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.

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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! 

Three days in Prague, and a lasting impression.

It all started with a night train.

Finding our 6-bunk cabin and making fast friends with the French students that would sleep on the bunks about 2 feet above our faces, Carly and I left Amsterdam and headed to Prague, on a 14.5 hour trip. We were misinformed with our original booking, which told us it was a 9 hour trip, and then we found out the train left 5 hours earlier. 😦 but in the end we still figured: this is our accommodation and our travel wrapped into one, with no important daylight hours lost in either city.

The summary of making this choice in travel? I don’t think I ever want to do it again. For more somewhat whiney details, you can read the rest of this paragraph. If not, skip to the next one. The ‘beds’ were more aptly described as wood planks with carpet wrapped around them. In addition you get a sheet, a tiny pillow, and a fleece blanket. The noise of the old train, the tracks, the many stops along the way, and the additional two people who joined us as we passed through Germany just after midnight meant that I probably had about a couple hours of sleep in total – and it should also be noted that if you buy a ticket for a bunk bed, there is no place for you to sit if you want to stay awake- you are forced to lie down in your cabin or stand in the hallway. There are no pictures to document the next morning because we looked so terrible after not sleeping.

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We arrived in Prague just before 10am on the Wednesday and proceeded to immediately get lost trying to find the right tram. The vast majority of Czech words have absolutely no resemblance to English, German, or French. We had a list of phrases we might need to know, but we actually had no idea what the correct pronounciation was. Lesson learned: even a few important words and phrases, pronounciation and all, are uber helpful to know before arriving in a new country.

My translator app, quite useful up until now.... It couldn't even give me correct pronounciation for Czech, a cool but super complicated language.

My translator app, quite useful up until now…. It couldn’t even give me correct pronounciation for Czech, a cool but super complicated language.

We had found accommodations through airbnb, and our host Vlada met us at the tram station and brought us home, which was really nice.

His English was quite good, and as we pulled into the driveway he let us know that he and his wife had four pets, so we always needed to make sure we closed the gate properly. It turns out they had three rabbits and a tiny terrier puppy, all of whom have names I can’t remember because I couldn’t pronounce them. Well, that’s not true. I do remember the black rabbit’s name. It is Karel (the Czech version of ‘Carl’, and coincidentally, the name of our tour guide on our walking tour of Prague).

How can you resist this face?

How can you resist this face?

Vlada was delighted to tell us he had a surprise for us, and showed us our (new) huge room with two large beds and a balcony. It was lovely, and I think we were so tired from our 15 hour travel we didn’t have the mindset to take our photo of the room (or house) at all.

(This is a photo of downtown Prague, nowhere near the suburbs where we stayed):
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Armed with a map and suggestions for our first day from Vlada, we took off with bus, and then tram, to get to the oldest medieval castle in the world, and the church there. It was quite a busy place, and we immediately saw the juxtaposition of the pastel buildings of Prague with the dark stone and gothic influence of the older buildings, clock towers, and churches.

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We also came across a toy museum, which had everything from tin windup toys to a full anniversary collection of Barbie dolls from the beginning until now.

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Walking across the Charles Bridge to Old Town was beautiful, and there were many artists doing portrait work- from characatures to full painted portraits, several art and jewelry vendors, and a few musicians.

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The only sign we came close to understanding.

Vlada told us that if we wanted authentic Czech food we should go to “Staromēstské Restaurace” right on the Old town Square. So we went there twice. 🙂

I had the roast beef goulash with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whip cream. It was delicious. Carly had locally caught Perch with green beans and Parmesan risotto. She said it was also excellent.

I had the roast beef goulash with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whip cream. It was delicious. Carly had locally caught Perch with green beans and Parmesan risotto. She said it was also excellent.

We sat inside because he told us the prices are less than half what they charge on the patio, which was absolutely true. It is also true that beer is cheaper than water here, and so it was very sad indeed that I am not a beer drinker. My sister found a nice Belgian dark beer here so she was very happy.

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Old Town Square:

Way more fun with saturated colours. :)

Way more fun with saturated colours. 🙂

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The astronomical clock by night

We checked out the astronomical clock tower and it was beautiful. We took a walking tour on our second day and our guide told us that every hour the animatronics around the clock face still function, even though the clock is over 600 years old. Huge crowds gather around the base to watch it throughout the day, so of course I had to get a picture of that.

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The walking tour was free and organized by New Prague Tours. Our tour guide – Karel (like the aforementioned bunny) – was amazing. He also works in drama therapy, and you could see right away he enjoyed putting on a show of giving us a detailed and entertaining tour around the centre of Prague; the amount of information he knew and shared was spectacular, and we were very close to paying for an afternoon tour with him as well. We walked through the Old Town Square, down to Wenceslas Square, over into New Town and Charles Square, and through the Jewish quarter, passing by the four beautiful synagogues there. He told us about the history in Prague during World War II, many of the local stories of artists and inventors, and we were so glad to have found this company. If you go to Prague, look up http://www.newpraguetours.com. They offer free walking tours and tour packages you can buy as well. If we had been there longer we absolutely would have paid for afternoon tours and possibly even a day trip. Well, next time.

Walking through the streets sometimes felt like you were walking on a movie set, or that the buildings were made of either marshmallows or tinted white chocolate, and the styles we’re varied too. They had everything from Art Deco and Art Nouveau,  to the only cubist architecture in the world.

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We came upon some of the coolest shops, including many marionette stores. If only I had room in my backpack (and perhaps more money in my pocket), I would have loved to take one or two of these masterpieces home.

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We also tried a local snack: ‘Trdlo”, a sweet kind of bread cooked on a turning spit and covered in sugar, almonds, vanilla, and cinnamon.

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The evenings in Prague has even more free entertainment in the Old Town square with performers of every variety at every corner of the square- if you didn’t like something, walk 10m.

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Awesome jazz band

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Flame-baton guy.

One night as we were window shopping we came across a black light theatre company called Teatro Negro, and they had a show called Aspects Of Alice, so we immediately bought tickets and had a great time seeing a very creative piece based loosely around Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and falling down the rabbit hole.

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Also in our shopping, I bought my first piece of artwork in a small gallery. I couldn’t leave without buying the limited print of a boy and his dog, so I have to get even more creative with my packing now.

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The last place we visited before bidding farewell to Prague was the National Gallery. It was on the other side of the river from downtown but had quite a mix of art from many centuries, and we were happy we got to explore it.

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All in all, it wasn’t as busy as Amsterdam, but it was fascinating and exciting and well worth the trip.

Well, that’s all for now, folks!

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I left my heart in Prague. And by ‘heart’, I mean: wallet.

If you were expecting a post with photos and stories of our three days in Prague, you will have to wait. That comes next, but first, an unfortunate but true account from the trip.

“Well, I may not have left my heart in Prague, but I did leave my wallet.”

It was a huge eye opener how fast my secure/safe/confident-that-I-have-been-responsible-traveller self turned into the panicked-and-vulnerable-feeling-“I-might-as-well-have-been-pickpocketed”-fretting tourist asking shopkeepers who don’t speak English if someone has found or turned in a wallet. That happened on our last morning in Prague. I bought a bag in a store, walked about a block, went to pay for lunch, and my tiny travel wallet was gone.
The language barrier is never so great than when you are in a high-stress situation. I realized how much I took it for granted that I would have been able to explain myself and my situation in French had I been in Paris, but where Czech is spoken, I was hopeless. The ‘important phrases’ quick-lists in guide books are actually useful, and I wished I had a few to work with in even broken, awkward Czech so I wouldn’t have felt the added stress of the isolation of being a foreigner due to language.

What a stress-filled moment it was, when I realized my emergency-if-I-need-to-cancel-my-credit-card-and-important-documents plan was faulty. The note I had saved on my phone with the number to call MasterCard was incorrect, my email with my credit card info was buried in a travel email folder (that had come to include vacation photos, and membership activation emails for hostel and tour websites), and I didn’t have my bank card number anywhere- just a photo of the card that turned out to be too pixelated to see. What did we learn, everyone? Have your (correct!) in-case-of-emergency info in a better place.

I am SO grateful to be able to call home and get the correct card info from my mum and was able to cancel the cards within 45 minutes, so grateful be travelling with my sister who still has all her necessary cards (and means of paying for things), grateful I have a second (backup) credit card in a separate place, grateful the only other items in the wallet were about $20 worth of cash and my drivers license- and that my passport is also safe. I’m also grateful I only have a week of this summer adventure left so I can sort things out in my home country.

But wow.

Here I was thinking I had it covered, and would never have something like this happen.

I was almost too embarrassed to write about this because I felt so stupid, but I wanted to share this story, because I’m sure this has happened to other people.

Has this ever happened to you? Did you lose your important documents? Get pickpocketed? Have you been scammed by someone saying ‘you dropped your ring’ or ‘sign this petition’? I am here to say, you are not the only one.