Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hurricane Coming

This morning, as I was doing my morning readings, I checked the weather and saw this:

Very calm, very direct. Don’t get crazy, but there is a hurricane blowing in and you might want to take precautions. I really do appreciate the warning.

I zipped over to the YMCA to get my laps in. I have achieved my lifetime goal; I did 51 laps last Monday, and today I was only able to do 42. More swimmers in the pool, more turbulence, slower laps. I really try not to force myself to meet any goals; that I am there, that I am exercising, that needs to be enough. If I keep pushing myself, it takes the joy out of the fact that I actually swim these laps three days a week, and I am already achieving more that I ever dreamed I would achieve at this point in my life.

On my way home, I could see palm trees along the Bayou, already two or three feet under water. In front of the storm, the water is already rising dramatically.

I called to AdventureMan as I entered the house, “Come take a walk with me down the Bayou; I want to take some photos.” (He loves walking with me.) We were halfway down the drive when I said “Oh! I need to go back! I have to get my FitBit!”

He just laughed his head off. “So no point in doing a walk if you don’t get credit for it?” he teases me.

“No! You’re exactly right!” I respond. It isn’t an insult if it is true, right?

 

 

I had thought we would walk further, but at this point, it started raining really hard and I was using my real camera, not my iPhone, so I needed to quit to protect the camera. You can see the water over the dock at this house, and a little lagoon where no lagoon was before.

I did a poll at the Y. No one seemed very concerned. “Will you be covering your windows?” I would ask and they would all say “No, we’re just going to get a lot of rain.” Me, I worry, because it seems to me a hurricane  can wobble, but I have only lived here ten years, and there is a lot I don’t know. The rise in the Bayou concerns me. AdventureMan is not concerned, but did mention that we need to have a practice with our shutters so we know what to do when a real need arises.

Poor Louisiana! Poor California! Poor United States of America! What a year of troubles this is.

September 14, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Birds, Cultural, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Lumix, Pensacola, Safety, Survival, Weather, YMCA | Leave a comment

Only Julia Childs Could Lead Me Into Temptation

I try so hard to be good, and for the most part, I keep myself reigned in. Every now and then, however, I stumble and fall, and this time I did it in a big way.

I got a notice that a local shop/cooking School, Bodacious Shops, was doing a special Julia Childs dinner, a seven course dinner using genuine Julia Childs recipes.

“AdventureMan!” I shouted from my office to his, “AdventureMan, there is a Julia Childs Dinner at Bodacious Shops! They are using her recipes!”

“Book it!” shouts AdventureMan back from his office.

We miss France. We miss French food. We miss travel. We just moved, we have a house on the market, utility bills for two houses and projects for the newest house. We are masking and socially distancing to the point that we never eat in a restaurant, except two weeks ago when we ate outdoors at Flounders. Every item points away from an event like this, and we jumped in with both feet and never looked back.

When the day came, we were busy with normal family projects and a grandchild. When the grandchild got picked up, a storm was rolling in. I got in my nightgown, and settled in with a great book I am reading. At 5:47, AdventureMan called from his office “Don’t we have a dinner tonight?” and oh yes, and it started at 6:00.  LOL, we scrambled. We got there by 6:10, last ones to arrive but ten minutes could happen to anyone.

We were very correct, very socially distanced, and masked, except it was a dinner, so masks came off.

The dinner was delightful. It could have been all formal, but it wasn’t, and it was a lot of fun. Chef Nick is very funny as well as skilled and knowledgeable, and as it is more a presentation than a hands-on course, we didn’t get too messy.

We started with salmon mousse. It was divine. It was as good as anything I’ve had in France.

The next course was Vichysoisse. It was really good. I make Vichysoisse myself, and I am happy to say, this was very similar, tasty!

The next course is mussels, which we love. We eat mussels in the Pacific Northwest, and we eat mussels in France. We ate a memorable bowl of mussels in Dubrovnik. AdventureMan makes a mean dish of mussels steamed in white wine, seafood broth and garlic, so Chef Nick was up against a tough standard. The mussels were good, and I can’t eat mussels without using my fingers, so it was delicious – and messy.

We had a salad, and we had a sorbet, and then a little break before the main course, Boeuf Bourguignon.

I’m used to a little stewier beef burgundy, but I liked this one just fine. It was rich and textured, and had a lot of flavor. I was delighted that they kept the portions French-like, smaller. When food is well prepared and full of flavor, you don’t need to eat so much.

A little French cheese, a Compte and something very soft, a lot like Brie but it wasn’t.

Ummm, there was actually more of the Compte (top one) but I forgot and ate a couple pieces before I remembered to take a picture. Forgive me!

And the evening ended with a lovely very chocolatey chocolate mousse, served in a little pastry puff.

 

Balanced against the risk of eating out in a town where the positive rate for COVID is still hovering between 13% and 14%, we agreed that this was a relatively safe bet. This was not a real downtown restaurant, but a specialty shop were they do cooking classes and special events. The number of attendees was limited by the space, the spacing, and, frankly, by the price.

We felt safe. It was a group of people who love good food, who weren’t drinking too much or talking loudly. People respected the 6 foot rule and wore masks when not eating.

AdventureMan said it was a good risk and a good investment in another way, in that we didn’t have to take a plane or a boat to France.

So yes, it was a risk. And yes, some risks are worth taking.

August 15, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Chocolate, Civility, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, France, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant | , , | Leave a comment

Pensacola Beach: COVID? What COVID?

We are in the middle of some stormy weather, which in Pensacola means gloriously powerful thunder and lightning storms, here one minute and gone the next, or maybe lingering for hours, followed by hot sunshine Yesterday, with the side streams of Tropical Storm Hanna blowing by, we had an intensely thundery and stormy day, some periods of torrential rains, followed by sunlight, followed by heavy rains, followed by blue skies – and light sprinkles.

We stayed inside almost all day, then in late afternoon where suddenly everything lightened, we headed for our son’s home, and their lovely large back-yard and nice large warm pool. What luxury! An old friend was visiting, and we social-distanced in the pool.

Today, I told AdventureMan I wanted to go to Flounder’s for lunch. AdventureMan looked at me and asked “Do you think we could risk eating there? Outside?”

We haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 12th. We’ve ordered out, even from Flounders, and taken it home to eat.

But Flounders, one of our favorite places to eat (part of the McGuire’s Steakhouse chain) has lots and lots of room, lots of seating, indoors and out. Of all the eating-in-a-restaurant risks, this one seemed pretty low. After a big rain, everything seems to sparkle, the air seems clearer – and we need a vacation. I said “yes.”

We drove to the beach, found a parking place immediately – always a good sign – and were seated in the high-ceilinged, semi-covered area, where large booths for six and eight people are separated by these signs:

Although there were two groups of eight seated near us (really once very large group) unmasked, there was plenty of distance. It was a real mix – the parking lot full of licenses from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky – even one from Oregon (!), maybe hiding out down here from the Feds, as so many do. Have you ever noticed how on those old Crime shows, so many of the criminals were ultimately found in Florida? Or California? Actually, my Mother is from Oregon, and I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for those Oregonians showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all the white women showing up in yellow T-shirts (Moms for Black Lives Matter) and the grandpas with their leaf blowers – they really know how to protest with good will and a sense of humor.

OOps. I digress.

People were social distanced. We had plenty of space.

They are using a new, condensed menu, but we knew what we wanted and the waitress told us we could order even if it didn’t show on the menu.

Seafood Chowder. Flounders is famous for it, and it is truly a magnificent taste-treat.

As usual, I forgot to take the photo until I was half done. Apologies!

My husband loves their grilled grouper sandwiches, and he always shares a fry or three or four with me because they are so delicious:

 

I had my usual – Baja Tacos. Here is the truth – they also have a healthier fish taco, grilled, served with a mango salsa but I really love the deep fried Baja Tacos. I usually can’t eat more than one, so I bring them home and have a fish taco salad for another meal.

We had great service.

Some servers were masked. Some were not. It appears they have their choice. Some customers wore masks, some carried masks, some had no masks. Where we sat, there was a lot of fresh air, breezy air, and a lot of space, so we did not worry too much. No more condiments on the tables. Everything looked very clean.

Sometimes you take a risk. This risk was a much needed mini-vacation at a time when we are not comfortable with airplanes or even hotels.

The beach scene is a different story. We could see crowds of people, no masks, no social distancing, around the jet-ski rental places. In spite of the huge red-lettered signs saying DANGEROUS SURF. DO NOT GO IN GULF it looked to me like a hundred or more people swimming around in Casino Beach. We saw lots of large groups. Lots of cars from other places. I can imagine the servers have concerns, especially if they have families, or need to stay well to keep a roof over their heads. The visitors seem oblivious to the health boundaries necessary to prevent transmission. When one person in ten in Escambia County is testing positive, they are exposing themselves and taking the virus back home with them to wherever they came from.

So for us, having a meal out in a restaurant was a unique event. I can’t imagine the conditions are such that we can be comfortable making it a habit. It was a fling. It was nice while it lasted. I hope there are no repercussions.

July 25, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Community, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bread Upon the Waters

Today’s reading from the Old Testament in The Lectionary:

Ecclesiastes 11:1-8

11Send out your bread upon the waters,
   for after many days you will get it back.
2 Divide your means seven ways, or even eight,
   for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.
3 When clouds are full,
   they empty rain on the earth;
whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
   in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever observes the wind will not sow;
   and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.

Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

Even those who live for many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

 

By accident, my husband and I now own three houses. We are preparing to move into the  most recent, which was also once our third house. We had finished paying off another house and we had decided to invest in a winter home in Pensacola, but that house became our son’s house when they were expecting their first child and now we are buying it back from them as they move their expanded family into a more spacious house. Perfect timing, as we urgently need to downsize.

I don’t always like the old cynic who penned the verses in Ecclesiastes, but I recognize the wisdom, and I always learn something.

Today, he is talking about investment, the importance of putting aside some of what you accumulate, like a little squirrel, to hide away for the future. He is also talking about diversification, and what wisdom!

“for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.”

As we walk through this life, we don’t even know from day to day, not from minute to minute, what is about to happen. Setting aside a little extra to cover emergencies, slowly putting the accumulation in different areas protects the loss of the whole.

We intend to sell the big house we are sitting in, once we get moved out. It has served us well for ten years, and we are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it’s generous spaces. But time happens to all of us, and the aging process seems mostly to be a one way street. We know we can’t see around the corner to what tomorrow may bring, but we have decided to invest in the possibility of “aging in place” in a house with no stairs, a house that can accommodate live-in assistance if necessary, and a house with a much smaller yard for Adventureman to beautify.

Early in our marriage, we started each road trip with a song:

Side by Side
Oh! We ain`t got a barrel of money
Maybe we`re ragged and funny
But we`ll travel along
Singing a song
Side by side
I don`t know what`s a-comin` tomorrow
Maybe it`s trouble and sorrow
But we`ll travel the road
Sharing our load
Side by side
through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
Just as long as we`re together
It really doesn`t matter at all
When they`ve all had their quarrels and parted
We`ll be the same as we started
Just traveling along
Singing a song
Side by side
(Repeat last two verses)
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Daniele Tignino / Emiliano Patrik Legato
Side by Side lyrics © Shapiro Bernstein & Co. Inc.
We taught this song to our son (I think he rolled his eyes) when he was young, and now we have taught it to our grandchildren, so that as we hit the road, they say “We have to sing the song!” It’s a glorious legacy, and another way of sending out our bread upon the waters.

June 11, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Music, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 9.34.24 AM.png

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