Google Earth: Visit France from the Comfort of Your Home

Posted on 22. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, Geography

Image by planetearth112 on Flickr

Image by planetearth112 on Flickr

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  —Saint Augustine

Reading and learning about France is one thing. Visiting the country is something entirely different. Exploring distant lands and experiencing cultures firsthand is undoubtedly one of life’s most rewarding experiences. You may have a fear of flying or you may never have had the funds to take an international trip. Fear not! Thanks to technology vous pouvez voyager sans quitter votre domicile (you can travel without leaving home)!

Imagine for a moment walking through the streets of Paris. Imagine standing in front of the Eiffel Tower and looking up as if you were literally standing in front of it. Or imagine walking up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. All of this is made possible with Google Earth, a computer application that lets you can cross the pond to take a virtual walk sur les boulevards de Paris (on the boulevards of Paris). You don’t have to deal with traffic, nor do you have to ask for directions if you get lost. It’s one thing to view the city from above but the real fun begins when you enter Street View. With a simple click of the mouse in any direction, you can experience what it would be like walking up and down practically any street in the city. And best of all, c’est absolument gratuit (it’s absolutely free)! If you want to visit a museum or enter any building, of course you’ll have to travel to Paris. But Google Earth is quite possibly the next best thing to being there in the flesh et c’est bien moins cher (and it’s much less expensive).

Not interested in Paris? Why not visit London, Rome, Berlin or any other city for that matter? Thankfully, Google Earth isn’t limited to major cities. In fact, I took some time recently to visit les petites villes (the little towns) where I spent my childhood in southern France. I was overcome by a strong sense of nostalgie (nostalgia) as I stood in front of les maisons de mon enfance (my childhood homes) and retraced my daily walk to school and back. I was surprised that Google had taken the time to travel the streets of these small towns but I’m grateful for their efforts.

So how do you access Google Earth? Visit this link and download the free application to your hard drive. Le logiciel (the software) is available for both Mac or PC and there are versions of the app for your mobile devices on iOS and Android as well. Quand vous voulez voyager (When you want to travel), launch the application, type in a city name or specific address in the search bar at the top left corner of your écran (screen) and watch as Google pinpoints your destination with remarkable accuracy. Zoom in with the controls on the right side of your screen and then enter Street View by clicking the icon.

If you own a Mac and have updated to the latest free version of OS X (Yosemite), there is a new feature in the built-in Maps application that gives you a 3D flyover tours of major cities. Type “Paris, France” into the search bar, click on 3D Flyover Tour and sit back to enjoy the show!

La Dame Blanche (The White Lady): Mont Blanc

Posted on 18. Oct, 2014 by in Geography, History

Image by Ken Douglas on Flickr

Image by Ken Douglas on Flickr

Bonjour mes amis! (Hello my friends!)

I thought it might be interesting to study un peu de Géographie (a little Geography). Histoire/Géographie (History/Geography) was a combined course in French schools and part of the standard curriculum in the early 1990s. Students would call it Histoire/Géo for short and I clearly remember the green cahier (notebook) dedicated to the class. It was one of my favorite classes in 6ème and 5ème (6th and 7th grades, respectively) and one that ignited a passion for History (and to a lesser extent Geography) that I still harbor to this day.

If you happen to be a Francophile like me, you probably have heard of Mont Blanc (White Mountain), the highest peak in the Alps and coincidentally, the tallest summit in the European Union. Mont Blanc is part of the Massif du Mont Blanc, a mountain range in the Graian Alps that covers part of Italy, France (part of the Rhône-Alpes region) and Switzerland.

Ever since la première ascension (the first ascent) in 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard, Mont Blanc has remained one of the most popular go-to destinations for those hardy souls who enjoy l’alpinisme (mountaineering) and l’escalade (rock climbing). Attempting to climb Mont Blanc is neither for the faint of heart nor for those who suffer from le vertige (vertigo/dizziness). Reaching an altitude of 4,810 m (15,781 ft), the mountain can be very unforgiving, as evidenced par la mort (by the death) of seven climbers in the summer of 2014 alone. A sad affair indeed, however, for those who reach le sommet (the summit) the view is breathtaking as you can imagine (and measures only 30 m in length).

Mont Blanc became internationally renown as the site of the first Jeux Olympiques d’hiver (winter Olympics) in 1924. Hosted in Chamonix, a small ski resort on the north side of the mountain, Mont Blanc went from being a regular ski destination for locals in the early 20th century to becoming a world renown resort for more extreme sports such as ice climbing, paragliding, Wingsuit flying and extreme skiing.

Should you ever have a chance to visit the Alps, whether in Italy, France or Switzerland, consider taking a detour to visit la Dame Blanche (the White Lady). Both beautiful and deadly, she inspires a sense of awe and wonder that reminds us just how small and finite we really are.

Parlez-vous Français?: A Study of French Expressions (Part 5)

Posted on 29. Sep, 2014 by in Grammar, Vocabulary

Photo by Tim Morgan on Flickr

Photo by Tim Morgan on Flickr

Bored with your everyday use of the French language? Are you looking to add un peu de variété (a little variety) to your daily discourse?

Language is often limited by the extent of our vocabulaire (vocabulary), our grasp of proper grammaire (grammar) and, to a lesser extent, our knowledge and application of colloquialisms. People’s ears always perk up when an expression befitting the topic of conversation is carefully inserted. If you’re a native English-speaker learning French, judicious use of expressions can make quite an impact on a native French listener.

You may have a terribly thick accent or your grammar may be a little weak, but driving home a point with a serious or humorous saying can place you in the category of étrangers (foreigners) who have cultivated a deeper appreciation of French by studying its aphorisms.

Check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 for a bevy of witty little French idioms you might have missed.

**Phrase in parentheses is the literal translation, or as close to it as possible.**

Travailler pour le roi de Prusse (Working for the king of Prussia) – Working for nothing/Not receiving proper compensation for one’s work.

En voiture, Simone! (In the car, Simone!) – Let’s go/Let’s get started!

Tirer le diable par le queue (Pulling the devil by the tail) – Scraping by/having difficulty providing for oneself.

Mordre la poussière (Biting the dust) – Suffering defeat/being beaten (this is a common expression in the English language as well).

Mettre sa main au feu (Placing one’s hand in the fire) – Being certain of something beyond any doubt.

Avoir le bourdon (To have the bumblebee) – To feel sad.

Voir Naples et mourir (To see Naples and die) – This refers to having accomplished something so great that life becomes meaningless afterward.

Avoir des yeux de lynx (To have the eyes of a lynx) – To have very good vision or to be gifted with great insight into certain matters (in English, this expression might be translated “eagle eye”).

Un foudre de guerre (A lightning of war) – A capable/competent person or a high performance machine.

Mon petit doigt m’a dit (My little finger told me) – I learned something from someone who will remain nameless.

Un œil au beurre noir (A black butter eye) – A black eye.

Fumer comme un pompier (To smoke like a fireman) – To smoke excessively.

L’huile de coude (Elbow oil) – This expression is similar to the English one “elbow grease” referring to hard physical work.

Un soleil de plomb (A lead sun) – A very hot/draining sun.

Il y a de l’eau dans le gaz (There is water in the gas) – Trouble is brewing.