Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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

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

Bordeaux to Limeuil: “And We are Still Married”

The morning after the race, the major streets in Bordeaux are deserted. AdventureMan and I discovered an ATM just around the corner, and we don’t know how it’s going to work. You’d think we would be jaded by now – we know how to use ATMs in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Germany, etc. but we have also learned NEVER to take anything for granted. We give ourselves plenty of time. Going slowly and carefully, following the instructions to the letter, we get the funds we need. We’ve also learned never to count on using a credit card, and always to have back up cash.

Just because we love mustard, especially French mustard.

Just down the street, St. Andrews Cathedral.

Again, just because I love this mosaic tile in our hotel, it’s kind of a WOW for me.

Another thrill, I discover that I can make phone calls with my iPhone. I had checked, and was told I could. I know I was able to in Germany last year at the Christmas markets, but again, I never take anything for granted, things change, different countries have different systems, and for me, when I get technology to work, it is something like magic to me. YOU may think it is rational and normal, but I see a million varying factors that can cause the rational to go off track. I danced for joy when I was able to schedule a pick-up by the same limo service that dropped us off.

It was a bit extravagant, but we hate what we call “the bag drag.” The limo picked us up, put our luggage in the trunk and took us directly to Gare Sainte Jean, where he let us off at the front entrance. This is where you catch the train to Paris, or, in our case, where you pick up your rental car.

“So where is Hertz?” my husband asks me, since I made the reservation and double checked to be sure we would have a car just days before we left.

“Ummm . .. here. Here, in the Gare Ste. Jean,” I responded. We are standing there, with our roly bags and our carry bags, and there are no car rental sites in sight. Worse, there are no signs. I ask a couple people, and they don’t know.

We see a sign saying something about “voitures” and head in that direction. As we pass a McDonalds, AdventureMan goes in to ask, and a sweet, delightful little 16 year old comes out to help us. She is truly an angel, practicing her careful English, and so happy to be able to help us. “You are American?” she asks, and when we say “yes” she is all smiles.

“It is in Halle 3,” she tells us. You follow this corridor until you get to Halle 3, then you go downstairs, it is downstairs in Halle 3.”

Halle 3 feels like a mile away. It is a colossal bag drag. The walk goes on and on. Grumble grumble, if I had known, I would have had the driver let us off at Halle 3, and I grumble because it’s my fault. I’m the one who sets these things up, I’m the one who didn’t check where the car rentals might be, grumble grumble, yes, I am hard on myself as I drag my bag.

We have some good luck when we get to the rental place, the man in front of us is finishing up and heading for his car and we are next. It’s going to be more bag drag; we have to go from Halle 3 out these doors, down this sidewalk to the parking garage, then up to the 6th floor. Grumble grumble.

We get there and we love the car, a little silver SUV and not unlike our Rav4s, much of the operating system is analagous. There are a few little things . . . but we take our time, try to figure things out before we leave.

Every marriage has its pressure points. For us, here is where the rubber hits the road. We have to get out on the road. My husband, who does not speak much French, has to get us from the garage to the road. I am navigator, reading my phone and road maps, my job is to help him make the right turns.

It is a disaster. We miss the right exits and have to go back, just to get out of Bordeaux. We end up going the wrong way on the right road, and it takes us miles (kilometres) before we can turn around and go the right way.

We lose about an hour, but it is no big deal because our drive for the day is only about two and a half hours, and we plan to stop here and there and wander, as we do.

Within about twenty minutes, AdventureMan says “isn’t there is smaller road we can take? This isn’t very interesting,” and I agree, we like smaller, more picturesque roads. So i set a course for Eymet, where there is a Sunday market we’d heard about, and follow Google instructions.

One thing catches me by surprise. It is Sunday morning, and there are large groups of bikers. Not the motorcycle kind, these are bicyclists, all in fashionable athletic wear and expensive shoes on sporty bikes, and the groups look like clubs, out for a Sunday ride. I’ve never seen that before, and I love it.

Sigh. Google takes us on some weird paths. Sometimes I am not so sure Google understands French. We are on some very rural roads, not that interesting. It takes us more than two hours to get to Monsegur, where we decide to stop because we are really hungry, and I love the name Monsegur.

 

This is not the exact route we took. Google kept telling us to take some really small roads. Monsegur (means “safe hill”) is along the route before Eymet.

We turn off to Monsegur to find a place to eat. It is old, very old, and quiet. My husband is tired, and hungry. I am feeling responsible, because we are sort of lost, and not making good time.

 

We walk around the market square, and we see a couple places that do not look inviting. Then we see two elderly women, well dressed, heading to a place around the corner. We follow them. They head directly into Auberge La Piece de Boeuf.

They slow just enough for me to ask them “Is this a good place to eat?” They are more than polite, they are cordial and gracious, and tell me, slowly so I can understand clearly, that this is the only place in town with really good food, and we must try it.

We are not really meat eaters, although we are not not-meat-eaters, but . . . when in France. There are other things on the menu, but everyone in the restaurant is eating beef, and when you are in a restaurant whose name is A Piece of Beef, it is probably a good idea to eat the specialty of the house. We play by different rules in different cultures.

We are charmed by the interior. And we are delighted when they have a place for us, in a back corner where we can see almost the whole restaurant, what everyone is eating. Within ten minutes, the last table is taken, and we are glad we got there when we did, as we watch people being turned away.

The owner is very gracious. He helps AdventureMan find something he wants to eat. The entree, or starter, is a salad with a very tasty, salty beef. I totally loved it, and actually, it was enough for an entire meal for me. It was really delicious.

 

And then came my main course – beef. It was a lovely little filet, wrapped in bacon, and I was able to eat about a third of it. I couldn’t eat the potatoes, but I think there were green beans I ate before taking the photo. The meat was fork-tender.

AdventureMan had a different cut of steak, and he ate about half. It was just too much food for us. You are going to have a hard time believing this, because it is unthinkable, but . . . we couldn’t even eat dessert, even though it was included. The meat, the meal, was so rich and so filling, we couldn’t. Also, we were drinking some very fine local wine, a Graves, and we knew we had miles to go before settling in.

I saw the little French ladies who had advised us to eat there as I headed to the ladies room. They greeted me, and I asked them, “can you eat all this food?” because they were eating the same menu we were. They said “yes” but that if you can’t eat it, you can ask for a “boîte” (box) which shocked me; I have never seen French people take home uneaten food, it was once considered uncultured. But now, these refined ladies were telling me I could take it home, and that it would be a pity to waste such fine beef.

 

 

They are so proud of their locally sourced beef that they keep a large poster of the farmer and his cows in the restaurant. When I was a child, almost all food in France was local, but now France is as modernized as other countries, and “locally-sourced” is a marketing tool.

 

We needed to walk off a little of our meal and wine before we started driving again, and Monsegur was a really great place, very quiet, to walk. This is the market square – you will see a lot of market squares in my photos; you’ve already seen Libourne.

I think the above church is Notre Dame de Monsegur, but some of the churches and their interiors start to blur. Some are distinct in my mind, some are less so.

 

 

 

There is another Monsegur, I think farther south, which was an old Cathar stronghold, and where the Cathars were cruelly wiped out as France claimed the southern regions of France for the crown.

 

This is Rue de Soleil, street of the sun, which I thought funny because it is barely three feet wide and would get very little sun if you wanted to grow a little rose bush or something. It also struck me that my friends with the last name Soule’ may actually be Soleils.

So we finally left Monsegur, and in very short time found Eymat.


 

This is the old city square in Eymat; I can just imagine people riding up on their horses and letting them drink from the communal fountain, hitching them to posts around the square. Probably on market day, there were carts and peddlers.

 

I suspect these old timbered houses are sort of fire-traps, but they do give atmosphere to the old villages.

 

There was a beautiful old mill, a working mill, on the river in Eymat.

 

 

An old (castle?) enclosure in Eymat, with a Donjon – Dungeon!

 

 

 

 

Love this door, which is only maybe five feet high. But I love that now I know those nail studs are there to destroy the axe that tries to destroy the door.

I’ve apologized to my husband that what was supposed to be a sort, easy drive has turned out to be longer and more complicated, and he laughed. He put his arm around me and said “And we’re still married.”  LOL, I suppose there is something to be said for surviving challenges for all these years together.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Food, France, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Grown-Up Holiday Interlude

Mostly when we go to New Orleans, we have our grandchildren with us. We go to a family friendly hotel, we go to the Zoo, the Aquarium, maybe the Insectarium, we ride the cable cars, we eat food the kids like – pizza, sushi, crepes. Fortunately for us, they have developed a taste for French food, so we can take them to some places with decent food that we like, too.

But this time, we took a Grown-ups Getaway!

We had so many agendas, and we accomplished the most important – we had a wonderful time.

Our first stop was the Cafe Abyssinia, (3511 Magazine Street) for a combination of several vegetable dishes and lamb tips with injera, the fermented pancake-bread you use to eat the food with your fingers. It was so delicious, and so satisfying, and on the day after Christmas in New Orleans, it was easy to find a parking place.

After lunch, we needed a good walk, and what better place to walk – and shop – than Magazine Street, full of quirky shops with unique items. The funniest part was my husband wanting to visit a shop, Mayan Imports, which turned out to be a cigar shop (not his thing at all.) As we left, we noticed all the signs that said “Cigars” and it’s like we didn’t even see them as we were walking in. They were hard to miss.

Late in the afternoon we checked in to our hotel, and as soon as darkness fell, we went out to City Park to see the lights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish I could have caught all the dinosaurs at the front entrance for you. They were magnificent. We had no idea that City Park lights was such a big deal. There was a huge crowd, and for $28 you could buy tickets to ride all the rides all night. (Just admission was $10.) We had learned about City Park Lights as we waited to pick up our Christmas Eve dinner in a crowded restaurant, talking with another person who had preordered and was also waiting. Some pieces of information are pure gold!

An article I found online about the hottest restaurants to open in New Orleans in 2019 led us to Costera, a Spanish restaurant in the same space where we had once had Thai food, (4938 Prytania) near our favorite ice-cream place.

 

We got there early. It filled up fast, and no wonder. The food was fabulous. We had rapini, a broccoli-like vegetable, a beet salad, bread with a tomato smear and aioli lashings (out of this world good), duck in a rosemary sauce with mushrooms, and scallops on fideo, fideo being thin noodles with a tangy flavor. Each dish was mind-blowingly delicious. I loved the rapini, and I loved my scallops, but we shared everything and my husband’s duck was also as good as any duck we have ever eaten in France (sort of our standard for measuring) or anywhere else.

 

 

 

The food was light enough – we loved having tasty vegetables – that when we finished we walked over to Creole Creamery, just a couple doors down, where I had a small ball of bittersweet chocolate (intense and lovely) and my husband had a bittersweet chocolate fudge sundae.

 

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of our hotel as we returned; it is beautiful and elegant, The Park View.

Once inside, my husband had a glass of port before we went up to our room. The downstairs rooms are gorgeous; lavishly decorated for Christmas.

 

I shouldn’t show you this photo of our room; I should only let you see it all made up, but something about the morning light in this room compelled me to take the photo of the room in dishevelment, It’s beautiful anyway!

 

On! On! To our friend Henri, and Zito’s Plating and Polishing Works, where we have a nice visit and leave some treasures to his excellent magic.

 

We hit the mall in Metairie, a mall I really like because there are so many great seating areas. We often split up to shop, and when one finishes before the other, there are a lot of good, comfy places to sit and watch people while you are waiting.

And then, to finish our visit in a grand way, a visit to Drago’s, the original Drago’s, for their incomparable grilled oysters. Yes!

 

We are happy! We head home, content, satisfied, making conversation, falling silent, making more conversation. We have our best conversations when we are on long road trips together.

And one final photo, looking out over Mobile Bay before entering Florida:

I promise I will return to the trip, just getting ready to leave Bordeaux for the Dordogne and Auvergne. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed this short interlude.

December 27, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Chocolate, Christmas, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Hotels, Pensacola, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viking Forseti: The Captivating Citadel of Bleye

I keep telling my husband, this is the hardest trip I have ever written up. We wake up in one place, end up in another. We may or may not tour the second place in the same day. We may arrive, tour one place, then board a bus and head for another. It is very hard for me to keep my days straight.

For me, Bleye was a welcome relief.

My husband was eager, from the beginning, to tour Bleye, with it’s 17th century citadel high above the river. It was built by Louis XIV to protect Bordeaux, upstream. Legends are that Roland, knight of Charlemagne, is buried here, along with Charibert II, an early King of Aquitaine. So much history, and so beautiful!

I have my own agenda. I need some quiet, I need to be away from the groups. I need to walk at my own pace, and be able to stop and ponder where I will. Bleye, for me, is an opportunity to explore, on my own, in quiet. Yep. I’m an introvert. 🙂

I had a lovely adventure. I started with the group, then headed off in a different direction, heading straight up the hill of the main street after entering Bleye. I toured the entire citadel, loved my time, went around the groups when I came upon them, and ended up at a small museum with a delightful woman who loved it that I was an American who spoke French. She spoke no English, and gave me a private tour of the museum. She made it come alive! It had been a prison, and I could see the prisoners trying to sleep in the cold stone courtyard, trying to bake their meager bread in the large oven, It was a brutal life. In the basement of the museum were models of the Bleye Citadel and various artifacts, going back to earliest man in that area.

I was both stimulated and refreshed! I also found a shop with lovely hand painted silk scarves, just what I love!

When AdventureMan and I met up again, we had a lot to share 🙂

Arrival in Bleye, view from the river:

 

 

It looks like a grim day in the photos, but I was wearing a short sleeved dress and a hoodie, and I had to take the hoodie off and tie it around my shoulders, it was so warm and humid. I remember sunshine, but I don’t see any sunshine in the photos. I must just have sunny memories of Bleye.

 

 

 

 

This is the main street, where, when my group went left, I went straight ahead. There are all kinds of artisan shops along this street, including an artisan ice cream shop (No, I didn’t, but I was tempted by the blueberry ice!)

 

I don’t know what this was, but I loved the feeling of it. Maybe a farmhouse? Maybe a barracks?

 

 

 

This was my favorite area. It is all overgrown, all green and mysterious.

I purposely included people in this shot so you could see the relationship of citadel to river, and see the strategic value of Bleye. You can spot any ship entering from the Atlantic headed toward Bordeaux. Also, I think this is one of those iconic photo places where tour brochures are shot, wedding photos, “I was there” shots – I think I’ve seen that overlook from different vantages a hundred times.

 

I shot this watchman’s tower because it evoked in me a feeling of isolation and loneliness; I could imagine being the guard on a cold, windy night, no fire, and hours of watching before me. You always hope for nothing to happen, and at the same time, watching and waiting is boring and monotonous.

 

Lots of happy meals available in Bleye citadel. The menu of the day, tuna tartine (a savory upside down pie?), slab of salmon with creamy risotto and chocolate cake with a pear sauce and chocolate wafer all for around $25, really, not bad for a tourist location.

Don’t you like to see what’s for lunch or dinner?  🙂

 

 

 

The Viking Forseti waiting for us at the landing below the citadel.

In the small museum, such treasures from antiquity!

 

This is my dear friend, who made my trip into Bleye so delightful, meaningful and unforgettable. It was a lovely moment of connection. (And that’s the old bread oven)

Model of the old citadel:

 

 

I love this rendition of the entrance, especially because later, when we visit the Museum of the Aquitaine, there is a print of people at the gate of a similar castle, surrendering to an army who probably starved the castle into submission. Such were the realities of a pre-nation.

 

I loved this door; it reminded me of Tunisia. My friend the museum docent, explained to me that the studs, while artistic, also ruined any axe which was trying to break down the door. Oh! I guess it should have been obvious, but I was so taken with the artistry that the utility escaped me.

 

 

Finally! A photo with a little pale blue sky!

We spent the night, and the next morning in Bleye,

This was one of the funniest nights of our trip. We couldn’t get into the Aquavit Terrace, the only place where you can find a table for two. We anchored a table for six (the smallest table available) in the dining room, and were approached by four very beautiful and a little bit tipsy women, asking if they could join us. I said “Of course! You are welcome!” because that is the custom of the boat, you share tables, you get to know one another. But they are all looking at my husband, whose face looks like a deer in the headlights. He does not want to appear horrified, but he is overwhelmed by these laughing, beautiful ladies and for an instant, is unable to hide his feelings.

Thankfully, they joined us, and as we chatted, we enjoyed them very much. Lucky for me, I got to sit next to another introvert, who lives a very different life from mine, in a very different context, but listening to one another, we had a lot in common and a lot to share. Each woman at the table was unique and talented. They were all celebrating their 70th year on earth and more than 55 years of friendship. They had met in school, and kept up the friendship all these years, traveling to get together, and planning a trip now and then together. They were delightful, and we all ended up laughing for the next two or three hours. At some point, we were close to being the last party left in the dining room, and we broke it up. From an awkward beginning came one of the best evenings of our trip.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, France, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Shopping, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Thought from A Word A Day

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:

If ever the time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.

Samuel Adams, revolutionary (27 Sep 1722-1803)

 

I love A Word a Day, and it was one of the first websites I would recommend for my students aspiring to speak English well. I also recommend it for English speaking students who will be taking college entrance exams – vocabulary is a BIG part of succeeding on those tests.

 

He also includes a pertinent thought, which I often find provokes reflection, as does today’s.

September 27, 2019 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Crime, Leadership, Lies, Political Issues, Values, Words | Leave a comment

The Texas Solution to Mass Shootings – More Guns

Forgive me for going political, but occasionally I have to let off steam.

 

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I was raised with guns. My husband fought in Vietnam; we have great respect for weapons of all kinds, and when they are needed, and the damage they can inflict. We believe in protecting ourselves.

We don’t need an assault rifle.

When the governor of Texas pulled a sad face and talked about the need to protect Texans, without getting specific, the hair on the back of my neck started going up. Another politician hiding what he is really saying, I thought. When pushed, he referred to the eight new laws going into effect that very day, the same day another angry white American-born male had shot and killed seven people and wounded many more.

He carried an assault rifle. First killed was a policeman making a traffic stop.

The gun laws that the governor referred to as going into effect, each and every law, protect gun ownership and allow guns legally to be carried in more places.

Churches, synagogues and mosques.

Schools.

God forbid.

More guns, in my experience, do NOT make us more safe.

While we were with the military, guns which were not being used for training purposes (or war) were locked up. Every base, every unit has it’s own weapons storage center, kept under lock and key, and those are the rules for professionals with a huge familiarity with guns, and their proper handling, and their capabilities.

Any person can become temporarily insane. I myself have had moments when I knew I was capable of killing, especially to protect my child, or another innocent. None of us know what we are capable of under extreme stress or circumstances.

I can imagine NO circumstance under which it would be appropriate for me to carry an assault weapon.

Here, courtesy of CNN, are the eight new gun laws the governor cited in his lily-livered bow to the NRA:

(CNN)

A series of new firearm laws go into effect in Texas on Sunday, just hours after a shooting left seven people dead in the western part of the state.

The laws will further loosen gun restrictions in a state that’s had four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history, including the El Paso shooting last month, when a gunman stormed a Walmart and killed 22 people.
The new measures were all passed during the 2019 legislative session, which ended in June.
Here are the sweeping firearm laws going into effect:

Weapons on school grounds

House Bill 1143 says a school district cannot prohibit licensed gun owners, including school employees, from storing a firearm or ammunition in a locked vehicle on a school parking lot — provided they are not in plain view.
Kris Brown, president of gun violence prevention advocacy group Brady, criticized the bill going into effect September 1.
“Many states took the opportunity in the last two years to learn lessons from the tragedies in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and the every day gun violence that plagues our citizens, and enacted new laws to protect public safety through expanded background checks and extreme risk laws,” Brown said.
“Texas lawmakers, instead … doubled down on an NRA led agenda to encourage guns everywhere, no matter the risks and costs to safety.”

Marshals at schools

House Bill 1387 loosens restrictions on how many armed school marshals a school district can appoint.

Guns in foster homes

House Bill 2363 allows some foster homes to store firearms and ammunition in a safe and secure place for personal protection. Proper storage must be followed, the bill says, including putting firearms and ammunition together in the same locked locations.

Weapons in apartments

House Bill 302 bans homeowners or landlords of rental property from prohibiting residents from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in the property.

Handguns during a disaster

House Bill1177 prohibits residents from being charged with a crime for carrying a handgun while evacuating from a state or local disaster area.

Firearms in places of worship

Senate Bill 535 clarifies the possession of firearms at churches, synagogues or other places of worship. It allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship — and comes nearly two years after a gunman killed 26 people at Sutherland Springs church.
“We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun free zone. Those with evil intentions will violate the law and carry out their heinous acts no matter what,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm.”
The bill will make things clearer, she said.
“The existing statute is confusing and clunky when it comes to clearly stating the rights of licensed Texans to carry on the premises of a church. This bill provides clarity of the Legislature’s intent to treat churches in the same manner as other privately owned establishments in Texas.”
A landlord cannot forbid tenants to carry or store guns on the rental premises. People can carry guns, by law, into houses of worship, even those where mass shootings have occurred. And guns are allowed in foster homes?? Good grief.
On a brighter note, Walmart announced to day restrictions on selling certain kinds of ammunition; restricting gun sales may be around the corner.
This is NOT a mental health issue. This is an issue where normal but angry people have access to weapons which kill many people, quickly.  The first step is to re-instate the assault weapon ban. Now.

September 3, 2019 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Health Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Lies, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Rants, Safety, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Survival, Values | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do You Have a Heartbeat?”

This morning in Pensacola the temperature was a cool 71 degrees F. and the humidity was low. It makes all the difference in the world.

“How’s your day?” I asked my friend in the pool at the YMCA, and she grimaced. “I’m off to a bad start,” she said, “I hung my suit and towel and shoes on the line outside, and after the rain last night, everything was soaked this morning.

(We really needed the rain, and we got a soaker of a storm. Today, everything is blossoming in our yard and happy, moonflowers, African Irises, Ginger, plumbago, roses – they respond to a good soaking by blooming in delight.)

I grinned at her. “Did you wake up this morning? Do you have a heartbeat? Are you breathing? Are you here at the YMCA?” I was heartless, and persistent. She laughed.

I talked about the countries I’ve lived in; how in my first African country, Tunisia, back in the day, people competed for our garbage. My cleaning lady asked permission to take glass jars with lids, to take tuna cans. She asked that I give her any clothes I didn’t want. In the Middle East, there were restaurants where people waited near parked cars to beg for the leftovers we carried. Anything. Anything would do.

Some people didn’t have a towel, much less a swim suit, or shoes to hang on a line.

We live in the midst of plenty. Even Tunisia, when we went back twenty five years later, didn’t have the poverty we saw when we lived there. We didn’t see clubbed feet, we didn’t see hunched backs, we didn’t see crossed eyes. The little villa we had lived in had a second floor. There were signs everywhere of prosperity. We didn’t see any beggars, not one.

When I get all wrapped around the axel about the state of civility in my country, about our abuses at the border, about our increasing bureaucratic hardness-of-heart toward the least of these, I need to stop and take a deep breath and spend time acknowledging how very blessed we are. It gives me strength to go on fighting.

July 24, 2019 Posted by | Africa, Aging, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cultural, Exercise, Gardens, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual, Tunisia | Leave a comment

Yellowstone: Wonderland and Last Trip to Lamar Valley

When we finish hiking the terraces, it is still early. We decide we do not want to eat breakfast in the Dining Room, so we go into Gardiner, back to The Wonderland Cafe and Lodge. The Cafe is already full, a few tables with couples and one very large table with a local woman’s group. They are having such a good time, it made me feel like home. I saw one bring in a bag of books for another, and I thought “I could be happy living here.”

We order and are delighted with our choices. My husband tried Avocado Toast for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed the combination of flavors. I had the breakfast burrito.

 

 

It’s a hearty breakfast, and we know we won’t need to eat for a long while, so we head back out to Lamar valley, still looking for those wolves around Slough Creek. On the way back into the park, we stopped to take a photo at the 45th latitude. We thought that was pretty cool. You’ll note we are still in heavier clothes at this point.

On the way we hike up to Wraith Falls; it’s an easy hike, only half a mile there and back. You can’t really get too close with all the wood fall, but it is a lovely cascading kind of falls.

 

 

 

 

My husband had some interest in the petrified forest, but we figured maybe the next trip. What I like about this photo of the deer is that it looks like one would prefer to go one way and the other in a different direction. It kind of cracked me up.

Back in Slough Creek again, looking around for those wolves. Did not see any wolves, nor the babies we had heard about, but I took a photo of this wonderful rock. In Alaska, and in the Seattle area, people pay big money to have a great huge rock in their yard, like a landscape focus. I think it has to do with Scandinavian blood, and glaciation, the fact that these great huge rocks are brought from mountains, many miles, and then are dumped where the ice melts. You will see valleys full of great huge rocks, with no source in sight. Many have come for miles. This one looks to me like a very alien rock; he has a curved round head and on either side of his cracked (helmut?) you can see his alien eyes.

 

Also in the valley at Slough Creek, we find anglers; at one time three of them angling. We never saw them catch anything.

 

Out on the edge of a large plain between the mountains, a huge valley where the Bison were slowly brought back from near extinction, is this formation, called Soda Butte. It has a hot spring that kept springing up, depositing minerals, until it built this anomalous structure. We hiked around it to get a view of the other side.

 

 

 

 

We see bison grazing peacefully across the river, except for one, who is looking at us and moving quickly and purposefully toward us. Hmmm, those big guys can move pretty fast. We calmly and quickly walk to our car and get in. The bison comes all the way to where we were standing and fortunately, stops. After the adventure with the elk, we aren’t taking any chances. Most of the bison we have encountered have been placid and uninterested in humans, but wildlife is wild. They don’t think like we think, and we don’t take anything for granted.

No, I didn’t stop to take this photo, I was taking this photo when I noticed he was running towards us.

 

We see a clump of cars, and as we approach, we see a woman walking in our direction. “What have they spotted?” we ask her, and she says “Oh, there is a bear, high on the hill, they are watching him. He is the size of a little tiny dot.” We’ve seen a lot of bear. The rangers are already here, encouraging people to move their cars, park legally, but there a lot of sharp drops here, and not a lot of parking spaces.

I don’t know a lot about the Ranger program at Yellowstone, but it appears to me that there are a lot of trained people out observing animals, good at spotting them, and generous about pointing them out to others I would think they are photographers, but they are not. They have these super telescopes, like uniscopes, which are very powerful. If they are Rangers, out spotting game for the visitors, I think that is a lovely service.

We dawdle our way back toward Roosevelt Station, where the road heads out to Lamar Road. As we cross the Yellowstone River and head towards the junction, we see a large group of men and women walking in the direction from which we are coming. “What are you doing?” we asked, and they said “Ranger training.” How cool is that?

The Roosevelt Lodge isn’t open yet, but will open soon. How do we know that? We see stagecoaches, and what I take to be a chuckwagon, on rubber wheels, practicing in the large field where two days ago we saw coyote. They are having a lot of fun practicing. And note, a placid bison.

 

 

 

 

Back in Mammoth Hot Springs, we stop to take a photo of the old Fort Yellowstone church. This was our goal the elk attacked AdventureMan, and we never made it to the church. We have  a beautiful day for a photo.

We stop by the General Store, pick up some sandwiches for dinner on the porch, and some huckleberry ice cream cones to give us energy to pack up for tomorrow’s departure. The sandwiches in the General Store are huge, so huge we can never eat the whole sandwich. They are on big bread, and the bread is also thick. The filling is generous, thick. We hate to waste food, but we can’t eat the whole sandwich.

We’ve had a great visit to Mammoth Hot Springs. We can’t wait to bring our family here.

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Civility, Customer Service, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yellowstone National Park; Bear En Route to Mammoth Hot Springs

I’m posting this Yellowstone National Park map again to help you orient yourself on today’s adventures. We go from Canyon Village to Artist Paintpots (at last!), stop a lengthy time to watch a sedate mother grizzly and her cubs, view an awesome mountain, arrive in Mammoth Springs, have lunch in Gardiner, Montana, outside the North gate to the park, visit the upper Terrace at Mammoth, and spend the late afternoon once again in Lamar Valley, our happy place. This evening, my husband gets attacked by an irate Mama elk.

Yellowstone is so do-able. We did all the above, and never felt rushed.

 

This is an easy day, and our plan is to get up when we feel like it, but we are both awake by seven, and in fifteen minutes we are ready to go. We shake the dust from our feet!

From Canyon, we take the road directly going West. When we get to the junction, we turn South, just to get us to Artist Paintpots. We’ve tried twice before, and the parking lot was jammed and overflowing. This time, we are the first car in the lot. It’s only about 7:30 a.m. and the long weekend is long passed. There are fewer visitors, and even fewer who are out and about this early. (We are still early in the park season, once the summer rush starts, even early may not be early enough.)

 

 

Yep, you guessed it, Artistic Paintpots is so named because of the wondrous colors created by the variety of minerals leached into the boiling hot water, and the bacteria that thrives in the steaming springs.

 

I cannot even imagine a caldera this big, but as we drove, we tried to identify the ridges. The floor of this caldera thinly covers molten lava and the geysers and springs are caused by the heating of water in the ground which expands and comes out with varying degrees of force. This is how I understand it; someone with a more technical background can give you a more thorough explanation. So Yellowstone is a super volcano, and last erupted 700,000 years ago. It could erupt again. We were constantly aware of how very thin the crust of the earth is here, and now we obliviously walk over the possibility of instant, painful death.

But oh, the combination of heat, and minerals creates some magnificent colors and an eerily beautiful landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

It is a beautiful hike, one of the best on our trip. It is worth finding a serene time to visit the Artist Paintpots.

Back in the car, we see a big jam of cars on the road, and people running. Anywhere else, you would think someone had a car accident, but in Yellowstone, a jam like that with people parking anywhere – sometimes just leaving their car in the middle of the road (!) means that some kind of game has been spotted. This time, it was a Mama Grizzly and her two cubs.

So many people! Many of them had powerful, huge lenses, and tripods. They were all set up to take photos when the bear would be in clear view. I just use a little Lumix with a big telephoto, and it takes surprisingly sharp photos, considering it has a very light and easily tucked-in-a-purse kind of body.

There was an empty place where no one wanted to be. We really just wanted to watch. (Yes, we had backed up to a real viewing point and parked legally. The rule is – or is supposed to be – that you are supposed to be outside the white line delineating the outer boundary of the road.

We watched the very placid sow dig up some roots, keeping an eye on the playful cubs.

 

 

 

 

I just got lucky. The bear and her cubs moved to directly in front of me. It’s . . .well, it’s like a God thing, if the photo is put right in front of you, you are meant to take it, right?

More and more people came. They were quiet and respectful of the bear, and of one another, but their parking was not respectful of the trucks and RVs that needed to get through. Soon, the park rangers arrived. We were told they can ticket anyone not parked outside the white lines, and that the fine is HUGE, but this is a tourist attraction, and the rangers we saw used good humor and persistence, and cajoled people into moving along and parking legally. We never saw anyone ticketed, and we also never saw anyone argue with a ranger.

June 24, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Civility, Customer Service, Geography / Maps, Law and Order, Lumix, Photos, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | , , , , | Leave a comment