There’s just something about small towns in France…

A major highlight of my trip this summer was knowing I was able to visit friends in a heavenly place that feels like a second home, and looking back I could have spent the majority of my trip with these wonderful people in this wonderful place in the world.

I picked up my first ever European car rental at the CDG airport, and then whipped around the outskirts of the city to head to the countryside southwest of Paris, where I had last been a whopping 6 (how is it 6??) years ago!

I was ecstatic to be able to visit many friends in the heaven that is the small town, countryside villages in France.

I rented the car at the CDG airport, and was grateful to not have to drive anywhere within the city limits of Paris. 

In Europe, the standard rental vehicle is manual, and it was fun to zip along (130 km/hour on the highway!!) to my first stop: L’Isle Jourdain & Bourpeuil along the glorious river that is the Vienne, an area about equidistant from Poitiers and Limoges (or about an hour drive from either).

It’s shortly less than a five hour drive from Paris, and the roads get smaller and more winding, and you drive past rolling hills, farmers fields, forests, small ponds, and winding rivers. Signs get more specific, and you pass through many small villages with red clay roofs and climbing vine-covered stone walls, hanging flower baskets at town squares, and occasionally a small cafe with two or three tables, usually occupied by a couple locals sipping espresso and smoking cigarettes. 


I also loved the blackberry bush fencing used all over this region in France. I made sure to stop for a few (or a handful!) of sweet, juicy blackberries every single day.

(On one particular morning while enthusiastically going for a particularly large bunch of berries in a slightly overgrown side road, I did encounter some stinging nettle, which I do not recommend discovering in shorts and sandals. 😳)

The most remarkable and chance sighting of my friends Barbie and Andy at the local restaurant in L’Isle Jourdain moments after arriving in the town started things off with a bang. 

I don’t know if it’s the magic of France or the fact that everyone’s lives felt paused for two years of pandemic, but I swear my friends all look EXACTLY the same as the last time I saw them.

Barbie and Andy used to live in town but have moved to Availles-Limouzine where Barbie runs a beautiful Bed & Breakfast called Le Source. They had just happened to stop at Le Dix for a glass of rosé on their way home, so we had a bonus early visit before I stayed with them,  fortunate to stay in one of their B&B guest rooms and felt like I was at a five-star hotel. But more on that later.

After a lovely chat over the local wine, I headed across the bridge to my friends Jo and Jamshid, who have a Gîte and Bed & Breakfast themselves called Maison La Roche Gîte. The last time I was here they had only just purchased the property and were starting to renovate. Well, to say they have created a beautiful space is an understatement. 

Jo and Jamshid had guests staying in their beautiful units when I arrived, so I got to “glamp” it up in their cute camper in their neighbouring garden, complete with an outdoor jacuzzi tub! When I arrived a barbecue was in full swing with several of their friends enjoying snacks and drinks in the private camper garden. I got reacquainted with their sweet dog Amber and was introduced to the newest member of their family, Twiglet the cat. It was a relaxing and entertaining evening after a day of driving, and they even had turned the jacuzzi tub on for me to have a soak before heading to bed!

The rooms and amenities for their guests are so lovely- a perfect combination of French and country chic, combining classic style and cozy, unique accents. Jo gave me a tour and I think I was gushing at ever room we stepped into. (I also loved the playful wallpaper choices on a couple accent walls, and the kitchen designs particularly.)

The real coup in my opinion was their glorious courtyard that had everything you could want; comfortable seating for visiting or eating, a hanging basket chair, a hammock, a flower garden and both Ivy and grape vines framing the space. A quiet, shady place to enjoy the outdoors but out of the direct sun on the +30-34 degree days we were having while I was there!

Just when I thought they had everything I could possibly need, they showed me the finished guest garden (the last time I’d been here, this space was simply a grass yard and a few lawn chairs!), now complete with multiple fruit trees, a sunning deck, a sweet dining area draped in wisteria vines, and a fabulous, fabulous above-ground pool! The pool was almost a necessity with the heat we were having and I floated around for well over an hour every time I got in. 


In my opinion, all this place needs is a hammock between the walnut trees for another shady lounging spot, and I would never want to leave…

The town and surrounding area has gotten quieter overall (which I did not believe was possible), with several more shops and restaurants now closed, but the beauty of the area remains and I enjoyed a couple of long walks around the beautiful church, across the viaduct, and past silent houses and gardens that already look closed up for winter. 


We also went to a house warming party of friends of theirs who had recently bought a house and had just moved in earlier that summer. There was a good number of friendly people, both Francophone and Anglophone, delicious food and wine, and a sweet dog who would casually try to sneak into the living room where the food was set out while we were all out on the balcony every time someone went inside to top up their glass or their plate. Our hosts also gave us a tour of the historical building, including the long and dark unfinished attic that one of the guests was certain was haunted. The community of friends in these smaller towns feels like it has extra value, particularly when there aren’t the usual amenities/entertainment of bigger cities. 

After a wonderful weekend, I bid au revoir to Jo and Jamshid to drive about fifteen minutes further south to the town of Availles-Limouzine to see Barbie and Andy!

Like Jo and Jamshid, they had dogs that I had spent a good deal of time with 6 long years ago, so it was exciting to see shaggy little Pedro and the feisty Lottie when I arrived to meet Barbie at their front gate. 

Barbie and Andy have a spacious property with a tall and elegant house that includes two beautiful ensuite rooms they use for a Bed & Breakfast that Barbie runs. The rooms feel like they were frozen in time as luxurious, classic French style, without being lugubrious. My room not only had a gorgeous big bed, classic wallpaper and furniture, a lovely bathroom (with the best water pressure I’ve possibly ever experienced), but also a balcony with a great view of their front garden and the nearby rooftops. 

Side note/cool little tidbit of history: this house was the first one in the town to have a toilet installed inside! It’s on this side of the house but is more of a talking point than a functional toilet these days.

Their back garden is hundreds of vibrant shades of green, and includes a greenhouse packed with green grapes, a sweet little patio, fruit trees, and lots of space. There’s also a comfortable outdoor seating area facing the front of the property that to me feels a bit like the edge of the fictional Secret Garden with cascading flowers, intertwined vines, and a lovely canopy of tree branches creating a cool shaded centre.

Pedro especially enjoyed this part of the yard and likes to stay cool under the bushes.

Barbie and Andy took me for dinner at a wonderful riverside restaurant in Saint-Germain de Confolons that roasts chicken and cooks pizza in a wood oven. It feels like a big community or family picnic with various types of seating under the trees along the water, kids running around, and the restaurant dog making the rounds, casually guarding the live chickens that strut around the riverside. 


Before long I was off to visit my friend Corinne in her new home in Montmorillon. Corinne was the reason I discovered this part of the country when I found her posting looking for volunteers with Workaway way back in 2016, when she was renovating a 100-year-old house to make it an artist retreat. I had taken a train out to Poitiers where Corinne picked me up and we truly only began to get to know each other as we drove the 60 minutes to L’Isle Jourdain. We were originally going to play it by ear that first week and see how things went before my stay was extended, but we hit it off so well I ended up spending 2 months working on the house with her and it was a dream of a summer (a couple posts about that here and here)! She has since then got married, had a beautiful little boy, and moved the artist retreat to Montmorillon. 

Compared to the last two towns, Montmorillon feels like a bustling metropolis with its one small movie theatre, multiple shops and grocery stores and restaurants, and it’s almost 6000 residents.

Well, when I arrived in my room at Casa Jufa I felt like I was being embraced in a warm hug. The rich wallpaper and bedding made me want to move in. I also had a charming balcony if I stepped out the window with more wisteria curling around the railing and a view of the Saint Martial church tower a stone’s throw away. 

Handmade dishes in the kitchen topped the homey-ness of this place, and it felt so personal to Corinne, a blend of warmth and artistry. 

Our reunion was simply wonderful and it felt like no time had passed since we’d seen each other, despite our crazy adventures over the last half decade. 

Meeting her husband Diego and son Ari were a clear explanation of how incredibly full of joy and contentment Corinne’s life is these days. Diego made me feel right at home, and Ari was quick to share his love of trucks and stickers and monopoly game pieces with me. A multilingual family reminded me of my double-down decision to get back into practicing and improving my French. 

We went for a walk up to Chappelle-Saint-Laurent to get a great view of the city, and had crepes at Le Brouard that were just as memorable as they were my last visit here! These are not just any crepes; they are luxurious, hearty meals wrapped in a buckwheat galette. Many have superstar names like The Elvis or The David Guetta.


I’m sure the dessert offerings are fantabulous as well but honestly, I don’t know how I’d ever have the appetite to eat a loaded sweet version of what we ate for dinner after that! 

An early morning stroll along the walking trail beside the river here made for a few snack blackberries, some further garden envy, and photos capturing the morning sunshine.

We met up to check out the local market that happens every Wednesday, with fresh produce, cheeses, coffee, textiles, leather goods, soap, jewelry, …and mattresses. (I am so curious as to who goes to a market to buy aubergines, eggs, strawberries, cheese, …and a mattress before heading home for lunch… but hey, I’m still learning how to live like a local. 😉)

There simply wasn’t enough time to spend the time with these incredible humans, so I of course have plans to come back and visit again soon. I absolutely love it here. 

Even more than *gasp* …Paris ?!

And who knows, maybe next time the trip could include some house hunting… 😉

Paris, je t’aime, comme toujours.

It was important to me on this trip to not overbook/over schedule anything and truly enjoy playing it by ear day to day. I had been lucky on previous trips seeing all the “must see” sights and activities, and with how busy Paris was feeling I was glad to not have to stand in many lines or crowds, aside from the occasional metro ride.

One of the few plans I had made this trip was purchasing an advanced ticket to the Orangerie first thing on Monday morning. I wanted to revisit the zen-like infinity sign rooms containing Monet’s famous water lilies. I was there first thing as they opened the doors and my fellow early visitors and I seemed to have the same idea; to enjoy a quiet and peaceful early visit before the day and people get louder and busier. 

As always, it is just as wonderful as I remember. 

After that I wandered through the Tuileries Gardens, religiously following the pathways of shade on another very warm day. Truly, the trees and dry leaves on the ground felt like we were much closer to the autumn season than I was expecting. Maybe the next time I visit it should be in the fall….

On my way home I grabbed breakfast (croissant, coffee, and iced earl grey tea) and explored a bit of the 9th arrondissement (just south of the Blvd de Clichy. There are so many beautiful small garden areas lining streets or on strange wedges of intersections, with trees and flowers of various shapes and sizes.

Along the way I came across La Musee da la Vie Romantique, and spent the rest of the morning looking at their free collections, afterwards having some tea in their beautiful garden. 

I made my way back through Montmartre and zigzagged my way down other new streets of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and souvenir shops.

One evening I made my way over to the Champs Des Mars to see the Eiffel Tower at night, and though I thought I had seen my fill of tourists around Montmartre, there were even more surrounding the base of the Eiffel Tower; people were lining the side streets, filling the bridges, and crouching between lanes of cars to get the perfect photo of their travelling buddies with the Eiffel Tower as a proof-I-was-here memento. 

The highlight of the week was meeting up with my good friends Hugo and Arnaud at a cafe in Montparnasse as they were passing through from a wedding out of town and then a couple hours later were headed back to the train station for the last bit of their summer vacation.

We met at Cafe Odessa for some iced beverages and to catch up on the 6 years that blasted by us since we last saw each other. Life and love and work and travels were a full list, and we chatted until their had to grab their luggage and book it back to the train station. No matter what, making time to meet friends, if only for a coffee or an iced lemonade, is completely worth it when you are travelling. It’s a boost to your mood for sure!

While I was in the Montparnasse area I took a walk through the cemetery there. A bright sunshiney and very hot day, the mood was much different than the misty, moody visit to the Montmartre Cemetery on my first day here. I also stopped to watch a mason work under the shade of a big beach umbrella, meticulously hand carving lettering into a new granite tombstone. 

I then walked back to Jardin Du Luxembourg for another visit, armed with an iced coffee and my sketchbook, and I found a great seat close to end of my favourite fountain and relished in the shade of the tree canopy overhead, the ivy garlands framing the space, and the sound of the water. I had always wanted to do a line drawing of the shield/coat of arms at the top of the fountain and finally took the time. I can’t remember the last time I had sketched something. It was awesome.

I meandered through the familiar area of the 5th, past the Odeon Theatre, past the Pantheon and Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church, to outside the Odeon metro station for the best beurre & sucre crepe so far in Paris- and for the best price as well. 

On my last full day, which just so happened to be clear skies and a sunny +33 degrees, I followed the suggestions of two other travellers from an amazing travel facebook group. First thing, I took the metro out to the 16th Arrondissement, and visited the Marmotten Monet Museum. The main level had an assortment of beautiful pieces, including a very cool collection of art from the Middle Ages, and a room swords in designed for specific academics and artists and scholars (including Marcel Marceau), but down in the basement was truly my favourite part.

There was an incredible collection of more paintings inspired by Monet’s garden and famous water lilies. This gallery was much quieter than the Orangerie, with so few people it almost felt like a private viewing. 


The collection even included Monet’s “Impression, sunrise”: the painting they say inspired the name for the “Impressionism” movement.

What a coup! I couldn’t be happier than to have followed this suggestion. 

This was my first time in this part of Paris and as I was researching the 16th I decided that next time I am in Paris I want to rent a bike and check out the Bois de Boulogne just west of here, which looks like another incredible park full of nature trails and botanical gardens, lates, and art installations!

It was in this area that I also found a (free) water station that gave you the options of still water or sparkling mineral water! Fancy, Paris. Fancy.

On the second #GLT recommendation of the day, I booked a ticket for that evening to see a concert at Sainte-Chapelle. As we walked in my jaw dropped and I was in awe at the beauty of the wall-to-wall stained glass windows, elegant arches and ornate gilded trim and artwork.

A string quintet consisting of three violins, one viola, a cello, and accompanied by a harpsichord, played an incredible evening including the most passionate, vibrant, and playful version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that I have ever heard in my life and I was in heaven. Between the sound in that space, and the glorious atmosphere I felt transported back to another time. I cannot recommend this enough!

I very happilly headed home through the Marais and Les Halles areas, with every kind of restaurant and bar you could imagine opening and bustling. 

Just like before, I felt safe in Paris the entire time. I’mdefinitely a steretypically ‘nice’ Canadian who will smile at strangers and say hello or good morning, which is not helpful in places like Paris and can lead to glares, confusion, or unwanted attention and so it took some active practice! 

I travelled with my earbuds in (either playing music on low or not at all), and worked very hard on my “Resting Unimpressed Parisenne” face. The more you look un-wowed by Paris,the more you fit in, I feel. 

Other than that I continued to practice my French all week and found that for the most part the locals were quite patient with me, or alternatively assumed I knew way more than I did and started speaking quickly until perhaps my eyes widened a bit in confusion or polite panic… lol

And then just like that, it was my last sunset in Paris, an early rise the next morning, and I was off to the airport to pick up my first ever European car rental to whip out of the city and head to the countryside south west of Paris, where I had last been a whopping 6 (how is it 6??) years ago!

A bientot, Paris!

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…

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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.

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

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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.

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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!!).

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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’. 🙂

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