There’s no better way for a “foodie” to recap a year’s travel than to revisit meals and favorite foods devoured along the way.
Enjoy the journey!
Discovering Uzes on a 2013 holiday to the south of France
Enjoy the journey!
Over the past few years I’ve had the blessing to travel to some of the most religious places in the world. One of the most impressive things I’ve learned is that, regardless of the religion, followers adorn their places of worship in much the same way. Enjoy some of the brilliant churches, temples and mosques of France, Scotland, Turkey and Nepal and embrace the similarities they share.
Only three months after I moved to France I was home bound to spend the holidays with my family in Atlanta, Georgia. I left France with mixed emotions since I hated to leave my new apartment and friends in Uzes. So the stop over in Paris for a few days was a perfect way to get into the holiday mood.
Now that I look back, these photos bring back memories of just how much I love Paris — especially at this magical time of year.
If, by any chance, you are in Paris this season, I’d love to know how much of the decorations are the same. A Santa’s Village on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées? Blue and white color theme?
Maybe next year I’ll come back through Paris to see for myself!
Revisit these memorable moments with me from Christmas in the beautiful village of Uzes, France.
‘Joyeux Noël’ to my friends in France!
Kathmandu reminds me of the Philippines in the 1970’s. I lived there for just over a year when I was a newlywed.
Like Manila, the city of Katmandu is large, crowded, dusty and busy with noisy traffic. Vendors with their wares spread out on the sidewalks and small shops line the streets.
In Kathmandu, mangy dogs and an occasional cow walk along the side of the road while pedestrians and vehicles ignore them. Poles are piled with tangled power lines that stream from every buildings in massive disarray.
Through narrow passageways mobs of people move past merchants who are hawking their wares in front of their stores or primitive stands. People congregate around elaborately decorated and colorful shrines that honor their Hindu and Buddhist gods.
I’m loving this tour. Our leader likes to find “discovery moments” while showing visitors the sites. Lucky for us, our first time in town was on an “auspicious day” for those of the Buddhist faith. It was a blessed day for weddings. We stumbled across friends decorating cars for an event later in the day; then we witnessed an actual marriage ceremony. They even invited us to participate!
Istanbul. A Turkish Bath
For the last few weeks, Mon Fils and I have been walking in the footsteps of the ancient Romans: touring Ponte Gard, Carcassone and the amphitheaters in Nimes, Arles, Orange, and more. So it’s only fitting that we would give ourselves a Roman treat while in Istanbul.
A Turkish Bath
There are almost as many Turkish baths in Istanbul as rug dealers. Choosing which “hamami” is the “best” is hard to do. One that was highly recommended is Çemberlitaş Hamamı. Built in 1584, it is one of the oldest baths still in operation today.
Having never experienced a Turkish Bath, I didn’t know what to expect. First of all, I didn’t have to take the swimsuit I’d carried along in my suitcase. When I checked in, these are all the “supplies” I was given.
From the front desk I was told to walk upstairs into the “women only” side to claim a locker for my belongings.
There I changed into only in the contents of the small bag; I wrapped the checkered towel around me; and I braved it back downstairs. A few of the lineup of similarly clad ladies sitting around on benches in a damp room motioned me to go through the big wooden door into the hamam. There I was not-so-gently grabbed by the arm by a little lady half my size. She pointed me to the huge, circular, heated stone.
Already there were a dozen or so mostly nude women stretched out on the stone. Most were positioned so they created a circle around the outside edge. Some were laying and some were sitting up towards the middle of the circle. Quickly I realized the women inside the circle were “resting” after their baths. The outside circle was in the “work zone.”
I lay flat on my back on my towel on the warm, wet stone for a few moments . Then I felt warm water being poured on my belly. My “attendant” was finishing up with another client and didn’t want me to feel abandoned.
While in this position for awhile, I marveled at all I heard around me in the mist-filled room: water splashing; tin pans clanging on stones and fountains; and the happy voices of women talking among themselves in many different languages.
I almost forgot I was waiting when a huge splash of water poured over my head. The little lady attendant was ready for me next.
You’ve surely guessed the little lady with the strong arm gave me quite a workout. Not exactly a “massage, ” the treatment was about as rugged as I would like. The Turkish towel in her hand felt almost like Brillo. But then, it did as advertised and took all the dead skin away… almost to the bone.
The Turkish bath was better than any facial, any massage I’ve ever had. And another reason to return to Istanbul.
Now that you have seen some of the foods that make Lyon one of the world’s great pleasures, here are a few of the sights that make beautiful Lyon a true world treasure.
Thanks to Mon Fils for allowing me to steal some of his photos for this blog post.
Day Two in Lyon was a rainy day so a perfect time to do some shopping. Not that I need an excuse to shop! First stop was the city market in Lyon , known as “Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse.”
The outside of the building is less than thrilling; the 50 or more merchants inside, however, make it colorful and more upscale than most city markets I’ve seen. Perhaps it’s Lyon’s reputation as a “foody” town that makes the presentation of meat, poultry and regional items look so interesting.
Some things French will never be appetizing to me…like lapin (rabbit). I guess my boys raised too many cute bunny rabbits for me to detach myself from serving them as a meal.
Many of the “innards” served in bouchon cafés were displayed in the meat cases. Fortunately I ate them before I saw them.
Afternoon on the rainy day was spent where so many others decided to go, too — the shopping mall. Like its counterpart in the US! The mall in Lyon is big, multi-leveled and modern. Santa displays and other “Joyeous Noel” decorations were everywhere. Stores with French and American national brands were intermixed with movie theaters and eateries. If people around me weren’t speaking French, I might have been in any large city in the world.
My mission for the mall was to buy shoes (chaussures) for Nepal. After a day and a half following my six and a half foot son (2 meters) around Lyon, I knew I needed some help for hiking in Nepal.
By the way, in case you’re wondering about the physical training plan? Let’s just say I’m walking at least five miles a day…with lots of the trekking up hills. I had no idea that everywhere we’d go in Lyon would be up or down a hill. Hopefully the walking is helping to offset the wine and rich food diet
Finding hiking shoes in the big mall was no problem. Finding them to fit my size foot, stuffed with the recommended two pairs of socks, was an ordeal. Mon Fils suggested I try a men’s size shoe. Setting aside my female pride, I tried and bought a pair of Merrill’s men’s hiking shoes. Really? Who cares!
It didn’t take long for for Mon Fils (my son) and I to settle into our hotel and find a restaurant in Lyon that’s worth writing home about. We arrived by train at five in the afternoon and we were ordering “bouchon lyonnaise” style at the Bouchon de l’Opera by eight.
Lyon, France is famous for its bouchon restaurants. In the States we might call the fare “home cooking.” Many restaurants here offer the same type of “country” food, But the quality and flavor vary widely because of different family recipes.
Early bouchon gastronomes in Lyon were the silk merchants who frequented the downtown café. Now there are so many restaurants that serve bouchon there is a rating system to help differentiate the “authentic” from the “tourist-traps.”
“Since 1997, Pierre Grison and his organization, L’Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), bestow annual certifications to restaurants as “authentic” bouchons. These restaurants receive the title Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and are identified with a sticker showing the marionette Gnafron, a Lyonnais symbol of the pleasures of dining, with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other.” (Wikipedia)
Bouchon de l’Opera
Bouchon de l’Opera is a little restaurant with a big heart. Mon fils and I arrived without reservations so we were seated at one of the two small tables the owner’s wife designated as “unreserved.” Looking around after we sat down, it was obvious all the other settings were for groups of six or more. Soon the place was filled with couples and friends who seemed to know it well as a friendly stop after work.
Decorations in the homey cafe are vintage kitchenware with a big emphasis on “piggy” collectibles.
Within a few minutes we saw there were only two people working in the restaurant — the owner/chef and his wife.
The chef was chopping away on salad fixings, then he’d turn to stir a pot on the stove. It was all open to view if you peered into the back.
His wife was scurrying around the front of the house with menus and carafes of water and house wine.
“English menu?” she asked, figuring quickly that the tall blondes she’d seated didn’t appear to be French.
Fortunate for us there was a menu in English. The items would have been hard to explain in French.
Yes! I ordered the Bouchon de l’Opera salad…
Veal’s nose and cow’s foot and all…
It reminded me of the andouillette I’ve bought at the markets in Uzes. Unlike the cajun variety of andouille, the French sausage is made from pork intestines (chitterlings) and stomach (tripe). It was just a bit more unusual to see it served with pieces of herring.
My main course, or “plat,” was another extraordinary taste-test: home-made pike quenelle — a mixture of creamed fish, bread crumbs and egg served in a cream sauce.
Mon Fils totally enjoyed his plat choice…
Tripe (cow’s stomach), breaded and pan-fried. It was served with a cornichon (gherkin) “mayonnaise” that tastes much like tartar sauce.
Served with vegetables
For dessert …
There was no way that I was going to finish the night without a dessert. Just as the other courses were extraordinarily prepared, the Terrine glacée au chocolat noir and the Tarte tatin et sa confiture de Beaujolais nouveau were fabulous.
Meanwhile in Uzes, we’ve been spending a lot of time at local cafes — some better than others. On the “better” end of the scale is Le Comptoir du 7.
The high quality of the food and meal presentation at this unassuming restaurant was a total surprise. If I’ve walked past their door once, I passed a hundred times without thinking about going in. Now I know better.
Here’s a closer look at that pork dish…
Vieux Cafe d’Aniathazze is another place we’ve enjoyed visiting a couple of times lately.
It’s located right across from the Tourist Agency and almost always filled with locals and tourists, inside and outdoors. In fact, I thought it was a bit “too busy,” so I usually sought out more out-of-the-way places.
That changed when I walked by one day in the late afternoon after not having eaten since breakfast. I was starving! Since it was between mealtime, there were no customers at the restaurant, only a few waiters were sitting outside eating pizza. Walking close enough to them to catch their eyes, I motioned by rubbing my stomach with my hand that I was hungry. One of the waiters spoke up, in pretty-good English:
“I’ll fix something for you to eat,” he said. “Let me finish my pizza.”
With that he stood up, seated me at a nearby table, and headed into the restaurant. In a moment he returned with a beer in his hand which he sat in front of me. In a few minutes, I was gulping down a piping hot beef and cheese sandwich, with fries on the side.
Pizza at Vieux Cafe d’Aniathazze is really good … especially the 4-cheese (with Roquefort!) … and this 4-seasons is colorful and might tasty.
The salads are pretty special too … like this greens with bacon topped with a lacy crêpe “cup” filled with warm goat cheese.
While we’re talking about good and interesting food, check out the hot chocolate from Terroirs at the Place aux Herbes. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
Yep… I’m ready for taste-testing Lyon. Bring it on!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another 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.
Seeing 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 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.
3 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 St. 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.
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.
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.
Interestingly, 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.
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.
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!
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.
Saturday Market is a day-long experience in itself with all the vendors and food stalls.
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.
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 Nimes
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.
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.
Now that I’m in France, 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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
Another treat to cap off the day!
To find out more about Qigong visit:
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