And then I went to Italy… Sardegna, to be exact.

The alternate name for this post could also be: A heckuva lot of beach photos … 😁

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Helloooo, Italy.

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The opportunity came up for me to volunteer at another workaway in an Italian town I had never heard of: Cala Gonone.

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I received the request in mid-August to come stay in Sardegna for the end of September; the two weeks after I was to fly back home.

Sometimes you feel the need to jump at an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime, so I jumped.

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I’m lucky to have a good friend who is a travel agent so she organized it all for me. 😊

Buongiorno, Olbia!

I arrived at the Olbia airport to meet my lovely only-Italian-speaking airbnb host Monica, and another guest arriving that same day from Berlin: Lou, a German online photo-editor who was in Sardegna for a two-week vacation, and one week of that would be rock climbing in Cala Gonone!

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The next morning, after a brief exploration of the old part of Olbia with Lou and a proper Italian cappuccino, of course, I made my way back to the airport (with a free bus ride 😁 because I think the bus driver was mad I wanted to pay with cash instead of a ticket and refused my money- whoops! 😳).

I purchased a ticket for the Deplano bus from the airport to Cala Gonone. It’s a €16 trip from the Olbia airport and took about 2 hours.

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And the entire trip I was in absolute awe of my surroundings.
The drive was an adventure all its own, worth every penny, and I’m not surprised that people can take a bus around the entire island like a tour. The scenery is gorgeous!!

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Not sure if you can see them, but there is a pile o’ sheep on that hill.

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I arrived in Cala Gonone and my host Claudio introduced me to his  parents who had come over for a visit. His mother only speaks Italian but his dad speaks Italian and French so he and I could communicate well! πŸ™‚

The garden and apartment are beautiful, and there are fruit trees and fresh herbs and olive trees surrounding us.

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Possibly one of the most delightfully surprising discoveries of my trip was the lemon tree in the next door neighbors’ yard. We were grateful to pick one or two almost every day, and by far, they were the most flavourful, delicious lemons I have tasted in my entire life.

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I also met the adorable pets of household: Flora, Claudio’s dog, and Leo, his cat.

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I didn’t have much time to relax or even unpack, as almost immediately after my arrival, Claudio took me to the final evening of a festival in the local town of Dorgali.

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Sardinians are very proud of their culture and traditions and it was amazing to see everyone celebrate it together.

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Right away we came across a group of guys playing live local music. And they just didn’t stop!

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The launeddas (triple pipe) was the most impressive, and it reminded me of a bagpipe with one pipe playing constant sound like a drone.
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Live traditional Sardegnian music within 24 hours of arriving in Italy? Incredible!



Claudio knew all the locations of various traditional food and historical displays, and we spent the evening walking all over the town from one place to the next!

There was free wine all over the place- all private collections by owners of the shops/homes along the street. And just try saying no to Italians. I dare you. 😜

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Many people opened the main floor of their homes and set up food or art or historical artifacts from the region and invited everyone in!

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We watched women make cheese tarts with fresh mint (even the  pastry was made by hand) and cook them in a traditional wood burning oven.

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Claudio showed me where they were roasting traditional pork (porchetta) outside around an open fire and we watched a man throw pottery, handing off completed pieces to the young boy standing next to him…

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We watched some women dancing and more launeddas (a group performance this time), saw original (ancient) and traditional handmade clothing of the area, tried many versions of local cheese (picorino) and I had my first taste of pane carasau (a light crisp flat bread that is served at every meal; farmers used to bring it out to the fields because it was light and lasted a long time), we perused  local artwork, and drank lots of wine…

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There were some festival contests in the street, too, like “guess how much the cow weighs and if you guess right, you win the cow”, and “guess how high this cheese is hanging off the ground and you can win it”.

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Yep. πŸ™‚
I have been told that there is not much produce-style agriculture in the area, other than wine. Lots of sheep, though. πŸ™‚ (approximately 3 million sheep, actually)
I also had a seada, which is a baked cheese pastry served with honey. The cheese is local new/young locally made pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, and it’s actually a dessert! It was absolutely delicious.

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I felt like the only non-Italiano speaking person in the whole village, but apparently this festival brings in all sorts of tourists.
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My fellow workawayer and roommate for my two weeks here was Ravit, from Israel. She is a photographer and anthropologist and has fallen in love with the island here and is taking some tour groups around in October.

 


The food here is very good and quite inexpensive. Ravit and I often made meals together, and we only shared two meals with Claudio in his house upstairs.

 

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Ravit made amazing tuna cakes and tahini dressing!

One afternoon Claudio made us risotto with onions and zucchini, and another day his mom and dad came over for a visit and his mom made us all culugiones (which are Sardinian ravioli) and breaded aubergines. The culugiones reminded me of the love child of manicotti and perogies, served with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Sooo good!

 

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Just a typical street sign with a painting underneath it. πŸ˜‰

The town of Cala Gonone is a tourist hotspot on the island and is very busy in the summer months and then closes up at the end of September, so shops and restaurants are becoming quieter and quieter and one by one closing up for the ‘winter’ season.

 

 

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Cork and leather purses. Beautiful.

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Masks like the ones worn in Carnivale in the new year.

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Our apartment was a 5 minute walk to the beach as well as the restaurants and shops, and it’s also easy to walk down to the port and take a boat to get to the beaches further south on the island that are not accessible by the road.

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Alternatively, to get to these beaches, you can rent a kayak.

 

😁

😎

So of course I did.
Twice.

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Cala Luna
is the first popular beach south of Cala Gonone, and it took me only an hour and ten minutes to get there, and it was over some of the most incredible blue water I have ever seen!

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There are also caves here if you want some shade. Enormous, wonderful caves.

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The second time I was headed to Cala Luna but decided to stop at the little beach just before. You can only access it by boat or hiking, so it was pretty quiet with only a few people there, and the swimming is perfection.

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These beaches are excellent spots to bring a picnic, but to kayak there and back was the best excuse to warrant going for gelato back in town, or better yet, go for pizza. The pizza here is just the way I like it: fire burning oven-cooked, thin crust style. And inexpensive! A marguerita pizza is only €5 or €6! (And they are not small!)

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The town of Cala Gonone may get busy in the summer and cater to tourists, but it doesn’t feel commercial like other beach-towns I have been to before.

There were still many (mostly German) tourists, and I met up again with my new friend Lou partway through her climbing week.

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Now I have a friend to visit in Berlin!

One day Claudio picked us some cactus fruit on his way back from work and prepared them for us.

img_5876Ravit has has them often because they are all over in Israel, but I had never tried a “prickly pear”!

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You have to wear gloves to handle them because they have tiny needles you can barely see and are painful and irritating if you get them stuck in your fingertips. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and soft and full of giant seeds you swallow whole (I can assure you from personal experience don’t even attempt to bite!).

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Another fruit I discovered was the corbezzolo ‘berries’ that happened to grow in Claudio’s garden. They look almost like a lycee and are ripe when they turn red. They are squishy and the pokey-looking exterior is actually soft. They are like nothing I have ever had. Not too sweet, with a slight citrus-crossed-with-fig flavour, and the texture of a strawberry. (How’s that for a description?)
The workaway jobs at the apartment have been mostly painting. Some simple things like refreshing the white paint on exterior garden walls, while others are tougher like sanding off years of old paint from metal benches and lots of detail-work like adding Greece-inspired blue trim around the garden, and faux-finishing furniture to look antiqued.

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It seems I was destined to paint blue this summer, be it called “Picasso”, “Sky” or “Sea Breeze”.

 

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This was the beauty of mixing an exterior wall paint to match the bright blue furniture inside.

What’s amazing is that every day our schedule was entirely affected by  how much it looks like ‘beach weather’. For example, on particularly nice days we would  work for a couple hours in the morning, and then go to the beach at the heat of the day, go swimming, sunbathe, and then come back home and finish the day’s work. This is possibly the dream kind of job, really.

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One afternoon we went out to the countryside property of Claudio’s family and helped organize wood for the winter. The work was removing giant nails and screws and fencing wire from old boards and fence posts and chopping various lengths of wood that were piled all around the garage there, all while taking turns playing soccer with Flora.

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But the view here? Woooo!

Every day there were beautiful skies, gorgeous sunsets, and stunning sunrises. Great photo ops for this beach-lover.

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Buongiorno, Olbia!

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On the last full day in Sardegna Ravit and I joined Claudio and his parents to harvest all the grapes from their vineyard!

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Thank goodness it’s a tiny vineyard. 😁😳

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Afterwards we went to his parent’s home in Nuoro where they have an entire room and basement to make wine.

We had a delicious pasta lunch, including some of their home made wine.
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First they washed all the equipment with a high pressure hose, and we set up the grinder on top of the juice barrel and stainless steel ramp/trough from the front garden into the basement window. Then Claudio and Ravit dumped the 18 cassettes of grapes onto the trough and Claudio’s dad and I used pieces of wood to push the grapes through the grinder (grapes and stems, but no leaves).

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Once they are all through the grinder, Claudio raked them out evenly, and put weight on them to create the juice.

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Claudio says that he has been helping his parents make this wine every year as long as he can remember.

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One thing I have never heard of before is using the same grapes to make both white and red wine!
Claudio’s family immediately drains 20% of the juice from the large barrel of grapes within the hour of macerating them. They make the vino bianco from this.
Then they wait 5 or 6 days for the grapes to sit in the barrel and then drain all the juice then, and then they will use a press to squeeze the remaining juice and flavour from the pulp and wood left in the barrel, and add that to the dark juice and make the vino rosso.
I then learned that the rest of the grape fibre/wood/skins is what is  used to make grappa.

We got to try some of the grape juice after the ‘vino bianco’ was drawn. It tasted unlike any grape juice I have ever had.

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It doesn’t quite look like white wine to me yet…
I stayed overnight in Nuoro before taking the Deplano bus back to Olbia for my flight to Paris. (Being October 2, we were now in the ‘winter season’ and the bus didn’t run to Cala Gonone any more.)
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It was only an €8 ticket from Nuoro, and just less than 2 hours drive. Before checking in for my flight I even had time to get a pizza at the outdoor restaurant next to the airport. πŸ™‚

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An easy flight back to Paris for one night, and the inspiration to leave my luggage at the airport for the night so I wouldn’t have to lug it around the metro with less than 24 hours on the city. For €18, I could leave it at the security baggage check at Terminal 2, and I felt like a genius. 😎

I then made my way to the Eiffel Tower where I caught a gorgeous sunset and snapped a couple photos before heading to my friend Hugo’s apartment where I got to enjoy a visit with him before we both crashed for the night.

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The next morning we headed off at the same time- Hugo to work, and me back to the airport.

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I savoured one last croissant and café crème before boarding my flight home!

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And thus ends my unforgettable summer travel of 2016! ❀️

…Okay, a few more beach photos because I can’t help it. 😁

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 Okay, and a video.

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 πŸ˜˜

Stopover adventures in Belgium!

A day in Brussels! Huzzah!

Well, an afternoon, to be more precise.

4 hours in Brussels! Huzzah! πŸ˜„


When I found out I had a long layover in Brussels I asked friends for advice on how to spend the time. I was given a list of must-sees/dos in the city, and I decided I would see what I could accomplish in an afternoon.


I couldn’t very well just hang out in the Brussels airport for 5 hours straight when I’ve never been to the city of Brussels before, now could I?

To make sure I wasn’t being crazy reckless leaving the airport, I asked the Brussels-Air staff at the information desk what time I needed to be back for my connecting flight from Brussels to Olbia, Sardinia. I had almost exactly 5 hours between landing and takeoff, and they said that I shouldn’t catch the train back any later than 5:00pm for my 6:10pm flight.
It was a simple purchases of a return train ticket costing about €15 (cheaper than a ticket one-way to the Lyon airport from Gare Part Dieu), and took 16 minutes (almost  exactly). I know, because I timed my whole afternoon. Just for fun. To see how long it took to reach all the “must-see” suggestions I was given.
At 1pm I jumped on the very busy train and it wasn’t until my ticket was being checked that I second-guessed myself and was worried I was heading in the wrong direction.  I casually asked the train agent if I was on the right train to head to the centre of town and without missing a beat he shook his head and said no.
I used every bit of energy to stay cool and calm in the moment and asked him how to turn around and fix my mistake (now that we had already spent 8 minutes zooming quickly away from the airport.) 
He then burst out laughing and said I was fine and could get off in two stops at the correct station. He proceeded to chat up and laugh with several of the passengers as he went through the train car speaking easily in English, French, and Dutch. 

In 16 minutes:

I had arrived at the second stop from the airport: Bruxelles-Centre.

I stepped outside and immediately noticed the architecture here is absolutely beautiful, with new and modern sleek glass buildings slowly filling the horizon beyond the old ornate silhouettes.


(This place is a shopper’s dream.)

At 21 minutes:

I had purchased my first Belgian waffle and chatted with the girl working the stand to get directions of where to go.


At 26 minutes:

I had eaten my first piece of Belgian chocolate, a sample offered at one of the dozens of chocolate shops I came across today. (And for the record it was a speculoos/almond filled drop of deliciousness 😁). 


It seems you can’t even trip in the centre part of town without falling into a chocolate shop. πŸ™‚


As I walked into the centre square I was blown away by all the gold detail on the buildings. It was absolutely gorgeous, and it was immediately apparent there was a festival on! 


I could hear drumming and came around the corner to the main market square with a full jaw-drop reaction to the beauty of this place. 

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These drums!! Feniks Taiko is a group of 7 people (3 men, 4 women), dressed in black with gold sashes, and playing huge Japanese Taiko drums with absolute delighted fury. It was powerful and mesmerizing!


I’m not going to lie – all plans do any exploring flew right out the window as I stood there for the better part of an hour watching them perform.  


This girl! So happy!

At 1 hour and 19 minutes:

I bought fries, on recommendation that I “must try them in Brussels”. They were right, and the fries were excellent! (I walked back with them to the market square and watched more of the drumming performance.)


It was at 1 hour and 49 minutes that I bought my first ever Belgian beer. And if you know me, you know I don’t drink beer. The closest I have ever got is drinking cider. This was real beer. Yes, it had fruit in it, but it was beer. Floris Kriek, to be exact. 
And served to me by a man with a pink elephant for a hat. 

And it was delicious.

2 hours and 15 minutes:

I went to see the statue of Mannekin Pis, and honestly don’t  understand the big draw, but it was a very busy corner fountain with people snapping selfies and group shots and silly photos of the tiny figure (currently dressed in a kimono). So I took a picture of them. πŸ™‚

2 hours and 25 minutes:

I tried some traditional chocolate truffles at Leonidas Chocolates, and purchased some chocolate for souvenirs. Whether they make it home is another story… 😳😁

Chocolate chocolate, everywhere. And also lots of fancy candy.



I went into a couple of beautiful old churches (because, of course I did, that’s what I do ☺️), and enjoyed checking out some comic book stores and souvenir shops.




After that I enjoyed more drumming (they were still going!) in the main square, followed by regional music and dancing…


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3 hours in: I bought a couple of postcards, stamps, and got them all ready to mail, even! (Let’s not dwell on the fact I then forgot to mail them and will possibly have to send them from Paris….)


Okay, so there’s a chance I had  another waffle… This time with chocolate.😊
On my way back to the train station I came across a street spray paint artist and found a gallery filled with vibrant French art and even ended up chatting with one of the artists for a bit (un peu en français 😁), before heading back to the airport.



I got to the station at 4:45 and with my luck the train arrived just as I got down the stairs. At 5:01 I was back at the airport. The security was extra thorough between the train and the airport so I’m glad I left extra time, and I even had time for an iced coffee before my flight. 
Voila! I spent a day in Brussels, participated in a festival, watched live music, ate waffles and chocolate and fries and drank beer, went to see Mannekin Pis, checked out the local shops and churches, and made it back to my second flight of the day without a hitch!! Huzzah!

A few summer days in Lausanne.

So this one time I went to Switzerland.

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One of my friends from my 2014 French class lives in Lausanne with her husband and their daughter. Chinatsu grew up in Japan and went to university (and learned English) in San Fransisco, where she met Stephane from France, and they ended up falling in love and moving to Paris. Stephane was offered a new job in Lausanne this year so they moved in the spring to Prilly, just next to the city of Lausanne. 


Chinatsu invited me to come visit her this summer, and since there was no direct train or bus from L’Isle Jourdain (or Poitiers or Limoges) to Lausanne, I booked trips with Blablacar. 
Blablacar is a ride-sharing travel option in Europe and I think it is BRILLIANT. I booked one trip from Limoges to Lyon, and the following trip from Lyon to Lausanne. Both drivers had excellent ratings and no actual cash has to exchange hands – it’s pre-paid, and the website you sign up on gives you a code to give them at the end of the trip so you get where you want to go.
The fun part was, my drivers were French. And spoke only French. So I got to put on my focus-and-concentrate face and really exercise my French communication skills for about 7 hours over the two trips. 😁😳


I arrived in Lausanne to beautiful weather and was picked up by Chinatzu at the downtown train station. It was excellent to catch up and meet her adorable 21-month old daughter Nanako.


Nanako was shy at first, but I soon won her over playing with a hand fan and some of her stuffed animals. We had the best time  playing together all week and Nanako is an absolute joy to be around because she gasps in delight at just about everything. Birds, people, planes, lightbulbs, dogs, the sky in general, the floor…..


I went off exploring on my own for a couple of days, and walked down to the Ouchy harbour, on the shores of Lake Geneva.


Seeing the mountains across the lake was wonderful. I have also never seen so many swans (and grey swans too; like ‘ugly ducklings’ that grew up to be swans, but kept their duckling colour).



Also, you can rent a paddle boat here, but not just any paddle boat: a paddle boat with a SLIDE! Amazing. 

There were a bunch of highschool students that just jumped into the lake as I was walking by.

I walked further down the shoreline and into the Olympic Museum, and it was really fun to see old Olympic torches, posters, team uniforms, costumes, and the current temporary exhibit all about Rio and the life and culture there. 


The old town centre has an animated clock that goes every hour during the day. I walked through this square 5 times while I was in Lausanne and the time was always 1:25, or 5:31, or 3:20, or 4:18…. Never near the hour, so I never saw it working! Whoops!


I walked the Market Steps up to find the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral at the top of the hill above the Old Town.




Oh yeah, there are a lot of stairs and hills in this city. Wow. 
Apparently the steepest existing metro track runs north from the bottom point of Ouchy-Olympic up to the main train station. Did I take it? No, I did not because apparently I’m deserving of some sort of punishment so I walked up the entire uphill length of Avenue D’Ouchy on this 28 degree day…. πŸ˜…


I arrived in St Paul’s square and had a look inside the large church. Then I sat outside and enjoyed some free wifi. πŸ™‚


On Chinatsu’s suggestion, I went to the Musee D’Art Brut, where work is displayed by artists who were never famous or formally trained, and often they were outcasts or people in institutions. It was quite unique and there were some really amazing pieces.
My favourites included some beautiful pottery, driftwood sculptures, pen and ink detailed portraits of women, and found material miniature bus sculptures… 


I think the most memorable part was a small display of three eccentric and ornate costumes with an accompanying video about an Armenian 76-year old gentleman who would make elaborate hats, canes, and outfits out of everything from feather dusters to Christmas ornaments to lawn darts to shower curtain rings, then get dressed up and go on a one-man parade around his neighbourhood. 

There was also a room full of art by a man named Paul Amar who builds the most incredibly detailed sculptures entirely out of shells (clams, mussels, oysters….) and other pieces of shellfish, and paints them bright saturated colours with nail polish and paint and hot glues them to create under the sea scenes, or groups of animals, or dioramas of explorers and sailing ships.  

I wasn’t allowed photos inside or else I would show you a hint of some of the awesomeness. 

Postcards in the gift shop.


I came across a free exhibition that was part of the”Festival De Bande Dessine”, and it was titled “Migration”; and the subject surrounding immigration, emigration, war, and refugees. This particular exhibition had posters of short cartoons and images. Some had full stories and dialogue, while others were more abstract.



I made it to the Palais de Rumine, and the free (!) Archeology and  Zoology exhibits. 




Chinatsu and her family were wonderful hosts and treated me to some delicious homemade meals. The second night I was there she made us traditional Swiss fondue and we stuffed ourselves with cheese and bread and potatoes and vegetables. We also had a great Japanese dinner of miso and pan-seared pork with ginger and rice.  

Before I left at the end of the week we decided to go for a chocolat chaud at Le Barbare, just at the top of the Market Steps.

It was a rainy day and also the coolest weather since I’ve been in Europe, and a rich chocolat chaud was just perfect to warm us up before a walk around Old Town and down to the ‘new and modern’ area of Flon. (We had our chocolat chaud ‘nature’, which meant just the classic chocolate, without any added cream mixed in and whip cream on top. )

 




This city is beautiful and it’s wonderful to have friends here *that I absolutely plan to come back and visit*! After all, all it takes is a couple of blablacars to get here from France… πŸ™‚


  

Grand Lyon! Je suis revenue !

Lovely Lyon!!


When I was last in Lyon it was pouring rain and we spent our time under umbrellas and ducking in and out of shops and boulangeries in the Old Town area. We even loved the city sopping wet, and grey, and gloomy, so I looked forward to seeing this place again, and I got to see it in sunshine! 


I stayed at the beautiful airbnb of Carine, a French music teacher in the 7th Arrondissement, and she immediately invited me out to a concert that night of Armenian and Persian music. 

On our way we walked past the Lyon Opera.

 

The group was called NaZani and was a trio, with one musician playing several hand drums and a lute-type instrument, and one playing a Qanoun, and the third dancing. 

Not an exceptional photo, but you get the idea. πŸ™‚


Small space, an excellent little black-box theatre venue, it ended up with a full house, most of whom had a subscription to the music series here. 

We met up with a friend of Carine’s at the concert and walked around Lyon afterwards, to have drinks at Place Bertone in the 1er Arrondissement. 


There were absolutely loads of people out (it being Saturday night), and the streets and squares and all along the Rhône River were busy. There were groups of people having riverside picnics and drinks and we walked past a hearing-impaired meet-up group right by Pont de la Guillotière ( I saw ads for it on the metr- as a regular thing.)


I spent two sunny days exploring Lyon, starting with taking the verniculaire up through Vieux Lyon to the Cathedrale, my favourite church in the world.

You are welcome to walk up from Old Lyon, but this way is soooooo nice. πŸ™‚

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Just as I stepped out of the metro entrance, the bells started ringing. 😊
I went inside just before the 11’oclock Mass began, and I sat at the back where the tourists/guests sit. Basically, unless you are there to attend Mass, if you only want to ‘see’ what it’s like and stay for only part (or even the entire service), they ask you to stay in the back pews. 

That is fine with me, and was perfect to gaze up in quiet awe at the breathtaking ceiling and walls adorned with detailed mosaics, rainbows of stained glass, and carved statues, wood and marble, gilded and gorgeous. No photos are allowed inside, which just makes you appreciate the moment even more.


I actually stayed through the entire service (my very first Mass).
There was beautiful choral music, a feisty sermon (some of which I understood) delivered by a passionate priest through a mic that offered just the right amount of reverb to sound extra formidable, and I had the sudden  understanding of the strength of burning incense filling a space (*cough cough*). 

 

Some exterior photos give you a hint to the detail inside, but this is as close as I came to taking photos inside this grand place. Outside an accordion player greeted tourists at the gate, and a small church group (of unknown denomination to me), sang a Capella over by a statue in the courtyard in front of the church.

And then of course, there is this view.

Following that start to the day, I found the ancient stage and ended up standing on the stage all by myself for a brief and awe-inspiring few minutes. 




Old Lyon is full of boulangeries specializing in anything and everything praline, meaning a lot of pink pastries. 

I think the last time I took a photo of this Boulangerie stain glassed sign, there was nothing but dark grey clouds above.



The MusΓ©e Miniature et Cinema  was recommended to me by Carine and I spent the better part of two hours inside. From the actual very-aromatic (and totally creepy) sets from “Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer”, to original movie costumes, animatronics, and props (like guns and wands), to the most intricate movie set miniatures I have ever seen, this place is fantastic!!!

Believe it or not, these are ALL miniatures. Every single one.

I then discovered that though I had missed the usual Sunday market hours (that finish at 2pm or earlier), there was a HUGE pottery market/festival in Old Lyon spreading out in all directions from Place Saint-Jean. 

Dishes, sculptures, jewelry, art… Happy place. πŸ™‚

Oh if I had room in my suitcase…… There was something for everyone here. Sooooooo fantastic.







I then walked across the river to a music festival in Place Bellecour. 


With tents from around the world, and information about the culture, music, local products, and food of each country.

 The winning tents in my opinion: Pakistan- for live music and dancing, Belgium- for samples of cold beer on this super-hot day, and Turkey- free Turkish ice cream samples complete with a performance!

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There were performances on the main stage every half hour, and I caught a group of dancers performing J-Pop (from Japan), and a Swedish choir that included a couple of my host Carine’s voice students.

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This city has so much charm I’m happy I got to come back and see it again. 


And now, on to Switzerland!!

A summer in French heaven, part two… or six.

I am soon to be homesick for a place I just discovered. 

The summer is quickly turning into autumn, and with two weeks left in L’Isle Jourdain, I switched locations (a 2 minute stroll down the street) to Barbie and Andy’s house.  They are good friends of Corinne and Gilles, and they needed a little help with some home renos.


Their house has a huge yard (complete with fig tree overloaded with much-to-my-chagrin-just-not-yet-ripe figs), a view of the valley and the church and town across the river, loads of beautiful hydrangea and hibiscus bushes, and a lovely terrace that was excellent for morning tea, stargazing, and card games and wine.


The yards on all sides are full of fruit and olive trees, chicken coops, vegetable garden so, grape vines, and a big sweet grey donkey two gardens over. 


Their next door neighbor, an older gentleman named De-De (nickname for AndrΓ©), has a lovely large garden as well as chickens and rabbits, and several times during my stay with them he came over with a bucket of tomatoes and a dozen eggs; sometimes he just leaves them on the front step. He also gives them loads of green beans, potatoes, and onions throughout the summer. One afternoon he even came to the door with a freshly-made jar of plum jam, still warm! The sweetest!

Captured on a morning walk over by the church.


We always started our mornings with a walk over to Café de la Paix or to Le Dix, the bar next door (and it definitely it should be noted that they have the most delicious cakes; my good friend Victor can vouch for every single flavour 😊).

The owner Fanfan has our usual orders memorized and brings us ‘un petit cafΓ© et deux grandes crΓ¨mes’, and we eat pain au chocolat and chat with all the regulars/neighbors. πŸ™‚ A lovely ritual. 

Back at the house I started with some small jobs like painting window frames and installing curtain rods and baseboards upstairs, and one afternoon we had the adventures of cutting a hole into the wall under the stairs in order to make use of the possible storage space. The hope was that we would not find anything too scary, or dangerous, or complicated to remove. Luck was on our side as all that was inside was rocks and earth. AND a century-old whistle! Oh yeah, and part of a sheep leg bone. (Yes, I am sure. I checked. It was just a sheep bone.)
The bigger jobs of my stay were re-varnishing their living room floor (only because we had to move all the furniture around) and I cut and installed (and started the painting process) of a new wood floor and baseboards in their kitchen. 

The kitchen floor was definitely the trickiest as it is the very centre of their home. They access the rest of the house (including the stairs up to the bedrooms) from there, and they have two dogs. 😁😳

the old tile floor is in great condition but is absolutely freezing in the winter.


Practically everyone has dogs here, and my new friends’ pups are two other hilarious personalities. 

This face.

Pedro is the little shaggy sausage dog with freckles across his nose and a growl-purr when he is playing or getting attention. He loves to be cuddled and often falls asleep in Barbie’s arms.

Lottie has the colouring of a Rottweiler, and is the look and somewhat size of a slender German Shepherd. She is the sweetest, sneakies, cheekiest dog ever, and I absolutely adore her. 


In my last week much to my delight: Another invitation came for a delicious dinner at the Chateau Jourdain!

Six countries represented at this table! (New Zealand, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Canada, Great Britain)

We were invited for homemade falafel and hummus and chips, and yet again had weather right out of a storybook. 

The most beautiful skies of the entire summer, without a doubt. 


That night I met two more workawayers (from Leeds, and one of them has family IN CALGARY πŸ˜ƒ). What are the odds??

Moyad was holding Dolly up so she could see a paddleboat go by.

One Friday night I drove to the nearby village of Queaux with a couple friends, Zara and Kane (both from the UK), to have dinner and watch a jazz concert down by the river. 

Queaux has fresh spring water running through the village and there is an old clothes washing station still intact on the main road. 

The water is freezing, but clean enough to drink! 

The wooden washboards used to scrub clothing.

This village also has an incredible view of the river valley.


 It was a gorgeous night and there were still people swimming in the rive at 8pm as we ate our picnic dinner. We should have know the 8pm “start” was just a loose guideline, and the show began around 9. πŸ™‚

It was brilliant- they just set up everything under some trees in the park area and people brought their own chairs or pulled up benches from the picnic area. 

There was a keyboard, guitar, saxophone, drum set, bass, and trombone. (The bass player also played the trombone, because, of course she did). 

Of course you never remember to take photos while it is still light out!


It was excellent music and we had the best time! They were a talented group and when the drummer started playing with brushes, that was it for me: I was in heaven. (My dad would have just loved it.) Found another happy place!
Barbie and Andy are real estate agents so they have gotten to know our region of Poitou-Charentes quite well. They have been enthusiastic tour guides and have taken me to some beautiful spots (there are just so many!) in our area.

The first weekend I was staying with them Andy and Barbie took me to Lake Pardoux, about an 80-minute drive away. They had never been there but had heard it was nice, so I was a great excuse for them to be touristy and go.
The lake is absolutely huge and clearly a popular spot. There is camping nearby and you can rent paddle boats (“pΓ©dalos”), go sailing, boating, fishing, and enjoy swimming off a lifeguard-supervised beach.

We packed a picnic and found a spot in the grass facing the lake. It was a beautiful day and just hot enough to warrant a swim!! 

This Canadian girl was the only one to go take the plunge, and it was glorious. There was a great floating dock to dive off and the water gets to a nice depth pretty quick and is very refreshing.

After coffees and chocolate ice cream at the little restaurant just up from the water, we went further down the shoreline for a walk along part of the hiking trail that circles the lake, and decided you could easily make a day out of hiking the area here. I will remember that for next time. πŸ™‚


Poitiers Day Trip!


We spent one Saturday in Poitiers  exploring the city.  This was fantastic as I had only really seen the airport and the train station!

NΓ΄tre Dame du Poitiers.


Saturdays they have a street market going, and we wandered past stalls of clothing, food, and some artisan items, and while stopping for coffees on a patio a travelling band walked by playing fantastic music on tuba, trumpet, sax, banjo, and drums. 


We wandered around from the NΓ΄tre Dame Du Poitiers in the Old Town area, and enjoyed the tall old buildings and architecture, turning up and down tiny side streets to finally arrive at Francois FrΓ¨res.  

There are only 5 places in France that hand-make umbrellas anymore, and one is in Poitiers! Barbie and Andy have one beautiful umbrella already and wanted to show me the store. We were so happy to find it open we practically skipped into this shop filled with a full rainbow of parasols and umbrellas of every design and shape you can imagine, and even each wooden handle is  gorgeous. 


The owner came right out of the back room (where he makes them all himself) to talk to us. He clearly takes pride in his work, as well he should. His family has been making umbrellas since 1882! 

I want a newsprint umbrella. πŸ™‚

If I could have fit a full-size umbrella in my backpack, I would have splurged and bought one right there! 

After my first croissant amande of the trip 😁, we headed to see the majestic Cathedral de Poitiers, which was absolutely gigantic and a definite must-see if you visit Poitiers. 


Gorgeous and vastly tall ceilings, beautiful frescos, stained glass windows for days, and crazy cool/creepy gargoyles outside.

On to Confolens!


The second weekend we went to Confolens, and this city is absolutely darling, and even more romantic on a grey and cloudy day.

Many medieval aspects to the old buildings reminded me of Carcassone that we visited 2 years ago on our Viking Cruise tour. 



On the way back home we stopped into Confolens-St-Germain and the old castle ruins up on the hill. 


It’s absolutely beautiful, and felt well-timed, as my friend Leslie was travelling in Ireland at this point and posting all these beautiful photos of Irish castles and I felt due for some castle time. πŸ™‚

There was also a fantastic gift shop at the bottom filled with local artists’ work, from jewelry to soap to ornaments to honey. Absolutely beautiful things. πŸ™‚

We ended up going for pizza in the charming river town of Availles-Limozine the next night with clients/friends of Barbie and Andy. I immediately liked these three friendly Brits: Gary, who is selling his vacation property home, and Jarvis and Lindsay, who are buying it! The sale was complete this week, so we went out to dinner to celebrate. 

Side note: Real estate is a good example of how nothing happens quickly in France. The sale of a house in the countryside takes anywhere from 5 months -and that’s speedy/optimistic- to 5 years.



The pizza was absolutely excellent (I had le Trois Fromages), the company was entertaining (stories of Jarvis and Lindsay from when they were stationed in Saudi Arabia, and hilariously bad jokes by Andy and Gary), and we even got in a walk down to the gorgeous Vienne River to see the early start of fall and some of the most beautiful reflections in the river I have seen so far on this trip.

They tell me that in the winter the river is much faster flowing and they say looks quite dynamic and different than the summer, as in the winter they open the dams all along. 
Maybe one day I will buy an apartment here and find out. πŸ™‚
On Friday night my friends Jamshid and Jo cooked up a big dinner to send me off, and Gilles and Viktor came over to join us and we had a perfect evening of food and great company, complete with favourite music video sharing and star gazing in their fantastic back garden. (It was here we had a fabulous ‘sky-watching party’ back in August when the Perseid meteor shower was happening.)

On my last day I even (finally) got in a swim in the river down by the island. Viktor paddled us out in Moyad’s row boat and we swam in the middle of the river near the chateau. It was fantastic! It made me wish I ventured down there more often when we had our crazy few weeks of 33+ degree weather!

Thus ends my incredible time in L’Isle Jourdain. I have never felt more at home in a different country. Luckily, now I have numerous friends to come back and visit…. And if I’m looking to buy a small French countryside apartment, I know these fabulous real estate agents…. πŸ€”πŸ˜Ž

Up next: a weekend in Lyon and 5 days visiting my friend Chinatzu in Switzerland!