Sciences of travel

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France

Discover the Lavezzi islands

From the moment I told my colleagues that my husband and I were planning to go to Corsica , the reaction was unanimous and there were many to advise me to discover the Lavezzi islands. So I trusted them and planned this trip when we went to Bonifacio.

It is an archipelago of small islands located about ten kilometers from the French coast , between Bonifacio and Sardinia. They are protected and classified sea space blocks are divided between France and Italy and are for sailors, with a maximum altitude of 50 meters, the most dangerous of the Mediterranean area. Indeed , there are many islands that just flush the water , so imagine the difficulty of tracing a secure way in the middle , especially in rough seas.

1984, The island of Cavallo, off the coast of Corsica. (Photo by Slim Aarons/Getty Images)

1984, The island of Cavallo, off the coast of Corsica.

It is on this main island that Bonifacio , many companies offer to organise tour for you . Crossing direct to the driveway , do not take more than half an hour , and is obviously not guaranteed if the weather is favorable. The boats leave in the morning , you leave the island and come find you in the afternoon at the appointed time . It is possible to pay for the services of a guide , to discuss wildlife, flora and items relating to cemeteries.

Personally, we spent for these services, but on the way , we met a young responsible for the observation of the site, taking into account the low attendance of the island at that time ( the second half of September ) we have presented his life on the islands and even a nesting place I do not know what species of birds. We even got to watch the chicks in the absence of parents went fishing all day.

It is obvious that full season , supervisors are careful not to show the nesting sites to the public to respect the tranquility of individuals. They explained to us and their way of life , rather precariously on the island . For example , I remember that hot water is provided by their solar panels that ensure a range of 4 to 5 days .

We then visited the two sailors cemeteries. They are very pretty , pure white , which contrasts with the blue sea and sky, but I must admit that the term visit and a big word . Indeed, given the possible identification of the bodies , all the graves are anonymous , except of course, those of the captain , who even had a vault, and the chaplain.

We then headed to one of the small beaches accessible. And I must admit that despite the attendance, they are beautiful , small indeed, but with such a clear turquoise water and if that apart from the lack of coconut , you could imagine the Caribbean !

The beauty of the site inevitably attracts owners of small boats from wet there, and although it is a protected site , some have no qualms degassing nearby. Thus, one finds here and there fuel pellets . What a mess !

We then quietly back to the pier to take the next shuttle to Bonifacio. On return, we take a tour through the islands and Corsica guide explains that it is classified protected in France as in Italy site, our transalpine neighbors do not have the same conception of protection with respect to construction. Thus our merry commentator shows some villas built on islands privatized , money and fame of their own that allowed them to overcome many constraints .Then, our guide shows us proudly how Corsican nationalists decided to enforce this archipelago …

Great plan to visit Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel can be visited in a day from Paris

If you go visit Paris soon, you might be tempted by a trip to Mont Saint Michel. The latter is certainly far from Paris, but it is one of the most visited sites in France, but also one of the most beautiful. Enjoy being in the North of France to finally explore what made ​​the reputation of Normandy. A day trip from Paris in the mythical town ensconced Mont Saint-Michel is an opportunity you will not want to miss: Mount and the bay that surrounds it, are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 1979. It is not by chance that it was nicknamed the Mont Saint Michel the “Wonder of the West.”

Topped with a huge rich in history and beautiful architecture equipped with Abbey, the village of 43 inhabitants has winding streets and medieval streets that take you back in the past and where you can enjoy fresh air large bowls. You will observe around Mount tides among the most spectacular in the world, offering views evolving.

But located 5 hours drive west of Paris, is it possible to enjoy the breathtaking view of Mont Saint Michel in such a short time? The answer is yes: in the space of a single day, it is possible to leave Paris and go to Mont-Saint-Michel and return the same evening in the City of Light.

Le Mont-Saint-Michel can be visited in a day from Paris

Le Mont-Saint-Michel can be visited in a day from Paris

But a busy day full of discoveries

Upon arrival, after taking a few minutes to enjoy, agape, the stunning views of Mont Saint Michel, you have 4 hours to visit the village and the abbey (if you chose the option “free”, see below). As children entering Disneyland, you may have first a little hungry: do not hesitate to perk up with a nice meal of Normandy, drinking some cider. Then you’ll have time to wander the cobbled streets to the abbey, the main attraction. With your purchase through the link below tickets, you will not have to queue and can go directly inside the magnificent Gothic building.

After visiting the abbey for 1 hour or more, you’ll have time to stroll through the streets of the small town, sunbathing in a small green park if the weather permits, and observe the movements of the tide around Mont Saint Michel. You will have the opportunity to enter eclectic shops to buy some souvenirs Norman and even eat a piece before getting into the bus late afternoon.

Book online for convenience

Several choices are available to you to visit the Mont Saint Michel. You can take the option “free”, which for only 125 €, offers direct travel to the site via an air-conditioned bus, a ticket to the abbey, and four hours of free time to explore the mountain freely . A second option for € 170 includes lunch and a guided tour. Please note that prices may vary, so do not hesitate to click on this button below for more information (what types of clothing depending on the season take for example …). You will also see that it is possible to book a real living from Paris, why not with a tour of the castles of the Loire (in 2 or 3 days) or the landing beaches, St Malo, etc …

La Thuile: The Best Skiing in both France and Italy

Contrary to popular belief, ski instructing is not an easy job. Its fun but not necessarily easy. First of all, you’re in charge of ten skiers whose aptitudes are unknown to you. There’s one general rule concerning their abilities: if they say they are advanced they’re usually intermediates; if they say they’re intermediate they’re usually beginners; and if they say they are beginners they usually have never put on a pair of skis in their life.  Over the next four hours you spend about an hour-and-a-half standing around: someone has lost a glove, someone needs the toilet, someone has the giggles and can’t go on, etc. At the end of the afternoon you have about one hour to ski on your own – which isn’t a lot if the lift lines are miles long. You grab the last cable car to town just in time to get in a happy-hour beer – and that slides you into a coma. You trudge off to the hotel for a quick shower, dinner and a nice book before passing out like a toddler on a road trip. If you’re younger than 27 of course you’ll go out, get wrecked, and pay the price the next day. But hey, that’s your business. I like to sleep at night since I know I have to do the same thing all over the next day.

The busy week is the reason why we ski on Sunday. Sunday is the official day off and no matter how shattered legs and minds can be from the prior week, we rally to wake up early, get the boots on and spend a day skiing – preferably at another resort. So Kenny, Steve and I went to La Thuile: 30 minutes from Courmayeur by bus where the skiing was top-notch. Situated along the French-Italian border in the Aosta Valley, it is a huge resort connected to La Rosière on the French side (just above Bourg St. Maurice on the South-facing side of the mountain). What does this mean? It means 150km of piste as well as some of the most spectacular off-piste in the Aosta Valley (in my humble opinion). You can get a ski pass for both sides (read: the whole mountain) but keep an eye on the weather: at 2650m the top of the Piccolo San Bernard has been known to host zero visibility conditions,  strong winds and winter storms. In the summertime you can cross the Petit St. Bernard with hundreds of cyclists looking to imitate the Tour de France racers (the “Grande Boucle” came though last year touching the Grand St. Bernard on the other side of the valley and then the Petit St. Bernard all in one day). Regardless of the season the Piccolo San Bernardo is a great place to hang out for outdoor fun.

Getting to La Thuile is easy: there are numerous buses from Courmayeur and Aosta that go directly up to the ski station or drop you off in Pré St. Didier from where you can take a second bus up the mountain. I would link in the schedules here but SAVDA (public bus system) hasn’t updated them online. The buses run about 30-45 minutes apart. Just don’t travel on Sundays or around lunch time – you may get stuck for a few hours.

When in Pré St. Didier stop by the Tennis Bar (owned by Stefano Amatori). You’ll find it chock full of skiers enjoying an après-ski afternoon/evening/late night and Stefano plays some of the greatest music including Warren Zevon, Boston, and Blue Oyster Cult (well I think it’s great). The Tennis Bar is a good time if you’re on your way out of – or into – La Thuile. We were able to stop there on the last night of our stay in Courmayeur. The video below documents our “fun-day” of skiing without students in La Thuile. It’s nothing more than a neat little film and a good memory I shared with some excellent friends. I hope you enjoy it.

An Alpine Guide for Your Pocket: Cycling in the French Alps

Its nice to have friends that do cool things. But its also nice to have cool friends. Paul Henderson is one of those and his book, Cycling in the French Alps (Cicerone), is as much a testament to his extraordinary life style as it is an incredible compilation of magnificent biking routes. The routes are as varied as the roads themselves, taking you through the Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Drôme and Ventoux regions of France. Just reading the itineraries makes me breathe hard. Paul is from Durham, England (so its [pawl] not [pol]) yet has been living in Savoie, France for a long time. Over this period Paul has skied, climbed and biked just about every nook and cranny in Southeast France, most of Provence, and a good part of Italy, Corsica, Australia and other continents. His personal list of accomplishments is endless but thankfully just the French Alpine cycling routes are compiled in one book: a must for anyone who is looking to spend a week, a month or a summer biking in the Alps.

I appreciate how Paul is able to touch upon the “dreams” as well as “misconceptions” of cycling in the Alps. These are important factors that most of my guests seem to forget at times:

For most cyclists the French Alps conjure up images of the great champions of the Tour de France…Of course, mountains do not have to be snow-capped giants to provide worthwhile cycling. Many lower-areas are criss-crossed by quiet roads that meander through varied landscapes of open pastures, dark forests, deep gorges and unspoilt villages. The scenery is just as beautiful as in the high mountains…When cycling in the mountains, the amount of vertical height gain is a much better indication of the difficulty of a route than the distance covered. The circuits were planned with this in mind…

Personally having ridden most of Paul’s routes, I can attest that the views from these “minor” mountains are just as beautiful as the better-known giants. What’s even better is you’ll never find the crowds around the Col de Granier that you would find around Galibier, which makes the riding even sweeter. The book is brimming with all kinds of useful information I’d only expect from Paul Henderson: from hints on taking bikes on the trains to lodging suggestions to useful websites and spectacular photography to help you visualize the itinerary (which could sometimes bring you to some rather remote locations). The itineraries themselves are highly detailed with route directions, elevation maps, hints on getting to/coming from, when to go and climate stats, paper map suggestions, as well as where to find water, campsites, hotels, banks, bikeshops, and cafés. He’s even included useful French phrases (since the author is also a full-time translator I wouldn’t expect anything less). Having done a number of Randonnée Ski Tours with Paul, I can attest to his level of detail and dedication in the mountains. The same applies to this guide: a fundamental tool for biking legendary circuits in the French Alps.

Wrapped and Ready to Roll

Winter exercise is never easy: you either freeze your tuckus off outside or you breathe in all the moist nastiness that is other people’s perspiration in the gym. Let’s face it: in the winter, everyone flocks to the gym where there is a higher concentration of human beings, a higher concentration of CO2, and a higher concentration of sweat and humidity in the air that no gym ventilation system can really aerate. It can’t be good for you to have a fan blowing on you as you run on the treadmill (that’s how my grandmother said we all get sick). I prefer dressing up warmly and going outside. Even if its cold, I’ll take the outside.

P1010995-300x225Here in Chambéry temperatures can get pretty low at times. There is a lot of humidity in the valleys and it makes the evenings bitter, bitter cold. At times I had to triple-check to make sure the heaters in my apartment were on. What’s fantastic about biking in the cold (or doing anything in the cold) is you get the same rush as skiing: cold temperatures outside while your body cooks nice and warm. The Romans and Nordic tribes knew about the benefits of hydrotherapy, as did the Greeks and Egyptians. The expansion and contraction of blood vessels pushes blood through the body giving you the rush needed to return to your cube and finish the day’s projects, or prepare for the afternoon’s three-hour meeting. Chances are if you try it once you’ll get the taste of it and you’ll keep doing it.

This is what my buddy Marc taught me to do: invest in the gear and get out there. Great summer riding begins with great winter riding and in this video you’ll see a few suggestions of how to go about facing the bitter cold. The panorama and adrenaline rush are worth it. This is a simple ride we often take around Chambéry that isn’t very difficult but gives us a nice two hour spin – especially in the winter time when the cols are snowed in. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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A Tale of Two Tires

Hmm, where to begin. Well, let’s begin with Napoleon III who launched a campaign to Vietnam for Imperialistic means. Since the North was a stronghold, the ships attacked the Southern weaker states and eventually gained ground around what is present day Saigon. From there, between 1859 to 1867 the French expanded their domain in Vietnam, just at the same time they needed more rubber trees for developments back in the mainland. To read more about French Indochina, Wikipedia has a pretty nice wrap up of events here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Indochina

P1010993-225x300Almost a hundred years prior, back in France, Charles Marie de La Condamine presented a research paper to the Académie Royale des Sciences introducing rubber in 1736. By 1829 rubber in manufacturing is begun by Edouard Daubree and by way of various ins and outs of the development of the company, in 1889 Edouard and Andre Michelin take control, creating what we know today as the fine tire company that has been in business for over 120 years. For more on the development of the tire company read this excellent article by Liz Smith http://www.articlealley.com/article_797509_31.html.

It’s a fascinating part of history and one that plays a huge role in our daily lives – especially if you like to bike. I’m not here to talk about the history of rubber in France (although, it is pretty interesting for those who didn’t know); I’m here to talk about tires. Two tires. Two French tire companies and why one is better than the other. I average about 7,ooo kms on my bicycle per year (I work outside) and my tools are steel and rubber. Last year Hutchinson created a “Tour de France” edition of their Fusion road tire (which they do every year for marketing purposes?). It lasted a very short while before getting a tear in it. In fact, it wasn’t just a little tear but down to the threads just two weeks after I had put the tire on the wheel (approximately 1500 kms). I’d have a hard time believing a Tour de France finisher – riding approximately 3,500kms over 21 days – would put so much faith into this rubber on the road (unless they have a different type of tire).

However, the Michelin Pro Race have an extraordinary lifespan. I’ve been able to go through a season with replacing the rear tire just once mid-season. The front tire will last well into the end of the season. I have hit rocks and have come screaming down high altitudes without a problem. I don’t really understand the chemistry behind these intense polymers, but I’d believe that 120 years of experience speaks through their product. They’re usually a bit more expensive than regular tires but I think the price is worth it since your life depends on them. So which tire did I put on my bike? The Hutchinson of course: I don’t want to get the Michelin Pro Race dirty just yet. Thanks Chuck.

Competences et Talents Part II

A few weeks ago I posted an entry on the Compétences et Talents visa issued by the French Government . The interesting part is that after you’ve taken care in preparing an outstanding project and presenting it to the French Consulate in the states, you need to do the same thing over here in France. But the trick is, you have to reprint everything all over again. My friend Erin had mentioned it was necessary to have the original project on hand in order to complete the process over here. So when I was in the states I had asked the Consulate if I could have my original project description back (Erin was given hers back). However, the French Consulate said “absolument pas.” According to them, the whole point of going through the rigorous visa process is to facilitate the applicant’s integration in French society once they’ve arrived on French soil. So all I needed was the letter from the Consulate General, my passport, passport pictures and proof of residence. And then within a few weeks I’d get my carte de séjour.

They were a little wrong.

I don’t blame the French fonctionnaires for knowing so little about what is necessary to get the visa; this process is all new for them too (in fact, I’m the second person in Boston to be accepted and the first person in Savoie to ever apply for this visa. So both entities seemed a little perplexed on how everything actually worked). In the end, it depends on which Département you eventually live in, but wherever you end up, you need to go to the local Préfecture with the following documents:

  • The letter from the consulate general that issued the visa in your passport.
  • 4 official pictures.
  • Original birth certificate and photocopies.
  • The official Titre de Séjour application.
  • The medical examination application
  • A copy of the original application project, all pages, materials and photocopies of them.
  • Proof of residence.

Of course this list may change depending on the Département, but as a general list this is what is needed. What’s surprising is that although the visa was meant to make things faster and easier, it takes just as long as anything else. When I dropped off all the documents on the 10th of January, the woman behind the glass said it would take a good month/month-and-a-half to get any kind of carte de séjour out to me. Wow. Good thing I got it in the system when I did.

Skiing in Les Karellis

celinepatrick-300x225There are certain things about France that don’t cease to amaze me. One is the incredible skiing in the winter. I’ve skied in a number of the more popular resorts in the French Alps (Courchevel, Val Thorens, Méribel, etc.) and of course the conditions were great and I had a great time. But what’s more interesting – and fun – are the resorts that people don’t know about. Les Karellis is one of those. Nestled away in the Valley of the Maurienne (about an hour’s drive from Chambéry to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne) you’ll find the slopes pretty empty and nicely groomed. We went last Saturday and the tourists either leave or arrive on the weekend and thus don’t get out on the slopes much on the weekend – but this was amazing. Except for a few locals (and I mean locals from Savoie, not locals from Paris) it felt like we had the mountain all to ourselves. There was great snow in the morning and the off-piste was spectacular. We sat around a few picnic tables at noon to eat lunch with Combe de Savoie cheese, ham, tea, and peanut butter and jam sandwiches (supplied by me – my French companions did not appreciate the American delicacy). Not only was the weather perfect, but so was the company: Lucile is an old friend of mine who organized the trip – this was the first time we got to ski together. She’s from the other side of the valley from Les Karellis and knew all of the surrounding valleys and peaks. She also pointed out the local fauna that were grazing just above her house. Natasha is a student in Geology and works with the local mountain guides; Céline hails from the North, but prefers the mountains and changing atmosphere of Savoie; and Patrick is half-Venezuelan, half-French and is a mad driver (especially when he stuffed four people and all their kit into his Peugeot to take us safely back to Chambéry). Towards the end of the day, we sat around Lucile’s house and ate crêpes, drank hot chocolate and tea and chatted about the enviromental issues concerning the Maurienne valley. A great day and a great way to listen to the concerns of the local Savoie youth, who are just as concerned for the mountains and the environment as are many of us who enjoy the outdoors.Thanks to Lucile and the rest of the gang for your hospitality.

If you want to check out the film of Les Karellis, its here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBe-bW4T2Mc. Otherwise you can go to the Vids page and see it there.

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Another one of France’s hidden secrets: La Féclaz

AHSkierBetween the cities of Chambéry and Annecy in the French Alps, lies a mountain range called the Massif des Bauges. It is part of the French pre-Alps and contains a number of summits above 2,000m – meaning that in the winter time there is plenty of snow. If you’re into a ski ‘resort’ with short lift-lines and pretty amazing views over the Lac du Bourget, then you ought to take a detour towards Le Revard, La Féclaz and St. François de Sales (together known as the Grand Revard). It’s also oddly known as “Little Canada” primarily because it resembles the vast winter tundra of the Canadian west: miles of rolling sunlight clearings spotted by thick evergreen forests, exhibiting only the peace and tranquility a winter tundra can provide.

Although situated in the mountains, the whole ski range is on a high-plateau, thus allowing for miles and miles of endless Nordic skiing. In fact, the resort reputes itself as being the number one French destination for Cross-Country skiing with Alpine sking and snowpark activities as secondary attractions. But if the skiing isn’t enough for you, there are snowshoeing itineraries, dog-sled rides, tobogganing, ski-touring, snowscooting and an old form of Savoyard sledding called yonner. To top it all off the ski passes couldn’t be at a better price: a five-day pass costs 70 euro and gives you full access to all the services I mentioned above.

It is without a doubt one of the most impressive ski areas in Southwest France, and not overrun with hundreds of skiers. You can stay in any one of the Chambre d’hôtes found in the mountains or in any one of he hotels in the valley. For a bit more you can get the 5-day pass and bus transport. In fact, many shuttle busses leave daily from Aix-les-Bains and Chambéry making this little-known-little-Canada a perfectly convenient destination for anyone interested in breaking new ground on the skinny skis.

If you go up early in the day, remember how cold forests can be (regardless of how hot you’ll get later on in the day). Temperatures were well freezing at even 9:30 am as we cut through the thick of the forest. Thankfully, the ticket booth and the main activities area are all located right where the sun’s rays come shining through even at 8:00 am. But dress warm, lots of layers and a good change of clothes for when you’re hanging out at the Creux de Lachat drinking vin brûlé and experiencing that post warm/cold bliss that’s as delicious as the mountains surrounding you.

Compètences et Talents – Living in France

For those who are interested in pursuing a career/life in France, the Pres. Sarkosy has recently instated (2008) a new visa aimed at streamlining foreign entrepreneurs who wish to work in France. Since there is very little on the subject except for a well detailed French Embassy site in Washington DC, I thought it would be helpful to include here all of the necessary paperwork needed in the French US-based consulates. Keep in mind that the criteria is tough, since the French are looking for serious business – they will not accept any application that seems weakly prepared. The list should include the following items:

a) Visa Application for long séjour: 2 copies
b) Multi-page project description: if you write it in French its better. They only ask for 1 page, but you’d be smart to write several detailed pages (mine was 7). Include the following:
–     How project will benefit France and include where in the project there is a strong component of multicultural sharing.
–     Goals of Project: What is it specifically you intend to do? What are the benefits for everyone involved?
–     Business Plan: if you’re an independent contractor, its good to have a translated business plan.
–     Estimated Income: very ball-park, but put in how much you are expecting to earn over the first three years.
c) Birth Certificate (original, photocopies and translation)
d) CV (in French)
e) Diplomas: for this visa you need an M.A. I’m sure they will make some exceptions, but I haven’t heard of any yet. If you don’t have an M.A., they will probably not consider you for the visa.
f) Tax returns for any given tax year as well as any bank and investment info (they want to see you have cash).
g) Customer Testimonials and references: if you’re in sales, give a list of customer references as well as professional references.
h) Articles: if there are any write-ups about you in any newspaper, magazine doing what you do then add it along.
i) Any sample work that can be incorporated is a great help as well (i.e.: if you’re in design add some of your portfolio).
j) Criminal Record Check – this is fundamental
k) 4 official pictures
l) approx: 150$ application fee

A big thanks to Erin who went through the whole grueling process before me, so that I was able to fly my application by without any trouble. My application was for an entrepreneurial endeavor – there are also possibilities for people who are employed with French companies to apply for the same visa, but a few more documents need to be put into the application (such as the cerfa document, etc.).

I put all of these documents in order of importance (project description and business plan first, birth certificate second, etc.) into a three-ring binder which had tabs along the side, so the consulate could easily find whichever document it was looking for. Then of course the outside of the binder was labeled as well with my name, the date, my passport number and the type of visa I was applying for.

Seems like too much? Maybe, but at my consulate I was told that I was the second person to get the visa. Plus, the organization of the paperwork (and maybe giving all the documents necessary) prevented me from having to go back to the Consulate every week to bring them one more piece of paper. I got the visa in 1 month so I must have done something right.

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