Tag: live abroad over 60

Look What’s Cooking on Sunday in Paris

Sunday is a day of rest for many people, but there’s plenty to keep you busy on Sunday in Paris… like a cooking class with a professional chef and the market in Montmartre. 

Starting off just after 8 o’clock this morning, I walked from the hotel to a nearby metro station to catch a train to the rendezvous spot for the Paris school of Cook’n with Class. I was to watch for a man “toting a green grocery cart.” Sure enough, just on time, here came Anton.


Sunday in Paris

 

Sunday in Paris

Sunday market in the area near the Jules Joffrin Metro is quite different from market days in Uzes. Here the “stalls” are actual stores that are open for Sunday shoppers. For today, though, many stores were shuttered for the presidential Election Day. Fortunately, we had a great selection of fish, meats, and vegetables available that stirred our imagination…and our appetite.

Have you ever seen such perfect produce?

Sunday in Paris

apples in paris

tomatoes in paris

….and the meats and fish. Perfect!

Sunday in Paris

Sunday in Paris

Sunday in Paris

After gathering the main ingredients for our menu, which was decided upon while we were shopping, we headed for the Cook’n With Class school, which was nearby.

Sunday in Paris

By the time we’d reached the cooking school, Chef Anton had come up with our 4-course menu: pan-seared sea bass with asparagus and tomato butter; duck breast with baby vegetables and celeriac mousseline; cheese, and pear tart baurdalou.

Sunday in Paris

Here’s where we started:

Sunday in Paris

Sunday in Paris

Sunday in Paris

vegetables in france

cook'n with class

cook'n with class

Here’s where we ended … all those lovely ingredients…and WE created this!

Sunday in Paris

Sea Bass

Sunday in Paris

cook'n with class

Cheese assortment

Sunday in Paris

Pear tart bourdalou with fresh strawberries

For more on Sunday’s cooking adventure check out the slideshow on the Barefoot Blogger’s Facebook page –and follow me on FB if you don’t already. There’s always something going on there.

To find out more about the Cook’n With Class schedule in Paris and their school “down south” in Uzès, click here. Check it out.

 

 

French Thermal Spa Experience:

Tour and a Cure: A French Thermal Spa Experience

French Thermal Spa Experience:

The Diva, Nevenka

A French thermal spa experience is an adventure this expat couldn’t resist. So the Barefoot Blogger is off for a tour through the Pyrenees and a cure. 

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

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

France and the “cure”

To ready myself for the tour and the cure, I had to learn something about why they’re so popular in France.

Saint-Paul-Le-Dax and it’s neighboring city, Dax, have fifteen thermal spas and a thermal hospital where 60,000 spa therapy patients visit each year. The spa resorts specialize in rheumatology, phlebology and fibromyalgia. Chemical vapors in the water help relieve asthma. The Romans were first to discover the restorative benefits of the local water and silt from the Adour river that flows through Dax. The city’s early name was “Aquarius Augustae” in honor of Julia Augustae who sought cures here during her father Emperor Augustus’ reign. Thermal spas have natural, warm (64 degrees centigrade) spring waters, mineral waters or clays.

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

French thermal spa experience: The trip to the cure

Our journey to Saint-Paul-Les-Dax started mid morning when I arrived and parked my car at Nevenka’s home. When I saw the stuff she’d pack in the back of her SUV, I knew this was no ordinary road trip. In addition to a Nespresso and special lights for the hotel apartment we would share, there was champagne, a box of wine and “gourmet” sandwiches.

With her customary flair, Nevenka arranged for us to stop overnight along the six-hour route through the Pyrenees in Villeneuve-de-Rivière. L’hostellerie des Cédres to be exact, the seventeenth country home of Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise of Montespan, better known as Madame de Montespan.

Madame de Montespan was the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. She bore him seven children and she was considered by many to be the “real” queen of France. Born into one of the noblest house in France, Madame de Montespan appeared in Louis’ life when she danced with him at a palace ball hosted by King Louie’s brother, Phillippe I. Her downfall came because of her involvement in the Affaire des Poisons. Claims against her ranged from murder to worse, perhaps because of Louis’ new affair with another beauty. Never tried for her alleged transgressions, Madame de Montespan retired to a convent, given a pension of a half-million francs by the King. Before her death she was respected as a benefactress to the arts, befriending the likes Corneille, Racine and La Fontaine.

French thermal spa experience: Dinner fit for two Queens

French Thermal Spa Experience: Next stop

French thermal spa experience

Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges

Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) Association

Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, France

Get Out of the Heat and Learn to Cook Provençal 

Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, FranceIf you’re headed for Uzes and you want to learn to cook Provençal dishes you can easily prepare back home,  meet Petra Carter. She’s the brains and bubbly personality behind Le Pistou Cooking School.

Petra and I have become great friends since meeting last year at her cooking school. Most people who meet the vivacious Dutch/Irish lady feel the same. Which may add to the fact that a class day at Le Pistou Cooking School is so much fun.

Petra’s interpretation of traditional foods from PROVENCE and nearby regions is focused on market-fresh foods, ease of preparation and beautiful presentation.

Her dishes can be served as a main course, starter or apero.

Once you are introduced to an interesting new food, like stuffed and tempura-fried courgette flowers (zucchini), you’ll realize you just read about it on the pages of a gourmet magazine.

You’ll learn knife skills as well as how to choose the best ingredients and cooking methods.

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Mediterranean diet? The way Petra dishes it up, a “diet” never looked or tasted so good. Each food, each flavor and each recipe is fresh, healthy and impeccably prepared and presented.

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Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, France

Le Pistou Cooking School Uzes, France

Says Petra: “I hope you’ll MAKE THESE DISHES YOUR OWN by adapting them to your own personal taste” she says.  “After all, that’s what CREATIVE COOKING is about.”

For more information on Le Pistou Cooking School  check out Petra’s website. Classes are given on demand and by reservation and they are limited to 8 people.

Travel Tips for Passing Through CDG Paris

Passing through Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris can be a daunting experience for even the most seasoned traveler. On my last trip I took notes on some of the things that make my travel a little easier…and safer. Hopefully these Charles de Gaulle Airport tips will be helpful to you. 

Tip #1 Stopover at an airport hotel

I’ve always thought a stopover at an airport hotel before a long journey was unnecessary, if not extravagant. I’d come into CDG, for example, by train from Nimes and rush to catch a flight. That was until I practically missed my plane because of a train delay.  So my latest trip to the States, I stayed at one of the budget hotels, within easy walking distance of CDG. It made a believer out of me.

Tip #2 Rethink carry-ons 

I used to think it was smart to carry a large handbag when I traveled. That, plus a small suitcase that fit in the overhead would give me lots of luggage space for all my stuff. Plus I wouldn’t worry about getting bored on long flights. Now I have a small shoulder bag and tote a tiny suitcase with wheels. It fits overhead in the airplane and I have everything I need. Except the sore shoulders!

Tip #3 Use the airport luggage carts

First of all, at CDG, you can use a cart for free. Second, CDG is a very big place. No matter how little you’re carrying with you, it’s going to get heavy if you walk around much at CDG–never mind, you get lost and go twice as far. There are almost always carts in racks at entrances and, if you miss one there, people often abandon them along the walkways. Grab one. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did.

Tip#4 Use the airport elevators

I’ve always thought airport elevators were off-limits for able-bodied travelers. That was until I realized how dangerous it is on an escalator while carrying more than one bag–or an oversized suitcase. Now I look for the elevator rather than risk a fall. It might take a few minutes longer to get to the next level, but just think what a mess you’d be in if there was an accident. Get to the airport a little earlier than you used to. Ride the elevators. Take the time to be safe.

Tip#5 Make certain your shuttle is heading the right direction 

Sounds simple enough, right? Not always! On my way to the States this time, I’d spent the night at the airport hotel, I was rested and I was pretty certain I had all my senses. My flight wasn’t until 11:30 am so I had plenty of time for the 5-minute walk to the airport entrance. When I reached the airport entrance and saw an elevator marked “shuttle” with the door open, I ran over to it and jumped in. The elevator stopped right in front of a shuttle, also with its door open, so I jumped right in it, too.

“Lucky me,” I said to myself.

Never mind, it was headed the wrong way. If I’d paid attention, I would have seen that the elevator at the airport entrance was for the shuttle heading in the direction of the airport parking lot, not Terminal 2 where I needed to go. If I had taken the correct shuttle, Terminal 2 would have been only two stops away. But no. My two stops turned into nine. I went all the way to the parking lot stop and back. (Yes, I could have gotten off at the next stop and reversed my steps, but I had time to ride it out.) again, be sure to give yourself extra time for goof-ups.

Tip #6 Learn to read the arrow signs

The signage at CDG airport is excellent–as long as you can tell the difference between an arrow that points straight ahead and one that points to the level below. While that might seem obvious to most, don’t be too cocky. It can befuddle the most seasoned traveler. In fact visitors to France, including me, have the same issue with road signs with arrows. Just take note.

Tip #7 Read your airline reservation carefully

I hate to admit this but I missed a flight because I misread the printed out ticket and I almost did it again this last trip. If you make a reservation through an airline–say, United, you probably know you don’t always fly on a United airplane. But in a hurry, you might forget and head for the check in for the wrong airline. Don’t do that. If I hadn’t walked all the way through Terminal 2 at CDG looking for the United desk –which wasn’t there– and stopped to ask for directions, I may have missed my Air Canada flight. Duh. It happens. Like the time I missed the Lufthansa flight while waiting to check in at Delta. 

Tip #8 Give yourself plenty af time

No matter how much you travel, things can go wrong. If you’re hurried and harried, it makes things worse. Spend that extra day to reach your destination, even if it means spending a bit more to stay at an airport hotel. Stop for a luggage cart. It’ll save your arms and back from a lot af strain. Take the elevator. It’s smarter than a fall. Take your time, look around and take time to understand the direction signs.

Do you have a Charles de Gaulle airport tip to add? Please leave a comment and tell me all about it. 

Here’s another post for directions in and around Charles de Gaulle

Paris: Fiddlers Rock the Château

Almost four years ago I was introduced to a most charming young lady at a cafe in Uzes. She was visiting from Paris, celebrating the Christmas holidays with her family. 

Since she was the only person around the cafe table who spoke English, Matilda and I talked easily and became fast friends. Since that first meeting, we have stayed connected on Facebook and through occasional visits, either in Uzes or in Paris. The neatest thing about her friendship is that Matilda’s in her twenties and she invites me to do the coolest things. Like last night’s violin concert at the Château de Ville d’Avray, between Paris and Versailles, which featured Leo Ullman,  a young violinist who is a close friend of Matilda’s. 

Château de Ville d’Avray

Château de Ville d’Avray was built in 1776 on the site of an old manor house for Louis XVI. It was given by the King to  Marc-Antoine Thierry, his premier valet, in 1783. Thierry was killed in 1792, victim of a massacre during the Revolution. The Château then belonged to his widow and family until 1854 when it was acquired by Paul Cocteau, grandfather of Jean Cocteau, a well-known French writer and film director. 

Through its history, the Château has belonged to an prominent engineer (Suez Canal) and it was used as a hospital while occupied by Germany troops during WWII.  In 1969 it was acquired by the city for official and civic purposes. 

Roby Lakatos Ensemble and the Festival “Hommage Menuhin”

Last night the Château de Ville d’Avray was filled with “fiddler” music — an homage to Yehodi  Menuhin— performed by a quintet of stringed instrumentalists, led by the renowned Romanian violinist, Roby Lakatos. It is said that when Lakatos was a young violinist, he met Menuhin who was considered by many to be the greatest violinist of the 20th century.  The two were introduced at a Brussels restaurant where Lakatos was playing with a house band. Menuhin was dining at the restaurant and, impressed with the young player, asked Lakatos to play a piece by Liszt. Lakatos obliged and, in his vivacious, animated way, entertained the maestro with a rendition of the score that made a lasting impression. Lakatos became a legend on on his own, performing at symphony halls from London  to Sydney. 

To say the Lakotos concert last night was exciting would be an understatement. The very sight of Lakotos was an experience in itself. Sporting a brilliant, embossed gold and black jacket and a bicycle mustache, he seemed far from a concert violinist. When he touched the strings he was a magician. At times it seemed as if smoke was coming from inside the violin as Lakotos ripped from one melody to another with energy and vibrato. 

Gypsy, Hollywood, country, tango, polka, Brazilian, boss nova, oompha, Spanish and classical–he did it all. Sometimes in one song!  


An interesting find for the evening was that I learned about a instrument I’d never seen– the cymbalum. The Persian instrument from the twelfth century is contained in a trapezoidal box with 100 metal strings and played with small hammers. Discovered by gypsy musicians centuries later, the cymbalum makes sounds that range from keyboard piano to a rin-tin-tin drum. Fascinating!

What a night! Never mind I didn’t get back to my hotel until after midnight — following a trans-continental flight. It was worth it all, plus a meetup with precious Matilda. 

Back to France. First Stop: Paris

The visit back to the US to see family and friends is done. Now it’s on to fun and games in Paris.

This will be my first stay in Montmartre, the playground of Parisian artists and famous bohemians. On other Paris stays I’ve only been to Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur and to stroll in the area above the cathedral on Sundays when artists’ work is for show and sale.

I chose a boutique hotel in Montmartre because it’s close to Cook’n With Class Paris. Sunday I’m joining the chef and other students at the cooking school for a market day class. How much fun is that?!

On Monday it’s off by train to Gif-sur-Yvette in the Chevreuse valley, south-west of Paris. There I’m staying and playing at Le Moulin de la Tuileries, the county retreat of the former Duke of Windsor and Wallace Simpson. Yes, the Barefoot Blogger will be walking in the footsteps of royalty!

Before I give away too many secrets, I do hope you’ll stay turned. It promises to be another great adventure!

chambre d'hôte guests

“Company’s Coming!” Owning and Running a Chambre d’Hôte in the South of France

Jane and Gary are down to the wire readying Mas d’Augustine  near Uzes for the chambre d’hôte’s new season.  Let’s see how it’s going…


Counting Down The Days

Only a few more days to go until our first chambre d’hôte guests of the season arrive. It’s funny how you think there is plenty of time to get all the work done and then we always end up rushing around like lunatics to get things finished !

chambre d'hôte guests

The new gravel for the parking and the courtyard was delivered last week, on the first day it had rained for a week. Because the delivery lorry can’t get through our gates, they just left the two (huge) one ton sacks blocking the road outside the front of the house and there was no other option but a shovel and a wheel barrow. All day in the pouring rain, we shifted gravel and raked it out on the two areas – I never knew I had so many muscles to ache.

chambre d'hôte guestsThe pool was filled last week and the heating turned on yesterday and already it’s warm enough to swim (24/25C). We changed the colour of the pool this year and I am very pleased with the result. It was a nervous decision to change from blue to yellow but, thank goodness, it looks wonderful – a pale turquoise – calm and relaxing. The poolside furniture is in place and it’s all beginning to take shape.

The garden is nearly ready, I have planted up all the pots and troughs – we have a new colour scheme this year, having moved away from the bright pinks and pale purples and have chosen a very sophisticated deep red geranium mixed in with the lovely white solanum and a few trailing daisies in yellow and a burnt orange.

chambre d'hôte guests

The last two days of rain have been very useful. I managed to get all the vegetables planted in the newly extended vegetable garden just before the rain arrived and they have now bedded in nicely. We have planted a lovely selection of heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colours which are great for salads and garnishing dishes. A different variety of new potatoes this year – instead of Ratte we have planted Belle de Fontenay for our potato salads. The red and yellow pepper plants are in, plus the courgettes and haricot beans, so all I need to do now is sow the roquette and the winter parsnips.

chambre d'hôte guests

 

 

Gary is away in London this weekend, it’s his grandson Oliver’s first birthday and, despite having so much to do, there are some occasions that can’t be missed! I have pressed on with repainting windows and doors and the table on the terrace is now a wonderful Provençal blue, which is complimented very nicely by the lemon trees.

chambre d'hôte guests

I am spring cleaning the chambre d’hôte guests bedrooms and making up the beds, adding a few new additions to the rooms such as cushions and ornaments and bedside lights – we like to add new decorative items every year.

Gary just needs to finish building the new barbecue which we have added to the courtyard outside the cuisine ete. We had so much fun last season playing boules and drinking rose with our guests before dinner, that we decided to hold weekly barbecue and boules evenings. Needless to say, building the barbecue wasn’t quite as easy as we first thought, but it’s taking shape and now all we need are some wonderful warm south of France evenings.

chambre d'hôte guests

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

Sete or Marseille? Which Has the Best Fish Soup?

While we’re on the subject of Sete from our recent train-from-Barcelona post, there’s a question that fish soup lovers who visit the South of France want to know: What’s the difference between Marseilles’ bouillabaisse  and Sete’s fish soup?

Leave it to Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France to have the answer. She’s an expert on foodie things in both Sete and Marseilles where she offers walking gourmet tours. Recipes from Cook’n with Class make it easy for us to prepare their version of the Sete’s fish soup and Marseilles’ bouillabaisse at home!

A TALE OF TWO CITIES – by Nancy McGee

Bustling, edgy Marseille, France’s second and oldest city, and largest commercial port. Designated as Top Ten Oceanfront Cities by National Geographic in 2014 and one the New York Times’ favourite destinations, Marseille is becoming increasingly trendy.  Sete, its younger, understated cousin and the most important fishing port on the Mediterranean is ‘the most fascinating small town on the French Mediterranean coast’, according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Despite their differences they have much in common: a strong shared maritime tradition, fascinating history – and a passion for food. So how does a visitor to the South of France choose between the two? Easy – visit both, they’re only a two-hour drive apart.

While in the South of France, a visitor’s first question is invariably food-related, often about authentic regional dishes. So let’s look at two typically Mediterranean specialities: fish soup from Sète and bouillabaisse from Marseille. What is the difference between the two?

It’s simple.

Sete’s City Market serves up a fresh catch for fish soup

Fish soup from Sete is made from a variety of small rockfish that become caught in the fishermen’s nets as they feed off the rocks near the Mediterranean shore. Rather than toss them back into the sea the fishermen take them home and cook them in a special blend of herbs and spices. The bones are then removed and the broth is put through a sieve. The soup is served with thinly sliced croutons spread with rouille  (a type of mayonnaise with olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper.)  In restaurants, this fish soup is served as a starter and cost is around 8 euros for the dish.

The best rockfish soup has been produced in Sete  since 1963  by the same family Azais Polito. http://www.azais-polito.fr/. Their fish soup is featured in gourmet shops such as Harrods and Lafayette  Gourmet and is exported worldwide… If you get a craving,  simply order online.

Bouillabaisse from Marseille is basically fish soup but  served with a side dish of  fillets of  least three types of fish – mullet, turbot, monkfish .   The fish fillets are cooked in the soup and along with potatoes. Like the fish soup, it is served with a rouille and croutons. The Bouillabaisse is a main course costing at least 35 euros per person to as much as 100 euros  for  versions including more delicate species of fish and seafood.

My favorite spot for  a Bouillabaisse in Marseille is at Chez FonFon. http://www.chez-fonfon.com/    Not only is the soup tasty but you are offered constant refills.  The restaurant is  niched in an alcove barely noticed by passerbys and is overlooking the inlet crammed with small fishing boats.

 

Bouillabaisse in Marseille at Chez FonFon

 

Picpoul de Pinet

Isn’t a meal without wine like a day without sunshine – especially in France? Definitely and there’s no shortage of good regional wine to complement a fish soup. To play it safe, choose a Bandol rosé from Provence or a refreshing Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.

Anything else not to be missed? Quite a lot, but I’d need to write an encyclopaedia! From Marseille: navettes, light biscuits delicately flavoured with eau de fleur d’oranger. And let’s not forget pastis, France’s  favourite aperitif.

From Sète: the Tielle, a deliciously piquant octopus pie with a strong Italian heritage, also zezettes,  a light biscuit delicately flavoured with local muscat wine.

 

 

Thanks to Cook’n with Class Uzes, here are their recipes for the famous fish soups from Marseilles and Sete.

 

 

 

 

Want to see it all in Sete and Marseilles? Contact Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France for guided tours — especially her famous “walking gourmet” tour.

Absolutely Southern France’s Nancy McGee and the Mayor of Sete — of course!

Here’s where to find year-round activities in Sete. 

Discover Marseilles?  it’s on my travel list… soon! 

 

For information on train schedules from Barcelona to Sete click here

 

 

Mapping Barcelona to Sete

 

Seeing the South of France by train from Barcelona

How to Get To France Via Barcelona by Train

All Aboard for Carcassonne

7 Reasons to Visit Sete This Year 

7 Reasons To Visit Sete This Year

Visit Sete This Year

Those of you who follow the Barefoot Blogger regularly know how much I love to visit Sete. It’s one of my favorite places to go for the beach, for the fabulous seafood and for the “always on” fun. If you’re traveling from Barcelona to the South of France, Sete is less than 3 hours away by train.

Here are 7 reasons you really must go:

#1 Visit Sete for Great food

Sete has been one of France’s major seaports for centuries. It is said that Louix XIV made Sete his personal sea gateway so that the treasures of the Orient and beyond could travel directly to Versailles. Italian fishermen helped establish the port as a prime supplier of tuna, sardines, anchovies — among other sea delicacies. Oysters abound around Sete — especially in nearby Bouziques — rounding out a perfect assortment of most delectable seafoods.

Visit Sete

Bluefin tuna from Sete

 

Visit Sete

#2

Visit Sete for History

Along with fishing and importing kingly goods, Sete grew to become a prosperous town with stately homes and thriving businesses along the canal waterfront. Evidence of that prosperity can be seen still today, even though new trade routes and bigger seaports have largely impacted Sete’s economy. Tourism is bringing it back.

 

Visit Sete

Sete’s canal front

 

Visit Sete

Opulent details throughout Sete’s waterfront architecture.

 

 

 

Beyond being a famous port, Sete is known for her favourite son, George Brassens — composer, singer and activist.  In fact, there’s a museum in Sete dedicated to Brassens. It tells of his life and work that captivated me as much as learning about American icons Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. Click here to learn more about visiting the museum.

Visit Sete

George Brassens

 

#3 Visit Sete for Unique Natural Beauty

Canals that run throughout the town 

Visit Sete

Canals that run throughout the town

 

Visit Sete

 

Sky high, panaromic views of the Mediterrean Sea

Clear blue sea

Visit Sete

#4 Visit Sete White Sandy Beaches

Think the Cote d’Azur has the only beaches in the South of France? Try to beat this. Sete has beautiful beaches, blue skies and all-day beach clubs with seafood and much more!

Visit Sete

Beach buddies

#5 Visit Sete for Summer Sports

 

Where else can you sit in a covered arena, overlooking a sea canal, watching water jousting? Day and night?

 

Visit Sete

 

Visit Sete

#6 Visit Sete for Extravaganzas

Plan your holiday in Sete, especially around August during the St. Louis Festival, and you’ll be amazed the sights you’ll see.

 

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Visit Sete

Sete

#7 Visit Sete for Party hearty

Summertime in Sete there’s always a party going on!

Visit Sete

 

Visit Sete

 

Visit Sete

London’s Bad Girls’ Groove Band

 

Visit Sete

Partying at St. Clairs

 

Visit Sete

St. Louis Festival celebration

 

So what’s holding you back? Stop by Sete in the South of France. You might be surprised who you’ll run into!

 

Visit Sete

My “gang”: Hilda, Paula and Rich hanging out in Sete

 

Want to see it all in Sete? Contact Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France for guided tours — especially her famous “walking gourmet” tour.

Here’s where to find year-round activities in Sete. 

More about Sete:

Sete or Marseille? Which Has the Best Fish Soup?

A Day at the Beach in Sete: That’s Life!

Next Stop: Sete France

Barefooting in Sete, France

The Bad Girls in Sete

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

Sete: Abbeys and Vineyards

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sete

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

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

For information on train schedules from Barcelona to Sete click here

 

 

Visit Sete

 

Seeing the South of France by train from Barcelona

How to Get To France Via Barcelona by Train

All Aboard for Carcassonne

All Aboard for Carcassonne

Second of the series on train rides from Barcelona into the South of France, let’s go to Carcassonne. 

Visitors to France who fancy medieval times, Renaissance festivals, dragons and gargoyles must run — not walk — to the village of Carcassonne. It’s like stepping into the back lot at Universal Studios — except it’s for real.

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. The earliest known site dates back to the 6BC when a fort was built overlooking the ancient route that linked the Atlantic with the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsula with the rest of Europe.

Between 1BC and 27BC the settlement, known as “Carcaso Volcarum Tectosagum,” became a Roman town, “Colonia Iulia Carcaso.” During the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, a wall was built around the settlement — a fortification that has been destroyed, remodeled and restored throughout the ages. to give Carcassonne it’s distinction as a World Heritage site and one of the best restored fortified cities in the world.

The medieval walled city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of France

The medieval walled city of Carcassonne in the Languedoc region of France

The walls of Carcassonne and the people who lived within were prime targets for those who desired to have such a prime location for their settlements. The Visigoths ruled the city through the 5th and 6th century and are believed to have erected a cathedral on the site of the present structure. After Arab rule, then a successful siege by Pepin the Short, work began on the Romanesque Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus in 1096.

Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus in Carcassonne

Basilica in Carcassonne

 

The outside of the cathedral, like others of its kind in the south of France, has no flying buttresses. 

Basilica in Carcassonne

Stability for the structure is provided by interior vaulting. 

 

By the end of the 13th century, Carcassonne had acquired a castle, Château Comtaland, and an extension of the fortified wall. The castle, as today, has a drawbridge and a ditch leading to the entrance.

One section of the wall is notably Roman because of its red brick layers and the shallow pitch of its terracotta tile roofs.  Architect Eugène Viollet le Duc is responsible for guiding the restoration of the city that is enjoyed today by so many. Starting in 1855 he completely designed the city, rebuilding what was nothing more than ruins.

 

The early fortifications at Carcassonne consisted of two lines of walls and a castle,

The early fortifications at Carcassonne consisted of two lines of walls and a castle,

Fact or Fiction?

Dame Carcas of CarcassonneOne of the mythical, if not factual, stories about Carcassonne is shared by tour guides of the city today. It has to do with the naming of the city. The story claims that during one of the many sieges on Carcassonne, the people inside created a ruse to fool the aggressors. Because Carcassonne had so many attacks it was believed the inhabitants of the place might be suffering from malnutrition and lack supplies to defend themselves. Knowing they were at great risk, one resident, “Dame Carcas,” grabbed a healthy pig  — one of the last in the city — stuffed its belly full with food, then threw it over the wall as a “present” to the enemy. On receiving such a well-nourished sow, the charging army retreated, assuming the entire population inside the walled fortress was well-fed and ready to defend their city. Hence “Carcassonne” is derived from “Dame Carcas.” Her image (or so they say) can be found on a city gate.

 

Carcassonne Today

Visitors to Carcassonne today will find there are two parts of the city — the walled city and a “modern” city, founded by some of the inhabitants who were thrown out of Carcassonne in 1347.  You can see the walled city for miles around. Its approach from below — after walking up quite a distance from the new city, or after walking from the parking lot at the top of the hill — is  an amazing sight. Not many of us in the 21st century have had the privilege to see a “real” medieval castle — much less, enter it over what had been a drawbridge.

Entrance to Carcassonne

Entrance to Carcassonne

Once inside the huge, wide, stone passageway, the ancient-ness quickly fades away into modern-day tourism. Gift shops, candy stores and souvenir places are everywhere along the narrow streets.

Inside the stone walls at Carcassonne

Inside the stone walls at Carcassonne

If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the tourist office that’s just inside, to the right.  My advice? Find it and schedule a walking tour. The guide for my visit was superb.

Tour guide at Carcassonne tells stories of advancing enemy troops and the rigor of the fortifications

Tour guide at Carcassonne tells stories of advancing enemy troops and the rigor of the fortifications

Another idea? Ride the small train that encircles the grounds, inside and out. It’s not just for kids … or should I say …. for kids of all ages.

Train travels around the exterior of the city of Carcassonne

Train travels around the exterior of the city of Carcassonne

 

 

A view of the "modern" city below from the walled fortress of Carcassonne

A view of the “modern” city below from the walled fortress of Carcassonne

 

Best Time of Year to Visit?

My first trip to Carcassonne was in November. As in the rest of Europe, tourists are mostly at home. That’s a good time to hire a guide who will walk with you inside and outside of the city wall. The stories and images recounted by an imaginative docent are priceless.

If you want to see Carcassonne with hundreds of thousands of others on one day, visit July 14th — Bastille Day. The crowds are as bad as you can imagine, but the fireworks display is magnificent. “The best show in all of France,” some say. Click here for a great map of the “modern city” that shows where’s the best view.

Fireworks over the walled city of Carcassonne on Bastille Day

Fireworks over the walled city of Carcassonne on Bastille Day

 

Bastille Day Fireworks in Carcassonne

Bastille Day Fireworks in Carcassonne

Train from Barcelona

Carcassonne is just over two hours from Barcelona by train. For more information about schedules and prices, click here 

Barcelona to Carcassonne

Click here for more information on Carcassonne and upcoming events.

P.S. Thanks to Pete Bine, my oldest son, for sharing some of his photos for this post

 

 

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A Quick Jump Across the Pond

Tomorrow I’m heading for a quick visit to the States. It’s been ten month since I’ve seen my two grand babies and it’s their birthdays!

With a five-week trip away from Uzes ahead of me, the weekend was busy with packing and saying “goodbye” to friends. The Saturday Market and cafes in town were packed. It reminded me of that day four years ago when I first visited the town. The weather is perfect and spirits have lifted. Winter is over. Spring is here!
 


 
 


 
 


 
 


 
 


 
 

I’ll keep in touch while I’m away. It’ll be interesting to return to family and friends in the US after such a long time. When I return to France there’s more fun ahead. Including a stopover in Paris and travel stories from the South of France. … stay tuned!

 
 

Basílica de la Sagrada Família

How to Get To France Via Barcelona by Train

If you’re thinking of heading to Uzes this summer, or anywhere else in the south of France, check out flights to and from Barcelona. Then grab a train.

When friends talk about visiting the south of France, I always suggest they look at airfare and consider coming in through Barcelona. It’s only a short train ride to some of the most visited places in France. Now that I’ve spent a couple of days in Barcelona, I’m going to really emphasize the idea. The city and the Catalan area of Spain shouldn’t be missed. In just two days I sampled some of my favorite things — astonishing architecture, food and shopping.

“Modernisme” at its best

The first time I visited Barcelona was 1966 with two college girlfriends from North Carolina. The three of us were on a “Europe-on-$5-a-day” tour in my new “fastback” VW. We’d picked up the car in London and traveled around for nearly two months before arriving in Barcelona. Our mission was to attend a bullfight and to eat paella. That’s all we knew about Spain, even though I had picked up some of the language in university Spanish classes.

Little did I know that I would return to Barcelona 50 years later and find the city almost unrecognisable. 

Vista del Cuartel Central ( Parc de L´Eixample ) en 1960

Who knew the Arena where we watched the famous matador Jesus Cordobés reign supreme would be a shopping center in 2016?

What a shame we didn’t do a bit of homework before our 60’s tour and learn about Antoni Gaudi and his magnificent architecture. On the other hand, I was thrilled 50 year later to discover some of his most famous masterpieces.

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Basílica de la Sagrada Família

The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona that started construction in 1882 under the auspices of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph.  Architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano began the project but he resigned and turned it over to Catalan Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. The Spanish Gothic/Modernisme/Art Nouveau structure has been steady work for architects and builders since its first stones were laid. The centuries old basilica and adjoining rooms, still being executed according to Gaudi’s plans, is expected to be completed in 2026.

I hope to be around to see it!

Casa Batlló, also known as Casa dels osseous (House of Bones) is a landmark building in the center of Barcelona. The house was remodelled by Gaudi in 1904 as part of a trend in modernisme in the city’s wealthy residential district during the late 1800’s . The revitalized downtown area, known as “mansana de la discòrdia” or “block of discord,” features three re-constructed houses, each of contrasting designs — Casa Batlló by Gaudi, which is next door to Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch, and down the street is Domènech i Montaner‘s Casa Lleó Morera.

 Gaudi

Casa Milá in Barcelona

Casa Milá in Barcelona

Casa Milá in Barcelona

Casa Milá in Barcelona

Not one to “stay within the lines,” Gaudi had a vision for Casa Batlló that included rounded version of everything — from windows to hallways.

Perhaps the most breathtaking parts of the house, to me, was the “servant’s quarters” on the top floor, the stairway to the rooftop … and the incredible views.

Casa Milá in Barcelona

“Servants quarters” at Casa Batlló in Barcelona

Casa Milá in Barcelona

Unique ventilation system designed by Gaudi for the upper level of Casa Batlló

Casa Milá in Barcelona The theory about the rounded features Gaudi created for Casa Batlló is that he envisioned Saint George, patron saint of Catalonia, plunging a dragon with a lance. 

Rooftop at Casa Batlló

Rooftop at Casa Batlló

View of Barcelona from the rooftop at Casa Batlló

View of Barcelona from the rooftop at Casa Batlló

Barcelona from the rooftop at Casa Batlló

Barcelona from the rooftop at Casa Batlló

Casa Amatller was the first of the homes to be updated by neoclassical architects of the time in the “mansana de la discòrdia” section of Barcelona.  Owned by chocolatier Antoni Amatller Costa, the mansion was built in 1875 and redesigned in 1898 by Antoni Puig i Cadafalch, one of the most prolific Catalan architects and town planners of the early 20th century. Inspired by traditional Catalan and Gothic styles, Puig was influenced by European trends of the time — exposed bricks, tile and wrought iron.

 

Casa Amatlier by Josep Puig i Cadafaich

Casa Amatlier by Josep Puig i Cadafaich

Antoni Amatlier was a renowned industrialist, famous for the introduction of a revolutionary system that allowed for the quick and large scale production of chocolate. He was also an avid collector. The home still contains original family furnishings and collectibles. Antoni Amatller died in 1910. His daughter, Teresa, continued the business of chocolate until she sold Chocolates Amatller S.A. After her death in 1960, the home was turned into a museum under the guardianship of the Barcelona City Council and became the Fundació Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic (Amatller Institute of Hispanic Art).

Casa Amatlier

Casa Amatlier

Casa Amatlier

Casa Amatlier

Casa Amatlier by Josep Puig i Cadafaich

If you aren’t familiar with Chocolates Amatller, a lovely store is on the ground floor of the museum — complete with all types of chocolate treats to enjoy on the spot, or to take out. Need I say that some of that sweet chocolate for the hot chocolate found its way into my suitcase?

Casa Lleó i Morera was refurbished in the late 1800’s by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner , commissioned by wealthy divorcé Francisca Morera Oritz. Unfortunately Oritz died before living in the mansion. Her son, Albert Lleó i Morera, and his family took charge of the house, hence the name. Just recently opened to the public, I viewed the mansion from the outside only. Next time I won’t miss it!

CASA LLEÓ I MORERA

CASA LLEÓ I MORERA

Casa Lleó i Morera Barcelona

Casa Lleó i Morera Barcelona

Entrance showing wooden carriage lift

Food to die for!

Tapas, pizza and cafes galore fill the streets of Barcelona. My quest was to try as much of it as possible. What better way than to go for tapas? These were some of the best.

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Shop in style

You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy shopping in Barcelona. (Although I’m sure you will find something you love, if you’re like me!)  The shops are a treat in themselves.

Here’s a shopping guide to show you the way. 

Shopping in Barcelona

Shopping in Barcelona

Barcelona

Louis Vuitton

Barcelona

Logistics for a 2-day visit to Barcelona

Arriving into the airport in Barcelona, there are several means of transportation into the city. The article linked here describes a number of choices. My suggestion is to take a train from the airport terminal and come into the Barcelona-Sants train station (Sants Estació) in the centre of town.  You can board the train directly in front of Terminal 2 at the airport. If your flight arrives at Terminal 1, there is a free shuttle to Terminal 2. When you arrive at the downtown station, there are dozens of taxis that can take you to your Barcelona destination. The bonus is that it’s the same station where you’ll take your train when you take off to France. You already know your way!

Santa Railway Station in Barcelona

Santa Railway Station in Barcelona

Barcelona city tour

One of the first things I do when traveling, especially in a large city, is take a city bus tour. There are several ways you can go about it, from a scheduled van or bus tour to a hop-on-off bus. I prefer the hop-on-off variety. Barcelona is such a big and varied city that some bus companies offer a one-day ticket with three routes.  My hotel was in the middle of a major downtown area, within close walking distance to the sites I most wanted to see, so I chose the two-hour Red route — to the former Olympics Games site, the beaches and the port of Barcelona.  Next time I visit, I’ll see more. (Click on image to enlarge)

Barcelona Bus Turistic Routes

Barcelona Bus Turistic Routes

Hostel Casa Gracia's friendly reception

Hostel Casa Gracia’s friendly reception

Where to stay in Barcelona

Depending upon the length of your visit to Barcelona and the Catalan area, there are tons of options for places to stay. On this short visit, I was thrilled with my choice in Barcelona – Hostel Casa Gracia Barcelona. The hotel/hostel is on Passeig de Gràcia, right in the center of a bustling business, tourist and restaurant section of town. Except for the hop-on bus tour, I walked everywhere!

 Trains to the south of France

 Barcelona

The destinations that you can visit in France with the Renfe SNCF trains are: Perpignan, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Béziers, Adge, Sète, Montpellier, Nimes, Avignon, Aix en Provence, Marseille, Valence, Lyon and París. Stops you might want to make along the way in Spain are Barcelona, Girona and Figueras. Go by train!

Click here for more information on trains, locations, times and current pricing (renfe-sncf.com) 

Bon Voyage!

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In the next series of posts on Barefoot Blogger, we’ll go to some of the places I’ve visited on the route. Hopefully I’ll get to them all for a first-hand review.

Stay tuned …

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Uzes Saturday Market

Winter Market in Uzés: It’s Not Quite the Same

If you’ve visited the Uzés Saturday Market during tourist season and hate the crowds, you should be here in February. The market is almost the same, minus the throngs of people.

Uzes Saturday MarketThis weekend’s market day was sunny and cold — a crisp 45 degrees when I set out. Clear blue skies and a light wind.

 

Uzes Saturday Market

 

While some of my favorite vendors were in place, many shops were shuttered and closed.

 

 

A local hangout, Au Suisse d’Alger, was minus its usual outside market-watchers. Yet there was a bustle inside where it was warm and cozy.

 

 

In the market an assortment of new produce was proudly displayed and on sale.

Uzes Saturday Market

 

 

Market regulars were busy as usual. 

 

On such a beautiful day, all who could be there were out to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

 

Winter market in Uzes

 

 

Winter market in Uzes

 

Main Street for Uzés Saturday Market

On the main street, or Rue Gambetta, there was a marked difference in the numbers of street vendors. Although there were many more than earlier days of winter when the weather was in the 30’s. 

 

Winter market in Uzes

 

Still you could count on those who gather at the Café de l’Esplanade to be there for coffee and to pick up their fresh oysters. 

Winter market in Uzes

 

Best of all, inventory at stores and on the street were priced to go.

 

 

Yes, the 3 pairs of boots are mine! At 15 euros a pair, could I resist?

Uzes Saturday Market

When the sun is shining you can depend on the French to dine outdoors. Market days are a time for friends to gather wherever there’s an open table.

 

 

Uzes Saturday Market

Cafes outside with customers

Uzes Saturday Market

 

Happy, happy day! Oh La Vache was open again after a too-long winter break. Their “CocoRico” chicken sandwich was still same. The best! Grilled chicken, aubergine and melted chèvre. Oh la la! (Not to mention a pichet (50cl) of rosé – to share, of course!)

Uzés Saturday Market Day

To top off the day, a stop at Gaffier’s Green Grocery was a “must.” Always the same: the freshest produce, wine at great prices — and a welcoming smile.  

Uzes Saturday Market

 

And, oh yes, it’s the only place in town to buy fresh herbs out of season. After a day at the market, my next mission? Gravlax! 

 

Uzes Saturday Market

 

 

Stay tuned …

Uzes Saturday Market

Paris Through Your Eyes

Last week I published photos of Paris on the Barefoot Blogger Facebook page. Happily, friends began replying with their pictures of Paris. That gave me the inspiration to publish a post of Paris photos as seen through your eyes. 

Thank you to all who contributed your “Best Shot”.

 

 

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A Slice of Life in the “Off” Season: A Chambre d’Hôtes in France

Time to check back in at Mas d’Augustine and find out how the owners and managers, Jane and Gary Langton, are spending their time at the chambre d’hôte off season … with no guests, but plenty of chores. As we visit the Langtons, it appears that Jane has quite a few projects in mind. Let’s see how they manage it all…

“It’s a busy time of year in the Chambre d’Hôtes business………even though we’re closed,” says Jane.  

I suspect, most people think during the chambre d’hôte off season we have our feet up in front of the fire doing little or nothing before we welcome guests in April. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as there is just too much that needs to be done both inside and out.

I had planned for us to be working in the garden this week but we had to stop as, despite the beautiful blue skies and sunshine, it is just too cold. I have decided to increase the size of the vegetable garden this year so that we can offer a wider selection of organic home-grown fruit and vegetables. As a consequence, Gary has (reluctantly) agreed to remove the existing hedge (circa 5 metres high) which will enable me to plant a long row of tomatoes. Previously we had room for 6 tomato plants, but I want to include a wide selection of Heirloom tomatoes in all colours, as they are such an important ingredient in Provençal cooking and straight from the garden the flavours are really intense.

All the hedges bordering the property need to be cut, olive and fruit trees pruned and there are two Italian Cypress trees that need to be cut down as they did not survive last year’s hot summer. I also have a plan to improve 3 of the existing flower beds, which involves the building of a dry-stone wall, changing of soil and the re-shaping of the beds. I am hoping to create a new lavender bed, a white rose bed and extend the giant poppy bed. I think Gary is rather grateful for the cold snap, as he is not an enthusiastic gardener!

chambre d'hôte off season

One of last year’s flower beds

Before the cold snap started, Gary moved our lemon trees to their winter home up on the terrace and I have wrapped up the diplodenia – fingers crossed it will survive the freezing night temperatures.

Gary has just returned from a quick trip to London to welcome his new granddaughter into the family. Mathilda was born last Friday and we are looking forward to her first visit in the summer.

While he was away I pressed on with the redecorating. I have nearly finished painting the main kitchen, but decided to leave the ceiling to Gary. Next week we will start the office, closely followed by re-varnishing the front doors and re-painting all the windows at the front of the mas.

 

chambre d'hôte off season

 

chambre d'hôte off seasonPainting and decorating done, we will be tackling the garden to make certain everything is ready for the first shoots of Spring in mid-February. Then, in March, it will be time to clean the terraces and fill the pool, layout all the garden furniture, clean the summer kitchen and get the rooms ready for our first guests in April.

I like to add something new to the guest rooms every year, so we will spend a few Sundays visiting the local brocante and antique markets searching for interesting items.

There is one job that Gary looks forward to every year………. tasting the dishes for the newly designed menus. Over the next few weeks I will prepare all the new recipes for us to sample and critique.

We are enjoying hearty French classic dishes to help keep out the cold. One of our favourites is a traditional French stew. In the Languedoc region this stew is known as a Cassoulet. Made with meat, sausages and beans, it takes a while to cook and prepare but, on a cold winter night after a hard day in the garden, it’s definitely worth it.

chambre d'hôte off season

Cassolet

Cassoulet

A wonderful change from traditional casseroles, it takes a while to cook but the flavours are wonderful and very warming

Ingredients – serves 6

140 grms of pork belly

140 grms of smoked bacon

300 grms of garlic sausage

600 grms of haricot beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water

1 celery stick

1 small white onion

2 carrots

2 large plum tomatos

6 cloves of garlic

2 tsp of lemon juice

2 cloves, crushed

6 confit duck legs or 6 pre-cooked chicken legs

25 grms of goose fat or 2tbls of olive oil

1 tsp of dried mixed herbs

Method

1. Chop the bacon, pork belly and garlic sausage into bite sized chunks.

2. Drain the beans that you soaked overnight and tip into a large saucepan with the bacon, sausage and pork belly. Cover with water and bring to the boil, blanch for about 15 mins. Drain and set aside. Heat the oven to 120 c.

3. Chop the celery, carrot and onion and peel the garlic leaving the cloves whole.

4. Heat the goose fat or olive oil in a large oven proof casserole or frying pan and over a low heat sweat the garlic, onion, carrot and celery for about 5 minutes until softening. Add the tomatoes and herbs and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the sausage, bacon and pork belly to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, add the beans and then 1 litre of water.

6. Bring the mixture to the boil and add the lemon juice, cloves and season with salt and pepper.

7. Transfer the casserole to the oven and cook uncovered for 2 to 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally, the beans will soften and thicken the juice.

8. Remove the cassoulet from the oven. Now add either the confit duck legs or your pre-cooked chicken legs, place them under the beans and cook the cassoulet for another 2 hours for duck and 1 hour for chicken

Serve the cassoulet in bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and plenty of crusty French bread.

chambre d'hôte off season

Proud Granddad Gary and Mathilda

At the chambre d’hôte off season there’s always time for a horse ride

chambre d'hôte off season

Stay tuned …

Mas d’Augustine, a former silk farm built in the latter part of the 18th Century, retains many of its original features and has been restored with respect for the original architecture. For information about a visit with Jane and Gary at Mas d’Augustine in the village outside Uzes,  La Bruguière, check out the website: masdaugustine.com

How to Reinvent Yourself After a Divorce – Part 1

A blogger friend contacted me for an interview for her delightful blog that “Celebrates the Stylish Side of 60!” — The French Touch. I told her she must have the wrong person:“Who, me? I’m 60?” Nevertheless, I was happy to participate and to talk about my road to France. Here’s where the two-part post begins.


How to Reinvent Yourself After a Divorce – Part 1

She was a successful career woman, wife and mother suddenly faced with the disintegration of her four-decade marriage. So, what did she do?

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Well, she picked herself up, dusted herself off and moved from the American South to the south of France and into an apartment 55 steps up in the tower of a 12th Century building.

Let me introduce you to one very gutsy gal who threw caution to the winds and set sail for the most exciting adventure of her life. Yes, Virginia, there is life after divorce, and it can be amazing.

Click here to link to The French Touch to find out more! 

 

A Personal Journey Back in Time

Today I’m going to take a giant leap into a place I don’t take you very often. My “real” life and passions.

Since becoming the “Barefoot Blogger” it seems I’ve created a fantasy person. Sometimes I don’t recognise her myself. Here in Barefoot Blogger’s world,  life is beautiful. Travel, fun and friends. Yes, that’s all true. What isn’t revealed, though, is the fact that living in Europe has opened my heart and mind in more ways imaginable: empathy, love and fear. Having never lived in a country that, for centuries, was under siege of war, I now see the ravages of war around me. I hear the stories. I acknowledge the pain. While I feel quite safe and content in my little “tower” in Uzes, I’m connected to the world through the same means of communications as you are. Along with the many good things, awful things are happening around us. Unimaginable things.

That’s why I am sharing my visit to Oradour with you — a village that won’t appear in travel magazines — but it is important. I stopped there on  the way back from the Loire Valley. By writing this post about Oradour, I want to  remind myself  and you, my friends, that history seems to repeat itself … if we allow it.

Back in time

On June 6, 1944 Operation Neptune, known as the “D-Day”, took place on the French beaches of Normandy beginning the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe. While the Allies had a foothold in Europe that would lead to the end of the War, the invasion set madness into motion in other parts of France. Oradour-sur-Glane, a small town near Limoges suffered one of the worse examples of the brutality of the German Army.

Here is an account of the events:

“On 10 June, Diekmann’s battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane and ordered all the inhabitants – and anyone who happened to be in or near the town – to assemble in the village square to have their identity papers examined. The SS also arrested six people who did not live in the village but merely happened to be riding their bicycles through there when the SS unit arrived.

The women and children were locked in the church and the village was looted. The men were led to six barns and sheds, where machine guns were already in place.

According to a survivor’s account, the SS men then began shooting, aiming for their legs. When victims were unable to move, the Nazis covered them with fuel and set the barns on fire. Only six men managed to escape. One of them was later seen walking down a road and was shot dead. In all, 190 Frenchmen died.

The SS men next proceeded to the church and placed an incendiary device beside it. When it was ignited, women and children tried to escape through the doors and windows, only to be met with machine-gun fire. 247 women and 205 children died in the brutal attack. The only survivor was 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche. She escaped through a rear sacristy window, followed by a young woman and child.[3] All three were shot, two of them fatally. Rouffanche crawled to some pea bushes and remained hidden overnight until she was found and rescued the next morning. About twenty villagers had fled Oradour-sur-Glane as soon as the SS unit had appeared. That night, the village was partially razed.

Several days later, the survivors were allowed to bury the 642 dead inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane who had been killed in just a few hours.” (Wikipedia)

Oradour

 

Oradour

 

General Charles de Gaulle visited the ruined village of Oradour after the war. He declared the village — site of one of the largest massacres in France during World War II —  a memorial to the cruelty of the German occupation and deemed that it never should be rebuilt. A new village carrying the name was built after the war northwest of the site. Today a memorial museum stands at the entrance to the martyred village, dedicated by French president Jacques Chirac in 1999.

Oradour

 

 

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Down this road, on a summer day in 1944 … The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, a community which had lived for a thousand years … was dead.

Excerpt from the British documentary, The World at War, narrated by Laurence Olivier

 

Personal revelation

I literally wept when I reached the ruins of the children’s school and read the names — “Binet” — so similar to my own. Farther down the road, my spirits lifted as I saw a young family in the distance.

Oradour

 

Seeing them from behind, I found myself running up to stop them in the road. It was a sunny, holiday weekend. Here was a family visiting Oradour when others would be at Disneyland. I had to find out why they were there. The lovely young woman told me her family had been among those who died during the massacre. Her grandmother brought her to Oradour when she was the age of her children. She wanted them to see the same, to feel the same, to remember the past.

Oradour

 

Oradour

 

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Homage to Truffle Hunting Pigs

Saturday night I served a fancy pork terrine bought in the Loire Valley to friends who were in town for the Uzes Black Truffle Festival. That bite of pork could have been my last. I’m in love with pigs.

I’ve always had an attraction to pigs, namely Porky Pig, Piglet, Babe and Miss Piggy. However, the attraction never kept me from having more than my share of pork barbecue, pork chops, ham and bacon. Yesterday, though, I fell under the spell of a truffle hunting pig. She was awesome.

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Truffle hunting pig in Uzes

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Snout down finding a truffle

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival Activities

Let me set the stage …

Sunday morning, under a bright sunny sky, there was a brisk Mistral wind blowing across the main plaza in Uzes, Place aux Herbes. Crowds of couples, families and singles were scurrying towards the centre of the plaza to join in on the Black Truffle Festival festivities.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Morning view of Place aux Herbes in preparation for the Truffle Festival

 

In the square there was a huge tent and dozens of little food stands, each filled with vendors with their renditions of truffled delicacies. 

Merchants with truffle paraphernalia were set up to sell knives, bags, truffle shavers and more.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Truffle gadget vendor in Uzes

 

There were even tiny tree starts implanted with truffles at their roots so you could take one home.

Uzes Black Truffle Hunt

A “truffle pen” filled with dirt and small trees was set up along one side of the plaza. It had been seeded with black truffles that were free to any man, woman or child with a dog who could find them. 

 

Not one dog found a truffle, but one stole the show. Nancy McGee’s 2-pound Papillon, Jewel. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Jewel the truffle dog

 

 

 

 

Jewel was the show stopper … until the truffle-hunting pig arrived. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

“Madame Cochon” rooted where others n’er dared to go.

 

She snorted and dug until every truffle was sorted out.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Finding a truffle

 

Surely Madame Cochon’s talent was due to the mutual admiration between she and her master. You might even call it piggy love. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Who could resist such a loveable pig?

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

 

Even the piglets-in-waiting were envious. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival Auction

Meanwhile, back at center stage, a truffle auction was starting. Truffles that had been blessed at an earlier church service were up for sale to the highest bidders to raise money for charity.

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Blessed truffles for auction

 

Each truffle was carefully cleaned, weighed and sold, starting at 1000 euros per kilo.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Truffle auction

 

All was supervised by the ever-present Compagnie Bachiques — a group of wine-loving men who show up at every wine event, dressed in the colors and golden coat of arms of the Duchy of Uzes. It is their duty to spread the word about wines from the region and to proclaim:

 

“VINO NON AQUA” 

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Uzes Black Truffle Sales

 

All through the day curious and truffle-hungry guests mobbed vendors who were selling truffles by weight. 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Selling truffles by weight

 

 

Precious truffle oil, butter and cheese sold fast.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Those seeming to have the most fun were those who just showed up for the experience, the food, the company and the wine.

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

What truffle delight did I buy? A little block of truffle butter, cheese with truffles and a small jar of truffle pate that I’ll  have to give away — it’s made with pork! 

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

Barefoot Blogger “do I shop or take photos?”

Oh yes … and dare I forget? Nancy and I polished off  a few Truffle macaroons with a nice pot of tea before she left for her drive back to Sete.

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

Another fun day in the South of France!

Uzes Black Truffle Festival

 

The Year’s Most Inspiring Person

While living in France the past three years, I’ve been to some pretty amazing places and met some pretty remarkable people. It would be hard to compare them. The story and life of Verity Smith, however, has touched me more than others. Her example encourages me when I want to say “I can’t.” 

Verity and I met last summer at an apero party at a friend’s home. It was a casual afternoon gathering with people standing around the cocktail area in small conversation groups. When the party was pretty much in full swing, a most attractive and “proper” young English lady with a large, black labradoodle joined a group of people she apparently knew. Because I owned a black labradoodle at one time, my attention went to the dog. I glided over meet him — Uffa.  I noticed he was wearing a harness, not just a leash. He was a service dog. The beautiful blonde at his side was his “Missy” — Verity Smith.

Meeting Verity has been hard to forget. Aside from her beauty, she is an Olympic-rated equestrian.

Riding since she was three, and competing since she was five, Verity began her journey into blindness at the age of eight. Never thinking that riding a horse would be too dangerous for a blind person, Verity continued riding. She convinced herself and others the horse could see for her. Her victories in equestrian competitions for the sighted and the blind proved her right. At seventeen she won every able-bodied event she entered. Her only concession had been to switch from show jumping and cross-country to dressage. She was more than 90% blind.

“Dressage is dance set on a stage with a horse,” she said.

In 1992, Verity represented Great Britain as part of the British Team at the World Championship at Arhuss in Denmark. She ranked top in her category. After winning more impressive titles, Verity was onboard in 2016 to compete in the Brazil Paralympics. Until the blindfold controversy, that is.

Verity Smith in dressage competition

Verity Smith in dressage competition

While Verity has lost more than 90% of her vision, like most blind people, she has a residue of light sensitivity. The feeling of light she has creates her days and nights — the axis on which her other senses calibrate. It is very rare to be “black” blind.

Midway through training for the Brazil games, Verity and other blind riders were told they were required to wear blindfolds. The rule that a rider could compete in a lower disability category without a blindfold had changed.  Verity was devastated.

“Horses have always been my sanctuary from my disability, allowing me to quite literally ride the storm of my blindness. When I ride I am free and afraid of nothing. In the blindfold I am a prisoner, frightened of the dark.”

The new rule by the International Federation Equestrian (FEI) left only months for Verity to change her training. She decided to challenge the rule.

“It was a battle I didn’t expect to have to fight, but getting the rules changed was more important than my personally going to Rio,” she added.

Verity became the voice for blind equestrians around the world.

“It’s a dangerous sport anyway, but to disable somebody further is very, very treacherous. We rely on every inch that we have to keep us and the horse safe,” she stated. “It is the difference between having no day and no night.”

Her social media campaign hit the internet and airwaves — BBC Sports News,  Huffington Post and the like.

“The whole ethic of the Paralympics is about breaking down stereotypes which is something I have tried very hard to do my whole life,” Verity explained.  “They are about using what you have got, no matter how small it is and it is very sad that this rule is taking it away.”

 

Verity Smith's social media "Beat the Blindfold" campaign

Verity Smith’s social media “Beat the Blindfold” campaign

Battle Won

Verity failed to compete in the Paralymics, but she won her case against blindfolds. As an advocate for the Blind, Verity had been successful in “ helping sighted people understand what being blind means,” she stated proudly.

The Paralympics ruling was not the first time Verity had spoken out for the blind. She represented blind charities at the House of Lord. She successfully campaigned to allow Guide Dogs to travel on planes and Eurostar. She worked for Braille to be displayed on vending machines — that is, after having bought a novelty condom instead of a tampax in a public restroom.

How does she do it? How does a blind equestrian compete?

Verity trains every day.  Her horse, “Kit”, knows her every move.

“He sensed early on that ‘there is something wrong with this person — she can’t see, she bumps into me sometimes’ — but he’s very accepting of that.”

In addition to a well-trained rider and horse, Verity’s team includes helpers she affectionately calls the “Scoobies.”  Named for the cartoon character “Scooby Doo” who, according to Verity, “He eats everything in sight,” the Scoobies guide Verity through her dressage course with auditory signals. The Scoobies arrange themselves along nine markers within the dressage arena. Each Scoobie holds a letter which he/she calls out during the routine. Nine Scoobies out of a pool of twenty participate in each event .

The Scoobies with Verity Smith in competition

The Scoobies with Verity Smith in competition

Can we help?

Verity isn’t one to ask for help. She’s quite independent living on her own — with Uffa, of course — in her apartment in Nimes. Her mother lives in a nearby town. In addition to riding, Verity is an accomplished writer, singer and composer. Admittedly, she knows no limits. She is confident her spirit and determination will influence the public’s perception of blindness and help others who have disabilities cope with their challenges through her example.

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Verity, Uffa and Kit

This year I’m making a pledge to help promote Verity’s work through the non-profit “Equipe Verity.” Contributions to the association pay for costs associated with running the project — petrol, overnights, horse transport, competition fees and the like. Members of the association receive a membership card, quarterly email newsletter, a schedule of events that they can attend and, most importantly, members become part of Verity’s team — a team that strives to change perceptions and raise awareness for disabilities through positivity and example. For information about Equipe Verity, contact shellcosso@gmail.com.

“Horses have always been my sanctuary. Riding is the one thing that takes me out of being blind.”

Verity Smith

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