Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dreaming of Languedoc

Well, it's been almost 5 months since we were in France. I already have my heart being tugged back there. I still love to look at real estate listings and dream of living there.

I've even had a friend and her husband who might like me to plan and accompany them on a trip to Paris in a couple of years.

At the very least though, Megan is eager for our trip together during the summer of 2012. Like her sister, I will take her for 2 weeks. Although staying with my aunt saves a lot of money, it is surely a long trip into the city and the experience is quite different.

On one hand, there's nothing like being with family and being in a beautiful house. It is a house that has acted so many times like an oasis in my chaotic childhood and early adult life. I was set free here, even if for just a summer at a time, to explore and spill my milk.

On the other hand, there is a great advantage to just falling out of bed and being IN PARIS. It also allows a much easier way for me to rest during the day but not have to leave. Having a nap has become almost obligitory for me now.

But during the cold, wet, gloomy days of November, it is the light of the Languedoc that I miss. The vines, markets, shopkeepers, the restaurants and the sea!

Some day!!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Driving with the Walz family in the Gorges

This is a bit out of order, refer to the White knuckle driving post!

Swimming in the shadows of the aqueducts

Ok, so it was not in the shadows but in the full mediterranean sun. And it was NOT me who was swimming. Still, it was an amazing place to cool off in the waters flowing under the largest aqueduct built in the Roman Empire!

But that wasn't how we started our day. We piled into the car by 10 am in hopes of getting to the Musee de Bon Bon in Uzes, north of Nimes. It was going to be a long drive and a long day. A missed turn though, pointed us off the A9 toll highway and along the scenic route until we met back up with it later.

Unfortunately, we made it to the musee just mins after the tours were stopped for lunch break and we had too much on our agenda to wait until after lunch. Fortunately, however, we were still there in time to go to the store. A little hint: the Musee de Bon Bon is actually a museum opened by Haribou at it's Uzes candy plant. And so if you like gummy bears and everything else gummy, this is like heaven. I laughed to see the grown-ups with shopping carts hauling out kilo sized bags of gummy bears and other gummy delights! So yes, we all bought candy, but nothing in the kilo size. They also had posters and books and things representing the origins of the candy plant who's first candy was made with the local anise plant - Zans.

After taking pictures with the Haribou gang, we were hungry. And what kind of example would we be setting for our kids if we let them have candy for lunch? So we headed off to the second part of our adventure: Le Pont de Gard.

Although we'd seen pictures, it didn't really prepare us for the aqueduct or it's location.

We parked in a large parking lot which was, thankfully, quite empty. After paying 15 Euros to get in, I was impressed by the facilities. Not only did it have nice toilettes (lol) but self-serve refreshments with relaxing chairs under a tarp, and a few tourist shops for good measure.

So off we all walked with our big Carrafour shopping bags filled with pick-nick food and another with bathing suits. We walked down a dusty fragrant path covered with thick shade from trees growing out of craggy rocky terrain. This was definitely more Provence than Languedoc. And then around the bend, the aqueduct!

After finding a shady place to eat and listen to some really weird frogs (sounded like chickens - wonder if they tasted like...), we headed across the aqueduct and over to the other shore where there was a rocky beach. By now, it was about 2 pm and the heat was pretty brutal - time for a cooling river swim! There were bathrooms large enough to change in and so Mike and the girls got on their suits and headed in. The river was a bit chilly. I waded in too. There were female tourists settling on the rocks near us who, though lacked bathing suits, decided to sun bathe in their underwear (oh, so THAT'S why they sell it in matching sets!)

Although we had planned on going to Nimes to see the Roman colosseum (built the same time as the big one in Rome), we had to let it go. Everyone got fried to a crisp in the sun and was tired. So, we drove home, everyone quiet, and even got off at the right exits.

Everyone agrees, in retrospect (as I'm writing this now that I'm home) that the Pont de Gard was one of the top 5 in everyone's list!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

White knuckle day!

Well, panic is setting in. With only a few days to go, we are all motivated to do more things, rest less.

Today, we all piled into the Renault Espace and hit the road before 9am. That's the earliest since our soggy run to the Gare de Lyon from my Aunt's house over a week ago.

Since most sights and museums are closed on Mondays, we headed toward the Pyrennes today. It was hard for Mike since, although my route was layed out, what I wanted to see was sort of vague: the area. He likes concrete plans, I like flying by the seat of my pants and often disrupt everyone's happy place by saying, "oh wait, let's...." Ok, I'm working on it!

Anyway, we headed south, to Narbonne and then toward's Carcassonne again, driving the very fast and now familiar N9 an A61 toll roads. Just beyond Narbonne, we got off the "nice familiar road" and chose the roads through the country and the lower hills of the Pyrenees.

After confusing a sign (our map doesn't have great detail) and mistrusting Madame GPS (yes, she has been confused before...) we got back on the road. One of the reasons I'd picked the route I had was it went through Cathar country and had several Abbayes and castles dating from around the 8th Century on. I had no idea what we were getting in to or what to expect from this area. I just needed to see it, damn it!

So through a small plane tree-lined villiage, we saw a sign for the first Abbaye and I said, "Oh, hey, let's go visit that one!" Well I kind of assumed it was in this town. But as we followed signs and Mike, who was getting a bit nervous at this point, asked, Where IS it? I of course had no more clue than him! So, having just found the road we were SUPPOSED to be on, we deviated and followed the signs to the Abbaye de Lagrasse. What seemed like 20 mins later, we arrived at a beautiful midaeval villiage at the ends of the earth - I think...

We wound our way through the tiny streets, across the river, and found the Abbaye and museum...which had closed for lunch 5 mins earlier. Well, 2 hours was too much time to wait. So we crossed the river (more like a stream now) and rested on its banks. Megan rolled up her jeans and waded in. We then followed the winding streets around and back to the main square and although we'd packed food in the car, we needed food in a more social setting in the middle of this back country. We've found that lunch is a happy but long committment and having a sort of agenda, we decided to just eat desert and have a drink. We were quickly relegated to the back where we could see the chef scorn us for messing up French gastonomical protocol. But he seemed like sort of a grumpy guss with everyone.

Back on the road, we went flying back to our correct road and continued. It was wild and desolate country broken by little towns built precariously between the stream and the road.

Suddenly, there was another little town with a Chateau - Chateau Villerouge Termenes. We jumped out and of course, was still early for the opening time. But the views were spectacular and we enjoyed walking through the small, small town. The smell was a mixture of figs ripening, herbs, flowers and lots of trees - very sweet when the wind died down.

By the way, althought the weather had shown full sunshine in this region, it had shown 80 km/hr for wind speeds. Yes indeedy - it was howling!

Again, off we flew - Mike feeling almost fully French in his driving now. Now it got windy. We climbed mountains and dropped quickly into valleys, winding around hairpin turns, barely missing on-coming traffic, and thankful for a manual speed car. I was waring out my imaginary break and Megan took to holding a plastic bag barfing was imminant!

Finally, back to a lovely rolling valley and another ruin. PLEASE...let's stop! Finally, it was after 2pm and we got to go in and walk up the tower. It was a bit disappointing to find that we'd been the 3rd group of Americans in the Chateau that day! And more had been there last week. What was this, an infiltration???

Anyway, we had fun going around and around the spiral staircase to each level of the castle. The first floor above the ground floor had been for the Lord and Lady, the next floor up was where the garrison men slept, and the third was for defending the Chateau and surrounding lands.

Back to the car, we chowed down our French cheese, dried meat, yogurts, and French bread. And off we went. I knew we were near to our "destination" which was called Rennes les Bains. This was a hot springs town boasting a clinic for rhumetoid arthritis. Although this sounds boring, it was also supposed have a public pool with the waters in it!

After again winding around more hairpin turns, suddenly we were in the town, flying buy the ancient Roman baths that were between the rocky overhang and the road we were speeding on. Ok, we'd missed that as there was not even enough room for a walking path back to it. Bummer. But there was a nice big parking area on either side of the street and so we parked and decided to look around. We headed toward the spa/clinic which was perched over the river below it. Unfortunately, it and the public pool had a delayed openning of June 28th. :( So we walked down to the river to feel the river. It was beautiful but cold. However, there was a beautiful promedade along it, crossing it in one place and leading to a park opposite the Roman era baths, high above and on the other side of the river and busy road. It was still a pleasant place to run some ya-yas out and go wading. When other French people arrived, we saw that you could cross the river on rocks (very shallow river) to a man-made basin. Water was flowing under the road from the Roman baths into the basin. Mike and Megan went over and Megan found the water very warm. We would have all jumped in except the others were happy not to move and we were ready to move on.

Disappointed but rested, we got back on the road. Between my big map, my Aude guide map and Madame GPS we determined that we were on the righ road to head forward through some more mountains until we got to Perignan near the sea.

Up and up and up and round and round and down and down and all over again we drove. There were, for the first time, no vineyards, just cows and horses and some sheep.

The country started to get rockier and as we headed through another pass on our 1 1/2 lane secondary road, I looked down and realized...oh ya, I'd seen something about some gorges along the route.

Well before I knew it, my imaginary break was of no use and I was genuinely nervous. In my two videos taken while driving through the hair raising/graying Gorges de Galamus, you can hear my nerves shatter until "holy shit" was about the only thing I could say.

The road was perched on the edge of a mountain - mountain high above us and mountain plummetting down below us. I, of course, was on the side of the plummeting edge. Yes, there was a solid stone build wall all along the plummeting edge side, but it did little to make me feel better. The road was nothing but hairpin turns, the road about a car and 1/4 width wide with a sort of walled turret-style out cropping on the hairpin part, so you could pull over slightly and stop (or back up to) when an on-coming car headed your way. We did meet lot's of traffic including three vans in a row.

Mike drove with nerves of steel and I did nothing to inspire pride with my lack of calm under pressure. Finally after driving under a rocky overhang and then through a tunnel and meeting lots of crazy people walking on the side of this road, we reached a parking place where we stopped and got out to look back and down. With knees shaking, I managed to take some great pictures, including one of a hermitage clinging to the mountain far below the road. We also had a nice peak at the Pyrannes with snow on them.

At this point, the worst was over and we soon reached a normal country road leading us quickly to Perpignan. The flat plane around Perpignan seemed pretty boring after all we'd seen today. But getting onto the fast A9 was a joy.

We were also infanitely smarter than our previous trips in that we got off before Beziers instead of getting off at exit under construction, also known now as the Exit-leading-FAR-away-from-where-we-want-to-be!

As we hauled our tired butts in our villa door, our brains went on holiday and shut down for the remainder of the day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The following blog posts are brought to you by panic and anxiety!

Except for driving home from the beach, I've not driven yet. And not in real traffic.

So today, I've risked life and limb - not only mine but Emily's - to get to the wi-fi hotspot "Le Quick". The fries suck by the way...

I'm still shaking and Emily is white having still not recovered from the experience...


June 20, 2010

Friday, we had a beautiful day at our local beach. The weather was windy but quite sunny and hot. The only other thing we did all day was to have a fabulous 3 hour dinner locally where the chef and her husband were so incredibly nice. They were from Belgium and had been in Portiragnes in 8 years. We had arrived at the same time as the photographer who was here to take pictures for a prestigious guide to fine dining in Languedoc. They asked if we were ok with being in the pictures and said sure.

The dinner was in a lovely garden with a typical restaurant cat - aloof to our attentions until our dinner arrived when he turned into an absolute charmer! And of all in our party, the most hardened to begging was the only one to relent! The dinner was haut cuisine and absolutely fabulous - a husband at another table, despite his wife being across the table from him, asked the chef if she were married as the food was so fine! But the best part was the wonderful couple and their friendliness to us.

The family continues to enjoy French TV and has taken a huge interest in Le Coup de Monde, watching some of most every game played so far, including the one where the American team was totally cheated of their winning goal. Mike and I watched part of the movie The Incredible Hulk the other night. The closer and other shows are just as popular here as in the States. All are, of course, dubbed.

Yesterday (Saturday) we all piled into the car and drove to Carcassonne. It was very simple to get there and really beautiful, took about an hour. We were thrilled to drive right through a wind farm, those wind mills are quite impressive. We understood immediately why they'd build it in the valley. It's a sort of valley corridor between the Pyrannes and the Longue d'oc range (this end being called les Montagnes Noires). It's also the connection between the Mediterrannean and the Atlantic.

The area was wind blown and somewhat desolate, the only area we've seen down here that wasn't fully planted with vines or grains. In the distance we could see one of the famous Cathar castles perched impossibly on a piste (rocks jutting straight up from the earth). This was, I'm sure, just a ruin. If we'd had no kids and more time, a ride from Carcassonne to Peripignan through the mountains would have lead us on a trail of Cathar Castles to visit as well as caves and lots of info about prehistoric man in this area.

These were definately on my list for this trip. But travelling with kids requires a lot of down days, even more than I anticipated. And teens have very little patience for going long distance "just to look at things". And although I don't mind leaving her behind for a few hours, all day is out of the questions - much to her displeasure.

Anyway, we arrived at Carcassonne early enough (in the day and year) to get parking outside the gates and to get right in. It was blustery and overcast so I was glad that Mike had thrown my fleece into the car before leaving.

I had been here 24 years ago and stayed in the Youth Hostel there. But it didn't become a UNESCO World Heritage sight until 1998. I don't seem to remember much from my visit except that I was too broke to go to the shops, the chateau and any other part that required les francs.

This time we walked all over, paid for the entrance into the chateau (13th Century, just the structure with great info at each station and amazing views). After this, we wound our way through the tiny pedestrian streets (all the streets are pedestian within the walls.) We went into numerous ticky-tacky shops along with the only other group of American tourists we've experienced here in Langedoc. Then we went into the amazing cathedral where chamber singers just happened to be singing for their bread. It was quite amazing.

After the church, we decided it was lunch time. Since it was starting to rain out-right, we had trouble finding a seat inside, but finally did where we had a leisurely 1 1/2 hour lunch sampling local dishes such as Cassoulet. By the end of lunch, it was really pouring so we ran from store to store. The girls bought items from a cotton place where everything was handmade and organic. After a few shops and Euros spent, the rain slowed and stopped by the time we deemed it time to leave.

Once again we had no problem getting home until the very end where, conveniently and not for the first time, we got lost due to the construction (and elimination) of our normal exit. Mike and I had no detailed local map and Madame GPS must have been off "Prendant un coup" (getting a drink) because she was no damn help. Now, when I say we got lost, it's quite an understatement. As we took the available exit off the A9 (pay highway) we admired the short 1 hr. drive back. And hour after that, we'd headed every direction away from Beziers EXCEPT the one we needed. As Mike and I tried very hard to not get tense with each other (where the hell was Madame GPS?) the kids turned up there mp3 players and dug themselves even more enthusiastically into their books.

No exageration, an HOUR later, we pulled into our local supermarket for dinner supplies, exhausted and ready to run over pedestrians, cyclists, and smaller Fiat cars. When we got home, everyone headed for different rooms and we finally ate dinner around 8pm (not late for France).

Despite the very frustrating last 5 km which took us that ##$@$(*&&%^ hour to drive, we had a great day.

June 18, 2010 - warning - a bit of social commentary...

Today was my first day driving. However, before I say how I did, I must say that Mike has been an awesome driver here in France. It's not easy since, one minute you may be on a two lane street and the next moment a one lane farm road with small, SMALL places to pull over when another car comes. And the streets, one moment you're on a boulevard - the next on a one car width 2-way street with cars parked on the tiny side walk. And, it doesn't seem to matter if you are driving on the N9 - the local toll highway or the Chemin de Tresse (a town "way" that leads to our villa complex), they drive like freakin' bats-out-of-hell.

Add to that, that I rented the biggest mini-van they make over here and you can easily feel intimidated. But Mike's done very well. And while he pays attention to the veille me-me (old lady) driving 60 mph through the villiage, I try to read the signs.

The French are, as are most Europeans and everyone else in the world but Americans, keen on saving energy. Solar panels are not uncommon on houses, in the distance from our patio you can see a large wind farm, people drive small and very fuel efficient cars, and they use Round-a-bouts all over the place. In fact, I can only think on ONE traffic light that we've even stopped at. This makes for great fuel efficiency and lovely driving. But, as you whirl around them with the French merging and tailgating, reading the direction signs sometimes requires more than one trip around the circle!

Mike and I have only almost filed for divorce twice during our trip. My Mom and dad said never hang wallpaper together if you want to stay married. Navigating in a foreign country could be added to that list.

But now that we can make our way to the supermarche without ripping each others eyes out, we're harmonious. (Check in again for another missive: Driving to Carcassonne - "which exit on this round-a-bout???" and "When are we going to be there???"

We also have a sort of marriage councellor: Madame GPS (pronounced Jay-Pay-Ess). She's got a pleasant female voice and by the luck of the gods, speaks English. And she NEVER says, "That way, THAT way! NO, right, no- the OTHER right, idiot!" Of course, neither do I!

So today, I decided to drive home from the beach. It's only 5 mins. But I haven't driven a standard since Emily was a 1 year old. And, that long 1-lane farm road between the vineyards and the wheat fields, and one round-a-bout. I never stalled the car, didn't miss the road (although I nearly got beeped at for going too slow as I turned onto it) and managed to pull over in time for an on-coming car. That may not seem like much, but I'm proud!!

By-the-way, I love our Renault Espace. It drives like a dream (of course the roads down hear are REALLY well maintained) and has everything and is super comfortable. You can't lock yourself out, it beeps when a bump in the back is immenant,and has plenty of room! It's a deisel and seems pretty fuel efficient since it's about $6/gallon here. (I'm still trying to figure out how $3/gal. brings our economy to it's knees and Europe, all though struggling too, seems to manage at $6/gal....) Food here is inexpensive, especially the fruits and vegetables - so everyone has an equal chance to eat healthy. Other things, they are expensive.

I've had some really pleasant conversations with French store keepers. All employers are obliged to give their employees (new or old) 5 weeks a year. Large national manufacturers close for 3 weeks so everyone has an equal chance to vacation without stressing about their backlog of work. There seems to be an equal amount of work and repose; Seriousness and time with family and friends - something that seems seriously lacking in our country.

Little things like: School starts at 8am, work at 9am.1-2 hours of lunch everyday. They actually LEAVE their desk and go out to a restaurant and eat and laugh and relax with friends! Unfortunately, the American business culture is corroding that. Pretty soon they'll all be stressed out jelly-fish stuffing fast food into their mouths while sitting over their computers being highly inefficient for the rest of the afternoon.

My cousin's daughter is sequestered, as most high school Seniors are right now, for about 2 months, studying for the future defining Bac - a gruelling serious of 4 hour tests. This determines what kind of University they will be able to attend - for much less than $10,000/year. Imagine what our country might be like if, based on your test scores alone, you could get into amazing Universities all over the country, no matter if you were an aristocrat or the baker's daughter!

I'm not saying the French school system is the best - I still like ours better. But I sure would love to have a more level playing field for upper education and a proper lunch break (The French are horrified by our 20 mins lunch breaks and lack of bathroom breaks and real meals at school).

But despite the hard work all week, the weekends are spent eating wonderful meals with friends and family, walking in nature, or going to the museums (often free on Sundays).

So yesterday, we took a quick trip to Pezanas. That was a mistake as we needed much more time there. It is an amazing mideaval city not far from here with a twisting, winding maze of a pedestrian district where artisans of all types stand in their doorways, talking to the merchants around them, and being very pleasant to us. We met a very nice Canadian couple who'd bought a wreck of a place 10 years ago and renovated it during summers here. They love it there so much, they bought another. I then ran around with mouth wide open as I looked up and saw many, MANY places for sale. I need to start playing the lotto.

Unfortunately, the stores were closing shortly after we got there and so we found a nice restaurant in the Place de Gambatta, across from the home of one of Moliere's friends, and had a beautiful dinner. Well, poor Emily got hopelessly locked in the "toilette". The waiter, feeling very nervous came out and got Mike. Mike calmly translated to Emily on the other side of the door how to very delicately hold the key so it would work. I guess the waiter had to shine the light from a cell phone into the lock to tell her exactly when to turn it!

So, that makes all us girls who've been locked in a cabine de toilette this trip. Megan and I got locked in at the Menagerie in Paris and workers in the gardens were called, with tools, to get us out. Nothing will make me forget all my French skills than being locked in a toilette!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Weather is mixed but lots of fun and very friendly people!

We do not have an easy wi-fi connection so I've not been able to keep the blog up.

But, rest assure we are having fun. The people are so friendly here, whether they're at the Carrefour (the Super Walmart store) or at the beach side restaurant or at the Villa complex - have met Brits, a lovely Irish woman and then of course the French. I get the feeling Americans are VERY rare in this area.

Apparently the Gulf Stream dropped or something like that and so the weather is really mucked up here. Thank goodness we didn't go to Provence though, there's been flooding and the Mediterranean waters are gray and cloudy with silt from the flooding rivers. We've just had some rain and it's cool-ish. But we've had two very nice beach mornings and a trip to Narbonne in the overcast/rain.

By the way, it's pretty awsome to go to the beach and see the Pyranees on one side and the mountains to the north on the other side/in back. The weather is really hard to predict as the clouds move in all directions and vaporize or evaporate within minuites.

Narbonne is a beautiful little town on a small canal. We loved it. Unfortunately, the archeology museum is only closed on Tuesday - the day we were there. But, there's always a beautiful church to visit in a Midaeval town and this one did not disappoint - built in the 12th century. It had amazing tile work, alabaster statue of Madonna and Child, and huge tapestries. Then, nothing better than a little shopping after a whole 45 mins of hushed voices. We all found things we liked at the Monoprix (like a K-Mart in a beautiful turn of the century building - it's a chain found everywhere in France.)

So, after I post this (from the Quick Hamburger place near the Carrefour) we will head to Pezenas for atisan merchandise and to view lots of 18th Century mansions. Hoping to eat dinner there too.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Into each life a little rain must fall

Well, none of us slept well, knowing that we had to get up by 4:45 am to catch our suburban train and metro to get to our TGB train to Bezier to get to the car rental place in time!

So at 4 am, the thunder boomed and by 4:45 the Heavens opened and the rain fell like in the time of Noah! So my aunt, in her pj's said good bye and we grabbed our 3 umbrellas and literally ran to the suburban train. We were like drenched, burdened donkeys!!

As side note, Megan and I had a 5 day pass which stopped working after day one so we'd been given a new 5 day pass. So I verified that our passes would work on that 6th day (I doubted the French National Train company - SNCF - would ever give us a "free day") and was assured by the SNCF employee that indeed the pass would work! Then I had also bought 2 tickets from from St. Cloud (zone 3 where my aunt lived) to Gare de Lyon (zone 1 where our TGV train station would be.)

Being so early, the gates to the train were open, Megan and I walked through without "compose nos tickets," but Emily and Mike did their duty for their one trip tickets I'd bought the day before.

When we got the the station where we changed from the suburban train to the Metro, Megan and I couldn't get out verifying that the French government would not indeed give us a free day! So, by the luckiest of fate, a metro worker came and actually unlocked the gate used for people carrying their lives in backpacks and luggage.

Megan and I ran to the kiosk to buy our new metro 1 ride tickets. Then we dashed single file through the Metro turnstyle to find that Mike and Emily's did not work HERE! I guess the SNCF guy had only given us enough ticket to get INTO Paris but no further. So Mike dashed back to the automated kiosk and used the last of his coingage to get tickets too.

But, we arrived with enough time to get a well deserved breakfast at Gare de Lyon before our train came - late. I was so sure that French trains were never late! I learned later, that down here in Languedoc, they'd had some doozy of a weather front - my faith was restored.

Our seats had somehow, mirraculously, been booked in 1st class and we had a lovely 194 mph train ride. 4 quick hours of relaxing and we arrived to slightly overcast Beziers. We picked up our car (a Renault minivan) and GPS looked for bathrooms.

Ah, I think I'd forgotten how to prep the kids for the "porcelain footprints". Google "turkish toilet!" My, my knees are out of practice. I think that's all on THAT subject!

By now, my two day cold and slighlty damp clothes kicked in an I was feverish. So, we stopped by a large store called Carrifour (like a huge Super Walmart but with better food and espridrilles) and buy a few necessities for the evening and go by the villa hoping that it was ready for us early.

With the pleasant GPS lady and our written directions, we found our way to the villa quite easily. But try as I might, I could not get the key out of the key lock.

Now, any company can do things right by luck. But the sign of a good company is to handle a freaked-out, feverish American tourist. And Pure France was great!! Before we knew it, they'd found out the problem and got me the new code and we were in! Everyone crashed at that moment (well, except Megan so I sent her upstairs to her bedroom to unpack and put stuff away). And I mean crashed.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Off to the Sun King's Palace

Today I had the fun experience of standing in line to make reservations for Sat. on the super fast train. Although an older woman was feeling crabby as she thought I'd jumped in front of her in line, it turned out I had the necessary and correctly numbered ticket and she didn't. So I got to sit down before her and she had to go get a ticket at the back of the line! But the SNCF (National Train company) guy was super nice and took care of what I needed.

Then, we were off to Versailles. By the time we got there, besides looking for a toilette, we decided to eat lunch. So we found a cut restaurant named Le Chien Qui Fume (The dog who smokes) and had a fabulous 3 course lunch. The propriator was so polite and gave us souveniers of the restaurant. I think he was impressed that we went for the French Menu instead of the easy route of the English one. I admit that I wasn't always sure what we'd end up with (high end cuisine vocabulary was never my strength). But everyone loved their 3 courses including my very elegant chocolate mousse in pastery with whip cream on the side.

After that hugely satisfying lunch, we were ready for the rest of the walk to the Palais and to be blinded by gold. We navigated the slightly confusing and overly buraucratic system for buying tickets and entering the museum. We did not spend a lot of time in any one room except the Hall of Mirrors.

This room is somewhat more special since, somehow my Aunt had been invited to a very fancy dinner served there and was able to invite my father. So they ate dinner with gloved waiters for each guest. It was a nice moment for us to remember my dad.

We did not see much as a 9 yr old cannot really enjoy the subtle differences between Louis XIV and Louis XVI style! It was enough to see how well the king lived and talk about how little their lives were about their own wishes.

We hit the gardens and then the gift store - always fun.

During the walk back, we encountered some kind of police excitement - Les Flics (cops) driving around, mucking up traffic and waving machine guns out of their windows. Norrine thinks there was just some visiting dignitary in town and they were showing their might! Funny though, how big the machine gun seemed out the window of a little French Renault!

Hoping to get my act together and post some pics tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Good Morning!

While you all sleep, we are up and the household is hopping. Well, not the kids, but us adults. My Aunt and Mike are off to the market, and I am drinking coffee and eating baggette with Normandy butter and homemde marmalade. And a little peace and quiet for me, except for answering my Aunt's phone. Fortunately, so far the callers have been English speaking, including my cousin Danniel.

We are awoken by a very pleasant chime that rings to signal the start of school, which is right next door to my Aunts house.

I'm having so many flashbacks about being here as a young child and up to a young woman on my own. And then I look over to see my own two children and it makes me jump. Who are these fine young people and how can they even be here or mine yet??

Today we will go back to Paris and break up into our two "teams". Megan and I will go to the Decorative Arts museum while Mike and Emily go off to the Pompidou Center - the modern art museum. We will meet for food and drink and try shopping in Les Halles - hoping for more reasonable prices!

The weather is sprinkly with sun and clouds. Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy so we will go to Versailles and bask in the illumination of The Sun King's chateau.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm going to get rich...

I've decided that someone needs to do a guide book about where the toilets are in this city. OMG, when you got a go, you got to go!!

We got up late today and didn't leave the house until almost noon. But when the daylight lasts until about 10pm, that's ok. The day is long.

We walked to the Eiffel Tower and under it and then, whew, were tired and needed lunch. Went to a nice cafe near by. It is strange to see the armed guards with machine guns keeping watch under the Eiffel Tower, but hey, it does make you feel safe.

After lunch, we took a ride on the river with a bazillion school kids. But the boat ride is a great way to see the city from a different perspective.

Then, Amelia and I went to the huge department stores (les grands magasins) and didn't buy anything. Well, the tee shirt for $80 was tempting but... I'll take her shopping where the deals are much better. But it was fun to see what the rich folk wear!

Monday, June 7, 2010

My feet are sore!

Today was our first official day as tourist family.
After picking up our metro passes, we walked around in the Tuilleries a bit and then crossed the foot bridge over to my old place. The window was open! Who was in MY room??

Since it was 12:30 pm already, we thought it best to get some food and so had a nice lunch on the Blvd. St. Germain, 2 blocks from my old room.
Then Mike and Amelia were off to the National Museum of the Middle Ages (think Unicorn Tapestry) and Megan and I went to the Menagerie (think Madeleine stories). They had just redone the "zoo" and so there were many happy animals.
It's a very cool zoo since it was built in the 1700's. Many of the structures are picturesque. There is a Jardin des Plantes also and a museum on evolution too. But the Menagerie was plenty for a first outing.

We met back with Mike and Amelia at Place St. Michele, enjoying some sugar in the form of amazing sorbet and my first cafe.

By the time we dragged our sorry you-know-whats into my Aunt's garden, I didn't think anyone could climb to the 3rd floor where we are staying. But we did and then enjoyed a wonderful meal - the kind that no kid would ever eat in the States but miraculously will eat here!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In France

We made it! The flight was sleepless but uneventful. And it was quite a luxury to find a driver waiting for us and to drive us directly to my Aunt's house. We were so spent that I don't know how we would have made it otherwise!

Unfortunately, I've had a pinched nerve headache and so Mike took the girls into Paris on his own today. Everything is More complicated on Sunday as many things are closed - including metro ticket sales spots! But they did great on their own.

Later we all went to the beautiful Parc de St. Cloud and had a snack of crépes and Schweps Indian Tonic.

Friday, June 4, 2010

At the airport

We were ready and waiting for the taxi to pick us up at home. We waited. And waited. Then we realized we were ready an HOUR early!

Anyway we are at the airport and saw our 747 come in. I had to be pulled aside because my backpack had "something" strange in it. It was my special carbon filter water bottle!

OK, now we need to exercise our limbs and run out som ya-yas!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dreaming of living in France again!

Some days, I feel I would gladly give up the security invested for my old age just to buy a place in France to live. I'm hoping that we can at least rent something for a year or something. But for fun, I often peruse the realty offerings in Languedoc. What you can buy for $150,000 is A LOT. Mais helas, who has an extra stash that big for a dream?

I did find this American lady who sells shares of homes she hand picks and renovates. It's sort of like a time share, but not really. You own 4, 5, 6 weeks a year, sometimes more. It's like a little association. And she has some "shares" available that make my knees go weak!

Some amazing pictures of her trip around Languedoc.

I think she's crazy about France as much as I am and she's very nice, I've corresponded with her.

Ok, I need to pack...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Le Chateau de Versailles


This is one of the sites our family will definitely go see while in "Paris". St. Cloud, where my Aunt lives, is between Paris and Versailles so it will be quick to get there.

I have not gone for a long time, but remember how, like Le Louvre, it's way too big to do the whole thing in a day. That's why it's great to visit the web site and pick out one or two main areas to see and not get so totally exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience.

And upon visiting the website, I see they are having a strike and so some of the Chateau is closed. Really, if you love the French like I do, you have to accept them for who they are. They love to strike! Whenever you visit France, you must accept that something you want to do will be FUBAR because of the French genetic need to strike. Accept it and work around it!

I have a very funny memory of visiting the Grands Canals at the Chateau. I was 16 and staying with my aunt and uncle for the summer. Since my aunt was madly busy getting ready for a huge party she was throwing (might it been the one where I was forced to mingle with ambassadors?) Anyway, she also had a 17 year old English chap staying at the house too - my aunt's house was always busy with comings and goings.

So my aunt needed us to "be gone" and so she quickly packed up une pique-nique and drove us to the Chateau de Versailles. It seems as though she slowed the car and let us jump out - although I'm sure she actually stopped - and left us to ourselves for the day. With no money for going into the chateau, we spent the day in the gardens and at the canals. So I have this very picturesque memory of a very proper young Englishman rowing me around the grand canals for an afternoon! How romantic!!

Later, my aunt picked us up again and then he went home to England again at some point. It's really all I remember about him! I wonder what he's doing now??

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Our house is like a packing frenzy!

Although Megan's been mostly packed for weeks, the rest of us are trying to catch up. Last minute trips to the CVS, the mall, the book store, etc for whatever we realized we can't live without. Everyone's had hair cuts, last minute dr. appts, end-of-school performances, etc.

I've never travelled with high-tech devices before. Realizing how many things we'll be plugging in and recharging, I bought a cool power strip.

Mike's got the conversational French book out and is asking me for pronunciation. He's at the point where he can see the relaxation of a much needed vacation. I'm seeing all the details that I might have muffed up - Aaaaaah!

Mean while, Emily is working hard to try to get all her work done on time. At her school, they do not average grades, you must meet the standard for everything. (and I've pretty much ruined her life - some days - by taking her out of her wonderful life for 3 whole weeks and forcing family time on her!) Megan's not so badly off though, being in elementary school. She's excited and ready to leave NOW!

We got our cell phones - they are tiny!! But so glad to have them. Now let's see if I can figure out how to install sim cards, etc. Hey, I used to install internal modems in PCs, so maybe....

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cell phones in France!

So, I just ordered our cell phones and service for the trip. I got two basic Nokia phones and the needed sim cards to use them in France.

I get to keep the phones, so obviously I'll have to go back to France again soon to make the investment more economical!! They don't work from the States though.

It was a good price and we get free in-coming calls and $.39 for dialing most of Europe and the States.

Here's the link: www.callineurope.com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Canal St. Martin in Paris

So, I've been thinking a lot about the Languedoc part of our trip, but I think it's time to "get" to Paris. I've asked each person in the family to pick one or two things that they'd like to do. As it is, 5 days will go extremely fast!

My one activity that I MUST do is to take a cruise on the Canals St. Martin. This is part of "hidden" Paris and is often missed by tourists. I didn't even really know about them when I lived there for 9 months!

So there are 2 big "tour" companies that do this:



Both have English versions of the website.

Thank you to http://www.mysydneyparislife.wordpress.com/ for these great pics of the canal:

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Friday, April 16, 2010

Our Digs!

So, I just authorized payment on the villa we'll be staying at in - ok, I NEVER remember the name and have to look it up: Portiragnes.

Here are some photos of the villa and area - as listed on http://www.instant-holiday-home-rental.com. We actually rented from a different site: www.purefrance.com

The town and near by beach.

The villa with shared pool and 2 terraces. It has 2 other bedrooms for the girls.

The beach is about 5 mins away by car. I've strolled through the town using Google Maps, which is really cool!