A day in the medieval city of Le Mans, and not a racing car in sight.

We decided to use the holidays to explore a little of the area around us. Le Mans is an hour’s drive away, so we chose a sunny day and headed off. We bought a guide at a little tourist office and followed a circuit around the very compact medieval centre.

la-cathedrale-st-julien

The cathedral of St Julien with chapel ceiling painted with musical angels and original medieval stained glass windows.

red pillar

The red pillar house. About ten houses in the old centre have pillars outside which reflect the occupation of the owner. The red pillar is reputed to be at the house of the town executioner – red from him wiping his hands on it. We saw another carved with keys.

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The narrow cobbled streets we walked through with many timbered houses.

The narrow cobbled streets we walked through with many timbered houses.

Menhir by the cathedral, supposedly resembling St Julien!

Menhir by the cathedral, supposedly resembling St Julien!

Two surprising things in a french day

happy children in skiing outfit in snowy mountains   School holidays are the same throughout France in the summer and autumn, but in February and at Easter they are staggered. This year it is the turn of our zone to be first, hence we start our holidays today, 9th February. Other zones will start on 16th or 23rd.This can make the terms very unequal in length.

We wondered why the holidays are so early and it was explained to us that it is the result of pressure from the ski resorts who want to extend the skiing period for as long as possible to maximise their income. They are obviously a very influential group.

The second surprising thing happened while I was watching the lunchtime news. On the major TV1 channel there are news programmes at 1pm and 8pm. Very often the first news item will be about how people are coping with the weather, or something to do with the everyday lives of the french. The 1pm news is followed by documentaries about different regions in France, which are very helpful for us foreigners.

Despite this fairly informal approach, I was still surprised at the end of the programme to hear the announcer add a personal comment. He wanted to wish his mother a very happy birthday! Admittedly, it may have been a significant birthday but I cannot imagine the same thing happening in Britain. We found it quite touching.

Charlie

I cant really have a blog about life in France without making at least a short comment about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish delicatessen. The events have shaken the French to the core and given them a new sense of vulnerability. The French uphold three fundamental rights: liberty, fraternity and egality. They feel that the first has been violated.

For me personally, the events have cast a cloud over my English lessons. Some students wanted to express their outrage and some their disappointment at the racism that has arisen. Some have joined the five million new subscribers to the magazine.

It is interesting to see the contrasting attitude in Britain where the government are currently debating laws which will curb freedom of speech when it leads to racial hatred.