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Easter traditions in France


easter eggs

As the bank holiday draws nearer and daydreams of eating hot crossed buns and egg hunts enter young minds, Rosie Khdir takes a look at the Easter holiday traditions of other European countries.

Ok so here is the part when those of us who think Easter is all about scoffing chocolate eggs begin to blush. In France, being a Roman Catholic country, Pâques is a time of great celebration! The French celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus in a multitude of ways with a number of different holidays to mark the event.

Mardi Gras

This day, known to many here in Blighty as Pancake Day, is when the celebrations for Easter truly start. It is the last day before Lent begins so people indulge and party – their last hurrah before going 40 days without one of their favourite foods or drinks.

Carnivals erupt up and down the country; one in Nice last two weeks and includes fireworks, parades, masked balls and plenty of food (hence its name, which translates as “Fat Tuesday”).

Silencing of the Bells

This is a long standing tradition across France, and by long standing I mean since the 12th Century. Almost every village, town or city in the country has a church with a bell and it is customary to silence it on the Thursday before Good Friday; this is done in acknowledgement of Jesus’ death.

The old legend says that the bells of all France’s churches fly to Rome on this Holy Thursday, and because of their absence all the churches stay quiet until Easter Sunday.

Easter Day

Easter Day in France is very similar to festivities in the UK, with children participating in Easter egg hunts. They also have a very popular game, during which children will toss raw eggs in the air and attempt to catch them again; the last remaining child who keeps their egg intact wins!

Most families will also attend a Mass or church service at their local place of worship.

Traditional foods

The main food people in the UK may associate Easter with is chocolate, and I feel that is very much the same across la manche. There is however one area where the traditions differ; you won’t see many Easter bunnies in France, instead they have fish and bells.

Bells representing the flying bells and the “Poisson d’Avril” or April Fish, are part of an April fool tradition, where children cut out paper fish and attempt to stick them to backs of adults!

Eggs, in a non-chocolate form are a popular dish, especially on the Easter Sunday. In some households it is tradition to begin with an omelette or quiche to start and then a roasted lamb as a main – the lamb is of course another important symbol of Easter.

P&O Ferries makes up to 25 crossings a day from Dover to Calais. Prices start at just £30 for a car and up to nine people.

Image credit: lizjones112

Rotterdam unveils hidden art treasures


frank_stella_louisiana_lottery_co

The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is quite a mouthful and it’s one of Rotterdam’s best galleries and museums. Like most museums it can only show a fraction of the huge collection it has stowed away in vaults and safes but that is all changing with “Inside Out” – Tomas Mowlam explains.

We’re currently halfway through the run (6th February to 24th May 2010) so head down to Rotterdam’s Kunsthal, to see some of the Boijmans Museum’s hidden treasures.

The Museum is undertaking maintenance and the cataloguing of its depots, so over 12,000 pieces of art have been shipped over and displayed in the Kunsthal.

“Inside Out can safely be considered the biggest logistic operation ever within the history of the Kunsthal,” the website explains, “for ten days in a row two lorries packed with art travel back and forth.”

The results are stunning – some really great art which isn’t often seen because it gets overshadowed by the bigger name pieces.

In a salon there are seventeenth century masterpieces by artists such as Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Steen, Paulus Moreelse and many others.

If your taste is for things a little more recent then there’s key pieces from modern artists such as Giorgio Morandi, the Italian still-life painter.

From the post-war art world there’s “The White Cube” featuring key minimalist and pop art pieces. There’s work from Frank Stella, an American sculptor, printmaker and painter, famous for his canvases that intricately weave together bright bands of colour.

There is a heavy sprinkling of Dutch works by artists such as Jan Schoonhoven, René Daniels and Co Westerik, not so well known outside of their native country but well worth a look.

For those who need even more art during their stay in Rotterdam, there’s a 25 per cent discount with a Bojimans ticket and vice versa.

You can find the Kunsthal on Museumpark, Westzeedijk 341, 3015 AA Rotterdam, and it’s open Tuesday till Saturday 10am-5pm, Sundays and Holidays 11am-5pm.

“Inside Out” runs from 6th February to 24th May 2010, for more information check out the site at: kunsthal.nl/en-22-636-Inside_Out.html

Painting – Louisiana Lottery Co., (1962), Frank Stella.

P&O Ferries sail from Hull to Rotterdam daily. Visit our offers page to find the latest prices.

Image Credit: cliff1066

The fountains of Paris


fountain

A little unusual fact that some of you may not know about the fair French capital is that it has over 350 fountains! Rosie Khdir discovers the water features of Paris…

When they were originally constructed the fountains of Paris had a more practical purpose; they provided drinking water for residents of the city.

There are simply too many of the beauties to mention every one in this blog so here is a selection to keep your eyes peeled for when wandering around the City of Light.

One of the oldest fountains in the city is the Fountaine des Innocents, which was built in 1549 to welcome King Henry II into Paris and is currently located in the Marché des Innocents.

The very impressive Medici Fountain, situated in the Jardin du Luxembourg is another of Paris’s golden oldies and was built by a community of artists from Florence for Marie de Marie de Médicis.

Skipping from the earliest of fountain masterpieces to one of the most recent creations, the Stravinsky Fountain next to the Centre Pompidou is definitely a site to behold. It was built by sculptors Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle and 1983 and contains 16 colourful modern sculptures that represent things such as love, life and the musical key of G.

The Fontaine de la Victoire is set in the centre of Place du Châtelet, this fountain with its four sphinxes was built in homage to Napoleon’s military victories. The Fountain Saint-Michel is another one to note; it was created in the 19th century by Gabriel Davioud and is the landmark of the Latin Quarter.

The water feature at the Jardin du Trocadéro is a popular place to cool off during the summer months. Nicely positioned beneath the Eiffel Tower these 20 cannons, called “Les grand eaux” are often lit up to create an entertaining show for tourists.

On your travels around Paris you are more than likely to come across more than one Wallace Fountain. There are 66 cast-iron fountains, created by the British industrialist and temperance activist Sir Richard Wallace and 9 small model ones.

As you can see Parisian fountains have been understated and underrated for too long. From the wall fountain of the Poissoniére to the grandeur of the Place de la Concorde you will be amazed at the detail and elegance of these aquatic masterpieces.

P&O Ferries makes up to 25 crossings a day from Dover to Calais. Prices start at just £30 for a car and up to nine people.

Image credit: belgianchocolate

British better at cooking than the French?


french_cheese

“Sacre bleu!”, “Cor blimey guvnor”. French and English stereotypes abound, but no French person I know would ever utter such a phrase, and how many Londoners have you heard speak in rhyming slang?

Still there are some stereotypes we’re both proud of, and the French reputation for cooking the finest food is held pretty dear across the channel. France is in uproar about food however, as Tomas Mowlam reports.

Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, even wanted the UN to classify haute cuisine as a world treasure. But things are not all rosy in the Gallic kitchen; it turns out that les Rosbifs, us uncultured barbarians, might just be better cooks.

French magazine Madame Le Figaro and the BBC’s food magazine, Olive, surveyed over 2,000 French people and 1,350 Britons about cooking and eating. They found that 59 per cent of French people cooked at home on a daily basis, compared to 72 per cent of Brits. Half of British cooks spend over half an hour on a meal, while for the French it was a poor showing of just a quarter of an hour.

The revelation that Brits bake more bread than their French counterparts was the final straw; website comment boards exploded as passionate English and French foodies waded into the debate.

Angry comments that “the English bake more bread because English bakeries are [a list of unpublishable words]” descended into two-way national cuisine insults. Frogs and pie ‘n’ chips were mentioned at one point. It got nasty.

It’s probably time to take a deep breath and to step away from the computer.

What this survey does represent is that our cultures are becoming closer: Brits have had fifteen years of a riot of good cooking, with chefs like Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Rick Stein etc. showing us that great food only takes a little extra time and a little more love.

As France’s population and economy grow, perhaps French folk are too busy to dedicate the time to cooking they once did.

Source: Guardian.co.uk

Image Credit: Frederik Thommesen

Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film


BIFFF

If you want to see vampires, zombies, ghosts and ghouls this spring then Brussels is the place to catch them. Rosie Khdir takes a look at the program for 2010’s International Festival of Fantastic Film in Belgium…

Calling all lovers of fantastic, gory films! The 28th annual Belgian International Fantastic Film Festival is coming to Brussels this April and will be held at Tour & Taxis Cellars.

Events to look forward to include a Zombie parade, where hundreds of people dress up and run the streets of the capital, past the Manneken-Pis who is dressed as Dracula for the occasion and onward to Place de l’Albertine.

There will also be a Vampire’s Ball where guests can dress as their favourite member of the Cullen family and dance the night away.

Other entertainment will include the Patru Poli acrobatic artists, Dolle Pret magicians, Magic Land Théâtre, Freeeks Factory and La Compagnie DesBoulesauNez clowns.

Throughout the festival, pictures will be taken of people’s make-up, which can be supplied at the make-up stand at Tour & Taxis, and a prize awarded to the best effort.

The festival also screens around 150 genre short and feature films, and in this years line up they are showing The Crazies, Daybreakers, Kick-Ass, Ondine, Orphan and Soloman Kane. Prizes are also awarded to certain categories.

The opening ceremony will be held on 8th April at 8.30pm and for a full view of the festival program visit the official BIFFF site (please see below for link).

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Image courtesy of www.bifff.net

The beautiful coasts of Brittany


brittany_coast

The region of Brittany is home to some of France’s most beautiful coastlines from the emerald seas around Dinard in the north, to the Pink Granite coast with its chaotic rocky formations. Rosie Khdir takes a trip to the Brittany beaches…

The Brittany peninsula has the longest coastline in France, so it makes sense that it should also have some of the prettiest beaches.

The scene at Cap Fréhel, in Côtes d’Armor, northern Brittany is a dramatic one, with waves, foaming at the lips crashing against the jagged cliffs; it truly is any painter’s dream. The Emerald coast, as it often referred to, gets its name from the colour of its surrounding waters as well as the greenery coating its cliff sides.

The waters between Trébeurden and Perros-Guirec, also known as the Pink Granite coast, consists of an impressive mass of pink rock, hence the name. The beaches at Larmour and off the Quiberon peninsula are far calmer and seem more suited to a more tropical climate.

They feature secluded coves covered in soft yellow sand and clear turquoise waters comparable to those in the Caribbean, though maybe not as warm at this time of the year.

Each part of the coastline is unique and the 1300km of walking paths will take you on a journey through some very different landscapes. The coasts are however most easily accessible by car, so that is good news for P&O Ferries’ car passengers!

These stunning beaches are but a five hour drive from Calais, and there are plenty of places to stay and activities to occupy all the family in the surrounding towns. Visit the official Brittany tourism website for further information.

Image credit: jmhullot

Barcelona, the city that has it all…


Barcelona

If you are debating whether to take a city break or a beach holiday stop right there! Rosie Khdir has found the ideal Mediterranean location that doesn’t make you choose…

Barcelona has all you could want from a holiday destination; sun, sand and city sights! As the second largest city in Spain, both in size and population, and capital of the Catalonian region, Barcelona is sure to attract heaps of tourists, but it’s what they find there that keeps them coming back.

If you like to spend a good deal of your holiday sourcing the latest in Spanish trends then here are places to do it. El Born is for those with a bigger budget and a keener eye for labels; and has mixture of shops filled with all things designer and those sporting weird and wonderful artefacts.

Port Vell is home to a major shopping complex called Maremàgnum, which offers popular names such as Calvin Klein, Mango, H&M and a variation of tapas restaurants and coffee shops.

Just a short walk from Port Vell is Las Ramblas the famous 1.5km street running through the centre of the city. You can see many famous monuments along this street, such as the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house, the Font de Canaletes and the city’s famous street market the Mercat de la Boqueria.

The city is filled with architectural wonders but none as beautiful as works of Antoni Gaudí. From the Güell Parc with its Doctor Seuss-esque buildings and colourful mosaic walls, to the intricate spires of his unfinished Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família Gaudí never fails to amaze every visitor.

When you get tired of the city (if you ever do that is) you can always escape to the coast and soak up the springtime sun somewhere along Barcelona’s 4.5 km beaches. You have the choice of Mar Bella, Barceloneta, Bogatell or Nova Icaria, which is closest to the Olympic Marina.

When I said this city has it all, I really wasn’t kidding. If the beautiful buildings, cultural museums and plush shops don’t fulfil you are tired of being a beach bum the head up to Montjuïc and Tibidabo, the two mountains above Barcelona.

On Montjuïc you will find not only stunning views of the city and its coast but also a botanical garden, a modern art museum dedicated to Joan Miró, the Catalan Museum of Archaeology and an Olympic Museum.

Barcelona is crammed with things to do and see, so much so that only a fraction has been mentioned in this article. What is for certain is that Barcelona has definitely earned the title of “The city that has it all”.

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Image credit: papalars

Vintage cars and Catalonian sunshine? It must be the Sitges Rally


Sitges Rally

Nothing quite beats the thrill of cruising along the open road in a vintage classic with the fresh coastal breeze in your face. John Hillman discovers a rally in the Catalan capital, Barcelona, where like minded enthusiasts from across Europe converge.

If you are a genuine vintage car lover then the chances are you’ve already heard of the annual Sitges Vintage Car Rally.

Each March, as winter disappears and spring approaches, huge crowds flock to the Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona to admire this wonderful collection of cars, nearly all of which pre-date 1924.

Around 150 cars take part in the rally, many driven by enthusiasts who have come from the farthest corners of Europe to join in.

The 52nd Sitges Car Rally will begin the day after the Parc de la Ciutadella exhibition. The race starts at Plaza St. Juame in Barcelona at 11 a.m. on Sunday 21st March and ends 45 kilometres later at Sitges, a small town on the coast just south of Barcelona.

This really is one of the best events in Europe for anyone with a passion for these vintage classics, you’d have to go a long way to find such a rich and varied collection of 1920s automobiles anywhere else in the world.

Motoring enthusiasts can get to Barcelona with P&O Ferries either by catching the Portsmouth to Bilbao route and driving along the A68 to Zaragoza then catching the A2 to Barcelona. It’s a fantastic route through some of Spain’s most beautiful rural scenery.

A cheaper alternative – and more of an adventure – would be to catch the ferry from Dover to Calais and tour your way down through France, reliving the classic touring journeys of a bygone age.

Image credit: rallye sitges

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