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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.

Why You Should Care About Healthcare This Election: Part 1

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.”

My French 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.

My French 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.

My French 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 …..

Vote!

French Healthcare for Expats?

Renestance

A Day at a French Health Spa

Of all the places the Barefoot Blogger has wandered, a trip to a French health spa for a cure has to be the most relaxing… and French! I’m pretty sure I was the only person at the resort who was from outside France. I was certainly the only one not speaking French.

The afternoon of the second day of the “French spa tour and cure” Nevenka and I arrived at the Sourcéo resort in Saint-Paul-Les-Dax just in time to meet with the site physician. Before leaving on the spa excursion, I was required to bring a letter from my own doctor stating I had no serious condition that would kill me while taking a cure. He had to note a reason for a cure, as well. Since I’m in good health, fortunately, we choose “phlebology.” Improving my circulation certainly couldn’t hurt.

The doctor at the resort seemed satisfied with my credentials and I received his stamp of approval to participate in the “cure”. After unpacking the car and sorting out our belongings at our hotel apartment, we reported to the appointment center to receive our daily schedules.

French Health Spa

Sourcéo Thermal Spa, Saint Paul les Dax

French Thermal Spa Cure

My thermal spa assignment was to spend six days with four treatments each day. Each treatment was to last ten to twenty minutes. A body massage was added to the regimen each of the last two days. Everyday I was given a fresh, clean terrycloth robe which I wore with flipflops through the treatment area and to the swimming pools.

Here’s how I spent each day, but first, a little primer. (Click on photos for captions.)

Treatment #1: Bain carbo-gazeux- “Bath in cold Perrier”

I’m not kidding. Every morning I was immersed in a bath filled with cold, bubbly mineral water. Talk about getting your circulation going. If it hadn’t been for the cheerful assistant who helped me in and out of the tub, it would have been murder.

Duration: 10 minutes

Treatment #2″ Mobilisation en Piscine – “Water Aerobics”

This was aerobics of the simplest kind. Merely moving and stretching in a warm pool. It was a welcomed next step after freezing in bubbly mineral water. 

Duration: 20 minutes

Treatment #3: Hydro Massage – “Bath in bubbly hot water (36 degrees C, 98 degrees F)

Yes, it was hot, and bubbling, and absolutely divine. I could have stayed in the tub for days. But no … 10 minutes only.

Duration: 10 minutes

Treatment #4: La Pelotherapie – Boue = “Mud Bath”

This was the crazy good part of the cure. It was not really a mud bath, more of a “wallow.” First I had to disrobe, then enter a private cabin where the attendant plopped 3 huge mounds of gooey mud on a table that was covered with plastic wrap. I sat on the table just below the last plop of mud. The attendant spread a healthy glob of mud on my upper back, then I reclined onto the aforementioned piles of mud. “Squish.” The attendant, wearing an apron, mud boots and long rubber gloves then stacked mud on my shoulders, my knees, my feet and on my thighs. To keep the mud on my thighs in place, the attendant stuck my hands firmly into the mud on each thigh and slapped more mud on each hand. Next she applied dripping wet, cold cloths on my forehead, chest and on the shins of my legs. She wrapped me in the plastic I was laying on and I was left alone to sweat. In hot mud– 46 degrees C or 117 degrees F. Half way through the treatment, the attendant came into see if I was alive and to wet the cloth on my head with more cold water. When the time was up, the attendant came back into the room and removed much of the mud from my body. I was left to wash off the rest under the warm shower in the far corner of the room. She hosed me off from the back then disappeared into a back room. She quickly returned holding a warm sheet which she wrapped around me. Slipping back into my terrycloth robe, I was done. Literally.

Duration: 15 minutes

Massage personnalisé – Personalized body massage

French Health SpaA luxurious massage was added to my regimen the last three days of the “cure.” It couldn’t have been more welcomed after a mud bath. I’ve never been a big fan of massages, but this masseuse made a believer out of me. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I was already so relaxed. Whatever the reason, I needed to be reminded more than once that my time was up.

Duration: 10 minutes

French Thermal Spa Activities

There were plenty of activities we could have joined at the spa such as Pilates, sophrology, hypnotism, dietetic consultations and all types of water therapies. If we hadn’t planned to make side trips to the exotic places nearby we would have had plenty to do.

French Thermal spa tour

A French Thermal Spa Tour: Autumn in the Pyrenees

The second day of the French Thermal Spa Tour started with a drive through the Pyrenees to the “beaux village” of Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges.

The road trip from our overnight at L’hostellerie des Cédres to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a brilliant plan, thanks to my trip guide extraordinaire, Nevenka. She knew the view from Villeneuve-de-Rivière along the autoroute would be breathtaking. All along the way autumn colors unfolded before us. One turn in the road was more beautiful than the last. The snow-covered mountains of the Pyrenees were always at our side.

Even the brief time we stopped at a roadway “aire” (rest area) to fill up the gas tank was an adventure. Imagine finding a full-service cafeteria with lovely French cuisine on an interstate highway!

 

French Spa Tour and a Cure: Saint-Bertrand-De-Comminges

When the French designate a town a “Beaux Village” they mean it. The petite town of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and its famous Cathedral are truly sights to behold. What is now a UNESCO cited medieval village of only a few hundred inhabitants was once where 30,000 Romans lived.

The colony was founded by General Pompey during the Roman campaign in Spain. By the fourth century the thriving town had its own diocese. Destroyed by the Vandals and again by the Germans, “Comminges” lay deserted for five centuries. The bishopric, nevertheless, was preserved so in the early twelfth century construction of a cathedral was ordered. From that time since the cathedral town has been a stage on the route to Santiago de Compostela.

 

Arriving on a Sunday during a church service at the Cathedral of Saint-Mary was, perhaps, not the best idea… or maybe it was. The church was closed for Mass. While waiting for the service to end, we had plenty of time to stroll through the courtyard and garden … accompanied by the most beautiful organ music.

 

As soon as Mass ended we scampered into the sanctuary to view the famous organ inside. The massive organ, considered one of the best classical organs in France and the only one of its kind in Europe, stands over 53 feet tall in a corner beside the entrance. The organ has three keyboards and forty-one pipes — twelve pipes are original from 1523. Across from the organ is a wooden wall that divides the entranceway and organ from the sanctuary. Since the service was just ending, the door on the dividing wall was open to let parishioners depart. We dashed through the door to see what we could before the next service.

 

Oh, that I could have stayed to discover more. Yet less time in the cathedral left more time to walk through the town.

 

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Our brief visit to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a small preview of what lay ahead in our journey towards the Basque Country of France. Some houses had exteriors with wood and brick facings, others were decorated with strings of red peppers around doors and windows.

 

Before we knew it, we were running late. Our check-in with the doctor at the spa was at four o’clock. We were off… but not before one last photo.

French Spa Tour

Next stop the “cure”…stay tuned

(Part one: Visiting A French Thermal Spa)

French Spa Tour

French Thermal spa

Visiting A French Thermal Spa

While”lounging” at a rehab hospital in France, I’m reminiscing this time last year. I was beginning a voluntary stay in a totally different part of the French health care system: a French thermal spa.

Since moving to France I have met some very interesting people. Few are more entertaining than Nevenka. Serbian by birth, she has lived and traveled all over Europe, Asia and the US. She speaks five languages fluently. I was introduced to Nevenka at a “Hen Party.” For those who have never heard of such, a Hen Party is a bridal shower. Nevenka arrived at the Hen Party like the diva she is. Full of life and style, she made her grand entrance with a flourish and a song.

When Nevenka suggested I accompany her on a visit to Saint-Paul-Les-Dax for a week of relaxation and a “cure,” I couldn’t possibly turn her down. The trip would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure. Certainly a story for the blog.

French Thermal spa

A Tour and a French Thermal Spa

To ready myself for the tour and the cure, I had to learn something about why the French Thermal spa is so popular.

Saint-Paul-Le-Dax and it’s neighboring city, Dax, have fifteen thermal spas and a thermal hospital where 60,000 spa therapy patients visit each year. The spa resorts specialize in rheumatology, phlebology and fibromyalgia. Chemical vapors in the water help relieve asthma.

The Romans were first to discover the restorative benefits of the local water and silt from the Adour river that flows through Dax. The city’s early name was “Aquarius Augustae” in honor of Julia Augustae who sought cures here during her father Emperor Augustus’ reign.Thermal spas have natural, warm (64 degrees centigrade) spring waters, mineral waters or clays.

French Thermal spa

“Fontaine Chaude” (Hot Spring Fountain), is surrounded by a Romanesque wall, with constant running warm water of 64°

It took centuries for the Dax area to claim its premier spa therapy status. The emergence of the railways in the nineteenth century brought masses of patients to the cities in the Landes area of France. In the 1950s medical thermal spas and therapies began being funded by the state.

French thermal spa experience: The trip to the cure

Our journey to Saint-Paul-Les-Dax started mid morning when I arrived and parked my car at Nevenka’s home. When I saw the stuff she’d pack in the back of her SUV, I knew this was no ordinary road trip. In addition to a Nespresso and special lights for the hotel apartment we would share, there was champagne, a box of wine and “gourmet” sandwiches.
French Thermal spa
With her customary flair, Nevenka arranged for us to stop overnight along the six-hour route through the Pyrenees in Villeneuve-Vilde-Rivière. L’hostellerie des Cédres to be exact, the seventeenth country home of Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise of Montespan, better known as Madame de Montespan.

Madame de Montespan was the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. She bore him seven children and she was considered by many to be the “real” queen of France. Born into one of the noblest house in France, Madame de Montespan appeared in Louis’ life when she danced with him at a palace ball hosted by King Louie’s brother, Phillippe I. Her downfall came because of her involvement in the Affaire des Poisons. Claims against her ranged from murder to worse, perhaps because of Louis’ new affair with another beauty.

Never tried for her alleged transgressions, Madame de Montespan retired to a convent, given a pension of a half-million francs by the King. Before her death she was respected as a benefactress to the arts, befriending the likes Corneille, Racine and La Fontaine.

French thermal spa experience: Dinner fit for two Queens

French Thermal Spa Experience: Next stop

Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges: Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) Association

Perfect Day Trip to sete

A Perfect Day Trip to Sete: Gourmet Tour and Oyster Farming

Co-leading a tour of the South of France with Patricia Sands for sixteen ladies was the ideal opportunity to design the perfect day trip to a Sete—one of my favorite places to go along the Mediterranean. But where to start? 

Perfect Day Trip to Sete

Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, my friend and tour destination planner extraordinaire, created a plan that highlighted Sete’s history, famous foods and oyster farming.

Come along and join the fun. Imagine you’re right there with us on the South of France Memories Tour with Nancy Mcgee and Patricia Sands.

Perfect Day Trip to Sete

Accccccccchhhhhhh

Pretend you’re enjoying the video I created about our perfect day in Sete. Guess what? I’m in the hospital. .. the video won’t download over the hospital WiFi! I’ll save the video for another place and time. While I’m experiencing technical difficulty and a new part of my adventure in France, the hospital system, please stay tuned to the Barefoot Blogger on Facebook for daily updates. 

Meanwhile… 

Patricia Sands is revisiting the Memories Tour on her blog. Oh, it’s so much fun traveling with these ladies! Read on…

On our first morning in Arles, we met on the front terrace of our hotel Le Cloître to set off on today’s adventure. This would become a favourite gathering spot, morning and evening, under the magnificent giant Paulownia tree.

 

South of France Memories Tour 2018

Day 1: South of France Memories Begin in Nice

Day 2: Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Day 3-5 Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

Day 6:Aix-en-Provence in One Day

Day 7: A Perfect Day Trip to Sete: Gourmet Tour and Oyster Farming

Day 8: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 8 ~ Arles

Day 9: Memories Tour/18 ~ Day 9

Day 10: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 10 – St. Rèmy and Les Baux de Provence

Day 11: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 11(part 1) – Pont du Gard and San Quentin la Poterie

Day 11: Memories tour/18 – Day 11, part 2 – Uzés

Day 12: Memories tour/18 ~ day 12 – Wine Harvest

Memories Tour Interrupted

Aix-en-Provence in One Day

It’s surprising to me that when people come to Provence their tours are often so short. Traveling from the Côte d’ Azur to Marseilles, to Aix-en-Provence, to Montpelier, to St. Rémy, to the Luberon, to Avignon, and all the quaint villages in between is a pretty tall order.

One destination that seems to be on everyone’s travel list is Aix-en-Provence. Simply known as “Aix,” the city has a bit of everything that makes Provence special: history, art, amazing architecture and charming Provençal markets.

Aix in one day

What if you had only one day in Aix-en-Provence? That was our challenge when planning this year’s South of France Memories Tour.

Aix in One Day: The Market

Market days in Aix-en-Provence are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Our Memories Tour visited Aix on a Saturday. The market, as expected, was packed. Fortunately, the wide avenue that cuts through Aix, Le Cours Mirabeau, easily accommodates large crowds of tourists, vendors and traffic. It’s seen more than its share since the seventeenth century road was built where the medieval ramparts once lay.

Aix in one day

Food markets, flower stalls and vendors with traditional and new Provençal merchandise filled popular downtown streets and plazas.

Aix in one day

The day we visited, the area was more congested than usual due to road construction. Torn up streets are not uncommon in cities with a growing population like Aix. Whenever roads are ripped up for repair or expansion, often ancient ruins are unearthed. All construction work stops until special teams of archeologists come in to access the findings. After all, a Roman city once stood and prospered here two thousand years ago.

Aix in One Day: Cézanne

Aix in one day

A “must” for a one day visit to Aix-en-Provence is a stroll through town along the footsteps of Cézanne. Square metal medallions literally mark the way.

A two-hour tour along the marked path with our brilliant guide Jennifer gave us an overview of the life of Paul Cézanne: the places he frequented around town: his father’s millinery store, his favorite cafe; and the neighborhood where he lived.

Aix in one day

Cézanne’s work spanned more than forty years, from roughly 1860 to 1906. He produced more than 900 paintings and 400 watercolors, some which were never finished.

Picasso said of Cézanne, “he’s the father of us all.

Interestingly, there are only a few of Cézanne’s art works in Aix. Or anywhere else in France for that matter. Cézanne was rejected personally and artistically by the art communities in Paris and in Aix. Towards the end of his life he was “discovered” by the Germans and Americans. Most of his work can be found in the great museums and galleries in those countries.

Aix in one day

Obsessed with Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Cézanne painted the mountain near Aix more than eighty times.

Cézanne is said to have inspired cubism.

Aix in one day

Two hours is hardly enough to explore all the life of Cézanne in Aix, but it was a start. Another day, another reason to visit …

Aix in One Day: Tourist Train

As the Barefoot Blogger suggests for first-time visits to a city, a hop-on-hop-off bus or tour train is a great way to get an overview.

It’s an especially good idea in Aix where landmarks can be obscure and far away from each other.

Aix in one day

During our one day visit to Aix, Memories Tour co-leader Patricia Sands and I carved out time to do what we love most: shop, eat and drink! I must come back, indeed.

Aix in one day

South of France Memories Tour 2018

Day 1: South of France Memories Begin in Nice

Day 2: Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Day 3-5 Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

Day 6:Aix-en-Provence in One Day

Day 7: A Perfect Day Trip to Sete: Gourmet Tour and Oyster Farming

Day 8: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 8 ~ Arles

Day 9: Memories Tour/18 ~ Day 9

Day 10: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 10 – St. Rèmy and Les Baux de Provence

Day 11: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 11(part 1) – Pont du Gard and San Quentin la Poterie

Day 11: Memories tour/18 – Day 11, part 2 – Uzés

Day 12: Memories tour/18 ~ day 12 – Wine Harvest

Memories Tour Interrupted

 

 

 

Aix in one day

Memories Tour Interrupted

When the Barefoot Blogger sets out for a new adventure, it’s hard to predict the trouble I might get into. On the eighth day of the South of France Memories Tour with author Patricia Sands and sixteen lovely ladies, I ended up in a French hospital.

Broken bones! 

A tour of the French medical system was more than I bargained for, yet, here I am.

French hospital tour

French Hospital Tour

It all started in Aigues-Mortes, the ancient walled city near the Camargue. Patricia and I were on our way back to the bus after finishing our guided tour and our lunch. We were running a bit late.

When we walked out of the main gate of the town, we saw the tour ladies had already boarded the bus. They were waiting for us. As we hurried across the busy street, laughing that it was the tour leaders who were holding things up, Patricia stumbled and fell. Out  of the corner of my eye, I saw her falling.

Next thing I knew, I tripped on the street curb. My face was headed straight for the sidewalk. I threw out my left hand to catch myself, then rolled to the right. My shoulder and hip pounded the pavement.

Immediately, I knew I was hurt. I was nauseous. It was just like I’d felt seven years before when I fell off the countertop in my kitchen.

French Hospital Tour

Since that fateful day in Aigues-Mortes, I’ve had surgery to put pins in my hip. My right arm is strapped to my side so the broken shoulder will heal itself, without surgery.

I’ve spent twelve days in the hospital. First the university hospital in Nimes. Now I’m in a rehab hospital that’s in a field somewhere between Nîmes and Uzés. Really. That’s all I can see.

French hospital tour

View from my private room at the rehab hospital

The medical care I’ve received — from ambulance to emergency room, to surgery and aftercare– has been superb. I couldn’t ask for better. The rehab hospital where I am now is brand new and modern. I’m in a private room.

Promise, I’ll write a post about the whole hospital experience later. Like me, some of you who travel worry about accidents. She far, so good.

Clipped Wings

Needless to say, I was really sad to leave Patricia and the Memories Tour. We were having a ball. The group of women that joined us from the US, Canada and Australia were an extraordinary bunch. It was like we were made to travel together.

French hospital tour

Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, who made all the arrangements for the South of France Memories Tour, dropped all she was doing to stand in for me the last 3 days of the trip. Along with Patricia, they made certain that everything went along as planned.

The good news for the ladies was that they gained the benefit of a seasoned travel pro on their tour. In addition to her destination planning company, Nancy is known for her walking tours in Sete, Montpelier, Pezenas and more, and she teaches classes at the university in Montpellier to future travel agents.

French hospital tour

Sad News All Around

As discouraged as I was about my plight, I was distraught to hear of the damage done by Hurricane Florence back in the US. The storm hurled through areas I’d called “home,” causing friends and family to flee to safe places. To any of you who were affected, I pray you are faring well now.

Memories Tour Continued

Now that I know I can type with the thumb of one hand on my iPad, I plan to pick up where I left off on documenting the Memories Tour. My accident is not the memory I want to leave you with. Instead, it’s the friendships and experiences we had that I will be remembering for a lifetime.

Stay tuned …

French hospital tour

South of France Memories Begin in Nice

Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

 

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

Day 3-5 of the “Memories You Promised Yourself” tour revealed friendships and alliances were forming among the sixteen ladies who joined the Barefoot Blogger and Patricia Sands. We happily made our way through the hot spots on the Côte d’Azur: Grasse, Tourrettes Sur Loup, Saint Paul de Vence, Eze Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Antibes.

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur

From our perfectly located hotel in Nice, the Beau Rivage, each day we jumped on our 20-passenger bus to explore famous towns and vistas near Nice. Our guide, Stephanie, and Rene the driver led the way.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Grasse

Known as the perfume capital of the world, there was no doubt our tour of ladies would love Grasse. The Parfumerie Fragonard was our main stop.

 

Here we learned the way perfume was made in the eighteenth century and which techniques remain the same today.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Over 6,000 bottles of perfume are produced daily in the Grasse Fragonard factory, along with soaps, lotions, eaux de toilette and other fragrant products.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Smell testing the different florals and scents used in perfume products

Tourrettes Sur Loup

A short distance from Grasse was Tourettes Sur Loup, an artist village of less than 2,000 residents.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

It was the perfect place for lunch and a quick look at the artisan shops before heading onto the main attraction for the day, St. Paul de Vence.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

St. Paul de Vence

St. Paul de Vence is a small, medieval village on a hill that is bustling with tourists and dozens of tiny shops, art galleries and cafes.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

At the entrance to the town is a petanque game square where locals gather and tourists who dare.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

St. Paul de Vence was a simple medieval village until a cafe and modest inn was opened by a local resident, Paul Roux, and his wife in the 1920s. The inn attracted many artists who had discovered the area during the time between the world wars, like Matisse, Picasso and Chagall. They stayed at the inn and, as payment for their lodging, they often left behind pieces of their work. The priceless painting are still on the walls of the Colombe d’Or. The hotel and the town are now world famous for art and galleries.

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur

Eze

Memories Tour Day 4 morning was free for all to rest, shop, visit the Chagall or Matisse Museum, or for more sightseeing.

After lunch we were off to the village of Eze.

Riding by bus along the Moyenne Corniche, northeast of Nice, the views of the Riviera coastline became more dramatic the higher we climbed.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

In Eze we continued to climb. Not by bus but by foot. We determined the town with its steep hills was meant for serious walkers.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Fortunately there were plenty of shops to browse through when we needed to catch out breaths.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

The highlight of the visit was the Exotic Garden located at the top of the village a mere 429 meters above the Mediterranean Sea.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

While walking along the landscaped paths of succulent plants, the views of the sea were breathtaking.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Leaving Eze we passed through Beaulieu and Villefranche-sur-Mer. Real estate along this stretch of the Riviera, to Our next stop, St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat is among the highest priced in the world. Homes of celebrities and billionaires dot the hills and seascape.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Villa Rothschild

The elegant mansion looming high above the Mediterranean in St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat was the next stop on tour of the high road of the Riviera — Villa Rothschild.Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Built by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild, wife of banker Baron Maurice de Ephrussi, the rose-colored villa is in the image of a Italian palazzo.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

With its priceless antiques, art and porcelain collections, the interior of the villa is stunning.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

The gardens, however, are truly magical. Both formal and meandering, they were strategically designed to enhance the best views of the sea and the villa.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

A water show set to music was all it took for me to escape momentarily into my fantasyland. My life as a baroness on the Riviera.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur

Antibes

Day 5: Readers of Patricia’s “Love in Provence” book series were especially excited about the Antibes part of our tour. Here they could envision Kat meeting Phillippe at the colorful Provençal market in the center of town.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Antibes didn’t disappoint the Barefoot Blogger even though this was my fifth visit.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

The scenery and conviviality of the town are so uplifting.

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

For sure, the Memories Tour gals were taking it all in

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur

Just a little drama…

To prove there is always a bit of drama wherever the Barefoot Blogger roams, one evening before dinner we lost one of our travelers. In the hotel. In the elevator.

A power outage that struck the hotel just prior to our meet-up in the lobby had trapped someone in the elevator. Sure enough, when we did our attendance count, Margaret was missing.

Never fear. The nice Nice pompiers saved the day!

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Margaret was such a good sport. The firemen loved her!

Stay tuned …

South of France Memories You Promised Yourself Tour 2018 with the Barefoot Blogger and Best Seller Author Patricia Sands

September 10-22

South of France Memories Tour 2018

Day 1: South of France Memories Begin in Nice

Day 2: Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Day 3-5 Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

Day 6:Aix-en-Provence in One Day

Day 7: A Perfect Day Trip to Sete: Gourmet Tour and Oyster Farming

Day 8: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 8 ~ Arles

Day 9: Memories Tour/18 ~ Day 9

Day 10: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 10 – St. Rèmy and Les Baux de Provence

Day 11: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 11(part 1) – Pont du Gard and San Quentin la Poterie

Day 11: Memories tour/18 – Day 11, part 2 – Uzés

Day 12: Memories tour/18 ~ day 12 – Wine Harvest

Memories Tour Interrupted

Hot spots on the Côte d’Azur

Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

The “South of France Memories You Promised Yourself” tour kicked off yesterday with ladies from the US, Canada and Australia arriving in Nice for 12 days of fun and adventure. Join us for Day 2…

Around and About Nice

Vieux Nice

Patricia and I, along with our wide-eyed tour guests, were up early to meet our guide Stephanie. Today’s itinerary: around and about Nice.

Around and about Nice

The colorful old town (Vieux Nice welcomed us with its bright flower and food market and its baroque architecture.

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Everyday business was going on in the streets, mixed with historic monuments and landmarks that told of the city’s rich past.

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and About Nice

Hop on Hop Off

A tour on an open-air bus that runs daily through Nice was the perfect way to see the highs and lows of the city. The two-hour ride took us through the town, along the sea, then up to the summit of Villefranche-sur-Mer where the views were spectacular.

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Around and About Nice

Afternoon Delight

Where do eighteen lovely ladies go to spend the late afternoon in Nice? The Negresco, of course!

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

A pedicab back to the hotel for some…

Around and about Nice

A walk along the promenade for others.

Around and about Nice

Around and about Nice

Then a dinner fit for queens, topped off with the most wonderful tarte tartine.

Around and about Nice

Stay tuned… Bonne Nuit♥️🇫🇷

South of France Memories You Promised Yourself Tour 2018 with Patricia Sands and the Barefoot Blogger  September 10-22

Day 1: South of France Memories Begin in Nice

Day 2: Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Day 3-5 Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

Day 6:Aix-en-Provence in One Day

Day 7: A Perfect Day Trip to Sete: Gourmet Tour and Oyster Farming

Day 8: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 8 ~ Arles

Day 9: Memories Tour/18 ~ Day 9

Day 10: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 10 – St. Rèmy and Les Baux de Provence

Day 11: Memories tour/18 ~ Day 11(part 1) – Pont du Gard and San Quentin la Poterie

Day 11: Memories tour/18 – Day 11, part 2 – Uzés

Day 12: Memories tour/18 ~ day 12 – Wine Harvest

Memories Tour Interrupted

 

Memories Tour Nice

South of France Memories Begin in Nice 👍

The South of France Memories You Promised Yourself Tour landed in Nice today. All signs say it’s going to be an amazing 12 days with these fun-loving ladies!

Memories Tour Nice

You know it’s going to be an extraordinary event when a bird lands on your head in old town Nice.

Memories Tour Nice

No kidding!

Memories Tour Nice

After only a few minutes you know you’ve met your new best friends.

Memories Tour Nice

Memories Tour Nice

Today was the “meet and greet” and a relaxing seaside dinner.

Memories Tour Nice

Tomorrow we take on Nice.

Stay tuned…

The South of France Memories You Promised Yourself Tour 2018 with Patricia Sands and the Barefoot Blogger September 10-22

Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

Memories Tour Interrupted

 

Farmers' Market

Village Scenes in Uzes: The Green Grocer

The French love their fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s why there are farmers markets in France in nearly every town, once a week or more often. In between, lots of places have their hometown green grocer.

In Uzes there are market days on Wednesdays and Fridays. The green market of Jean Claude Gaiffier helps fill the fresh food gap in between market days with local produce, epicurean items and wines. The cheerful shop is open every day of the week.

Hometown Green Grocer

Gaiffier’s is located at an intersection of Uzes that leads into town. San Quentin la Poterie is down the road to the right about 15 minutes away.

hometown green grocer.

Gaiffier Green Grocer in Uzes

The food market is run by Mr. Gaiffier who speaks only French, and his son Christophe who speaks some English.  Whenever I visit the shop, which is several times a week, both Mr. Gaiffiers are happy to pick out the “perfect” cantaloupe for me. Often there’s a fruit or vegetable I don’t recognize. They tell me the French name and sometimes share thoughts on how its prepared.

Hometown Green Grocer

Mr. Gaiffier senior and I have an understanding about cantaloupes. I was told that the best cantaloupe is a “female.” When I asked Mr. Gaiffier how you tell the gender of the fruit, it took a long time for him to understand what I meant. “Femme” doesn’t make sense, somehow, when you’re describing a fruit. Finally I picked up a few of the melons and showed him the difference in the way the bottoms are put together. He got it. Now when I ask for a “good” melon, he goes straight for the ones without the bumps.

Frankly, they’re all good!

Inside and out there is a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables, sausages, dairy items and lots of wine, — most are locally grown and produced in our region.

Hometown Green Grocer

Here is a sampling of the produce that is available right now — only a short walk from where I live.

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It’s like having a French farmers’ market at your doorstep every day.


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Reason You'll Love Pezanas

6 Reasons Why You’ll Love Pézenas

Why will you love Pézenas? 

Pézenas is a small town that reminds many people of Uzès. In fact, when some expats are choosing a place to locate, it seems to be a toss-up between the two. Read on for a reason you’ll love Pézenas!

#1 Reason You’ll Love Pézenas

Saturday Market

Although the Saturday Market in Uzès has won awards and acclaim as one of the best markets in France, the market in Pézenas isn’t far behind.

#2 Reason You’ll Love Pézenas

One of the “most beautiful towns” in Languedoc

Pézenas, is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in the Languedoc-Roussilon area of France. Once the political center of the États du Languedoc and the home of Parliament, the consul’s palace (Hôtel des Consuls) stands on one of the main squares (Place Gambetta). On market day the palace is surrounded by shoppers and tourists.

Hôtel des Consuls (Consuls’ Palace) on Place Gambetta in Pêzenas

#3 Reason You’ll Love Pézenas

Moliere Festival

The French Ministry of Culture designated Pézenas a Protected Area (Secteur sauvegardé) because of its over 30 historical monuments, including a monument dedicated to the French playwright, Moliere.

Apparently Moliere spent only a few days in Pézenas where he put on several of his less important theater works. Nevertheless, the town honors his contributions to the arts in France. Remember Moliere from the movie “Mozart.” If you’re like me, you’d like to know more.

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

#4 Reason You’ll Love Pézenas

Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic\

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Statue of Marianne in Pezenas

She stands atop a column which is surrounded by cherubs riding dolphins. The column is inscribed with the motto of France: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” The statue in the Cours Jean-Jaurès. was molded in 1880. The fountain was built in 1887.

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

“Marianne”, a symbol of the French nation, standing in Pezenas

#5 Reason You’ll Love Pézenas

Architecture in Pezenas

During my short half-day stay in Pézenas, I was struck by the awesome architecture in the town. I understand most of the large building were hotels or homes. The French and other Europeans of long ago loved to stay or visit in Pézenas because of its beauty, culture and proximity to the Mediterranean.  Many of the town’s structures qualify for the  “Inventaire des Monuments Historiques” for their “porte à colonne et ponton” or “entrance with columns and carvings.”

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Street scene on market day in Pezenas

#6 Reason You’ll Love Pézenas

Food!

For a solo female traveler, one of the things I often judge about a place is how comfortable I feel having a meal alone.  In Pézenas, the scenery around the eateries — especially those in the city squares — is enough to keep you company. Here’s my view at lunchtime.

The Plat Du Jour

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Plat du Jour in Pezenas

Later, after spending more time than I should visiting with the designer at a fabulous jewelry shop …

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

… here’s the view when I stopped for an afternoon refreshment.

Pézenas is a MUST GO BACK TO! place. There’s so much more to see and do.  Stay tuned for more …

Reason You'll Love Pezanas

Seafoods of Sete, France

Eating Your Way Through Sete, France

There are few things I enjoy more than eating seafood. A Sete gourmet tour introduced me to a whole lot more favorites.

I was brought up going to a fish camp on the Catawba River, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, where you could have all the fried fish, tiny Calabash shrimp, and hush puppies you could eat. It was later in life that I learned fish doesn’t always have to be dipped in batter and fried in oil to be delicious.

Sete Gourmet Tour

Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France

Probably my best lessons on fish varieties, flavors and textures came from living in the Philippines during my ex’s work assignment in the 1970’s. I could devour a whole fish — head, tail, fins and all. In fact I was told I eat fish like a “Philippina”. Nothing’s left but the bones.

Sete Gourmet Tour

Discovering Sete has been like striking gold. It’s a seafood paradise. From anchovies to oysters, from sea snails to mussels, clams and shrimp. They have it all.

To find out about seafood from the Mediterranean and other regional foods, I joined a gourmet tour by Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France. Nancy’s lived in Sete over 30 years, so she knows the best local foods and vendors. She’s also very socially active, so she knows what’s in vogue in this part of France.

Here’s a glimpse of the foods we sampled on the tour and the vendors we met.

Sete Gourmet Tour

Lou Pastrou Cheeses – Lou Pastrou cheeses are extraordinary. Perhaps he wears a physician’s coat because they are so special. The house favorite is Roquefort which is truly one of the best cheeses I’ve ever eaten. In addition to the sharp and tangy Roquefort flavor, the cheese’s texture is velvety and creamy. It literally melts in your mouth.We learned a few interesting facts about Roquefort and cheese etiquette. First, Roquefort is pronounced “rock”fort. Second, only cheese from Roquefort can be called by that name. It’s just like calling sparkling wine “champagne” if it’s not from the Champagne district of France. It’s simply not done. Furthermore, it’s illegal.Sete Gourmet Tour

Sete Gourmet TourCheese etiquette is very important in France. When you are served a slice of cheese on a platter to share, never serve yourself the tip end of the slice. That’s the best part of the piece and you’ll offend the other guests. Likewise, don’t cut a piece along the edge. That’s the worse part of the cheese slice because it has the rind, or other curing ingredients — like salt — and you’ll be disappointed. Instead, cut several diagonal sections (start at the front edge and cut towards the center) then take one piece for yourself.

The unusual cheese cutter displayed at the shop has an interesting history. Sete Gourmet TourCutters like this were used in monasteries by monks who were discouraged from taking large slices of cheese for themselves because they were “not worthy.” The slicer is used for a particular variety of hard cheese — like Parmesan– and the cutter blade sweeps in a circle slicing a finely shaved piece of cheese.

Demoiselles Dupuy Restaurant serves oysters to die for! I’ve eaten a lot of oysters in my life because I seek them out whenever I travel. The oysters here are the best ever. They are large, tender and salty. They come directly to the table from the Etang de Tau, an oyster farm district just outside Sete. The restaurant owner who also owns his oyster beds, frowns at the suggestion of putting lemon or their special variety of vinegar on the oysters. Don’t even think about asking for cocktail sauce or Tabasco. Just ease the edges around oyster with a tiny fork to separate it from the shell, then slurp it down. Yum!!

Sete Gourmet Tour Nancy McGee, Absolutely Southern French[/caption]

We were told it is better to serve white wine with cheese, not red wine. According to this wine expert, the tannins in red wine react unfavorably with cheese, altering the taste. When serving an assortment of cheeses, a variety of white wines are needed. Hosts who prefer to serve only one type of white wine need to make their choice of cheese families accordingly.

Not knowing a great deal about cheese or wine, I was glad to have some guidance on pairings, especially because serving cheese courses is becoming so popular. I was also interested to learn that this region of France is the country’s largest producer of wines. While the wines are not as famous or expensive as varieties from other areas, their importance and popularity is catching on.

The French owe a debt of gratitude to Languedoc for rescuing the wine industry in the late 1800’s. After a severe blight wiped out over 40% of the vineyards and grapes in the country, American-grafted vines were planted in Languedoc because of the fast growing season near the Mediterranean. When the vines were replanted in other regions, the country’s wine business was saved.

Sete Gourmet Tour

Here’s just a sample of some of the seafood specialties in Sete.

For your walking tour of Sete, contact Nancy McGee at Absolutely Southern France

More information about Sete? Contact the Tourist Office

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Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon Adventures in France

Everytime I make a visit to the US to see family, it’s always the same. My grandson insists on watching videos of his grandmother’s hot air balloon ride.

I’ll admit, when I think about the day I took my first hot air balloon ride, I get as excited as a 4-year old, too.

Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon

The idea for a hot air balloon ride was not mine. Good friend Julie, who I traveled with a few years ago through the Dordogne, was the brainchild. She’s one of those travelers who does a lot of research. Somewhere she learned there was a company that offered balloon rides near where we were headed. Between the Dordogne and Paris. All she had to do was mention it and I was sold.

Never did I imagine it could be quite so much fun.

If you’ve ever dreamed of flying high in a hot air balloon, come along for the ride!

To read more about the day of hot air ballooning over the Loire Valley, click here.

Hot Air Balloon

If you like hot air ballooning as a spectator sport, several times a year there are hot air balloon events near Uzès. Like this one at the Vallée de l’Eure.

Have you taken a balloon ride in France? Please tell me all about it!

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Would I do it again? You betcha!

 

It’s St. Louis Festival in Sete. Time for Water Jousting!

It’s time for the St. Louis Festival in Sete. Gee, I hate to miss it this year. It’s always so  much fun: beach time, parties and the Sete water jousting competitions.

I’m in the States with family. Why now?  After four years in France, I’ve learned that August is a good time to leave — it’s hot and too many tourists in Uzés! Yet …

Sete water jousting

Water jousting on the Grand Canal

Sete Water Jousting

History of Water Jousting

If you’re not familiar with water jousting, it started centuries ago. Most notably in Egypt and Greece. Evidence of the competitions was found in stone carvings. The Romans were known to enjoy the sport. In lieu of water, they sometimes flooded the city arenas they used for people sports like gladiator fights.

Water jousting, or “joutes nautiques” began  in Lyon, France in the 12th century. In the 13th century, crusaders embarking on the Holy Wars with King Louis IX (Saint Louis) teamed up against each other in small boats outside Aigue-Mortes.

In Sete water jousting was first seen when the city celebrated the opening of harbor in 1666. Today the sport has become a tradition and is played pretty much the same.

Sete Water Jousting

The first time I saw the sport of water jousting was on a visit with Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France. It just happened to be the St. Louis Festival. After that, I intentionally planned my visits to Sete for the late August wild and crazy weekend.

Some of you might remember one of the St. Louis Festival trips to Sete. I met the Bad Girls Groove Band of London for the first time. They rocked the main stage at the festival’s award ceremony.

Then there was the time when I was up close and personal with the winner of the week’s event.

Sete water jousting

Water Jousting Champion and “kiss the trophy”

Sete Water Jousting

By far the most exciting St. Louis Festival celebration for me was when the Sete Tourist Office invited me to attend the finals as a member of the “press.” Events included parties at the tourist office for jousting club members and special guests. And yes! Specialties from Sete like mini tielles and oysters were front and center.

Meanwhile at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) local members of the town administration and the jousting federation, in all their festive regalia, readied themselves to meet the crowd.

Yes, there was a party going on! Town square was mobbed with entertainers, jousters and fans.

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When time came for the championship match, the press crew marched alongside the dignitaries to the canal for the grand finale.

The Barefoot Blogger was in the parade! Yahoo! If that wasn’t enough, the press members were invited to jump in a boat and try their luck at jousting!

Nooooo…. not me!

Sete water jousting

A brave member of the Press ready for action

Sete Water Jousting

Yes, I’m missing the St. Louis Festival and a whole lot more. Where else can you run into this? Water jousting in Sete. Love it!

St. Louis Festival 2018 August 23-28, 2018

For a closer look at the tradition of water jousting in Sete, here’s a video from Culture Trip. Be sure to watch it in full. It’s a wonderful story about a family and their passion for jousting that’s passed from one generation to the next. 

 

Exploring Loire Valley Wine Caves

Staying in a small village near Amboise turned out to be one of the best choices on this visit to the Loire Valley. Not only were we close to beautiful châteaux, there were Loire Valley wine caves all around. 

Loire Valley Wine Caves

After a day of visiting Château Ambroise and Château Clos Luce, it was wine time. Fortunately for us, there was a wine bottler and merchant nearby recommended in the Rick Steves travel guide, Caves Duhard. Along with the musty caves and ancient bottles, there was some really good wine.

Loire Valley Wine Caves
Loire Valley Wine Caves

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Loire Valley Wine Caves

 Just around the corner from our chalet in Ambroise was another find: Caves du Pigeonnier.

http://www.le-pigeonnier-de-fombeche.eu/

Loire Valley Wine Caves

My friend Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, who has taken many tours in France with her travel customers,  says this was the “best guided wine tour ever.”

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Guestault Caves of the Loire Valley

With Nancy performing as interpreter the few English speakers,  we all learned so much about wine production in the Loire, especially about the 300 year old cave that’s been owned by the same family for six generations.

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Guestault Caves of the Loire Valley

The ancient cave has been enlarged in recent years yet wine producing techniques from its beginning are still prominent, including the “vat” in the cave wall that was used in the process before the introduction of barrels.

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Guestault Caves of the Loire Valley

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Bubbling juices and skins being prepared to use as “coloring”

Loire Valley Wine Caves

Wooden crate contraption that rotates to turn bottled wine during the production process

Under the wine appellation (AOC) Montlouis, the production at Guestault is predominately white wines from chinon grapes, including sparkling wines.
Loire Valley Wine Caves

As ancient as the caves and some of the original processing methods, the grape production at Guestault is thoroughly modern. I turned on the video recorder for this explanation, interpreted onsite by Nancy.

Stay tuned …

 

Loire Valley Châteaux: Amboise and Clos Luce

Revisiting the Loire Valley …

The Barefoot Blogger is off to explore the middle of France: the Loire Valley châteaux and vineyards.

Along with me on the adventure through the Loire Valley is my good friend Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France. The tour expert extraordinaire and I started out on the three day trip, plus two travel days.

Our home base on this trip is an Airbnb ‘chalet’ in Amboise. From there we can easily reach more châteaux and wine than we can possibly cram into three days.

Loire Valley Chateaus

Loire Valley Châteaux

Château Royal du Amboise

The Château de Amboise is in the center of the charming city that shares its same name. The first trenches of the château were built in the 4th century to defend the residents of the town.

Loire Valley Châteaux
The château was the home and place to stay for the Valois and Bourbon kings. Charles VIII was born here.  King Francis and children of Henri II and Catherine de Medici were raised here. Leonardo da Vinci, friend of King Francis, is buried on the property.

Loire Valley Châteaux

Château Amboise

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Inside Château Amboise

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Chateaux

The Gardens at Château Amboise 

An overcast morning made views of the gardens at Château de Amboise impressively dramatic.

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

After bidding Château de Amboise “avoir,” our next stop was the town of Amboise. 

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux

Loire Valley Châteaux: Clos Luce

Chateau Clos Luce and Leonardo da Vinci

The small château, Clos Luce, is within easy walking distance of downtown Amboise. It was here that Leonardo da Vinci was invited to live by King Francis I. DaVinci stayed at Clos Luce from 1516 until his death in 1519. He is buried on the grounds of Château de Ambroise.

Château Clos N itself houses over 40 of da Vinci’s inventions. An audio-visual presentation of his life and work, presented by IBM, instructs tourists as they move through the rooms.

Loire Valley Châteaux

 

Loire Valley Châteaux

Stayed tuned…

Follow the tour!

Hanging Out In The Loire Valley

3 Days in the Loire Valley: Wine Caves and Parties

3 Days in the Loire Valley: Château Clos Lucé and Leonardo Da Vinci

Loire Valley: Château Villandry and Living Large

 

Road Trip Through the Loire Valley

Thinking about a visit to the Loire Valley? Join me as I recall my adventure into the heartland of France–a Loire Valley tour. Along with my “partner in crime” Nancy McGee from Absolutely South France, our challenge was to visit as many chateaus and vineyards as we could cram into three days in the Loire Valley, plus two travel days.

Day One: Sete to Amboise, via Millau Viaduct and Clermont Ferrand 

Starting out from Sete, we drove non-stop to Clermont Ferrand , crossing the Millau Viaduct. Frankly, I had no idea I would be seeing the infamous bridge on this journey to the Loire Valley. What a treat! The tallest bridge in the world, the Millau Viaduct’s tallest mast reaches 1,124.3 (343 metres) above the base. Designed by architect Sir Norman Foster and French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux, it was completed in three years.

 

Loire Valley Route

Millau Viaduct

Loire Valley Route

Clemont Ferrand

The home of Michelin Tires, Clermont Ferrand shows its rich heritage with impressive buildings and magnificent St. Pierre Cathedral. Known for being a city surrounded by volcanoes, the Chaîne des Puys, Clermont Ferrand is also famous for its International Short Film Festival. 

Loire Valley Route

Clermont Ferrand

Loire Valley Route

Clermont Ferrand

 

Loire Valley Route

Cityscapes

It only we’d had more time to see the city! Especially the Cathedral. Here are some of the picture-perfect scenes that make Clermont Ferrand “oh, so French.”

Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route

Loire Valley Route

Apparently, the town’s favorite boulanerie

Loire Valley Route

Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley tour
Loire Valley Route

Loire Valley Route

One very special stop in Clermont Ferrand was the Artisan Fromagerie Nivesse.  Nancy visited there with a tour group and she raved about the selection and quality of the cheeses. She was so right! In fact, since tasting their 36-month aged cheeses, I’m hooked!

Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route
Loire Valley Route

Loire Valley Route

Look at the aged goat cheese! Yes, the dark brown logs of cheese

Follow the tour!

3 Days in the Loire Valley: Amboise

3 Days in the Loire Valley: Wine Caves and Parties

3 Days in the Loire Valley: Château Clos Lucé and Leonardo Da Vinci

Loire Valley: Château Villandry and Living Large

 

 

French Light Show

Techno-Fabulous French Light Show: Carrières de Lumières

If you haven’t seen a techno-fabulous French light show, you’re in for a treat. The French take lights and action to new dimensions: music, drama and imagination.

French Light Show: Carrières de Lumières

A recent visit to Carrières de Lumières was my third experience with the digital, immersive events that are staged in a former bauxite mine outside the village Les Baux de Provence. This year’s exhibition is Picasso and the Spanish Masters” along with a pop culture show, “Flower Power”. Believe me, the photos don’t do justice to the real events.

First, let me set the stage. When you enter the Carrières de Luminères you think you are walking into a movie theatre. Except that it’s built into the side of a mountain. You can go directly into the theatre area or you can walk around the inside of the cavernous halls of the mine. I would suggest you do the latter sometime during your visit. Walls of bauxite surround you, almost as wide and high as you can see.

Once you enter the theatre area, be prepared to gasp. It’s ginormous! Every surface, except the floor, is a projection area. Art images are stretched across huge canvases of stone in front of you, behind you and around every corner. The experience is totally surreal.

French Light Show

Added to the impact, the colossal space is cool and mostly dark. Except for the light that reflects from the art, there is no lighting in the room. When the scenery changes, you stumble around in near-darkness until the next images appear. If fact, if you’re not sure of your footing, you might want to take a seat on the stone steps that are around in various places

Take along a sweater or wrap. It’s really cold inside. If you forget one, you can buy a fleece blanket at the admission office for €5. No kidding!

Before Carrières de Lumières

In 1821 French geologists discovered bauxite near the village of Les Baux. During the 19th century there was a large demand for construction-worthy white stone. The mine in Les Baux prospered. Later with the advent of more modern building materials, the demand for stone fell and in 1935 the quarry closed.

The abandoned quarry was repurposed in the 1960s as a movie set by French filmmaker, Jean Cocteau. His movie, Le Testament d’Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus), featured an appearance by Picasso, of all people! as well as Spanish matador Luis Miguel Dominguín. 

Carrières de Luminères took on its current form and purpose in 2012 with the digital audiovisual production Gauguin, Van Gogh, the Painters of Color.

Carrières de Lumières 2018: Picasso and the Spanish Masters

“Picasso and the Spanish Masters”  is divided into two parts: one, to explore Picasso’s Spanish origins; and two, to show how Picasso, inspired by the masters, shattered traditional figurative art. Portraits and scenes of daily Spanish life painted by Goya, Rusiñol, Zuloaga, and Sorolla appear in the first part of the presentation. Picasso’s work dominates the second part of the show with a near-chronology of his life and art forms. Never before, and perhaps never again, will the public be shown such an emotion-filled demonstration of the life and works of Picasso. Through the images displayed on the massive walls, emphasized by a dramatic, musical sound track, we pass through history and the tumultuous life of one of the world’s greatest modern artists.

Carrières de Lumières 2018: Pop Culture: Flower Power

Remember the psychedelic visuals, colors and music of the 60’s? The “Flower Power” exhibition that follows immediately after Picasso takes you back to the hippy generation. The bright and lively show is not only fun to watch, the tunes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beach Boys had me dancing in the dark.

French Light Show: Carrières de Lumières

Important! The best time to visit Carrières de Lumières is in the morning. Drive towards the entrance to the historic town of Les Baux. Just follow the signs. If you arrive early, you’ll easily find a parking spot. If you’re late, it’ll be a nightmare.

The production is repeated throughout the day and lasts less than an hour. You can stay to watch as long as you’d like.

Practical Information: Open every day. 
January, March, November and December: 10h-18h 
April, May, June, September and October: 9h30-19h 
July and August: 9h30-19h30 
Last entry 1 hour before closing

Here are some images from this year’s show.

 

Scenes below are from Carrières de Lumières 2016 – Dreams of a Summer Night – Chagall 

Photos courtesy of mon fils, Pete Bine.

 

 

Uzes Fete Votive

Summer’s in Full Swing in the South of France: It’s Uzès Fete Votive

There’s lots going on and plenty of people around to enjoy Uzès Fete Votive.

Uzès Fete Votive

A summer event that everyone looks forward to attending is Uzès Fete Votive. A few posts ago I was raving about the Fete and saying how happy I was that it was coming back to Uzes soon. The long weekend event I remembered had been spectacular. In fact, I wondered how this year’s activities could equal the previous ones. Sad to say, I was disappointed with the attraction I enjoy the most– the Procession of Pégoulade — the parade down main street.

But who wouldn’t be excited about this? As good as it gets!

Uzes Fete Votive

Abrivado in Uzes for Fete Votive 2016

What is a Fete Votive?

Uzes Fete Votive

St. Theodoret Cathedral n Uzes

Fete Votives are celebrations with long traditions in many villages throughout the south of France. The festivals were customarily held at the end of harvest time. Today you see signs announcing various Fete Votives anytime during summer and fall. The event honors the patron saint of the town. In Uzès the patron is Saint Theodoret of Antioch — the saint for whom the beautiful cathedral that stands majestically in the town is named. (The story of Saint Theodoret looks like something I’m going to explore for a future post. Stay tuned ….)

When Fete Votive comes to town, you know it’s here when metal barricades are set up alongside the main street, Boulevard Gambetta.  Running the bulls and horses is one of the first events — sponsored by various Abrivado clubs from the area and from as far away as the Camargue.  The town awards coveted prizes to the clubs that are the best animal handlers.

While an Abrivado looks like a mad rush of animals, riders and young men who follow behind grabbing at the bulls, it’s pretty much orchestrated and managed. There are stories, however, of bulls that break into the crowd — or spectators who get in the way of the “stampede.” Note: bull’s horns are covered with leather protectors, but just the force of a bull is enough to keep me out of the way! (Except to take photos, of course.)

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Uzes Fete Votive

Steak tartare at Ma Cantine

Uzès Fete Votive Fun with Friends

Activities for the Fete Votive seem endless. To be honest, I go to just a few. Getting together with friends for the Abrivado and the parade that follows is my own sort of tradition. This year, dinner at Ma Cantine was our place to be. The cafe is located right alongside Boulevard Gambetta. My friends and I didn’t miss a thing!  Ma Cantine offers house specialties during Fete Votive that include their freshly hand-chopped steak tartare. It’s not one of my favourite dishes, but plenty of visitors and locals love it. Add a bit of hot sauce and crispy fries on the side and my friends who tried it were in heaven.

Procession of Pégoulade

After dinner and close to dark it was time for us to leave Ma Cantine and join the crowds waiting for the Procession of Pégoulade – a parade that starts at the Cathedral and ends at the bottom of  the Boulevard. This year ‘s parade had a “back to the future” theme with a “robotic” float — ‘Turbulence Steampunk.” It was a ambidextrous steam engine with psychedelic lights and loud, booming music. Along with the float were “blowers”in belle époque costumes who ran in front and around the float shooting streamers of coloured paper and confetti at everything and everyone in sight.Behind the “blowers” were ladies wearing flowing silk dresses who were walking effortlessly on stilts. They thrilled admirers by stooping over to paint elegant designs on the faces and arms of any who stepped forward. The Fete Votive procession, with fewer and less grand floats than previous years’, was still an amazing sight to see as the process glided down the boulevard, silhouetted against the ancient buildings of Uzes.

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So … the challenge “how will they top the past years’ Procession of Pégoulade?” is answered. But there’s always next year.

Maybe you’ll be here to see it for yourself!

For photos and sounds from previous Fete Votive parades in Uzes, click here.

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