Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Amazing Women Visiting Pensacola

When I first came to Pensacola, a woman at our church who is very welcoming and kind to newcomers told me she “wanted to find just the right place for me to plug in.” A couple of her suggestions were not exactly what I wanted, but then she introduced me to Jena Melancon, the founder and director of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council, and I found my niche.

Jena is an amazing woman. She has created this organization. She has a data base of resources that allow her to tailor visits for foreign delegates so that they can meet the needs of their missions – Election Transparency, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Protection, Leading an NGO, Military and Civilian Community Cooperation, Domestic Violence, Creating Fair Policies, Programs for Enriching Disadvantaged Children – you name it, Jena can create a program that will enrich their understanding from an American perspective.

At the same time, Pensacolians who come into contact with the delegates sent by the Department of State find that their lives are also enriched. Many times they, too, learn something new and unexpected. Both groups benefit.

Jena also has a group in GCCDC that studies Great Decisions, and creates events throughout the year for membership participation. Members of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council can volunteer in Jena’s office, can host dinners for delegates and have some one-on-one time learning about customs in another part of the world, can sponsor a Pensacola child in an international exchange, can host teenagers here on an international exchange, or attend the famous Mint Julep party in Spring. Many in the GCCDC are also resources; the exchange of ideas bringing inspiration to both sides.

This week, I was honored to be able to work with a group of Women in Leadership, women from Chad, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Sudan. Each and every one of the women was a hero in her own right, making life better in their communities by stepping into leadership roles. Rehab, above, from the Sudan, works to empower women and to make the laws show greater equality in the treatment of men and women.

 

CPT Aseel is a police chief in Iraq.

Maki, from Chad, works to prohibit child marriages and female genital mutilation.

Mariam, from Saudi Arabia, is a high level journalist in the Saudi media industry, accepting honorary citizenship from the City of Pensacola city council chair Sherri Myers.

Wasfiya is a minister of parliament in Iraq.

Ola is the delegate from Jordan.

I was honored to spend three days of my life with these women, and with Jena, and with other inspirational women of Pensacola at the Women in Leadership conference at UWF.

Here is most of the group with Judy Bense, President Emeritus of UWF, at the closing of the Women in Leadership conference, 2020. Life can be amazing when so many women of talent and confidence gather together to inspire one another.

March 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Unintended Lenten Fast

I up my spiritual game during the season of Lent, and this time, I had an additional fast imposed upon me.

I was sitting on a step, waiting for a bus full of amazing women to arrive, and I had just been notified that the bus would be late. An unidentified 800 number showed on my screen, and I didn’t answer, I don’t answer calls when I don’t recognize the phone number and especially if it is an 800 number. But this time, the number called back immediately. Curious, I answered.

“Am I speaking to Intlxpatr?”

“Who is calling?” I asked, ever suspicious.

“This is so-and-so from (she names my bank) and I need to know if you made two large charges last night at Christian Tailgates in Houston,” she asked.

“No, I did not!” I responded.

“Did anyone else on your account make those charges?” she asked.

“I am very sure they did not,” I replied, because I was very sure.

“We have put a stop on this credit card and will be sending you a new one. It should arrive in 7 to ten days.”

She added that however they got the information for the credit card, they were using a hard copy, it looked just like my real credit card. We are careful credit users. but this can happen anywhere. People can be bribed to make extra copies of your card and sell that information. It is happening more and more often, or so I am told, and I am inclined to believe it. It happens to us every 18 months to 2 years, and with different credit cards.

One time, I got a call from a different credit card, the one I call my Hurricane Card because I keep it as a back up in case a hurricane hits and we need a lot of cash or credit in a hurry. I never even carry it. It is in a file, and never sees the light of day. They asked if I had bought a bus ticket to Mexico with it. No. No. No. How could this happen? It happens, they told me, sadly.

We have other credit cards, designated for other uses (I am a compartmentalized kind of person.) I am making a list of all the credit card automatic payments I have to re-organize, and I can’t do a thing until the new cards arrive and are activated.

I think I am a careful, even reluctant credit user. All it takes is a few days NOT using my credit card for me to learn how often I use it, even without thinking about it. Although this fast was unchosen, it started on Ash Wednesday, and it has had enlightening consequences, enough so that I am thinking of it as a Lenten discipline, albeit temporary.

March 3, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Crime, Customer Service, Family Issues, Financial Issues, fraud, Lent, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment

Love Never Gets Old

Most of the time, in our lives, “important” days are barely recognized. Valentine’s Day is no exception. I needed to do my daily swim/water aerobics and prepare for a meeting at my house; my husband was busy with taxes, the grandchildren, his own gym-time. Even lunch, our daily date, was a take-out thing, and then he helped me move all the cat equipment – litter, food, water dishes, their carpet – into a room they couldn’t get out of. They are smart cats, and persistent. They can open some doors, but not others.

As he was heading out the door to pick up the grandkids and take them to the park as my group started arriving, I thanked him. “I don’t need a card or flowers,” I said, “helping move the cat litter is True Love.”

I cleaned up when the meeting was over. I was at my limit. I had semi-planned to pull some shrimp out and do a simple shrimp pasta, but by the time I had everything washed up, all the chairs put back, all the meeting things put away and the cat accessories back in the cat room, I was wiped out. My husband found me lying down. He’s, too, was exhausted – playing with a ten year old and six year old will do that to you.

We know it is flirting with disaster, but we decide to try a simple restaurant nearby, not a romantic restaurant, to see if we can get in. It’s Valentine’s Day, one of the major dining-out holidays in the world. We are in luck, it is early enough that we can snag a table, relax, have a satisfying dinner together and head home.

Once home, I gave him his card and he surprised me! He had sought, and found, on the internet, a cup I had owned, and treasured, and used with joy, for several years until, inevitably, it fell on the hard tile floor and smashed into a thousand un-mendable pieces. I mourned the loss of that cup. All these years later – more than twenty-five – he had found it, and bought it for me. I told him I planned to actually use it, not put it on a shelf, that life is short. He gave me a measured look and said “it’s the most expensive coffee cup you will ever use.”

LOL

Life is short. I have all I need, and more. I know what matters. I don’t need a card, or flowers, or even a new coffee cup. I have a husband who will bring me lunch when I am approaching being overwhelmed by a time-crunch, who will help me move the cat litter, who will take care of the grandchildren all by himself when I have other responsibilities, and who will secretly search out an old treasure, and present it to me with delight, because he knows what it will mean to me.

I know what true love looks like. I’m going to use this cup.

February 15, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Character, Cultural, Exercise, Family Issues, Mating Behavior, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Values | , | 1 Comment

Cahors to Bordeaux, Preparing to Fly

Today is quick and easy, two and a half hours on easy (boring) main roads, but the billboards are interesting and different from those in the US.

I take one photo on the way:

We find our hotel, another Best Western, the nearest hotel to the airport. We already repacked our suitcase in the roomy Cahors hotel, so we are not concerned when the room is really, really small.

We talk with the desk clerk, an Australian, and we ask her about one restaurant. “Don’t eat there!” she tells us, “it’s awful.” We are very grateful for her honesty. She asks what we want to eat.

“We don’t want any more fois gras or duck,” I tell her, “we’ve eaten too much rich food! How do the French do it?”

She laughed and told us the French only eat fois gras on very special occasions, like Christmas Eve, or at a christening of a baby, or a very special birthday, and then, only is very small quantities, not the slabs we have been served.

That makes sense. I can’t imagine eating these rich foods day in and day out; it would make me sick. Literally, I can’t process a lot of fat.

She suggests Il Ristorante, not too far, and I have seen it on the map so I plug it into my phone and off we go.

It is exactly what we are looking for, and we even found a parking place.

Great bread.

 

A mixed crowd, mostly young and hip, many of whom looked like very trendy Americans, only thinner. It’s like they wore American-ish styles, but made them chic.

I had a lovely salad, and we split a pizza. It was delicious.

We were in a typical sort of strip mall with an Office Depot and other stores. This was a gift store, but looked just like places in the US, with cheap made-in-China goods.


We went to the Carrefour to look around, we and all the thousands of Bordelaise on holiday who went shopping. We did find a parking place, but only spent about a half hour in the store, as it was very crowded with serious shoppers, many buying groceries.

There was a Carrefour gas station, so we went to fill up. AdventureMan tried several times, but he would only get so far and then nothing would happen. He asked for my help and the same thing happened to me, and we couldn’t understand why. He walked over and asked if we could pay cash, and the guy said yes, but we couldn’t find a pump that would operate that way, and no one was eager to explain things to us so we left, and found a normal little gas station, and filled up, and the price wasn’t bad.

We had received notification from Air France to be at the airport three hours before our flight was due to depart. We decided to make it two hours; that early in the day there aren’t such crowds, but we did have some anxiety about the car turn in, so we took a quick drive to the airport, found the Hertz check in and a very kind man who had just taken care of the last customer walked us through the process. We were greatly relieved. (If you read the reviews for Hertz in Bordeaux, you will see why we were concerned. Most of those dire reviews are a few years old, and things seem to have improved, although . . . .)

We had an early dinner at an almost-fast-food place called Courtepaille. It was a place with a large and varied menu, but specialized in grilled steaks, which we did not want.

All the pears you can find in France:

Butternut soup

 

AdventureMan had a salad:


 

So we go back to our hotel, comfortable and feeling calm about our early departure, and my husband’s phone starts ringing, and it is our credit card company and they are very concerned about some charges coming in from Carrefour. It seems someone might have been trying to use our card, and there was a hold of 224 Euros. Something rang a bell, because a hold is not a charge, and we figured out that every time we tried to charge the gas at Carrefour, it put a hold on our funds, but since we did not get any gas, there was no charge, just a hold.

Something like that, but different had happened earlier in the trip. Our credit card company – a different one – denied a 500 Euro charge from Hertz. I immediately thought of the car rental, and thought it was a hold for that, but this was not the right card, we had told him to put the hold on our travel card. Our bank said that this charge happened a lot in Bordeaux, so that they were always suspicious when they saw Hertz, because there was some kind of scam going on that happened with people renting from Hertz. They had denied the claim, so there was no problem. When we went to the Hertz office at the airport, he looked at our paperwork and at his records and said we were all in order, good to go. We never had another fraudulent charge, and the Carrefour hold also went away when no charge was ever made.

When things like that happen in a foreign country, it makes you feel so vulnerable! It’s bad enough in your own country where you are fluent in the language, but also fluent in how things are done. There are things we know that we don’t even know we know, and those cultural things give us confidence. On foreign territory, it’s like everything can go south in a heartbeat, and you are missing some tools for fixing the problem.

It’s good for us to face those challenges. They help us grow. They help us think differently. And they are also really scary sometimes when you’re going through them. We also find that, even though those phone calls are disturbing, we are very glad our credit card companies are so vigilant and know us so well.

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Somehow I have already deleted the photos from the next morning. AdventureMan dropped me and the bags off at the airport and left to drop off the car. The airport was very dark, and there were people inside sleeping! The lights were still on very dim! It took AdventureMan about half an hour before he caught up with me, but there was still no movement. We could figure out where Air France was, and there were big signs telling you to check in early or be left behind – but there was no one there from any of the airlines.

People kept gathering. There was a large flight for Paris, full of school groups, full of church groups, but no one to check us in. Even at five, an hour before our international flight, there was no one there. Around 5:15 Air France people started strolling in. We got checked in for our flight, and then – waited in a holding pen kind of place. Security didn’t open until 5:30. So much for getting to the airport 3 hours early. 2 hours was too early!

Our flight out of Amsterdam was a KLM Dreamliner. I had never flown on one before, and now I don’t want to fly on anything else. It is SO quiet.

All the seats in the business class cabin went totally flat, and made no sound when you adjusted them. There was an additional shoulder belt for take-off and landing. Their meal service is called something like Whatever You Want When You Want It, which meant anything on the menu was available at any time, so there was no crew blocking the aisles serving, they just brought you a tray of whatever you wanted – when you wanted it. It was the most peaceful flight I have ever taken.

All kinds of space for storage, all kinds of receptacles for charging electronics and something I just loved – windows you could dim or lighten by pressing a button, no shutters. You could choose how bright or dim you wanted it to be. Great way to end a great trip.

January 4, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Air France, Cultural, Customer Service, Food, France, fraud, Geography / Maps, Hotels, KLM, Road Trips, Safety, Scams, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Salers to Cahors, France

 

When we got up, it was drizzling again. We went down for breakfast . . . it reminded me of being at camp. I know I sound grumpy, so first-world, but I am telling you exactly how I felt. I did not feel like a treasured guest. There was a limited breakfast buffet. There was a coffee machine. (Am I in France?? A coffee MACHINE??) Some milk cartons, yoghurt, small fruit plates are available in the small refrigerator. And there is a boil-it-yourself egg boiling machine where you put the egg in and set a timer so you will know when it is done, except that we didn’t know what the numbers meant, it wasn’t like a real timer.

Grumble grumble grumble, it’s rainy and we are getting toward the end of the trip. I’m not so bright and shiny anymore.

We had breakfast. There were croissants, French croissants, with little packets of butter and jam. Aargh.

We strolled around Salers once again. I would like to tell you that I was a good sport, but I only pretended, and at the first drops of drizzle, I said “enough.” We packed up, checked out and headed towards Cahors. It’s another 2 1/2 hour day, only this time we are taking main roads.

Shortly past St. Martins we saw a Carrefour, and it is on our side of the street. We know a lucky break when we see it. Today is November 1st, most filling stations are very closed, and here is one open. There is a line, but it is open, and the prices good. We send thanks in our hearts to the limo driver who gave us such good advice.

We are sticking to the major roads, which we finally figured out are A roads, which are also often toll roads, and D roads with larger numbers, like D2 and D13. It’s the D1304 (just a made up example) that lead us onto narrow scary roads.

We are also so impressed with French drivers. No one is speeding, no one is honking. It’s almost like being in an alternate universe.

(This is the day, that, after we got home, we were notified by Hertz that we had received a speeding ticket and would be contacted by French authorities for payment. If I read the notice correctly, it appeared to be about 24 Euro. We’ve never received a notification, or a bill, or at least not yet. But we also never saw the camera. AdventureMan says at one time he knew he was driving too fast and slowed down, but now we understand better why the French have become such good, polite drivers. There are cameras everywhere.)

We make the drive quickly, and while the day brightens occasionally, we also have frequent showers, and never a blue sky. Sticking to the main highway is boring. We leave the slate roof country, and enter back into beautiful castle country.

Google takes us directly to our hotel, the Best Western Plus Divina Cahors, and we even find parking nearby. We think there might be paid parking under the hotel, but we don’t know, and don’t bother yet with the bags.

Why did I choose this hotel? It had a great location. I love a view. It was an easy walk into historical Cahors. It seemed to have parking. And breakfast. Best Westerns generally have reliably good breakfasts.

As it turned out there was paid parking under the hotel, but also a great free parking lot just outside the hotel, so my husband brought the car to the front door, we grabbed all our bags, I waited while he parked and came back and we dragged the bags a short distance to the elevator.

When we got to our room, we were totally wowed. It is clean, modern (not normally my thing, but I loved the way this was done) and even on a dismal day, the room seemed bright and welcoming. The desk clerk was very helpful, and gave us the name of a place to eat, just blocks away.

 

 

 

I just wish I had taken a photo or two of the bathroom. The shower had four shower heads. The towels were very thick, fluffy and plentiful. There were thick terry robes for both of us. These small luxuries make me feel happy.

These are the towers on a bridge outside our window. You might think that sky looks a little blue, but it is just shades of gray.

We take our umbrellas and walk to downtown Cahors, where we find the Brasserie d’Isa. It is full of laughing people, people greeting one another, people sipping wine and eating good food. We love the place.

 

I order a salade d’autonne, which has pears and blue cheese, walnuts and walnut oil and is light and delicious.

 

AdventureMan has an omelet aux fines herbes, with pommes frites, and he, too, is delighted. When we first got to France, we were eating all the time, and we are so happy to be eating lighter once again.

Well, lighter means you can have dessert, doesn’t it? I have a very light cafe’ gourmand, with tiny tastes of all kinds of things, which I divide with my husband. Very light, wouldn’t you say?

 

It’s still raining, and we haven’t seen anything of Cahors. I tell AdventureMan we really have to just walk down this street to the Cathedral, and then we can go back to the hotel. The rain gets heavier, even two umbrellas isn’t enough, our clothes are getting soaked, but we get to the cathedral, I take a photo and we head back. No, it is closed, so we don’t go in. It’s All Saints Day, a holiday, the church is closed.

It is a church on the pilgrimage route, however. AdventureMan, with his sharp eyes, spots the telltale scallop shell on the street we find to go back to the hotel. It’s raining hard. We don’t even window show, we just scurry back to the hotel.

 

The next morning there really is a little bit of blue sky over the bridge.

 

 

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Food, France, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , | Leave a comment

Leaving the Perigord for Salers, in the Auvergne

Morning in Domme:

Major gate into Domme, the Porte de Tours:

 

 

Around thirty five years ago, when our son was young, we visited this part of France, and spent a lot of time in the caves, and also at Castlenaud, a castle near Beynac with an impressive medieval war machines and weapons museum. It was July, and hot, and there were other visitors, but not a lot. Castlenaud was wired for sound, and the music was wonderful. I went to the ticket person and asked what the music was. It was Monteverdi, Un Concert Spirituel.  Once back in Germany, I searched until I found it. It’s one of my favorite CDs to this day. I learned a little more about Monteverdi, that he was sort of the Jimi Hendrix of his day, mixing human voices in ways they had never been mixed before.

 

Here is a close up of one section. It is mountainous. The roads are tiny!

 

On our way to Les Eyzies, and Castlenaud, on that trip, we spent the night in Salers. I knew nothing of Salers other than that the town was roofed in slate; it was a poor area, but rich in slate.

We had stayed at a hotel called Hotel Les Remparts, which had a fairly simple menu with steaks from local cows; many of these same cows were in the valley below the hotel, busy munching and making the milk which goes into the famous Cantal cheese.

As the three of us walked through Salers after dinner, we came to a church entry where the door was open, and maybe five to seven people were in a candle lit entry hallway singing old sacred music – sounded a lot like Monteverdi, with wonderful echoes bouncing around off the old stone wall. It was magical. Even our ten year old son was spellbound.

It was a little bit of a drive from Domme, three hours, but I really wanted to visit that hotel once again.

 

Once again, Google took us on some very strange roads until my husband begged me to use the map and stick to the main roads. Honestly, he was right. We had been on some mountain roads, one lane, with French drivers going must faster than we were comfortable. And here’s the thing. The French used to be crazy drivers, with terrible wrecks, and now, we can hardly believe it, but there has been a huge cultural shift and the French are law-abiding, safe drivers. We knew on these narrow, single-lane roads, with no protection from steep drop-offs, that WE were the problem, and I agreed with my husband, and we kept to the larger roads.

French bikers along the route:

(very careful, well-behaved bikers)

Even so, it took us longer that we had hoped, or maybe it seemed longer.

At one point, I remember AdventureMan pulling over and saying “Take that picture! It may be the only sun we see all day!” and he was right, it was drizzly and very dreary, and it colored our impression of the drive.

Our first sighting of one of the slate roofs. Can you see why I love them? Look how lovingly they have been cut to have a curved bottom. I try to imagine how to cut slate so that the thicknesses are so much alike.

We are getting near to Salers, but we are tired and we need to stop. We stop in St. Martins, at a hotel and they tell us no, they don’t serve until dinner but that is a really good little Bistro just off the main road to Salers, and to stop there. We do, at Le P’tit Bistrot. The place is packed, but the waitress likes us. “You are American?” she asks, with a big smile. Some customers are leaving and she puts us at that table, and cleans it off.

“I’ll check with the chef to see what is left,” she tells us, and hurries to the kitchen. Coming back, she points to the daily special and tells us we are in luck, that there is still a little left. It is turkey. We are hungry. Fine with us.

This stuffed tomato was wonderful! Tasty, and artistically done. Simple salad, good local bread.

I apologize. We really were hungry. It’s a good thing my husband reminded me I had not taken a photo. The turkey was perfect, moist and fork-tender, with a home made gravy. Even the rice has flavor. So simple, and so good.

AdventureMan had french fries (actually, pommes frites) with his, and said they were hot and fresh.

The rain had not let up as we left (pardon the splotch on my lens) St. Martin’s.

And we arrive at the Hotel Les Remparts in Salers – still raining.

As we checked in, we could hear cow bells. When we got to our room, we opened the windows and the cow bells were so loud, I thought maybe it was a recording. No, then we spotted the cows, and as they munched the grass and raised their heads, the tinkle was incessant, in a good way. I loved the sound of those bells.

Salers is wonderful for walking, even though today it is a little dreary, and the cobblestones are slick. Salers is a little isolated, tourist season is over, and it is October 31st, which we think of as Hallowe’en, and it is in France, too, but it is also the night before All Hallows Day, which is a French national holiday, in the solemn religious sense of the word holiday. Almost everything will be closed.

Just before dark, the sun lights up the clouds and we have a little brightness:

You can dimly see the cows.

There is a little white cat in the bottom right of this photo, as some hotel guests’ window saying “please, please, can I come in?”

What I had originally been photographing was this roof, all planted with greenery and herbs, but the cat distracted me 🙂

I love the way the French will find a way to grow a garden in the tiniest spot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dinner that night was disappointing. I had thought that pate’ cepes would be some kind of pate’ made out of mushrooms, but AdventureMan rightly guessed it would be pork with mushrooms, more pork than mushrooms. My main dish was pork, so much like barbecued pork that I might have been back in Pensacola, and it was accompanied by their famous truffade, which was a heavy potato and cantal cheese dish, so heavy and glue-y I couldn’t eat it. For dessert I ordered the pear torte, which turned out to be a little bit of pear on top of a custard. My bad, I ordered these things, but I didn’t have to eat them, so I didn’t.

When I was young, and we would dine in France and Germany, my father would say we had to eat things or we would hurt the chef’s feelings. I love being a grown up. I don’t have to eat it if I don’t want to, LOL.

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Food, France | , , | Leave a comment

Domme: One of the Best Days in the Dordogne

That title is misleading. We had so many best days, but later in this post you will learn why this one sticks out in my memories. Some days of the trip are cloudy, like “which day did we do this?” Other memories come out crystal clear.

(I just spent an hour of my life learning about Google’s Activity record – holy smokes! – and how, if I had had my location tracker turned on, I might have been able to provide you with the hilariously indirect routes we ended up on getting from place to place in the Dordogne. I am tempted. I don’t live a life with anything I need to hide. And yet, the thought of being TRACKED and a record being kept makes me uneasy.)

 

So arriving in Dome is kind of Wizard-of-Oz-y.  It’s a very old city, built on a high hill, and streets are old and narrow. It’s sort of like those labyrinth puzzles you used to do as a kid when you needed to get from here to there. In this case, we totally depended on the Google lady, who said “turn right here” or “go 100 feet, turn left and then immediately right at the next street.” Getting from the entry gate, at the bottom of the hill, to L’Esplanade, at the top of the hill, was an exercise in indirection and circularity.

We got to the top.  We could see our hotel.  We  had read about the parking, that there was no parking at the hotel and if you were very lucky, there might be parking on the street. There was not a single parking spot on the street. Even this late in the season, there were many tourists, and tourist buses, and some had drivers parked in no-parking places, with the engine on, ready to go and circle the city if the police came.

We decided to park in the pay lot, which had a lot of spaces. The night before, we had prepared our carry-bags with enough clothes for dinner and the next day, so we didn’t have to carry in our bags. It took us about 15 minutes to figure out the instructions. We put in the maximum in coins – I think 5 Euro, and that would take us to seven PM, when if we saw a parking space, we would move the car, and if we didn’t, we would put more money into the machine.

When we walked in, we received a very cordial and friendly greeting; the receptionist was Dutch and spoke English wonderfully. She told us that at seven, the parking machines are no longer monitored, and we are safe until ten the next morning, so that was a relief. She showed us to our room. You can see our room in the photo of L’Esplanade from the path, above; it is the corner room, one story up, and has a balcony.

The room was gorgeous. Maybe not quite so spacious as our room(s) at Domaine de la Vitrolle, but very spacious for France, and beautiful. And just wait until you see the view. My heart sang. I wanted to stay on that balcony and just soak in that view.

 

 

 

 

We can see all the way to La Roque-Gageac!

Beautiful Perigord farmlands . . .

Day is fleeting, and AdventureMan wants to explore, and rightly so. We are only in Domme for this one night. It was hard for me to leave that balcony; the view just sang to my heart.

Domme is walkable, and beautiful. There is something else about Domme – there are cats, lots of cats, and there are dishes out, hidden under benches, or visible on a step up to a house, or at the side of a doorway into a church. I imagine the cats keep the rats away, but it is lovely to see them repaid so generously and lovingly. The cats all looked very well fed.

Here is another church built in the same style as that of the church we saw in Audrix. I’m going to have to find out about this architecture. Domme is an old Templar town; I am wondering if this style is an indication of a Templar population?

 

 

Look at this barrel roof! Is that not beautiful?

 

A view of the church from the market square. We attended the market the next morning, but it was very small, and there is only so much hand-made soap I can buy!

The above photo was taken from in front of a very cool bookstore, which even had a large English section. They had thousands of books in all genres, all languages, and new and used books all together. It was a little bit of heaven, right there on the main square.

 

 

 

Actually, I lost my husband. He went into the bookstore, I took photos. I went into the bookstore, he wasn’t there! I tried to call him, and it did not go through. I knew if I went back to the hotel, we would eventually fine one another, but I kept looking, and we were both on the main square, just in different places. I too this photo in front of the wonderful book store.

 

 

Beautiful city coat-of-arms, no?

This was a wonderful place for us. We found this building, with these arched windows (which I love) and my husband found a plaque telling us it was the former mint, the man who struck the coinage for the area. As we went around the corner, looking in the window, AdventureMan said (very brave man!) “I think we need to go in there.” I had not been paying a lot of attention, I was looking in a window where the you could see the jeweler’s studio, with works in progress, which was fascinating. My husband was right, there were some beautiful pieces. I tend to buy jewelry in places just like this, where you can find original pieces, and, well, jewelry and silk scarves transport well. 😉

Inside, we met the jeweler’s son. As I picked out some pieces, my husband and him started a conversation, and as it got more interesting, I joined in. He talked about his family coming to Domme to seek new opportunities and new markets, and how wonderfully it had worked out for them.

I found the lovely chain-mail inspired neck;ace below in the tip of my stocking on Christmas morning 🙂

We talked about all kinds of social issues in France, and economic issues. We were all very cordial. At one point, Julien paused and then asked us, very haltingly, “You seem to be such nice people. How could you have elected a President like Trump?” We grimaced; it is a question Europeans ask us a lot. How could a country with the values we claim to share elect a man with no moral compass? He was horrified at what is happening in our country, and sad at our descent into corruption.

It was a hard conversation, and we all hung in there. At the end, we all hugged, and hoped for a better, more peaceful, less greedy world in the months and years to come. Sometimes the hardest conversations are those most worth having.

 

Meanwhile, back at L’Esplanade, we were eager to see what dinner would have to offer. L’Esplanade is well known for excellent cuisine, and we had reserved for dinner back when we made our hotel reservation. The dining room is lovely.

 

We think the settings are beautiful. There is a room where you can go have cocktails if the dining room is crowded and you have to wait, but tonight we only share the dining room with four other parties.

We order from the fixed menus. Our first course comes, a celery veloute’. It is a cream of celery soup, you can see it in the center of that great big black plate with a little recess in the center for the soup.

 

This was my main course, a little trout steak, decorated with a . . .potato chip. The little cubes of sweet potato were delicious.

AdventureMan had duck, again, decorated with a potato chip. He said the taste of the duck was exquisite.

His dessert was “Fig Three Ways” or maybe five, we couldn’t figure it out.

I loved my dessert, the raspberry sorbet part. It was decorated with passion fruit.

At the end of the meal, we were served this perfect little cookies.

This was another very quiet, very dark night of great sleep.

The next morning, we had breakfast in what I would call the garden room, and the owner’s family were all there, too, eating breakfast on their way to school, work, etc. It was really fun just being able to see them all eat, converse, be a normal family eating their breakfast together in the hotel. I loved it.

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Food, France, Geography / Maps, History, Interconnected, Political Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Values | , | Leave a comment

Dordogne: St. Cyprien, Castle Beynac, Chateau des Milandes and La Roque Gageac

This is actually a very short drive, Limeuil to Domme, but it takes us all day 🙂 There are castles at every corner. Even though we picked and chose, we still had to stop now and then along the way just to stand in awe of the beauty we were seeing.

 

We start early in the morning, crossing the bridge to the south side of the Dordogne, and we do not always stay on the road shown above. Our map apps work hinky in France. Occasionally, the blue ball just totally stops for extended periods of time (along with my heart) as we lose coverage, I am guessing, but also, the apps send us on some very questionable roads. Finally, I mostly used our paper maps and used the apps to track our progress.

Our first stop is the city of St. Cyprien, a town with a huge abbey and church. It is a lovely, peaceful place, a place you could see yourself living. No, not in the church, in the town – or in the abbey, which is being converted into condos. It looks like glorious space, and lots of light, and I could see myself living there. In the photo below, the church part is on the right, and the space being converted into condos is on the left. See how gracious it looks like it could be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The space between these buildings is tiny! You could walk down it, but you couldn’t stroll a baby down this space.

This is the old abbey being converted to condos. You can see the sign “Louez,” to rent.

 

The morning is still young. We head to Castle Beynac, a famous old fortress we’ve wanted to see. It has a fabulous defensive position, and Richard the Lionhearted once lived there, in a luxury tower.

 

I am showing you this photo, which I took with their permission, to show you the problem with French parking systems. Every one is different! Even the French are flummoxed! We all had a good laugh about how it takes a village – or a mind-hive – to figure out how they work.

 

At the entrance is a great convenience. But the ladies is, thank goodness, enclosed, and the men have a urinal out in the open.

 

They have put some thought into presentation at Beynac. Even at the end of October, there are groups and students touring, and my husband and I eluded them as best we could. Once, I took a photo just to show you what it might really be like if you were in a group. Love those stakes on the upper walls to deter a ladder-bourne attack.

At the entry, a list of the Barons of Beynac since 1115 (and up to 1964)


 

 

 

View of another nearby castle from Beynac

 

Richard the Lionhearted was able to take this castle by attacking on it’s most formidable side, climbing up the cliffs and walls.

Not an easy castle to take by attack.


 

View from the castle terrace

 

If I were living in a castle, this is the place I would look for – quiet, good light, you can read a book or do some stitching. Maybe overhear an interesting conversation.

 

I think this might be an old potty. I remember from years ago, a long drop toilet was considered very advanced. It beat using containers that then someone had to empty. When we tourists look at castles, we imagine ourselves as the nobility, but the majority of people in the castle were doing dirty, hard work, had no privacy, had to deal with heat and cold and fleas and filth.

Nice proportions in a gathering room, maybe the baron’s hall.

LOL, the hall filled with a group.

 

We quickly find a quiet place without a group!

 

 

 

15th century fresco

 

View from another terrace down to the castle church, which was not open.

 

 

The luxurious room of Richard the Lionhearted

 

 

 

 

I’m always interested in kitchens, and trying to figure out how work got done to feed the many people living in the castle.

 

 

 

Leaving the castle, love the red leaves on this tree.

In a very short time – maybe five to ten minutes – we are at Chateau des Milandes, bought at one point by Josephine Baker, for a short time a French resistance nexus, and a beautiful building altogether. We toured the castle, but photos inside were not allowed. It was mostly about Josephine Baker, her lifestyle, and the clothes she wore.

 

Martin Walker / Bruno Chief of Police mentioned this castle as worth a visit, and the cafe was perfect on a very warm end-of-October day. Everyone ate outside.

 

 

 

 

Wonderful dessert selection!

 

 

I had this lovely salad, with walnuts and local ham and a hearty bread.

My husband had a Caprese salad, and french fries.

 

 

This is my first experience of Cafe’ Gourmand, and I am sold! You get tiny portions of several desserts. I love it.

 

My husband chose the Walnut Torte, and said it was fabulous.

The Chateau Chapel

A distant view of Beynac only emphasizes how steep the access would be to try to take this castle.

 

I think this is Castle Figeac, and I believe it is not open to the public.

La Roque-Gageac, and we are getting close to Domme 🙂

 

January 2, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Food, France, Geography / Maps, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

The Dordogne: Lost in Space, Font de Gaume and L’Augerie Base

That night, at Domaine de la Vitrolle, in the middle of the night I heard a bumping sound and my husband was not in bed. I said “Is that you?” and my husband’s voice came back saying “I’m lost! I don’t know where I am!” It was SO dark in our room that somehow, he had missed the bed and was off wandering in the sitting part of the suite and couldn’t orient himself.

It was dark, and it was quiet. I turned on a little flashlight, and he laughed at how disorienting it was to be in a strange space and not to know which way to turn.

The next morning, I was awake early (we sleep so well when it is dark, and quiet) so I took a bath in the great big tub and watched the day dawn through the stained glass windows of the bathroom. I had the windows open, and could hear the birds awake, and some tractor off in the hills head up to harvest the last of the grapes. It was so peaceful, and so lovely.

First, I need to tell you how very kind all the French people have been to us. We are often asked if we are not afraid the French will be rude to us, and I think maybe once or twice in the many years we have traveled in France, maybe someone has been having a bad day or was rude, but nothing I can remember. Mostly, we are delighted by how very helpful the French are with us.

Many times, I am taken for French. People stop me on the street and ask for directions, and I laugh and tell them (in French) that I am a tourist, and an American, and they just laugh.

On this trip, information is gold. The limo driver who took us to the train station told us to gas our car at the Intermarche or Carrefour, not at the regular gas stations, because the gas stations charge a lot more. We listened! He was right! The hotel manager at Domaine de la Vitrolle told us about the super markets, so we didn’t have to eat every meal out, especially at night when we would have to eat late. What luxury, to eat French foods in our own room, at our own pace, and as lightly as we chose!

Martin Walker/Bruno, Chief of Police particularly mentioned Font de Gaume in Les Eyzies, one of the very rare opportunities to see original cave art, which moves me greatly, and is a priority for me. But Font de Gaumes only allows a few people in every day, under strict conditions, so our breath, body temperature and sweat won’t impact on the fragile cave art.

I try to reserve tickets online, but it says it is not possible, so we are up, have breakfast and out the door by nine to be sure we are first in line and get to see Font de Gaume. Sadly, what I didn’t know was that we would have to leave our cameras outside, you can’t even take them in.

We get to Les Eyzies, and Font de Gaume way before it even opens, but we are far from the first ones there. They have benches with seat numbers on them, and we are close to the very end, like 48 and 49.

While we waited – and this line was just a line to get a number to buy your tickets, I saw this frieze over a door on a house across the street:

We got a number, and were told that there was only one English speaking tour and it was at 11:00, in 45 minutes. Or there was another one late in the afternoon. We chose the 11:00 tickets, thankful just to be able to get in.

At around 10:30 they said we could walk up to where we would meet our guide. We walked up and there was a group, but the guide said “This is a French group, you are in the next group!” and she was right – she already had 18 people.

In our group, it was interesting, there were only six real English speaking people, two from Australia, two others from the US, and us, and the rest were all other-languages – Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, etc. but people who could speak some English and who didn’t want to wait until later in the day to take the tour. We all had a really good time.

Here is a map of the cavern we will enter and the sights we will see:

 

The setting is spectacular. These mountains and hills and caves are thousands of years old.

And here we are, me with my bright shining face because we are going into Font de Gaume. I will share with you a secret – I am mildly claustrophobic, but I know how to keep it sort of under control. But I was glad to have this photo in my camera – all cameras had to be left in a special locked space – in case there was some kind of disaster, and they needed to be able to identify those trapped in / destroyed by a collapse in / etc. the cave. Drama drama drama I was glad what might be our last photo showed us smiling and happy.

We had a superb guide. She spent a lot of time showing us detail. She had a great group, we asked a lot of questions, and the more we asked, the more detail she gave us. It just kept spiraling, and we were all really serious and awed by what we were seeing. I could have stayed forever, and I just wish I had been able to take a photo for you, but we were in almost total dark, only the guide had a little (infrared?) (Ultraviolet?) (both?) flashlight with which she could show us the drawings. As we would go through some sections, she could turn on very dim lights, and she had to warn us constantly to watch our heads for outcroppings of rock.

Visiting Font de Gaumes was a thrill. I wish the same thrill for you. Here are a couple images, not my own, I found on the internet:

 

 

There are many bison, some deer, wolf, horses and mammoths.

Our wonderful guide is showing us the primitive kinds of pigments used to do the drawings in the caves, colors from stones, chalk, ashes, some mixed with liquid, some made into powder and blown onto the wall – and it must have been almost pitch dark. Imagine . . . .

 

In one of Martin Walker’s books, Bruno and his friends gather for a wedding feast at L’Augerie Basse, a restaurant built into a cave in the side of a mountain. You have a short hike to get there, but oh, what fun. (I want you to see where L’Augerie Basse is, and where it is in relation to Les Eyzies and Le Bugue)

 

 

Once again, people were very kind. Most of the people in the restaurant were working people, or locals. There was a constant hum of arrival and greeting, departure and farewells. Many people didn’t even look at the menu.

The restroom was not actually in the restaurant, but across the walkway, and I think it was all just bathrooms, not male or female except that some had urinals, but I think you could use either. I didn’t ask, it was all very clean and mostly I wanted to wash my hands. My husband excused himself and before I had a chance to tell him where the bathrooms were (it was not obvious) he left . . . and was gone a long time. He had trouble finding them.

Here is what I ordered:

Here is what my husband ordered:

Mine was pretty much the same, except I had one duck confit, and salad.

Best of all, I found a wine Martin Walker / Bruno Chief of Police recommended, a very local wine I wanted to try. I loved it! Pecharmant:

This was (another one of) the most memorable meals of our trip.

We had a wonderful lunch, and we needed to pack, but neither of us were ready to face that task quite yet. So I said “why don’t we go see St. Alvere, the truffle town? It is just on the other side of Limeuil?” and AdventureMan, always up for an exploration, agreed.

Did I mention the day our marriage survived a two and a half hour drive that ended up taking a whole day? Getting to St. Alvere was like that. I was navigating with Google, and we got on the tiniest, most remote roads. It took a long time to get to there. I never saw a truffle, but it was a gorgeous day, and a beautiful town, and indications that it, too, was on the pilgrimage route to San Diego Compostela.

On our way, we passed farm after farm filled with geese!

 

Thousands of geese!

The little road of the Pilgrims, above, in St. Alvere.

 

 

 

 

 

Now it was my husband’s turn to make a request. He had been very uneasy about our tires; there was a symbol on our dashboard that implied our tires needed more air, and as we were making a longer drive tomorrow, he wanted to add air, and put gas in the car. We headed back to Le Bugue, to the Intermarche, where we knew there was a gas station, and a place where you can clean cars.

We gassed up the car, and then found the car cleaning place. There was a man busy cleaning his car, vacuuming it, and we waited until he was finished and then asked if he knew where there was a machine which added air to tires.

He looked at us as if we were crazy. “It is right here,” he said, pointing to the machine with which he had been vacuuming.

These are the things that try men’s souls. It is not intuitive. Jeton means “token” but does it also mean coin? How does psi translate in French, how will we know how much air to add? We are consulting the car manual, the side of the driver’s door, the machine . . . eventually, we were able to add enough air, without adding too much air.

It is amazing what a major relief accomplishing this simple task gave us. We felt mighty! We had prevailed! We had conquered!

We celebrated with French tartes, little pies, peach for my husband and raspberry for me. AdventureMan discovered the Lego set we bought the day before is now HALF PRICE and he is hopping mad. I speak French, but I do not have the language skill set or the energy, at this point, to try to explain we want a refund. It is late in the day. I convince him to just . . . let it go. 🙂

It is a beautiful afternoon, almost the end of October and we are in short sleeves. We head back to Limeuil to take some shots of the Vezere river joining the Dordogne.

 

 

We drove across the Dordogne to take a picture of Limeuil from the other side:

Thank you, Martin Walker, and Bruno, Chief of Police, for intriguing us to visit this gloriously vivid and picturesque locale, with so much to do and to see. Below is the Vezere River joining the Dordogne River.

 

 

 

January 2, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Cultural, Food, France, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, History, iPhone, Language, Restaurant, Road Trips, Survival, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Audrix, Chateau de Commarque, and Lascaux

We plan, and God laughs.

If there is something really important to me, I tell AdventureMan, and together we make it happen. Sometimes, though, our plans are more in the line of good suggestions, and what happens instead counts as adventure.

I wanted to head to Lascaux. We’ve been before, like 35 years ago, and at that time, some of the cave art caves were still open to the public. These drawings, deep inside the caves, done by people who lived generations before us, lived hard lives, mostly hunting and gathering, these drawings never fail to call to my soul as they capture the essence of the the animals with mere strokes of the most primitive pigments imaginable. My husband wants to see a castle built into the side of a mountain, Reignac.

So we head out, and very shortly we see that Audrix, a little village mentioned by Martin Walker, is only seven kilometers away, and it would be a pity not to see Audrix. Actually, I had thought we might stay in Audrix, at a beautiful auberge, the Hotel  Auberge Medievale, but it is closed for the winter, we can’t even eat there, they are so closed.

Seven km on a twisting forest road can take a lot longer than you think it is going to take, but Audrix is beautiful.

 

 

 

They have a huge mastodon made out of hay!

 

 

 

 

Such an interesting old church. I’ve never seen a church built like this before, and it is a very small village.

Inside, there was a sung prayer service going on. At first we thought they might be practicing for a service, and sat for a while, but as it all continued, we figured it might be a true service. It was a lovely memorable moment in a long day.

 

Leaving Audrix, we head toward Reignac and Lascaux, but get distracted by a sign to Chateau de Commarque, which mentions its origins in prehistory. That sounds intriguing, and while it is not in the plans, it might be what we need to see.

When we get there, we find plenty of parking. We start to walk, and my husband asks if we need to bring the umbrellas, and I say no, that it can’t be that far.

It is that far. It is that far, and more. It drizzles on and off.

 

 

I like the sign . . . it is whimsical, and it is a subtle warning. You’d better like the walk, as there will be a lot of it.

 

Commarque is very educational, and people have worked hard to research the history and how things worked. It is a very large site, with different locations to tour. The guide starts with sending you out into the fields to observe a special breed of cows now being bred here, and it helps you understand how this very isolated valley could survive – and protect itself – through the centuries of war between the French and English, and even the French and the Aquitanians, and the Aquitanians and the Aquitanians.

 

This is a defensive fortress kind of castle, with few, if any, luxuries. They have a very good source of water.

 

This is a separate site across the valley.

These are very old habitations. They call them troglodyte dwellings, but it looks like they could have been places where shepherds kept their sheep, or goats – they seem to maybe be more for penning animals in bad weather than human dwellings. Although . . . I think they also said the ground was once a lot lower than now, so those higher places may be for human uses.

 

 

 

Inside the “castle” is a cave for the watch. It is habitable, with furniture. It would be barely warmer than sleeping out in the cold, but maybe drier, but damp.

 

 

 

Remains of an old chapel

 

 

A new stone roof over the old community oven.

 

 

 

A watch post from where the watchman could signal the castles if anyone was approaching.

 

It was very interesting, and very educational. I learned that I am really really glad I didn’t live in a place so grim, so hard-scrabble. We have such easy lives. I should never grumble.

But our tummies are grumbling, and we look for a place in Lascaux to eat before heading to the Lascaux 4 exhibit. We find Le Soleil, the sun, in a little hotel along the main street.

 

 

Before we could get to the restaurant, however, we had to figure out how to use the paid parking. Almost every place we parked had a different machine. In some, we had to input our license plate number, and you could only pay with a credit card. In others, we could barely understand what was required. Here is what was really cool, though. Many of the French tourists couldn’t figure it out, either. This one took coins, of which we had plenty, and our parking ended up costing like 30 cents for one hour.

I love that all the merchants and commercial facilities in Lascaux get into the spirit. On the door of this credit union are copies of a herd of animals found in the Lascaux caves. What a lovely way to honor those long ago people who are bringing tourists to their town.

Of all our meals on the ship and in France, this meal was one of my favorites. The atmosphere actually was pretty poor; it was full of tourists, and children, and was noisy. What was good was the service was helpful, friendly and efficient, and the food was excellent. We each had the same meal – a salad, with a slab of foie gras, a slab of pate’, and a thick slice of smoked salmon on really delicious dark grainy bread. I love finely grated carrots, and the dressing was simple and delicious. It was a very satisfying meal.

We headed up to Lascaux 4, and saw lines of people waiting to get into the “exhibit” which is a reproduction of what you would see in the caves, if they let people into the caves, which they don’t. We decided we would try to get into Font de Gaumes the next day, where you can see real drawings. It’s risky, they only let so many people in, but it is the real deal.

 

 

On the way back to Limeuil, we see Reignac, and decide that Commarque took the place of a visit here. We want to get back to the hotel and kick back. But first another visit to the Intermarche.

 

We stop to look at the Chateau Campagne, not far from where we are staying. It would be a lovely village to think about staying in the future, were we not so happy at the Domaine de la Vitrolle.

 

We barely make it back before dark. We have sandwiches, we have pastries, we have lovely macaroons with chocolate bottoms, I have some apple cider from Normandy (very dry, not sweet at all), we have oranges. After our lovely lunch, we don’t need a heavy dinner. We are in bed by seven thirty, reading, writing notes, and AdventureMan gives a huge sign of contentment and says “Isn’t life wonderful?” We are asleep before ten.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Exercise, Food, France, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Shopping, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment