, staying in a variety of hotels, from 2 to luxury 4-star, chosen for their central locations, breakfast included in the price, and my must-have requirement of wifi.   I benefited from off-season rates, being November, and all was going well, until I refused one hotel’s wifi, as a matter of principle  (sorry, dear readers, for any lapse of regular posts during this time).

Here’s my list:

1.  Lutèce Royal Hotel in the 13th arrondissement of Paris = four star hotel which had a nice size room, friendly staff and free wifi.  Not as central as I would have liked, but good breakfast buffet.

2.  Hotel de France in the 5th arrondissement of Paris = three star hotel with nice room, friendly staff, and free wifi.

3.  Hotel Aigle Noir, located across from the Chateau of Fontainebleau = four star hotel with free wifi (blogging a separate post about this hotel)

4.  Familia Hotel in the 5th  arondissement of Paris = two star hotel with friendly staff, and free wifi.  The room was small and average, but chosen for its easy access to my departure train station.

5.  Trianon Palace Waldorf Astoria about 1 km from the Chateau of Versailles = four star luxury hotel with wifi, spa and pool, elegant restaurant and bar/lounge area (a glass of champagne cost 17 Euros), and formal and professional/polite staff.

Oh yes, they had wifi alright, but every service was à la carte – this meant that they charged 4,50 Euros for 15 minutes of Internet access at the concierge desk, or if I was only going to be “two minutes”, I wouldn’t be charged.  Two minutes, really? They charge 25 Euros for room Internet access (not sure if this is per day) or 14 Euros to rent a plugin access cable (not sure if this is per day) – at this point, I was so annoyed, I stopped listening to the details.  How absurd, I thought, to charge extra for wifi, especially at a luxury hotel, not to mention that it’s free at lesser rated hotels – how can they even justify charging for it?

I guess if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it came into play for this hotel, although I did get a end-of-summer room rate.  I wrote my critique and handed it into reception, stating that I would not stay at their hotel again… a matter of principle!

Go figure: this morning I received an email for submitting an electronic survey for my stay, so I guess my letter went into “la poubelle”!

French-Italian Lasagne

I don’t have a cooking gene, but have made over the years, lasagne: an easy, one pan kind of meal.  I hadn’t thought of making it in France though, for some reason, until the other day.  I bought FIORINI brand “Lasagnes aux oeufs” (eggs=19%)which were totally UNlike the American wavy-edged lasagne noodles.  And, there was even a recipe on the back of the box (OK, I admit, this is the real reason I bought it)!

Whoa! I started reading the recipe and it didn’t say to cook the noodles before layering them into the pan – What!? I had to be mis-translating something here, so I then looked at the general cooking directions on the side of the box:

“Ne necessite pas de pre-cuisson” (not necessary to precook)

HUH? I had never made lasagne without first cooking the noodles – so surely, I was not reading the French correctly – but Non, this was correct! I didn’t believe it, but went ahead and layered my UNcooked noodles with my own version of vegetable lasagne, thinking this couldn’t possibly turn out well.

Voila! In 40 minutes, it had finished cooking and was DONE! Now I’m wondering if I really needed to pre-cook American lasagne noodles, or is this a case of cultural cooking differences!?