Tag: Airbnb

“The Golden Girls” Loving France: Day 9-10 Port Vendres and Collioure

Revisit the seaside towns of Port Vendres and Collioure, France with me and my North Carolina friends. You may want to put these two on your “must see” list!

When “The Golden Girls” discovered Port Vendres and Collioure, the quaint towns along the Mediterranean, it was quite by accident. We were looking for an airport near Sete that had cheap flights to Italy.  With a little research, we found that the airport in Girona, Spain was only a little over an hour’s drive from Sete. It was not far from the coast, so we could drive along the Med and, hopefully, find a seaside town where we could stop overnight before taking a flight to Italy.

Collioure jumped off the map as the perfect place. The tiny village is the picture-book image of what you’d expect in this part of the world. There was only one problem: Collioure had “no room at the inn.”

Apparently Europeans know Collioure. It was packed with tourists. Not to be discouraged, we settled for the next best thing: Port Vendres, the town just a bit farther down the coast.

Visiting Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Port Vendres

We arrived in Port Vendres in the late afternoon. Having driven south from Sete, staying mostly on the “super” highway until we turned east at Perpignan.  The first town we ran into on the Mediterranean was Canet-en-Roussillon. We stopped for lunch in a Spanish restaurant, Vigatane, then pointed Sally south along the sea toward Port Vendres.

Here’s our view from the car as we went away from the restaurant and drove towards Collioure and Port Vendres.

Tired and anxious to get out of the car for the day, we passed through Collioure, then came to Port Vendres and parked Sally in the town square. Just minutes after calling our AirBNB host, to tell her we were in town, Anna appeared at our car

Anna is a tall, blonde and fair-complexioned woman of Scandinavian ancestry. She spends time between her apartment in Port Vendres and a home in the Pyrenees. To welcome us to Port Vendres, she personally guided us around the small business area showing us her favorite restaurants and wine merchant.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Wine merchant in Port Vendres

Afterwards, we set out for a night on the town.

Returning to our Airbnb “loft” to relax and sleep, we were there just in time to catch sight of the most glorious rainbow — surely a good omen for the next part of our adventure.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Rainbow photo by Arlene Wouters

Visiting Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Collioure

We had a full day planned in Collioure, so we started out early in the morning, giving ourselves just enough time to grab a cafe latte and croissant, and to check out the Saturday Market in Port Vendres.

Backtracking, we arrived in Collioure and parked Mustang Sally at a hilltop rest stop. When we got out of the car, we realized the “rest stop” was, indeed, the parking lot for a restaurant. We went into the restaurant, which was busy with staff preparing for lunch, and assured them we would return later for a meal–not just take a free parking spot.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Mustang Sally looking over Collioure

From here we were able to walk through most of the town, wade in the surf, and do a bit of shopping.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Seaside dining

Thinking the day couldn’t get any better, we headed back towards the restaurant on the hill. Oh my! What a treat. Port Vendres and Collioure, FranceThe entrance to the restaurant was near the top of the hill; but the service area was down a narrow, stone stairway that led to the sea. When we reached where tables were set, we literally stepped onto a yacht, or what appeared to be one because of the shape of the deck. From our table made us feel like we had set sail on a calm sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

The food? It was heavenly.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Mixed seafood- Collioure

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Tuna Collioure

And the wait staff? Well, one Golden Girl thought he was HOT. You judge for yourself.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

We told him he could drive Mustang Sally if we could adopt him.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Visiting Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Musee Collioure. The artist is in the house. Our lunch was long and leisurely with us all agreeing we are the “luckiest people in the world”. Still we had time to wander into the town’s art museum. The small space handsomely displayed a collection of French artists such as Claude Viallat , Joan Brossa , Dominique Gauthier, Henri Marre, Matisse, and Jean Peské.

Port Vendres and Collioure, France

Francois Bernadi

Our good fortune was that one of the area’s well-known artists, Francois Bernadi, was working in the museum that day. We introduced ourselves and he seemed as thrilled to meet us as we were to meet him. His exhibit, which spanned his career since 1945, had just been taken down to make room for the new show, but we did purchase posters which he proudly autographed with a personal message.

View at the top We had a flight to catch from the Girona airport, which was less than an hour away. Before leaving Collioure we drove to the highest spot in town. From top to bottom, high and low, this is a town that should be on every tour map. Love, love!

Photos: A big “thanks” to the Golden Girls for contributing some of the fab photos for this blog. We wanted to show you the best of the best! Next stop: Pisa, Italy

Next on the Golden Girls’ Tour: Pisa!

Port Vendres and Colliure, France

For more of the Golden Girls’ Tour

Day 1-4 Uzès

Day 5-6 Nimes, Pont du Gard, Avignon

Day 5-8 Sete, Beziers and Bouziques

Barefooting in Sete, France

A summer weekend in Sete is more than a bar scene. It’s a multi-cultural extravaganza.

In fact, there are so many activities going on during a summer weekend in Sete, it’s hard to decide what to do first. Regardless of what you choose, you can’t go wrong. It’s going to be different from anything this Southern girl has ever seen. Just a walk around town is an experience.

A walk to the “central park” presented a chance to see a ride for kids I wish was in every town. Children LOVE getting the exercise racing each other on their make-believe ponies

Sete

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Sete

Park “ponies” for kids in Sete

Summer weekend in Sete

The city is a major seaport for France, so Sete takes advantage of every aspect of being an international coastal town, from seafood markets to private beaches.

Oysters are so abundant in Sete, people of the town enjoy the salty, tender mollusks all times of the day. These pictures were the “small” version. On weekend mornings, people of Sete are gathered in the city market (Halles) enjoying oysters and beer. Shellfish of all types are ready for eating on the spot or to bag up to take away. If you’ve never tried sea snails, you must. But then, you’d better like chewy things, because they will remind you of a tasty pencil eraser.

 

Nighttime in Sete is a thrill to the senses. The views, the music, the whole atmosphere is exciting to see, to feel, and to enjoy.

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Daytime in Sete is beach time.

summer weekend in Sete

Beach club in Sete

 

If you’re going to Sete in the summer and you want to go to a private club on the beach, MAKE A RESERVATION. We didn’t and ended up with one beach chair and one umbrella.
As much as I love the French, there are a few things I just don’t get. The biggest thing is why business people don’t understand the concept of “turning over” tables, etc. For example, we went to a beach club without a reservation. We arrived at 11 o’clock in the morning, and almost all the chairs were empty. Nevertheless, we left because all the seats were reserved. Even when we said we were only staying until 3pm and we’d be willing to move chairs if people with the reservation arrived, we were denied our request.

We left and went down the beach to another “club.” There the nice hostess found us one umbrella and one chair, even though others on her beach were empty. The four of us took turns sitting on the chair and on the sand. I figure the first establishment lost 40 euros business, plus our lunch trade. The second club could have seated us all, then taken in another 30 euros for chairs and umbrellas that were still empty when we left.

Go figure.

summer weekend in Sete

Summer weekend in Sete

Joutes Nautiques in Sete

Water jousting, or “joutes nautique” has been a summer sport and spectacle in Sete since 1666 when the seaport was formally opened. I thought I had missed the season since the most prominent events are held earlier in August. Sea jousting is held throughout sea towns on the Mediterranean, though Sete is world-famous for its teams and tournaments.

To my surprise and delight, we literally ran into an event one afternoon where two teams from Sete were up against each other. 

 

summer weekend in Sete

 

You would never know that the home town team would win either way by the enthusiasm the crews on the jousting boats performed. They were both elegant and fierce.

Each boat is filled with a team of ten oarsmen, one jouster and a “spare,” a helmsman and two musicians.  The “spare” is on board for the next joust.

summer weekend in Sete

 

One jouster on each boat stands on a raised platform, called a “la tintaine” at the stern of the boat. The jouster stands about 10 feet (three meters) above the surface of the water.

 

summer weekend in Sete

 

After a polite “pass by” the jousters and crew are ready for the duel.

 

summer weekend in Sete

 

It would seem the red team stacked the deck … so to speak.

summer weekend in Sete

 

Even so, the blue team was victorious.

summer weekend in Sete

 

summer weekend in Sete

 

Afterward, it’s all about teamwork and getting quickly out of the boat to have a smoke and to celebrate.

summer weekend in Sete

Is it any wonder I love Sete?

 

Thanks, Nancy, for being the “hostess with the mostest.” To readers who want to visit Sete, be sure to look up Nancy’s destination tour company, Absolutely Southern France. She has fantastic tours of Sete and the area.

Also, thanks to Christina Rabaste for welcoming me back to your studio and home to view your art. I’m looking for spaces to put them all! Love!

 

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Check out these earlier posts for more information about Sete, Nancy’s tours, and Christina’s art.

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sete

Sete: Abbeys and Vineyards

Sete: Eat, Pray (to eat), Love (to eat)

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

“The Golden Girls” Loving France: Day 7-8 Sete, Beziers, and Bouziques

The Bad Girls in Sete

For more about water jousting, here’s the Men’s Journal’s view.

 

 

Sete, France on a weekend

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France Bound: Favorite London Flats and Foods

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Getting back to life in France means a stopover in London is a must!

A stop in London may not be the fastest way to get back to Uzes, France; but it’s definitely a fun way. With no real schedule, except to meet traveling friends heading to visit in Uzes in early May, my return to France was left pretty much to my whims.

“So what else is new?” you ask.

There are several routes I contemplated for my return to France — through Barcelona, Paris, London — or perhaps, take a cruise. My son suggested a ship might be fun if I wanted to take the extra time. When checking out the various fares, it was surprising that I could easily fly to London and stay a few days for the cost of any other alternative. So who’s to argue with that?

London is one of my favorite places. I used to visit London regularly for work.The project was scheduled for three weeks each year during the fall. It lasted for five years.Royal Wedding

My last trip to London was for the wedding of William and Kate. Yes, I was one of the several million other crazy Anglophiles there for the festivities. Truly a time and place that will always be remembered, the whole royal affair was straight out of a fairy tale.

Meeting new friends along the way

By now you know that making new friends is the highlight of my travels and adventures. The flight from Atlanta, Georgia to London was no exception. While the relatively quick trip from Atlanta to Toronto was uneventful, fortunately, the long leg of the journey — from Toronto to London — was Grand mother in Londonmore fun than I could have expected.

At first sight, my middle seat in the crowded plane looked like torture. I hoped the young girl sitting in the window seat would trade places with me so that she could sit by her traveling companion occupying the aisle seat. It wasn’t to be. The young lady from Montreal who had just turned fifteen years old that day stood her ground. Snuggled next to her and the eighty-five year old French grandmother who lives in Toronto, I was entertained all the way.

The grandmother is the person I want to be when I’m eighty-five. From helping her stand with her bare feet on a seat to rummage through the overhead compartment, to watching her perform her calisthenics in the aisles during the night, I was in awe. Surely she was not being truthful about her age.

When we “deplaned” and I was struggling up the airport ramp, she sped by me at warp speed. And guess what? The little lady travels with a backpack!

Just think, one day this could be me with my grandson.

Where to stay in London?

My “go to place” for travel accommodations is AIRBNB. I haven’t been disappointed yet. The flat in London is no exceptionFlat in South Kensington. Not only was it in a perfect location — in South Kensington, close to museums and shopping — it was so much fun. Gabrielle, the owner’s daughter who manages the house, is young, adorable, and very accommodating.

By the time I left, it was like we were mother and daughter. She’d pitched right in to help me translate some emails from the phone company in France and put up with my occasional lapses with reality.

Yes, there was a “Deborah” moment while in London. I booked the flat for one night less than needed. Gabrielle discovered the mistake just as I had taken off to shop along Kings Road. She sent a text message to tell me the bad news. Fortunately I checked my phone just in time to rush back to the flat. I had exactly fifteen minutes to pack my stuff and get out of the way for the next guest. By the time I was back at the flat, Gabrielle had found a hotel room for me nearby. She and her boyfriend even helped me carry my bags up the street to check in the hotel.

The fickle finger of fate was foiled again. In fact, it gets better. The nice gentlemen who was taking my room at the flat for the night walked up the street with us … and invited me to join him for a lovely dinner.

Which just goes to show you… photo (1)

London for Foodies

During the three days I was in London, I managed to check all my “hunger” boxes. I was set on enjoying “local” cuisine. Even some old favorites.

No 5-star restaurants for this travel bug. Just good food at a good price. Check out these old and new favorites. (Where the restaurant’s name appears in the text, click on the link to view their website.)

Noor Jahan

Noor JahanLondon is one of the best places in the world for good Indian food. I started craving it as soon as flight arrangement were made. Gabrielle’s flat in Kensington was close to where I used to stay on work trips,. Noor Jahan, was just down the street, just off Brompton Road.

The restaurant was just as I remembered — lively and fun. Waiters were attentive and polite. Even dining alone was enjoyable because of the friendly service. Noor Jahan Restaurant London

Noor Jahan’s menu is wide and interesting. Aside from the best naan I’ve ever tasted, I was anxious to dig into another meal of really good Indian food.

After devouring crispy papadum, raita and other assorted condiments with a cold beer, I honed in on one of the Biriyani dishes on the menu.

The generous serving of chicken cooked in fresh herbs, almonds and raisins, then mixed with basmati rice and lightly fried in ghee, was served with spicy mixed vegetable curry. Not too hot .. just right. After a favorite Indian dessert — pistachio kulfi — which they prepare to perfection, I was stuffed.

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The Orangery
Let me repeat, I am a committed “Anglophile”. That is, I love anything that has to do with the Royal Family. Every visit to London has to include a stop at Buckingham Palace or some other royal site. This time Kensington Palace and The Orangery topped my list.

First, a stroll through Hyde Park — an easy walk from the AIRBNB flat.
Blog 04-29-2014
Then onto Kensington Palace, home to Kate, William and baby George. The Palace has been updated and the King’s Quarters and Queens Quarters are open to the public. That means, I’m literally walking in royal footsteps.

And what’s a visit to Kensington Palace without a meal or tea nearby at The Orangery?
The OrangeryThe Orangery at Kensington Palace’s Royal Botanical Gardens was designed in 1761 by Sir William Chambers. Like other glass houses of its type throughout Europe, the building was constructed to provide a protective spot for citrus plants and trees during the winter months. Importing orange trees to adorn stately gardens became the rage in the mid-1600’s. Along with banana and pomegranate plants, orange trees were popular for their flowers and their scent.
Enough history! Back to the food.2014-04-24 12.01.23
Probably the best time to go the The Orangery is for tea in the afternoon. I arrived at lunchtime — and received a royal welcome.
Waiter at The Orangery

The special menu item for the day was a wild mushroom and asparagus tart with asparagus puree and truffle dressing, served with a green salad. So delicious!

With a glass of pinot grigio to start and a cappuccino at the end, the meal was scrumptious and filling. No need for dessert, even though the dark chocolate mousse with caramelized banana and white chocolate sorbet was sooooo tempting. (Looking back, I could kick myself for not splurging!)
Lunch at The Orangery
Fish! Restaurant
I love fish, as you might remember from earlier blogs. As strange as it might seem, my hankering for fish in London this time was for the traditional fish and chips. Several recommendations for the “best” fish and chips were offered and considered seriously. Fish! Restaurant won over the others because of its reputation and for its proximity to the Borough Market.

Eating and shopping nearby. How could I go wrong?

Friday’s a busy day at Borough Market so the streets were filled with shoppers and people on lunch break. Other restaurants and street vendors with temporary food stalls were showing off specials that were very tempting; but my mind was set on fish and chips.

It’s been a good 40+ years since I last had this meal in London. It was back in the day when traveling “Europe on $5 a Day” was my mantra. Fish and chips are no longer found wrapped in newspaper and served at every corner. Today they are plated alongside “mushy peas” and tartar sauce. Fortunately vinegar was at the table.

After a few bites of the tender cod filet with crispy crust, I have to wonder that this dish seems too “ordinary” these days.Fish and Chips in London

Along with the main dish, I had to try”whitebait fish” that was being served at a nearby table. The tiny fish, smaller than sardines, were fried ’til crunchy and served heaping on a plate. Good eats for a fish lover!White bait fish

Borough Market was new for me, so I took lots of photos. Here are just a few for you to get a sense for the market and the vendors.
Borough market collage

Muriel’s Kitchen

For a quick lunch if you’re heading to the V&A Museum, Natural History Museum, or any of the many sights and exhibits in the South Kensington/Chelsea area of London, Muriel’s Kitchen is a perfect choice. The atmosphere is casual but fast paced. If you’re lucky enough to get a table at lunchtime, you can sit and relax while the staff is shuffling around, providing excellent service.

On entering the small restaurant, you are immediately tempted by the luscious-looking food inside a glassed case. You can choose salads and main courses to go. Or the same items are on the menu, so you can check them out before you are seated.

I was there on a Saturday so I could choose from breakfast or lunch menus. Fortunately I could sample both.My godchild who commutes to work in London from Tunis was in town to join me.

We shared the breakfast sandwich that was presented on fresh toasted bread, stacked high with bacon, lettuce and tomato. It was topped with two soft poached eggs and creamy hollandaise. Muriel’s Seasonal Greens was the perfect accompaniment. The greens mixed with steamed broccoli, french beans, edamame beans, baby spinach and peas were dressed with wasabi and yuzu dressing and sprinkled with red chilies and chia seeds. If it all sounds very healthy it was.

You’ll be pleased to know that we also shared dessert. A slice of decadent dark chocolate cake for me and lemon drizzle cake for her. Both were even more sinful when accompanied with clotted cream. Oh my!

Zesty Lemon Drizzle Cake from Muriel's Kitchen

Zesty Lemon Drizzle Cake from Muriel’s Kitchen

Stay tuned for the next chapter … London for Fashionistas!

 

A Visit from France: Getting Back Home

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Two days is never enough time to spend in Paris. Perhaps I tried to squeeze too much into my senses, because my brain definitely went into overload.

All went perfectly as planned for my short visit to Paris. The only small mess-up happened when I realized the AIRBNB apartment I rented was on the sixth floor, with no elevator. As you’ll remember, Geoffrey came to the rescue when he summoned the cab driver to carry my two gy-normous suitcases up the stairs. He was talking on the cellphone in Uzes to the cabby at the airport in Paris.

Although I thought I would spend most of the daylight hours in Paris at the Louvre, I changed plans when I saw how close I was toorsay map the Musée d’Orsay. The museum is on the left bank of the Seine and is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built around 1898. Since I have suddenly become passionate about the Romantic era in France — especially since the blog about “BoBo” (Bourgeois Bohemian fashion) — the idea of spending my days among the famous art of the time seemed “heaven blessed.”

apartment in paris

  Sights along the way

A short walk from the apartment where I stayed for two nights, across the Place de la Concorde, took me straight to the Jardin des Tuileries and the bank of the Seine. The traffic and bustle of the Paris morning was drowned out by the beautiful scenery along the way. Fortunately, the weather was perfect for my slow stroll to the Musée d’Orsay. I wanted to take it all in — the smells, the people, the noise and the sights.

Motorcyclists speed to work, seemingly unaware of the city's sights.

Motorcyclists speed to work, seemingly unaware of the city’s sights.

A walk in the park

Even though I’ve been to Paris before, I’ve never seen it like this. On my own and with no real agenda, I was perfectly free to spend an hour or so taking photos, or to stop for an espresso in the park. Surely I’ve seen these statues before, but now they seem to have more meaning.

Who can help but wonder what was going through the artists head with this pose?

 Statue at Tuileries


Statue at Tuileries

Or this??

Jardin des Tuileries Statue

Jardin des Tuileries Statue

Paris

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Musee de Orsay

Musee de Orsay

Musee Orsay

Musee Orsay

Lunchtime at the Musée d’Orsay

Restaurant Musée d'Orsay

Restaurant Musée d’Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay is a “must see” whether you enjoy art, or not. Formerly an early 20th century train station, the museum holds the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the world. Its architecture heightens the drama of the building with soaring windows and steel beams.

 

A “living” museum, the Orsay is active with learning opportunities for people of all ages that are scheduled throughout the year along with concerts and rotating art exhibits.

For “foodies” like me, the museum had cafes and restaurants that range from casual to formal.The day I visited, I ventured all the way to the top of the building to the Musée d’Orsay Restaurant. The view and the food were magnificent.

There’s something about taking in a setting like this that makes traveling more fun for me. I can imagine dining with Royalty.

Truly, I have a champagne and caviar appetite on a “plat du jour” budget. 

Getting home

The rest of the Paris trip is chronicled in the Paris Lights post. The part you don’t know is what happened next. 

Remember the spiral staircase in the apartment building? Geoffrey may have saved the day when I arrived in Paris, arranging for the cabby to carry the bags up the six flights of steps. Now I was on my own.

No problem. My kind host at the AIRBNB apartment arranged for a cab with a driver who would come up for my bags. The cabby didn’t even mind that he was picking me up at 4am for a 7am flight out of Charles de Gaul. Case closed, done.

Not so fast …

The morning of my departure home came earlier than I wished. After walking for hours along the Champs Elysee, and after a nice dinner and after treating myself to a ride on the Paris “Loop”, it was a short night.P1020297

The morning alarm clock that rang at 3AM was most unwelcomed. Nevertheless, I scampered out of bed and readied myself for the long trip home — from Paris, through Frankfurt, to Atlanta.

P1020306

Just as scheduled, the cabby arrived, hustled my bags downstairs, and we were off to the airport. Since there was hardly traffic at 4AM, we made it to the Charles de Gaul at close to 4:30AM for my 7 o’clock flight.  Not only was there no traffic on the roads, there was hardly a soul at the airport.

A few people were huddled near the United Airlines desk ready, like me, to check baggage when the attendant arrived. I sat down to make myself as comfortable as possible.

4:30 AM…. 5 AM … 5:30 AM ….6AM

No attendant at the United Airlines desk.

By 6:30 a United person showed up and a short line formed. I was in the front.Morning at Charles de Gaulle

I should have known something was wrong all along, right? My flight was scheduled for 7am. I hadn’t checked my bags, no security, no gate stop. All that was going through my mind was that perhaps flights had been cancelled in and out of Paris.

The United attendant looked at the itinerary I handed her. It was printed straight off the United Airlines website. She looked at me, she looked at my luggage. Was she going to scold me for carrying too many bags?

Instead, she said: “you are at the wrong airline.” Then she continued, “Your flight is scheduled with Lufthansa.”

I’m not certain what sound came out of my mouth next, but I’m still hoping the attendant isn’t well-versed in English 4-letter words.

“But, I made the reservation with United!” I cried. “Where’s Lufthansa?” I murmured as I fled away in tears.

“Around that way,” the nice United lady directed as she pointed to the right.

hysterical ladyScreeching through the now-busy airport to the Lufthansa desk, I was met by a very strict-looking German lady. When I told her my mistake, she wasn’t phased.

“Too late”, she said in part German/part English.

“But, but …” I literally cried, although I knew I didn’t have a chance with her, nor with my situation.

I had been ready to leave Paris since 3AM in the morning. Now I wasn’t going to get home at all!

The new me

There was a time when this news would have sent me into orbit. Fortunately, my new “sensibility” to adventure set in.

This will make a great story!

I swear, I can’t make this stuff up!

Needless to say, I was fortunate to get a flight to Atlanta through New Happy airplaneYork, in spite of the holiday tourist surge. Better yet, the tale of my airport dilemma made a big hit with the flight attendant assigned to my coach section in the very back of the plane.

He supplied me with free drinks all the way.

Vintage christmas salt and pepper shaker

Confession: Homesick in France

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I’ve been trying to decide how to write that I got homesick and came home from France for a visit.

There! I just said it.

If you think I’m a “fearless traveler” who can take off in a moment’s notice and take on a life-changing journey, you’re right. If you think I’m too tough to be homesick for my friends and family during the holidays, you’ll be surprised at my last-minute decision. I returned to the US to spend Christmas with my boys.

A quick getaway

As you know, I had a delightful Thanksgiving in Uzes introducing new friends to the American holiday. Nevertheless, for the first time since moving to France, I found myself getting very homesick. The thought of spending another holiday away from home made me sad. The trip I planned to Paris would surely be a diversion, but my heart strings were still a bit “off tune”.

Fighting the urge to go back to the States and with the map of Europe spread out in front of me, I imagined traveling by train to various well-known places, jumping off the train for a few hours to take pictures of the city’s holiday decorations, then getting back on the train ’til the next stop. It sounded like fun, but perhaps it was an adventure I should save for the spring.

Two days before my scheduled trip to Paris, I decided I was going back to the States for Christmas. As impulsively as I had decided to move to France, I called my boys to tell them I was coming home for a visit. The plan was to board an airplane on my last day in Paris and head for Atlanta.

Even with the holiday scramble for tickets, the United airlines website produced a good fare and descent schedule on a flight from Paris through Frankfurt that would reunite me with my family in Atlanta in less than twelve hours. Instead of an overnight bag for the intended 2-day stay in Paris, my baggage swelled to two suitcases. They were filled with warm winter clothes, boots, and the few presents I could gather from France in my haste. Enough was packed for several months since, now that I was home, I would stick around Atlanta and the southeast until my first grandchild was born in late March.

Rescued … again

If you think a Barefoot Blogger story must have a tale of Geoffrey, you’ll be pleased to read on.

apartment in parisThe apartment I found in Paris turned out to be perfect. In an 18th century building between the Place de la Concorde and The Madeleine Church, it met my three demands for the short trip to Paris: 1) close to the Champs Elysee; 2) within walking distance of the Louvre; and 3) the price, with breakfast, was around US$125 per night. That would allow for at least one fancy dinner.

There was only one drawback to the charming apartment . It was on the sixth floor of the building … with no elevator.

 

The day I left for Paris, Geoffrey insisted on taking me to the train station in Nimes.

2014-02-15_14-47-55After helping me lug my bags onto the train, Geoffrey and I bid each other a teary farewell. I thought: “Now I’m on my own to find a new adventure.”

Not so.

By the time I arrived at the train station in Paris and hailed a cab, Geoffrey was ringing me on the cellphone. I motioned to the taxi driver to turn down the volume on the radio.

“S’il vous plaît”, I said in my very best French. I had learned quickly that the very large and burly African from Nigeria spoke no English,

On the phone Geoffrey was chirping with all the cheerfulness he could muster: “Hello daa-ling,” he chimed in his heavy British accent. “Have you arrived in Paris?”

“Why, yes, daw–ling” I replied. “In the cab on the way to the apartment,” I added. “Just not looking forward to that sixth floor climb.”

spiral staircaseThe moment the words came out of my mouth I literally gasped. Geoffrey must have heard the sound through the phone.

“How am I going to get these bags all the way up those steps to the apartment?” I cried to him. Dreading the thought of being dumped off on the sidewalk. “I totally forgot!” I added.

Without hesitation, Geoffrey ordered, “Hand the phone to the driver. I want to speak with him.”

Obediently, I tapped the cab driver on the shoulder and handed him the phone with Geoffrey on the other end of the line.

In less time than I could offer up a quick plea to heaven, the driver handed back the phone.

“No problem, daa-ling,” said Geoffrey, “it’s all arranged”, he confirmed most assuredly.

He had done it again.

The cabby drove up to the apartment building on the busy street — right up onto the sidewalk. He quickly opened the door to the cab for me to jump out. He then hurried to the rear of the taxi and unloaded the two large bags from the trunk.

As he rolled both bags through the security gate and lifted them through the entry door of the apartment building, I stood back to watch as he assessed the climb ahead. With seemingly no effort, he grabbed the suitcase handles and carried both bags onto the wide, spiral staircase, up six tall flights of stairs, and into the front door of the apartment: my home-away-from-home for the next two nights.

Giving him a nice tip and a big hug, I wished the big, burly, STRONG man from Nigeria a “Joyeux Noël”. He would never know that his act of kindness started off my holiday in the very best way.

Stay tuned … the unexpected layover

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.

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