Toulouse is such a pretty city. I went with some friends on Saturday, and we had such fun.It was the Journées de Patrimoine (Heritage Days), but my friends weren’t too interested in history, alas. That didn’t stop me from snapping photos right and left. On l’Allée Jules Guesde, a vegan festival was in full swing, and we were disappointed that we had already eaten. Besides history and food, there was music, with brass bands playing at various squares. I loved the all-woman group, playing a cover by Madonna.In the main square, Place du Capitole, a Basque festival was going on, with a band, dancers in traditional dress, giants that we later saw parading around, and lots of stands where you could taste and buy the regional specialties.We were strolling down the main pedestrian shopping street, rue Saint-Rome, when the Gilets Jaunes approached from the direction of the Capitole. To avoid them, we turned down a side street and discovered some cute shops we usually would have missed by sticking to the main shopping streets. Then we headed toward rue Alsace-Lorraine, but the Gilets Jaunes had turned and were coming down that street. So we zipped a couple of streets down to cross ahead of them and managed to get to Place Saint-Georges, for gelato and tranquility.
It was lovely. The ice cream was amazing, and we were entertained by a group of swing dancers. I was itching to join them. We meandered on, popping into the Lush store. A very young salesclerk unlocked the door for customers and then locked it again. We could hear the Gilets Jaunes drums and chants, but figured they were on the bigger street. No–they poured past, chanting but not breaking anything. More or less respectful. Non-protesters managed to swim upstream on the sidewalks on either side. We just watched from inside the store. Finally they were gone and we left. Looking back down the street, it was a fog of tear gas at Place Saint-Georges. No more swing dancing, or gelato. Soon they were retreating down the same street, pushed out of the square. Parents hustled their kids along to stay out of the GJs’ way. I heard a very small child, maybe four or five years old, on a trottinette, remarking to his mother that there was tear gas. I can tell you I was pretty old before I had any idea about tear gas. All the same, it shows that people have stopped paying attention and just continue to carry on, despite the protests.On a separate note, we recently got to meet Janelle of the Distant Francophile blog, and her husband, Scott. They manage to be utterly chic and adorable at the same time. And a real love story. Janelle mixes travel tips, wardrobe advice and recipes, all with fantastic photos. I was tickled that they chose to stay in one of our AirBnBs and that we got to know them better. If you’re a francophile, then definitely check out Janelle’s blog and Instagram.
How do you feel about speaking a foreign language, even if it’s just a few words? Do you dive in and learn a few phrases? Or do you cross your fingers and hope that somebody will speak English? There are just too many languages that don’t resemble each other at all; it’s impossible to learn everything or even several, but a few phrases can engender a lot of goodwill.
Sometimes you have to get creative. When I first went to China, the country had two currencies, one for locals and one for foreigners. Well, actually, foreigners got “foreign exchange certificates,” which looked like money even if officially they weren’t. They had engravings of famous sights. So when I wanted to know whether I was going the right direction to the Temple of Heaven, I stopped someone on the street and showed them a note with the Temple of Heaven on it, pointing at the picture and then at the street, with eyebrows rising as a question. The guy was fascinated by the strange bank note, which he had never seen before. He was with a friend was so nervous he was practically wrenching the friend’s hand off his arm. Then he carefully and laboriously said: “Do. You. Speak. English?” Bingo! I had run into the one guy who could communicate with me, because in the 1980s, your average Chinese on the street didn’t speak other languages. I was jumping for joy–yes! I speak English! And he twisted and pulled his friend’s hand, took a deep breath and blurted out: “GO FORWARD!”
The facts have been lost in the fog of passing years, but I think my francophilia dates to reading Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, about the audacious redhead and her adventures in Paris. I was simultaneously sad for her–boarding school! with nuns! and apendicitis!–and insanely jealous–PARIS!!!
I made do with posters of Paris on my walls until I finally got to go to the City of Light in person. I had four years of high school French, which I thought made me pretty darn good. Memories of my first trip to Paris also another thing mostly obscured by the fog of passing years, but I am sure of one thing, which is that I didn’t speak (or hear) as well as I thought.Years later, I took adult French classes at the New School in New York. One teacher was actually French and had us do the weirdest exercises–she would dictate a paragraph from a book, and we’d have to write it down, punctuation and all. You could end up with a negative score, once she marked off for spelling and accents, not to mention having misheard a completely wrong word (and she was insistent on grading us, even though it was a non-credit adult course). Only much later, when my own kid was in school in France, did I learn that this was a regular thing in French education: la dictée.She also tried mightily to improve our pronunciation. We used a book, Exercises in French Phonics, but I was still so focused on the difficult vowel combinations (euil!!! that one took forever to learn) and when final consonants or entire endings were silent (-ent on the end of third-person plural verbs in present tense: how do you not say THREE LETTERS???) and the whole nasal vowel thing that I didn’t pay much attention to the sounds I didn’t even register as different.Oliver Gee at the Earful Tower had a great podcast about fear of speaking French, and he confesses that he had only recently realized that tu and vous didn’t rhyme (tu is the singular form of you while vous is the plural form as well as the singular in formal situations). That was certainly my case back then. I went on a hiking trip in Morocco with Nouvelles Frontières, in which I was the only non-French person. One of the other hikers said, “so for you it’s an adventure trip AND a language course.” In the evenings, we would play games, often cards. One day I suggested charades. They had no idea about charades, which surprised me, because I thought it was a French word. Anyway, I taught them how to play. When I did “sounds like,” they failed again and again to get my clue. Finally I explained the clue, and they hooted with laughter because it was that u/ou mistake–to them the clue didn’t sound like the desired word at all–the equivalent of thinking pool and pole sound alike. I could not get my mouth to produce u like the French, and I did not hear the difference.But that was the least of my humiliations. There was the time when I told a taxi driver to take me to the North Station for the train. His head whipped around so fast it was like in cartoons. And then I realized I had pronounced it guerre du Nord instead of Gare du Nord–I had asked to be taken to the Northern War. The driver very kindly didn’t rub my nose in the mistake.In fact, the French have a very charming way of correcting your mistakes. They won’t outright correct you–instead they will say what you should have said. If I stupidly say I want un livre de cerises–to ask for a pound of cherries (and people do say livre/pound for 500 grams), the vendor will sweetly say, “D’accord! Une livre de cerises.” Un livre–masculine–is a book. Une livre–feminine–is a pound. Or at the bakery, a request for a pain au chocolat will be met with “voilà, une chocolatine,” the name chocolate-filled croissants are called in the southern half of France.My other New School teachers were Americans and much more pragmatic. One gave us lists of phrases to memorize. When one of the students moans, she barked, “Only when these phrases roll off your tongue naturally can you even start to advance to conversations. I will not have dilletantes in my class!” (This was said to a class of mostly retirees who just wanted to brush up their French before going on vacation.)The other teacher offered hacks. The most common verb infinitive ends with -er; when speaking to an individual formally or to a group you use vous, and the conjugation of -er verbs with vous ends with -ez, which sounds just like -er: both sound like A. She encouraged us to be formal and address everybody as vous, and we wouldn’t have to sweat the verb conjugation. It was a good hack until I made friends and had to learn the conjugations with tu.My French is much, much better these days, although I still make mistakes, especially with the gender of nouns. And I cannot get rid of my accent. I think of my grandmother, who left Europe to move to the U.S. when she was about seven and whose accent was still perceptible nine decades years later. And then there are people like Jodie Foster–when watching one of her movies on TV I was struck that her dubbed voice sounded uncannily like her real voice–rare with dubbing. So I sat through the credits and saw that, yes, she dubbed herself. With a perfect accent.People judge when you have an accent. Some people think it’s amazing that you speak another language, and you get credit for being smart, often more credit than you deserve. An accent can sound exotic or seductive.Other people think you must be stupid. I got that, too. It’s one thing to communicate basic facts; it’s a long slog before you are able to crack a joke or express nuance in another language. I remember being at a meeting of the parent-teacher association and one of the other parents making a derisive remark about me as if I wouldn’t understand what he had said. It made me think of other people who are émigrés/immigrants, trying to fit into their new lives, being judged on criterion that don’t accurately measure who they are. I have the benefit of looking like any other French woman walking down the street; it’s only when I open my mouth that people know I’m not from here. For others, that judgment happens before any interaction even begins, because their skin color or their dress sets them out as different. It must be exhausting. Living abroad gives me more compassion to those who are strangers in a strange land, just trying to live their lives. I think the negative reactions come from a fear of the unknown, of being left out. I always spoke to my kid in English, and my husband always spoke in French, with the result that our kid is bilingual without trying. My husband told me I should speak only in French to our kid in public places, but I thought it was silly to switch languages just so other people would be able to eavesdrop more easily, and to hear what? “Put on your coat”/”Quit dawdling”/”What’s for dinner?” Nobody should be deprived of such scintillating stuff. At the same time, other parents would ask me to teach their kids English; I doubt many Arabic-speaking parents were solicited for language lessons.I learn new things in French every day. It’s a great adventure. Each discovery is a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fits with other pieces, sometimes in surprising ways, and gives me a better picture of the people, the culture, the history. There is no shame in mistakes; the only people who don’t make mistakes are those who never try anything.
On Tuesday, I said goodbye to our latest visitors, a friend of many years and his sister. It was a really good visit, and they claimed they enjoyed it even more than the week they spent in Paris before coming down here. The pace is calmer, the lines are shorter to non-existent, the weather is sunnier, the food is better and there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
As usual, I made a spreadsheet. I gave it to my friends so they would know what was in store each day. It wasn’t about keeping a strict schedule; instead it was to know whether to dress for walking or visiting. For me, it was to group destinations geographically.However, this was overly ambitious. It’s a little bit like a buffet serving only foods you like. You want to taste everything, but it isn’t possible–there’s just too much. Everything looks so conveniently close on a map, but in reality, especially on small roads in the mountains, it takes a long time to get from A to B. Happily, the driving is accompanied by jaw-dropping views, no matter where you go. So you have to pick the best options, which are sometimes just the most realistically accomplished, and really relish them. Here is what we actually accomplished:We started the days a little later than I had expected (totally fine! it’s vacation! but in case they were ready to charge off early, I had a plan), we spent more time than I had expected at each place, and some things ended up just too far to drive. Even though my friends stayed at our apartment l’Ancienne Tannerie in Carcassonne, just a short walk from la Cité, we didn’t go Carcassonne’s main attraction until Saturday afternoon, when other family obligations limited how far we could venture. It was good to have a sight to see that was so close by. We returned to la Cité on Sunday morning to see the museum and to walk around again when there were fewer people. We also didn’t go on Thursday because it was a holiday and was certainly crowded.
We alternated restaurants and home cooking to avoid feeling overfed, but two of the meals at home were copious anyway because we had another visitor–a longtime friend of the Carnivore’s from Belgium. Luckily he spoke good English and my friends were able to get another European perspective in the dinner conversation. We cooked our greatest hits, almost all of the recipes having appeared here on the blog. The cooking portion will get its own post.
If you’re staying in a home or apartment and want to eat in but you don’t have all your recipes or usual utensils, you can pick up prepared dishes at supermarket delis or at butcher shops. We got a cassoulet from the butcher with each round of visitors–just put it in the oven. Couldn’t be easier. And believe me, the local butchers make very good cassoulet. Another thing we picked up was aligot, a cheesy potato dish.
Our friends arrived at lunch time, so the first thing we did was go to eat. I had expected to have a simple sandwich at a café on the square, but they had left their hotel in Paris very early to get to the airport and hadn’t had breakfast. So we went to a little restaurant on Place Carnot, l’Artichaut (The Artichoke). One had duck, the other a macaroni dish with blue cheese and beef, and the Carnivore and I both had steak tartare.
Somehow we managed to work up an appetite by evening to go to our favorite restaurant. Le Clos des Framboisiers was recommended to us shortly after we moved here and it has stayed our favorite spot ever since. The food is always interesting, never ordinary, and both the Carnivore and I (with opposite ideas about food) find offerings we like. The service is impeccable and the setting is gorgeous–it’s in an old stone farmhouse that once was on the edge of town, or even outside it. A housing development has since grown around it–you wind around the maze of streets to a cul de sac, where almost all the customers’ parked cars sport 11 license plates–each département in France has a number, and Aude, where Carcassonne is located, is 11. Even though it’s in walking distance of la Cité, it’s hard to find and has no website, so it remains a locals’ favorite, and you had better reserve. Once you pass behind the tall walls, you’re in another world. There are several rooms, each intimate yet different: One has stone walls, another overlooks the pool, another is all wood, with lots of African and other ethnic art. The diversity of the décor–which changes frequently–make each visit feel fresh. The menu changes frequently, too. We were there in March, and two months later it was different. Here is the latest:Plus there were a starter and a main dish that weren’t on the menu. The only thing missing is a vegetarian option, though I see they make alterations; will ask next time. The menu is prix fixe–apéritif, starter, main dish, cheese and dessert for €32 per person. I think the only reason le Clos des Framboisiers doesn’t have Michelin stars is that the décor is too relaxed. On our early visits, everything clearly came from brocantes, and no two chairs matched. Same with the cutlery. I loved it. Personality! Certainly the food warrants Michelin notice.
My friends thought the restaurant and food were a surprising mix of fancy and casual. The food was delicious, as always, nothing industrial or prepackaged about it. It isn’t a chain, but a restaurant run by the chef and his wife, using locally purchased ingredients. The restaurant felt relaxed, but everybody there was wearing what might be called casual smart. It didn’t seem like a fancy place, but it was so much nicer than, say, Carraba’s or Olive Garden, yet the same price or cheaper for similar menu items, and far less than a chain like Ruth’s Chris. The portions aren’t gigantic–doggy bags are unheard-of here–but even the Carnivore is stuffed to the gills by the end of the evening.
Not to forget there’s a cheese interlude. Because: France.
For some reason, I don’t have photos of all the desserts. There was a lemon sorbet with vodka and pear sorbet with pear liqueur.
I think we were at the table for more than three hours. It never felt long, and any time between courses was a welcome pause to prepare for the rest. Also, the conversation was fantastic. My friend and I had a lot to catch up on, picking up the thread of each other’s lives as if it hadn’t been three years since we last saw each other. I guess when you’ve known each other for more than three decades, such a gap is nothing. And his sister turned out, unsurprisingly, to be my soul sister. It was a total delight to get to know her, yet frustrating, because she wasn’t staying.
Don’t you love making those connections? Where you discover someone who has come to more or less the same point in the world, albeit by another route? The sister and I couldn’t be more different on one hand–she said her goal in life was to be a stay-at-home mom. I put off having children until it was almost too late, rebelling against the pressure to have kids and to accept second-class status in my career because the sacrifices to succeed would be incompatible with family life–for women, not for men, who had no problem having kids and working. Early on in my work life, my supervisor (we’ll call him Kent, his real name) told me that “the problem with America is women like you: white, married, educated and you refuse to have children.” Of course, the real problem is supervisors like Kent, who count the number of hours spent at work rather than the quality of the work done.
The sister was not someone who sought refuge in child-rearing because everything else was too hard. I’ve met more than a few of that type, too–let the men go to work and handle the money, and the women can cook and clean and take care of the children and not worry about anything. Paternalism. If that’s what some want, fine, but don’t impose it on others. Anyway, my friend’s sister was simply passionate about children, and they are endlessly interesting, if energy-sapping. She also loves cooking, in an intellectual way, understanding how the chemistry works. She knows how to make things with her hands: not just food but also textiles. I was impressed. But where we communed was our mutual curiosity about the world. Either you see the world as a troubled, scary place to turn your back on, to shut out, wall off, keep out of your ordered, predictable existence. Or you see the world as a fascinating place, full of adventures and surprises. There are few things as satisfying as presenting such a curious person with a new experience–a painted medieval ceiling, a hidden picnic spot, a gorgeous view, a new food, new drink–and watching them discover it with the enthusiasm of a child unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.
Thanks to my friend and his sister for giving me that joy over the past (too few) days.
Our AirBnB, l’Ancienne Tannerie, is featured on Hello Lovely, where Michele provides a steady stream of inspiration, mostly for interiors but also gifts and fashion. Despite many challenges in life, she maintains an optimistic, gentle attitude that is a treasure to find online.
Speaking of l’Ancienne Tannerie, I have been trying out different furniture arrangements. The kitchen and bedrooms are set–the kitchen table can only go in the middle of the huge room; the bed is where you can walk around it.
But the living room….it’s huge, but smaller than in our other apartment, la Suite Barbès, across the landing. The living room in l’Ancienne Tannerie has a gorgeous fireplace and an enormous chandelier. It overlooks the interior courtyard. It has a huge window so it’s always bright, yet it stays cool in summer because it faces north (the two-foot-thick stone walls also help insulate).
The sofa is a Louis XVI reproduction that folds out into a double bed. The coffee table is hand-carved and was brought back in my luggage from Lamu, Kenya. All the upholstery is like new, plus the colors are uncanny–the green stripe on the sofa matches the green in the carpet; the peach of the chairs is exactly the same as the tomette tile floor though it show in photos because the velvet catches the light differently than the tiles do, and the same peach also is picked up in the carpet. And I really like that it’s all unique–nothing you will find anywhere else. Certainly not Ikea. When you are here, you know you are in France.
There’s nothing like crowdsourcing opinions! So tell me in the comments which arrangement you prefer. Suggestions welcome!
Arrangement #1: Sofa facing the fireplace. This is best for watching TV from the sofa. But who goes to the south of France to watch TV? It also gives a view of the courtyard from everywhere you sit.
Arrangement #2: Sofa facing window. The advantage of this one is that from the sofa one can see both the courtyard and the TV. It also creates a kind of corridor from the entrance to the kitchen, which seems good in principle, but which I didn’t really like in reality.
Arrangement #3: Armchairs facing the window. This is where I have left things. It feels open and welcoming when you walk in. The disadvantage is that you don’t see the TV or out the window from the sofa. It also puts the sofa next to the matching armchair, which is in the corner because I wanted to separate them. What do you think?
Let’s not forget the “before” photos:For Easter, we were invited to the neighbors’ for an asparagus omelette. And this tiramisu for dessert:Was your Easter good? Easter Monday is a holiday here, and we spent it Marie Kondo-ing my closet. This suit got a thank-you and adieu because it doesn’t fit anymore. But look at the details! It was from a boutique in the Marais in Paris. La Bonne Renommée. Sadly, it has closed. I also had a kind of vest/bustier from the same shop, made completely of strips of fabric and ribbon. Gorgeous. May it find a happy new owner.
When you shop at little boutiques, you don’t see yourself coming and going.
Happily, no helicopters were needed for our renovations. But such are the challenges of maintaining ancient buildings that lie within walled cities whose streets were laid out a millennium before cars.
A few weeks ago, I was walking around la Cité and heard an incredible racket. With the narrow streets, the sound bounced around such that I wasn’t sure at first what it was or where it was coming from. Then I realized it was a helicopter and got a little worried about why it was so close to la Cité. Carcassonne is home to the Third Regiment of Parachutists of the Marine Infantry (RPIMa), so planes and helicopters are not unknown in skies around here. And when wildfires break out, we get some very low-flying planes that drop water.
Outside la Cité’s walls I understood–the helicopter was making a special delivery of long beams for a renovation project. Such beams would have been too long to thread through the winding paths, not at all straight, of la Cité. Having gulped at the cost of delivery of renovation materials by truck (during certain times on certain days!), I imagined many zeroes popping up behind some number, like in a cartoon. Nothing is easy or cheap with old buildings.
It made me reflect again on what we went through, putting in new wiring and plumbing in apartments built for neither.
You can see the saga of our renovations under the heading Our Vacation Apartments. We hope you get to visit in person, too!
How do you choose where to stay when you travel? I have some criteria to help you decide:
—Food: do you have limited interest in restaurants and prefer to eat some meals in? Or do you like room service, or the convenience of going downstairs to an excellent hotel restaurant?
Answer: please eat out in France! You can cook at home! But yes, eating out for every meal makes the pocketbook get thin and the waistline get wide.
Do you always miss the hotel breakfast hours? Then AirBnB. You have what you want for breakfast, when you want it.
Otherwise, it can be convenient to have breakfast in the hotel and then head out for the day. Breakfast at a café may cost more than the hotel—it depends on how fancy the hotel is—but going out and picking up croissants to have at your AirBnB with coffee you made yourself will definitely cost less. Plus, some hotel breakfasts consist of one croissant and half a baguette with butter and jam; maybe you want TWO croissants and no baguette! Or pain au chocolate (but call it a chocolatine down here). Or maybe you want eggs.
—Independence: do you know where you’re going? Are you OK making reservations? Can you figure things out? Can you call a cab or Uber?
If so, then you’re fine with AirBnB. As AirBnB hosts, we’re always happy to make recommendations or even call for dinner reservations for guests who ask. But we, like many hosts, aren’t at a 24-hour desk on site. If you want help—getting taxis, asking directions, getting recommendations, then hotel. Of course, there are AirBnBs where you stay in a bedroom in somebody’s home and the host is there. But that is too much sharing for me.
—Length of stay: are you traveling for a month, in which case few people can stand to eat three meals a day in a restaurant? Also, you would need to do laundry, which can be pricey at a hotel.
If yes, then AirBnB. Otherwise, if you’re in a place for a short time, either AirBnB or a hotel is fine.—Size of the traveling group: Are you traveling with family, friends or solo?
Do you have kids with you? Then AirBnB. Before it was created, we traveled to New York with our kid, who was then in a stroller. We were on a budget and stayed in a hotel where the room was only slightly larger than the bed; hotels with suites were crazy expensive. Our kid slept between us. But at that age, they go to bed at about 7 or 8 p.m., so that meant I had to go to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. There was no option to sit up and read—the room was too small. I am not the kind of parent who would wait for my kid to fall asleep and then sneak out to the lobby for a nightcap. When AirBnB started, we tried it out on another trip to New York, staying in a brownstone in Park Slope. Our kid had a separate bedroom. We could sit and have a glass of wine and read over things to do for the next day. Perfect.Traveling solo is the opposite. When I lived in Brussels, a colleague in Paris had offered his apartment on weekends when he was at his country place. I took him up on the offer a couple of times a month. I loved it. However, a few times I trekked across Paris, long after the last metro and unable to find a taxi, and I thought, nobody will know if I don’t make it, not until Monday when I don’t show up at work.
A hotel with 24-hour desk staff means someone is checking on you. Also, if you’re traveling for a long period, it’s nice to have people to chat with—usually hotel staff are very friendly and full of suggestions.
Traveling with friends or a bigger family group can go either way. It can be nice to have separate rooms to get a little alone time, which can work with a hotel or a large AirBnB. It also can be nice to have a central gathering spot–a hotel with a good lobby or the living room or kitchen of a rental apartment.—Privacy and Walter Mitty factor: Do you put the “do not disturb” tag on the door because having to put your stuff away even a minimum irks you more than the great pleasure of somebody else making your bed? If so, AirBnB.
Do you want to pretend you’re a local, to feel like you’re coming home, to get comfortable? If so, AirBnB.
I understand that someone who has never traveled abroad might opt for a tour where everything is taken care of, and if that’s what they need to go see the world, then better a tour than not traveling.
To me, travel is about immersing myself in a new place, thinking about how the people live. I love museums and architecture and am happy to walk the streets, soaking in the atmosphere of a foreign place. But I also love figuring things out, talking to locals, and pretending to be one. I used to go to tango dances in whatever city I was visiting, and they were a great way to slip into the local scene, to discover hidden venues, sometimes in unlikely suburban locations.
Much of the fun comes from getting outside your comfort zone (believe me, I was nervous walking solo into some tango clubs—I remember a basement dancehall in Madrid, a former warehouse in Amsterdam, a garden with a live band in the Olympic Village neighborhood of Rome). There are other ways to get outside your comfort zone, all completely safe. Grocery shopping can be perplexing in a foreign place, but it’s far from dangerous. The worst that can happen is you buy something and don’t like the taste. The best that can happen is you start a conversation with the grocer or another shopper and, in a combination of who knows what languages plus mime, they help you discover some great local delicacy.If you want to explore the south of France, the “other south of France” that is still authentic and not all polished and plastic, then consider Carcassonne, and do check out our rental apartments. They are the same size, each about 900+ square feet/85 square meters. L’ancienne Tannerie, in addition to a generous bedroom, has a tiny bedroom with a twin bed plus a sofabed, so it sleeps up to five people (plus it has a sauna! and a huge kitchen). La Suite Barbès has a ridiculously huge bedroom (380 square feet/35 square meters). Both have chandeliers dripping with crystals and antique furnishings and marble fireplaces and elaborate moldings and 13-foot/four meter ceilings.Lastly, if you choose AirBnB, please book one that is paying its taxes. Undeclared rentals hurt cities by depriving them of tax revenue. They hurt the legitimate hosts who do pay taxes. They hurt the hotel industry, which employs lots of people. They may hurt you, because they haven’t been inspected. AirBnB is supposed to start reporting the total rental income for listings in France, but that won’t happen until next year.
So are you Team Hotel or Team AirBnB? Or do you switch, depending on your trip?
On Tuesday, you met Oliver Gee, of the Earful Tower podcast, who visited Carcassonne as part of the honeymoon tour of France with his bride, Lina Nordin Gee. The lovely Lina is interesting in her own right, as a shoe designer, company founder, and chic Parisienne.
I ran into Oliver and Lina at the Saturday market in Carcassonne, where I was waiting to meet up with a friend and her husband–the same couple whose love story I described here. My friends were delighted to meet Oliver and Lina, and C kept leaning over to me to whisper about Lina: “She’s so beautiful!” “Seriously, she is very beautiful!”
And it’s true. From the bits of time I got to talk with Lina, I learned that her heart is as beautiful as her face. And she’s a businesswoman! Her brand is Deuxième Studios, and the shoes show that you don’t need heels to be chic.
—How did you get into shoe design?
When I grew up, my mother started her own brand, designing and selling traditional clogs. I started helping out at weekends and after school. A few years later I graduated from Istituto Marangoni in London (and a year in Milan) with a BA in Fashion Design, I continued to work with my mother as well as taking on freelance work for other brands. I also started designing and making custom wedding dresses on request. In 2016, I decided to start my own brand, designing and selling my own line of shoes.—How did you end up in Paris?
I have moved around quite a bit since I turned 18. As soon as I finished high school, I moved to London to study fashion design, from there I moved on to Milan and Abu Dhabi, only to move back to Stockholm (where I grew up) a few years later. I spent about a year back in my home town, but it wasn’t long until I got restless, so I sent off an application to study a semester of french at the Sorbonne in Paris. In December I got the letter from the university welcoming me to Paris, and I moved a couple of weeks later.
—How did you start your company?
It took about a year of preparations and planning before I launched my brand. In 2016 – my first year in Paris, I started thinking about starting my own shoe brand. At the time me and my now-husband Oliver–then boyfriend–were living in a tiny chambre de bonne (basically shoebox sized) apartment in the second arrondissement (deuxième arrondissement in French), in the very bullseye of Paris. I guess it must’ve made an impression on me because I settled on ”Deuxième Studios” as the name for my brand. I was still working with my mother’s brand, and therefore had all the connections with suppliers (shoes, leather, shoeboxes, etc.) I needed to start. So I went ahead to register my new name, I flew to Portugal to develop and order my first shoe samples, I ordered shoe boxes and made a website.After about a whole year I was ready to show my first collection to the Swedish press. It went well, and I got in contact with some of the biggest fashion influencers in Sweden. They showed and shared my shoes in their channels, and before I even opened my webshop, I had customers waiting to order.
The first collection existed of basically one model (in an array of colours, hot pink to powdery beige) – a fluffy slipper. I have just finished the new samples for autumn/winter 2019, the number of models have increased over the four seasons I’ve been active, from the first fluffy slipper to a full collection of boots, ballerinas, pumps and sandals! —Tell us about your philosophy/ideals about the perfect shoe.
I started Deuxième with the idea of offering shoes that didn’t have to have a towering heel to look fun. Living in Paris and marching the cobbled streets every day, heels is not always the best option. I wanted to make shoes that can transform an outfit, something simple yet special. A shoe that can take you from day to night. Oh – and it had to be comfy! I basically wanted a shoevolution, haha. Sounds pretty ambitious, but I guess you need to dream big to dare to take the step of actually starting your own company. It helps if you’re a little crazy!—How are your shoes made?
My shoes are made in the north of Portugal, around Porto and Guimaraes, to be precise. They are produced in a small family run factory run by the owner named Paulo. I source some of the materials myself, and some are sourced via the factory’s connections, but it’s ultimately me who will ok a material before it’s used. It’s so interesting to see a a shoe being assembled by all these pieces and processes, from initial sketch to a pair of beautifully made shoes wrapped in silk paper, ready to be shipped to their new owner.
I am pretty vigilant when it comes to quality. It pays off to choose a more expensive leather/sole/lining in the long run. The shoes ages better and will by the same logic live longer. It’s extremely important to me to offer a sustainable option in the fashion world.
I am currently working on extending the Deuxième family further, I’m in the process of making a few models of bags! About six months ago I contacted a hardware manufacturer in Milan, and I recently got the finished samples of the custom bag clasps I designed. 2019 will be an exciting year for me, new shoe models, very new bags, and I might just be in talks with a well-known department store in Sweden.
This summer we had the pleasure of meeting Oliver Gee and his lovely bride, Lina Nordin Gee, when they passed through Carcassonne on their honeymoon trip around France on an adorable red scooter. They stayed in our AirBnB apartment, L’ancienne Tannerie.
Oliver is the founder of “The Earful Tower,” a podcast and blog as well as fun Instagram about France, especially Paris. The stories are excellent–in fact, when I discovered The Earful Tower, I immediately binged all the episodes and have been listening ever since. Often I go back and listen again, because there are so many great details. And plenty of puns. I can now confirm what I suspected when listening–that he has a mischievous twinkle in his eye, what the French call espiègle, quick to spot humor in a situation.
Oliver was gracious enough to submit to a little interview:
Who are you and what in the world are you doing?
I’m Oliver Gee, an Australian who has called Paris home for almost four years. Around a year ago, I quit my job as a journalist to focus on a podcast I’d been running called The Earful Tower. It’s been quite the gamble, but my goal was to make the project my full-time gig and I’m pretty much there.What are some of the biggest differences you observed between Paris and small-town/rural France?
The biggest difference I noticed was that people have more time for you outside of Paris. Paris is hectic, almost chaotic, as most big cities are. The baker doesn’t (usually) care to comment on the fact that you might be speaking French with an accent, they’ve probably heard that accent before anyway. In the countryside, there’s not a long line of people waiting for their food, drink, car to be serviced… whatever. What was really great about this for me was that it meant I had the chance to really converse with people in a day-to-day way, which is an excellent way to improve my French!
Do you find it easier to eat well outside Paris? I have been to some fantastic restaurants in Paris, but they were pricey, whereas in the middle of France profonde you can get some awesome meals and they’re cheap.
I have to say that the best meal I’ve had in France was in the middle of nowhere, in Puymirol at a two-star Michelin restaurant. It was my birthday so we splashed out while on the honeymoon trip. But the food options in Paris are so exponentially greater than in the countryside that – statistically at least – you’re more likely to find what you want in Paris than elsewhere in France. What about culture? Paris is chock-full of cultural sites and activities. Would culture-loving travellers find enough to satisfy them outside Paris?
There’s all kinds of cultural things to do around France that are very unique, and that you won’t find in the capital. We found old caves in Burgundy, very well-preserved Roman arenas in Provence, and unique museums like the tapestry from the 11th century in Bayeux, or the D-Day beach museums. Paris, of course, has a way bigger and better collection of monuments and museums – but there’s plenty for a traveller outside of the capital.
What are some things that travelers should consider doing on a trip beyond Paris? I think for a lot of people, France consists of Paris and Provence, and in Provence they go to the markets, see the lavender and visit cute villages, all of which are undeniably satisfying. But how about some other reasons to venture out? Maybe historical sites? Or jaw-dropping scenery?
France is extremely diverse. Once you’ve got Paris and Provence out of your system, explore the other sides of France that are very different from what you typically imagine when you picture France. The Alps, the vineyards, the Mediterranean coastline, Carcassonne, the picturesque island Ile de Ré, the dense forests of the national parks… The big thing I learned from this trip was just how wildly diverse France can be.
What is one famous and one obscure thing in Paris and in France profonde that travelers shouldn’t miss? Some things get derided as being touristy, but they draw tourists because they are truly amazing, so I’m thinking of the things that are worth braving the crowds. And then the hidden treasures that don’t have crowds until we ruin them by telling everybody.
In Paris, go and walk along the remnants of the Philippe Auguste wall, it’s a fascinating insight into France from 800 years ago and most people don’t know anything about it. For the more famous side of the city, you’d be mad not to take a stroll through the Marais district, down onto the islands on the Seine River, then along the river sides.
As for France, I found the tiny village of Vezelay to be really interesting, though I don’t think it’s a huge tourist destination unless you’re doing a pilgrimage. They’ve got a bone on display in the crypt of the cathedral that legend says was Mary Magdalene’s. As for a more-known option, check out Annecy in the Alps. Absolutely the most beautiful town in France, end of story.
Did you have any movie moments during your trip, where you saw or experienced France as it’s portrayed in films? I sometimes see little old men wearing berets and riding bikes, with a baguette strapped to the back—absolutely like the iconic photo, though I think several times it has been the same guy.
When I was struck down by Lyme disease and had to visit two separate doctors in two separate villages, I felt like it could have been a movie scene. They were so friendly, and just as keen to talk about our trip as to cure me. Otherwise, we met so many colourful characters that it felt like it could have been a movie in itself. Small-town mayors, dairy farmers, talkative bartenders, and scores of friendly villagers… I’d love to see the movie version of our own trip!
So, francophiles, do yourself a favor and head on over to the Earful Tower! An interview with the lovely Lina, who is a shoe designer, coming soon!
We’ve noticed a trend in our AirBnB apartments. Our guests often are celebrating honeymoons, wedding anniversaries and special birthdays.
The best part about being an AirBnB host is meeting people. I don’t want to jinx ourselves (touche du bois–touch wood, or knock on wood), but our guests have been a delight. In some cases, I’ve been sad they live so far away because I would like to see them again.
The Carnivore is Mr. AirBnB, and he is constantly tickled by the reaction when guests enter either apartment for the first time. I think our photos are great, but they always say the real thing is much better.
He also is tickled by how happy they are. On vacation, care-free, celebrating. Lots of good karma.
Some of the reviews. First l’Ancienne Tannerie (a link to the listing is here):
This was our second stay at Serge’s place, and had we not found our own year-round apartment, we would definitely stay here for a third time. In fact, it was his meticulous attention to detail that allowed my husband and I to see the possibilities or restoring a voluminous historic apartment and turning into a museum-quality gem. Each of Serge’s apartments is outstanding and we’ve stayed in both. Location is just near Place Carnot and a 10-15 minute walk to the Old City. The kitchen view over the courtyard is charming. Our first visit was in mid-December 2017; originally we rented the front apartment, La Suite Barbès, for a week and then we extended it, in total, by almost another 3 weeks. This visit at L’ancienne Tannerie was for 5 nights. As a host, Serge does everything right; he’s there to greet you and welcome you into one of the most tastefully and faithfully restored apartments in Carcassonne (over the last year I have stayed in 4 others). Everything is at your fingertips, with a bright, spacious and recently appointed kitchen with clothes washer, dishwasher, induction cooktop, sparkling bathroom with large 2-door shower, two bedrooms, TV, fast internet and don’t forget the sauna! Fresh towels for sauna and bath are provided. Everything throughout the apartment is immaculate and you will feel as if you’re his very first guest. And that’s a very rare feeling. Thank you again Serge! Hope to see you in town.And Igor, who was our first guest in l’Ancienne Tannerie:
Serge is a very helpful host and helped us with all we needed. The house is located in an excellent place, a few steps from Place Carnot but on a quiet street. There are some parking lots, markets and plenty of places to eat and shop around too. The apartment is very fancy. Serge kept the looks of a 17-18th century house, but everything is brand new. The bathroom is spacious and the shower is superb. You can walk about 25min to the Citadel, take the bus a few minutes from the house or do a 5min trip by car. Very good location. Our stay in Carcassonne couldn’t be better. Thanks, Serge!
Visitez Carcassonne en châtelain ! Notre appartement rénové avec goût et selon critères des Monuments historiques est lumineux, calme et extrêmement propre. Vous allez goûter aux très hauts plafonds, aux grandes fenêtres à l’ancienne, au salon cosy et à la grande cuisine ; profitez ! Deux chambres complètent le confort. Deux cheminées, des meubles de style, la décoration est à la hauteur de la rénovation. Tout l’équipement est à votre disposition et rien ne manque.
We would absolutely stay here again. No doubt about it. This apartment has everything going for it. 6-7 minute walk from the train station. It sure is nice to get to the destination so quickly after a travel day. The neighbourhood is fantastic Really, walk out the front door and you are right where you want to be. Little shops on every street. 1 minute walk to a more than lovely square lined with restaurants bistros and brasseries. Its a fabulous walk to the walled city. On and on. Really, we now have a crush on Carcassonne, we stayed three days and would have stayed much much longer had we known is was so easy and comfortable to be here. Totally safe place. The food here, was honestly the best we had during our whole month in France.
Serge’s apartment is amazing. It’s in a building dating from around 1640 and has been faithfully and tastefully restored. The rooms are huge, the amenities are excellent, with a very well equipped kitchen (including cook books!) and two bathrooms. It’s also within easy walking distance of the major tourist sites, cafes and restaurants. We took Serge’s advice and went to his favourite restaurant, where we had our best meal in France so far.
Fantastic location 2 minutes from place Carnot where local produce markets are held 3 x week. There are also a couple of bars and restaurants and the obligatory fountain in the middle. A great spot to sit and people watch. The appartment is an easy 15 minute stroll to the historic Cité. If you love the idea of pretending you are French aristocracy this place is for you, beautiful French mirrors, rugs and antique furniture. It’s not cheap but neither are the surroundings.
What an amazing place, fantastic location, wonderful host and close to restaurants, bars, shopping and a short stroll to the walled city. My wife and I were amazed at this apartment, and it was way better than we ever expected. The host Serge, he was amazing, spending time with us explaining the local area, restaurants and sites to see. This was by far one of the most unique, classy and beautifully furnished places we have stayed while travelling through Europe. If you are looking for somewhere very special to stay, then do yourself a favour and stay here, you will not be disappointed!
I have to admit I was a little cautious at first about staying at a new Airbnb without any reviews, but I am so glad I did and absolutely wanted to write the first one so others could enjoy it as much as we did! By chance, we were privileged to be Serge’s very first guests. Even the stunning photos online do not do the apartment justice; it is so beautifully furnished with such care by Serge and his wife, with every detail of antique furnishing and fittings approved by heritage architects. You will feel like you are sleeping in one of the royal bedrooms you see in palace museums! The apartment located within the Bastide, only a few hundred metres from Place Carnot, where there is a large outdoor food market on Saturdays. It is only a 15-20 minute walk from the Cité, which means it is nicely away from the tourist crowds but gives you the chance to grab the stunning view of the city on the hill as you cross over the Pont Vieux each morning or evening. Serge was so friendly, helpful and accommodating in the lead up to the stay and very flexible with check out on the final day. Serge’s English is perfect, so even all of the complicated French forms and accommodation contracts were a breeze. I would heartily recommend this apartment to anyone travelling to Carcassonne who likes a bit of luxury!
I love AirBnB–we’ve used it on trips, and it’s great when you want a kitchen or more than one bedroom, things that are rare in hotels. Especially on longer trips, eating out three meals a day is just too much.
We searched for just the right property for more than a year. When we started looking, there were about 100 AirBnB listings around Carcassonne. Once we found the most beautiful apartments in Carcassonne–decorative moldings as elaborate as ours are very rare, as are ceilings that soar as high–we completely renovated them, with new wiring and plumbing, and restored the original tomette floors. We furnished the apartments with locally sourced antiques. The renovation took another year.
By the time we listed our apartments, there were more than 300 listings. Unfortunately, when we went to pay our taxes (there are two–the taxe de séjour–a hotel tax–and income tax), the folks working in the tax department expressed surprise when we mentioned how the number of listings had exploded in such a short time. They had under 100 listings. The others were renting illegally. “The law of the jungle,” a minister called it.
This hurts the city by depriving it of revenue and it hurts the AirBnB hosts who do play by the rules (and hotels, which are important employers and taxpayers). As of July. 1, AirBnB will collect the taxe de séjour (but not the income tax) on rentals and pay it Jan. 1 directly to municipalities in France. The move may cause the number of illegal listings to drop, though I imagine some will continue, betting that it might take a long time before anybody gets around to auditing them.How can you tell whether a listing is legal? Look for the stars–not the AirBnB stars given by guests, but the official stars. The government gives a tax break to property owners that get classified by stars (if you don’t pay any taxes, you don’t care about a tax break, eh). To get it, the rental property must be inspected–which is an important guarantee to you as a renter. The inspection is not just for amenities and taste but also for safety. It’s probably the clearest way to see that a rental is legal. Of course, if a property gets a bad rating, they might not want to show how many stars they have (or don’t have). Both our apartments have four stars, which is as high as we can get without having a pool or elevator–neither possible in a 17th century building in the center of the part of town that dates to 1260.