Getting Internet Service in France

With moving to new unfurnished apartment (A Change of Address) in Argelès-sur-Mer, Tracy and I were faced with getting broadband internet service, something that had always been included as part of our previous furnished apartment rentals.  We very much rely on the internet for our communication and entertainment.

There are numerous options for internet service in France:  AliceBouygues TelecomFree, Orange, SFR, and additional smaller providers. Since we lack the language skills to really comparison shop well, we took the easy path by selecting Orange (formerly known as France Télécom), the largest national brand who provides service to more than 40% of France’s internet customers. A large “plus” for us was that Orange has an English language customer service line (+33  09 69 36 39 00) for sales, questions, service, and trouble-shooting. We liked the security of being able to resolve possible future problems in English rather than attempting to do so using our very limited French.  

Orange logo
Orange logo

I telephoned Orange, spoke with a service representative, and had the account arranged in a few minutes.  Installation was scheduled for a two-hour window in six days. Between my phone call and the appointment, I was told to expect the “LiveBox” (a combined modem and wireless router) to be delivered to our new apartment by La Poste (the French Post Office.)  The LiveBox device did arrived two days later. I also received also an e-mail reminder of my installation appointment (with the option to “click” on a button to delay the installation if necessary) and a mailed “hard copy” of my contract with Orange.)

Six days later while we were waiting to go to the apartment to meet the installation technician at 3:00, we received a phone call at 1:00 saying that the technician was ahead of schedule and asked if we could meet him early.  We went right over to the apartment and met our technician.  He set up the apartment’s LiveBox, went to the end of the block used his truck’s “snorkel” to “switch on” the connection on the telephone pole, and then went to the main control box down the block to activate our service.  The LiveBox is only the size of a hardback book and it is a “stand-alone” unit that does not require that it be connected to a dedicated computer.

The whole installation was done in less than an hour.  We then had active broadband internet as well as landline phone service that is included with the account.

Orange LiveBox
Orange LiveBox

In France the norm for internet service is by ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) carried over the copper telephone lines. France is the second largest ADSL market in Europe after Germany.

An issue we had over the last year has been the slow internet speed and narrow bandwidth at our prior apartment in Argelès-sur-Mer. While the landlord’s provided internet service was technically “broadband,” at best it measured at .52 Mbps, most often at .42 Mbps with frequent periods of even slower and sometimes complete outages. Several times I attempted an internet ‘speed test’ and the return was so slow the test “timed out” with no results possible. Tracy, who enjoys Netflix, often had an episode repeatedly interrupted and she was forced to sit and watch the frozen show buffer and buffer and buffer and buffer.  Uploading photos to Facebook could be problematic, YouTube videos might never actually load, and often we both could not be on the internet at the same time.  Our biggest problem occurred when the internet was out-of-service during the November 13, 2015 Paris terrorist attacks and friends and family were unable to reach us to confirm our safety.

Our new internet service “speed test” shows an increase of more than 20 times faster download speed with at least 10.5 Mbps and a 300% increase in upload speed. The difference in “Ping” return is much better; 32 ms for our new service compared to an average 678 ms at the old apartment.

Netflix recommends a broadband connection speed of at least 1.5 Mbps download for standard viewing and 5.0 Mbps for high-definition. Skype recommends 0.1 Mbps for voice calls, 0.5 Mbps for video calls and 1.5 Mbps for HD video calls. (But since most speed tests measure download and upload speeds separately, a person making a Skype call needs higher internet speeds than the minimum recommendations because the communication is in two directions at the same time.)

While we were moving items to the new apartment this morning and putting together a new shelf unit, I received a follow-up call from Orange. They wanted to double-check how our appointment went, if everything was working properly and if we were pleased with the technician who installed our service. Very nice customer service from Orange so far.

So along with the excitement of moving into our new apartment, Tracy and I are thrilled to once more have efficient internet access and that the whole process was simple and easy.

 

 

Getting Renter’s Insurance and an Attestation d’Assurance Habitation in France

So with Tracy and I “upping our game” from living in a “furnished one year vacation rentals” to taking on a “Bail de Trois” (standard three-year lease) of an unfurnished apartment (A Change of Address), our real estate agent Camille advised us we needed to obtain renter’s insurance before we can take possession of the new apartment’s keys.  Contrary to renting a furnished apartment, there is an “obligation on the tenant of an unfurnished tenancy to take out insurance against the risk of fire, explosion, and infiltration of water etc. for which they may be responsible. The minimum insurance required by a tenant is for risques locatifs, but a more prudent policy would be for multi-risques d’habitation, which would include damage or theft to personal belongings. The tenant is required to supply the landlord with a copy of the insurance certificate each year.”  (French-Property.com)

Asking Camille if she had any insurance companies she recommended, she advised us there are many insurance companies available, but the quickest and simplest way would simply be contacting our French bank for coverage.  (Yes, in France you can get home, vehicle, and supplemental health insurance at the bank.  Pet insurance, too. Equally odd to US expats, you can set up a bank account and buy cell phones at the Post Office.) With visions of 1.) a long difficult conversation in our stumbling French, 2.) difficult to understand contract options – all in French legalese, and 3.) a delay in obtaining insurance resulting in a delay in getting the new apartment, we steeled ourselves and headed to our local branch of BNP Paribas.

The bank receptionist was very helpful and was happy to try to complete our request for renter’s insurance, although she did not speak English, she was patient with listening to our poor French.  After a moment she enlisted the help of Julien, a conseiller de clientèle bancaire (bank officer), who spoke English and who could make the transaction easier.  Julien’s excellent English was the result of working in his youth for a year outside Detroit as an au pair and then spending his final month in the US driving Route 66 across America.  His wife and he had just returned from a vacation in New York City.

Julien made the process easy with €20,000 worth of liability, theft, and damage coverage for about €14 a month.  (More than enough coverage with Tracy and my minimalist lifestyle.) We elected to pay an annual premium rather than a monthly payment.  Three signatures and we had the document required for our real estate agent, an Attestation d’Assurance Habitation. We don’t think we ever purchased insurance coverage as easily before.  Quick, painless, and fun discussions with Julien about his experiences in America.

Attestation d'Assurance Habitation
Attestation d’Assurance Habitation

Conversations with Sami

As long-time pet owners, we often have conversations with and for our pets. Sami has a wicked sense of humor and often has some great one-liners.

Here is an excerpt of a conversation with her Dad while we having coffee the other morning.

SAMI: Daddy, are there boulangeries in the US?

ALAN: No, Sami, there are no boulangeries in the US, they have Starbucks.

SAMI: Cool, can dogs go there?

ALAN: No, Sami, dogs are not allowed into the Starbucks.

SAMI: Well I don’t know why not. It can’t be because they’re afraid of dogs, they’re all heavily armed.

Just life on a daily basis with our MinPin!

Réveillon du Nouvel an 2016

 

Tracy made a wonderful traditional US style Christmas dinner for us with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, but with the French touches of Muscat de Noël wine and a Bûche de Noël cake.  New Years Eve 2015-2016 dinner was then up to me to make a proper French Réveillon dinner . . .  or at least as proper of a Réveillon dinner as this US Expat can figure out, shop, cook, and serve.

Réveillon is the traditional dinner that people in French-speaking countries celebrate the night before Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some of the traditional foods vary by region but can include turkey with chestnut stuffing, caviar or smoked salmon on blinis, oysters, foie gras, lobster, and coquille Saint Jacques (scallops). (More descriptions of Réveillon dishes with “food porn” photos at “The Local-France” Ten dishes that make up a French Christmas feast. )

For our New Year’s Eve Réveillon dinner I prepared:

  • Roasted Magret de Canard (oven roasted duck breast.)
  • Grilled Boudin Blanc de porc with truffles. (White pork sausage with black truffles.) Boudin Blanc in France are made with milk while the Boudin Blanc made in Cajun Louisiana is made with pork and rice stuffing.
  • Pan-fried Foie Gras (Duck Liver.) (I have previously learned the trick to remove the battery from the smoke alarm when cooking Foie Gras. The high heat pan and high fat content of the Foie Gras can trigger the smoke detector.)
  • Quiche Lorraine with bacon, cheese and scallops in place of Coquille Saint Jacques for our seafood course. (A purchased quiche since I didn’t think I would have enough time to cook everything.
  • A canapés and cheese plate including Catalan Sausage, duck breast, Foie Gras, Chevre (goat cheese), Brie, Fourme d’Ambert (raw cow’s milk blue cheese), with Rondelé de Président Ail de Garonne & Fines Herbes (creamed cheese spread) and small toasts.  Several of these cheeses are contraband and cannot be imported into the US.

For dessert a Bûche de Noël au chocolat (chocolate cream “Yule Log” cake with layers of crystallized sugar filling) purchased from our nearby pâtissier.

And, of course, Champagne. (What’s the point of living in France without toasting the New Year with real French champagne?)

Our canine children, Sami and Lou, enjoyed a bite of duck with their dinners too. Sami especially loves Canard!

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Black Saturday 2015: The Juillettistes Against The Aoûtiens

Today is Saturday, August 1, 2015, the biggest traffic day of the year in France.  Why?

Samedi Noir” (Black Saturday) is the changeover between the juillettistes (families that take their annual vacations in July) and the aoûtiens (families that take their annual vacation in August).Le chassé-croisé des juillettistes et des aoûtiens,” is the cross-over of July and August vacationers and an annual “event” usually on the last Saturday of July.

Traffic stopped on highway. Sous licence CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -
Traffic stopped on highway.
Sous licence CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

It’s like the US Memorial Day weekend traffic, squared, because of France’s centralized highway system.  Millions of French travelers are on the road today, some heading home after holidays and others on the way to their vacation destinations. It is called “Les jours de grands départs” (the days of great departures) across France.

Bison Futé the French government agency that monitors traffic, reports numerous category “black” alerts (where “Black Saturday get’s its name) about traffic jams and congestions all across France. “Category “black” means that on all main roads and highways there will be at least 700 kilometres of tailbacks. That’s easily going to be the case tomorrow,” Cyrille Leblic, a spokesman for the national information road centre (CNIR). He estimated that the tailbacks would in many places exceed 900 kilometres, and, in some cases start as early as 4am Saturday.”

Real time traffic alerts on the Bison Futé website.
Real time traffic alerts on the Bison Futé website.

It’s a good day to be car-less in France. Enjoying a day at home!

 

 

 

The €1 Bus in the Pyrénées-Orientales

One of the biggest bonuses with living in Argelès-sur-Mer within the Pyrénées-Orientales Department has been Le Bus à 1€ (the €1 Bus), a public transportation system providing bus service throughout the department with dozens of bus routes to scores of cities. This is an amazingly useful and economical way for Tracy and I to travel since we have elected not to buy a car.

Our transportation for the day.
Our transportation for the day.

With a €1 Bus stop 100 yards from our front door, it is actually more convenient for us to take the €1 Bus to Perpignan to go to the large supermarket shopping there than to walk to the smaller supermarket that is in Argelès.  The current bus schedule list 19 buses a day from Argelès to Perpignan, Monday through Saturday, starting at 6:50 am until 8:40 pm. There is a reduced bus schedule on Sundays. In July and August there are additional routes during the summer season connecting the small beach towns along the Côte Vermeille. Additionally there is an expanded schedules for regular routes during these peak summer months.

1€ Bus Schedules
1€ Bus Schedules

The €1 Bus service is provided by the Conseil Général des Pyrénées-Orientales, an elected board of 31 Conseillers Généraux (one for each of  the 31 Cantons of the Pyrénées-Orientales) and a Chairman. Members of the Conseiller Général are elected for a 6 year term. The Conseil Général decides public policy at the department level similar to the role and responsibilities of a county commission in the United States.

1€ Bus Map
1€ Bus Map

For the price of a single Euro each (currently about $1.11), we can reach nearly anywhere in the Pyrénées-Orientales.  The tickets also allow transfers for two hours to other bus routes traveling in the same direction within the €1 Bus system.  That means we can take the bus from Argelès to Perpignan for €1, do some shopping, get on a different bus still outbound within the two-hour transfer time limit, and go to Prade for lunch.  A return ticket for €1 each will bring us back to Argelès.  A traveler would spend more on gasoline than the €2 cost of a round-trip on the bus. (Currently gasoline costs about €1.37 a liter, about $1.50. There are 3.8 liters to a gallon, so gasoline would cost about $5.70 a gallon.)

1€ Bus Tickets
1€ Bus Tickets

The buses are clean, modern, and comfortable motor coaches. They are dog-friendly and Sami the MinPin can travel with us with the use of a travel bag while she is inside the bus. There are overhead racks for backpacks and under-the-bus-carriage storage for large suitcases or even bicycles.  There are even several “Réso 66” stops, “Park and Ride” locations where commuters to park their cars for free and let the bus drive them to work or school. The bus drivers are friendly and helpful, but pretty much they exclusively speak French (if the drivers do speak a second language it’s most probably Spanish or Catalan.)  But between our very basic French language skills, pointing at the stop we want on the map, or showing the driver a promotional brochure for a tourist sight, we have not had any problem communicating.  (And there is always the red “Stop” button to indicate that you want off the bus.)

€1 Bus Interior
€1 Bus Interior

Tracy and I have been making great use of the €1 Bus for our Micro-Adventures. With just €4, a camera, a bottle of water, an inquisitive MinPin, and a picnic lunch, we have an entire day’s entertainment exploring in the Pyrénées-Orientales.

Tracy enjoying one of our Micro-Adventures at Les Orgues d'Ille-sur-Têt
Tracy enjoying one of our Micro-Adventures at Les Orgues d’Ille-sur-Têt, which we reached by the €1 Bus

 

 

Reminiscing About Our Carcassonne Neighborhood

I came across a photo today. One I took over two years ago while Alan and I were out walking with Kiara one evening. The weather had been so especially nice that day. As we headed toward the dog-friendly park on our side of the Aude River, we noticed a keystone with a date on the building across the street from us.

A keystone with the date "1675" on a building neighboring our apartment on the Rue Du Pont Vieux
A keystone with the date “1675” on a building in our former neighborhood on the Rue Du Pont Vieux in Carcassonne.

Our landlord at the time, Jason Carr, — an expat from Great Britain — told us that he isn’t sure exactly when the building we lived in was built due to lack of record keeping and from different armies burning the area to the ground a couple of times in the ancient past. He found a few interesting things while renovating, but the exact date is lost in history. The neighborhood dates to the late 17th century, which is interesting enough.

We found the date fascinating. I remember we talked about it while we watched Kiara running joyfully (and leash-less) through the clover at the park, one of her all-time favorite things.

I find that I am continually amazed at the age of things here in France and usually end up mulling over dates like 1776 to put things into perspective. And to think there was a time that I thought a five-year-old car was old!

New York New York Cafe in Argeles-sur-Mer

Taxi cab yellow building with all outdoor seating.
Taxi cab yellow building with all outdoor seating.

A couple of weeks ago we were walking home from the market at around 1 pm and by the time we got to the restaurant section of the Central Plage area, we decided to stop and get something cold to drink. It was hot, in the high 80s.

Argeles-sur-Mer has a LOT of restaurants near Central Plage, however only the Italian restaurant Salzado is open in the off-season. New restaurants open each season and while many re-open each year, there are just as many that close their doors permanently. So if there is one that has an interesting menu, we need to try it right away because by next summer it may no longer be there!

After taking a look through the menu, we decided we needed to try one of the burgers at New York New York Cafe.

Burger Menu
Burger Menu [photo from TripAdvisor]
I ordered the Chicken Bacon BBQ Burger, Alan ordered the Blue Cheese Burger. When they arrived, we split them so we could sample both. The fries were hand-cut, fresh and absolutely delicious. So were the burgers. So good in fact that I even went to TripAdvisor and left a review, something I rarely do.

Chicken Bacon BBQ
Blue Cheese Burger
Blue Cheese Burger
Chicken Bacon BBQ Burger

While we ordered from the standard burger menu, true carnivores would have enjoyed their “Monster Burger.” A full kilo (that’s 2.2 pounds in the U.S.) of hamburger patties, plus cheese and bacon and veggies and sauces, plus fries. With a 30 Euro price tag it isn’t just your average burger! Seriously, it is large enough to feed a family of six!

The XL, XXL and Monster Burger menu.
The XL, XXL and Monster Burger menu. [photo from TripAdvisor]

We have been back only once, but we tend to eat at home most of the time. However, before the end of the season I’m sure we’ll be back at least once more. Maybe we’ll try something from the Hot Dog menu next time, or not, for some reason having a burger always reminds me of home. An expat comfort food!

Micro-Adventure: Banyuls-sur-Mer

The first glimpse of the Banyuls-sur-Mer (literally translated to Pond by the Sea – the pond was drained in the mid 1800s) area was of the Site of the Paulillies. It’s an abandoned dynamite factory that was reclaimed as a regional historic park. The factory still exists but the other 70 outbuildings have since been taken down. The vineyards flow right out to the edge of the coastline. The Banyuls red dessert wine produced here is supposed to be the best in France. We’ll have to find that out next time. We meant to pick up a bottle but got distracted later in the day.

After stepping off the bus at Avenue de Gaulle the air is immediately filled with the sweet scent of flowers, unusual for a sea side city. After setting Sami free from the bus bag that she dislikes — we both carry small day packs for traveling and mine is perfect for holding Sami’s bus bag while we hike around — we look around and find a sign pointing the direction of the tourist office. It is just up the street and sitting on the beach.

While Alan talks with the receptionist, I look through a rack of flyers. I was expecting them to be the same as those I saw in Port Vendres, and was surprised when they were different. I picked up several that looked interesting. Three for military forts; Fortress de Salses which is a national monument, Fort Lagarde designed by Vauban and Les Remparts de Vauban which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. One chateau in Castelnou, the Center for Roman Sculpture, a chapter house with a 9th century abbey that has been updated with 3 architectural styles since it was built, the Hospici d’Illa with art in both Roman and Baroque styles, and the one I am most anxious to visit Les Orgues. Les Orgues is a natural park in the Tet valley with what are called fairy-chimneys. It looks to have all the natural beauty of Zion in Utah or Garden of the Gods just outside Colorado Springs.

Alan returned with the city map and I waved my flyers telling him I have new places to visit on future trips. We offer the receptionist a “Au Revoir, Merci Beaucoup, Bonjourne” (Goodbye, Thank you very much, Have a great day) and head out to find coffee.

The day is breezy and cool, perhaps a bit more breezy than is comfortable but at least it wasn’t hot at 9:30 am. We walked past a few open restaurants and stop at one where another couple is enjoying a coffee. At Le Corsaire we found a table near the windbreak and grabbed a seat. Almost immediately the server is there asking what we would like to drink. Alan says “due cafe kreme” (two coffees with milk) and when they arrived a few minutes later I was pleased to find that the coffee was very, very good. Probably the best we’ve had since leaving Carcassonne and my favorite La Petit Moka in Place Carnot.

While enjoying our coffee, we took a look at the map. Banyuls-sur-Mer is a tiny town, a population of only 4,650. Across the street is a wide beach along the north side of the bay. The multi-arched main road into town is quite picturesque and though we would have loved to wander out to the point on the north end of the bay, the beach is not dog-friendly and it is the only access to the beautiful arched structure. We decided instead to visit the l’île Grosse first. The l’île Petit is also only accessible by the beach so wasn’t on our “to visit” list for the day.

After finishing our coffee, we cross the street to walk along the boardwalk next to the beach. There is a small park area just past the restaurants where there is a small statue of naked men dancing. It’s fairly abstract though I was quite certain all the figures were male. The shade from the trees offered a challenge to photography but we both stood there for a few minutes trying our best with our iPod cameras.

Normally we travel with a full range of cameras. Alan’s Olympus big camera and waterproof camera, My Nikon big camera with a 36x zoom and my AWS 100 waterproof camera. But lately we’ve just been using the iPod 5 camera trying to get used to a smaller camera for our upcoming Camino trip. There were several times throughout the day that I wished I had brought my bigger Nikon. Banyuls is a very picturesque city, from nearly every angle.

Just before the bridge is a small police municipale. We know this is a small town and that most of the northern side of town is pedestrian only. But we both had a laugh at the police vehicles in Banyuls-sur-Mer, no mini-vans, no cars, nope nothing but three small scooters parked out front. Just like the ones used for pizza delivery in Carcassonne! But it does offer a glimpse into the safety of the area that they have no need of anything more than a scooter to keep the peace!

As we walk along the coastline, crossing the bridge for the river which is dry and being used as additional parking, we made our way to the south end of town. Just beyond the bridge is the harbor and small boats are parked in neat rows. Nearly all the watercraft are white-hulled with sails wrapped in bright blue. Except one small bright orange boat with an outboard motor nearly as big as the boat. Alan made a comment about way to much motor while I countered with “one of these things is not like the others.”

The walkways have all been redone with neat red brick and the sidewalk is wide enough to allow the three of us to walk side-by-side while still allowing bicycles to pass two abreast. The street sits up higher and overlooks the harbor and we realize about halfway down the street that there are small shops underneath us.

Where the sidewalk ends is a pretty rock garden with the name of the city and a few iconic statues, an anchor, a bunch of grapes and a sailboat. Above is the curved path that leads to the Universite de Pierre et Marie Curie and the Arago Laboratory and Aquarium. The aquarium was open but there wasn’t anyone at the desk so we continued out to the l’île Grosse. Sami got very, very excited at this point. She LOVES the ocean.

Just before the gate at the start of the path out to l’île Grosse there was a small opening to the breakwater with a couple of stairs. Sami ran up the stairs and was wiggling with excitement. The wind was making for some active wave action and the water was crashing against the large gold and red rocks. Sami just couldn’t help herself and ran out onto the breakwater ready to chase the waves away.

We called her back over and continued walking toward the point along the walled breakwater. The entire area is a protected marine reserve and the wind is kicking up beautiful waves. The water near the point is the same bright blue that you see in glacial ice; so clear you can see the rocks under the water. Sami was in heaven. We were alone both at the base of the breakwater as well as at the top of l’île Grosse where there is a wonderful 360 degree view of the Mediterranean and the city. Another sculpture by artist Aristide Maillol sits at the top of l’île Grosse. Maillol is a native son of Banyuls-sur-Mer he was born there and died there. His works of art are scattered throughout town.

Just to the south of l’île Grosse is the cliff area where the Pyrenees Mountains meet the sea, the area is beautiful and wild, waves were crashing so high that a lone house visible from where we stood was getting misted by salt water. We rather liked having a glimpse of the Eastern Pyrenees as soon we will be heading west to cross the Pyrenees from France to Spain on day one of our hike to Santiago.

We stayed for a while enjoying the view, watching Sami chase scents of the sea and laughing at her exuberant behavior, enjoying the breeze as the day warmed up. On our return we noticed a small fort overlooking the start of the breakwater. The stairs are hidden to the back of the University de P. et M. Curie so we missed them when we walked past them on the way out to the l’île Grosse. Once we spotted them Sami dashed up the first set to the landing then looked back to see if we were going to follow. We decided to give in to her request. Following her up the remaining two flights we arrived at a small lean-to style shed. It was obviously being used as a home by someone as there was a mattress and bedding on the floor to the right and a few shirts and a pair of jeans flapping in the breeze from a peg on the left. We opted to continue climbing and not disturb this makeshift home. At the very top was another great view of the Med and the city. Another statue, this one of a fisherman, sat in a small rock garden, though inaccessible due to a locked gate.

On our return trip to the ground level, we spotted a small set of four steps leading to a barred window. I was pulling out my iPod to snap a photo when Sami dashed up the steps to see if anyone was inside. Alan was standing to one side and I managed to get a photo of Sami looking into the window and seeing her Daddy’s reflection. The next four photos were of Sami looking from Daddy to his reflection in the window. Sometimes she is just too funny to watch. Reflections really confuse her. Her least two favorite things are “reflection” dog and “shadow” dog, she hates them and they follow her everywhere.

We walked back toward the row of restaurants along the upper path, stopped to snap a few shots through the metal frame thoughtfully provided by the city to denote a photo op. When we reached the staircase leading to the harbor-front shops we decided to walk back toward the University/Aquarium building and see what shops were open and what they were selling. Most were art galleries of varying quality. One had a painting we both really liked, but without a permanent home here we don’t really bother with artwork for the home. A couple of dive shops were tucked in between the galleries and we even watched a group getting ready for a dive. Reaching the end, we walked back again on the upper level in search of lunch.

After checking all of the posted menus and specials for the 5 or 6 restaurants with ocean views, we decided on Les Corsaires again. We were so not disappointed by our choice. The food was amazing. Even more so was the server who had to dash across two lanes of traffic to place the order and again to bring out plates to waiting customers. There is a cross-walk between the two dining areas (one on either side of the busy street) but we noticed the cars didn’t slow down for our busy server as she gracefully glided across the street and back. It was a little like watching a real-life game of Frogger. I know there were at least three times that I grabbed the edge of the table as if I were about to witness an accident.

Our lunch arrived and while Alan’s burger looked amazing, especially with the hand-cut fries, my salad was a work of art. Served in a tall while bowl four slices of a hard cheese with a peppered edge, similar to parmesan but not as salty. lined the bowl. The mixed greens were baby shoots of five or six different greens. The ones that always remind me of weeds, but taste very good. At least one of the them tasted peppery. On top of the greens around the edge of the bowl were thin slices of Spanish serrano ham and in the middle were paper thin slices of cantaloupe. There was no dressing, but honestly the salad was so good it really didn’t need anything.

Sami had dry kibble, which she grudgingly ate while sitting under the table. But then the clumsiness gods smiled upon her when Daddy knocked over the bread basket. Happiness ensued. Sami finished her meal in high spirits.

There is something so uniquely European about al fresco dining and whenever possible I like to sit outside, even if it’s raining. Les Corsaires had a great view of the Med and a lovely rooftop providing plenty of shade while still allowing the breeze to come through. It was one of those rare moments when the food is great, the company terrific, the weather gorgeous and the dog is behaving that just seems like a small glimpse of perfection. I live for those moments.

Upon finishing lunch we decided to do the”Circuit Cap d’Osna,” or artists’ walk through the fishermen’s quarters, outlined on the map.* Heading to the north end of town where most of the streets are nothing more than staircases and no cars can possibly travel, we easily found the first of 15 markers that would lead us around the historic part of the small city. Winding through the steep and staired alleys we saw the most beautiful houses in what used to be the fishermen’s quarter or perhaps smugglers’ den would be more accurate.

* Note: the city map is wrong. The route has changed. The city map will get you to the first marker, the directions on the first marker will get you to the second, and so on. 

In addition to one famous artist, the area was most notorious for the amount of smuggling that took place, with impunity. I had to ask Alan what that meant, it always reminds of punitive but is in fact the opposite as in “getting away with it.” So the area is famous for smuggling first; artist and native son, Aristide Maillol, second; and the best red dessert wine in France third. Walking through the back alleyways of the old fishermen’s quarter it was easy to see that smuggling must have paid pretty well. The homes are truly remarkable.

The 15 designated stops on the self-guided tour of the fishermen’s quarter is easily navigated and all of the signboards have English translations. We wandered through the same streets Maillol traveled, saw the places he liked to sit and sketch, read about the many local models that were some of his favorites and viewed the house where he was born and died. There were only two photos of the artist, one of him at favorite window spot in the library of his home, the other of him in front of the garden gate. Alan recreated the gate photo for me. Or at least tried to, he would need to be a foot shorter for an actual recreation!

At the last stop of the tour we were at the top of the Rue St. Pierre which runs parallel to the main street near the water front. Following it downhill lead us past shops and restaurants that are not in the “tourist zone” but where many locals were shopping and dining. We stopped for a cold drink at one of the small restaurants and Sami made friends with the lady at the table next to ours. She was probably in her late 60s or early 70s and squealed with joy as she complimented Sami with a lyrical voice and charming French accent. Sami was beside herself. One of her favorite things is when someone speaks French to her in that sing-song way you talk to babies and animals. She couldn’t contain her joy and was actively trying to wriggle out of Alan’s lap. Giving in, Alan handed Sami to the lady who held her for a moment and received a couple of kisses before Alan took her back.

Normally Sami is very shy around people but there are a few that will capture her interest right away and become like a second family in mere minutes. French baby-talk is Sami’s kryptonite. She was still looking back at the woman as we walked away. A friend for life.

Having seen as much of the town as possible without breaking the NO DOGS rules, we headed back to the tourist office and waited for the return bus. Sami, still on a high from her new friend, sat quietly and didn’t give us too much trouble getting back into her bus bag for the trip home.

The 400 bus doesn’t stop anywhere near our apartment on its return to Argeles-sur-Mer, so we must walk the three kilometers from Port Argeles. About five blocks from home there is a small alleyway that has been turned into a multi-plex of mini restaurants. The alleyway is covered and provides a lovely shaded area to sit and eat or have a cold beer. As we were walking past the owner of the corner restaurant called out her regular “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame” which we returned as we walk by. This ritual happens every time we pass. As we got to the corner of the street I looked back at Alan and asked if he’d like to stop for a cold drink. We turned around and found a seat, surprised to see our Pizza Guy sitting at the bar with another man we see there often. We believe they are related. Alan ordered two beers and they all suggested we try the Sagres, a Portuguese beer. So we ended our day at a Catalan restaurant, drinking a Portuguese beer, five blocks from our French apartment . . . not a bad end to the day!

Our only regret was that bottle of dessert wine the area is known for; we also did not walk Sami the 4 kilometers to the museum and Templar winery. But now we have plenty of reasons to return to this quiet little town with the really friendly people and gorgeous views. If you’re looking for a great spot for diving or snorkeling, this would be the place to visit. The protect marine sanctuary covers a large area and the diving is supposed to be amazing in these pristine waters. We would definitely recommend this lovely town as a stop-over or destination.

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