Joyeux Poisson D’Avril!

Poisson d'avril

On April Fools’ Day in France children make and decorate paper fish and then tape them to people’s backs.  When their “victim” finds the paper fish on his/her back the person who put it there calls out “Poisson d’Avril” (“April Fish”).

If you want to play this joke on unsuspecting friends and family members but don’t have time to make your own fish here is a link for some you can print out:  http://jlongok.com/printable-fish-pictures/

I have inserted a video below that explains (in French) the origin of the holiday.

 

Montpellier et Accent Français (École de Langue) Par Ma Brillante Étudiante Joanne

Joanne
Joanne in medieval ruins in Montpelier

Vous cherchez une excellente expérience d’apprentissage de français en France? Vous devez considérer Montpellier.  Bien que j’avais été en France plusieurs fois auparavant, c’était  ma première expérience à une école pour la langue française.  Après beaucoup de recherche, j’ai choisi Accent Français parce qu’il correspondait à mes critères : une bonne expérience pour améliorer mon français,  l’opportunité  d’explorer des sites culturels et historiques et un endroit, préférablement dans le sud-ouest, où j’ai pu découvrir une nouvelle partie de la France. Enfin, je ne voulais pas que ce soit un boulot pénible. Donc, en Septembre 2014, je suis devenue étudiante à Accent Français à Montpellier dans le sud de France, seulement  121 km de Marseille.

 

Montpellier

Students with Jean-Pierre from Accent Francais
Place de la Comédie in Montpellier

Montpellier, située à 6 km de la Méditerranée,  est une très belle ville d’environ 250,000 personnes avec une grande population d’étudiants.  La ville est un mélange dynamique d’ancien et de nouveau. Le centre ville, qui est réservée aux piétons,  est vraiment charmant et vieux,  avec des rues pavées et de jolies cours.  D’autre part, Montpellier avait attiré beaucoup d’architectes avant-gardes qui ont crée de beaux bâtiments avec plein d’innovation.  En plus, la ville a un super système de tramways pour le rendre facile à traverser.  Tous les vendredis soirs de l’été, il y a  « Les Estivales »  sur l’Esplanade Charles de Gaulle avec de la musique, de la danse, beaucoup de spécialités alimentaires de Languedoc-Roussillon comme le canard, l’andouille, la paella, la tartiflette,  des fromage locaux  comme le Roquefort et des vins et aussi des produits mis en vente comme le sel du Camargue,  des bijoux, etc.  La ville de Montpellier : C’est magnifique et les gens sont très conviviaux.

 

Accent Français

Accent Francais signLa structure de l’enseignement à Accent Français est assez typique – de la grammaire, de l’écriture et de la conversation.  Le premier jour, le personnel administre un test de placement écrit et oral.  Mon cours a eu lieu cinq jours par semaine de 9h à 13h avec six autres étudiants internationaux.    Il y avait deux enseignants chaque jour – chacun enseignant pendant deux heures. Les professeurs sont très créatifs. Par exemple, un jour, nous avons créé un sondage et puis, nous avons fait l’enquête avec des personnes dans la Place de la Comédie. C’était effrayant mais  amusant à la fois. On peut rester à l’école  pour une semaine ou plusieurs mois.  Ils peuvent organiser un hébergement si vous voulez.

 

L’École de Cuisine d’Armand
L’École de Cuisine d’Armand

Il y avait des activités optionnelles supplémentaires pendant l’après midi et le soir telles que des films avec discussion, des visites guidées de certains endroits, comme l’intérieur de La Cathédrale de Saint Pierre, qui ressemble à un château de Disney.  Un soir, j’ai suivi un cours de cuisine à L’Ecole de Cuisine d’Armand dans le restaurant  « Le Jardin des Pates ».  Au hasard, il y avait cinq étudiants – quatre diplômés des écoles de Cordon Bleu aux États-Unis et moi, qui pouvais à peine faire cuire du pain perdu.  Oh la la !  Les étudiants avaient été placés dans des restaurants en France avec trois ou plus étoiles et ils avaient besoin d’apprendre rapidement un peu de français avant leurs stages, particulièrement les termes culinaires. Malgré mes doutes,  l’expérience était formidable pour apprendre français et incroyablement, ma tarte au citron et ma tarte aux poires à la Bourdaloue étaient délicieuse mais un peu mal décorées par rapport à celles du chef pâtissier.   Étonnant,  j’étais capable de traduire certains mots entre le chef et les étudiants.

 

Place de la Comedie in Montpelier
Photo of students with Jean-Paul from Accent Francais

Une des  meilleures choses de l’école était Jean-Paul, un guide employé par l’école pour animer des excursions pendant le week-end et quelquefois pendant le soir.  Jean-Paul est un polyglotte qui est outrageusement drôle.  Son héritage est occitan et il grandissait en parlant  l’ancienne langue du sud du France.   J’ai  trouvé qu’un voyage à Nîmes avec Jean Paul et un group de dix personnes était une bonne façon d’améliorer mon français et de m’amuser en même temps. On ne parle pas l’anglais et pour moi le cadre décontracté était le meilleur environnement pour essayer ma langue française. Le voyage à Nîmes était un grand moment de mon voyage parce qu’il y avait un bon group de personnes de partout dans le monde. Ces gens devenaient mes amis de vacances pour déjeuner ou dîner, et pour explorer la région.  Parce que le français était la langue commune, on devait pratiquer le français.  Je garde le contact avec plusieurs d’entre eux.

Préparation pour mon séjour en France

Alliance francaiseJ’avais étudie le français pendant plusieurs années à  Washington DC.  Mais un an avant mon séjour un France, j’ai décidé que j’avais besoin d’une stratégie plus personnelle. C’est alors que j’ai contacté Melissa Kerley.   Nous travaillons  la lecture, l’écriture, la communication et la discussion orale. J’ai lu presque 20 livres en français pendant 17 mois et j’ai écrit beaucoup de compositions.  Melissa me donne ses réactions. Ce qui m’a donne surpris le plus était que je l’apprécie énormément soit en français ou en anglais. Je ai toujours hâte de mes rencontres avec Melissa et mon évolution est sur une bonne voie.

 

Dr. Melissa Kerley
Dr. Melissa Kerley

Ne laissez pas le fait qu’elle est un érudit de la poésie français médiévale vous intimider, Melissa a les pieds sur terre.  Elle est flexible, vivante, et sympa.  Elle continue à bien adapter le cours à mes caprices.   Elle possède une excellente connaissance de la langue, la littérature, la philosophe et l’histoire de la France.  Depuis  que j’ai commencé à étudier avec Melissa, j’ai beaucoup appris et j’ai réussi à gagner plus de confiance en moi-même.    Grâce à Melissa, mes vacances en France étaient plus agréables. Je étais capable de simplement plonger dans la belle langue de français – les fautes et tout.  Vous cherchez une excellente expérience d’apprentissage dans le français à Washington DC ou en Virginie du Nord? Vous devrez considérer Melissa Kerley !

 

Notre Dame in Lyon
Notre Dame de Fourvière on the hill above Lyon
Paris Gargoyle Joanne's Husband Doug's Photo
Gargoyle view of  Paris from Notre Dame de Paris. (photo by Joanne’s husband)

Après avoir quitté Montpellier, je suis allée à Lyon et à Paris pour utiliser mes nouvelles compétences.  Bien que j’aie encore un long chemin à parcourir avant que je sois à l’aise en français, j’adore le voyage.  Et si je dois revenir à Montpellier pour y arriver, ainsi soit-il.

 

 

My Stellar Student Rick’s Summer 2014 Trip To Montreal

Rick and RosieThe time had come for a new bike.  This one would be custom made, hand built and equipped exactly the way I want it. An extensive internet search for a builder lead me to Chris Bishop in Baltimore Maryland. Chris has won numerous awards for his bikes. He is regarded as one of the best young builders in the country in addition Chris is a certified bike fitter. To top it all off he is in Baltimore, an easy bike ride from my home in Washington DC.

An exchange of emails confirmed I had chosen the right builder. Chris has a “Yes I can” attitude, it would be my bike form the ground up not an adaptation of a standard design.  Now the long wait 11 months as good builder is busy.

Finally it was time to bike to Baltimore for the fit season. After a tour of his shop Chris measured my old bike by the millimeter. He measured the length of the wheelbase, height of the pedals, the relationship of the seat to the handlebars and more. The old bike fit well, Chris’s goal was to make a better bike. Next I was measured including the length of my arms and legs. Next step and a very important part of the process was to create a mockup of the new bike on a “fit cycle” which is a stationary bike that  can be adjusted to emulate the new frame design.  I pedaled the fit cycle while Chris observed making notes. He then measured the angle of my knees and arms as well as my back to confirm the trial dimensions where correct. My old bike was put on a stand and I again pedaled while the builder observed and took more notes.  After all the measurements and trial pedaling the most important question;” how do I want the bike to feel?”  I like to cover about 60 to 65 miles in a day.  I would like it to be comfortable I also want good power transmission (-not too soft-). Chris said “I got it, leave the rest to me.”  In few days later he sent CAD drawings of the new frame for my approval.  The bike would be ready for paint in just a little more than two weeks. Again to wait, this time for the painter(good painters are busy), a comparatively short 5 weeks.

After more than a year came the e-mail: The bike was complete with all components installed and ready to ride.  When I pick up the bike in Baltimore it was first week in January the temp was about 30°f a bit too cold for a test ride.  Fortunately there was a nice brake in the weather within a couple of weeks that gave me the opportunity to give the marvelous looking machine a test ride. As expected it rides as beautifully as it looks. The setup was nearly prefect, just lowered the seat a bit and off I went looking for a fast downhill run. A fast downhill run will spotlight any flaw in the frames deign or build. At just over 30mph the bike was straight and smooth as expected.

 

Montreal & Le Cantons

The trip had two distinct parts. A week of biking in the charming Eastern Cantons of Quebec, then return to Montreal for a week of Montreal Complètement Cirque (International Cirques Arts Festival)   http://montrealcompletementcirque.com/  as well as  general site seeing. As a bonus I had the good fortune to be in Montreal for one of the fireworks displays of the International d’art Pyrotechnique de Montréal.

The train trip to Montreal from Washington DC requires a change of the trains in New York City.  The trip form New York to Montreal is rated as one of the most scenic train trips in the US. After leaving New York City the Adirondack route follows the Hudson River then to the shores of Lake Champlain.  The lovely scenery helps make the 10 hour trip more interesting. Once In Montreal I headed to the “Plateau de Montréal”. I rented a very nice small apartment that was my “base camp “for the entire stay in Quebec. Le Plateau is a most agreeable somewhat trendy neighborhood with a great variety of restaurants and shops. A small but well stocked supermarket was an easy stroll form the apartment and there was always a patisserie nearby.   Two Metro Stations where by close as well.

My bike arrived two days later by FedEx which gave me time to get acquainted with the neighborhood. Once the bike was reassembled and  the panniers where packed it was finally  time to begin the two day trip to the resort town of Magog  about 180km due east of Montreal. The first day’s ride began by crossing the Pont Jacque Cartier (Montreal is an Island) though the suburb of Longueil, finely to the open nearly flat farm land dotted with small towns of the Belle Provence.  The first stop was Grandy for an easy 50 mile day. The B & B on the eastern edge of Grandy was outstanding; it felt a like stay at grandma’s house. The curtains were burnt-out lace, the tissue box had a lace trim covers and off course a four poster bed.  The hostess, Carole, was perfectly cast for the part. http://www.unefleur.ca/ .   A hardy breakfast featuring homemade muffins topped with jams made from local ingredients was the ideal start to the day.  Une Fleur au Bord de L’Eau    is just yards from the Velo Route Verte #1 which winds along an old rail line to Waterloo about 22km (14mls). This section of the Route Verte #1 http://www.routeverte.com/rv/home   is absolutely the best biking is ever.  http://www.estriade.net/ . After leaving Waterloo I followed route 112 winding past Mt. Orford into the resort town of Magog.

Magog almost looks like a movie set. Rue Principle is lined with restaurants and upscale shops. There are more than 90 restaurants for a town of 25,000.  The B & B in Magog was totally wonderful. http://www.ausautdulit.ca/ .   A truly warm and friendly welcome accented with bright colors. The first day in Magog was spent just getting settled. After an absolutely picture perfect breakfast (hand to run up to  get the camera) the rest of the day was devoted to exploring the town. Vacations can be filled with difficult decisions such as which was the best Gelato shop.  Each day after breakfast I would head out of town in a different direction for leisurely ride of 20 to 30 miles. The scenery was lush green rolling hills overlooking Lake Memphremagog.   Choosing a restaurant for dinner was again a difficult decision as there so many choices.

On the return trip to Montréal I followed the same route, again stopped in Grandy at Une fleur au bord de l’eau.  On the final day of the road trip the weather looked threating. It was only 50 miles back to Montréal so kept a steady pace with few stops, I covered the distance in 3 ½ hours(not bad at 72 years old).

Montréal  Completement Cirque: http://montrealcompletementcirque.com/

 

La deuxième partie :: Now for a  week of the finest circus performances one can ever hope to see. Each performance was in a different venue. The range was form the large in the round theater of TOHO (Cité des arts du cirque,) to a small converted factory as well as performances in parks. Venues where in diverse locations thought out the city which offered the opportunity to explore some of Montréal’s many interesting neighborhoods. Performances ranged from large scale productions including multimedia productions to a captivating one woman show.

A wonderful bonus was the opportunity to see one of the entries  in the International Fireworks Competition  http://internationaldesfeuxloto-quebec.com/en/    The Jacque Cartier Bridge is closed to traffic to allow a marvelous view of fireworks the below. Thousands lined the bridge to watch a world class fireworks presentation.

Quebec may be officially bi-lingual but English is a distant second. True their French heritage food is always good in Quebec. From a sandwich shop in a small town to elegant restaurants you will always be pleased.

Next is Quebec City.

4th Postcard from Gary at L’Institut de Français

I have been working with Gary for three years.  He recently took part in an immersion program at L’Institut de Français in Villefranche-sur-mer and agreed to send me updates on the institute and his experience there.  This is his fourth “virtual postcard”.  If you haven’t read the others yet make sure you do.  Elles sont fantastiques aussi! Continue reading “4th Postcard from Gary at L’Institut de Français”

3rd Postcard from Gary at L’Institut de Français

I have been working with Gary for three years.  He recently took part in an immersion program at L’Institut de Français in Villefranche-sur-mer and agreed to send me updates on the institute and his experience there.  This is his third “virtual postcard”.  If you haven’t read the others yet make sure you do.  Elles sont fantastiques aussi!

Bonjour Melissa.

I learned something yesterday that will astonish you.  One of my classmates, Jim, an engineer from Australia who I think is 48, is in the level just below mine.  In any case, he and I went for long walk along the coast yesterday, around St Jean-Cap Ferrat.  He told me he started studying French ONE YEAR AGO (now he’s in level 5 and I’m in level 6, of 7!).  I think he is very hard-working and dedicated.  He bought the entire French in Action program for the first 26 lessons (there are 52 in total).  French in Action contains a lot of material; videos, audio tapes, workbooks, study guides, etc.  It was Jim’s goal to do all 26 lessons before he came, and he just made it he said.  He spent two weeks on each lesson, working hard.  He said it’s possible to do French in Action completely independently, but there is one part of each lesson where one really needs a teacher.  I was shocked that Jim could make almost as much progress in a year as I’ve made in 8!

À bientôt!  Gary

2nd Postcard from Gary at L’Institut de Français

Gary at Parc du Sceau 2Chère Melissa,

Je continue à oublier de te dire que j’ai vu Owen Wilson la semaine dernière!  Il était en vélo dans la rue.  C’était un vélo pliable. Je suis sûr que c’était lui, tu sais que personne ne lui ressemble.

Rien n’est meilleur qu’un séjour en France pour améliorer mon français.  Je fais des erreurs sur la pression du moment, mais j’espère que peu à peu je fais mieux.  Par exemple,  je suis allé hier à la poste pour acheter des timbres aux cartes postales.  Je ne comprenais pas les comptoirs différents et je n’ai pas compris celui que je devrais choisir.  Je m’en suis approché à un, et j’ai demandé à l’homme devant, “les timbres se vendent ici?” et il m’a dit “oui” et puis il a dit (presque comme à lui-même dans une voix douce) “Il ne m’a pas dit ‘bonjour’, c’est incroyable!” Tu vois, c’est un grand problème ici en France de commencer à parler avec quelqu’un sans d’abord avoir dit “bonjour”.  Ils le détestent.  Mais maintenant je ne l’oublierai jamais!  En fait, plus tard je lui ai dit “bonjour” et il m’a donne un petit sourire, comme il m’avait pardonné.

Quelque chose d’autre qui m’est arrivé—j’étais dans une boulangerie et je pensais à commencer en disant “bonjour” et j’ai mis le sandwich que j’avais choisi sur le comptoir, et la femme en face de moi a dit–tout inattendu pour moi–“Autre chose?”  Moi: “comment?” Elle : (comme on dirait à un très jeune garçon) “anything else?” Busted.

Un autre exemple:  Lors de ma troisième visite à Starbucks, j’avais appris à dire “Bonjour.  Un café de la semaine, “tall” (il disent “taul”) s’il vous plait”.  La vendeuse m’a dit “à emporter?”  Moi: “huh?”  Elle : (au petit garçon) “to go?”.

La leçon est donc qu’il faut penser à ce qu’ils vont vous dire, après votre première parole, et puis à ce que vous allez leur dire?

1st Postcard from Gary at L’Institut de Français

Gary in Auvers

Bonjour Melissa.

Ca va ici.  il fait très beau depuis mon arrivée, sauf pendant deux matins où il y avait un ciel couvert.  Je viens de t’envoyer une photographie de moi que j’ai prise mardi matin après avoir couru dans les Tuileries.  Comme tu sais, d’habitude j’y visite pendant l’automne ou en hiver.  Bien que j’aime bien le beau temps, d’autre part il y a la foule en ce moment-ci.
J’ai eu de la chance de pouvoir commencer mon séjour dans l’appartement (que j’ai loué) au moment de mon arrivée à 9 h du matin.  Comme tu sais, d’habitude on ne peut pas avoir la clé jusqu’à 2h ou 3h, mais parce que personne n’y était resté le jour d’avant, on m’a accueilli le matin.  Autrement il m’aurait fallu passer plusieurs heures dans les rues, complètement crevé après ma nuit dans l’avion.
Deux jours plus tard, je suis allé à Vaux-le-Vicomte.  J’en ai beaucoup lu.  Les jardins, le parc et le château sont un peu comme Versailles qui s’est construit plusieurs ans après.  En effet, Vaux inspire Versailles.
Tu seras très contente que j’aie enfin appris la difference entre ‘pardon’ et ‘excusez-moi’.  Comme tu sais, on dit ‘pardon’ quand on a frappé où a marché au pied (par hasard, bien sûr) de quelqu’un.  On dit ‘excusez-moi’ pour obtenir l’attention de quelqu’un.  C’est cool, n’est-ce pas?  Aussi je pense que je pourrai rappeler le “bout” et le “but” maintenant.  Hier je suis dans un centre commercial et j’ai demander à quelqu’un où se trouvait le FNAC (une grand librairie ici) et on m’a dit ‘allez au bout du couloir et tourner à droite.

 

Paris and Québec City: Comparison and Contrast by Cynthia Hurst

I first met Cynthia Hurst in 2002.  She came to Speak Abroad, the language school I had founded and was running in Vero Beach, Florida to learn French for her travels.  I had the honor of being her first French teacher ever.  She and her husband Richard have become some of my dearest friends.  When Cynthia and Richard went on a cruise to Québec this September I asked Cynthia to write a comparison of Paris and Québec for my blog.  Cynthia is a fantastic writer with a wonderful eye for detail.  I knew her article would be good, but what she came up with surpassed my expectations.  Merci Cynthia!

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” —Shakespeare

“…wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” —Ernest Hemingway

“I love living in Quebec City!” —Young woman from France

“In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.” —Mark Twain

“All we want is an independent Quebec within a strong and united Canada.” —Yvon Deschamps

It is a mild day in May complete with azure skies, blossoming trees, flowering crocus and daffodils, and everywhere the bright spring green of a Paris coming to life once again. I am walking (myth buster for the hotel clerk who gave me directions: Yes, Americans do walk) east on Quai Saint-Bernard, heading for le Jardin des Plantes and the Museum of Natural History with La Grande Galerie de l’Evolution. But today nature beckons and it’s the botanical gardens that draw me. Set on 28 hectares (about 69 acres), the park includes tropical hothouses, rose gardens, rows of traditional flowers, an Alpine garden entered via a damp, cool cave, and an Art Deco-style winter garden where the black stick-like trees form a perfect backdrop en hiver. All this, and a little zoo, too!

I am staying at the Agora St. Germain, perfectly situated in the heart of the Latin Quarter, so named for the students who studied Latin at the nearby Sorbonne. A couple of blocks north and I am at the Seine. Crossing the bridge, I reach Notre Dame. Street artists perform, crowds mingle, gargoyles glare, and ancient, solemn beauty waits within. If I walk west I hit Boulevard Saint-Michel, which leads to the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages—one of the best and worth seeing. Further down is found the University of Paris, and then the Luxembourg Gardens.

On Saturdays, Blvd. St.-Michel is closed off for a couple of blocks and the market stalls take over the street. Not only fresh, locally grown produce, but chickens and meats, seafood and rabbits, cheeses and breads are on fragrant display. In addition, there are clothing items, leather goods, tablecloths, jewelry, trinkets and more. Buy a perfect pint of raspberries from a farmer, a mini-quiche from the patisserie; indulge in some lacy antique linen or a hand-painted box. There are treasures to be found here!

To the south, up a long hill, is a square surrounded by bistros and cafes. Once, traveling with my husband, Richard, and son Sean, we were sent in the opposite direction by the hotel concierge to a restaurant featuring nouvelle cuisine (translation: small bites of food with interesting sauces drizzled or squiggled on to look artsy). We finished our meal and as we headed back I said, “That was perfect!” My husband and son said simultaneously, “I’m still starving!” Around the next corner we found a place to suit all of us. I had a cup of tea and split an order of profiteroles while the guys feasted on roast chicken and pommes frites!

Paris is divided into arrondissements, making the city more manageable and succinct. But it is more than defined areas and famous sights; to experience Paris you must fill your senses and feel the spirit that surrounds you. Whether it is the purple/pink sunset at Notre Dame, the magic of the I.M. Pei pyramid at the Louvre, the awe of standing beneath the Eiffel Tower (or atop one of the observation landings!), the joy of a tour boat on the Seine, the skill of a street artist, a night at the Moulin Rouge, or the simple pleasure of a café and pastry, the City of Light awaits you.

One more myth buster about Paris: the people are not all rude. Sean’s spirit was crushed in the smaller city of Nancy when the cabbie heard his American accent and refused to speak with him. In Paris, he tried again. The taxi driver wanted to understand, and they chatted non-stop all the way to our destination. With 2.2 million people in Paris and just over 10 million in the surrounding area, some are bound to be nice, n’est-ce pas?

And now, we go to Québec. With just over half a million population, Québec City is the oldest walled city in North America. Divided into Old and New (outside the old town walls of the historic section), the Old City (Vieux-Québec) contains Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville). Samuel Champlain, recognizing the area’s strategic importance for shipping and fortification, established a trading post there in 1608, and thus the city.

On a warm September day, Richard and I disembark the cruise ship Maasdam, of the Holland America Line, for this magnificent and very French port of call. Québec City is on the Fleuve Saint Laurent, offering deep water access from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Port Québec is a large harbor, and sailboats and pleasure craft dot the water.

Like Paris there are cobbled streets, boutique shops and art galleries, musicians in the park, cafés and restaurants in abundance, monuments, and the requisite Notre Dame Cathedral. There was a Tour de Québec the day we were there, and bicyclists rode by in waves separated by touring vans and police motorcyclists, all cheered by tourists and thousands of locals who lined the streets. Two more cyclists struggled up the hill a while later, cheered raucously by the crowd.

What’s different? First and foremost is closer access for Americans, a chance to be in a French city where French and English are easily spoken. You can get there by plane or boat or train (or car!), relatively quickly at a fraction of the cost. In France you will find Germanic, British and Italian influences reflected in architecture, food and dialect. In the province of Québec other influences are Scottish, Native American and Inuit. A perfect souvenir is an inukshuk, a traditional sculpture made of unworked stones and used by the Inuit as communication and survival for fellow travelers. And some Québécoise pottery, too, of course!

The upper town of the Old City is reached via the Funicular, a grand elevator that offers a splendid view of the lower town and the St. Laurence as it rises slowly up the hill. After exploring the lower town, we joined the short line for the ride. Later, we took the steps of the Escalier Frontenac to descend—much easier and interesting in its own way.

Upon exiting the Funicular we are greeted by the massive façade of the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Frontenac is a castle-like hotel of Scottish bricks, copper roofs and stone turrets. It is full of old-time elegance, with uniformed doormen, antique furnishings and high tea. In the vicinity are several squares and plazas where people gather to relax and catch some sun. A massive statue of Champlain dominates the square in front of the Frontenac. Behind the statue is Dufferin Terrace, a wide boardwalk overlooking the old city and the river. If you wish, you can take the 310 steps along Le Promenade des Gouverneurs. This leads to an observation landing and skirts the cliff wall past the Citadel. Or, heading away from the promenade, you will find tree-lines avenues, ancient stone artifices, cathedrals and churches, and another plaza featuring a Native American statue that is striking. (I photographed the Indian and skipped the Bishop.)

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at La Cache, right off the stairway between the old and new town, a few steps below rue Petit-Champlain where the bike race was being held. I ordered Salade Niçoise, my husband had a yummy autumn soup and we shared a demi-bottle of white Burgundy Bourgogne. Go ahead and get an ice cream or some chocolate afterwards and sit in the park. Parfait!

I found Quebec City to be smaller and more provincial, yet modern and worldly too. They are, after all, struggling with the separatist movement in Quebec while demanding a strong and unified Canada. New Prime Minister Pauline Marois has offered a referendum to determine Quebec’s fate. Political tempers have cooled for the moment and locals I talked with seemed ambivalent about the issue.

Meanwhile, a man plays classical guitar on a cobbled street, shops like Fusion & couleurs and Pot en Ciel are ready for business, and Le Lapin Sauté is open for lunch. Dancing iron figures hang from wires in Old Town, and a maid opens a white sheet like angel wings in a bedroom window of Le Priori Hotel. But there’s more: a quiet archway behind Frontenac with a woolen shop tucked away in a corner, a burly man walking three, large, impeccably trained dogs who stops to give me directions, noon mass being said at the basilica, a group of teens teasing each other in French, and a child carrying a miniature hockey stick.

With a trip to Paris, you naturally have the added bonus of the entire country of France to explore. But Québec is a fantastic place to venture, a fairly close Canadian neighbor with a unique history and charm of its own. And a great opportunity to practice your French!

“La Vie Douce: A Year in Brussels” by my Cool Student Susanne M.

La Vie Douce

A year in Brussels by Susanne Mirabello

It started with a nap, a very long nap, to overcome the jet lag, the shipment details, the visa and work permit papers and the tricky “first timer” transportation mistakes.  Upon opening my eyes, I realized that I was living in Europe, the capital of Belgium and the diverse center of the European Union.

Through my private lessons with Melissa in FrenchinDC, I was able to more confidently stroll down my street for a first glimpse of my neighborhood.  For this was a dangerous part of town, one known my many and all for the vendors on each corner and its worldly reputation. This….was the chocolate district.  My apartment was only a small walk away from 12 different chocolatiers.  Ones that would know me by name by the end of the week and save free samples of pralines, not decorated up to their artistic standards but certainly still holding such a rich flavor.

Chocolates were not the only noticeable tastes of Belgium to reel me in.  Waffle trucks at every corner entice the crowds with warm and fresh waffles crystallized with a simple sugar coating or chocolate drizzle (do not be fooled by the fancy decorative ones that are overflowing with strawberries and whipped cream) The ones in the vans are simple, traditionally from Liege, a smaller town 40 minutes outside the capital, and have earned their way to becoming one of, what I like to call,  Belgium’s major food groups.  The other groups being Pomme Frites and Beer.

This leads me to my challenge to find the best “friterie” in the city.  These shacks are set up in strategic places, usually near some nightlife or in a central area, park or plaza.   My favorite only has two men working behind a menu of really only one ordered item. Frites…and of course the 40 types of different sauces you can order to go along with it. Mayonnaise, is a traditional topping, piled high, in a mound above a paper cone filled with the double fried treats. “Andalouise” is a popular sauce and my personal recommendation.

It is easy to get lost in the flavors but also the unique setting of Brussels itself.  I constantly get lost in the winding steets that mix the classical iron balconies of other European cities with the stylized Art Nouveau architecture that was popular in the early 1920s.  Every street has character, whether it be in a stained glass mural above a door way or a mosaic scene with intricate details and gilded outline that gives the façade a golden luster whenever the sun hits just right.

Oh, the sun.  When the sun comes out in Belgium, it invigorates the city. People take strolls until it sets, sometimes 10:30 or 11 in the deepest days of summer.  Groups park blankets, croquette, and wine in the parks.  Sometimes others will have the guitars strumming for the rest of the world to just enjoy.  Sadly, this only happens sporadically and Belgium is known more so for it’s puddled cobblestone streets and waves that splash up from the hustle and bustle of trams, taxis, buses and even bikes trying to race through another week-long rain shower.

Brussels seems like a small city, easy to get around, so much to see, plenty of festivals in the summer and variety of tastes to enjoy.  I feel like it is often overlooked and even on my first stroll, I knew this would be more than just “one year” city.  I have not been in too many other places where so many cultures are represented in one little European pocket and yet a bit of Belgian traditions still shine through to make it unique and impressionable. If anything, I hope this little blurb lends you to consider Belgium as a future destination, not for site seeing, landmarks and a rushed itinerary but for a stroll through the beautiful streets, a beer with some friendly locals and of course a chance to enjoy a bit of the “sweet life.”