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Barefoot Blogger

Traveling wasn't enough for this free spirited female. I needed to live abroad. Now I am happily living in Uzes, France. My blogs are about my adventures as a post-career, solo woman maneuvering her way through everyday life in France and on travels to various parts of the world. I hope you enjoy my adventures, photography and the people and places I run into along my way.

Packing tips for the 60+ solo female traveler

Traveling solo means there’s no one to help with the bags. What you take, you carry.

I’m trying my best to pack light when I travel. There are lots of ways to do it. By sharing some of the ways I cut down on what I carry, I’m hoping you’ll share some your packing tips with me.

Always be prepared to carry your own stuff.

That doesn’t mean you can’t look at some younger, strong-armed person standing nearby and give him your pathetic, “I’m an old lady” smile. It’s just that you can’t always count on being rescued.

Pack light.

By “pack light” I mean don’t tote a suitcase you can’t lift. Onto a moving train. By yourself.  It’s happened more times than I’d like to remember.

Packing tips

Most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal item in the cabin with you.

For your carry-on, be sure it has rollers. If you’re like me, your flight is always at the gate at the end of the terminal.

For your personal item, consider a backpack instead of a handbag. If you plan smartly, the carry-on bag and the backpack may be all you need. Then there’s no waiting for luggage at the terminal at the end of a long day.

Packing tipsA travel backpack is one of my most prized possessions. I bought one in Norway 10 years ago. It was made of parachute material so it was almost weightless. It stretched to hold more than you should realistically carry on your back. When not in use, it folded up into its own tiny bag.

I replaced my favorite backpack recently. The pompiers in Aigue Morte cut it off my shoulder after my fall in the street in September. I haven’t found an identical bag to replace it, but here’s one works the same.

“What to bring?”

Travel day

Washable slacks/pants. Black (or other dark/patterned), comfortable, long pants. Dark colors hide spills or mishaps which are sure to happen. You can wear them throughout your trip whether you’re dressing smart or casual. “Comfortable” is the operative word, especially for airline wear. Overseas flights, for example, can be more than 24 hours long.

Walking shoes. Traveling means you’re bound to spend a lot of time in an airport or train station. Wear comfortable shoes. Hopefully they’re the heaviest shoes you’ll be bringing along so you don’t have to pack them. You may need to take off your shoes through security checks, so be sure they’re easy to slip on and off.

A shirt with sleeves. Wear a shirt with short sleeves or with sleeves that roll up. If the shirt is a dark color or patterned (see above regarding spills) it’s perfect. The problem with long sleeves is, if you get overheated, you can’t take it off. It happens!

Lightweight jacket. When packing light, wear your travel jacket to free up suitcase space. Sometimes you may feel like you’re taking it on or off constantly, but you’ll be glad you have it. You can always use it as a pillow.

Scarf. My neck often gets cold on a train or airplane. A scarf not only guards against a chill, it’ s stylish. Some of my friends travel wearing a comfy hat. Same purpose.

Socks or booties. I wear socks or booties with my travel shoes. I don’t like to walk barefooted through security if they ask me to remove my shoes.

Jewelry. I’m an accessory freak, but airports are where I play it down. Remember, the jewelry you wear has to go through a security check. Keep it simple. I carry the jewelry I’m not wearing in my personal carry-on.

Daytime activities

During the day when I’m traveling, I spend a lot of time walking. When I want to explore shops, cafes, galleries and side streets, I wear slacks, a skirt or a casual dress. It’s important to be comfortable, but don’t dress down to the point you avoid going into a “nice” restaurant or shop. That goes for shoes, too.

Washable skirts/pants/dress. I love my knit clothes. I choose them to mix and match. A dress can be worn with a sweater or jacket, or you can put a top over it and it looks like you have on a skirt. In addition to knits being easy to roll and pack, they wash and dry overnight. They’re so versatile you can sleep in them!

Washable tops. Choose tops that mix and match with both your skirts and pants. A longer top or sweater can change a look from day to night time chic. On a recent three week trip, I packed one knit dress, three knit skirts (one long), two pairs of knit pants, four tops and a long sweater. It was liberating!

Bathing suit. Taking a bathing suit along is optional. After a long day sightseeing, a swim is relaxing. The long top you bring for skirts and pants will work as stylish cover-up.

Jacket and/or rain gear.  “Must haves.”  Some of the new, lightweight jackets that fold into small bags are ideal. Check out the Ultra Light Down collection at UNIQLO.

Shoes. Of all my addictions, shoes are not. The shoes I wear are almost always chosen mostly for comfort, not style. My brother used to say when he’d notice my shoes, “I sure hope they’re comfortable.” That says it all. So when I travel, I choose shoes for the flight, a pair for hiking or play (which may be the same as the ones for travel) and a dressy shoe that’s comfy — usually a ballerina flat. The color choice is usually black, yet for warmer weather I may go for beige or light colors.

Evening

A long knit skirt and top takes me where I want to go, night or day. Accessories make the difference. You can change an ordinary daytime outfit into something stunning for evening with jewelry and/or a belt. Be careful, however, not to overload your bag. Scarves are ideal for “dress-up” and they give you a great new look with little effort. Best of all, a scarf fits easily in your suitcase or hand carry.

Packing tips

Other items to pack

Airplane necessities. A small toothbrush, toothpaste, and bottle of mouthwash fit into a plastic ziplock bag. Take along hand sanitizer, face wipes, a hairbrush and a few basic cosmetics so you can freshen up after the flight. A change of underwear comes in handy if your luggage is lost. Medications stay with you, always.

Cosmetics. Keep it simple. Also remember to check the piece of luggage that contains all but your basic cosmetics. Then you don’t have to worry about carrying liquids and sprays through security.

Toiletries.Travel sized versions of your favorite brands are usually available. Or you can package your own. Put these into your checked luggage if you can do without them en route.

I’m certain I’ve forgotten something! I almost always do. But perhaps this list will give you some ideas for packing.

Do you have packing tips to share? Please leave a comment.

Packing tips

 

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France

There’s a new obsession running around in my head: “visit as many of France’s ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages‘ as I possibly can.”

So far, I’ve seen only 10 out of some 156 “authentic” Les Plus Beaux Villages. I have a lot of traveling to do.

Les Plus Beaux Villages

There are 156 communities in France with the distinction of being a beaux village. Most are in the Dordogne and Aveyron departments. Vancluse and Lot are next with seven and six beaux villages respectively.

Most Beautiful Villages in France

The designation “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” was borrowed from the Reader’s Digest book of the same name. Charles Ceyrac, mayor of Collonges-la-Rouge, one of the villages featured in the book, believed his village and others like it could be revitalized economically if they joined together and promoted themselves as the most beautiful villages in France.

The criteria for the title was based on (1) the character and population of a village: rural with no more than 2,000 inhabitants; (2) two national heritage sites; and (3) the local council of the municipality must have voted on the application.

In 1981 mayors from 66 villages joined Collonges to form the association.

So far, these are Les Plus Beaux Villages I’ve visited. Click on the name of each village to learn and see more. Enjoy!

Eguisheim

Riquewihr

Domme

La Roque-Gageac

Les Baux-de-Provence

Gordes

Lourmarin

Menerbes

Roussillon

Najac

Yes, I have a lot of traveling to do.

If you have thoughts on the Beaux Villages I shouldn’t miss, please leave a comment. Let’s all go!

 

Why Do We Think France Is So Romantic?

Why do we think France is romantic?

Is it because of glamorous and exquisite French movie stars like Catherine DeneuveBrigitte Bardot, Louis Jourdan, Gérard Depardieu, Charles Boyer that we think France is romantic? Even  Maurice Chevalier?  

Or because movies like “A Man and a Woman” with Anouk AiméeThe English Patient and Chocolat with Juliette Binoche; and Amelie with Audrey Tautoo are imprinted on our hearts?

Perhaps we think of “love” and “France” because of the romantic cities 

 

 

… and fairytale palaces

The castles

 

The storybook villages…

 

 

Then there’s the art …

France is romantic

 

… the food 

Let’s not forget, champagne — the elixir of lovers — and it comes only from France

France is romantic

If there was a poll for the “World’s Most Romantic Country” and you could cast only one vote. Which place would you choose? 

I’d choose “France.” 

… and seal it with a kiss …

France is romantic

“The Kiss” by Rodin

For a closer look at the castles, chateaus and villages of France, click here and enjoy browsing! 

France is romantic

 

mini rocamador

Discovering Najac: A Mini Rocamadour

Along the way back to Uzès from my first visit to the Dordogne, I received an email from my good friend, artist Andy Newman.

“If you like Rocamadour, you must see Najac. It’s a mini Rocamadour,” Andy wrote.

With GPS onboard, I found that Najac was an easy stopover.

Narjac: A Mini Rocamadour

As it was definitely a last minute decision, I was lucky to find an Airbnb room for the night near Najac. Even luckier that it was a seventeenth century mas with the most delightful hosts.

mini Rocamador

Property deed

Arriving just before dinner, I was greeted with open arms and a most unexpected and delicious meal. French hospitality at its best.

The next morning I was off to explore Najac.

Najac: A Mini Rocamadour

Following the Aveyron River as it wove around narrow country roads, through lush green hills and valleys, I was forced to stop along the way to Najac to take photos and enjoy the views.

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Najac: A Mini Rocamadour

When I arrived in Najac it was all very quiet. The village center, literally a small square area with timber-framed shops, cafes, and other commercial establishments, looked like it was everyone’s day off. In fact, the only store open was a pottery shop.

Yes, I did buy the little red pitcher on the shelf.

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Since I had no idea where I was going, I strolled down what appeared to be the only road in town. Before long I saw a castle (château) in the distance.

mini rocamador

The Château de Najac

The farther I roamed the more interesting the vistas became.

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The town beyond the square was spread out along the long road, perched above the river. A splendid example of a 13th century bastide.

Château de Najac

Known for its medieval buildings and its château, Najac has been near major events of history since its beginning, including the first English occupation, the Albigensian Crusade, the Hundred Years’ War, the imprisonment of the Knights Templar, the peasants’ revolts, and the French Revolution. The château was built in 1253 at the summit of the hill overlooking the Aveyron at the bidding of Alphonse de Poitiers, the Count of Toulouse. Its location and design were key to controlling the region.

mini rocamadour

Najac

Today it remains a prime example of the type of military defense used in the 13th century to fight against the Cathars and during the Hundred Years War. The dungeon of the castle was used as a prison for the last Knights of the Rouergue.

Mini Rocamadour

Towers at each corner and a square tower, once part of the castle, helped guards coordinate defense of the château and the town.

Mini Rocamadour

The castle is known for its high, thin apertures — the tallest in France. The openings were used by archers, three at a time, who defended the castle and its inhabitants.

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Najac: Mini Rocamadour

Najac is one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France — the most beautiful villages of France. The castle, owned by the Cibiel family, has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1925.

Andy Newman, thanks for the tip. Pass it on! 

mini rocamadour

 

Wish for France

Moving to France? Here’s Advice, Help and Discounts

If you’re seriously thinking of moving to France, there’s a lot of information and help you will need. Here are some services and discounts for relocating to France to get you started. Believe me, I wish I had known about them years ago!

Relocation Seminar and Tours

It may seem adventurous to fumble your way through relocating to France, but it’s not the wisest move. Getting advice from a reputable service should be at the top of your list. From obtaining a visa to finding a place to live, Renestance has proven themselves over and over again to me. Many Barefoot Blogger followers have used and recommend their services, too.

For those of you who may be here in April, here’s an opportunity to learn more about relocating to France… Renesting in France Seminar.

Plus a discount just for you! Book before March 15th. (See below)

Book the seminar and a tour. Yes, there’s a tour of Uzès, too!

The 2019 seminar is followed by 3 Real Estate and Real Life tours to help you discover more about investing and living in the region.

  • Tuesday 9 April – Montpellier & Sète
  • Thursday 11 April – Béziers, Pézenas & Marseillan
  • Saturday 13 April – Uzès & Sommières

Relocating to France

 

relocating to France

 

Wish for France

Travel Corsica: From Sea to Snow-Capped Mountains

You have to Travel Corsica to believe how much the terrain of an island can change within a short drive.

The contrast between Corsica’s coastline with soft-curvy coves and the island’s mountain region with snow-capped mountains is remarkable.

 

With a week to visit the French island, I thought it would be a simple task to drive to the major towns — Bastia, Ajaccio, Corte, Calvi, Saint Florent, Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio. Not so. Now I’ve learned you measure the distance between towns in Corsica by hours, not miles.  Most roads are narrow and winding and go through populated towns and/or commercial areas. It can take you two hours to travel 15 miles (25km). That’s why I ended up seeing only a portion of the southern half of the island.

…and because I spent half the time at the beach or in the swimming pool. The Travel Corsica trip was a beach holiday, too.

 

Travel Corsica SouthTravel Corsica

Most of my time in Corsica was spent in the southern part of the island at the beaches around Porto Vecchio and in the town of Bonifacio. One day I took the mountainous route through the Corsica Regional Nature Park and visited Corte. Another day, Sartene. The scenery in each of the places could not have been more different.

The Beaches

The beaches in Corsica have everything I could ever wish for.  You can sit on a blanket in the sand or lounge on a chair at a private beach. (I’m the “on a lounge chair, under an umbrella, near a restaurant with fabulous seafood” type.)  With temperatures 10-15 degrees cooler than in Uzes when I left, the beach weather was perfect.  Beachside lunches of grilled sardines one day and tuna tartare the next day made this fish lover more than happy.

Let me not forget the wine from Corsica,  It’s devine…and incredibly affordable.  There are nine AOC wine regions in Corsica and more than thirty grape varieties. 

Needless to say, a wine tour of Corsica is something I won’t miss on my next trip.

 

Bonifacio – Corsica’s Oldest Town

Travel CorsicaMy first impression of Bonifacio was that it is not only a bustling tourist city, it’s also a busy port. As a matter of fact, there are three ports in Bonifacio — a fishing port, a pleasure port and a travel port. It is said that Bonifacio is the busiest port in France. The marina at the entrance of town is where the sea-based activities such as yachting and diving are centered . From the travel port, ships go in and out to nearby islands and to Sardinia which is less than 10 miles away.

As I walked toward the city on the hill,  I couldn’t resist taking photos along the way. 

Travel Corsica

In the distance was the 9th century Citadel standing prominently at the top of Bonifacio’s vieille ville (old town) or la Haute Ville (the Upper city). Through the years most of the citizens of Bonafacio lived in the old town, protected by the fortified Citadel. Today residents are scattered along the harbor and in new housing areas below the old city. Those who live on the most southern part of the city are perched on a cliff that plunges 230 feet (70 meters) to the sea.

Travel Corsica

As I walked through the gates of the old city, onto the cobblestone streets, there were narrow passageways, tiny shops, and dozens of cafes.

 

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Not too far away was the Citadel and remains of the old town’s fortifications. The Citadel has been rebuilt and repurposed many times since its construction. Today parts of it are used as a museum. 

 

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After seeing the city from the top, a boat ride to view it from the sea was a must. 

Travel Corsica Regional Nature Park

High above the sea is Corsica’s Regional Nature Park. The protected area covers over 1300 square miles (3,500 square km) of the the islanda — approximately 40% of its total surface.  Established to preserve the island’s natural wildlife, the success of the project can be witnessed by the numbers of  golden eagles, bearded vultures, boars, deer and wildcats that flourish in the environment.

 

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Corte – Corsica’s Early Capital

High in the mountains of Corsica is the colorful town of Corte and, like a beacon on a hill, its towering Citadel .

Travel Corsica

Corte, Corsica

Corte was my favorite place to visit in Corsica. It’s mountainous setting and its houses and buildings painted in bright orange, yellow and red colors made the small town unique and inviting.

 

Corte had a fairytale feeling about it. 

 

I could hardly believe I was seeing this man hanging out of his window. He waved as he saw me take the photo. 

 

Here are more of my favorite views of Corte.

 

Sartene – Pirates and Bandits 

Sartene was on my Tour Corsica list because of a story about pirates I wanted to track down. Supposedly pirates kidnapped people of the town; carried them away on their pirate ships; and they were never found or heard of again. I couldn’t find any evidence of the tale, but I did find an interesting museum with artifacts from the days of Romans.

 

I also enjoyed roaming through the streets, shopping and taking in the scenery.Travel Corsica

 

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Only a short drive away from Sartene I was at the sea again. Tucked away in a cozy cove was L’Escale with more gorgeous fish. 

 

Now you know why I must return to Tour Corsica. There’s so much more. So much to see. So much to do!

Marseille, Resilient After All

Admittedly, my old view of Marseille came from mob and war stories in books, on TV and movies.

Now after visiting the city, I’m impressed. To me Marseille’s story is one of resilience. It shows how perseverance conquers adversity.

Marseille’s Story: Prehistory and Ancient Massalia

Marseille’s StoryThe earliest settlements in the area, now know as Marseille, date back to the Paleolithic period (60,000 BC). Residents lived along the Marseille basin which was about the size of the current city. The location was ideal for all types of sea activities. It was protected on the opposite side from the strong northerly wind, Les Mistral, by a range of tall mountains.

Around 600 BC the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, arrived in the area to be close to their trading partner, Gaul. They named the city “Massalia.”

Marseille’s Story

Remains of Greek temple

A popular legend is that Massalia was a wedding gift from the Gallic king, Nannos, to his daughter upon her marriage to a Greek sailor. The story supports the belief that the nations were peaceful at that time. We do know the blending of the two cultures resulted in the introduction of olive oil, wine, ceramics and Grecian gods into the Gaelic world.

Marseille’s Story

From 600 BC to 49 BC the independent Greek city of Massalia grew into a prestigious seaport. Its sea trade, its infrastructure and its political system dominated the trade routes. They distributed goods along the coasts of Gaul to Iberia.

Marseille’s Story

Model of early Massalia

Marseille’s Story: The Roman City

Caesar captured Massalia in 49 BC. Artifacts unearthed at a site where the History Museum now stands attest to the Roman influence on the town. Massalia’s habits and customs, however, remained strongly Greek. Even the language.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: Sacked, Ravaged, Back on Track

From the Roman age through medieval times, the city that became Marseille saw great prosperity and near-total destruction. The Visigoths captured Marseille and the Franks sacked it. In the early 10th century, Marseille experienced a revival as part of a Provençal territory which was divided in two. Arles and Marseille were the capitals.

During the twelfth century, Marseille was an independent republic with strong trade relations and naval prowess. A currency of its own boosted the city’s stature as well.

Marseille’s Story: A French Center of Commerce

Marseille’s StoryMarseille maintained political autonomy until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in 1481 along with Provence. Through years of religious wars and changes in French rulers, Marseille maintained its role as a major center of commerce and a vital port for defense. The city had an arsenal and fleets of warships.

Marseille’s Story

Fort Saint John

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was given “free port” status. To affirm his political power, the king ordered a new urban plan for the city. The size of Marseille went from 65 hectares to 195. Straight streets lined with mansions appeared, including the Canebière that leads to the Old Port. The new city had a fort and a new town hall.

The Great Plague

Thought to be carried from Central Asia through ship crews, the Great Plague of 1720 devastated Marseille. Over 30,000 out of the city’s population of 90,000 died from the outbreak.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: The Revolution

The people of Marseille supported the Revolution sending hundreds of men north to Paris to fight. Along the way the rebellious marchers sang a song that is now the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

Marseille’s Story

Troops from Marseille as depicted on the Arch de Triomphe in Paris

Marseille’s Story: Boom Time and Gangs

The middle of the nineteenth century was a “boom” time for Marseille. The port became a maritime hub for the rest of the world. Trade with the Far East and major shipping lines boosted the creation of a modern culture. At the same time, prosperity cut a deep wedge between the already divided city. The rich against the working class.

Marseille’s Story

Refugees, expelled or fleeing from their countries after WWI, brought droves of Italians, Corsicans, Germans, Armenians and Spaniards to Marseille in search of work. The world of gangsters and the underground grew under leaders such as Carbone and Spirito.

Marseille’s Story

Paul Carbone (top) and François Spirito

Marseille’s Story: Modern War and Destruction

The image of Marseille as a den of violence, drugs and crime is persistent in the eyes of many. Big screen movies and TV series, still today, such as “Marseille” help perpetuate the city’s reputation. Marseille is the second largest city in France today, so an element of such activity can be expected.

It’s how Marseille survived the apocalypse during World War II that is nearly incomprehensible.

Marseilles’ Story

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The Old Port and surrounding districts were bombed and destroyed. The Germans, the Vichy government, the Militia and the French Popular Party actively suppressed the people. In January, 1943, more than 2,000 Marseillais were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 

Like a phoenix, Marseille thrives. 

Marseille has an enduring charm. The metropolitan area of 1.5 million people consists of a melange of people of all races, creeds and nationalities. It is a place of huge economic, social and cultural significance to France. Marseille is proud and it shows.

Marseille’s Story

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

Walk in Uzès

Home Again In Uzès

 After two weeks away at language school in Aix-en-Provence, it’s wonderful to be back home in Uzès. Join me on a morning walk to town. 

Home in Uzès

It’s Wednesday. That means market day in Uzès with local vendors. They bring my favorite tapenades, like anchoïade spread, and only fresh, seasonal products.

That’s why many who make their home in Uzès prefer to shop on Wednesdays.

Wednesday Market – The market on Wednesdays in a scaled-down version of the weekend event. Most of the vendors are selling food items that are local to the region. The market is mainly in the Plaza aux Herbes which gives visitors a chance to get a good look at the permanent shops located along the main streets and alleyways. ... (read more here…)

Oh yes… mind the road. Construction is everywhere. There’ll be new walkways all around for the tourists. They’ll be here soon!

No wonder. There are so many things to enjoy seeing in Uzès …  like the Medieval Garden, the Fenestrelle tower, and the Cathedral of Saint Théodorit with it’s classic French organ. Pull out your camera and capture some amazing photos that the people and town provide. Narrow, cobblestone streets lined with 12th century architecture are everywhere.

Home in uzes

Today’s French Lesson: “Parler de l’Amour”

It’s St. Valentine’s Day. What better time to learn French, the language of love?

In French class today at IS Aix-en-Provence we dove into a treasure chest of words and phrases the French use to express their feelings of love.

Would your heart go pitter-patter if your loved one called you “ma Puce” (my Flea)?

If someone said “avoir un cœur d’artichaut*” is it a compliment?

(*fall in love easily)

French the love language

I was surprised to be told that perfume tops the gift list for Saint Valentine’s Day in France, not a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Flowers are always good. Lingerie is even better –in red, of course.

Restaurants and cafes are packed for the occasion. Boulangeries are stacked with heart-shaped, chocolate-filled, cream-puffed, decadent delicacies of every description.

“Croyez-vous au coup de foudre?” Do you believe in love at first sight?

I do.

Click here for information on the French language school IS Aix-en-Provence

Learning French: Pétanque, Pastis et Passé Composé

If I had known that learning French is fun, I would have done it a long time ago.

Perhaps it’s fun now because I’m in one of the most beautiful towns in France: Aix-en-Provence.

Learning French is fun

Learning French is fun

Learning French is fun

French is fun

Perhaps French is fun because I love weekend markets.

Learning French is fun

Learning French is fun

Or it’s fun because boulangeries and chocolate shops are showing off in a most extravagant way.

Learning French is fun

Learning French is fun

Learning French is fun

French is fun

The school where I’m taking lessons, IS Aix-en-Provence, is surely the reason that learning French is fun this time around. Classes are small and the instructors are enthusiastic and encouraging.

Learning French is fun

Outside activities are part of the weekly plan so students can explore Aix; tour nearby towns; join cooking classes; or, as I did this week, play pétanques.

Learning French is fun

Learning French is fun

Even when we’re told to learn passé compose, it’s fun at IS Aix. For example my first week:

J’ai rencontré des étudiants du monde entier.

Learning French is fun

Nous avons appris à parler Français dans de petites classes.

Learning French is fun

Je suis allée au centre-ville parce-que c’était à proximité.

Learning French is fun

For more information about learning French in Aix-en-Provence visit www.is-Aix.com

Learning French is fun

French lessons

French Lessons in Aix-en-Provence

If I could choose anyplace in the world for French lessons, it would be Aix-en-Provence. Just being here makes me feel like speaking French.

The cozy cafes…

French lessons

Elegant courtyards with fountains…

French lessons

…and colorful neighborhood markets.

French lessons

The language will surely sink in.

French lessons at IS Aix-en-Provence

My first days at IS Aix-en-Provence have been more productive and fun than I ever imagined. Believe it or not, I haven’t been nervous or anxious about my poor language skills at all. The staff and atmosphere at the school are relaxed and welcoming.

French lessons

You can tell from the moment you enter the school grounds — which is much like a private compound — that the business runs like a well-oiled machine. Having been around for over forty years, IS consistently proves they know the art of teaching French.

French lessons

French lessons from Day 1

When I signed up for the course at IS, I chose to attend the two week course and stay with a French-speaking hostess. As luck would have it, my hostess and I are close to the same age and she lives within a five-minute walking distance to the school — past a beautiful park, I might add.

French lessons

My first day of classes, I was sent merrily on my way by my hostess after a traditional French “petit déjeuner” and a cheerful bidding, “bonne chance.”

French lessons

At school I joined a group of newcomers and met members of the staff who welcomed us and introduced our course of study. Later we were tested for our individual class placement.

Believe it or not, I placed in A2 which means I can: “understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (very basic personal information, shopping, local geography, employment, etc.) Can communicate in simple routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.”

Thank goodness for the ten-week experience in French hospitals.

My class for the two-week period consists of four students and two instructors who alternate days of teaching. Already the class of one Canadian, one Austrian, one Brazilian, plus me, an American, have bonded.

French lessons

It’s going to be a great time filled with French language learning and lots of laughs. Stay tuned…

For more information about French lessons at IS Aix-in-Provence click here

French lessons

Learning French. Getting There.

It’s taken five years for the Barefoot Blogger to get to the point where she’s making progress in her new language. Now I’m learning French in Aix-en-Provence.

Learning French. What’s taken so long?

If you’ve been following the Barefoot Blogger, you’ve read at least six blog posts about “learning French,” starting with this one from 2013: “I’m Not Learning French.” There’s no real reason you should believe I’m serious now, is there?

Au contraire. Until now I’ve never “committed myself to a two-week, live-in, immersive French school experience.

Why now?

The big reason that I’m taking the leap to attend an immersion language school is that I might have a chance to be successful. The recent 10+ week experience in French hospitals gave me an intensive dose of listening to, learning and muttering French, live or die.

Seriously.

With practically no one around who spoke French during my hospital stay, it was critical that I pay attention and wrap my mind around the language: speaking and being heard. It all began to make sense to me. Now that I can utter a few intelligible sentences in French and I’m ready to build on it.

Learning French in Aix-en-Provence

A couple of years ago the language school IS Aix-en-Provence contacted me about their French school. My guess is that someone at the school read my blog and thought “if we can teach this 60-something American lady to speak French, we can teach anyone.”

After a few trys to schedule my visit, complicated by travel and other issues such as accidents, etc., we settled in on the first two weeks in February. It fit in between my move to a new apartment in Uzés and a trip back to the States.

The date suited my two good buddies in Uzés, too, so they volunteered to drive me to school to explore Aix-en-Provence. So off we went.

Learning French in Aix

Paula, Trish and me in Aix

Exploring Aix

Arriving in Aix the day before the start of classes, my friends and I filled our time with shopping, picture-taking and eating–our favorite pastimes, regardless of locale. The Hotel Le Concorde where we stayed was cheap and cheerful and within easy walking distance for it all.

Retail navigation

Since the purpose of our early arrival in Aix was to explore the town, we had no idea where when we started out. We resisted pulling out a map or GPS. It would be too “touristy.” Interestingly, before long, we were navigating around town by memory. We’d learned our way by recalling stores and shop windows we’d seen and visited.

Learning French in Aix-en-Provence

Dinner at Portofino, a restaurant in the Place Forum des Cardeurs, was memorable–especially the gigantic “bowl” of fresh Parmesan cheese where the chef mixed fresh pasta and herbs.

Learning French in Aix-en-provence

Sunday Market

One of the best things about visiting Aix on the weekend is the markets. We were too late arriving in town on Saturday to go before it closed. So on Sunday we headed to the food market near the Hôtel de Ville which was cheerful and bustling, in spite of the cold weather.

French school in Aix

French school in Aix

Learning French in Aix

What a wonderful way to start a new adventure!

Learning French in Aix

Moving to France: Patience

I’m not a very patient person. Never have been. When I moved to France, I knew it would try my patience.

Moving is one thing. Learning a new way to deal with bureaucracy and red tape takes frustration to a whole new dimension.

It takes patience

My move to a new apartment in Uzès, on top of recovering from my September 18th nightmare, has brought back to mind how difficult it is to do simple things in my new country… like having WiFi and telephone installed, or expecting dependable heating and hot water. You know, the essentials. I’m now two weeks in my new place and I’m still struggling with all of the above.

When I recently complained in an email to a new friend and blog follower, she reminded me of a post published five years ago. “You sound just as frustrated as you did when you first landed in Uzès,” she said.

Yep.

I must say, it’s worth a bit of agony to be here. I’m literally one step off street level. Three steps from my front door into the living area.

France takes patience

While the magnificent view of the Duché is no longer outside my office window, and the Medieval Garden is missing from my bedroom view, I’ve gained a regal courtyard and easy access. The latter is a godsend.

France takes patience

A new perspective

The September 18th nightmare wasn’t supposed to happen for at least five years. Five years from now I would have said “it’s time to go back to the States.” My whirlwind adventure in France would have ended with a big grand finale. 

That’s not how it’s going to end now. I haven’t had my fill of France.

Instead, I’m looking forward to stepping out this street-level door to spend more time with French neighbors and friends. After five years of watching the French enjoy their special kind of lifestyle, I’m going to try to participate. 

Yes, I’m going to be out there and I’m going to be speaking in French!

Stay tuned for next week’s news and another great adventure. A French language school in Aix-en-Provence. I’m so excited and you’ll be coming along, too! 

France takes patience

South of France Memories Tour 2019: Only 4 Spots Left!

Sign up now for the South of France holiday you’ll never forget.

While the Barefoot Blogger has been distracted with a move to a new apartment in Uzes and NO wifi, my friend and cohort Patricia Sands has been busy gathering our next new best friends for the 2019 South of France Memories You Promised Yourself Tour 2019. 

Only 4 Spots Left!!

We’ve done all the trip planning.

The “South of France Memories” tour itinerary was created by one of the top experts in travel in the south of France — Absolutely Southern France. It is designed for all travelers — veterans and novices.  Our itinerary includes some of the most visited places in the south of France — and some that are just getting on the travel radar. From the Côte d’Azur to village markets to historic towns to wild life sanctuaries, we’ll experience it all.

Here’s an overview of the destinations for our 2019 women’s tour. It includes 12 days of exploring, touring, eating, drinking and making new friends. For all the facts and cost, click here.

  • Stroll the seaside Promenade des Anglais in Nice and tour the colorful city
  • Meander through cobblestone streets of Saint Paul de Vence, filled with history, galleries and charming shops
  • Discover Eze and the spectacular gardens of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
  • Explore the ancient harbor town Antibes, Patricia’s home away from home
  • Walk in Cézanne’s footsteps in Aix en Provence
  • Savor vibrant, trendy Sète and a culinary adventure
  • Live in Arles among roman treasures, world-renowned  architecture and the spirit  of Van Gogh
  • Enjoy a safari to observe the Camargue’s unique flora, fauna and rose-colored salt marshes
  • Experience market day in St Remy de Provence & the spectacular Carrières de Lumières in les Baux de Provence
  • Peek into the Barefoot Blogger’s world in Uzés, Pont du Gard
  • Join harvest time and taste the wine

Life is short.

Sometimes you have to get packing and make memories you promised yourself.

visit the south of France

 

 

Much Ado About French Truffles in Uzès

Uzès is famous for French truffles. Black ones. Pigs and dogs sniff them out from beneath the roots of trees.

Before I moved to France I knew very little about truffles. This naive southern belle thought truffles only came in a fancy gold box from Godiva. My favorite truffle was a devine, creamy dark chocolate.

Now I know that a truffle is a fungus, not a chocolate, and it’s a culinary delicacy, a fungus, that can cost upwards of $85,000 a pound.

Each year Uzès goes all out to celebrate truffle season. The celebration can last almost a month with lots of truffle-themed activities taking place  in and around town. The festival’s peak weekend is towards the end of the month with various truffle hunts, a truffle market, a blessing over truffles in the Cathedral and a big money-making truffle auction.

Since this year is my fourth time attending the Truffé Fête, I’ve taken in many of the events. Check out the posts listed below to revisit them with me. It’s hard to choose, but I believe going on a  truffle hunt last year was one of my favorites. Table & Truffes & Calèche. It started with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Uzès and ended with a very classy truffle and wine tasting at the elegant 17th century Hôtel Particulier, La Maison d’Uzès.

Join me on this video tour and see for yourself.

Better yet, join me next year in Uzès!

For more information on the 2019 Truffle Festival in Uzès, click here.

More about Truffles

Homage to a Truffle Hunting Pig

Mystical, Magical Truffles: Alba’s White Truffle Festival

Expat in France

5 Years an Expat in France

5 Years an Expat in France…

Would you believe? It’s been five years since I started my expat adventure in France. After all this time, I’m as as excited as ever about being here. And not a bit trepidatious at what lies ahead.

Highlights: 5 Years an Expat in France

Feeling at home

My little apartment that’s up 55 steps in a tower across from the Duché in Uzes is just as charming as it was on first sight. I still love it. The fact that it is in the middle of all the activity in Uzés is still a plus.

Expat in France

I love leaning out my window when I hear horses’ hooves clomping around the Place de Duché. Sometimes it’s a horse-drawn cart and driver who take care of the potted flowers in the square. Sometimes it’s a coach filled with tourists visiting the town.

Expat in France

I will say, however, there’s a change in the works. Not a move from Uzés, but a bit of repositioning. A chance to get to know the town from a new perspective. Stay tuned…

Making friends

Living in France is a constant whirl of activities with lots of friends. Some friends are French; others are expats; and some are “regulars” or part time expats who return year after year.

Expat in France

Initially, it wasn’t easy to make friends. Especially since I didn’t speak a word of French. Now that I’ve been here for a while, I’m recognized by locals, in the kindest way, as the “American who still doesn’t speak French.”

Travel, travel and more travel

Living in the south of France has to be the best place ever to see the world. That’s probably not the truth, but it seems so. Coming from the US, where it can take 7 hours to travel from Beaufort, South Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia, it’s amazing how you can get from one country to another in so little time. Easy access to travel by train simplifies things, too.

Beginning the “Memories Tour”

A new adventure started in 2018 — the first of the “South of France Memories You Promised Yourself” tour with my great friend and best-selling author, Patricia Sands. We started a tradition of yearly women’s tours, organized by Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, my partner in crime and tour planner extraordinaire from Sete. My first ever time tour leading may not have ended up as planned, but along the way I met sixteen new friends I will hold close and in my heart forever. Tour plans for 2019 are ready for you to join. Stay tuned …

Facing my fears

What could be more frightening than having a serious accident while in a “foreign country?” Happily I’m now acquainted with the French healthcare system. There could be no finer anywhere in the world.

Blogging

expat in FranceWhile I’m aghast how 5 years have flown by, I’m equally amazed I’m still writing and loving the Barefoot Blogger.

To tell you the truth, the “Barefoot Blogger” has taken on a life of her own. The person I write about now is an out-of-body extension of myself. As she fumbles her way through life and travels in and about France, it’s amazing she’s survived without more mishaps.

The best part about blogging is connecting with readers. Some visit Uzès and contact me to meet up. We’re like instant friends.

Loving France

Where can I possibly begin to express how much I’ve grown to love France. From early on I confessed I never imagined spending a lot of time in France, much less living here.

Life in Uzés over the past five years has been like living a dream. The longer I stay the more I’m attached to the rhythm of the town and its people. Coexisting with centuries-old architecture and ancient history has changed me.

Expat in France

Learning French

Surely you are weary hearing how I’ve struggled to learn French. Please don’t count how many times I’ve said: “I’m turning a new leaf. I’m taking French lessons.”

Not to disappoint, I have a new plan for in place for Expat Year #6. Stay tuned…

expat in France

Moving to France Healthcare

Moving to France: Healthcare

One of the most asked questions for this American expat in France is about healthcare. “What do you do about healthcare when moving to France?”

The simple reply is “travelers insurance.” The answer you really want to know is “don’t worry about it.”

I couldn’t be more serious. If you’re going to be insured or sick, you couldn’t find a better place to do it than France. Yes, you can take it from one who knows. I’ve just completed a 10-week stint going through an emergency operation, hospitalization and rehab hospitalization in the South of France.

The post below was written when I was literally flat on my back in the hospital. Since then I’ve returned to my apartment in Uzés, back up the 55 steps, and I’m going to physical therapy 5 days a week. I’m walking there and back. It’s been a really long road; albeit, an amazing experience. It’s given me great respect for the French, their hospitals and the staffs. And I’ve learned a bit of French — out of sheer necessity. Very few people I encountered along the way spoke English.

I’ll be honest, the travelers insurance company hasn’t kicked in to repay me, but so far, the bills are minimal. My surgeon and the hospital continue to say there’s no charge for the emergency surgery or 10-day hospital stay afterwards. The rehab hospitals have yet to totally bill me, but I understand it’s like 220 euros a day for room, board and 2 hours of physical therapy a day. I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s the story …

The Barefoot Blogger is going to step out of her carefree expat role to talk about something that is critically important to me at this moment: Healthcare.

As I type with one finger of my left hand, I am lying in a bed in a rehabilitation hospital outside Nimes, France.

I’ve been hospitalized in the French healthcare system now since September 18, the date I fell crossing the street while co-leading a ladies’ tour with my good friend, author Patricia Sands.

A unique perspective on my French vs. USA healthcare from one who has experienced a similar orthopedic injury and treatment in both countries.

I wrote about the accident in a previous post. I knew I’d be writing an “inside story” about my experience with the French medical system as an American expat.

Telling the story now, prior to the upcoming election in the US, seems the perfect time.

French Healthcare: Hospital Admission

My accident occurred in Aigues-Mortes, a historic walled city in the south of France, on Tuesday afternoon, September 18.

After my fall I was taken by ambulance to the hospital of my choice, Centre Hospitalizer Universitaire Carémeau, in Nimes. A hospital in Montpelier was a nearby alternative, but Nîmes was closer to my home in Uzès. Both are university hospitals with excellent  reputations.

The ambulance ride to the hospital in Nimes was traumatic, just as you’d expect. The heat, the pain and my anxiety were all at play. Fortunately, the hospital was less than an hour away.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked a few questions, fortunately by someone who spoke English. Simple things like my full name, where I lived and did I have allergies. No one asked for my passport, for any type of formal identification, or for proof of medical insurance.

The admissions process, emergency room examination, X-rays and placement in a semi-private room took about 3 hours.

A longtime friend who was on the ladies’ tour was allowed to accompany me through each stage of the process. “To hold my hand.” The hospital staff quickly knew neither of us spoke French.

French Healthcare: Surgery

The hospital I was taken to in Nimes after the accident is a university hospital. They have a large, active emergency care unit. Since my situation was far from life-threatening, my surgery was not performed immediately. It was more like 36 hours later.

Meanwhile, I was in a semi-private room with a patient who was awaiting her second knee operation. Not because of my room nor roommate, but I was pretty miserable. No morphine or heavy pain killers were given to me prior to surgery. I was told morphine was not allowed because of its adverse affects on anesthetics administered during surgery.

I remember how relieved I was when the mask went on my face at the beginning of surgery. I knew when I woke up I would be in la la land.

French Healthcare: Post Surgery

I had no idea where I was when I awoke from surgery. No one spoke English. All I remember is that I was moved around a bit, probably from on level of surgery aftercare to another.

Fortunately I was cognizant that I was in France, that I was alive, and that I wanted to move to my room as quickly as possible so people would let me be. So I said “c’est bien” anytime I was asked a question. No telling what I was agreeing to.

For ten days I occupied a hospital bed in a large double room with a dear French woman who became my new best friend, Chantal. She spoke not a word of English. Nevertheless, we carried on a daily ritual something like this:

Bonjour, Deborah,” she said each morning. “Comment allez vous?” she’d ask.

Bonjour, Chantal,” I’d respond. “Ça va bien, “ I’d answer. Then “ Comment allez vous?”

The simple question\answer exercise would continue through the day — every day — ending with our shared “Bonne nuit.”

Moving to France Healthcare

My hospital room with Chantal

My daily care during the ten days in the hospital (“hopital” in French) was extraordinarily good. Except for the bad food and occasional curt response from a nurse or “ colleague,” presumedly because my French was unintelligible, I was treated well. There was a time or two when I was left too long on a bedpan, but the small things could be overlooked when I considered my every physical need was being tended 24/7.

Moving to France Healthcare

A fabulous nurse and aide at Carémeau Hospital

French Healthcare: Rehab

Sometime before the end of my ten days in the hospital in Nimes, I learned I was being transferred for physical rehabilitation to a hospital in a small town outside Nimes. I was not going to the rehab hospital in Uzès as I’d expected. It was fully occupied. For the first time since the ordeal started, I cried. In fact, I boo-hooed.

The idea that I was going to some unknown village where no one would speak English was terrifying. Thoughts of Jane Eyre came to my mind. I envisioned being cast away behind stone walls where I would be starved and mistreated. What had I done to deserve such a fate?

When I came to my senses, I realized I could find out about the strange new place by simply searching the Internet. There I discovered I was headed for a brand new hospital, built in 2016, with a sterling reputation for orthopedic rehabilitation. Case closed. I was content with my fate.

Moving to France Healthcare

(Upper left) Nurse and English-speaking Doctor (Upper right) Rehab hospital outside Nimes (Lower left) My physical therapist, Clement, also English/speaking (Lower right) Me in motion

French Healthcare: Cost

It’s day 40 since I have been hospitalized in France due to a hip and shoulder fracture. Except for a bill for the ambulance that transferred me from the Nimes hospital to the rehab hospital outside Nimes, and a bill for compression stockings, I have not been asked to pay for anything.

The costs for the items above were 76 euros ($86.83) and 56 euros ($63.98) respectively. I paid those bills by check. I will be reimbursed by the travel insurance company when I file a claim.

For time spent in the rehab hospital, I will receive a bill when I leave. A friend who inquired about payment for the rehab hospital was told it will cost 197 euros per day ($224). Included in the cost is physical therapy: 1 1/2 hours each day, Monday through Friday.

News flash: I have heard I won’t be billed for my time at the hospital in Nimes. Not for the surgery nor the 10 days as an inpatient.

There is no charge for emergency services in France.

Let that sink in.

Tomorrow I am moving to the rehab hospital in Uzès. My doctor here pulled a few strings to have me transferred. Perhaps she did it because she thought it would be good for me to be closer to home and to my friends. Or, she might have wanted to get rid of me. Draw your own conclusion. Either way, I’m “outta here.”

The plan is for me to stay in Uzès until November 6 when I’ll be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Nimes. If all checks out and my bones are healed, I’ll spend the next 3 to 4 weeks in the Uzès rehab hospital and begin weight-bearing exercises to regain my mobility.

When the doctor releases me, I’ll be able to return to independent living and out-patient rehab.

Next: US Healthcare “A comparison”

Stay tuned for Part 2 …..

For More on French Healthcare for Expats Contact Renestance

Moving to France: The Visa

Looks like lots of folks are thinking about moving to France. First, the visa. This post was #1 among blog followers in 2018. Bonne chance!

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to renew the French Expat Visa. It’s a gift from France that keeps on giving.

Wish I could say that everything about living in France is wonderful. But when it comes to dealing with French bureaucracy, frankly, it can be a nightmare.

As an American expat, I’m required to renew my long-stay visa yearly.  It allows me to stay in France 12 months. When renewing a visa you have to make an appointment at the local Prefector. You have to make the appointment online no earlier than two months before your visa expires. You can’t submit documents online. Most aggravating, the information you have to provide is the same your gave them the year before. You can’t just update it. You have to start all over again.

Here’s the list of items I have to produce this year. Mind you, not all regions of France have the same requirements. Wherever you are, however, materials except for your passport must be translated to French — including bank statements and proof of revenue.

  • Current carte de séjour
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate and translation
  • Proof of address (less than 3 months old)
  • 3 ID photos
  • Proof of revenue (proof that you have at least 1149 EUR per month)
  • Written statement (in French) that you will not work in France

Once your card is ready to pick up, you pay €269 in fiscal stamps. 

Renewing a French Expat Visa

Renewing my visa last year was a real pain. It was to expire in August. So I went to the website of the Prefecture in Nimes in June, two months in advance, as instructed, to set up an appointment.

“No appointments available. Try again,” it said in French, of course.

Moving to France Visa

I tried the website again the next day. Same response. And the next day. And the day after that. The same screen appeared each time. “No appointment available. Try again.”

By the end of July, with no appointment, I was beginning to worry. I was told by others they were having the same problem.

“No need going to Nimes in person to ask for an appointment,” they said. Online only.

French expat visaOh, what to do? Visions of gendarmes at my door were running through my head. Worse yet, what if I finally got an appointment, and it was in September?!  I had plans to be in the Dordogne! How could I be in two places at one time? All those non-refundable reservations! Panic!

I started asking around for help. That’s when I heard about a company that helps expats cut through French red tape. Renestance. They literally came to my rescue.

The Renestance office is in Montpelier.  They can help expats wherever they live in France. Jennifer, whom I got to know quite well, lives in Nimes. We met more than once. She could easily go with me to the Prefecture in Nimes. Whenever we could get an appointment.

Renestance was having the same problem with the Nimes website with all their clients. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Renewing a French Expat Visa…finally

Finally, after sending a registered letter to the Prefecture explaining my carte de séjour had expired, I had an appointment. November 29th at noon. By that time I’d spent a vacation in the Dordogne agonizing that I might miss an appointment date. And I’d cancelled my plans to spend the holidays with my family in the States. Oh, the frustration!

During all the waiting, Renestance was busy working on my case. They were online multiple times each day and night checking to see if the website was accepting appointments. They were managing the translation of my documents. Most of all, they were dealing with me!

For example, the “original copy” of the birth certificate that I ordered from the courthouse in North Carolina, where I was born, the one my son hand carried to France when he visited, was lost. Bless his heart, my dear son went to the county courthouse, in person, picked up another “original” birth certificate for me, and sent it by FedEx to France.

By the time November 29th rolled around, everything was ready for the appointment in Nimes. Jennifer met me at the train station, guided me to the Prefector’s office, which had moved sometime over the past year, and she walked me through the whole process. Which, by the way, would have been impossible for me without speaking the language. Yes, American Jennifer speaks perfect French. It was another three months before I actually had a new carte de séjour in hand, but I had a signed government document that served the purpose.

So now, when anyone asks me if there’s anyone in France who can help Americans or other English-speaking expats through the French bureaucracy, the answer is “Yes!” Renestance. They help with visas, drivers’ licences, relocation issues and more. Jennifer is helping me again this year. She’s already made an appointment at the Prefector on March 5th. It’s all under control.

Thank you Renestance!

 

Read about the first experience with a French Visa

 

Moving to France drama

Moving to France: The Drama

Five years ago the Barefoot Blogger started her extraordinary journey to live in France. Remembering some of my early days moving to France, the drama and friends is so much fun. This is one of my favorite blogs 2013 … enjoy!

If “Dancing Queen” from the movie “Mama Mia” came into your mind last Friday, it was me blasting the music from iTunes through my rooftop in France. I was celebrating that my internet connection and phone in the apartment were finally working!

To tell the truth, before then, I was close to a meltdown. My lack of French language skills was about to get the best of me. Imagine trying to place a service call to the cable or telephone company if you can’t communicate. There’s o way to get through an automated phone answering system if you can’t speak French!

The drama

Move to France dramaEveryday I was showing up at my friend Geoffrey’s house with a “Deborah-do” list. He’s the only bi-lingual person I know that I’ve felt comfortable asking ffavors. However, depending on him to deal with my never-ending household issues was getting to be a bit much. Even for me, the “Queen of do-me-a-favor ple..eee…ase.”

So last Thursday morning I stopped by the town’s tourist office to ask about a newcomers group I heard about last summer. The receptionist gave me verbal directions to the newcomers’ office. Wasting no more time, I set out to find it. After a few wrong turn I came to the athletic field mentioned in the directions.  A sign led me to a tiny building inside the fence at the far end of the playing field. The squat, stone structure looked like a baseball dugout shelter; except it had a door at the end closest to me and barred windows on the sides.

The fence gate was open and just inside the gate a dirt path led to the entrance door. When there I turned the worn knob and pushed my weight against the heavy, wooden door.  Expecting to see a reception desk inside, or at least to hear a “bonjour”, I saw only a hallway of closed doors and heard muffled voices coming from behind one of the doors.

Moving to France dramaWalking towards the voices I reached the room that, I hoped, would be full of English-speaking people. Opening the door and sticking my head inside the tiny, dimly lit room, my eyes met the glares from at least a dozen men and women, all sitting around a table. They were probably conducting a very important meeting of some kind, which I rudely interrupted. But surely they would understand. I was on a mission.

I needed someone, anyone, to come to my rescue… to speak English.

Before I was totally into the room, a kind young woman stood up from behind the table to greet me at the door . But by then, I had blurted out “does anyone speak English?”

No one said a word. They just looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak up.

Silence.

“What??” I said to myself. ” No one speaks English? What kind of a “welcome”  group is this?!”

Fortunately, none of that ‘head-talk’ came out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I’m sure every person in the room, from the look on their faces, got the message and said in their own heads: “Ugly American!”

Meanwhile, the nice lady who was standing with me quickly grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hall, and closed the door behind us. With sign language and a few French words that I could understand, she managed to communicate that I should come back the next week for French lessons.

In total despair, I walked home. Right past Geoffrey’s house.

As fate would have it

Friday morning I was surprised to hear my new cellphone ringing. I’d purchased it for calls in France and I couldn’t imagine who would be calling me. It was Geoffrey. He announced he had found the perfect person to help me with my phone and internet problems. His English friend, Andy, could help me out for a few hours — for a small fee.

Eureka! Within a couple of hours of showing up at my apartment, Andy worked miracles. The internet, the landline, the wifi connections … all were up and running. On top of that, the plumber was on his way to find out why I had no hot water, and to turn on the radiators. I had been taking cold showers for five days and the apartment was cold at night. No wonder I was getting hysterical.

While my new best friend had fulfilled his intended mission, he inadvertently informed me he had a van.

A van! A strong, young man with a van! My prayers were answered. Now my ten boxes that were stuck in a warehouse in Marseilles could be rescued !The boxes filled with clothes and household items were shipped from the States in August and had been “held hostage” since early October. I was having a spat with the handling company and customs agent about taxes. (Another story, another time.)

Quick trip to Marseilles

This tale is best told by pictures.

Driving the two hours to Marseilles was no problem. Finding the warehouse where the boxes were stored was another story. Our GPS map didn’t take into consideration there is massive construction work underway around the port in Marseilles.

Moving to France drama

 

At the warehouse everything looked orderly and well-managed. Then my boxes were trucked on a forklift to the door.

Please no! These can’t be mine!

Notice there are no pictures of Andy hauling the boxes up the 55 steps to the tower apartment. I didn’t have the nerve!

Moving to France drama

Home at last!

Moving to France Drama: Stress, yes. But fun along the way

When I look back on my first month living in France, I can easily say the “good times” have outnumbered the “bad”.

Hanging out with Geoffrey almost every day has been an adventure in itself –with enough stories to fill a book. It’s given me a great chance to meet some interesting “characters”. These are not the kind of folks you’d meet at fancy social gatherings. They are the people you’d pass on the street. Luckily I’ve had a chance to get to know them and experience their ways and antics. Here are just a few …

Rugby Reggie

Reggie is from the French Basque country. “I’m Basque” he proudly proclaims in his raspy, deep voice to anyone within listening distance. He lives on the same street as Geoffrey and spends a lot of time on his doorstep. When he’s not teaching the young boys in town how to play rugby. Reggie (shown on the right) and his good friend Matthew gave me permission to use their names and pictures in the blog. I told them they could say “Hi” to the many women who like to read about life in France.

The day this picture was taken Reggie and Matthew moved a mural and wrought iron patio set  I bought from Geoffrey from his house to my apartment. Little did they know that, aside from carrying the mural and patio set through the streets of Uzes, with no vehicle, they’d also have to climb the 55 steps to my “tower” apartment.

The part that no one knew was that the mural was too big to come up the winding tower steps.Did that stop Reggie the Basque? Of course not! With a stroke of shear genius, Reggie figured out how to hoist the mural up the side of the tower wall and maneuver it sideways into the upper window of the apartment. Voila!

Michel and Nicholas come for dinner

Perhaps the two most delightful characters I’ve met in Uzès are Michel and Nicholas. Both were invited, along with me and Geoffrey’s girlfriend Nandine, to have dinner with Geoffrey on a Sunday afternoon.

Geoffrey prepared a special French meal for us with the Mont d’ Or cheese I bought at the Saturday market.  “Mont d’ Or” means “mountain of gold” in English. It tastes like honey from heaven.  The cheese comes in a round bamboo container with a paper lid. To prepare Mont d’ Or you remove the box lid and stuff two or three cloves of garlic deep down into the middle of the cheese. Wrap the container in aluminum foil and bake the cheese for approximately 30 minutes, or until it is nicely melted.

Geoffrey served the Mont d’ Or with boiled potatoes, a salad with vinagrette dressing and fresh baguettes. For dessert we had formage blanc with rum raisin sauce, sprinkled with roasted almonds.

It’s hard to decide if the meal that Sunday, or the company, was more entertaining. Geoffrey’s friend Michel is quiet and introspective. Nicholas is rowdy and comical. Most of the conversation around the table was in French. Nevertheless, I could understand a lot that was said from the occasional French words I know and from the animated facial expressions and laughter.

Who wouldn’t have fun with guys like these?

(RIP Nicolas – 2018 – We miss you)

Stay tuned. More friends to meet. 

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