Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Pilgrimage to St. George Island from Apalachicola

A very short drive from Apalachicola, but a whole different world. Cross two amazing bridges/causeways which are an adventure in themselves, so beautiful, so wonderfully engineered. We are always in awe of what it takes to connect dry land over a lot of water, and how really smart people can also figure out how to generate electricity, maintain the equipment, and bring it to far flung locations.

Moody sunrise

Headed out of Eastpoint toward St. Georges

Coming into St. Georges

We drove all through St. Georges; we stayed her once when our son was a student at FSU but it all looks entirely different now. Finally, we get to our favorite part, the beach at the far eastern end of the island. You can park and walk even further east, or west, or whatever you like. There are few people there on this sunny cool day, and it is a glorious day for a long walk.

Day tripper friendly

Shell heaven! Piles of shells everywhere!

Wind patterns on the sand

What is the beach without some surf?

Surf, sand, shells and sun; we are as happy as we can be. No masks on the beach, no need, few people and far apart. It is a glorious day.

More wind/sand patterns because I am a dork who cares about these things . . .

This was a great part of our get-away.

February 5, 2021 Posted by | Beauty, Cultural, Exercise, Geography / Maps, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Spiritual, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Thousands of Ducks in Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge

It’s an easy drive from Apalachicola, and we also have an agenda; we remember a particularly good barbecue restaurant not far from Saint Marks.

The drive is beautiful. It is still early, but getting toward mid-morning, so it is warming up. We are dressed for the cold; it is also windy so the chill just goes right through your clothes. You have to have a lot of clothes, in layers, or you are too cold to walk.

We stop on the way so I can take a photo.

As I step out of the car, and start walking on the grassy roadside toward the bulkhead, I suddenly step into a deep hole. The grass is just a cover, and the ground underneath is eroding. I managed to stay upright, but it was awkward.

That’s where I stepped.

Saint Marks had a couple heron, an egret here and there, a couple pelican, the St. Mark’s lighthouse, and a million ducks. If you have never read Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Book Series, this is the area and lighthouse I picture when we first enter the alternate world in Annihilation.

We walked a couple miles around the various ponds, and it is hard to envision just how many ducks there are in this protected area.

We found gardens of these empty oyster shells; they were beautiful.

We are happy with our walk, but we are cold, and we are getting hungry! On the way into the park, we passed the BBQ restaurant and it is open. Off we go.

February 4, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, Exercise, Geography / Maps, Road Trips, Travel | | 3 Comments

“Do You Want to Reserve for Friday night?”

I was so excited. We are headed out, our first trip since February when we took our grandchildren back to New Orleans, as we so often did until March and the advent of COVID. We’ve sold our big house, are comfortably settled in our smaller house, and I am SO ready to resume a more normal life.

I had just finished telling AdventureMan about a restaurant in a hotel we have visited several times, but we’ve never stayed in nor eaten in. The menu looks fabulous! (The Franklin in the Gibson Inn, Apalachicola). He looked at me over his reader glasses, lovingly – and sadly.

“”So do you think everyone will be masked and socially distanced?” he asked me.

“Oh,” I responded. Deflated. Sometimes, for a short while, I can totally forget the new reality of masks and social distancing, and not eating in restaurants.

We decided that as we will be staying in a lovely place with condo conveniences, we can order out. It won’t be the same, but the food will be good, we can store our leftovers in a refrigerator, and we can be safe.

Sigh.

I’m still excited. Apalachicola is beautiful, and the hotel where we stay (The Water Street Hotel) is right on the estuary. There are screened balconies where, even in this chilly weather, we can sit out and watch the heron, and fishing birds, and watch the boats stream by. We can head out to St. Marks, famous for the large flights of migratory birds at this time of the year.

It will be cold. It will also be beautiful, and it will be relatively deserted, safe from those globs of corona virus floating around where human beings breathe. We can walk to our hearts content. I can take pictures.

We like birds. We are enthralled with their beauty. It gives me a happy jolt every time I see, from my little house, a pelican, or a stork, or an eagle, or a red shouldered hawk. No, we are not birders. We like birders, but cannot begin to generate their endless enthusiasm and capability for detailed observation. We just sit back and enjoy the moment.

Apalachicola is a very old Florida town, once famous for it’s timber, and once famous for it’s oysters. The recent hurricane activity has wiped out the tasty Apalachicola oysters, at least for the next few years, and has greatly wiped out the economy of Apalachicola. We look forward to lifting that economy, as best we can, with our visit, and we encourage you to do the same.

January 13, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Birds, Community, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | | Leave a comment

Cahors to Bordeaux, Preparing to Fly

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

I take one photo on the way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great bread.

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

All the pears you can find in France:

Butternut soup

 

AdventureMan had a salad:


 

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

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

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

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

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

Domme: One of the Best Days in the Dordogne

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Beautiful Perigord farmlands . . .

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

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

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

 

 

Look at this barrel roof! Is that not beautiful?

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Beautiful city coat-of-arms, no?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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


 

 

 

View of another nearby castle from Beynac

 

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

Not an easy castle to take by attack.


 

View from the castle terrace

 

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

 

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

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

LOL, the hall filled with a group.

 

We quickly find a quiet place without a group!

 

 

 

15th century fresco

 

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

 

 

The luxurious room of Richard the Lionhearted

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Wonderful dessert selection!

 

 

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

My husband had a Caprese salad, and french fries.

 

 

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

 

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

The Chateau Chapel

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Here is what I ordered:

Here is what my husband ordered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thousands of geese!

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

Breakfast at Domaine de la Vitrolle

It would have been a false economy to skip breakfast at the Domaine de la Vitrolle. Yes, you can grab a cup of coffee at a local supermarket, and a croissant, and go your way for very little, but you miss the whole joy of a really good petit dejeuner.

If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I like people, I get along with people, but oh, I am such an introvert. I crave quiet time, and I love privacy. I treasure privacy.

For me, this hotel stay was restorative. All that socializing on the Viking Forseti! All that chatting and cordiality! Yes, I can do it. It takes its toll.

We have the dining room all to ourselves, and the table is beautiful and the food is beautiful. Look at this beautiful bread.  It tastes good, too!

 

See the apple juice at our plates? Pressed from apples grown on the domaine, where you can smell apples from the minute you drive in. They also have fields of grapes, and their own vintner, I understand. You can buy their juice and cider at the little store at the Domaine de la Vitrolle.

See the little plate of meats, and the separate little plate of cheeses? Lovely! Little pots of jam. Little pats of unsalted butter. Fruits. Over on a side table you can choose from cereals, and make some toast.

 

Croissants and pain au chocolat arrive in their own basket, still warm.

For me, this is what I love the most. Coffee and warm milk, served in separate pitchers. I love it that I can pour in a lot of milk and it doesn’t damage the heat of the coffee. I hate tepid coffee; but who serves warm milk anymore? Domaine de la Vitrolle won my heart with their coffee service.

We also got a bit of solid gold information before we headed out for the day. The manager tells us “there are three supermarkets in LeBugue, just turn right when you get to the bridge and they will be on your right.”

We are on the road for several days, and we like to have snacks with us, and to be able to eat local treats from the area. The supermarket format is also easy for us – mostly, a supermarket is a supermarket wherever you go, and you find what you want, go to a counter and pay for it.  This Intermarche turned out to be one of our favorite places. We went first thing in the morning, and then we went back late in the afternoon and picked up food for dinner, so we wouldn’t have to go out.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? You go all the way to France and you don’t want to go out for dinner? This is why I love traveling with my husband; we share some of the same oddities. We love travel, we love seeing what is available for people to buy, we love eating lunch out, but by the end of the day – we’re ready to settle in. We don’t want to wait until seven for restaurants to open, and then spend almost two hours eating a meal that is heavier than we want to eat.

We can pick up salads, pate, sandwiches, pastries, pieces of pie, macaroons with chocolate, tangerines . . . little napkins, forks, knives – it’s all so easy. We get to pick our own meals and amounts, and then, we have time to make notes at night, or read, or look at the map for the next day’s adventures, or even take a lovely hot relaxed bath in a huge bathtub. The making notes is critical; there is so much detail we forget, and when I can write some of it down, it makes for fun later on, reliving moments we had forgotten.

At the Intermarche, we also found something really fun – a Lego advent calendar for our grandchildren. It took a little doing, as there was no price on it and we had to track it down, but we are so delighted to have found it. My husband found some amazing macaroons with dark chocolate bottoms; we had one a day and they lasted the entire trip, oh how we enjoyed them! I found Prunes from Agen, famous prunes, fat and juicy, and I brought them back and used them in my Christmas fruit cakes. People were so kind and so helpful. It would not surprise me if we go back for another visit.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Advent, Blogging, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, France, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, 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

Viking Forseti: Bourg, One of our Favorite Stops

Leaving Libourne, we chug up the Dordogne toward Bourg, arriving as we are still eating dinner. It is a dreary evening, and we hope the weather will be better for our tour in the morning.

The Cruise Director asked that everyone leaving the ship be careful as the boats were being re-provisioned. Logistics interest us, so as we leave the boat, we greet the workers and take a little peek at what they are delivering. The amounts are staggering.

This delivery man hammed it up a little for me 🙂

 

Bourg is not very big. This is the entry from the harbor. There are a couple other major streets, not big streets, just streets.

 

It’s a drizzly morning, a quiet morning, and we have Bourg all to ourselves for a short while.

 

 

There is an overview of the river, and in the center of the photo below, you can see the Forseti parked at the dock.

 

The newsletter tells us “Bourg is a well kept secret. Over the course of it’s 2000 year history, Bourg was invaded by Romans, Vikings, Normans and the English. ” It is located at the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, a key defense position. It is one of France’s official historic villages.

 

 

 

These masks are on the side of the church we will enter. We found these characters throughout the Bordeaux area, and enjoyed looking for them. They remind us of the television series Grimm, as if these creatures really existed.

 

 

This looks like a cat man to me.

 

 

 

This is a castle and a museum, but it is closed for the season. You can see it is beautiful inside; it is also used as a venue for concerts, weddings, parties and receptions. It contains a museum with a collection of carriages and carousel horses when we were not able to visit. I had to shoot the photo below through a locked gate. 😦

 

 

 

 

Along a shopping street, we see pre-packaged kits of local wines:

 

I loved this street. I found a little store with a lot of truly local items, and the two ladies running it were sitting at sewing machines in the back, putting things together. I didn’t do a lot of shopping on this trip, but I did at that store on this street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hiked to the top to Bourg, then found a staircase down to the harbor, near a retreat center.

 

What cat doesn’t love “attention?” 🙂

 

Near the ship we found a wonderful antique shop. There was an entire Bayeaux tapestry, yards and yards of it, ready to be needlepointed. My hands itched for it, and my heart knew I would never finish it. I still think about it. My husband found an old helmet he has a had time resisting.

 

Back on board, our champagne has been replaced by bottles of a local wine, and some gorgeous French pears, so ripe, so juicy and sweet, we ate them all.

 

In the afternoon, the Forseti travelled a short route downriver to Bleye.

December 17, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, France, Geography / Maps, Shopping, Travel | , | Leave a comment