Category: Around France

Place du Duché in Uzes, France

Saving the Best Part for Last

Remember when I started this blog, I said the uncharted part of the adventure may be the best. Well, guess what? It may be no surprise to you. I’m going to live it France!

After leaving Sete, I decided I wanted to return to Uzes instead of completing my journey.  I needed to find out if living in France was a possibility, not just a fantasy.  I would explore the various resources I had for finding apartments, for example. My friends, Geoffrey and Nandine, offered me a place to stay in their home until I could sort out my arrangements.

As fate would have it, everything began to fall into place. The rental agency notified me that an apartment was available they thought would be ideal for me. Ideal? It’s magnificent! It’s right in the center of the historic district in Uzes, Place du Duché.

Place du Duché in Uzes, France

Better yet, the rent is far more affordable than I could imagine. Less than my housing cost in the US!

Now I’m back in South Carolina making plans to move to France! There’s much more I have to write about my six week adventure — like visiting Pezenas, France, more jewelry artists and fascinating people along the way. Then, there’s always charting the progress of a lone female moving from the US to France. Stay tuned!

Christina Rabaste, Artist, Sete, France

Final Days in Sete, France: Parties, Artist Friends and Days at the Beach

Sete is a party city. There’s a celebration of some sort going on all summer. Sometimes two at a time.

Right now there’s a music festival that features famous DJs from around the world. There’s also the festival of St. Peter happening downtown with its parades and fair-like atmosphere. Lucky for me, the Fourth of July is celebrated here by English-speaking expats. Nancy, my Airbnb hostess, invited me to a party to meet some of the members of the expat club who have settled around this area from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and the US.

Christina Rabaste, an American who has lived in France most of her adult life, hosted the party at her home in downtown Sete. The interesting, multi-level house is a combination art studio, indoor garden, patio and home. The party was held in the first floor, inside garden of Christina’s home where some of her life size “statues” were standing among the red, white and blue decorations. Her studio was open for guests to visit, and dining tables with chairs were placed around the large room.

When I strolled into the studio, I fell in love with her whimsical paintings and sculptures. Not only was there a collection of her art on canvas, she also had painted her odd characters on pieces of wood and old chairs. Perhaps there’s a Michelangelo hiding deep down inside of me, because I have a great affinity for artists. Maybe it’s because they express themselves so openly. They are fascinating people to know.

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Time out for the beach

When not partying, people in Sete hit the beach in droves. Outside the city, beyond the seawall and rocky shore, a long beach stretches for miles along the Mediterranean. Closest to the city, the beach is mobbed with people who, mostly, are standing waist deep in the water. Farther down the long road that heads out of town, the crowds thin out and beach lovers go to the “mini-resorts” that are spaced every half-mile or so along the shoreline.

The mini-resorts are run by restaurant owners from Sete and from the surrounding areas who lease space on the beach during the summer. Each place has dining service, beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. For a small fee (10 Euros), you can rent an umbrella and chair for the day. Food can be purchased and is prepared fresh in the beach-side kitchens and served at a table or on the beach.

Sete, France: Abbeys and Vineyards

Now that you have a small glimpse of Sete, let me tell you about the places I’ve stayed and new friends along the way.

Ales (borrowed Citroen) and I arrived in Sete Saturday afternoon. (See earlier post.) We rushed to get to the apartment I reserved through Airbnb because my hostess, Nancy, was heading for a wedding in Provence.

Nancy welcomed me to her beautiful home, showed me around, gave brief instructions about feeding the two cats, then she was off. I had the place to myself until late Sunday. After unloading my bags into the bedroom, I walked downstairs, out of the apartment building that faces the Grand Canal, and then into the Petite Carrefour store a few doors down the street. I grabbed a Coke Zero, a bottle of water, wine, beer, and a prepared tuna sandwich. In other words, I bought everything I needed to settle in for awhile. Did I mention the wind was howling all this time, even though it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon?

Happily, I spent the rest of the day stretched out on the living room sofa, enjoying the apartment and the unforgettable view of the canal through the open French doors.

Sete, France

View from apartment window down the Grand Canal

Sete, France

Early to bed, early to rise, Sunday I put on my comfortable walking shoes and set out to explore the town. I walked from the apartment, up the main canal, to the seawall that was probably a mile away. With the canal on the left, the right side of the street is lined with small shops and cafes. About half way down the street, the one-way roadway divides in two with one side going up a slight incline into the center city.

The left side of the road heads downhill close to the canal, then uphill to join the other street again. The right side of the canal street is lined with one small seafood restaurant after another. In fact there are so many restaurants in a row that you are tempted to believe they must have only one kitchen. The menus are basically the same in each restaurant: Moules (mussels) and fries, oysters, fish soup, Bouillabaisse (a traditional fish stew originating Marseille), tuna, more fish, and a specialty of Sete — tielle, a tart filled with a tomato-y mix of octopus and spices.

I ended up choosing a restaurant near the seawall that was serving a whole grilled fish with tielle as a first course. The family-owned business was tended by the father, wife, son and son’s girlfriend who all spoke English.

St. Clare by the Sea

St. Clare by the Sea, Sete, FranceI knew in advance that I was leaving Nancy’s apartment because it was booked due to a worldwide music festival. Generously, Nancy had arranged with a friend, Genevieve, for me to stay in her guesthouse in St. Clare, overlooking the Mediterranean.

Genevieve drove to Sete to lead me to her home in St. Clare. When we arrived at her hillside home, we sat on the veranda and began chatting like old friends. Her English is perfect since she’s been an English teacher for years. Her son, Alexander, is home for the summer break from University so we enjoyed getting acquainted. He is in his fourth year studying pharmacy.

After visiting for awhile, the neighbor from next door appeared at the garden wall. She invited us to her home for aperitifs at 7pm. (Drinks/cocktails) She and her husband have a home in Paris. They are here at their “beach house” entertaining their grandchildren and guests.

Soon, Nancy arrived to pick me up for our tour of a wine domaine and a twelfth century abbey. Nancy runs a tour company in addition to her Airbnb business. She is entertaining clients from Canada over the weekend and invited me to go with her to preview her tour. She likes to make certain that everything runs like clockwork for her clients. Needless to say, I was delighted to join her.

Abbey de Valmagne

The Abbey de Valmagne is just outside Sete and welcomes nearly 35,000 visitors yearly to admire the cloister, its fountain and gardens, Gothic church, chapter house, and monastic outbuildings.

The illustrious history of the abbey includes the story of an Abbot who, during the Reformation, turned against the church to save his own life. He led an army of Protestants to raid the Abbey and kill his fellow priests and parishioners. For centuries the Abbey has operated a wine domaine which exists today. Huge wine vats are prominent features in the alcoves of the church itself. In addition to the winery, the Abbey is a popular tourist destination for the wine tours and a gourmet restaurant that are on the property.

Domaine Saint Hilaire

Not far from the Abbey is the second stop on Nancy’s tour: the wine Domaine Saint Hilaire and luxurious B&B run by the domaine owners.

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Returning to Genevieve’s just in time for aperitifs with the neighbors, I experienced my first social occasion that was all spoken in French. It’s amazing how well you can get along understanding a few words and body language.

Note: Genevieve’s son, Alexander, has an interesting hobby. He and his friends participate in “re-enactments.” I have some Americans friends who enjoy the Civil War and Revolutionary War faux battles. Alexander is a gladiator! His team has “fought” in the Arena in Nimes.

Sete, France

Next Stop: Sete, France

So much to do. So little time. My adventure is already into week four. If I think about it like the glass of water that is “half full or half empty”, the last half will be the best!

Today I arrived in Sete, France. But before I get to that, we have some catching up to do. The last couple of days I’ve been hanging out with my new friends and not spending as much time being a tourist.

I’m getting to know Nandine, Geoffrey’s girlfriend, now that we’ve visited a few times. She has an interesting background. Born in France, her mother was Italian and her father, Spanish. Her parents met in France after her father, who was from an aristocratic Spanish family, was exiled from Spain during the Franco regime. Nandine and I spent Wednesday driving to Nimes and back. She owns an apartment there with her son and she wanted me to see it. Plus, I wanted to go to Carrefour, the French “Walmart”, to buy a big suitcase. (Do you have to ask why?!)

The interesting thing about the eight hours Nandine and I spent together, riding in the car, shopping, and having lunch together like old friends is that she speaks very little English and I speak… no French. She recognizes English words if you write them down. Between sign language and scribbling words on placemats or scraps of paper, we got along famously, We certainly laughed a lot! When we stopped for lunch at a restaurant Nandeen knows, I was especially glad one of us knew French On the special menu for lunch, which I often order because it’s generally a nice meal at a good price, even Nandine was a bit surprised. Cheval is horse meat! Not for me! All I could think about was my horse-loving buddies! Later I learned it’s not cheval at all, it’s a hamburger with an egg — the egg’s on “horseback.”

The steaming pot of moules (mussels) saved the day.

Moule

Geoffrey had prepared lamb shoulder for dinner, so I followed them home to enjoy Geoffrey’s amazing culinary skills. After a few too many glasses of wine, our inane imaginations got away from us.

Friday came much too soon after a late dinner with Nandine and Geoffrey. Fortunately I’d dedicated the day to washing clothes and preparing for my departure from my three weeks stay at the apartment in Uzes. Unity and Tom had invited me to join them and some close friends for dinner at their home outside Uzes. Amazingly, I found their village and got close to their house all by myself. Tom talked me in the rest of the way over the cellphone. The evening flew by with each of us sharing stories about our lives in Scotland, England and the US.

 

Today I started out to Sete later than I had hoped because I couldn’t find Ales.

When I arrived back in Uzes after dinner with Unity, it was around 11 pm. The parking lot where Ales lives was closed. Fortunately, I remembered another lot nearby, so I left her there. To be honest, I was pleased with myself for finding the parking space because it was close to my apartment. I could easily get my luggage to the car the next day.

I got up early this morning to meet Geoffrey so that we could go to the market together. He wanted to introduce me to his favorite hat man so I could buy a Panama hat like Nandeen’s (the one I wore in the picture above).

Before going to Geoffrey’s house, I thought I should check on Ales and make sure she was ok. I walked the few blocks to the parking lot where I left her the night before. When I got there… no Ales!

Aaccch! I panicked! Was she stolen Hauled away? Where was she? What was I going to tell Geoffrey?

My first instinct was to go to the police station just around the corner, but then I said to myself, “they won’t understand a word I am saying.”

I’d have to go straight to Geoffrey’s and confess Ales was gone.

When I arrived at Geoffrey’s, I knocked on the door and Nandine let me in. “Geoffrey’s upstairs,” she said in French.

I walked up the narrow, winding, stone stairwell feeling like I was going to the French inquisition.

Geoffrey boomed “Ales is gone, isn’t she?”

“What?!” I said, amazed. “How did you know?”

“I told you, I’m psychic,” Geoffrey answered. ” Don’t worry,” he added very calmly. “I have her.”

He then explained, one of his friends called during the night and wanted to borrow Ales. His car had been vandalized in the village where he lives and he needed a car the next morning to get to work. Knowing that I had taken Ales that evening and that I always returned her to the garage, Geoffrey told his friend to meet him at the garage. They searched all three levels of the garage and didn’t find Ales. They searched all over town before they found her.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

That brings us to today.

I’m now spread out on the sofa in the living room of my home for the next two days. It is a beautifully appointed, grand apartment in the center of Sete, facing one of the major canals in the city. Two double French doors are open onto a balcony decorated with ornate iron rails. There’s a lovely cool breeze. One of two Siamese cats is perched on the chair opposite the sofa, staring at me.

It’s been a long day, starting with Ales’ disappearance and eventual discovery. The drive to Sete, while only a couple of hours, was grueling. It was my first venture on a “super highway.” Ales’ speedometer is broken, so I have no idea how fast I was going. Probably not fast enough. Cars were whizzing past. I dared not turn on the air conditioner. Ales was putting out as much effort as she could just trying to keep up with traffic.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about French toll roads — or at least on this particular six-lane highway. Three lanes of southbound traffic enter a toll station with 15 ticket booths. Traffic moves pretty quickly through the booths, right? That’s good. However, know what happens when those cars and trucks in the fifteen booths converge up the road back into three lanes? A massive pileup. Go figure.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow we explore Sete.

Sete, France

 

 

Expat Moving Tips for France

Nimes, France: Gardens and Gladiators

Visiting Nimes took me back to Miss Clegg’s Latin class in high school.

Some of you reading this story remember Miss Clegg. Or you had a teacher like Miss Clegg. She never knew that I had English translations of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey and Virgil’si Aeneid, loaned to me by my beloved Aunt Edna.

I still have nightmares that Miss Clegg discovers my secret and I get an “F” in Latin and I never graduate from high school.

Nimes (pronounced “Neem”) dates back to the first century BC and was named for the Celtic God Nemasus. It was created as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar who gave land in Nimes to his soldiers after they served 15 years in the army, During the rule of Augustus, Nimes was a prosperous city and boasted a population of 60,000 citizens.

Maison Carrée in Nimes FranceMighty structures such as the aqueduct Pont du Gard were built to serve Nimes (see earlier post on Pont du Gard), and a regal temple was erected, Maison Carrée, to honor the Roman Gods.

Arena in Nimes FranceAnother landmark is the Amphitheater that dates back to the 2nd century BC.. Both the Amphitheater and Maison Carrée are in a huge area in the center of town that is designated as a historic district. The sides of the district are bounded by four boulevards. It takes about 25 minutes to walk the circumstance of the area– if you don’t stop.

I bought the Gran Tour ticket to visit 3 sites for 11 euro ($14.50). It included an self-guided audio tour of the Amphitheater (or Arena), a 3D video in Maison Carrée, and entry to The Tour Magne for a panoramic view of the city.

Maison Carrée
Maison Carrée in Nimes FranceSeeing the stately Maison Carrée, formally a Roman temple, truly made me feel I was in Rome, not France. The 3D video production, shown almost every hour during the day, told of the heroes of Nimes who lived through the various ages of the city. La Madeleine in Paris was modeled after the Maison Carrée, as was the Virginia state house in the US, designed by Thomas Jefferson It is said that Jefferson was so taken by the beauty of the Maison Carrée, when visiting Nimes as Minister to France, that he wrote his friend Madame de Tessé: “Here I am, madam, gazing whole hours at the Maison Carrée like a lover at his mistress.”

Today it is one of the most well preserved temples from the Roman Empire to be found anywhere.

The Amphitheater

The Amphitheater, also called the Arena, is one of the ten best preserved Roman arenas in the world. Currently it is being renovated, but even now, the space is being used for public events. A stage was being erected while I was there for an upcoming rock concert. The Arena accomodates up to 25,000 people.  An audio guide was available and it was quite worthwhile. You can walk into the arena, sit in the stands, and relive stories of gladiators and lion slayers.

 

Le Tour Magne

The Tour Magne stands on the highest spot in Nimes and can be seen for miles around. It is all that remains of the Wall that surrounded the city built by Augustus. To take full advantage of my Gran Tour ticket, I walked to the top of the hill, then up the spiral staircase to the top of Tour Magne. It’s one of those things I can cross off my list and say, “Whew!! Don’t have to do that again!” The view was amazing. The walk? Let’s just say that’s why I ate pizza when I returned to Uzes. I earned it!

 

Jardins de la Fontaine

One of the most enjoyable parts of the walk to the top of Tour Magne is that to get there, you walk through the Jardins de la Fontaine, considered by many the most beautiful gardens in the world. As I was on the path up the hills winding through the garden, I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to live near such a place.

 

The people of Nimes and visitors were out by the hundreds today, enjoying the perfect weather and well-maintained property. Like other tourists areas I’ve seen on my trip, the place was immaculate– from the trimmed shrubbery to the stone stairways.

A city of two worlds 

One of my most striking impressions of Nimes is how two worlds — the ancient and modern– are coexisting in such harmony. The rock poster on the Amphitheater says it all.

Arena nimes france

 

Van Gogh's Trail

France Chapter 1: On Van Gogh’s Trail

Van Gogh

France Chapter 1: The First Visit

 Geoffrey’s Citroen now has a name: “Ales (pronounced Alice) the Cat”. Named for a village near here– Ales. And “Cat” –because her little diesel engine “purrs” like a cat.

It’s proper that Ales the Cat has a name. We are dependent on each other for the next few days. Besides, I’m growing quite found of her. Geoffrey was so right to have a luggage rack on Ales’ roof. She’s easy to find in a parking lot. Especially when I keep forgetting she’s silver.

The road trip

Ales and I started out early this morning on Van Gogh’s trail heading for St. Remy de Provence  It was a beautiful, sunny day with light wind and temperatures in the high 70’s. Our planned stops along the way to St. Remy were the towns of Remoulins and Beaucaire.

Remoulins

I’m not certain why I chose to stop in Remoulins. However, I did find a cemetery to visit while i was passing through. I’ve seen cemeteries along my trip that looked interesting, so stopping in Remoulins gave me a chance to check one out. To me, it’s interesting to see how different cultures honor their ancestors. In Remoulin and other areas of Provence, the deceased are buried above ground in family plots. Most grave stones date back many centuries. Each grave in Remoulin is adorned with elaborate porcelain flower displays and family memorabilia.

Beaucaire

Moving onto Beaucaire, the scenery definitely changed. The older part of town where tourist visit is centered around a busy canal. Marine traffic is active, mostly for pleasure boats, and cafes and restaurants cater to transients and locals. Often boats are moored in the marinas for winter for travelers touring the western Mediterranean.

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Finding the way

1  If you’re wondering how I find my way around, it is relatively easy. I have a Michelin Atlas of France which I found in the apartment. I know the main ways in and out if Uzes. So with a couple of stops at petrol stations along the way to ask directions, I got along fine on this trip.

Note: Both petrol stations had female attendants. Neither spoke English. I simple pointed where I was going on the map and they totally understood what I wanted. They gave me perfect directions.

Not to be sexist, but a man giving directions would have described every landmark along the way. The females just drew straight lines from one turn to another. Simple.

Another guide for finding your way on the roadways is “round-abouts.”I’m not kidding, there are round-abouts every two miles or so along the highways. That means there are frequent directions on signs that point your way.

When you get into a city, there are clearly marked signs to follow. If you don’t see your destination on the sign, just keep going straight. Soon there will be a sign that says: Autres Directions. Follow that sign. It will lead you to the right road.

If all else fails, ask a woman.

St. Remy de Provence

St. Remy is advertised as the one place you must see if you want to experience Provence. Now that I’ve been there, I’m not too sure. I prefer Uzes.

Nostradamus was born in SVan Goght. Remy and Doctor Albert Schweitzer was “hospitalized” here in 1917-18 when he wrote The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, part of his philosophical study of civilization.

Most importantly St. Remy is where the artist, Van Gogh, lived from 1889-90 in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean

Driving into St. Remy, an almost “spiritual” feeling came over me. There was something different about the countryside . It felt like a movie set.

The road into the city is lined with white-banded “plane” trees, like those leading out if Uzes. But they go on for miles and miles. Ancient stuccoed farm houses and buildings are close to the road with lush farmlands spreading deep behind them.

Van Gogh

The historic district of St. Remy is set in a circle. Ales and I found a parking place in the public lot that was close to the entrance of town. After depositing almost $5 in the meter, I looked for the tourist office. Before I had gotten very far, the menu special at a charming cafe caught my eye– salmon. I stopped for Dejeuner.Van Gogh
Perfectly prepared salmon, risotto with tiny chunks of tomato and scallions, and a glass of rose totally satisfied my hunger.

I skipped the tourist office and took off to explore the shops. Of course.

Van GoghInterestingly, I saw more Americans in St. Remy than anywhere else I’ve traveled in this area. I’m sure its because they’ve

read the publicity about St. Remy being “the place to be” in Provence.

There is definitely a unique atmosphere in St. Remy. It reeks with the flavor of “the rich and famous” and the richness flows through the shops and boutiques — too expensive for my budget.

Some of the architecture even looks rich– more “French” than “provincial” or “provençal.”

Art and architecture

Walking around St. Remy, there were so many times I reminded myself, “Van Gogh was here”, I could imagine how he was inspired. It inspired me.

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In the footsteps of Van Gogh

The creme de la creme of my day was a tour of the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean, the monastery complex where Van Gogh was voluntarily committed from 1889-90. From here he produced two of his most notable works, “Starry nights” and his self portrait.Van Gogh
Taking the photos below, I was transported to Van Gogh’s day and time. I could imagine how he felt fortunate for all the beauty around him, in spite of his imprisonment.

The entrance, the buildings, the inside, Van Gogh’s Garden, the chapel, the view!

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Van Gogh was released from the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausoleann in May 1890 and left for Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. He shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.

Fortunately his art lives on.

inspirational-quotes-van-gogh

Sunday jewelry market in uzes France

Summer Weekends in Uzes are a Taste of France

If you’re planning a visit to Uzes, be sure to make it over a weekend. There’s always something special going on.

Saturday Market is a day-long experience in itself with all the vendors and food stalls.

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If that’s not enough, there’s a French version of American jazz.

On Sundays, when you think the town should be ready to slow down, you’ll often run into a special art or music event in Place Aux Herbes.

 On this day … jewelry!! Leather and glass, linen and beads.

For the kids and families, Uzes throws a colorful, fun-filled, French-style carnival. 

Good eats are everywhere, including one of the French favorites, Andouillette — a flavorful sausage made with pork parts you don’t want to know.

Wish you were here? Listen and see the Sunday sights and sounds.

Le Patio Littre, Nimes, France

A Nice Friendship, But No Romance

There’s an old song with the lyrics “it’s a fine friendship, but no romance.” Or something like that. Maybe I’m making it up, because Google’s never heard of it.

Nevertheless, it’s a good title for today’s blog.

You see, every time I say I’ve met a new male friend, my good buddies who read the blog get the idea there it must be a budding romance. This 6-week adventure to France and Spain is not intended to be a take off on “Eat, Pray, Love.”  There’s been plenty of eating … and more to come. There’s been very little praying… although that’s bound to change tomorrow when I get out on the highway for the first time by myself. And love? My hope, as trite as it sounds, is to learn to love myself.

There’s a quote in Kathryn Stockett’s book and movie, “The Help” that I want badly to internalize: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” On this journey where I know no one, I don’t speak the language, and …I have a terrible sense of direction, I’m learning more and more to like myself. Now, back to food.

Today’s Best Bite
Aged cheese, cured saucisson and mustard from the Aux Plaisirs des Halles, the indoor market in NimesFood in France
Aux Plaisirs des Halles
As you may recall, today was the appointed day to drive with Geoffrey to the nearby town of Nimes. Our main purpose was to visit the indoor market and to have lunch at one of his favorite cafes. He drove his well-worn Citroen and gave me driving lessons along the way since I was to drive back.

In France, cars entering a roadway from the right have the right-of-way. That means you have to watch very carefully because someone may pull out from dome obscure side road and sideswipe you.

We arrived at the indoor marketplace which is located just outside the center of Nimes. It is attached to a multi-level, modern, shopping mall and parking garage. The area surrounding the shopping complex looks a lot like many other commercial, downtown areas in the world with busy, narrow streets.

 

Aux Plaisirs des Halles reminded me of the City Market in Cleveland, or other huge marketplaces where vendors have permanent stalls for their food items. (Sorry, no pictures. I was too busy buying the cheese and sausages shown in Today’s Best Bite.)

The market was closing since it was close to noon, so we stopped off for a quick flute of champagne at one bar, then onto Dejeuner at Le Patio Littre.

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The afternoon’s chatter and stories from Geoffrey are in my head waiting to be spilled out into another day’s blog.

Stay tuned. Geoffrey’s loaned me his clunker car ’til Wednesday. then i get his red Mustang with racing stripes. And to the story here? There is none. Geoffrey is happily engaged to a long time girlfriend. Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to enjoying a fine friendship.

 

My Name is Deborah

For years I’ve wondered if I should be called “Deborah”, not ” Debby”. It seems like “Deborah” is a name more fitting to my age.

Now that I’m in FrancDeborah, the Barefoot Bloggere, I think I will switch. The French don’t get “Debby”. They say: “DeeDee” or “BeeBee.” Also, taking a new name when I’m trying to “hide out ” among the locals seems appropriate. “Hide out” is a joke, of course. At 5’10” tall and with blonde hair, I hardly look French. Plus, the new clothes I’ve fallen for — all ruffles and flowers–are definitely tourist duds.

In spite of looking and acting like a tourist, I’ve begun to make friends here. Mostly, because I was fortunate to meet one very special and talented lady, Unity. I met her a few days ago at the “popup” gallery on the main avenue of town where she is exhibiting her artwork. We hit it off immediately.

Unity the artist and friend in Uzes, FranceSince meeting Unity, I have been introduced to several of her friends, mostly British ex-pats like Unity and her husband, Tom.

One of the new acquaintances, in particular, has made quite an impression on me. The most eccentric “Geoffrey”. The first time I met Geoffrey was at Unity’s gallery. He was wearing an extremely broad, black beret. Even though it was close to 90 degrees in the shade that day, he also had on a black suit, black vest and tie, and a crisp white shirt. Around his neck, huge headphones were hanging down, tuned to Led Zeppelin, he said.

We didn’t strike up a conversation that day, but we ran into each other the next day, again at Unity’s. This time he was decked out in a dapper pinstriped suit and a canary yellow shirt and yellow straw hat. He said he has over 60 hats. I’ll have to admit, I was enthralled with his flamboyance.

Friend in Uzes, France

That day Geoffrey, Unity and I had time to chat a bit. Soon we were carrying on like old friends. The conversation came around to their suggesting places I should visit during the rest of my stay in the south of France. Geoffrey offered to let me drive his car to nearby Nimes where he would give me a guided tour of the city. The invitation seemed perfectly ok and safe to me, especially because of his friendship with Unity.

He then invited me to join him on a short walk from the art gallery to his home so that he could check his schedule. I said “yes” knowing that Unity was expecting us both back at the gallery shortly. Geoffrey had committed to taking photos of her paintings.

So off we went, down the wide, stoned-paved alleyway to Geoffrey’s house. it was less than two blocks away. When we arrived at his four-story stone house, Geoffrey stopped to point out the posters that were plastered on both sides of the front door. He explained he had put them there as a ruse. The place was supposed to look abandoned, or lived in by gangs, “to ward off intruders,” he said.

It sort-of worked. It did look unpretentious. But then he opened the door. I was first surprised, then amused. I had walked into Goldielocks’ cottage!

Friend in Uzes, France

The front room was a big kitchen with a large table, chairs and big wooden hutch with glass doors. Inside the hutch and hanging on almost every inch of the walls was one of the most delightful and collectible assortments of pottery and china I had ever seen– outside of an antique shop.

It was then I learned where this interesting person had come from. Geoffrey is a retired professor from Oxford. His specialty was pottery and ceramic arts. I almost melted in my tracks. Pottery and china collecting is my passion.

For nearly an hour I toured through Geoffrey’s home, viewing his life’s collection of art and ceramics. He showed me rare platters made from a unique type of clay found only near Uzes. I saw magnificent majolica pieces and early flow blue china. Some of his most prized possessions are family pictures, including one photo that particularly struck me. It was a picture of his grandmother — a showgirl in the early 1900’s — dressed in her show business finery. i knew at once where Geoffrey got his flair.

But wait… it gets better than that. Geoffrey’s grandmother married a circus lion tamer. Now, that’s a story I’ve got to dig into.

Today’s best sound byte

Art, Food and Qigong. This must be France.

Travel isn’t complete without learning about totally unexpected things. Like Qigong.

Qigong is a Chinese practice of alternative healthcare that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques, and a focused mind. It’s kin to Tai Chi and Karate, but the body movements are gentler and much slower.

I would never have thought I’d be exposed to Qigong while in France. However, a new friend, Bernard, spoke about it, then demonstrated it when we spent the morning at the public park near my neighborhood.

Bernard and I met yesterday in the alleyway beside my apartment. I stopped him to ask directions to the recycling center. He didn’t have a clue about the trash since he is a visitor in Uzes, also. But he did know about some places the locals go, like the park.

Bernard speaks English pretty well– well enough for us to converse easily–and he loves to talk. Most conveniently, he is a retired elementary school French teacher, so he was willing to help me learn a few basic words and phrases in French. Within a few minutes of meeting each other, Bernard and I were fast friends. So today, I joined him on his walk to the nearly hidden, public park.

Hidden playground
Getting to the park required only a short walk down the main street of Uzes and a climb down a very rocky, steep hill. At the bottom of the hill, the path led to a abandoned, crumbling gristmill and a small waterfall fed by L’Eure river.

 

In a few more yards, the path led through the woods and opened into a public park. 

On weekends the park must be crowded, but this day, there were very few people in sight.

Within minutes of getting to the flat, grassy area, I was laying flat on my back, gazing through the leaves towards the blue and white sky.

Could life get any better than this?

Qigong lesson
While I was sky-gazing, Bernard stood not too far away and started waving his hands and arms through the air as if going into a trance. I remembered he had told me about Qigong, so I wasn’t the least alarmed at his behavior. In fact, when he finished a few of the hypnotic, dance-like movements, I got up from where I sitting and asked him to show me a few simple Qigong poses.

Vallée de l'Eure, Uzès, France
He kindly obliged my request and led me into my first Qigong lesson.

Qigong
Dejeuner and an art show
Energized from the morning’s hike and my introduction to Qigong, I invited Bernard to join me for lunch at a Thai restaurant downtown. It seemed fitting we should stay in an Asian mood.

We chose the fixe prix menu with fish as the “plat” (main course). For the “entree” (first course) I had a salad with shredded chicken. Bernard ordered the “egg rolls with pork and vegetables. All in all, the meal was tasty, but not fabulous. The wait staff and surroundings, however, were excellent.

 

Art show crashers
When no one knows you, and you don’t speak the language, you can barge right into private art exhibit, right? I mean, they’d have to physically throw you out if you don’t understand “where’s your invitation?” in French. That’s the sense of confidence I had strolling into an art gallery later in the afternoon. It was really their fault I showed up uninvited. They had a live band playing so loudly that I had to go check out where it was coming from. Right?

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Another treat to cap off the day!

To find out more about Qigong visit:
Qigong
Note: Bernard has left Uzes to visit family in Nimes, then return to his home along the French border of Germany. Merci mon ami et adieu

Traveling abroad solo

See what I see! Uzes, France!

After two days on a bike in the hot sun, I needed a break. So I did one of my favorite things today …. sleep.

It’s a little hard to justify sleeping when there’s so much to see and do. I just have to remind myself I’m here to “play like” I’m a local.

The main events for the day were a walk around the back streets of Uzes to get away from the tourist area; a visit to the plaza for a glace; then shopping for something interesting to prepare for dinner. The temperature was in the 90’s so most people were trying to stay out of the sun. Like me, many stopped in shaded cafes and shops to cool off.

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After a relaxing day, preparing a special meal myself was fun … and so delicious. With so many foods to choose from at the markets, it’s hard to fail!

The menu: Roasted chicken and moussaka (prepared at the meat market); asparagus with assorted tapas spreads (Saturday Market); salad with fresh vegetables, olives, spiced almonds, and my own vinaigrette concoction made from local mustard (Wednesday Market); and of course, more wine. Yum!!!

Food in France

 

Expat Moving Tips for France

Uzes France: Off the Beaten Track, Part Two

Traveling abroad solo means you can stop whenever, wherever you like. Sightseeing while riding on a bicycle makes it even easier.

It’s a wonder I made any progress on the backroads journey to San Quentin la Poterie and back to Uzes. The scenery is amazing. Everything around is a subject for a picture. When I’d stop my bike to take a photo, I’d have to remind myself to turn around and look back, too.

Like life, some things appear to be better when we look “back” than “through”.

Before starting out on my day’s bike riding adventure, I stopped by the Wednesday Market in the main square, Place aux Herbes. I picked up vegetables and other items to prepare meals for myself the rest of the week. Saturday I’ll shop “fresh” again. More strawberries, cherries, cheeses, and vegetables, plus locally made mustard, beer and Madeline cookies were my stash for the day.

Off to San Quentin la Poterie
It was not difficult to get started on the bike trail to “la Poterie”. I had ridden past the entrance on my way back from the bike rental shop on Tuesday. However, “started” is the operative word above. The path that seemed so clear at the “start” soon dumped me onto a four-way intersection. None of the intersecting roads looked like a bike path. Fortunately there were two men standing in a driveway who could possibly give me directions. Of course neither of them could speak a word of English. Nevertheless, using my map and the universal language –hand waving– they gave me enough information to go on my way.

And oh! What a view!

Another advantage of traveling by bike is that you can take off onto side roads you would miss by car. Who could resist checking out this road with no gates, no signs? Not me. Just look what awaited me!

A hidden path… And just a few feet farther…

Then.. braving it down a well-maintained, tree-lined road, I rode slowing, hoping no one would come after me with dogs or a gun — or both. Soon, in the distance, I could hear chattering voices. Instead of turning around and hightailing it back to the main road, I headed closer to the voices. I would excuse my invasion by saying, “I’m lost.”

By this time I was off the bike and I was pushing it beside me. Taking a few steps ahead, I saw a small stone house to the right of the roadway. The chattering was coming from three or four people sitting around a table on the patio. I could also see a second stone building and the entrance to a large, stately mansion that was surrounded by a stone wall.

Apparently the people sitting around the table enjoying their lunch were house and grounds keepers for the estate. They certainly weren’t guards. They were so heavily engaged in conversation that no one noticed me.

Traveling abroad solo Announcing myself by shouting “bonjour” in my best French, I saw the older woman in the group look my way. She then walked to the road to greet me. As she approached, I held up my iPhone and motioned with my hands that I’d like to take a picture. Seeing that I was neither a threat, nor a professional photographer (a photo journalist with an iPhone?), she said “Ok” in English.

I asked then if I could take pictures of the big house from inside the courtyard. Replying In broken English, she said “someone lives there.”

In other words, “no.”

Not to be dismissed so easily, yet trying to be as polite as possible, I asked if I could take her picture and photograph other sights around the estate. She said “oui”. Viola! My persistence paid off!

Pays de la ceramics
Practically “around the bend” from my off-road venture to the French chateau was the famed village of art pottery: San Quentin la Poterie.

San Quentin la Poterie
With a tradition in pottery since the fourteenth century, the village has maintained it’s reputation for world-class ceramics.

The purpose of my trip here today was to take in the scenery.

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And of course, the food. Salad Nicoise.

Traveling abroad solo

 

Traveling abroad solo

Uzes, France: Off the Beaten Track


Long distanoff the beaten trackce bike riding isn’t my forte. Tootling around my neighborhood is about the sum of my biking habit.

The self- designed, off the beaten track, bike tour planned for today was supposed to be fairly short. Or so it appeared to be on the map.

Au contraire

The idea for the trip was Oliver’s, the cutey from the bike rental shop. (See yesterday’s blog) The trail map he gave me looked simple enough to follow. Problem was, I discovered, the bike routes take you the farthest possible distance to get to any destination. I’m not saying the trail wasn’t scenic. There were no major roadways or traffic to spoil the views of the places I ventured today –from Uzes to St- Mediers to Montaron and back.

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A funny thing happened

off the beaten trackLike Mel Brooks’ famous play about a trip to the Roman Forum, a “funny thing” happened at an intersection along the bike path. I came upon a horse that was staring me straight in the face. He seemed to say: “take me with you!” Oh that I had heeded his advice. The next section of the road was a killer. The lanes of the trail were piled with sand and the route was mostly uphill. After a few minutes trying to plow through the sand, I resorted to pushing the bike.

One reason I went on this excursion was to find a quaint town with a memorable cafe where I could have lunch. Walking the bike through St-Medlers, I saw no restaurants, cafes or sundry shops. In fact, the place was rather deserted. Dying of thirst and quite hungry by this time, I tried not to panic. In the distance I saw a man getting into his car. Hurrying to stop him, I yelled out “bonjour!”. We tried to communicate but ended up using sign language. Pointing toward the road ahead, he held up two fingers and said: “two kilometers, Montaron,”

Civilization

Montaron was off the bike trail, yet clearly, it was just down the main road. Downhill!

When I arrived I literally staggered into the first restaurant I came to in the town, Passing through the bar area, I took three steps up to the tables in the outdoor covered patio. Dropping down into a chair, I was immediately met by the waiter. Apparently I looked as desperate as I felt. The waiter hustled to bring a pitcher of water to the table – with ice.

Not long after, I finished lunch and a cold glass of beer.

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The short way back

Know why I said the bike route was the longest route possible to anywhere? The road sign in Montaron told me so. Four kilometers to Uzes. I had traveled at least ten kilometers from Uzes to get here. I took the main road back.

Tomorrow’s adventure? Stay tuned.

off the beaten track

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Bikes in Uzes France

Je Parle Le Français? Non!

Today has been challenging because I don’t speak French …at all.

Worse, I keep popping up with very badly enunciated Spanish words! So now I have a new BFF at the Office of Tourists. She speaks English.

speak FrenchRenting a bicycle for a few days was my main objective for the day. There are so many back roads and adjoining towns that I want to explore. A car isn’t practical since parking near the apartment is nearly impossible.

I headed to the Uzes tourist office where the very accommodating agent gave me information on a bike rental place. She drew arrows on a map to show me the way and, also, suggested I call in advance to make a reservation. Instead of asking her to make the call right then, I walked back to the apartment and called Oliver at the bike shop. Big mistake. Olivier couldn’t understand a word I said. So, back to the tourist office to ask my BFF to do me the favor.

Lesson learned: in person you may get away with not speaking the local language; but, not on the phone. Get a translator.

The walk to Oliver’s was a piece of cake. Negotiating the two day rental wasn’t so easy; but, it worked out fine with a little sign language and lots of laughs.

Olivier escorted me back to town on his bike. He probably wanted to make sure I was able to ride a bike better than I could communicate. Did I mention he’s adorable? Shut my mouth. He’s younger than my sons.

Today’s frugal, light, superb menu

Some of you are showing an interest in the food I’m enjoying. I’m certainly not a food stylist or photographer. However, there’s something inspiring about this place to try doing both.

speak FrenchArranging meals in a setting before eating it is actually very entertaining. It seems to keep me from gulping my food down too fast, as well. I might try it at home.

Le petit déjeuner
Light breakfast due to the rich food for dinner last night. (See “Settling in” post from yesterday.) The best EVER granola, off the shelf at the local grocery; strawberries from the Saturday Market; and fresh pressed Kenyan coffee.speak French

Dejeuner

Saturday Market ham and cheese pastry; herbed olives; figs and strawberries. The pastry was filled with a soft cheese with a consistency close to cream cheese…but smoother… and topped with shredded Gouda; accompanied by the “drink that refreshes”, Coca-Cola Light.

Diner
Another light meal in anticipation of a full day’s bike riding tomorrow. Fois Grau (reserved from last night’s restaurant dinner); vegetables, cheeses and olives from the Saturday Market; crouton crackers; plus, prize-winning olive oil and wine from Uzes.

speak French

Note: not a dime spent on food today.

Uzes France

Uzes, France: Settling In

Staying in Uzes for 25 days means I want to see what it’s like living here. .. not just being a tourist.

So after three days, I’m beginning to settle in. That means I’m stocking up the fridge and beginning to learn my way around. After spending a leisurely morning in the loggia enjoying my coffee, chocolate croissant and a Bach piano concerto on the stereo, I set out for a walking tour of the neighborhood.

Here are some of the sights within a few blocks of my apartment.

 

Sunday Market
During my walk, lo and behold, what should I wander into back at the main plaza, but a Sunday market! More shopping!

Check out this fabulous jewelry from an artisan from Avignon. A new BFF!

Dinner treat
What’s left to cap off the day but to treat myself to dinner at one of the popular restaurants,Terroirs. The specialty, fois gras. Best of all, I was able to discretely sneak a part of the large serving into a napkin and into my bag for lunch tomorrow. Apparently restaurants in France don’t understand the concept of “doggie bags.”

Tomorrow, a guided tour of the city. Please join me.

Saturday Market Uzes, France

Uzes, France: Saturday Market Virtually Real Time


Now that I’ve discovered I can blog about my visit to Uzes on my iPhone, my tech problems may be solved.

You won’t see the most professional layout, but hopefully, you’ll enjoy the monologue and photos.

Shopping everywhere
Saturday Market Day usurps any other business activity that might go on in the historic district of the small town. Lots of the permanent shops are closed. Vendors are everywhere, not just in the plazas; but also, along the main streets.

Place aux Herbes and Place Nicclas Fromant
Produce, meats, cheeses, pastries, clothing and more are spread out for sale around the popular plazas at the center of the historic district

What couldn’t I resist?
Today’s purchases included a little something from almost every vendor shown here. Plus, a handmade leather bracelet with silver clasp that just had to go home with me.

 

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First Stop: Shopping

Anyone who knows me has to admit I’m a diehard shopper.

Of course, my first stop in Uzes would have to be to buy something “irresistible.” Who could help from walking into this boutique? Promise, I did find something a bit more suitable than all the ruffles. 😉

Shopping in Uzes FranceThank goodness my new acquaintances from Australia were willing to give my new couture their approval.

New friends in Uzes France
A wonderful start to my visit — lunch at a charming cafe near the Place aux Herbes..

Uzes France

… And children chattering below my window on their way home from school.

Uzes France

Oh yes, I did take a few minutes to walk by THE fountain. The one that entranced me two years ago. Tomorrow it will be surrounded by Saturday Market vendors. See you there!

Uzes France

Heaven On Earth

OMG! This place is better than I remembered. A true heaven on earth!

After leavinq the hotel yesterday morning, I took a cab to the train station. My luck had taken a turn for the worse with computer problems and no AC in my hotel room, so I decided to take no chances and get a cab to the train station.

The scenery from the train wasn’t as exciting as I expected, and the windows of my coach were dirty, so I didn’t get the spectacular views and photos I hoped for. However, it was exciting enough traveling at 250 km/hr to get to Nimes just after noon.

Before leaving the states I messaged a friend I met in France in 2011 to see if we could meet up sometime in Uzes. Good news, he was available to meet me at the train in Nimes. After a “welcome back” lunch and chance to catch up on the last two years, Sandy and his friend, Maggie, dropped me at my door in Uzes. In addition to the ride and lunch, I picked up some great sightseeing and photo tips since they are both accomplished travelers and photographers.

Here’s my home-away-from-home. Ain’t it great?

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south france acventure

Airport Day

Procrastination is one of my biggest faults.

Packing for this trip was no exception and now it’s time for my south France adventure.While I had the items laid out in neat piles for weeks, I was still putting things in my suitcase and backpack Tuesday morning. 

Yesterday was airport day. My iPhone and tablet were put in accessible places to keep me occupied sending emails and blogging during the 5-hour wait in Newark. Little did I know that I’d have technical problems that kept me from connecting all day.

Now in Barcelona and ready to throw the laptop in the trash. Looks like I should have bought an iPad!

My South France Adventure 

This is my first time blogging an adventure, so I’ll start by telling why I’m heading to Uzes, France; how I’m getting there; also, I’ll describe how I arrived at the itinerary– sketchy as it is.

Why Uzes?

I confess, I’ve been to Uzes. I visited there during a “great adventure” in 2011. My main destination was London to see Prince William kiss his bride on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. However, quite “out of the blue,”I had the opportunity to take off for France and to spend a Saturday market day in Uzes. Right then, that day, I swore to myself I would return to that exact spot…. (read more here … )

south france adventure

destination uzes france

So It Begins. Destination Uzes France

Only four more days until I leave for my great adventure. Destination Uzes France. Solo. Just as planned.

This is my first time blogging an adventure, so I’ll start by telling why I’m heading to Uzes, France; how I’m getting there; also, I’ll describe how I arrived at the itinerary– sketchy as it is.

Why Uzes?

Destination Uzes France

Place aux Herbes, Uzes

I confess, I’ve been to Uzes. I visited there during a “great adventure” in 2011. My main destination was London to see Prince William kiss his bride on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. However, quite “out of the blue,”I had the opportunity to take off for France and to spend a Saturday market day in Uzes. Right then, that day, I swore to myself I would return to that exact spot.

Why did I choose to make Uzes the centerpiece of my adventure through the south of France? If it was not reason enough that the walled, historic city was beyond charming, there were other reasons. It’s somewhat out-of-the-way, so I figured large crowds of tourists wouldn’t gather there. It’s also very close to Arles, Avignon, Nimes and other places I wanted to see.

The master plan: Destination Uzes France

I started with a budget. My first trip to Europe was in 1966. I traveled with two friends from UNC-Chapel Hill and we spent two-and-a-half months in England and around most of western Europe. Our “bible” was the book titled, “Europe on $5-a-Day.” Dare say, I knew there wasn’t a chance I’d survive on our 1966 budget, but I knew there were ways to keep costs down so that I could afford a fabulous trip abroad for less than I thought. My goal was to spend six weeks living, exploring and learning about the south of France and Barcelona on a $5000 budget (excluding airfare).

Six weeks? Choosing to make this a six-week trip was somewhat arbitrary. I wanted to stay as long a possible on my allotted budget, so I started checking on the cost of lodging in Uzes. I turned to AIRBNB, the travel website recommended to me by friends and a site that I had used on a trip to Frederick, Maryland. The room I booked at the B&B in Frederick was delightful. With a little searching around on the website, I found the perfect location in Uzes, at a reasonable price. The four-story apartment with one room on each floor was located within the walled city. I could have the whole place to myself from June 6-29.

Once I had some dates to work with, the itinerary for the trip began to take shape. I started to communicate directly with the apartment owner in Uzes (who lives in Copenhagen). He advised me to fly in and out of Barcelona so that I could enjoy the train ride through the countryside to Uzes.  He also recommended that I stay in Barcelona my first night after the transatlantic flight so that I could fully enjoy the train ride the next day.

Basic Itinerary

June 4 – Charleston, SC to New York

June 5 – Arrive Barcelona, Spain

June 6 – Train to Uzes, France

June 29 – Leave Uzes for Sete, France

Sete. Here’s where the plan got creative. I wanted to visit a town on the Mediterranean after leaving Uzes that would take me south towards Barcelona and my flight home. Plotting a course on Google Earth, I stumbled upon Sete, France.

Destination Uzes France

View down the Grand Canal in Sete France

Reading a few travel reviews, I quickly realized Sete was a little jewel. Checking with AIRBNB,  I found there was an apartment “to die for” waiting for me. I connected with the hostess and, as luck would have it, I learned about the worldwide music festival in town during that time. That was good news and bad news. It meant I could only have the dream room for 2 nights, but it also led me to a bit of luck. My hostess managed to arrange a place  for me in the home of her friend for the rest of my stay. A guest house directly on the ocean — all for me, and right on budget!  More good news is that my hostess runs a wine tour. So I booked the stay and a tour. Whoopee!

July 7 – “Sketchy”

“Sketchy” is good. Really. I mean, everyone needs to schedule in time for a real adventure. A side trip. A chance to do something amazing — an experience of a lifetime, I knew I had to allow a few days to wing it. I could always come up with a plan. For example, if nothing else, I could take off from Sete and head west toward the wine country of Languedoc. It would be fun to stay in a winemaker’s cottage. To stomp grapes… like Lucy Ricardo. Or, I could spend time wandering along the Costa Brava. Winging it could be the best part of the adventure!

July 11 – Barcelona

The lodging I found through AIRBNB in Barcelona was an apartment in El Born — a popular district in Barcelona that’s filled with history, neat shops, tapas bars and restaurants. Most importantly, the El Born is safe for solo travelers. Safe enough, that is. I knew I to watch for pickpockets wherever I went in the city.

I visited Barcelona, on my “Europe on $5 a Day” trip in 1966.  I remember a bullfight, some great paella, and a quick trip from Barcelona to Majorca. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about Barcelona since then. But when I saw I had an opportunity to revisit the city, I knew I wanted to spend more than an overnight. I have 3 guide books and a picture book about Gaudi to study before I get there. Plus, I would have no problem meeting people along the way who would give me lots of advice. Again, I’d be winging it. This unplanned adventure in Barcelona could be very special.

July 15 – Charleston, SC

Home again! The end of another great adventure and the beginning of the next unknown.

 

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