Archive for the ‘France’ Category

4 in 1

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Our first weekend in the Belgium started off with a slight dilemma: what can we visit in Belgium (or in the region), having a car at our disposal? Most of the landmarks in the region are easily accessible by train, so we needed something special, a trip which could use the most out of the existence of a car.
4 in 1
We decided to visit more than one place in one day. Our target area was the western part of Belgium in the metropolitan area of the French city: Lille. Actually we have had several target cities/towns, but in the end we only had time to visit 3 towns and Lille.

Our first town to visit was Mons. This little town is situated to the south-east of Lille. It is famous for its beautiful architecture and of course its cathedral, the Sainte Waudru collegiate church and the neighboring belfry, which is considered a World Heritage site. The town hall of Mons also has a small monkey statue on its side, it is said, that touching it brings you luck 🙂 . I have uploaded photos of Mons on my Picasa account.

The next town to visit, was Tournai a town also famous for its belfry and its Notre Dame cathedral. The main square is also very nice, filled with cafes and restaurants. Photos of Tournai have been uploaded also to my Picasa account.

The next city to go to was actually Lille itself. Now Lille is the center of the whole metropolitan area. However, it is not too big to have decent parking places, but big enough to be crowded. It was quite hard actually to find a parking place…
We visited its Cathedral (also called Notre-Dame), then walked through its quite nice shopping streets towards the city center. The center is also very nice. When we were there, there were a lot of people there, with street performers presenting their skills and lots of candy-stands. Photos on my Picasa account.

We still had time to visit one more city. We chose to visit Kortrijk. This town is located on the eastern part of Lille, again in Belgium. We visited its main square with its very nice medieval city hall, strolled down the streets towards the Saint Martin tower. An interesting thing to note is the presence of loudspeakers everywhere in the city with music playing anywhere one went in the city center area. It was actually not disturbing and a quite nice thing to have. There are photos of this town also in another Picasa album.

All in all the trip was great for our first taste of Belgium (and a bit of France). I think by train we couldn’t have done the same trips…

6 in 1

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

After long planning and thinking a decision was made by our company to move a part of our team to a little town in Belgium, called Ninove. I do not know if unfortunately or not, but I was in that part of the team also. This means no more Italy for a while (well I will spend my holidays there, so I will be there later for a week or so)…

The change of jobs meant also the necessity to move into Belgium. For this purpose some of us chose to go by car. We rented a quite good car (VW Golf Variant Mk5) to make the trip. Our route meant a single-day drive from Genova to Ninove (about 1100kms).
^ in 1
The major part of our route was on a highway, through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Luxembourg and finally Belgium. It was a long day so we planned to start off at 8:00AM latest… and so we did: at 9:00AM… 😛

The first part of the road was pretty easy: a winding road of highway in the proximity of Genova, a straight one towards Milano and then, on to Switzerland. No big deal, the traffic was ok, the highway was ok, it was an easy ride.

We entered Switzerland on the E35 European road. Basically hitting Switzerland through one of its longest width. To use the highways in Switzerland one must pay the €32.00 yearly tax (even if you use it just for a day). We were kindly asked aside from the traffic (as most cars entering Switzerland without the sticker) to pay and get the sticker. Actually these €32.00 are quite a bargain, if you think that you can use it a whole year… we payed around €17.00 in Italy just for using the highway once, anyway…
The road in Switzerland takes through the tunnel under the St. Gotthard mountain, which should theoretically shorten the trip… theoretically.. practically in the summer, the tunnel is overcrowded and filled with traffic jams, so we took the scenic route over the mountain. What a scene it was… it was absolutely breathtaking… I could only advise anyone who goes over there to take that route instead of the tunnel. It is more windy with curves, but really acceptable.
The rest of Switzerland was done on straight highways, keeping exactly at the legal speed limit, on a completely empty road sometimes: the law in Switzerland is taken very seriously and only very few dare to risk speeding. The fines there can be huge for speeding, so everyone takes it easy…

Next target: Germany. We took this option instead of the French highway from Basel all the way to Strasbourg. One reason: it is NO LIMIT. Or so we thought… actually the road was limited and in some portions under construction… so no fun there. It was shorter though, than the French version…

We entered France near Strasbourg city limits:it was awful. Avoid that if possible. After that: the direction towards Metz and then to Luxembourg. A bit cooler here: the French speed limit is at 130km/h so we were just eating up the road. It was no too crowded, so I quite liked that portion.

Our short road portion in Luxembourg was interesting also: people started driving real crazy now. The speed limit was also 130km/h, but I think for most drivers this was actually the minimum speed. The roads were great, there was no traffic, sooo… why not? 🙂

At last we arrived in Belgium… our GPS was constantly trying to take us through the ring around Bruxelles to get to Ninove, but we wanted to avoid that: the ring around Bruxelles is like hell: overcrowded, slow and maybe dangerous. We took the road towards Halle and approached Ninove from the south. Actually it was quite ok like that. Even so, we had most of the route on a highway, which was sometimes completely empty: three lanes and just one or three cars in the distance: COOL 😀 . At last we arrived to Ninove at 22:30… and went in our pre-booked B&B studio for a sleep.

Les Deux Alpes

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Les Deux Alpes
We went for a 7 day skiing holiday to Les Deux Alpes, France the other week. It is a very nice location, I would recommend it to anybody who is learning to ski or is already a professional. The place itself is very nice, clean and for skiers it provides all sorts of pistes from green learning pistes to steep, black, professional ones.

For me, this was the first time I went skiing, so I had to learn the sport first. The pistes at Les 2 Alpes were really good, so I was quickly able to learn how to do it, and in a few days I was able to go up for a bit of glacier skiing at 3200 meters. I really liked the fact that even for a beginner like me it was no problem getting down from the glacier on skis (a really long slide by the way). The blue/green pistes provided enough challenge for me to slide down with only little trouble. For those ones for whom skiing is easy: don’t worry there are plenty of red/black slopes on the way down also (Even I tried a red one… I was terrified… :P). There is also a snow-park (for those who like jumping around).
What I really liked was the fact that down at the beginner’s pistes, there is always a possibility to slide from any piste to any other (in parallel), because of the existence of connecting pistes between them (although some connecting pistes are really steep blue ones).

Accommodation in Les 2 Alpes was pretty easy (we have booked earlier before) and it was not expensive at all. The 6 day holiday did not cost more than 230 euros including ski-pass. There were a few supermarkets, where tourists could buy anything for the day to day life, for a reasonable price (although I would recommend MarcheU instead of Spar, the later seemed a bit pricier). The apartments we stayed in were well equipped (bathroom, kitchen with fridge, micro, grille, toaster, dishwasher etc.) and heated (although i heard complaints from our neighbors, that their flat was not very warm). We also had a TV with all the 6 (:-P) french channels it could reach. Downstairs there was a locker where we could lock our skis.

Ski rental was really easy to find, almost any shop also has a ski rental section 🙂 . I only rented boots for 6 days (34 euros) because I had skis already. My friend rented some professional carving skis with boots, that did cost a “bit” more (54 euros for two days), this actually was due to the short period and the quality of the equipment.

Photos can be seen here:picasaweb

All in all I liked it very much and I would return there for the next year…

Traveling in France

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I have had the chance of a brief contact with the French transportation system from Turin to Chambery and back, onboard a TGV going to Paris. The train itself is pretty cool, although it was a rather old TGV (but still a TGV). It did not go with its famous high speed, because it was traveling on normal tracks linking Italy to France. The carousels are simple layout 2+2 seats (just like on a bus), with seats facing each-other at the beginning, middle and end of the carousel. What was really annoying was the lack of power-plugs at each seat. I was told it only had them at the bathroom…

Railway stations in France are really clean (well, they look clean). Even near the Chambery station the restaurants were clean, people were civilized (as opposed to Italy, where this is not the case). The trains I saw were all punctual, our train even arrived at the very second it was supposed to. In all aspects, the system is very similar to the Italian system: it has the same yellow/white boards for departures/arrivals, the same ticket validating system, even the tickets are very similar. All of the similarities, however, seem to be… well… better. It is almost as if Italy copied the system from France, but never really got the hang of it…