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. 🙂


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. 🙂

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 Musée 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. 🙂

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!


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.

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 André), 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 café et deux grandes crèmes’, and we eat pain au chocolat and chat with all the regulars/neighbors. 🙂 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 😃). 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. 🙂

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 (“pédalos”), 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. 🙂


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!

Nôtre 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 Nôtre 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 Frères.  

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 🙂
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…. 🤔😎

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

The little things. In photos.

I love the details. 

house details. ❤️

I love on my travels when I come across people who take the same delight in simple things that I do, but it’s actually less often than one might think. 

I’m the silly/cheery/overly-enthusiastic Canadian girl taking a close up photo of a cracked flower pot on someone’s front step, or old lace trim on a couch cushion or line of stacked espresso cups at the café, and all of that makes me super happy. 

I thought I’d share some of those ‘detail’ photos from the summer so far. 🙂

I love sunlight filtering through leaves…. this was captured when we went camping on the coast!

This is an artichoke flower in full bloom!

 

As cliché as it is, ‘stopping to smell the roses’ (or artichoke flowers 😉) is important to me especially when I travel, and I think my parents instilled in me at a very young age an appreciation for noticing little things. 

A frame hanging on the most beautiful fresco-painted wall.

How cool is this? A wrought iron figurine holds this shutter open.

An old wall and an old door that I walk by every day. 🙂


Sometimes I remember to photograph these visual treats. If I really have time, I have sketched them out instead. I recently read somewhere to try and sketch or paint your travels instead of taking photos, so I’ve started taking time to do more of that. 

Inspired by a red piece of pottery.

Glass decanters- a delightful challenge to capture the light and shadows! 🙂

My view of L’Isle Jourdain that I painted one afternoon on the viaduct.

Postcard painting!

The view from the little apartment I stayed in for one week.

 

So many little things that I am happy to capture in the moment: from every day household items and architecture, to nature and the neverending offerings of the skies here..

Fresh baked bread that Sini made. It was soooo good!

Early morning blackberry picking!

One of the old churches in the village, juxtaposed against a bright blue sky.

A beautiful sky and the farmer’s fields below.

The corn was as high as an elephant’s eye…. sorry, I couldn’t help it. 😉

Old glass bottles and a birdcage with tealights. does it get any sweeter?

 

I hope you enjoyed this snippet of photo treasures. I’m sure there are plenty more to come. 🙂

So many adventures in the Vienne Valley…

On weekends we occasionally hear a scream or sharp yell that echoes across the valley as numerous thrill-seekers take their turn and jump off the viaduct. 

Have I mentioned that there is bungee jumping off the viaduct in our little village? Because there is. Along with a ropes course through the trees along either side, and two long zip lines that cross the Vienne River. 


I have no interest in bungee-jumping, myself, but I love ziplining and the ropes course looks like it would make for a fun afternoon on a future weekend. 🙂

What I have done is gone kayaking down the Vienne River. It’s gorgeous and a bit challenging because the river is actually shallow enough to create tiny ‘rapids’ where the water has to maneuver over rocks. 


Craig joined me on my first voyage from L’Isle Jourdain downstream to Moussac, and it was his first time trying kayaking ever! 


Apart from a couple of tricky moments getting caught in the rocks (no danger here- we could easily step out and adjust if we needed to because the water is only a foot or two deep), it was gorgeous and peaceful. We even kayaked past a herd of cows hanging out in the shallow shoreline.


It was an excellent hour on the river and I plan to go again on the longer stretch of L’Isle Jourdain to Queaux, a two-hour trip.


We took a day to check out LaRoche Posay, just over an hour away from us and where the famous natural healing spring water Spa is. I was also informed that cancer patients receive three weeks’ stay free at the spa to make use of the healing and relaxing spring water benefits, on the French government’s dime. Amazing.  
Craig and Sini and I drove there one Thursday, with my purpose to get a massage at the spa, and theirs to go for a picnic lunch and explore the town. 
The spa is almost hidden, in a low, dark wood, unassuming building shaded by trees (and behind a small, rustic mini-golf course), and I was about to ask for directions when I came upon the sliding glass front doors. 

Inside is calm and elegant, and I was given my robe and towel and  a tour of the building and amenities. The sauna, steam room, and pool are all included with the price of any service at the spa, or €35 if you just want to swim and steam. 🙂
The pool is lit with LED lights along the edges and changes from turquoise to blue to purple to green in a cycle, and has programmable jets at one end and in the middle. (I felt that when the pool was purple it looked the most magical.) 😉  



I snapped a couple of photos before seeing a sign that asks that phones are not allowed.
There was a little cafe where complimentary herbal tea and flower-infused water was available, an outdoor patio with giant bean-bag cushions, lounge chairs, cocoon baskets and even a couple pool-side beds to spend hours in.


I had a relaxation massage, and both preceded and followed it with time in the eucalyptus-infused steam room, and then enjoyed some tea and some sun on the outdoor patio. 

post-massage goofy grin


Hilariously, I had to wait for a swim because just as I was about to get in, an aquafit class started: the pool became packed with seniors and a cheery but extremely loud instructor started yelled instructions to them and counting off moves. “Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre! Cinq! Six! Sept! Huit! Encore! Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre! Cinq! Six! Sept! Huit! Une fois de plus! Un! Deux! …” 

An hour later the pool was a relaxing space again, and I went for a swim, followed by a soak in their luxurious hot tub. It was divine!
I met up with Sini and Craig and we discovered a small market in the town centre and tried the local macarons (coconut, almond, and chocolate), before heading home.


On our way to LaRoche Posay I had noticed a beautiful set of buildings as we passed through La Puye, and on the way back we stopped in. It turns out that an ancient monastery is now the set of buildings for the local retirement home and we went exploring in the huge elegant church on the grounds there. 




The lady who showed us the church was very kind and barely spoke one word of English so I got to practice as the translator between the four of us. I told her where we were all from and she said she had a nephew living in Manitoba (of all places! small world), so she asked about the  forest fires we had in Alberta in June this year and how much she would like to visit Canada.




The drive to and from LaRoche Posay was so beautiful, I would be happy to go again any time, even if we weren’t headed to the spa…. But that pool…. 🙂

Corinne and Gilles wanted to have friends over for a party and show them the progress this summer, so we went in search of some wildflowers to decorate the house. We have seen loads along the tiny roads nearby all summer, but after a couple of really hot weeks many had dried up and we had to venture off our normal routes a bit to find them all. 

Craig looking way to serious as our ‘bouquet-holder’.

 
What we also discovered was an amazing amount of *blackberries*. 

It turns out that blackberry bushes make great natural fences along farms and they aren’t really harvested for sale or anything, and we discovered two fantastic spots that I plan to return to over the next couple of weeks!! 

These are the sweetest blackberries I have ever tasted!

Back at the house we set up for the party! We used sheets and pillows to organize the back yard in the Moroccan-style, bright-colours that I know Corinne plans to design the final courtyard with cheerful fabrics, lots of cushions, and many comfortable places to sit. 

Inside, the living room looked like a completely different space from when I first arrived, with all new insulated, plastered, and painted walls, new furniture, and most importantly, neither tools nor stepladders nor paint cans nor piles of wood lying around! 🙂

Here are the ‘Before’ photos of the living room and backyard and upstairs “winter garden”:

Living Room BEFORE/In process

Backyard IN PROCESS

With a new floor and new wall, the soon-to-be “winter garden” as a storage/workspace.


‘After’ photos below, along with some details: sangria dispenser, decanters, food, and our wildflowers! Outside looked like a different country, the living room finally looked like a living room, (with room again for the guitars, piano, and sound system) and upstairs the ‘winter garden’ looked comfy and inviting!

It was so cool to see this space with all the updates and improvements so far. With music, great food, friends, and a rainstorm that held off until the night was winding down, it was like a great send off to Craig and Sini, who left the next day, and it means I will help at other places in the village for the next couple of weeks while Corinne and Gilles take a vacation!

Sini, me, Craig, and Viktor!

Cette maison, ces personnes, ce lieu. C’est le bonheur ! :)

There are some days when I get absolutely covered in paint. Or drywall dust. Or clay or glue or sawdust. 

And I just love it.

 I am so happy to be in such company, working on all sorts of creative and odd jobs, speaking français/anglais, living like a local, and getting to know the awesome people who live here and completely understand why they fell in love with this part of the world.  

I have so found my happy place here.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that this house is absolutely buzzing with truly great people. I have now met and worked with people from 7 different countries, from my workaway friends to our hosts, to the folks in the neighborhood. 

 It’s a really cool thing to spend time with people from entirely different places and cultures, and there’s an awesome energy in this house.

Corinne and Gilles are the most generous, warm-hearted hosts. I often work alongside them and I think we are kindred spirits. Corinne and I both have a hard time sitting still when there are lots of projects we want to accomplish all at once, and Gilles and I have recently enjoyed watching the Olympics (with him teaching me all sorts of sports terms in French). 
I was the second workawayer to arrive, as my ‘beach-buddy’ Viktor arrived a few days before me. He started off here for the summer with plans to travel around Europe for the next year or two with Workaway (while back home in Hungary he had been a bike courier and website designer.) He’s now volunteering down on the island for a few weeks and comes by to visit every once and a while.

Sini arrived ten days after me and is from Finland. She is a fashion design student and not only do we enjoy the occasional “French Hour” together (where we quiz each other and practice new phrases from a French book she brought), but she has a great sense of humour and she regularly organizes tea time every day. (Corinne jokes that she’s practically British for being so adamant about tea. I think I’d fit in well in Britain- tea-wise – too.)

While at her last workaway Sini met a plasterer named Craig who’s from the UK and suggested to Corinne that he join us at the house as well. 

Craig and Sini. (Please pardon the blurry photo).

Craig is a super chill Brit who has been doing workaway for the last two months with holidays in between to check out music festivals across Europe. Sounds like an amazing way to spend the summer if you ask me! This also means he makes a good DJ, introducing us to new indie band tunes while we work. 🙂

And since he arrived, any plans of wallpapering over old bad surfaces has been completely thrown out the window. He is now skillfully plastering over all the old walls and then I or Sini pretty much follow him around with a paint roller!

The plaster is a beautiful terra cotta colour- imported from the UK- and looks nice as a wall treatment on its own. It’s still drying in this photo.

We take Wednesday’s and Sundays off (because that’s the French way). It’s been a very hot summer so we often grab our bathing suits and head for water. 
 

Our favourite swimming hole is a 15 minute drive away at the St Martin-Lars lake, and we have also tried out the shallow, fast-moving river down by Moussac, as well as the local swimming pool complete with water slide. 😏 

Lastly, if time is of the essence, we can always take a dip in the small pool in the back yard. And by ‘dip’, I mean: sit. (It’s about 8 feet long.) 🙂

Saint Martin-Lars swimming area and restaurant.

Ice cream at the restaurant. Only 12 Euros for a starter, steak and fries, dessert, and wine or coffee. 🙂

The river down by Moussac

We have also taken several day trips to local villages and towns for Vide Greniers and markets. We even had a Vide Grenier in L’Isle Jourdain which had loads of great stuff, neighbors to bump into, and all we had to do was walk over the bridge. 🙂

All the copper pots and pans you could imagine.

Buttons, thread, fabric….

locally made pottery

One morning Corinne suggested we take a walk around the lake in Lussac to check out the old grottos in the caves there and it’s a beautiful and easy little 40 minute path. Lussac also has a Prehistoric Museum, but I have yet to go.

One sunny Sunday Corinne and Sini and I went to Rochechouart on recommendation that the Vide Grenier there was good, and the hope that we would find a couple more bikes for the household. 

There was a competition for “Best Garden in a Wheelbarrow”. 😄

While we were there, we checked out the museum of contemporary art in the majestic Château de Rochechouart . 

The Chateau is a beautiful venue for art and had three luxurious floors all currently showing an exposition called “L’Iris de Lucy” showcasing female African Artists. Corinne even discovered that a friend of hers, Zineb Sedira, had some work showcased (and they happened to be some of my favourite pieces there: large  haunting saturated colour photographs of rusted out and abandoned cargo ships.)

Last week we drove to Montmorillon for their Wednesday market and had lunch at a popular restaurant by the water: Crêperie du Brouard. With galettes (savory crepes) named after famous people like Brad Pitt and Gerrard Depardieu, it’s fun and casual, and packed throughout midday. We ordered 4 completely different kinds and everyone was happy with their choices (mine was one of the few without a celebrity name: Scandave, with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and lemon). 

Montmorillon is known as the City Of Writers and Bookmaking. There were new and used bookstores all over, calligraphy shops, and with the medieval town and beautiful winding tiny streets to wander around, it was easy to lose track of time. 🙂

 
We took a moment to get out of the sun inside the cool and quiet Église Nôtre Dame, after perusing tables of old books outside numerous bookstores (finding everything from old romance novels to rock and roll band biographies). 

My favourite find was a beautiful Japanese store full of art supplies and imported and local Japanese art and pottery. They have built the store over an old rock wall and have indigenous ferns and ivy growing out of it inside the shop. I am sheepish to say that I only snapped a photo of some hilariously translated notepads you could buy.

Well, the messages are certainly … positive.


As the market was actually the reason we went, we went searching for cheeses, sausage, honey, local fruits and vegetables, wine, and artisan bread. Samples were offered and of course we tried everything we could. The lady that we bought the cheese from was delighted to hear us speaking English and started enthusiastically saying all the English phrases she knows. “It is a beautiful day!” “You are very welcome!” “I am happy to meet you!” “The sun in shining!”

I’m hoping to get back to Montmorillon again sometime for more exploring of the city, check out their old 50-seat theatre I have since heard about, visit the famous octagonal chapel they call Octogone, and of course to try out a different galette at Crêperie du Brouard. 🙂

The renovations are coming along well, and the house is buzzing with activity, between our hosts, us workawayers, and contractors working upstairs and down, inside and out, and of course the dogs winding their way around our feet through rooms of paint and tools and sawdust and drop cloths.

At the moment we have all the following projects ongoing: plastering and painting walls and ceilings, building an ensuite in the bedroom I am staying in, creating a couple closets, replacing a few windows, tiling the remaining wall in the kitchen, building a storage cabinet for tools, sewing curtains and pillowcases for the various bedrooms, securing barker board in the upstairs bathroom, and sanding years of paint off of old doors and window frames. 

Craig was showing the state of the beam he was uncovering.

one of the cabinet doors sitting outside while the kitchen was getting a bit reorganized.

Gilles removing the wallpaper in one room.

 

One Monday we had a delightfully artsy day of helping create moulds for decorative details for the house, and worked with Corinne in the backyard with clay, plaster, andvinamold.

.

My French is slowly getting better, with a few new words of vocabulary every day, some phrases, and along with Sini’s and my occasional “French Hour”, I try to speak mostly in French with Gilles, (aka the most patient man ever 😁), and with the French-speaking friends of Gilles and Corinne. I still definitely understand more than I speak but all the Francophones here have been very patient with me and they say my French is very good. 

Local apricots and peaches for a snack.

This is also the first place I have ever been where I have heard fluent French speakers with British accents. There are so many Brits here who have vacationed or lived here for years (and even decades) that have learned to speak French fluently but still have a strong accent. Before this summer I only knew people who spoke French in the Parisian dialect, or perhaps a French Canadian one, but that is sort of it. It’s fascinating! When French is spoken with a Yorkshire accent or a London accent it is totally different! 😀

Un cafe crême et un croissant, bien sûr!

Another delightful thing during the summer hereis the regularly scheduled free concerts in towns nearby with well-known artists that people come from all over to see. 

The first concert I went to this summer was in L’Isle Jourdain through the Les Heures Vagabonds festival, and the artist was Yaniss Odua, a French Dub Reggae artist who is originally from Martinique and is *very* popular (I was made aware of this pretty quickly as everyone around me knew the words to all his songs). 
About 2000 people were there to see the concert, and it was definitely a mix of all ages, though the teens & 20-somethings were the most active, right up in front of the stage.


It was an excellent show with fantastic performances by the entire band, and really great sound mixing. There was a very positive energy to the evening, and we had a perfect outdoor night sky. 

Following the last song, I walked home across the river faster than  the one-lane line of cars of the out-of-town-attendee majority slowly crawled along attempting to get home.
Just one week later there was another free concert (this time: Les Innocentes) in St Martin-Lars, and it turns out the attendance was over 6000 people! 

This time Craig and Sini had the brilliant idea of bringing a picnic dinner (complete with wine) to the concert. When we were parking at the site we saw signs posted forbidding any glass in the fenced-in concert area so we found a spot down by the lake, within hearing distance of the stage, and we sat down to dine just as the concert began.
With a lovely underscore in the background we had an amazing meal: complete with chèvre Camembert, salami and prosciutto, peaches, traditional baguette, and wine. The evening was absolutely perfect, and when we wandered over to the concert ground we were amused to  discover that there were only two songs left. Our hosts and their friends all agreed that it wasn’t as good as the previous concert, so we were doubly glad that our dining took priority!

The summer is flying by, and the work on the house, the eating the socializing, the exploring, and the happiness continues…. 

More adventures (and maybe some house reno pics) to come soon! 

Some fireworks and some beach-time.

The days here fly by and we are definitely seeing progress with the house. However, I seem to take more pictures and have more stories on my days off… 😁

Here are some photos and details about the national holiday and a long weekend camping trip to the coast!

“Bastille Day” brought a show of fireworks to the village and we were invited to another delightful evening at the island home of Helen and Moyed, again with plenty of food and wine and good company.
I baked chocolate hazelnut brownies for dessert. (They were something I hoped would not have to compete with the local boulangerie that people had become accustomed to. And I was relieved when they went over very well! 🙂 )

We were told that every year the lower bridge between Bourpeuil and L’Isle Jourdain is filled with locals and people who come into town for the fireworks. 

While we waited for the fireworks and ate a delicious dinner in the front yard, we could hear his strange music coming from the bridge. 

We ventured out the front gate to see what was going on and discovered a group of bugle players performing a sort of pre-show entertainment in the crowd. 

You may not have considered it before (I certainly didn’t), but it is actually extremely difficult for numerous bugle players to create the same note at the same time as bugles are only ‘tuned’ by the way a player holds their mouth.

One player stood at one end of the bridge and played a tune, and then the group at the other end would echo it back. It was really fun!

The fireworks (or feu d’artifice en français) were set off from both the base and the top of the viaduct, and the water in the Vienne River was so still that night we got to see an incredible double display with the reflection in the water. They were gorgeous and lasted 20 minutes! 

This video gives you an idea of the coolness factor of seeing the fireworks and their reflections at the start of the show.

The next morning my ‘co-workawayer’ Viktor and I took off for the Brittany coast for a long weekend of beachy camping on Isle D’Oléron and Isle De Ré.
We packed up the little van with Corinne’s and Gilles’ bikes, blankets, sheets, and beachwear, and headed for the coast. I drove (stick shift as a right-side driver 😳), with Viktor as navigator. 

After what seemed like endless roundabouts (the true French road way, apparently), we first arrived in La Rochelle and saw the beach and wandered around the Old Town, and then took the viaduct over the water to L’Isle D’Oléron, and towards the Grand Village. 

We stopped for a coffee and some wifi with a view of the ocean, of course!

The Old Town area of La Rochelle.

I was happy to note the giant sign that read “La Ville Des Huitres” as we drove onto the island of Oléron. Oysters (and mussels) are *the* thing to get on the islands as they are farmed all along the shorelines. (You also get amazing Fleur De Sel here, direct from salt farmers). 🙂 Another happy place. 

We arrived at a very busy campground called Les Pins (pine trees) as it was located in the forested lower end of the Oléron island, yet only a ten-minute bike ride to the beach! 

Campgrounds here are even more deluxe than along the East Coast of Canada.

 It seems like the French like to arrive to fully furnished cabins, trailers, and structured tent units with running water and electricity. Some are really beautiful, and clearly big families come and stay for a while here. (There is even a regular schedule of some sort of family activities and/or entertainment every day.)

I spent a little time at the naturally-filtered pool (complete with waterfall!)

Bikes are pretty much essential on these islands not only to go where cars can’t, and due to the limited parking spots available near all the best beaches on the islands, but because the winding roads and endless pathways along the island are perfectly lovely to cruise on two wheels. 😎

An afternoon siesta? I think so!

There were a handful of restaurants just down the street from the campground, a boulangerie, and a little supermarket. It was quite convenient, as I ended up buying a sleeping bag the second day we were there because the nights were colder than I expected (wimp that I am, I should have known better).

Chez moi pour le week-end!


We set up camp in a sandy and shaded campsite (tent for Viktor, van-avec-curtains for me), and made our way over to the beach just as the last of the daytime visitors were leaving. The beach was almost completely empty, aside from a few guys flying a large kite, and so we checked out the water temperature (freezing) and wandered he shoreline, watching the sun sink down towards the water before we headed back to our campsite.

The next day we spent at the beach (La Plage de la Giraudiere). The water was very shallow for quite a distance out, and with the heat and wind, and waves all along the shoreline it was the perfect location for surf lessons. It was fun to watch both kids and adults run and jump onto small surf boards and glide along the shoreline (or slip right off and tumble into the water, which happened much more often). 

It was a packed beach, and actually reminded me of family vacations to Florida when I was younger. Lots of families, and lots of kids.

Every morning there was a market at our campsite, where you could purchase 6 varieties of local oysters 😁, fresh veggies and fruit, and bread. 

Viktor tried his first ever oyster, but wasn’t too keen on it, so I happily had oysters for lunch, while he had the tried-and-true cheese and bread.

Perfection

Friday night at a tapas bar and pizza place called La Choza we caught the most excellent live djs I have ever seen- 5 guys sharing 4 turntables, multiple pieces of effects equipment, and numerous boxes of records, and on top of that there was also a saxophone player who would improvise along brilliantly with the music when he felt like it. 

It was clearly a popular locals spot and was a very surfer/island/party atmosphere. After an excellent pizza dinner I ended up hanging out there until well after midnight watching them skillfully mix sweet music for hours!


Saturday we changed islands and made our way up to the northern tip of Isle De Ré. 

Clearly the more popular/touristy of the two islands, you have to pay a toll of €16 to drive onto the island. (It’s free if you walk or bike over. The bike ride would likely take 20 min over the bridge, and walking would likely be closer to 45, but as the island is almost 30km long we figured a vehicle would be more efficient this trip.)

The beach we spent the day at was idyllic. The sun was hot, the water was perfectly refreshing, and the beach was busy but not packed. The only thing I wished we had brought was a large parasol (as everyone else did), as there was no shade to be found otherwise.
After playing volleyball in the water with a bunch of Francophones, sunning on the beach, swimming and wandering along the shore (and checking out the huge dead jellyfish that had washed up hours earlier)….and possibly turning a bit pink (but not as pink as Viktor!), we searched for a campsite.

After the June road trip  where we never worried about pre-booking campsites, I didn’t have any concern for finding a spot. This was when I learned that this was the start of the summer holidays for not only public schools, but now private schools, and it took us until our third campsite to find an available tenting spot! 

Luckily, our campground was awesome (Camp Du Soleil), near the stunning town of Ars-En-Ré

Complete with restaurant, pool, arcade, and two perfect trees for the hammock we brought, this was our favourite spot to stay.



An evening bike ride over to Ars En Ré was absolute perfection Saturday evening, with the streets looking ready for a movie crew to set up a scene for a romantic French film at any moment. 

Pristine buildings, lavender and hollyhocks lining the cobblestone streets, and nothing but a few pedestrians and cyclists winding their way through the little village that has been named one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.


We came to the town centre and the regal Church of Saint-Etienne, where a boys choir was performing a small concert. If you come during the day you can sometimes climb to the top of the tower and have a great view, but I only learned this after we left. 

This is definitely a place I’d return to!!

I think that will have to do for now. So much to share, but I’m definitely finding it hard to sit still! 🙂

A summer in French heaven, part one!

  

So, imagine you are offered the opportunity to stay in your first choice spot for a volunteer holiday. And imagine it sounds too good to be true, and at the same time, charming and imperfect enough to seem real.

And then you arrive and it’s everything you hoped it would be and better.

The Plan: spend my summer volunteering in the French countryside. 

The Process: join workaway.info and search for a host. 

The Result: connect with a British artist named Corinne who owns a 200+ year old house that she wants to renovate and turn into an international artist retreat, book and take a bus from Paris to Poitiers, and then drive to the small village of Bourpeuil across the river from L’Isle Jourdain, soon to be my home away from home. 

As Corinne drove along, the view of the countryside and houses reminded me more and more of what I loved in Provence. Terra cotta roofs, sheep wandering across the fields, rolling hills and tiny gardens, brightly coloured doors and shutters, window boxes and potted plants, lavender and sunflowers…. and the sun ever so slightly dipping into the evening sky made everything more than picturesque.

My delight simply grew as we arrived in the small town and I saw the grand viaduct, the town across the Vienne River including a church on the hill, and we pulled up in front of an old unassuming old house. 

Corinne was already a kindred spirit and I immediately felt further welcomed by her partner Gilles, and their two friendly terriers, Duke and Major. 

This is Duke.

This is Major


Our first meal (stewed lamb and grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes) was served on the long wood table in the warm and inviting black and white kitchen, one of the most complete rooms in the house. This is obviously the heart of the home, and we have lunch and dinner together here every day. 

Gilles is a fantastic cook (who reminds me of my dad) and he always has delicious meal ideas, and Corinne loves to cook as well!! Between the two of them we have had everything from pan-seared vegetables and sausages with couscous, moules frites (mussels with fries) with homemade mayonnaise that is so good I actually eat mayonnaise here, to vegetarian curry, beet and chèvre risotto, and the best potatoes au gratin I have every had. 

Right away I fell in love with the house, my room, my hosts and the dogs. I am the second of three volunteers to arrive this summer; the first is Viktor from Hungary, and soon to join us is Sini from Finland.

There is a long to-do list here, from plastering and painting walls and ceiling, tiling, flooring, sewing curtains, and furniture building/reupholstering, to building a terraced courtyard, installing a kiln, and helping furnish and decorate the guest rooms.
For the first week every morning after breakfast (and coffee, bien sûr!) I was on painting duty. The old grey shutters on the front of the house had previously been sandblasted and needed priming, rust-coat painting on the hardware and then painted a fresh new colour. 
(The name of the colour Corinne has chosen? Picasso Blue. 😊)

The back terrace in painting progress.

The finished shutters and doors!

Other than joking I have been painting anything that doesn’t move over my first several days here, I did also help clear out and organize a newly purchased
(fully furnished house) in the village for friends of our hosts, and  we took several loads of items like furniture, clothing, linen and dishes to local charities and also to a “Vide Grenier” to sell some particularly nice/interesting things.

A Vide Grenier literally translates to “Empty Attic”. Every village has these big yard-sales/garage-sales once a year, and this one was quite huge and included a carousel, carnival games, a hot lunch, a free coffee and beer for each registered seller, and two football fields of knick-knacks and antiques, artwork, clothing, lamps, toys, and collectibles. Everything you can imagine (including several kitchen sinks)!

The neighbors here are all so friendly, and just like everywhere else I have been in France, the small community atmosphere of people is hugely friendly and warm-hearted.

Right away we were introduced to a bunch of Brits that have relocated, or retired, or vacation several months of the year here. 
The most idyllic night so far was spent on the island at the home of Helen and Moyed, and the house that the town is named after. 

It was a beautiful evening, and the originally casual plan of hummus and bread for a light dinner turned into a huge delicious meal including chips and curry, olives, preserved lemons, dolma, burgers, and plenty of wine and beer. 
We sat under the tree in their front yard with their pet chickens wandering around, a view of their olive grove, the river, the viaduct, the bridge, and the villages on either side. Heaven.

This is Dolly, apparently the queen/guardian of the household.


More to come…. This is only the beginning! 

A trip to Mont Saint Michel…

image

So this is a brief post (and mostly photos) of our trip out to Mont St Michel last week. I was told that the island is a must-see by several friends, and I was looking forward to spending the night on the island in order to be there after the daytime rush of tourists. The tides at Mont Saint Michel come in and out very quickly when they change and it’s exciting to see when you are out there, so naturally, I looked it up. It turned out there would be absolutely no change between low and high tide while we were on the island. I was slightly disappointed but figured that the water would be in and it would look like any other island. It turned out, the water was completely out, so the island was now surrounded by sand. And that turned out to be amazing.

We took the train from Paris to Rennes and then took a bus to the shuttle at Mont Saint Michel, but it was a beautiful afternoon so we decided to walk along the pathway to he island, which was awesome. It turns out you can rent bikes too, but it’s an easy walk.

image

image

A storm was leaving the area just as we got there, so it made for really exciting skies!

image

image

image

The view from our hotel room

The view from our hotel room

After dinner and some exploring around the island (the *one* street filled with restaurants and novelty/souvenir shops), we headed down to the ‘beach’ to take pictures. We walked barefoot and there were only a handful of people down there, so it felt like it had cleared out just for us. Aside from the constant cries of seagulls, it was quiet and beautiful! My sister can attest- I was downright giddy I was so happy to be there.

image

image

image
image

image

The next morning we went through the Abbey at the top of the island (oh the stairs…. People with limited mobility or even worse: strollers (!!!) : stay away!!).

image

image

image

image

image

Even by 10:00am we realized how quickly the island gets busy!

The one street. Did I mention there is only one street? I'm not exaggerating. One street.

The one street. Did I mention there is only one street? I’m not exaggerating. One street.

I’ll never forget it. I am SO glad we stayed overnight on the island, and got to see this incredible place. It is a ‘must-see’. 🙂

image

Provence. I heart you.

It was sad to have mum head home to Calgary on Monday as we had such a phenomenal month in France together. Here are the stories of our week in Provence!!

image

Some vineyards near Modene and a view of the top of Mont Ventoux

It was a 45 minute drive from Avignon to our villa in Modene, and we couldn’t quite believe it as we walked in to the yard to meet our hosts Phillipe and Sylvie. (They are absolutely wonderful and if you want to stay in a spectacular bed and breakfast (or ‘chambre d’hôte’/’gîte’) , check out their website: http://www.villa-noria.com)

image

The view out the window from the indoor dining room.

We walked past a gorgeous yard and large outdoor dining table and up the stairs to our adjoining rooms. The first had a king size four-poster bed, the second two single beds on wrought iron frames.

image

image

imageThen there was our bathroom with a large claw-foot bath tub, dual sinks and beautiful shower. White fluffy towels and three white terry cloth robes were ready for us. After carefully waiting for Phillipe to turn his back to us so we could silently jump up and down in glee, he brought us back outside to see the yard and pool. Oh, the pool.

image
When we went to Tuscany as a family ten years ago, I thought we had stayed in the crème de la crème of bed and breakfasts. I never thought we’d find a place even close, but here we did.

Our dining room table

Our dining room table, and their dog Hurley.

Our host is also a renowned chef in the area, and cooks dinner every second night if guests want a gourmet dinner at home. We of course were looking forward to his cooking and were not disappointed. Just like on the cruise ship, not only was quality at the highest level but the presentation was beautiful.

Chilled Eggplant soup with a poached egg and sesame crisp

Chilled Eggplant soup with a poached egg and sesame crisp

Broiled cod with crispy polenta, zucchini tartar and roasted tomatoes

Broiled cod with crispy polenta, zucchini tartar and roasted red peppers.

Cheese plate of local chèvre with various herbs and seasonings

Cheese plate of local chèvre with various herbs and seasonings

Chocolate crème brûlée with rhubarb

Chocolate crème brûlée with rhubarb

Our first breakfast was another good sign of how the week would go. Sitting under a giant tree with morning sun shining through the leaves, several options of loose leaf tea or coffee, and with an overflowing basket of fruit (including peaches and figs they had picked that morning!!), freshly baked bread, croissants, homemade yoghurt, and waffles with fresh preserves, we were in heaven.

image
On our first day we wanted to check out a local market, and then meet up with friends from home.
We drove to Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue to the Sunday market and found it to be the best one we have been to by far! It was fairly busy, and the weather was beautiful. There were dozens and dozens of stands with everything from fresh produce, vibrant pottery, artisan baking and sausage, souvenirs, to lavender, honey, soap, and table linens. We bought some fruit (and we thought that Parisian fruit was delicious!), some nougat, some cheese, and the best almonds we have tasted in our lives by leaps and bounds. Oh, France, you’ve done it again. 🙂

image

image

image

image

We were then off to Carombe to meet our friends Maggie and Terry who were on a 4-month trip across Europe! These adventurous folks arrived to meet us on a motorcycle, and after great hugs and drinks in the shade to celebrate, we decided to do dinner in Le Barroux, a town just north of Carombe with one of the few castles in the Provence area. (Of course, in between we went back to the villa for a swim in the pool and a little sun.)

image

Looking at routes.

Looking at routes.

image

image

With the view of the valley and a delicious dinner, we shared stories of our travels and with the sun setting we said goodnight.

image

image

On Monday we wanted to explore, and using a cyclists’ map of the Carpentras area that my mum’s friend Hope had lent us, we showed Phillipe our plan for the day- head towards the hillside city of Gordes via Venasque and Rousillon. He generously went over the map with my mum, writing a list of towns that we should drive through or stop into on post-it notes so we would see the best spots.

image

The view from Venasque

image

A gorgeous old door and handle

A gorgeous old door and handle

image

We stopped in Venasque first and wandered up beautiful tiny streets in the quiet town and discovered a wonderful artist and his small main-floor gallery. His paintings were oil on canvas using only a pallet knife, and showed the town and other hilltop towns with the fields below, and church steeples punctuating the simple but beautiful skylines, all using tones of blue, purple, red, and yellow . They were fabulous paintings, and we talked with him a bit (my mum, of course, charming him right away). He told us that he had a painting teacher tell him that “grass is not just green, trees are not just green, they are any colour you can imagine they could be” and he said that gave him a true freedom to his paintings, so none of the hills or fields were green- they were gold or purple. We loved them. If he had prints I would have bought one right then, but unfortunately he only had canvases and they were a bit out of my price range.

image

We then went to Rousillon and right from the start noticed the red clay of the hill as we parked the car. As we walked up towards the town it was clear very quickly why this is called “The Red City”, with red and orange walls of buildings and red exposed earth on the hillside a gorgeous juxtaposition to the surrounding forests and fields.

image
The view was fantastic here and on our way to finding a place for lunch, we came upon another gallery that housed several artists’ pieces that we all could easily see purchasing if we didn’t have to ship it over an ocean in order to keep it. There was a collection of charming statues of young girls doing a variety of things, from looking up with arms reaching into the sky, to crouching down looking at a frog, to dancing- and they all had such simple honesty and joy to them you couldn’t help but smile. Then there were the paintings we loved best that were very urban scenes, with tall skyscrapers and taxis and crosswalks, and they had movement and energy without being too detailed.

image

image

image

image
We arrived in Gordes and couldn’t believe the buildings clinging to the side of such a steep hill. It was a winding road to get there, and European roads are the least generous when it comes to two way travel. For once I was not the driver- my mum and sister shared this responsibility, and I must say I think my motion-sickness is getting worse as I get older as even in the front seat all the quick twists and turns and deeking around oncoming traffic made me a little green along the way.

image
Winding streets with the bumpiest, roughest cobblestone yet, we wandered in and out of boutiques, jewelry stores and galleries, and found yet another exhibition I enjoyed. Pieces made from found wood and incorporated with metal, fabric, and stone, animals and people were set in whimsical sculptures that I wanted to take home as well.

image

image


We then headed home via the Abbé Senanque in the bottom of a valley with lavender fields. It was so relaxing you just felt your blood pressure drop as you stepped out of the car. We watched them gather the lavender bunches in one field before stepping into the sanctuary of the Abbé for a few minutes. It was a modest church with no decoration or sculpture, and it was very peaceful.

image

image

image

image

A great way to finish our exploration before heading home for our second dinner. More photos of dinner, of course.

image

Crispy tartin with olive tapenade, diced tomatoes, basil and fresh chèvre.

image

Grilled organic chicken nested on steamed green beans with a tower of lightly grilled zucchini containing both toasted and soft spelt “risotto”.

image

Warmed Camembert sprinkled with dried thyme.

image

Cheese yogurt ice cream atop grilled figs from the garden, dressed with a red wine reduction on top of a sable cookie.

We designated Tuesday and Friday as ‘pool days’, and promised ourselves we would take it easy on those days, and only leave the villa to go to a market or get dinner. It was perfect weather for lounging by a pool, and the saltwater of the pool made it actually possible for me to enjoy the water without goggles as I find that chlorine pools make it difficult to open my eyes underwater. It was glorious.

Lunchtime picnic

image
We met several other villa guests through the week from all over- some from elsewhere in France, one couple from Switzerland, one couple from USA and one couple from Berlin. There was almost always company at the pool, and at 4pm every day Phillipe would bring homemade iced tea to the poolside. Have I mentioned it’s heaven there? 🙂

On Wednesday we wanted a lighter travel day on a central route around our area through Bleauvac, Malemort, Methamis and St Didier, where we heard that they make best nougat in France. These towns had small main streets, charming buildings, churches, and many doors and shutters we wanted to capture in photos. In St Didier, we picked up nougat and a few other sweet snacks, and delicious stone oven pizza in Malemort were highlights to the exploration.

The blue paint colour that we've decided needs to be more prevalent in Calgary....

The blue paint colour that we’ve decided needs to be more prevalent in Calgary….

Where we stopped and had lunch- amazing pizza!

Where we stopped and had lunch- amazing pizza!

We loved the colourful shutters and doors throughout Provence, so as you can see we kept taking photos of them…

image

image

 Yes, this giant brick of dessert can be yours for only $45.00.

image

On Thursday we headed towards Sault, because it is known as the the heart of Lavender country. Phillipe was eager to recommend that on the way to Sault we take the road through Bedoin and up to the top of Mont Ventoux- the largest mountain in the area that we could see the white limestone peak and weather station/communication tower from everywhere in the area. We took his suggestion and went through Bedoin, a small but interesting looking town we decided we would revisit later. There were a lot of cyclists on the road and it was part way up the winding (have I mentioned: narrow?!) road of Mt Ventoux we decided we must be in the middle of a huge bicycle race or ride because there were dozens and dozens of cyclists making their way to the top as well. Try driving a manual car on a tiny road that twists and turns up a mountain with sheer drops on one side and cyclists veering in and out in front of you as well as oncoming traffic coming down…. We were going to need the relaxing lavender fields at the end of this!!

image

This was partway up when we had a bit more space. And where it was flat. Actually, this photo does not give any real representation of our journey up the mountain. Except that there is proof of both cyclists and cars…. So in that case, you may want to disregard this photo. 😉

The hiking trail up. Dry and windy, but what a view at the top!

image
Mont Ventoux had hundreds of people at the top (don’t drive here- it’s insane) between tourists, their families and friends, hikers and tourists, the top was busy!! The view is phenomenal and on a clear day (slightly clearer than when we went up) you can see the highest point of the Alps. We were happy to get down to the bottom again and to quieter roads to continue our journey. Oh yeah, and the extremely large number of cyclists? That’s just a normal day on the mountain; Mont Ventoux is the second most visited mountain by cyclists in Europe. And it’s not for the beginner cyclists either- with a height of almost 2000m, the climb to the top of the mountain from the town of Bedoin is 1612m.

image

image

We were happiest when we reached the bottom of the valley and headed for lavender fields. The fields of purple flowers and stunning blue skies were divine as we entered the area around Sault and we had to stop and take photos.

image

image

We wandered around the few shops in the quaint town of Sault, and of course picked up some more nougat we found there. Our insider’s tip: it was hands down the best we’ve ever had in our lives- so if you like nougat- this is the place to come- watch out St Didier! 🙂

image

Antique shop finds

Antique shop finds

The drive back was on a larger highway (a small highway by Canada’s standards), with one stop before we really got on our way- in Moniuex, a gorgeous little town on the very edge of a mountain rock face with stunning views of the lavender fields below. We also came upon a restaurant that we would have absolutely gone to dinner at if we had passed through any closer to dinner time (and not 4pm).

image

image

image

Friday we decided a little trip back to Bedoin was in order, and we found lots of charming little shops to peruse, and a lunch of delicious fresh-made pasta and homemade sauce to die for. We saw a sign pointing off the Main Street for a gallery so of course we couldn’t say no. Well, boy did we drool over the artwork in that space!! If we lived in the area it’s likely we would have walked away with several sculptures, and if we had more money we would have bought over a dozen pieces. It was a marvellous mix of styles and artists, in the mostly ‘modern’ genre of art. After much discussion with the gallery owner and mooning over various pieces, we left the store with three mementos of Paris in the form of paintings. My sister bought one and mum bought two, and they were both buzzing with happiness at their purchases all the way home. (As I am currently without any real walls, I did not buy any art there but will live vicariously through my family and see their art often.)

We then enjoyed a lazy pool afternoon with lots of swimming, some sunbathing, and a bit of journaling and blog writing, as well as checking out the garden where most of our fresh fruit and veggies (and herbs) came from for our meals at the house.

Their tiny peach tree. With six peaches almost ready to pick.

Their tiny peach tree. With six peaches almost ready to pick.

Their fig tree. We got the last of the first harvest, and they would then harvest again at the end of September. Amazing.

Their fig tree. We got the last of the first harvest, and they would then harvest again at the end of September. Amazing.

image

image

My gorgeous mom!

image

Provence melon! Yum!

One last gourmet meal….

Saffron gnocchi and shrimp salad.

Saffron gnocchi and shrimp salad with walnuts.

Pork tenderloin with honey and onion sauce, fried onions and garden carrots.

Pork tenderloin with honey and onion sauce, fried onions and garden carrots.

image

Poached white peach with almond biscotti and crème anglaise.

The lounge area by the pool

The lounge area by the pool.

Goodnight, pool.

Goodnight, pool.

We packed, went to bed too late, and were able to sit by the pool for an hour after our last breakfast before heading on the road to get back to the busy and bustling city of Paris. So long, Provence! See you again soon. 🙂

Taking a boat down the river to Avignon…

At Christmas last year, my mom surprised my sister and I with tickets for a Viking River Cruise in France as part of our summer adventure! It was a week-long journey down the Rhône river from Chalon-sur-Saône to Avignon. My sister and I had been on an ocean cruise with our grandparents when we were younger, but our mom had never been on one. We arrived in Chalon-sur-Saône on Saturday afternoon and we were greeted by a cruise ship representative to bring us to the bus that would take us to our new start point in Lyon. The river levels were so high this year that the boat could not get back up the river because it could not fit under the bridges. We collapsed onto our white-on-white deluxe beds in our cabins and delighted in the modern, clean, and stylish design of the ship that we discovered was brand new this year. Mum had her own room next to us, and we could peek around the balcony at each other when we were enjoying the sunshine along the way (which we barely had time to do because our schedule was packed).

image
The majority of the guests on the ship were Americans, and there were a handful of Canadians and Brits for a total of 180 passengers. If you are familiar with Viking Cruises, you may already know this, but we counted on the first night that there were seven passengers on the ship under the age of 50.
Since we were hours down the river from where we started, we stayed in Lyon for the first couple of days and took bus trips out from there for the excursions. It was quite rainy at the start of the trip and we discovered after our first day that the giant red umbrellas with “Viking Cruises” were much better than the packable umbrellas we brought, and we already looked like über-tourists traveling in a large group of seniors and wearing little radio packs around our necks listening to our tour guide. To the girls who had worked so hard to blend in as Parisians, this was a little less than ideal for us, but worth it for the places we visited. It was also strange to have an entirely English-speaking crew and guests that made it completely unnecessary to speak French (though we would practice in all the small towns we went to as much as we could).

The daily schedule was a huge difference for us as we’d been living on the late-night/late-morning routine, and on the ship breakfast started at 6:30am and went until 9:30am, and most morning excursions started between 8:00am and 9:00am. I’m actually surprised we made it to all of them every day!

On the first day we did a walking tour of Lyon in the morning and it was raining the entire time.

image

image

image

image

We went up to the highest point, where there is both a church and a small Eiffel Tower. It had a wonderful view of the city of Lyon, which reminded us of Florence, Italy.

image

The church is called Le Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviére. We didn’t plan to go inside the church as a tour group because they were in the middle of mass, but mum peeked in just before we got back on the bus and waved us over to join her. I stepped inside and discovered the most beautiful interior of a church that I had ever seen in my entire life. I stood there completely speechless for about ten minutes, mesmerized by the sculptures, mosaics, and gold details. Not only that, but as we stepped inside a soloist started singing and if you have any idea about the acoustics of a large domed ceiling, it was the epitome of breathtaking. (Of course, no photos were allowed so I only have a couple exterior shots.)

image

image

After lunch we took a bus out to the ancient city of Pérouge, built in the 15th century. We wandered along some of the most complicated/designed cobblestone streets and by beautiful ivy-covered homes and restaurants.

image

image

image

No, that isn’t just interesting woodwork on the door, it has charred completely from some fire. Crazy.

image

image

image

As part of the tour, we also got to try the local ‘gallettes’, a crepe-like baking made of butter, flour, and sugar.

image

The meals on the ship were excellent, and we quickly found ourselves taking photos of them because the plating was so beautiful.

image

Lobster and scallop cerviche in a vanilla sauce. We all agreed this was one of the best tasting dishes we have ever had.

image

The “amuse-bouche” on our first night on the ship.

We discovered early on that the staff of the ship was exceptional, and the Program Director Susann (from Germany) and Hotel Manager Kornelia (from Austria) were fantastically friendly and personable hosts who we often chatted with on the boat and off.

Susann dressed up for the "Taste of Provence" dinner.

Susann dressed up for the “Taste of Provence” dinner.

On the second full day my sister and I got up early to go for a run before the boat made it’s departure to our next stop. It had stopped raining for the first time so far and we captured some photos along our run to remind us of Lyon before having breakfast on the deck. We would have liked to stay longer here.

image

image

A pedestrian bridge to “Old Lyon”

image

image

The mini Eiffel Tower was built taller than the church after the French Revolution to show that religion and the Catholic Church no longer was the most powerful force in Lyon.

image

Breakfast! (Including some to bring back to surprise mum in her cabin)

The sun stayed out for the start of our trip down the river, and we enjoyed some sunshine on our balcony as the top deck was closed to fit under all the bridges.

image

image

This is was our ‘view’ going through a lock:

image

Our afternoon excursion was to Vienne, and this massive church called the Cathedral of St Maurice, in the ‘Flamboyant Gothic’ style.

image

image

image

image

image

In the afternoon we went to Baune, and explored the “Hotel Dieu” which was once a free hospital for the poor and is now a museum.

The inner courtyard of the hospital. The roof tiles were redone in the original style, and are enamel-painted metal shingles

The old medicine bottles

The old medicine bottles

After some free time we were invited to the basement of a wine store to their 14th century cellar for a wine tasting, and we tried 4 kinds of wine (2 white, 2 red- can you tell I’m not a big wine drinker?! 😉 ) and a cassis liqueur used to make an aperatif wine that was created in Beaune called Kir.

image

image

We met so many lovely people this week, and we almost wanted a longer cruise so we could spend more time in such excellent new-found company. When we got back on the ship in Vienne we started chatting with Michael and Eileen, a delightful couple from New Jersey. We sat with them for dinner, and quickly realized (without wanting to sound cliché) what marvellously kindred spirits they are. We enjoyed chatting with them on other excursions during the week and we hope to not only keep in touch but that our paths cross back on ‘the other side of the pond’.

It was partway through dinner leaving Vienne that we realized we had started travelling backwards. It turns out a crane on the top of the ship broke, and we couldn’t continue on without it working so we had to go back to Vienne to get it repaired. There was great apology for the delay by the crew, and they opened up the bar for the rest of the night. And let me tell you, the seniors on that ship were crazy partiers that evening into the wee hours! When the after dinner dance party began, and Dancing Queen started up (followed by the Macarena), we retreated back to our cabin and watched Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan in “French Kiss”. 🙂
The next day we went to Tournon, a city built in medieval times, and the chocolate capital of France. (Oh yes.)

image

image

image

image

image

We started with a wine tasting at a beautiful vineyard where we tried several kinds of Shiraz, and afterwards we went into town for a chocolate tasting. Our tour guide said we could sample as much chocolate as we wanted at the chocolate shop we were heading to. We thought “Yeah, right. He means they will bring around a tray to the group and we will be able to take a piece of 3 or 4 kinds. He’s exaggerating”. Nope. I have never seen so many samples. They had over a dozen kinds of chocolate, with different names and descriptions (similar to wine), varying in cocoa percentage, and they had four main types: dark, milk, white, and blonde. Blonde was created here when a chocolatier over cooked the white chocolate and the sugar in it caramelized, and it turned caramel coloured. Long story short, we all sampled as much as we wanted just as our tour guide had said we could.

image

image

Samples of every kind

image

Everywhere you looked: samples

That night we arrived in Viviers and went on an evening walking tour at 9:00pm. It was a very small town with the narrowest cobblestone streets, and dark alleyways that make it easy to imagine a Jack-The-Ripper type story to have happened here over a century ago.

image

image

A pretty door. 🙂

image
We arrived in Arles early the next morning, and were given a couple options for the day. Our ship was sailing to Avignon after lunch so we could take the bus into town for the morning tour and either bus back for lunch and stay on the ship while it travels, or stay in Arles until the late afternoon and bus to Avignon for dinner. At this point in the week we were pretty tired of buses so we decided to stay in Arles for the day. On our tour we saw the amphitheatre, the town hall, and the hospital that Van Gough stayed in that has been turned into a museum. Our tour guide was so slow that we had time to do a little souvenir shopping in between stops on the tour. (Well, my sister bought things mostly. I’m great at encouraging others to buy things. I’m a souvenir enabler. 🙂 )

The amphitheatre:

image
image

We came upon the Réattu Museum where we had heard there was some Picasso and other pieces. The museum was brilliantly set up, and apart from the numerous incredible pieces by Réattu, there were many great juxtapositions of old and new pieces, and we were thrilled we had the time to check it out.

image

This was one of Réattu’s many gorgeous sketches

image

This is a letter Van Gough wrote to Gaugin

This was a letter from Van Gough to Gaugin.

We waited for the bus at a park where a couple groups of elderly men were playing pétanque, and then headed by bus to meet our boat in Avignon. We arrived just as our ship was pulling up to the dock.

image
That night was the Captains Dinner, where they introduced the entire staff one by one. It was cool to see each crew member recognized individually and we also heard what country they are all from (most: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Germany).

image

The huge Ferris wheel outside the walled city of Avignon.

The next day we explored Avignon, which many crew members on the ship told us it was their favourite stop, and now we can see why. A walled city, Avignon has beautiful old architecture, and curving spiral streets. We started at the Papal Palace.

image

image

image

image

image

The art installation inside the palace

image

Some spices at the market

Some spices at the market

imageWe went to the Les Halles Market and got to walk through the most postered streets I have ever seen, as their gigantic annual theatre festival was going on. (It is about half the size of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but is made up of mostly French pieces, and over 1000 shows run for 4 weeks- each production has its show every day at the same time so you can easily organize your schedule.) As we walked down the street dozens of artists handed us their pamphlets advertising their production and they often went into enthusiastic explanation (in French, of course), about their show.

image

Our placemats at lunch even advertised the festival… So many options

We picked up the phone-book-sized festival program and looked over the options at lunch. We decided we had time for three shows before dinner, and tried to pick shows that might be a bit more Anglophone-friendly, choosing to go see a magician, a one-woman show about Billy Holiday (a musical?), and a clown. We also caught a sneak peek at a commedia del arté version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that we would go to after dinner, but on our way to one of the afternoon shows we crossed paths with two men dressed formally and walking down the street carrying a coffin between them. I asked one which show they were doing and he handed me a pamphlet, and replied with a deadpan look “In the coffin is a man who saw our show last night. He died. From laughter.”

We decided to change our plans and at 10:00pm watched a two-man show with almost no words make us laugh until our faces hurt and I had tears streaming down my cheeks. It was brilliant. On the way home we took a ride on the Ferris wheel by the water, because, why not. 🙂

image

We got back to the ship and finished packing, in order to be ready to leave the next morning after breakfast and pick up our rental car to head out of Avignon to our final week of family vacation in the heart of Provence. What a week!