Posts from the ‘Travel’ category

How to Say the U.S. States in French

When traveling, the first thing people often ask you is where you’re from. Of course, you could always say your state in English and probably be understood. But it’s interesting to think about the way place names change across cultures. For example, London becomes Londres in French. Paying attention to these small details will elevate your level of French speaking and understanding.

Here’s how I learned to easily remember the names and genders for all the US states.

Step 1

Learn the gender of each state. Only 9 of the 50 US states are feminine! If in doubt, go with masculine and you’ll be right more often than not.

All of the feminine states have a different spelling (more on this in Step 2). They are:

Caroline du Sud
Virginie Virginie de l'ouest
Floride Louisiane

Another way to remember the gender is that all feminine states end with an “e.”  Naturally, there are 5 pesky exceptions of the masculine states which end in “e” also. I think it’s easiest to commit the 9 feminine states to memory, rather than memorize the exceptions separately. But just in case you’d like to know, they are: Maine, New Hampshire, Delaware, Tennessee, and Nouveau-Mexique.


Step 2

Learn how to say the state names. Only 15 of the 50 states have a different spelling; most are only slightly different. These include all 9 feminine states above, plus these 6 masculine states:

Nouveau-Mexique Dakota du Sud
l'état de Washington l'état de New York Hawaï

“L’état de” (the state of) is used to differentiate these states from New York City and Washington, D.C.

The rest of the masculine states are just the plain old US names, spoken with a French accent, of course! For example, “Iowa” is pronounced “EE-owa.”

So out of 50 states, learning a mild variation from the English for just 15 of them isn’t too bad!






Step 3

Put it all together to say where you’re from. Remember that de means “from,” but it changes to du when combined with the masculine article. When preceding a state that starts with a vowel, it becomes de l’


    Je viens du Texas.   (de + le Texas = du)
    Je suis de la Floride.   (de + la = de la)
    Je viens de l’Iowa.   (de + le + vowel)
    J’habite au Missouri.   (à + le = au)

I created a PDF chart and map you can download for free, to help you learn these.

US States in French chart and map

Click image above to download PDF

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Riding the London Eye

I’ve been fascinated by the London Eye ever since it was built in 2000 — even though I’m the world’s biggest chicken when it comes to heights. On cold, winter days when I had travel fever, I’d scare myself sick watching youtube videos of people riding on it, but I still dreamed of experiencing it with my kiddos. I put it on my bucket list in 2009, at the time not knowing when or if we’d ever get there.

We did, much sooner than I imagined. In 2011, we flew to England on our way to France. We only had 1.5 days to spend in London, but I was determined to squeeze in a ride on the giant wheel.


As we made our way through the Tube system, I kept wondering if I could really do it. I’d already faced my fear on the Eiffel Tower, but this thing was a whole different animal. Not just standing tall and still — it’s in constant motion, and you can’t get off if you change your mind, until it completes its 30-minute rotation.

The closer we got to it, the bigger it grew, as did my fear. I half-hoped one of the kids would be too scared, so I could have the lame excuse of skipping it myself, but nothing doing! They weren’t a bit scared (yay, boys!), so I had to “man up.”  Thankfully, the line was short, so I didn’t have too much time to think about it. I forced myself to step on and hoped for the best.

I’m not gonna lie; for the first 10-15 minutes, I felt pretty ill. It didn’t help one bit that there was an obnoxious 2-year old who kept jumping up against the glass doors and sliding down, then kicking and screaming at them repeatedly, in defiance of the signs everywhere that warned “DO NOT LEAN AGAINST GLASS!” I was sure each jarring blow of his little wellies would shatter the glass into a million pieces, and we’d all plummet to our watery graves in the River Thames below. I stared daggers at his oblivious parents.

Once we reached the top, the worst was over, and it could only get better as we inched closer to the ground. That’s when I finally started to relax and take some pictures!

Riding the London Eye

Weston (left) and Wyatt enjoying the ride on the London Eye!


Riding the London Eye

At the highest point on the London Eye


Houses of Parliament and Big Ben


Here’s a lovely little video someone made to show what it’s like to be on board (minus the kicking, jumping 2-yr old in wellies).


Riding the London Eye 6

Riding the London Eye

Happiness is being back on the ground, AFTER riding the wheel. Hooray for checking another item off my Bucket List!

Now let’s go celebrate with some fish and chips!

Fun facts about the London Eye:

  • Opened in March 2000, also called the Millennium Wheel
  • 135 meters = 443 feet = 41 stories tall
  • 32 passenger capsules represent the 32 boroughs of London
  • Holds 800 passengers at once (up to 25 per capsule)
  • Each rotation takes 30 minutes at 0.6 mph
  • 360° view with sight distance of 25 miles (40 km) in all directions




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Project: Build a French City

At our homeschool co-op, I taught a class called “Bon Voyage” with travel-themed vocabulary and culture lessons: famous monuments, shopping, transportation, and directions on a map.

One of the most charming aspects of French life is the variety of small specialty shops found in each town, from small villages to large metropolitan cities.  Despite the noise of the bustling, modern world, wandering the streets in France can feel like traveling back in time. Popping in and out of little mom-and-pop shops, exchanging greetings of “Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur!” is so vastly different from shopping at Wal-mart!

French shops - la crèmerie

One of my faves – fresh cream ladled into cups, yogurt in glass jars, and dozens of fragrant cheeses.

(Hmmmm… I wonder if somewhere in France there is an opposite of me, someone who thinks French shopping is old-fashioned and yearns to shop at Wal-mart? Would they take pictures of giant cola and chip displays, like I take photos of pastries in bakery windows? Surely not!)

Before classes began, I found several long, rectangular boxes and spray-painted them a creamy stucco color, to represent the limestone of Parisian buildings.  I spray painted the box flaps a textured slate-gray color for the roofs. Each student was given a stiff cardboard panel, about 14″ tall by 11″ wide, to fit the outside dimensions of my boxes.

I wanted to make wrought-iron balconies from pipe cleaners or wire, but it was time-consuming and didn’t look right in the end. I tried finding a window graphic of balconies to cut and paste, but no luck. Another mom found an arched window graphic, so we printed several sheets of windows and cut them out. This gave everyone’s panel a unified look.

Balconies in Paris 1

As my students learned the names of French specialty shops, each chose their favorite and created a representation of it on their cardboard panel.  Every week we added buildings, streets, shops, and monuments to build our city.

The streets were spaced wide enough for them to walk through, so we could practice giving/receiving directions to tournez à gauche (turn left), tournez à droite (turn right), or continuez tout droit (go straight) until they arrived at their assigned destination.  This is what I love about homeschooling: learning “off the page,” i.e., learning by doing. No boring workbook pages!

Once all the storefront panels were finished, we attached them to the large boxes I’d painted, and arranged them into market streets, like this one:

rue Montorgueil – one of my favorite market streets in Paris

Student ages ranged from 7 to 17 years old, and I was amazed to see their creativity!  Below are some photos from our Open House, where we had to fit everything on tabletops along with displays from other classes.  For some reason, I didn’t get photos of it on the floor in the classroom, probably because we were always busy trying to make progress in a 45-minute class held only once a week!

La pâtisserie, the pastry shop

This student amazed me by sculpting her own pastries and cakes for her window!  She covered the cardboard in scrapbook paper, made an awning, and cut an opening for the door.

La boucherie, the butcher shop

This student cut out the butcher and meat display, then added foam spacers for a 3D effect (hard to tell from photo but a great effect). His awning is bordered with a ribbon, and the door and windows have real wood frames.


La boutique de fleuriste, the florist shop

Two girls worked on this shop. In another co-op class, they were learning paper quilling, so they made all the flowers from paper and sculpted little clay pots for them! Floral fabric for the awning.

La poste – the post office

French mailboxes and mail trucks are all yellow, as opposed to blue in the U.S. and red in the U.K. Isn’t that interesting?

Le café

This one has tables outside, with a chalkboard menu, and a white poodle! The French love to take their dogs with them everywhere, even to restaurants.

Le parc – the park

Every town has its green spaces, some with ponds and water features. This lady is having a pique-nique with a baguette.

La boulangerie – the bakery

More 3-D bread in the window. Awnings are an essential feature of French shops.

Le musée – the museum

The girl who made this one took time to paint the inside, cut out fancy windows, and fill it with paintings and adorable hand-made sculptures. Love it!

For the open house, I added photos and labels so observers could see what we’d been learning about in class.

We also created a roundabout with a model of the Arc de Triomphe, from a free online printable. Since then, I’ve found a nicer color version here.

These are grouped close together on tables, but during class they were spaced far enough to walk through. See the tiny airplanes at the airport? We also had a zoo with animals, hotels, and little cars and buses, all made by the students.  Voilà!  Everything you need for a successful city!








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My Outrageous Travel Goals

In 2009, I heard a motivational speaker who challenged me to make a detailed, specific list of “Outrageous Goals,” aka a Bucket List.  I was 37 at the time, so I listed 37 travel-related goals that seemed pretty far-fetched. I was desperate to get out of our remote, one-horse town in Missouri, but our travel budget had been virtually non-existent for years. I had traveled the U.S. with my parents when I was little, and I wanted that plus more for my boys… to see the world and to ride all sorts of planes, trains, boats, and taxis to get there.
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Cooking Class in Paris

On my 2008 trip to Paris, I took a cooking class at A World in a Pan. The most exciting part for me was that it took place in the chef’s own kitchen at her apartment, located in the 16th arrondissement, directly above a restaurant.

Chef Laura Neulat spoke English well, and we chatted easily in her living room, until the other participants arrived. Incredibly, they were three American ladies from Kansas City, where I lived at the time, and they were also staying at my same hotel (the one with the teeny, tiny elevator)! Quelle coïncidence!

Our luncheon was a typical 3-course French menu: cheese souflée, chicken in mushroom sauce, and a simple apple tart. We began making it in reverse order, dessert first, since it took the longest to cook.

la tarte aux pommes – apple tart


The petite kitchen was surprisingly functional! I took mental notes (and a few discreet photos) of her essential tools and how she maximized her small space for efficiency. At her direction, we crowded around a little table and began peeling, slicing, and grating. It was tight, but cozy. Chef Laura bustled back and forth between the stove and our table, giving excellent tips and instructions. I kept peeking out the window through the wrought iron balcony, feeling delighted with the experience of being in a real French person’s home!

Next we began the chicken recipe. Chef Laura explained how she purchased only the freshest produce and free-range chicken from the market, and the best cheese and cream from the fromagerie. She was very much into organic food and clean eating, as most French people seem to be. They love knowing the story of where their food comes from.

Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons - Chicken in Mushroom Sauce

Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons – Chicken in Mushroom Sauce

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My Eiffel Tower Epiphany

Before I set foot in France, the Eiffel Tower was a cute cliché, a romantic ooh-la-la notion of idealized Paris. Impressive architecture, yes, but also kind of a kitschy tourist trap, not worth much time.

The trouble is, I have a terrible phobia of heights. And I hate elevators, especially glass elevators. One time in the 90’s, my hotel room for a convention was on the 8th floor, overlooking an atrium. I skipped the elevator for the stairs, but I was so woozy from the height, I had to crawl along the balcony to my room. I was that neurotic.

So my only plan for Eiffel was to get the obligatory tourist photo, standing on terra firma with the tower in the background. I could never go up that weird, diagonal glass elevator (and the stairs are nightmarishly see-through, for goodness’ sake!).

Place du Trocadéro - best place to capture the tower's full height

Place du Trocadéro – best place to capture the tower’s full height

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Panic in a Petite Paris Elevator

I have recurring nightmares about getting stuck in elevators and/or twisting and turning wildly through convoluted elevator tubes, through a bizarre skyscraper, the likes of which you’d only find in a Dr. Seuss book. I’m sure there’s some embarrassing, Freudian dream interpretation for all this, but I’d rather not think about what it might be.

Having just conquered the daunting, double-decker elevator of the Eiffel Tower, you’d think a tiny elevator would be no problem. You’d be wrong! On top of elevator-phobia, I have claustrophobia as well!

So you can imagine my dismay when I was greeted with a diminutive see-through iron cage, only slightly larger than the pink plastic one on Barbie’s Dream House.

stairs spiraling around a narrow elevator cage

It was my first trip to Paris, my group tour had just ended, and now I was traveling all by myself, seriously lacking in travel-smarts. I’d just checked in to my hotel, a quaint old building in the 7th arrondissement, near the Eiffel Tower.

Huge, old-fashioned metal key in hand, I followed an honest-to-goodness French maid, in full uniform, complete with starched white apron and hat, toward the center of the hotel. She stopped next to the stairs and a narrow elevator, and opened the swing-out door for me. Continue reading…

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My Favorite Travel Guidebooks for Paris and France

Rick Steves is my go-to source for travel info! For me, his books are just the right mix of important info, advice, culture, history, and humor, all in a user-friendly format. If you’re spending a week or more in Paris, get the dedicated Paris guide. It has the most comprehensive info on where to stay, eat, and visit, along with walk-through tours of main sites and suggested walking routes. As Rick says, it’s a $15-20 tool for a $3000+ experience!

2017 Edition

2018 Edition

I own several editions, but I always buy the current year’s edition for each trip. It might seem redundant, but popular sites frequently close for renovation, hotels/restaurants may close or change management, etc. Best to be prepared with up-to-date info.

Many sites offer a discount when you show them your Rick Steves book. For example, we saved 2 euro per person on our Paris bike tour. With nearly $8 savings, it almost paid for the book! There are offers for restaurants and other activities, too.

Planning to day-trip from Paris? Tips for popular side trips include: Giverny (Monet’s gardens), Disneyland Paris, Versailles, etc. Click the product image for more info.

If you’ll be visiting Paris for only a couple days before moving on to another region of France, then just get the France book. It has enough of Paris to cover a short visit (condensed from the Paris book), plus healthy chapters for the other main regions of France. I’m so glad I bought this one for my 2013 trip to Paris and Normandy, as it was extremely helpful. Especially since I experimented with traveling “on the fly” with few reservations made in advance.

This page contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission when you click any items below and purchase on Amazon. This helps offset my site expenses, so I can create fun, informative, and free content. I only recommend things I personally use and love with all my Frenchy heart. Merci for your support!




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Wandering Paris {Book Review}

Companion book to “Rendez-vous with France.” This one is thinner and easier to carry on your trip to Paris. Same style of watercolor illustrations and lots of vocabulary interspersed with hand-drawn maps and suggested themes for how to spend a day in Paris: Flea Market day, Art day, Water day, Bakery day, etc. Similar to my suggestions for theme travels in Paris.
Specific restaurants and sites are recommended with address info. Another excellent gift book. 86 full-color pages.

This page contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission when you click any items below and purchase on Amazon. This helps offset my site expenses, so I can create fun, informative, and free content. I only recommend things I personally use and love with all my Frenchy heart. Merci for your support!


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