Want to eat some amazing ice cream next time you’re in New Orleans? (Is that a stupid question or what?) We are embarrassed — nay, regretful — that it’s taken us this long to actually go visit Creole Creamery. Michael’s cousins have been raving on […]
A year-and-a-half ago, my husband and I took a two week road trip in France. (Spoiler alert: we LOVED it!! Breakdown of our itinerary coming in a future post. . .) But I have to admit, I was initially a little nervous about driving in France. Ok, a lotta nervous. Mostly about accidentally breaking the law and having to deal with a ticket being mailed to me, or, even worse, an actual police offer. I did lots of research and listened to several podcasts, and felt pretty prepared before we left, but I thought I’d jot down some thoughts and tips I found particularly helpful on our road trip. (I will cover the rental car process in another post. This is just rules of the road.) Join Us In France has numerous podcasts and an entire page dedicated to the subject — it is an absolutely invaluable resource!
Easy to Drive
First off, driving in France was much more intuitive than I had anticipated, and something I would do again in a heartbeat! My normally intrepid husband initially refused to even entertain the idea of him doing any of the driving (because he understands no French at all. I speak some.), but after a couple days there he said that he would have felt comfortable driving, too. If you don’t read any French, don’t worry; the roads in France are quite navigable, especially once you know what the signs mean. (And also once you figure out which signs are important. The French seem to love them some road signs, often to a fault. I mean, I really don’t think you need to be told not to make a left turn as you’re merging onto an autoroute. . . Do you??!) So don’t let the multitude of advice here and elsewhere scare you off. It was much easier than I anticipated.
Should You Drive?
Do you need to have a car to get around much of France? Definitely not! France has an excellent train system that goes quickly and easily between all major cities. In fact, if you’re mostly visiting cities, you don’t want the hassle of a car at all, and should rely on public transport. (For the love of all that is sane, don’t drive in Paris!!) As much fun as it was to take a road trip, a car is only necessary to get to more out-of-the-way-places, usually rural sites.
The one thing about traffic lights in France that occasionally threw me off a little as I drove, was that it was not uncommon for them to be off on the side of the road (instead of hanging above the road). Sometimes they were hanging up, but keep an eye out for signals on what is essentially the sidewalk! Other than that, traffic lights in France are pretty much the same as in the US, and self-explanatory (if you’d like a more thorough treatment of the subject, Americans in France does that in their post on traffic lights.) To the best of my knowledge, turning right on red is NOT allowed. If any sort of turn is allowed it will be marked with either a green arrow (you have right of way turning right), or a yellow/amber arrow (you may turn, but you don’t have right of way–yield to pedestrians/bikes/other traffic).
In my opinion, most of the road signs are self-explanatory. However, several of the signs you see frequently aren’t intuitive, so do research common French road signs before you go. (Again, start with Join Us in France, but their page isn’t comprehensive. See Wikipedia’s page for a comprehensive list. I recommend saving the Wikipedia page as a screenshot to your navigator’s phone to reference quickly. More on your navigator in a minute. . .) To me, there were just a few non-intuitive signs when driving that I had to watch out for. The first is that sometimes you must yield to vehicles merging from the right. This is a yield sign with CÉDEZ LE PASSAGE (literally, “yield passage”) written beneath. This yield-to-the-right situation came up much less frequently than I was concerned it would, but it’s definitely a good one to know.
A blue circle with a red border and line through it means “no parking”. A circle bordered in red mean “no cars”. (I seem to recall my poor husband having to frantically look up both of those.)
The last very important thing to watch for are village signs –the name of the village/town in on a rectangular sign. The speed limit immediately, automatically drops to usually 50 KPH and will not be marked — the village sign is your only cue to slow down!! Then when you exit the village/town, you’ll see the same rectangular sign, this time with a strike through the name.
This means the speed limit has returned to its previous, higher limit. Again, usually no speed limit sign, you just have to know. (I found my sign image on this blog, which has other helpful tips too!)My GPS did warn me of these drops in speed with frantic dings, which was helpful, but you should still be aware of it. Because. . .
There is No Leeway on Speed Limits
What speed limit is posted (or not posted!) is exactly what you should be doing; there’s no five-over-is-close-enough fudging, and you can’t slow down after you reach the speed limit/village sign either. When you reach the sign you should be going whatever speed is posted/expected! And don’t think because you don’t see an official of the law that you’re safe; there are all sorts of speed cameras around, and your rental company will indeed forward any tickets that get sent to them. (Thankfully, I don’t speak from personal experience. But it made me paranoid.) Speed limit signs are much scarcer in France than they are in the US; there are standard speed limits for different types of roads. The speed limits are listed and described at this helpful page.
Bring a GPS or have a phone with lots of data to use. (I considered just using paper maps, but that would have been a terrible idea! Yes, I was nuts.) We personally found that sometimes our GPS directed us to a particular site a different way than was marked by the official signs to the site (e.g., a sign pointing the way to Chenonceau), and we found that the official road signs got us there faster and more directly. Judicious ignoring of the GPS may sometimes be in order. Signs and GPS notwithstanding, still be prepared to get a little lost sometimes; this is where an “enjoy the journey” mentality keeps it fun. 😉 But definitely have some sort of electronic navigation. However . . . (!!!)
Absolutely no cell phone use is allowed behind the wheel. None.
Fairly recently France moved from no-use-of cell-phones-while driving to no use in the car whatsoever. In addition, you are expected to drive safely and in control of your car at all times, and officers of the law have leeway to give you a ticket if you’re driving distracted for any reason. If you need to fix your GPS, park your car. If you need to look up a random street sign, park the car. Pulling over to the side of the road doesn’t count. In light of this, I highly suggest you having a second adult in the front seat to be your navigator/reference driver! Sometimes you need some help driving in a strange place (or deciphering a strange sign) and there won’t always be a convenient place to park.
Roundabouts are commonly encountered, much more often than in most of the US. Personally, I love them. If it’s a two-lane roundabout, the inner lane is just for going around (and around if needed), and the outer lane is for merging and exiting. Don’t try to exit from the inner lane! The French enter and leave them fearlessly, so drive alertly, and equally fearlessly. Rick Steves covers them briefly here, and you can find an even better explanation (with a diagram!) over here.
If you’re driving in France for any sort of a long distance, you will likely encounter a toll road, (péage). This is because the long stretches of freeway are actually privately maintained, and the tolls fund that maintenance. Bring cash to pay for it (remember: cash is king in France!). I think we did pay for some tolls with our credit card occasionally, but have cash to be safe. . . Look for lanes that have money on the signs to see where you can pay with cash (rather than use a tag). I don’t recall the tolls plazas being tricky to navigate; they seemed like the ones in the US.
Once you’re on a toll road, you often can’t get off for many long stretches of time. But fear not! There are places to stop where you can get gas and food and stretch your legs. There were usually places to picnic too (and many picnickers); think of the stops as more like rest areas than gas stations. The French take even their road trips more on the leisurely side. . . after reading an amusing overview of autoroute stores here, I recommend what we did on our road trip — grab a sandwich for lunch when you get your morning pastries!
Parking & Gas
Parking in France is much like it is in any US city; just check the parking signs at the sites I linked above to be sure you’re not parking in a forbidden zone. If it’s paid parking, I found it to be well-marked. Parking spots do tend to be cozy. The nice thing about exploring smaller cities is there is usually lots of free parking. Michael wants me to mention that parallel parking is frequently required (can you tell who hates parallel parking?).
Of course, if you’re driving around, you will need fuel for your car. Overall, gas stations are much like they are in the States. It is not uncommon for even smaller cars to use diesel, which in French is gazole. You will get you best price for gas at supermarkets (supermarchés) like Cora and Carrefour, which have the added advantage of more extended hours. If you’re out in the country, gas stations will close down for the weekend and holidays (you can still find automated ones to use, but they’re not always obvious!). So if you pass a supermarché stop and fill up, and start your weekend with a fueled car. For a little more explanation read these articles here and here.
International Driving Permit
Lastly, it is recommended that you have an International Driving Permit if driving in France (or any foreign country). An IDP is essentially a translation of your valid drivers license. I say it’s “recommended” because I don’t think the car rental company even asked for it! (More on renting a car in another post.) To obtain an IDP, fill out this form and bring it to your local AAA office with $20 and two passport photos. It will be valid for a year. You still need to carry your US drivers license with you in France. Car seat laws are basically the same as in the US.
Whew! Despite all the many things I’ve talked about, like I said, don’t let driving in France scare you — it’s not as hard as it may sound!And so very worth it to explore parts of France that you can only reach by car.
To end on a slightly humorous note, in the event that you do for some reason get pulled over, I was advised that if you do know any French, don’t let the gendarme know that, ha! Be polite, but respond in English. Unless you’re in a big city, chances are that the gendarme won’t speak English and won’t feel like fooling with you. . .apparently the dumb tourist card works sometimes. (But please obey all posted laws. And please eat a croissant for me if you go to France.)
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve had the most amazing spring weather this year. It’s been unusually glorious, and I’ve not taken it for granted. We took advantage of yesterday’s perfect weather to do a full day at the Audubon Zoo. I was especially motivated to […]
My apologies in advance to those of you who still have cold weather, because here in Louisiana it’s fully spring. Glorious, amazing spring, one of the prettiest down here that I can remember. Best of all, spring brings strawberries. Louisiana prides itself on growing them (see our local strawberry fest); luckily for me strawberries are one of my favorite foods. Every spring I eagerly look forward to the arrival of strawberry season. When the strawberry stand from our local farm pops up, we regularly stop by to get a flat at a time, and feast on them to our hearts’ content. We can very nearly polish off the entire flat just by munching on them, but usually still need to bake something after a few days to use them up before they turn. Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Summer Cake is, to my hips’ dismay, probably our hands-down favorite way to bake those abundant strawberries.
The recipe is something of a sleeper, since it doesn’t look like anything ground-breaking, but in the words of our sister-in-love, it’s “stupid good”. I usually double it, cough, and bake it in a 9 x 13 pan. Since the batter is stuffed (literally stuffed!) with cut strawberries before it’s baked, it’s the perfect recipe for little hands to help put together.
Last year, my munchkins helped hull and slice the berries, and then place them in the batter. (“Place” as in “jam with abandon”.) I like to use the small end of a melon baller to hull strawberries; it’s easy and neat, with the added bonus that little (or big…) fingers can’t get cut. We have a set of these Curious Chef nylon knives, and my kids have enjoyed using them. They wash up well in the dishwasher, are sharp enough to actually be useful, but are designed to be hard for little hands to cut themselves. Not impossible, but hasn’t happened yet…
This year I thought my oldest was ready to make the batter herself. (Note: Lest this sounds like idyllic sweetness– I have to conquer my selfishness to let my children help bake/cook. Baking with kids is not for the faint of heart. Baking is my hobby, and honestly I’d rather enjoy it peace all by myself, without having to say “No, that doesn’t go in that bowl!!” and “Please don’t get batter all over your sister’s hair!”. We get in the kitchen together because they think it’s fun, it will help them to grow up to be capable adults, they learn invaluable skills being in the kitchen with me (including appreciating food), and I love them enough to put up with the mess and the hassle to facilitate all that. One day I do hope it becomes a shared [enjoyable] hobby, but these days I have to psyche myself up for it. 😉
Anyway, this Summer Strawberry Cake is an excellent introduction to cake baking with children. It has all the expected elements of cake baking (creaming sugar and butter, etc.), but without any fussiness (like alternating wet and dry ingredients), plus a short ingredient list. Not to mention sugar gets sprinkled on at the end. I’ve yet to bake with my kids and not have the sprinkling be their favorite part.
If your kiddoes are too young yet to bake themselves, let them help dump ingredients in while you talk through the process.
I took a deep breath and changed my mindset from “baking a cake” (i.e., getting something done) to “teaching my daughter bake”, and let the process take as long as is needed for her learn by doing it herself (at least, with as little supervision as her mother could bring herself to actually allow…). The results were delicious.
You can find the Strawberry Summer Cake recipe over here. If you’re looking for more strawberry recipes, here are more of our favorites:
- These Strawberry Oatmeal Bars are delicious. (They call for white whole wheat flour — regular whole wheat works great, and I use 1/2 cup sugar instead of the Truvia called for.)
- A super easy (but impressive-looking) dessert is this Triple Berry Angel Food Cake Roll. If I use another berry I usually just do blueberries (not the raspberries), but I’m pretty sure no one would complain if it was all strawberries.
- Michelle has had people beg her to make these Strawberry Shortcake Cookies. (And here are Dorie Greenspan’s tips for making perfect shortcake!)
- To end on a somewhat healthy note, we’re all big fans of this Strawberry Salad with Poppyseed Dressing. It’s also delicious with the addition of avocado and/or blueberries!
A couple of weeks ago my children and I set out with our co-op to do a mapping skills exercise. (This sounds super official, but translated that’s me and two friends and all our kids learning directions and beginning mapping!) We have a range of […]
Today we’re continuing our ramp-up to Easter with what people usually call “Resurrection Eggs” (personally I like the term Advent Eggs)– another one of my goals for this year! “Advent” usually refers to the Christmas season, specifically the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, but […]
One of my goals for this year was to make my children’s Easter collection of books more robust, or, erm, exist… We have a pretty good collection of Christmas books going that I set out for them to read during the Christmas season. But I struggled to find Easter books that weren’t all bunnies and flowers. I have nothing against bunnies and flowers, mind you, but also wanted some books with cultural and/or theological depth to them. Plus the few books I did have were geared toward toddlers, and my older children are no longer toddlers (sniff). So I’ve been scouring the internet, and searched my library’s catalog for Easter books, and have come up with several charming ones that explore the various European traditions associated with the holiday, as well as several other books that focus on the Resurrection story. Without further ado, may I present a short list of Easter books for children (and one for adults) that we’ve enjoyed!
In the European tradition section:
Don’t let the cover of We Celebrate Easter fool you. It make look like a fluffy bunny book, but it is surprisingly full of recipes, rhymes, stories, various traditions around the globe, and explanation of Easter symbolism. Slightly eclectic, but a thorough overview and introduction to the holiday.
If the adults want to explore, Rick Steves has a European Easter book that piqued my interest. It’s in my Thiftbooks cart…
Rechenka’s Eggs tells the story of a Russian grandmother who experiences an Easter miracle with her decorated eggs. A sweet tale that offers a glimpse into the tradition of gorgeously intricate eggs. Also in my cart.
That’s all I’ve currently found with an international vibe…I’d love to find more books that highlight the rich Easter traditions around the world. Please send any recommendations my way!
On the theological/religious list:
I’ve listed The Glorious Impossible first, since it kinda bridges the European and theological books. Madeleine L’Engle’s text (a retelling of Jesus’ entire life) is illustrated by Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. I’ve put it on my list to buy next year, since it looks text-heavy (a plus in my book, but perhaps better suited to slightly older children than mine are currently). Would also be a great art history lesson on Giotto!
God Gave Us Easter is one of the books we already own. It talks about death and life and promises in a more abstract/general way, and is a good reminder for younger children that candy and the Easter bunny isn’t why we celebrate Easter.
For somewhat older children, The Easter Story is a beautifully illustrated telling of the Resurrection story from the viewpoint of a donkey who is there to witness it all.
The book that I was probably the most excited to find (I ordered it last month!) is Easter Love Letters from God. There are seven stories about the events leading up to the Resurrection. Each has a pop-up letter and a scripture reference, and lines up well with a Holy Week countdown. It does not shy away from the crucifixion part of the story, but is done in a manner that works well even for young children. (I was especially excited to find this book because one of my other goals this year was to finally put together Easter Advent Eggs. We’ll open the eggs starting on Palm Sunday, and so I was delighted to find a book that will coordinate with them. The eggs are on my list to-do this week!)
The two books below are both in my cart to add to our collection: The Story of Easter and Jesus Is Risen! I will update this post once they’ve arrived, but they look both visually and theologically appealing.
Easter has become “my holiday”, and I’m excited to finally feel like we’ll celebrate it more properly this year! Please send any other book recommendations (for adults or children) my way!
The links above are provided through the Amazon Affiliates program and we may receive a commission if you purchase books through a link. It does not affect the price you pay.
Welcome to another family favorite recipe! This is one of those dishes that I would never have guessed ALL my children would love as much as they do, but my five-year-old has declared it his “1000% favorite food”! (For the record, roasted tomato soup with […]