Category Archives: France

A to Z of Statues – N is for Napoleon Bonaparte

La Colonne de la Grande Armée is a monument constructed in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high column topped with a statue of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

It marks the location of the base camp where Napoleon  assembled an army of eighty thousand men all reeking of garlic, singing  ‘La Marseillaise’ and impatient to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful campaign, but this proved to be rather premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now remembers instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

On This Day – French Language Issues

The prospect of travel seems as distant as ever. In the meantime I am trawling my archives. On 17th April 2007 I was in the delightful French City of La Rochelle…

“In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making them understand their own language.”, Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

It was still very warm when we walked back into the town and found the restaurant that had taken our eye earlier. It was called Les Camediens and was situated in an inviting little side street running back from the harbour and behind all of the expensive front rank eating places.

Now, the French don’t especially like making things easy for visitors and sometimes I get the distinct impression that they would rather not have us in their country at all and this place was no exception as it was clear that they could barely tolerate us. It is a feature of French Restaurants that waiters often think that some customers (especially English customers) don’t actually want to be served at all and this place was no exception.

The wine list was interesting because in France there is massive in-built prejudice in favour of French products. We were presented with a list of about twenty pages of wines – all French except for three, listed under a section generously entitled “wines from the rest of the world”.

The French are proud of their culture and especially their language of course and their reluctance to communicate in or even simply acknowledge English gives me the opportunity on holiday to demonstrate my fluency in everyday essentials and I had to use all of that knowledge here:

‘Vin blanc sil vous plait’; ‘Vin rouge sil vous plait’;’ bier grande sil vous plait’;‘bier grande vite’ and so on and so on.

Actually I would try harder but language is an area where the French are really quite rude.

The paradox that they have created for themselves is that whilst they would like visitors to speak French and visitors would like to speak French they stop them doing so because they mercilessly take the piss out of us when we make a mistake – so it’s hardly surprising that rather than be subjected to ridicule we stick to pointing and shouting.

I remember an incident in a hotel when I was trying to communicate in French. The receptionist quickly lost patience, looked down her nose at me, sneered and said “Shall I speak English, it is easier”.

It was easier I concede but I was trying, I really was trying. In Spain and Italy and Portugal and Germany they never behave like that.

Sorry but I am going to say it. The French consider themselves superior in almost every respect. They assume, routinely, that given the chance, everyone would live in France, be French, eat French food, eat stinky French cheese, drink French wine, watch impenetrable French films, visit the French Riviera and enjoy the Tour de France.

It gets worse the further south you go which is why when I go to France I generally stay in the north,

When he finally condescended to take our order I attempted some multilingual conversation with the waiter but he was clearly not impressed and I gave up therefore when he announced with the hint of a sneer that passed for an apology that there were no mussels left tonight and I had been really looking forward to mussels.

We ordered an alternative and then we had an incident over condiments. He didn’t provide us with any and forced us to request them one by one in what little French we knew while he kept up a bulwark against improving international relations while steadfastly refusing to understand us. We progressed past salt and pepper but got stuck in a cul-de-sac over vinegar. Now the French for vinegar is vinaigre which most people would agree isn’t too dissimilar but he was determined to make this difficult. He totally refused to comprehend and brought us a selection of various sauce accompaniments one at a time but never any vinegar. I am convinced he knew exactly what we wanted but was enjoying seeing us struggle.

We finished our meal and left and I made a point of collecting up every last cent of change and didn’t leave him a tip (Mon Cul, as the French would say) and we agreed that we wouldn’t be dining there again that week and left with a single backward ‘You should have been more helpful” sort of glance.

National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A.

March 14th is National Potato Chips Day in the U.S.A. and although mine is not a food blog I am happy to recycle my post about potato chips…

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Some of you will have read it before of course.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

The Origin of Chips

In 2013 I had a short holiday in Northern France. On the way back home  to the UK we stopped at the town of Wissant for lunch at a friterie.

Friteries are a feature of Northern France and are a simple place to buy French fries accompanied by a selection of sauces and accompaniments. The thin strips of potato are fried twice, first to drive out the moisture and second to achieve the essential golden crispness of the French Fry and the friterie we chose was full to overflowing with customers lining up for their favourite combination.

I was interested to discover that there is controversy about the humble French Fry, frite or chip and there are conflicting claims to how it came to enter the culinary traditions of so many countries.

It is served everywhere in northern France but it is the Belgians who claim that they invented it and there is a rather unlikely tale attached to the claim.

The story goes that the local people rather liked eating small deep fried fishes but in the Winter when the rivers were frozen and fishing became hazardous they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer instead.

Seems unlikely to me.  I can’t believe that this was going to fool anyone but then again take a look in a supermarket freezer section today and potatoes are cut into all sorts of different shapes to amuse the kids.

In Spain they say that this is nonsense and the potato wasn’t even grown in (what is now) Belgium at that time and some claim that dish may have been invented there, which might make sense because this was the first European country in which the potato appeared via the New World colonies.

It goes on to back up this claim with the assertion that ‘patatas fritas’ were an original accompaniment to fish dishes in Galicia from which it spread to the rest of the country and then to the Spanish Netherlands, part of which only became, what we now call, Belgium more than a century later.

France actually took some time to accept the potato, I expect they thought that it was a bit common and it wasn’t until a famine of 1795 that they began to eat them with any sort of enthusiasm.

They proved so popular that after that potatoes were being grown on a very large scale in France, including at the royal gardens at the Tuileries Palace and within that short time, the French either came up with the concept or alternatively simply learned to make fries. Once discovered they became extremely popular in revolutionary France, particularly in Paris, where they were sold by push-cart vendors on the streets and called ‘frites’.

Belgium however still stubbornly hangs on to its claim and dismisses the assertion of the French themselves by arguing that the description ‘French Fries’ originated due to a simple  linguistic misunderstanding.  In old English ‘to French’ meant ‘cut into sticks’ and US soldiers in the Second-World-War called them French Fries on account of the fact that the official language of Belgium at the time was French.

While researching this I half expected to find a German claim with the fried potato strips no doubt invented by someone called Fritz. As it turns out the Germans make no such claim but there is a story that potatoes were first introduced to Germany by Frederick the Great. King of Prussia from 1740 to 1772, he is still referred to as “Alte Fritz” (Old Fritz) to this day.

Maybe however as we line up to claim the chip we are missing something here. The potato was first cultivated by the Incas in Peru so maybe they have a claim and there is in fact a restaurant in Lima called “The Original Fries“.

I am not sure about that sickly looking accompaniment however…

Of course we don’t care what the Belgians, the French or the Spanish think because we are completely certain that they are an English invention and that we make a better job of cooking them than anyone else anyway.

Traditionally, chips in the United Kingdom are cut much thicker and since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. According to legend, the first chips fried in the UK were on the site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market in 1860.

City Planning – Roman Style

On 4th March 2020 I was enjoying my last day of a week’s holiday to Cyprus.  I was visiting the archaeological site at Paphos and I got to thinking about designing my very own ancient city…

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Postcards From France

More memories, this time from Family Holidays in Northern France (1978-2017)…


On This Day – Strasbourg in France

Continuing with my look back through the archives, on February 5th 2008 I was in the French City of Strasbourg…

Strasbourg is the seventh largest city in France and is regarded as the cultural cross roads between Germanic and Latin culture. I

n the recent past Strasbourg has been passed between Germany and France like an unwilling baton in a relay race. Before the French Revolution it was a free city but the fanatical Jacobins seized it for the Republic. In 1870 after the Franco-Prussian war culminated in the creation of modern Germany it was ceded to Berlin but after the First-World-War in 1918 it returned to France. In 1940 the Nazis seized the city and it was liberated again in 1944 and has remained French thereafter

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Travel Challenge Day 10 – The Answer

Most of you will have spotted that yesterday’s Travel Challenge picture was Paris and of course you were right but it may not have been the Paris that you were thinking of because this is Paris at the Walt Disney World’s EPCOT theme park in Florida USA.

I visited World Showcase in May 1990.

This, it has to be said, is an odd place – at the same time both intriguing and disappointing.  In the beginning it was the vision of Walt Disney himself –  to build a new city of the future but after he died the Disney Corporation accountants gained control, declared it self indulgent, too expensive and not commercial enough and everything was downsized until it became nothing more than an add-on theme park to Magic Kingdom without any of the Magic.

World Showcase consists of eleven countries from around the World.  The French Pavilion had a boring film about how wonderful the place is and some external sets representing Paris with an elusive Eiffel Tower seen in the distance from every angle and authenticity provided by men in striped shirts and berets and playing the accordion.

For people who imagine that Paris is full of men in berets, black and white hooped shirts, a string of onions around their necks, playing the accordion and speaking like Peter Sellers in the ‘Pink Panther’ films then EPCOT  is wonderfully accurate but actually I think I have to say that it is probably one of the worst representations of all in World Showcase.

There were the obligatory French restaurants, a patisserie and an ice cream parlour and a stroll along the Seine lined with shops and hand carts.  My only recollection is that I was seriously underwhelmed.  I had only recently been to real Paris and that had been far more satisfying.

That’s because I believe that  the only way to see Paris is to do it properly as I did when I visited the French capital in 2002 and rather like EPCOT, where you can see a whole country in just a few minutes, I saw the major sites in a foot-slogging, energy-sapping half a day and invented what my son subsequently called ‘speed-sightseeing’!

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Postcard From France – The Canal du Midi

The idea of creating a waterway as a shortcut between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea had captured the imagination of successive French Kings and governments since Roman times. The regional route overland was slow, uncomfortable and haunted by bandits; the two thousand mile passage by sea took at least a month and was also dangerous as ships negotiating the Spanish coast dodged storms and Barbary pirates to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar.

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Postcard From Cahors in France

In the early summer of 1998 the Times Newspaper ran a daily competition one week to win a prize of an all expenses paid trip for two nights in an up market Relais and Chateau Hotel somewhere in Europe. One day the competition required answers to three questions about Santiago de Compostela in Galicia and the Way of St James.

I was confident of the answers and telephoned them in several times over the course of the day.

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