Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tennis - The French Open at Roland Garros in Paris

The top names in tennis have arrived in Paris for the French Open this week. The tournament, held at Roland Garros, is a major grand slam event and the most important clay tournament in the tennis calendar.

Although the clay surface can lead to long rallies the tennis at Roland Garros is highly entertaining. In fact long back of the court to and fro's can be just as thrilling as serve and volley, even if you have gone off to make a cup of tea and come back to find it's still the same point. 

Roland Garros, Paris.

Five times winner in the last six years, will Rafael Nadal keep his crown? Novak Djokovic looks like a threat, but he has looked like a threat in Grand Slams before and not seen it through. Roger Federer is also in the mix, but Rafa is very at home on clay and at the French Open - much the same as Federer on grass at Wimbledon, although of course Nadal has knocked him off his throne twice - so we shall see. But then again Federer did win the French two years ago. 

Roland Garros is on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement. As with other Grand Slam events you can arrive as early as you can in the day and queue up to buy a ground pass. This will allow you into the grounds, and outside courts though not the show courts. However there is usually the chance to buy tickets later in the day for play after people have gone home and handed their tickets back in.

There is a vast range of places to stay in Paris, from reasonably priced hotels to inexpensive apartments to of course top end luxury. 

Of course if you have got as far as the French Open the whole of Paris is there before you to see whatever you want.

The following metro stations are convenient for getting to the French Open: Porte d'Auteuil, Michel-Ange Auteuil, Michel-Ange Molitor and Porte de Saint-cloud.

You can find all the latest news about the tournament here Roland Garros. Click here Paris Metro Map for a map of the metro.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Who is at the Cannes Film Festival this year?

                                                      Cannes.                               Photo by Gilbertus

The Hollywood stars have descended on Cannes again this week for the annual film festival. And with them they have brought the usual gossip, scandal, glitz and glamour.

Films this year include The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt, who at a press conference seemed rather worried what his children would think of his portrayal of a very strict father. He hopes they will see him as a good actor. Yes Mr Pitt they will know you were acting and will think you were good. Sean Penn stars alongside Pitt.

La Conquete, (The Conquest) a biopic of French president Nicholas Sarkozy, has gone down fairly well with the critics. Meanwhile his wife, model turned actress Carla Bruni Sarkozy plays a museum guide in Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris, which has not received good reviews.

Then Danish film director Lars Von Trier caused trouble when he said he was a Nazi at a press conference, getting himself banned from the festival. Von Trier has apparantly behaved badly before at Cannes and also got lots of attention then too. His film Melancholia is allowed to still be in the contest.

The contest will be judged by a panel, chaired by none other than the great American actor Robert de Niro.

Other big names in Cannes this week are Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, who do the voices in Kung Fu Panda 2, and Mel Gibson, who stars with a puppet and Jodie Foster in The Beaver.

Others in town are Sean Penn, who plays an aging rock star in This Must Be The Place, and Keifer Sutherland, who appears in Melancholia.

Leonardo di Caprio, John Hurt, Uma Thurman, Ronnie Wood and Naomi Campbell are also in Cannes. Along with Antonio Banderas, who is promoting his film The Skin I Live In, about a plastic surgeon.

Cannes seems to be mainly known for the festival, yachts, cruise ships and wealth. But it is a pleasant town with an upmarket sea front promenade called La Croisette, a thin strip of beach and lots of expensive restaurants and cafes. The famous Carlton Hotel looks out to sea from La Croisette and you'll be sure to spot at least one or two Porsches.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Isle sur la Sorgue - antiques heaven and a mini Venice.

Set on an island between branches of the River Sorgue, Isle sur la Sorgue is interwoven with canals and has a refreshing air about it. It is also the place to go if you want antiques as the town has the largest concentration of antique shops in France outside Paris.

Water wheels around the town were once used in the silk industry and in the wool, rug, and dying industries. Paper making was also big business.

The river made an ideal mote around the town and helped protect the town ramparts as far back as the 12th century.

An impressive cathedral can be found in the centre of the town next to a square with cafes and restaurants. There are many water side eateries too.

Charismatic tv chef Keith Floyd lived near Isle sur la Sorgue until he died in 2009. Floyd was known for his individual style of presenting, which included taking gulps of wine in between cookery moves and strange cuts while food was cooking to show a pottery wheel spinning round. He shot many cookery programmes in Provence. Here he is cooking chicken casserole on a boat in France..

Monday, 9 May 2011

La Fontaine de Vaucluse, the largest spring in France.

The Fontaine de Vaucluse is the name of a pretty little village where you will also find the source of the River Sorgue. From the village it is a short pleasant walk along the side of the river to the natural spring, which is hidden deep underground. Surrounded by cliffs standing hundreds of metres tall, a pool of water fills the cavern at the bottom. Depending on the time of year the pool is either a clear blue green colour or a stagnant grey. Water levels get low in summer, but in winter a real torrent can flow downstream.

The deep bottom of the hole was not found until 1985 when an unmanned submersible touched ground at more than 300 metres down. As well as being the most powerful spring in France it is also the fifth most powerful in the world, turning out millions of cubic metres of water a year.

This energy was once put to use to make paper and the old paper mill is now a museum where you can see how it was made. There is a shop selling paper made in the old fashioned way.

A shepherd facing the mistral - a popular santon design.

Also next to the river is a museum of the French Resistance. The village and riverside is so small you can't really miss any of the museums. There is also a museum of santons, which are provencal figurines, very popular especially at Christmas.

There is also a museum for Petrarch, the Italian Renaissance poet, on the site where he wrote his famous Canzoniere, which is a collection of poems to Laura, whom he loved or idolised.

Above the village is a ruined castle, which was built by monks to protect pilgrims.

Sitting at the head of a valley at the foot of the Vaucluse mountains, the village gives the whole French department its name. Vaucluse comes from the Latin Villa Clausa, meaning valley closed. 

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Luberon: village of stone huts where shepherds lived.

Le Village des Bories - just outside Gordes on the D2.

This reconstructed village of dry stone huts is fascinating to visit. It is thought that bories were used as dwellings in Provence as long ago as the Bronze Age.

The one you can visit outside Gordes dates back to the 1600s. Buildings differ slightly and labels say what each was used for. As you wander round you get a sense of what it must have been like to live in such harsh conditions and in such close proximity to your animals.

The dome shaped bories were often used on a seasonal basis and driving around the Luberon you can still spot one or two in fields.

A borie is similar to a bothy. Bothies were built out of slate in England's Lake District in Cumbria by workers on slate mines. They were also built with great skill, using no mortar or cement. Both bories and bothies were used until well in the 1900s. A display in the Village des Bories shows similar dwellings in other parts of the world. More information can be found at the Gordes website Gordes village .

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Helping to offset carbon emissions by planting trees...

The average blog emits eight pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year, so although the internet saves paper it isn't as clean as all that, with all the electricity it uses.
The average tree takes eleven pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per year. Hence a conservation group is planting a tree for every site which displays their logo - which says this website is carbon neutral - and reminds people about the extent to which we are polluting the environment all the time.
The group is replanting the Plumas National Forest in California, which was badly destroyed by forest fires.
This sounds like a good idea. But we still need to walk when it's not essential to drive, turn all the lights out, turn off the computers, etc etc! Don't leave the tap dripping!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

La Ciotat: The first moving picture show.

The arrival of a train at La Ciotat station - L'arrivee d'un train en gare a La Ciotat. 

Auguste and Louis Lumiere showed one of the first moving picture films to an astonished audience in La Ciotat in 1895. The short film showed the Toulon-Marseille train pulling into La Ciotat station. 

You can watch it here, it's only 56 seconds long. A very impressive film, considering when it was made, notice none of the real people in the film seem to take any notice of the fact they were being filmed!

A poster for a Lumiere brothers film.
The amazed spectators, never having seen anything like it before, reportedly jumped out of their seats as the train headed into them. The Eden theatre still stands on the seafront promenade. An exhibition of the story with displays, pictures and a film archive can be seen at L'Espace Lumiere. The station also celebrates its place in cinema history with film posters.

La Ciotat is also famous as the place where petanque came to be. Petanque is just a slight variation from the game of boules, from which it originated in 1907. Petanque is the southern French version of boules and involves less walking between moves to avoid exhaustion in the hot Mediterannean sun.

La Ciotat.
A port has existed in La Ciotat since the time of the ancient Greeks and shipbuilding has always been an important industry. Although the building of ships and boats is a much smaller affair today than it once was, huge cranes used in the industry still tower over the town. 

In the charming old port fisherman sell the day's catch and cafe tables spill out onto the pavements. The Musee Ciotaden, overlooking the port, tells the town's maritime history.

The eagle's beak - Bec de l'aigle.

To the west of La Ciotat magnificent cliffs and hidden coves lead to the very pretty and well kept fishing village of Cassis.On top of the cliffs sits the Parc du Mugel, which is classified as a "remarkable garden of France" by the  French Government. Gardens have to meet certain criteria to be given this prestigious label.

The park has a tropical area, with palms, banana tress and other tropical plants and a nature preserve with Provencal species such as the native oak tree. A massive rock which looks like an eagle's beak and so is called "Le bec d'aigle" points out into the sea from the park.

To the east of La Ciotat are thin stretches of beaches leading to Les Leques, where you will find lots of cheap eateries, a pleasant seafront promenade and little shops selling all your seaside needs.