Category: France

The Romance of Brittany, France’s Celtic Nation

The Romance of Brittany, France’s Celtic Nation

Very few people would think of France as being Celtic. However, the region of Brittany in northwest France is one of the original six Celtic nations. It’s also one of the most beautiful regions in the country, and it’s often overlooked by international tourists. Just four hours away from Paris by train or six by car, Brittany captures all the romance of Paris and more. Here are some of the most romantic destinations within the Brittany region.

St. Malo

St Malo - Romance of Brittany France Walled City

Image via Flickr by www.rubenholthuijsen.nl

The distinguishing feature of St. Malo, on the northern coast of Brittany, is the wall that surrounds the area. Construction of the original wall began around the 12th century, and with the help of many improvements over the years, it still stands strong today. Visitors can walk the entire length of the ramparts while holding hands and gazing out at the sea. Alternatively, you can explore the historic streets, admire the architecture, do some shopping, and stop for a drink at a café.

Pink Granite Coast – Morlaix

Pink Granite Coast Morlaix - Romance of Brittany France

Image via Flickr by Rizla+

Adventurous couples will enjoy exploring the Pink Granite Coast of Morlaix Bay. The area is renowned for its unusually shaped pink rock formations. You’ll find them on the coastal path between Perros-Guirec and the port of Ploumanac’h. Wind and waves have worn down the rocks, resulting in strange shapes that will remind you of animals or everyday objects.

Mont St. Michel

Mont St Michel - Romance of Brittany France and Normandy

Image via Flickr by rognonton

Technically, Mont St. Michel is in Normandy, but it’s quite close to the Breton coast. Since it’s such a spectacular site, I would be remiss not to include it.

Mont St. Michel is a tidal island, which means that when the tide is low, you can walk right out to it. At high tide, water surrounds the area. The island’s development started in the 11th century, when it was the site of an abbey. It was fortified for defense in the centuries that followed. Today, it’s home to posh hotels and charming restaurants. I’d recommend booking a room at the romantic Auberge Saint-Pierre, which features magnificent views of the sea, half-timbered walls, a stone-paved terrace, and a four-star restaurant. You’ll feel like royalty!

Beauport Abbey

Beauport Abbey - Romance of Brittany France

Image via Flickr by niessbernard

Beauport Abbey, constructed in the 13th century, overlooks Paimpol Bay. After the turmoil of the French Revolution, the site became a stable, town hall, residential accommodation, school, and cider press. Maybe I read too many gothic romance novels during my formative years, but there’s something so romantic about larger-than-life buildings that still stand as ruins. The beautiful flowers and gardens at Beauport make it even more romantic.

Brittany has a lot to offer in the way of romantic destinations, with cobblestone streets in historic towns, the cozy isolation of small islands, stunning vistas, and so much more. Enjoy the romance of Paris, but be sure to set aside a few days for a side trip to Brittany and keep the romantic vibe going strong. You’ll be glad you did!

The Romance of Brittany, France's Celtic Nation
How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

On our recent trip to the UK, we had a bit of a rail travel nightmare. We were leaving Northern England (Newcastle) to head back to London. The trip was to last about three hours, roughly 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

All went smoothly until we arrived at York, when the operator announced that the train line was closed due to a herd of cattle on the tracks near Peterborough. We were advised to disembark and catch a different train to Manchester, from whence we could take yet another train to London. Since the train to Manchester was essentially carrying two trains’ worth of passengers, many of us rode standing up, packed in the cars like sardines. It was not fun.

Further problems (and delays) ensued when the driver of the Manchester-to-London train fell ill. Long story short, we arrived in London around 5:00, a full four hours later than we planned.

During the Manchester-to-London ride, the operator made an announcement that because there was a significant (i.e., more than 30 minutes) delay, we would be eligible to receive a refund for our rail travel. I honestly didn’t think much about it because, ugh!, paperwork is not something I care to bother with when I’m on vacation. But once we got home, I looked into it.

Delay Repay in the UK

Sure enough, Virgin Trains (the company we booked with) has a “Delay Repay” policy. If your train runs 30-59 minutes late, you could receive a 50% refund. If your delay is 60 minutes or more, you can receive a full refund for your rail travel. And depending on how you booked, you might even get it automatically!

I was skeptical, though, because the train I ended up arriving in London on was a different carrier than the one I had originally booked. In fact, each of the three trains we took to get to London was with a different carrier. I wasn’t sure who to apply for the refund with, so I applied with Virgin Trains East Coast (our originating train in Newcastle) and Virgin Trains (the one that actually got us to London… finally).

Within a week Virgin Trains contacted me to say that they were denying my refund request because of inadequate documentation. Well, that’s it, I figured, no refund for me. Imagine my surprise when nearly two months later I found this in my mail from Virgin Trains East Coast:

img_2639

A refund check for the full amount we paid for that journey! Now, granted, it is going to take a small eternity for it to clear the bank due to currency conversion, but it’s still close to $70 that I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t tried.

And it turns out Virgin is not alone.  Other rail travel operators have generous compensation policies for delayed passengers as well. I was lucky in that the train operator advised us we would be eligible for a delay, but if he had not, I would have had no clue. It pays to be aware of your rights as a passenger. Thus the purpose of this post. 🙂

In addition to Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast, other UK rail companies operating with a Delay Repay policy are

  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Trains
  • Greater Anglia
  • Great Northern
  • Southeastern
  • Southern
  • Thameslink, and
  • TransPennine Express

Elsewhere in Europe

Within the EU, there are refund policies in place for rail travel as well.  If your arrival at your destination is canceled or delayed by an hour or more, you are entitled to the following compensation:

  • full and immediate refund upon cancellation of the journey
  • return journey to your original departure point if the delay prevents you from completing the purpose of the trip
  • transportation to your destination, including alternative means of transportation if the rail line is closed
  • meals and refreshments proportionate to your waiting time
  • accommodations if you must stay overnight as a result of the delay

If you decide to continue your journey as planned or to accept alternative transport to your destination, you may receive compensation of:

  • 25% of the ticket fare, if the train is between 1 and 2 hours late.
  • 50% of the fare, if the train is more than 2 hours late.

And, finally, if your luggage is lost or damaged on a rail journey within the EU, you have a right to compensation, unless it was “inadequately packed, unfit for transport or had a special nature.”

  • Up to € 1300 per piece of registered luggage – if you can prove the value of its contents.
  • € 330 per piece if you can’t prove the value.

Remember, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing your rights as a rail travel passenger will prepare you for any scenario!

 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

This is a bit unusual, but when I was in my senior year of high school and studying Spanish IV, I got to go to Paris with the French Club. They needed extra people to go on the trip, and because I was a considered by my Spanish teacher to be “gifted” with foreign languages, I got to go, even though I spoke not one word of français.

That bears repeating.  I did not speak any French at all.

We took the bus from my small hometown in Maryland and traveled to JFK Airport in New York. From there we flew to Paris. I think it was some time in the morning when we arrived at Orly. I could be wrong. All I remember is that before you could even say “jet lag,” the French teacher whisked us off to Notre Dame Cathedral. For a mass. Which may have actually been held in Latin. Or maybe it was French. No matter – I wouldn’t have understood a word either way.

Combining jet lag with a church service in a foreign language is a surefire way to send me off to La La Land. My head fell forward and I started snoring. My friends’ elbows found my ribs, and I tried to focus on the priest, only to fall asleep again within just a few minutes.

rsz_1rsz_notredame

Finally, it was over, and we made our way outside the church to the plaza. I needed to find a bathroom and was trying to ask my friend how to inquire about the facilities, but the French teacher was demanding everyone’s attention. She asked us a question (I use the term “us” loosely because I had no way of knowing what she said). My fellow students nodded their heads and said “Oui!” with enthusiasm. I figured she had asked if anyone needed a bathroom, so I said “Oui!” too.

Off we marched, back inside the cathedral, up a stone staircase that twisted and turned. Up, up, up. Imagine my surprise when we emerged at the top of the cathedral — where the gargoyles are!

So, dutiful to my parents’ instructions that I get pictures of myself in front of Paris landmarks, I got this picture taken up there.

paris

I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m sneering a little because (a) I still needed to go pee, (b) I’m afraid of heights, and (c) the gargoyles were really quite creepy.  In retrospect, however, this was really a cool experience and I’m glad I did it.

I was so happy to return to the plaza, and for the rest of my time in Paris, I made sure I knew what I was being asked before I said, “oui.”

Notre Dame Cathedral is located at 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France. The cathedral is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm.  Free tours are presented in a variety of languages at designated times; check the web site for full information.  Touring the towers of the cathedral is available for a fee.