Posts Tagged ‘travel to france’

Pazzo for Travel

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia and North America.  He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd. and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares a tale of travel planning with family.

Travel’s always more fun with friends and family. (Cafe, Florence).

It was Christmas, and we were gathered at a family dinner. My wife and I were regaling our parents with tales of our personal travels to Europe.  I paused, looked at my wife across the table, and then blurted out, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us went to Europe together?” One would have thought that I was Santa Claus flying down the chimney loaded with gifts, for the resounding “Yes! What a wonderful idea!” that instantly sprang forth from my mother, mother-in-law, and father-in-law. Their happiness filled the dining room. Even my wife, Norma, beamed with approval.

I consider myself to be an educated, informed and, yes, mature individual. I generally have my wits about me and usually make wise choices when it comes to life decisions such as what color socks to wear, what channel to watch, or what to eat for dinner. So why did a sensible person like me, married to an intelligent and insightful woman, think it would be a great idea to travel to Europe with our parents? The Italians have a word for it: pazzo, or crazy. The French would say fou. Yes, crazy.

Both of us are of European descent. Norma is Italian and Hungarian, and I am a blend of Italian, French, Irish, and English. So the thought of journeying to Europe with our parents to explore the roots of our heritage seemed like an exciting way to bond with our family and enjoy some time together. We are fortunate in that we get along with our in-laws, and that our three “old ones” enjoy each other’s company. We all share common interests, one of which we now discovered, is travel.

As we continued with Christmas dinner, pouring more holiday wine, the questions came in rapid succession and with excited voices: When to go? Where to go? How do we get passports? What about medicines? Travel insurance? The question of when to go would not be as much a challenge as where to go. Now that I had opened the proverbial can of  traveling worms, the suggested places to visit stretched across the entire European continent from the Danube  to the English Channel. My English Literature professor mother-in-law, Alice, was inclined to try Shakespeare’s England, or perhaps Shelley’s Rome or even Lord Byron’s Venice. My high school principal mother, Gwen, thought it would be grand to see the Louvre in Paris, or the Uffizi of Florence, but “England would be nice, too.” My recently retired yet adventurous father-in-law, Rus, yearned to see the majesty of the Matterhorn or Michelangelo’s Florence or the WWII cemeteries of France. More wine please.

The Danube River, as it passes through Budapest.

I asked myself, how do we see 2,000 years of history and 2,000 miles of landscape in a fourteen day timeframe? Oh yes, the senior members of our family decided our trip had to be at least two weeks.  What the heck, they had plenty of time on their hands, why waste an opportunity to delve into old world culture especially if I am offering to be the tour guide?

Norma retrieved the World Atlas from the study and we moved all the dishes to one end of the table, poured more wine, and swarmed over the maps of Europe, measuring distances between destinations with a nearby, uneaten string bean. After much bean positioning and stretching, we decided that the farthest we should travel in one direction was 1,000 miles or three string beans. Thus was born the rule of the haricot vert.

Our inaugural grand tour would encompass a scenic loop by car through Switzerland, Italy, and France, a mere 2,000 miles, or six string beans. This way we would please everyone and be so exhausted at the end that the thought of doing this a second time would completely vanish from our collective noodle heads. All heads turned to me, and in unison, said “So, when do we go?”

I paused because I thought it would be cool to travel to new places, visit world renowned museums, cathedrals, and historic sites and see them through the eyes of our parents. Can you imagine exploring the inner streets of old cities discussing the window patterns and architectural detail of a French neighborhood with your mother? Or sampling the local cuisine at an outdoor cafe in Rome with your mother-in-law? Or taking a gondola ride to the base of the Matterhorn with your father-in-law? Well, neither did I, until I realized that the excitement that was already expressed in their eyes and the gaiety in their voices meant that this could be a very energizing experience for our parents, at a time in their lives when they were contemplating what their next chapter was going to be. We were ready to help them write it in a foreign language.

Where do you want to go next? Please share.

Ready to take off yet? Click here to see how you can travel to Europe with Smithsonian Journeys.

Note to readers: Want to share your own travel story? Just e-mail it to smithsonian.journeys@gmail.com.

How Did Le Cordon Bleu Get Its Name?

Monday, May 24th, 2010
A demonstration at the Cordon Bleu

A demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu

Julia Child attended the world class Le Cordon Bleu cooking school while living in Paris. So how did it get its name? First, we should translate Le Cordon Bleu. For those of us who don’t know a bit of French, it means “The Blue Ribbon.” Then we should ask, “What was the significance of a blue ribbon?”

For anyone who has attended a county fair, it is the blue ribbon that everyone wants to earn. Maybe it was for the biggest pumpkin, or the best apple pie. Either way, if you earned the blue ribbon, you were the best of the best.

What’s surprising is that le cordon bleu dates back to the 16th century when King Henry III of France created the l’Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit (Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit). From 1578 to 1789, it was the most exclusive order in France and each of its members were awarded with the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue ribbon known as Le Cordon Bleu, which is depicted in this image of Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers - the first to receive the order.

Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers was the first to receive the order.

Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers was the first to receive the order.

All members had to be at least 35 years old and Roman Catholic, but there were a few exceptions based on royal connections. Children of the king were members from birth, but were not received into the order until they were 12, while Princes of the Blood could be admitted to the order from the age of 16, and foreign royalty could be admitted to the order from the age of 25. These 100 knights were then called Les Cordon Bleus.

So how did it relate to food?

After the ceremonies held for these highly respected guests, there were huge sumputuous feasts held in their honor that became legendary. It is believed the name of the knights then became synonymous with the food prepared for their events. Over time, it became a symbol of prestigious quality.

Have you ever received a blue ribbon for your cooking skills?

Visit the real Le Cordon Bleu on Bon Appétit! A Culinary Journey in Paris and have your own cooking and tasting experience of the highest class.