Across the Alps from Switzerland

During Christmas in 2011 I went with my mom to Geneve in Switzerland to visit my sister. Then we drove through the Alps to France, to visit the rest of my family in Dijon. It was not the first time I went to Dijon.


Curiosities about the city:

Geneva is a worldwide center for diplomacy due to the presence of numerous international organizations, including the headquarters of many of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. Geneva is the city that hosts the highest number of international organizations in the world.


This year I traveled for the first time with my mother. We went to Switzerland and France for Christmas. We flew to Geneva, because my sister Zeza no longer lives in France as she moved to Switzerland with her boyfriend.


My mother was in a plane only once, when she went to Madeira (many years ago) and I think she loved to travel this time. Geneva was full of snow when we went there. My nephew Luis had to wake up very early every day just to get the snow out of the car before he goes to work.


I loved the little cottage where my sister lives, it’s super cozy. We visited Lac Lèman, a giant lake with a giant fountain, which is the symbol of the city. Unfortunately they did not have free time to take us for a stroll through the city center.


As we drove to France, heading for Dijon, we passed the French Alps by car and it was magical to see those cottages all lost in the snow. I think it was the first time I ever saw snow for real in my life.




Curiosities about the city:

Beaune is considered the “Capital of Burgundy wines”. The city is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages, while the facilities and cellars of many producers, large and small, are situated in the historic center of Beaune itself.


This second time around in France, in addition to visiting Dijon again, I went with my brother Hipolito and his wife to visit another French city: Beaune. This city is very old and it has a famous Hospice of 1443.

The Hospice de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is a former charitable almshouse. It was founded by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The original hospital building, one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, is now a museum.



Beaune is the main center for the “Burgundian tile” polychrome renaissance roofing style of the region. We also visited a church called Collégiale Notre-Dame de Beaune.




Back to Dijon, I visited all my family again.


We also visited the same places where I had been last time: churches, historic center, etc.


We spent Christmas at my sister Lila’s house and the New Year as a family in a rented warehouse.


I think this trip was special for my mother because my father had died a few months before and I think my siblings had a beautiful attitude in not wanting us to be alone in this festive season.


Paris, the city of lights

In 2008 I spent New Year’s Eve with my siblings in Dijon, France. It was my first trip abroad ever and I did it alone. Before coming home, we all went to Paris for a weekend. I loved it!

Facts about the city:
Bordeaux is the world’s major wine industry capital. It is home to the world’s main wine fair, Vinexpo, and the wine economy in the metro area takes in 14.5 billion euros each year.
This was my first great trip abroad, if we don’t count a few small trips to Spain (Vigo and Santiago de Compostela). The trip was not by plane but by car, in a typical emigrants family experience. I went with my nephew Stephane and my sister Isabel’s husband.
I always get sick in a car and I was very surprised to get to Dijon without vomiting. But worse, I only ate cereal bars during the trip and I was really feeling bad in a different way. Before arriving in Dijon, we stopped in Bordeaux, to visit a brother of mine who lives there.

Facts about the city:
Dijon is famous for Dijon mustard which originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon of Dijon substituted verjuice, the acidic “green” juice of not-quite-ripe grapes, for vinegar in the traditional mustard recipe.
This was a journey that took me to my father’s life story and past. My father had nine children from a first marriage and emigrated to France, like many Portuguese, in the sixties, in search of a better life. He lived in Dijon for 18 years. In the meantime he became a widow, he returned to Portugal, met my mother and they had me.
As my brothers still live in France (and are a lot older than me), I was never very close to them, I only saw them for a few days in the summer, when they came to Portugal. But this year they invited me to go to France with them and I accepted. I remember that by that time our father had Alzheimer’s, because I remember buying the flight at a travel agency and, since I was a minor, I needed my parents’ signature to travel and he could not sign his name anymore (the fingerprint had to be stamped).
I remember that I stayed at my sister Isabel’s house and then I visited the houses of everyone. I saw old family photos, I went bowling with the family, etc.
I remember loving Dijon, with its countless churches, like St. Philibert, St. Michel or Dijon Cathedral, dedicated to the apocryphal Saint Benignus, the crypt of which is over 1,000 years old.
Among the more popular sights is the Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne, which includes one of only a few remaining examples of Capetian period architecture in the region. The square of the palace is really nice. I visited also Lac Kir (a lake close to my sister’s place) and Porte Guillaume, a triumph arch in Place Darcy, where my father used to work.
I also visited the Church of Notre Dame, which is famous for both its art and architecture. Popular legend has it that one of its stone relief sculptures, an owl is a good-luck charm: visitors to the church touch the owl with their left hands to make a wish. Going there, I passed in front of Grand Théâtre de Dijon as well.
Dijon is home to many museums, including the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon in part of the Ducal Palace. It contains, among other things, ducal kitchens dating back to the mid-15th century, and a substantial collection of primarily European art, from Roman times through the present.
The new year’s eve, from 2007 to 2008 was there in Dijon, in a large warehouse, where we spent the whole night eating and dancing, as a family.

Facts about the city:
There are in total 1,803 monuments and 173 museums in Paris. There are also 450 parks and gardens in the city.
There are on average 10 film or commercial shoots in the streets of Paris each day.
There are at least three replicas of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. The most famous of them exists on an island in the middle of the Seine and looks towards her sister statue in New York.
In the early days of 2008 we went to spend two days in Paris, before I caught a return flight from Orly. We went to Paris by car: me, my sister Zeza, my brother Manel, his wife, his son (my lovely nephew Maxime) and Isabel’s eldest son (Phillipe). We stayed in a small two star hotel called Cécil Hôtel.
I remember walking up to the Eiffel Tower at night. The view from up there is really stunning! It was very cold but for those who had never traveled before, like me, having climbed the Eiffel Tower was a remarkable moment. The Eiffel Tower is located on the Champ de Mars. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, who built the tower.

Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world.

The tower is 324 meters tall. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union.

We then strolled through the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysées where we saw all the luxury shops.
The Arc de Triomphe stands at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l’Étoile — the étoile or “star” of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues.  The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is an avenue 1.9 km long. It is known for its theaters, cafés, and luxury shops, for the annual Bastille Day military parade, and as the finish of the Tour de France cycle race. It is one of the most famous streets in the world.

Then we took a boat cruise on the river Seine and loved seeing those beautiful bridges and the Notre Dame.

The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and best-known church buildings in the Catholic Church in France, and in the world. The cathedral treasury contains a reliquary, which houses some of Catholicism’s most important relics, including the purported Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.

We visited a wax museum called Musee Grevin. Very interesting! It contains 450 characters arranged in scenes from the history of France and modern life, bloody scenes of the French Revolution, movie stars, and international figures such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan, and Pope John Paul II.  New wax characters are regularly added to the Museum. Figures include Zinedine Zidane, Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Adjani and Nolwenn Leroy.
After these two fantastic days, I returned home. I remember being scared, because it was the first time I was going to be in a plane and I was going to do it alone, not knowing where to walk to at the airport and not knowing how to speak French. But it went well and I think it was here that my uncontrollable desire for travel started here!