Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Marseille wasn’t on my original itinerary. After touring chateau of the Loire Valley and exploring Bordeaux I planned to visit Toulouse and St. Girons in the French Pyrenees, but there was a problem. Bad weather had been following me around France. I’d had one lovely sunny day in Mont Saint Michel and another one in Tours, but the rest of the time it either was gray and chilly or it rained. The foul weather had been bearable in October, but by November the temps had dropped and rain that had been an inconvenience turned bone-chilling.

The beauty of traveling nomadically is that I have no fixed schedule and can change my plans on a whim. I whipped out the laptop and Googled a map of France, looking for warmer destinations. Far south, in the heart of the French Riviera, Marseille stood out like a beacon. Wikipedia told me that the average high temperature in November was 59.2 degrees, and the more I read about Marseille, the more intrigued I became. I hopped over to the website for SNCF, the French National Railway Company, and discovered that high-speed TGV trains ran directly between Bordeaux and Marseille. Now I only had to find a place to stay. A final web search turned up Vertigo Vieux-Port Hostel, centrally located in the old port area, within walking distance of restaurants, the central market, marina, and the famous Notre Dame de la Gare church. The reviews looked fantastic and the price was right at $31 per night for a four-bed female dorm with ensuite bathroom. The planets had aligned; I was Marseille bound. A couple of quick telephone calls later I had train ticket and a reservation for the next two nights.

North side of Vieux Port, looking back toward Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, which keeps a protective eye on Marseille France

North side of Vieux Port, looking back toward Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, which keeps a protective eye on Marseille

I fell in love with Marseille immediately. My hostel was located a short stroll from the Vieux Port (Old Port), once an international hub where goods arrived from and were exported around the world. By the late 19th century, ocean-going ships had grown so large that the 20 foot depth of the harbor was no longer sufficient. A new commercial port with deeper docks, La Joliette, was constructed to the north and the Vieux Port gradually evolved into a city marina. Read More

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When I checked in to my holiday rental apartment in Bordeaux, France, one of the things I was looking forward to was being able to make my own meals. I didn’t require much: some fresh vegetables and pasta would suffice for dinner, while a hunk of fresh baked bread topped with cheese and drizzled in rich green olive oil was my idea of a perfect breakfast. The property manager, Charlotte, met me upon arrival and circled a couple of local grocers and a good bakery on a map for me.

“Will I be able to buy good quality cheese at any of these places? I asked.

“Yes, but if you really want to sample French cheeses you must visit Fromagerie Deruelle, a gourmet cheese shop just a few blocks from here.” Charlotte said.

Soft and artisan cheeses are displayed in one case at Fromagerie Deruelle gourmet cheese shop in Bordeaux, France

Soft and artisan cheeses are displayed in one case at Fromagerie Deruelle gourmet cheese shop in Bordeaux, France

I’d been introduced to French cheeses some weeks earlier by my friends, Jean-Luc and Sabine Perrotin. We were enjoying dinner at their home near Paris one evening when Jean-Luc told me about a friend who had been visiting the department of Haute-Savoie in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, where an especially stinky variety of cheese known as Reblochon is produced. Upon returning from his travels, the friend stopped by Jean-Luc’s office with a gift of Reblochon. Not thinking, he dropped the package into his desk drawer. As the day progressed, the smell of the cheese penetrated it’s wrapping and began to seep into the room; by the end of the day his co-workers were wrinkling up their noses and commenting on the strange smell. Guesses as to its source ranged from clogged sewers to a dead rat in the vents. Read More

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Google recently announced that they are shutting down Google Reader on July 1, 2013. Reader is a popular rss (really simple syndication) service that allows users to see which of their favorite blogs have published new content since their last visit. Rather than visiting each blog separately, users subscribe to all their favorite blogs and visit one site to find new stories.

RIP Google Reader July 1, 2013

RIP Google Reader July 1, 2013

I know many of my readers come to me through Google Reader, so I did a little digging to find alternatives and found Bloglovin’. It offers a really clean, easy to browse interface and it’s free, just like Google Reader. Even better, it provides a painless way for you to import all the blogs you are currently following in Google Reader into Bloglovin’.

If you use Google Reader to follow Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel, it’s a good idea to choose another service as soon as possible, as Google is already taking steps toward the shut-down (you may notice that the link to Reader has already disappeared from the black menu bar at the top of Gmail). Click here to follow my blog with Bloglovin

It’s also worth mentioning that when you sign up for Bloglovin’ the default display will “frame” my site within Bloglovin’. Read More

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The arrow on my discomfort meter didn’t move up much in Paris. True, Parisienne women were exquisitely dressed and coiffed, but there were enough tourists around that I didn’t feel too out of place in my khakis and hiking boots. My spartan traveling wardrobe raised no eyebrows when paying my respects at the Normandy beaches, touring Mont Saint Michel abbey, or visiting chateaux in the Loire Valley, but when I stepped off the train in Bordeaux I became painfully aware that France had succeeded where all other countries had failed; I officially felt like a slob.

I rode the tramway four stops to Place de Bourgougne and walked half a block to The HomeAway holiday rental apartment that would be my home for the next week, courtesy of HomeAway.co.uk.  The property manager, Charlotte, peered down the stairwell as I wrangled my luggage to the third floor.

“Do you need help?” she offered.

I shook my head and plodded on, thinking that the day I can’t handle my own luggage is the day I need to stop traveling. I struggled up the last few steps, gratefully shed the heavy backpack that holds all my camera and computer equipment in the front hall, and followed Charlotte into the living room. The apartment was drop-dead gorgeous! Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on beautifully restored 18th century buildings and the serene Garonne River.

My HomeAway apartment enjoyed lovely views of the Garonne River in Bordeaux Francei

My HomeAway apartment enjoyed lovely views of the Garonne River

In the unlikely event that I grew tired of the view, a flat panel TV mounted to the wall offered hundreds of channels. The kitchen was superbly equipped and the bedroom, with a double bed topped by a faux fur comforter, looked oh so tempting. I perused the tasteful contemporary French furnishings and then looked down at my boots and cargo pants; once again, I felt shamefully under-dressed. Read More

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Last year I was contacted by author Mark Chimsky, author of 65 Things To Do When You Retire, an anthology of short essays by prominent retirees such as President Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, and Mort Greenberg which The Wall Street Journal called “one of the year’s best guides to later life.” On the heels of that widely acclaimed first effort, Chimsky was planning a follow-up book named 65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel. He asked if I would be willing to provide a story for this second anthology. Since the royalties generated from the sale of this book will be donated to nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and curing cancer, I agreed to do so.

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel benefits cancer research and prevention

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel benefits cancer research and prevention

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel was released last week. In it, more than 65 writers and travel experts reveal their own personal adventures and offer practical advice about how retirees can have the time of their lives, whether traveling with a group, spouse, partner, or on their own. The essays describe glorious getaways, the best places for retirees to visit (or relocate), how to plan for a “great escape” without breaking the bank, or, as in my case, how to enrich your travel by making a local connection. Other contributors include Andrew McCarthy, actor, director, and award winning travel writer and author of the travel memoir The Longest Way Home; Elizabeth Berg, best selling author of Talk Before Sleep, and Open House, an Oprah’s Book Club Selection; and John E. Nelson, co-author of What Color is Your Parachute For Retirement. The essays cover fascinating trends such as taking a “golden gap year,” going “glamping,” and living a nomadic lifestyle.

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel is a 5.5″ x 8.5″, 400 page, softcover book is available in bookstores or through Amazon.com.

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In the latter half of the 15th century, events conspired to create a perfect storm in France. The Hundred Years War with England drew to a close and, in 1494, King Charles VIII returned victorious from his invasion of Italy, bringing with him the Italian Renaissance. The mighty Medieval fortresses of the Loire Valley, no longer required for defense, were converted into stunning chateaux designed for recreation and pleasure. Embracing the Renaissance philosophy that valued culture above all, monarchs and noble families filled these palaces with stunning artworks and furnishings and threw parties that spared no expense.

France-Loire-Valley-Chateau-de-Chenonceau-Bridge

My favorite French castle in the Loire River Valley, Chateau de Chenonceau

Hundreds of these chateaux still dot the Loire Valley, many of which are open to the public. With only three days in Tours, I opted for back-to-back morning and afternoon van tours that would allow me to see four of the most famous. We began at the smallest, Chateau de Clos Luce. Though not stunning in the manner of a grandiose, multi-turreted chateaux, this castle is notable as the place where Leonardo da Vinci, who had been induced to leave Italy by King Francis I, spent the last three years of his life. It was the perfect setting for da Vinci, who wanted to be away from people, in a peaceful atmosphere that allowed him to pursue his scientific work. Today, the low buildings surrounding the gardens contain reproductions of da Vinci’s inventions and his Mona Lisa, one of three painting he carried upon leaving Italy for France, hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Read More