Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

An Unintended Lenten Fast

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

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

“Am I speaking to Intlxpatr?”

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

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

“No, I did not!” I responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Never Gets Old

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

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

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

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

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

LOL

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

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

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

Audrix, Chateau de Commarque, and Lascaux

We plan, and God laughs.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

They have a huge mastodon made out of hay!

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

This is a separate site across the valley.

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Remains of an old chapel

 

 

A new stone roof over the old community oven.

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Dordogne, Bruno and the Domaine de La Vitrolle outside Limeuil

Close to six we drive down the long apple-scented drive to arrive at the Domaine de la Vitrolle, where several episodes in the Bruno, Chief of Police series take place. This beautiful location is not outrageously prices, and we are staying for three nights, to be able to fully enjoy this area.

(I didn’t take the above photo; it is from their website.)

The lady waiting for us tells us all about the hotel, and that we are the only guests for the first night. Actually, later there were guests, but they were staying in a different part of the hotel. We were staying on the second floor, next to the tower. It was a delightful room. From our bathroom (which was huge) window, we could smell the apples on the trees. With our breakfast, we had apple juice/cider which was pressed from these apples. Heaven.

Our room was really two rooms, a bedroom and a sitting room. After our little suite on the Viking Forseti, this felt like such luxury!

I LOVED this bathroom!

The hotel was very elegant, and also very welcoming.

 

The sitting room where we had best access to wi-fi:

Below, our table in the dining room:

Don’t you love this fireplace?

 

 

Andre Malraux had a French resistance headquarters here, at the Domaine de la Vitrolle.

 

This is the drive into Domaine de la Vitrolle, lined with fruit trees.

We go into the village of Limeuil, looking for dinner but also loving the ancient streets, all quiet except for the ghosts and goblins coming from the castle at the top of the hill where a Halloween party is just finishing up.

 

It is a beautiful little place, wonderful for walking.

It is Sunday night in rural France, off-season in the Dordogne, and there is no place to eat in Limeuil, as beautiful as it is. We turn to our friend, Bruno, Chief of Police (and author Martin Walker) who tells us that nearby, in LeBugue, there is an Italian restaurant, Da Francesco, which serves good Italian food at reasonable prices.

Tired. Hungry. We head for LeBugue. We see several other promising restaurants, including a Middle Eastern restaurant, all closed, but not only is Da Francesco open, there is a parking place, just across from the Police Station, just steps from the restaurant. AdventureMan orders a large salad, and I ask for hot soup, my throat is a little sore, probably allergies, it happens. The soup is wonderful, nourishing and tasty, and my husband’s salad is so huge he can’t eat it all. Our bill was small. We like the Dordogne. Great food at reasonable prices, our kind of place.

It is only minutes back to our rooms at Domaine de la Vitrolle. We are almost asleep before our heads hit the pillows, and we sleep wonderfully. It is amazingly quiet, so quiet.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Building, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, France, Hotels, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux: City of Many Discoveries

We’ve had a full morning, and head for the hotel, and then to see if we can find the restaurant our guide recommended when we were on our walking tour. It met all our favorite criteria – it is recommended and frequented by citizens of Bordeaux, it features Bordeaux specialties, and it is unpretentious. We love this kind of place.

We had a very short walk, and we are very hungry. We find the sign and board for the restaurant, and then the hilarity begins. We can’t find the door.

 

We find an entrance, and are greeted and seated quickly. When we look at the menu, and look at the clientele, it doesn’t feel right.

It’s not the same menu we saw posted at La Table Bordelaise. The manager can see we are puzzled, and he assures us we are in the right place. I asked about a particular dish, and he then agreed we were meant to be next door. I think he knew all along we were looking for the other restaurant, but this was the Bordelaise GRILL, and he graciously consented to let us go.

We were embarrassed, of course, but relieved. I don’t want to waste my calories, or my Euros, on a meal I don’t want. I will pay the price of a little embarrassment to be in the right restaurant.

So we go next door, and are happy to be seated in a very crowded restaurant. What I like is that there is a wide variety of ages, from twenty-somethings, to couples older than we are.

We order, maigret de canard (duck) for my husband, who for years has said “I only eat duck in France” and a fish for me. I was delighted to see the lady next to me, very French, had ordered the same thing. I was horrified to see how elegantly, delicately and thoroughly she was able to eviscerate the fish, top and bottom, while I struggled, leaving a lot of the fish on the plate. It was delicious, topped with almonds, and crispy skin with soft flesh. It’s not like I could take the excess with me, so I relished what I could get off the bones, and had no regrets for the rest.

 

 

Somehow, I deleted the photo for my husband’s duck, but he remembers it was wonderful.

 

For me, this was the truly wonderful part. One of the desserts was pear ice cream. When it came, with the clear cold liquid in the tiny glass accompanying it, I knew it had to be a pear liquor. AdventureMan asked if I was going to drink it. I am diabetic. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol anymore.

“Yes,” I said, and poured it all on. There are times in life when you should be cautious, and there are times when you just need to throw caution to the wind. It was worth it. Every bite. The pear ice cream was very lovely, a sorbet, very pear-y, and the liquor was worth every second of my life I might have lost because I savored it all. Some things just make life more worth living.

 

My husband had the creme brûlée, below, which was actually not half eaten when it came to the table, but somehow I got so absorbed in my pear ice that I was late in taking a photo of his creme brûlée, which he determined was excellent.

 

Sated, and a little exhausted (big night when we farewelled the ship, big day at the market and the Aquitaine Museum) so we took the short walk back to the Grande Hotel Francaise and rested for an hour.

There are other years when we would have kept pushing, so much to see in Bordeaux. We’ve had to learn that for us, resting now and then when we need it is worth it, so we can build up our energy once again, and enjoy the rest of the day.

While resting, we heard chanting, and loud singing. Yellow jacketed strikers, making their protest in the nearby street. There were maybe fifty people, and mostly people not striking were just going on their normal course, not fazed by the protestors.

The tram lines in Bordeaux are wonderful, and new. We can get on steps away from our hotel, and go in any direction. We each have a Bordeaux City Pass, takes us on all the tram lines, bus lines and gets us in free to most of the places we want to go. We bought ours at the tourist office while we were on our walking tour. It doesn’t start until the first time you use it, and then it is good for 24 hours. You may be able to buy City Passes for longer, I don’t know. You can also buy tram cards which allow you to travel without cash for a certain amount of time, which varies depending on the card you buy.

We have a plan. We want to take the B line all the way to the end in both directions, and then maybe switch to the A or C lines. Riding the trams is fun, and you get to see parts of town that a tourist doesn’t see otherwise. I also got to see wonderful signs.

 

“You think your act is anonymous – but we see you!”

“A wandering/mischievous hand, one foot in prison!”

There is a mighty effort to confront sexism in France – who’d have thought, fifty years ago, this was even possible? We’ve seen some radical changes in the French culture. Women seem so much more independent and confident.

We ride the B tram all the way north and then back, but there are running signs inside the tram telling us the tram will stop running at 1830 because of the marathon. This is a BIG deal, streets closing for the runners, trams shutting down, it is amazing and wonderful to have so much support for a marathon. We remember when fitness in France was mostly limited to the military; now we see the French, male and female, embracing fitness with a vengeance. C’est merveilleuse!

We exit at St. Andre, which had been closed earlier in the day. I am a great fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was married in this church – at age 13. It sounds awful, but girls from noble families expected to be married at an early age, and Eleanor was an extraordinary girl who eventually married two kings, France and England. She was aggressive and confident.

Being able to go into St. Andre’s is a thrill, and a bigger thrill at twilight, when people are quiet and respectful, and you can soak in some of the character of this church and the long history it has survived.

 

 

 

This is my favorite photo from the church:

 

There is a lot of marathon excitement going on outside St. Andre’s. It looks like some kind of staging area or some kind of water stop, or check-point, so we decide to find a place to eat and just watch the goings ons. We find the Ristorante Palazzo, salads, pizza and open air seating. It may be the end of October, but the temperatures during the day are hitting 70 F. and the night is still balmy. Every restaurant that can has seating outside tonight, so the Bordelaise can enjoy one of the last nights of dining al fresco before serious winter sets in.

 

 

Marathon set up

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles show up – and leave. Nothing much has happened in terms of the marathon, so we idle our way back to our hotel, just enjoying the lovely night. We had no idea that the French had adopted Hallowe’en, but evidence is everywhere.

 

I’ve always loved French clothing for children.

 

Outdoor dining everywhere! We could stay in Bordeaux happily for weeks.

AdventureMan spotted the scallop shell indicating this was part of the pilgrimage route to San Diego Compostela. It was fun

 

Porte Dijeaux takes us back to the Saracen times in Spain, with their bands of dark and light on their arches:


 

Our hotel, Best Western Le Grand Hotel Francais, in the very heart of Bordeaux on a very quiet street, easy walk to theatre, opera and restaurants, close to tram lines.

We had just finished brushing our teeth and were getting ready for bed when we got an unexpected thrill – the Bordeaux Midnight Marathon was running right by our hotel :-). Every single runner was cheered – we love that kind of spirit.

 

It went on for a long time. Longer than we stayed to photograph. We had a big day coming up and needed to get a good night’s sleep, which we did.

There were so many stores in Bordeaux, full of interesting things to buy, some very lovely, but I just didn’t feel the need to buy anything. We went into Galleries Lafayette, where I often used to buy clothes, but all the clothes were Ralph Lauren, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger – things we can get in the USA! My preferred souvenirs are silk scarves and jewelry, clothing if I find something special that I will really wear. Other than that, we invest in experience and good food and wine, and comfortable hotels. I’m just so glad I don’t have to carry film anymore, although I do still carry a camera for better shots. We want to come back and spend more time in Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, Exercise, Faith, Food, France, Halloween, Hotels, Political Issues, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Interlude

Starting to post my trip through the Bordeaux and Dordogne was ambitious, overly ambitious. Usually, I say I’m going to do something, and I do it. This time, no matter how well intentioned I was, life just got in the way. I knew I could continue to blog the trip, and do a half-good job, or I could devote the time and attention my real life needed.

We had a truly lovely Christmas, and for that, it takes care and attention. There are things that are not so necessary, but help to set the stage – decorating the house, preparing special meals, buying presents and wrapping packages, and then, best of all, spending time with the family you love.

 

The angels – I think they are Rosenthal – are from an earlier life in Germany. I don’t bring them out every year, I sort of rotate things so they don’t get stale.

The Christmas plates came from the old East Germany. Good friends took us to “the other side” in Berlin, as Christmas neared and I found these in a market. We only use them for Christmas breakfast, and we hand wash them, as I don’t know for sure how sturdy or dishwasher proof they might be.

 

This Christmas tree made of cinnamon rolls is always a big hit, and so easy. I use the little cans that make croissants, just use the dough, put in candied cherries and cinnamon sugar and melted butter and roll it up, cut into slices, and bake as you see above. More candied cherries for decoration, icing made of powdered sugar, milk and food coloring. It looks complicated, but it is easy.

 

I used to use thousands of lights in my house at Christmas, and now I use none, thanks to two wire-chewing cats who have turned my rational life upside down.

 

Thanks be to God for the great gift of caffein, in the form of coffee, which powers me through it all.

 

 

And the highlight of our Christmas – the Christmas pageant at Christ Church, Pensacola, as the children tell, and act out the story of Christmas, and we sing songs to punctuate the different movements – Away in a Manger, We Three Kings, Hark the Heralds – and more. It is both light, often funny, and enormously moving.

Happy Christmas to all!

December 27, 2019 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, Blogging, Christmas, Community, Cooking, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

Farewell Viking Forseti, Hello Bordeaux and the Marche’ des Capucins

When we reach our cabin, after the farewell dinner with our friends, there is a card waiting for us, beautifully handwritten, to tell us that our taxi will be waiting for us at 0930, and Viking wishes us a safe trip. This kind of attention to detail makes for great customer relations.

Our friends are fretting; there is a nation-wide train strike which may – or may not – start tomorrow, as they are heading for the train station en route to Paris. It causes great consternation. We tell them that we are picking up our rental car at the same station, the Gare Sainte Jean, and that if there really is a train strike, to quickly go pick up a rental car (before everyone else tries to do the same) and drive to Paris. It’s not a long drive.

We have a leisurely breakfast and our luggage is picked up from outside our door. At 0920, we head outside, and we can see a car waiting. In Tunis, in Doha, we used to call these limo’s, they are a higher class of taxi. Often someone’s private car (then, in the Middle East, things have changed somewhat since then) you were given a phone number by a friend, and you only shared that number with people you know who would appreciate and not abuse the service. It was a beautiful, well kept car, no markings to indicate it was for hire. He took us directly to the hotel, which was not that easy to find. We thanked him, and set up a pick up for the next day, which was a Sunday.

We had found a hotel, The Grand Hotel Francais which is also a Best Western. It is beautifully located near the Grand Theatre and just up the street from Saint Andre’s. I can’t figure out how to make a mark on the map, but up in the upper right corner, just where the red line B (tram) makes a turn, you see Rue de Temple, and the Hotel is on that street. The location is very quiet, but it is walking distance to everything!

 

We loved this hotel. First, we loved the location. Second, even at 0930 in the morning, they had our room ready for us. We had been prepared to drop our bags in the hotel baggage room until official check-in time, but what joy it was to be able to go to the room directly.

 

While I am not a big fan of motel-modern, I am a fan of this room. I like space. The ceilings are very high. While the walls are plain, the room has a spacious feel.

The bathroom is also spacious, and very modern. It felt roomy, especially after the ship. Lots of towels, and big thick cotton bathrobes. The controls on the shower were sort of space-ship modern, you move this knob this way to control volume, and that ring that way to control desired heat, and how do you raise the shower-head and make it stay exactly where you want it? But it wasn’t rocket science, and once I figured it out I explained it to my husband. We ran into this configuration several times.

What contributes to the feeling of spaciousness are the floor to ceiling French doors out onto a balcony. I am a big fan of balconies. Below is the view to the right, which you will see again as the marathon runners run by later in the day/night.

Looking down this street, you can almost see Saint Andrews cathedral, the “temple” to which the rue runs.

We didn’t stay long, just long enough to leave our luggage and get what we needed for a busy day trying to do everything we wanted to do in Bordeaux. (We failed. Oh well, guess we’ll just have to go back again 🙂  )

I had a priority. I love markets. I wanted to see the Marche’ aux Capuchins. We have an all-city pass that lets us on all the trams and busses, and lets us into several museums, so we have that joyous feeling of knowing we can do anything!

We take the B line, heading South, and get off at the Place de la Victoire, where there is a huge beautiful arch. And look at the skies! It is a beautiful, warm day; there is a lot of excitement in the air because tonight is the famous Bordeaux marathon, a crazy night where the streets of the city close down and the runners get to race on the major roads of the city.

I love public art, don’t you? Look at this big bronze turtle, and her little one, right in the middle of the city of Bordeaux. I love it that she has food in her mouth, after all, this is Bordeaux. Look at the leathery texture, captured in bronze, of her skin. I always think of turtles as symbols of long life.

The walk looks short on the map, but the blocks have a longer feel. It is a little north African, lots of kebab places, wonderful exotic smells. We feel very much at home. We come to the entrance of the famous market.

This is one of the reasons we are here. We hunger for the pate’s of fall, the Forestiere, and other local specialities. This is heaven, even just to look, it is abundant!

Umm, below, there are often things we wouldn’t even think of as food. Pigs ears? Hoofs?


 

 

 

 

 

When we lived in Tunis, we shopped at the Marche’ Lafayette where families would sell their varieties of pasta like this. It was the tastiest pasta in the world, and so fresh it spoils you for the kind you buy in stores. We have no stove, no pots, no pans and it is all I can do not to buy some just because I can, because these are so tempting, so beautiful.

Quiches-by-the-slice

Fabulous old grains breads

In the center of this photo below are fish, translucent, almost transparent fish that look like a pile of cellophane in this photo, but are distinct fish. I’ve never seen them before, and wonder how they cook up? No, I don’t ask because these merchants are interested in making a sale, and I am rally just a voyeur.

Ahhh! These are famous. We are warned to get to the market early to try these, that they bring so many, and when they are gone, they are gone. Clouds of love, and oh, my, WOW.

A thin sweet crust, a sweet sort of cream meringue, truly a fabulous cloud 🙂

Plates of oysters, fresh from the sea, ready to eat!

The prices of oysters are controlled by the French government. Every place, we are told in Arcachon, charges about the same.

 

You pick out a variety of little tapas sandwiches and pay by the color of the stick.

 

 

 

 

Cucurbitacee are gourds; most of these appear to be pumpkin-like. This market was a heaven of squash and gourds.

 

 

Even as we leave the marche’ we see another sign for tonight’s Bordeaux Marathon Madness – the energy is everywhere!

 

 

 

December 18, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, Entertainment, Food, Hotels, Living Conditions, Marketing, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Tunisia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boarding the Viking Forseti

We’ve been watching the Bordeaux weather forecasts for weeks. It shows it will rain every day of our trip. Fortunately, we’ve always had good weather-luck. It may rain from time to time, we may even get sprinkled on, but, for the most part, we don’t get rained out.

 

As we head through the suburbs of Bordeaux, I am reminded of Tunis, where we lived many years ago. The ground is dry, sort of pinkish red, sandy, with scant trees, and maybe a little green ground shrub here and there. The buildings look like something built in the old Soviet Union, all concrete and utilitarian and crumbling.

 

When we reach the wharf at Chartrons, an area close to the center of Bordeaux, the sun breaks through. It is a joyful arrival altogether. The Viking Forseti is docked next to a city park area, a skateboard park, with skinny French teenagers all practicing their moves. Next to the skate park is a children’s playground. It is a lively area, full of families, and we have to cross a busy bike and walking path to board the ship.

 

Once aboard, we are quickly processed and shown to our cabin.

 

I am taking a great risk here, telling you my innermost thoughts. In our family, we have a saying “That sounds like a first-world problem,” which we can say because we have lived in many countries which were not first world, and where people worried about serious things, like having enough food to eat, or finding a place to sleep where the police wouldn’t bother them or the like. We are on a Viking riverboat. This is luxury.

 

We booked a suite on the Forseti. When we walked in the door, I gasped. It was small! It was two rooms, three if you count the tiny bathroom. You entered into a sitting room, with a couch and chair and flat TV on the wall over a counter space for wine or fruits or books. It’s the size of  a normal small cabin minus the part which is our balcony, which we really wanted so we could sit out on it while we cruise up the rivers.

 

I have a thing about space. I feel like I can’t breathe well if the ceilings are not high enough, I don’t like being cramped. I know, I KNOW how lucky I am to have so much room and I can’t help it, I feel what I feel.

 

Our only other trips with Viking have all been on Ocean boats. Our cabins on the bigger ships had a lot of space, and a double closet, and lots of cupboards for putting folded clothing, underwear, shoes. etc. As I said, this feeling cramped on a river boat is not a worthy problem, and after bumping around a little while, we adjusted and did just fine. It was, however, a shock at the beginning.

 

 

There was champagne waiting for us, two glasses, and a flower. It’s a lovely thought.

You can see our bedroom through the door of the sitting room.

 

This is the bedroom from the door. On the right is a French balcony, i.e. sliding doors open but you can’t go out on it, as you can go out onto a balcony outside the door of the sitting room.

 

Inside the bedroom, this is the closet and all the drawer space. Two drawers. There is space under the bed for suitcases.

As you look to the right, entering the bathroom from the bedroom. The floors are heated.

Watching the safety video is a requirement. So we watch it, and check to make sure our life vests are stowed where we can get to them. There will be a drill the next day in Cadillac.

We are tired, and the sky has darkened again. It has started to rain. We decide to nap for a little while and then go to the welcome aboard briefing at 5:30.

 

View of Bordeaux from the ship.

People begin to gather in the lounge for the briefing.

 

By the time we finish dinner it is no longer raining, and Bordeaux looks inviting. I know I should go walking, and we are signed up for the walking tour of Bordeaux that leaves at 9:30 pm, but . . . I need to sleep. I need a nice shower. It is only 8:30 now, and I can’t face staying awake another minute. Before my head hits the pillow, I am asleep.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, France, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux/Dordogne Trip – We Owe it All to Martin Walker and Bruno, Chief of Police

Several years ago, I ordered a book recommended by Amazon. I do that from time to time, and I will tell you honestly, some of them are real stinkers.

 

This book, Bruno, Chief of Police, by Martin Walker, was delightful. So delightful I started looking for more of the series, some of which I was able to find used. So delightful, I shared the Bruno, Chief of Police with my husband, and he, too, was hooked.

 

If there is a genre I like, it is detective novels set in foreign locations, dealing with crimes that have to do with social issues current in the locale. The first I can remember is the Eliot Pattison series about Inspector Shan, a Chinese detective who falls on the wrong side of Chinese political correctness and ends up in a Tibetan jail, where he begins a series long association with Tibetan monks and the threat to Tibetan civilization that the Chinese pose. It is eye-opening reading.

 

The next series I discovered were the Barbara Nadel series set in Turkey with Inspector Cetin Ikhmen. Then the fabulous and prolific Donna Leon and Commisario Guido Brunette, set in Venice.

 

And actually, I don’t read all this books in sequence. I watch for books by these authors, and read them when they come out, not unlike my addiction to James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux, set in New Iberia, Louisiana and Montana.

That was a very long introduction to the idea that it makes travel in foreign lands much more user-friendly to have read books that put you on the ground, seeing what the people who live there might see. When we went to Venice, we went off the beaten track to eat at a restaurant that Commissario Brunetti recommends to a touring couple who witnessed a crime and made a report to him. It was a great adventure just finding this restaurant, Rossa Rosa (“Guido Brunetti Sent Us”) and it had delicious local food, no tourists. In Venice. Imagine. Now, too, when we read the newest Brunetti novel, or watch the German production of the Brunetti series, we feel a closer connection with Venice, a familiarity, because we have a “friend” on the inside. Or so we feel.

 

Bruno Correze, the Chief of Police in the fictional French village of St. Denise, along the Vezere river close to where it links with the Dordogne, loves his small town. In the very first volume, we meet his friends, we visit his home, we are with him when he prepares meals and entertains his friends (he uses a lot of duck fat) and we get to visit the markets and cafes with him. Every book, like the best of this genre, introduces us to at least one issue, social and/or criminal, past or present, which is manifesting itself as a problem in the Dordogne. The actual crime may or may not be the point of the novel, and the solutions are often very French.

 

We have devoured this series. We felt like we had been there. So we decided we needed to go there.

 

We visited the Dordogne – it seems like a short time ago – the last time, 35 years ago, when our son, now grown, was around 9. We made a special effort to make this a trip which was relevant to him, too. We visited Castelnaud, and spent hours with the trebuchets and mangonels, old weapons once the ne-plus-ultra of fighting off the enemy. We visited the old caves with early paintings, when they were still open to visitors.

 

We love France, we love traveling in France and we have never had a negative experience in France. While I once spoke French fluently – we lived in French speaking Tunisia – but language skills get rusty when they don’t get exercised. Oh, really, any excuse will do. Martin Walker’s books made us hungry, hungry for French foods and hungry just to be in France.

 

We booked a cruise out of Bordeaux, eight days of cruising on the Gironde, Dordogne and other rivers, visiting villages older than our entire nation, learning about major appellations, eating some fine food and drinking some very fine wine.

 

And then we picked up a rental car in Bordeaux and headed to the Dordogne. I’m going to tell you all about it, but first I want to share Martin Walker’s books with you. He, and Bruno, have a wonderful website where he tells you all his favorite places. As we read the Bruno books, we also take notes – which wine he chose to serve with the duck course, where he and his friends gathered for the wedding feast, etc. It was like having a friend who says “Oh, I am desolate I won’t be there, but here are all the places you need to go, restaurants you will like and oh, be sure to try this wine!” Hotel and restaurant recommendations are on the website under “Bruno’s Perigord”

 

Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police website

 

Here are the Bruno, Chief of Police books, in order, from a resource called How to Read Me, which puts the books in order. http://www.howtoread.me/bruno-chief-of-police-books-in-order/

1 Bruno, Chief of Police – Meet Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in a small village in the South of France who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. But then the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes all that. Now, Bruno is paired with a young policewoman from Paris and the two suspect anti-immigrant militants. As they learn more about the dead man’s past, Bruno’s suspicions turn toward a more complex motive.

2 The Dark Vineyard – When a bevy of winemakers descend on Saint-Denis, competing for its land and spurring resentment among the villagers, the idyllic town finds itself the center of an intense drama. Events grow ever darker, culminating in two suspicious deaths, and Bruno finds that the problems of the present are never far from those of the past.

3 Black Diamond – Something dangerous is afoot in St. Denis. In the space of a few weeks, the normally sleepy village sees attacks on Vietnamese vendors, arson at a local Asian restaurant, subpar truffles from China smuggled into outgoing shipments at a nearby market—all of it threatening the Dordogne’s truffle trade and all of it spelling trouble for Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, master chef, devoted oenophile, and, most important, beloved chief of police.

4 The Crowded Grave – It’s spring in the idyllic village of St. Denis, and for Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges that means lamb stews, bottles of his beloved Pomerol, morning walks with his hound, Gigi, and a new string of regional crimes and international capers. When a local archaeological team searching for Neanderthal remains turns up a corpse with a watch on its wrist and a bullet in its head, it’s up to Bruno to solve the case.

5 The Devil’s Cave – It’s spring in St. Denis. The village choir is preparing for its Easter concert, the wildflowers are blooming, and among the lazy whorls of the river a dead woman is found floating in a boat. This means another case for Bruno, the town’s cherished chief of police.

6 Bruno and the Carol Singers (short story) – Bruno is occupied with his Christmastime duties. From organizing carolers to playing Father Christmas for the local schoolchildren, Bruno has his hands full . . . at least until some funds raised for charity go missing.

7 The Resistance Man – First, there’s the evidence that a veteran of the French Resistance is connected to a notorious train robbery; then, the burglary of a former British spymaster’s estate; and, finally, the murder of an antiques dealer whose lover is conveniently on the lam. As Bruno investigates, it becomes clear that they are connected.

8 The Children Return (also known as Children of War) – Bruno’s village of St. Denis has been called many things, but a hotbed of international intrigue has never been one of them . . . until now. When an undercover agent is found murdered just as a prodigal son is set to retun from a grim tour in the Middle East, the small town suddenly finds itself host to a determined global tribunal, threatening the usual cheer brought by St. Denis’s annual wine festival.

9 A Market Tale (short story) – As summer blooms, the newest talk of the town is the rapport between Kati, a Swiss tourist, and Marcel, a popular stall owner whom Kati meets over his choice strawberries. None are happier than police chief Bruno to see Marcel interested in love again, but as his friend’s romance deepens, Bruno senses trouble in the form of Marcel’s meddlesome sister Nadette.

10 The Patriarch (also known as The Dying Season) – Bruno Courrèges is thrilled when he receives an invitation to the lavish birthday celebration of his childhood hero, World War II flying ace Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix. But when the party ends in the death of one of Marco’s longtime friends, Gilbert, it turns into another day on the job for St. Denis’s chief of police.

11 Fatal Pursuit – It’s the start of summer, and Bruno’s found himself the last-minute replacement navigator in a car rally race. The event has attracted a spate of outsiders with deep pockets, big egos and, in the case of one young Englishman, an intriguing story about a lost Bugatti Type 57C. When a local scholar turns up dead, Bruno suspects unnatural causes.

12 The Templars’ Last Secret – When a woman’s body is found at the foot of a cliff near the idyllic French town of St. Denis, chief of police Bruno Courrèges suspects a connection to the great ruin that stands above: a long-ago Knights Templar stronghold. With the help of Amélie, a young newcomer to the Dordogne, Bruno learns that the dead woman was an archaeologist searching for a religious artifact of incredible importance.

13 A Taste for Vengeance – When a British tourist fails to turn up for a luxurious cooking vacation in the idyllic village in the south of France that Bruno Courrèges calls home, the chief of police is quickly on the case. Monika Felder is nowhere to be found, and her husband, a retired British general, is unreachable.

14 The Chocolate War (short story) – Police chief Bruno enjoys wandering the stalls of the weekly market in the village of St. Denis as they are being loaded with wares. But when Bruno’s old friend Léopold from Senegal start selling African coffee and chocolate more cheaply than Bruno’s old friend Fauquet at his café across the square, a competition erupts between the vendors.

15 The Body in the Castle Well – When Claudia, a young American, turns up dead in the courtyard of an ancient castle in Bruno’s jurisdiction, her death is assumed to be an accident related to opioid use. But her doctor persuades Bruno that things may not be so simple. Thus begins an investigation that leads Bruno to Monsieur de Bourdeille, the scholar with whom the girl had been studying, and then through that man’s past.

How to read me: Bruno, Chief of Police

Bruno, Chief of Police Books in order: How to read Martin Walker’s series?

 

I owe a big thanks to Martin Walker for giving us so much inside information which enhanced our trip so much. I will try to remember to give him credit along the way as I take you along with us on our trip.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Fiction, Food, France, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel, Tunisia | , , , , , | Leave a comment