Nice and on to…..Genoa

Fur coats, little dogs, big handbags…

sleeping on a bench

for others….

“Ah-h-h..” he thinks.

Life on the French Riviera….joggers, runners, bicyclists, moms/dads/grandparents pushing baby strollers, in-line skaters, serious walkers with weights in hand, tourists on rented bikes, tourists not paying attention when they cross over the painted green lines on the boardwalk designated for bicycles/skaters/joggers only (oops “sorry”), elderly people on their daily walking regimen — this is the boardwalk that separates the Mediterranean Sea from the town of Nice, France.   I was not participating in any of the above activities, since my focus was:  “I will have another cappuccino and oh, yes, a tiramisu gelato – 2 scoops, please, in a waffle cone — oh, and can you drizzle some chocolate over that?  Merci!”   Heaven. The Matisse, Chagall and Beaux Artes Museums and a Russian Orthodox Church provided ample opportunities to walk from one end of town to the other with these destinations in mind.  The Nice harbor was home to huge yachts, and I do mean HUGE yachts, bearing flags from countries all over the world, with employees on board setting the breakfast tables for their “captains”.  BMW SUVs, Mercedes, taxis, Smart Cars, old cars, motorcycles passed me by on the coastal road as if James Bond was in pursuit.  The sunny days did not prevent the women wearing fur coats, and the chilly mornings did not prevent the men in Speedos from taking their daily swim in the Sea.

The 3’ X 3’ elevator lift used for transportation of tourists to the top of a mountain to see a castle, was retrofitted for a well shaft and provided an opportunity to really experience acute claustrophobia and emerge ashen faced, groping for a brown paper bag to stop hyperventilating.   It was worth the ascent, though, the views were stupendous.   Resort towns… this one was no exception to why a locale becomes a “resort community” … gorgeous surroundings, beautiful views, mild weather and the Mediterranean.

After spending three days in Nice, I walked to the station to board the train for Italy.  I passed a poster “Nice Party Bus” pasted on a lamp-post and imagined Nice 60 years ago  – same beautiful locale, but calm and peaceful, with residents living their lives and the occasional tourist complimenting the town as opposed to overtaking it.

The short train ride from  to the Italian border showed the coastal development.  I don’t think there was a square inch of land that didn’t have a house or apartment building on it.  And, yet, how beautiful it would be to sit on a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea during the summer months? Pretty spectacular, I would imagine. But, what a cost…

Arrived in Ventimigla, Italy greeted by German Shepherd drug sniffing dogs, I changed platforms and boarded a regional Italian train to Genoa.  It trundled through tunnels and along the coast, stopped at every little town, and eventually arrived in Genoa 2.45 hours later.

Genoa (Italian: Genova)is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria. The city has a population of about 610,000 and the urban area has a population of about 900,000.  Genoa’s Metropolitan Area has a population of about 1,400,000. It is also called la Superba (“the Superb one”) due to its glorious past. Part of the old city of Genoa was inscribed on the World Heritage List (UNESCO) in 2006.  The city’s rich artmusicgastronomyarchitecture and history, made it 2004’s EU Capital of culture. Genoa, which forms the southern corner of the Milan-Turin-Genoa industrial triangle of north-west Italy, is one of the country’s major economic centres. The Bank of Saint George, one of the oldest in the world, was founded here in 1407 and played an important role in the city’s prosperity from the middle of the 15th century.

I checked into the hotel close to the train station and set off to explore the city.  Never having been to Italy, I was totally unprepared for how BIG everything was:  gardens, gates, statues, fountains, marble pillars, paintings.  Currently in Genoa, there is a push to get it on the tourist trail and several palazzi(houses) are now converted into museums with the original furnishings, artwork and ceramics.    The beauty and care that went into these houses – every detail of stitching on drapes, painting of frescoes, building furniture, mini chapels, displayed fabrics – all was done with care and pride of the finished product.    And just so damn gorgeous.

All the while, I was thinking though ,”Let’s see, Greek mythology – what do I remember?  ZIPPO — …”And these Italian painters, what do I know about them?” – ZIPPO…  And, it is not like there are just 4 or 5 — oh no, that would be way too easy — so, spoke with my daughter-in-law who majored in Italian renaissance art.  “Hi, just need a brief run-down on all this!”  She laughed, and once regaining composure, did help me understand some of the basics so I could at least grasp something of what I was looking at!  Then, I found a guide-book with the following first index headings:  HISTORICAL SURVEY – 1 page; MOST FAMOUS ARTISTS – 2 pages; BRIEF ART HISTORY STARTING W/10th C. – 2 pages — I bought it!  Hope springs eternal that with more exposure, knowledge sinks in and is absorbed…

The first four floors of the Galata Museo del Mar (Maritime Museum which chronicles the evolution of sea exploration in Genoa from the first boat construction to new sea liners) are dedicated to the emergence of Genoa’s sea trade. The fifth floor is dedicated to the Italian immigration to America.  The visitor holds an immigrant’s passport and walks thru the experience of  leaving Italy and boarding the ship, walking on the decks, sleeping quarters, experiencing debarkation, Ellis Island, medical checks,  and, finally,  what happened to the person on the passport.  A Carnival Cruise advertisement in a magazine gets me seasick, so God knows what I was thinking when I entered  “LA AMERICA EXHIBIT”.   I basically crawled out at the other end, after looking at waves undulating on film thru portholes, standing on the undulating floors in the sleeping quarters, and the sound of waves crashing over head piped in on the sound system.  Despite this, it was an excellent immersion(no pun intended there)…and the museum – fabulous.  A gallery guard came up to me and said “Signora, we Europeans are your grandparents….”  Food for thought…

Genoa – that seedy sea-trading port aspect contrasted with some beautiful modern museums, trendy shops mixed in with North African/Moroccan neighborhoods, statues of C. Columbus(oh yeah, I remember him now!), cobblestone streets, non-beautification for the tourist trade, the old city, all the aromas of freshly baked pastries and pizza, friendly people, the two ladies on the metro who told me I was getting on the train going in the WRONG direction–so it goes….on to Pisa..

cya.. me

Leaving Rognonas…on to Italy…

Au revoir, France…..

I saw leaves turn yellow and carpet the orchards’ ground, trees pruned and left to wait out the cold winter months, and greenhouses filled with lettuce slowly emptying to provide greens for the village markets this winter.  My village status changed from tourist to inhabitant when the grocery store clerk asked me when I was going to get my discount card -“vous économiserez de l’argent, madame” (save money, madame). When the bus drivers greeted me with “St. Remy, madame?” or “Avignon, madame?”, a comfort level settled over me like that first cup of morning coffee.     The dog stopped barking at me every morning, the horses followed me in hopes of a treat as I walked thru the pasture, I navigated the streets with confidence, saw progress in winterizing the orchards’ trees, and the days began to flow one into another with living life’s routine.  Eventually, the museums, historical sites and other tourist attractions became a non-entity in life, day-to-day living seeped in, and before I knew it, Rognonas was my home.  I have lived here for three months now, and it has given me a window into life in France.

I rode the bus, recently, to the market in St. Remy.  Again, I marveled at the passengers and bus driver’s patience when we stopped for 3-5 minutes in the middle of the road behind a taxi driver asking directions from a passing pedestrian.  Amidst hand gesticulations from taxi driver and pedestrian looking at the village map, the bus driver sorted out her change while we all waited for the taxi to move along.   The minutes inched by and, eventually, the taxi continued on down the street..   This 5 minute photo summed up my experience with village life in Provence. Live your days with good food & wine, enjoy friends, remembert the stores close from 12 – 2 or so for lunch, purchase fresh vegetables, cheese and meat at village markets, fill your wine container from the local distributor once a week, ride bicycles at a leisurely pace through town, have patience with people,  and listen to the church bells.  ….I learned about “the life” that happens around the grocery store check-out line.  Some stores have check out lines for elderly people and if you are in that line, “seniors” can go in front of you at any time. Or, there is the person who searches for the checkbook, then the pen, positions the check just-so, writes a check, asks 6 different times the correct amount, chats about the grandkids, forgets something so the check is COMPLETELY re-written – while everyone in line looks out the window with acceptance written on their faces.  There isn’t a lot a person can do, so, accept the delay, and save the energy for something that really warrants it.

…. Paris, Lyon and Marseilles.  Finding a parking place, people rushing, cars honking – city life with the typical pressures were felt – but there still was that underlying sense of “let’s stop for un café“.

….Canadian and British ex-pats who opened holiday rentals, B&B’s, small shops; or, they moved here to retire or have a second home.   Why? The pace is slower, beautiful country and new experiences to enjoy.  I will never forget when I said “goodbye” to the owners of this gite as they were leaving for a 2 week vacation in December.  I asked “Where will you be tonite?”  “Oh, it will take us around 4 hours to get to Switzerland!”  That statement gave living in Europe a new perspective!  I would still be driving in New Mexico after 4 hours.

I arrived in France on September 25, 2010 in Marseilles with some apprehension because a possible language barrier.   Most people have been incredibly patient with my questions, asked what state and city I am from, helpful with directions, chatted with me occasionally at cafés, practiced their English, appreciated my attempt at French – especially in the smaller villages where life is slow. World affair discussions happened and we left the table with differing opinions but a smile on the face.   Job shortages, bureaucracy, taxes, estate tax, visa, citizenship, social, and immigration problems -same thing we speak about in the states.

The off-season prices have made living in Provence for 3 months an affordable experience.  The high season runs from April 1 thru mid October.  I  looked up the tourist statistics for Provence and for 2009:

The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region has become a more and more accessible destination, thanks to :
– an important traffic network owning 2 500 kms of motorway (A7, A8, A54)
Mediterranean TGV (high-speed train) accounts more than 14 million of tourists at the departures and arrivals of the stations’ region
Important airports :
– Nice Côte d’Azur owns the 2nd french airport with more than 10.3 millions of passengers,
– Marseille welcomes around 6.8 millions of passengers,
– Toulon/hyères : around 641 000 passengers, and
– Avignon : 82 000 passengers
Harbor :
– Marseille welcomes more than 2 millions of passengers
– Nice : 1.3 million, and
– Toulon : more than 1 million passengers

34 million visitors – I have visions of Provence during the high season replicating an ant farm w/1000’s trudging thru the tourist sites carrying Rick Steve’s Guide to Provence and hearing in the background “Did you bring the water, Harry?” “How come they don’t sell hamburgers?” “Rooms are too small.”   I am spoiled with living here with so few tourists.  But, I missed all the things that spring and summer bring to Provence.  A purple haze of lavender fields trailing off into a blue horizon, riding in the Camargue area on these white horses and bathing in sunshine, sitting on a tourist guide boat floating down the Rhône enjoying the scenery, cooking classes/wine tours etc, etc.,

sitting at an outdoor café at 10:00am drinking a coffee with pain du chocolat and wearing a sleeveless top – which I did not get to do – this time!  So, as with everything, there are the upsides and downsides.

Huge thanks to the gite owners, Kerrin and Keryn Webster(K1 & K2) of Mas Sainte Antoine(see sidebar for website)for their unbelievable hospitality and welcoming me into their world for the last three months.

The Lavender Harvestyour_hosts

Seems unbelievable to me that I left Taos, New Mexico 7 months ago.  Time has flown by and  every moment has been precious.  On vacation, sometimes we think the world will stand still for us.  My 10-year-old bulldog, Abigail, passed on, computer was stolen, son’s house was scorched by the Boulder Fire, riots in Egypt — life goes on without regard to geographical location.  I just got a bit of a reprieve not being in the direct line of life’s events at home.  Those events reinforced the old adage of “enjoy every moment” – we don’t know what the next minute will bring.

The world is inexhaustible so it leaves that gate open to wonder. (Tim Cahill)

A new train ride awaits me in a few days.  I am leaving Avignon for Nice, and then, on to Genoa, Italy.

Take good care,  me


July 2000 – January 2010


Smart traveling – lesson learned….

Seen ’em come, and seen ’em go…….

I had my computer stolen in a hotel in Lyon, France.  Always happens after one thinks, I should do this, but, oh well, tomorrow.

Notes to you future travelers:

…….Lock your laptop in your suitcase when you leave your hotel room. Laptops are easy targets and are very desirable…

……Sign out on all your sites(email etc) before leaving your hotel room and turn off computer.

…….Have your Model # and Serial Number handy for insurance purposes.

…….Be prepared for the police to do nothing – not even do a police report for your insurance.  Ask the hotel to do a report which you can type out on their computer(since yours is now GONE) and all they have to do sign it.

……Don’t keep your passwords stored on your computer!

……Have the numbers of the financial institutions/credit card companies etc. you deal with available for you to call.  Write them all down before you leave home.

……Contact the credit card companies prior to leaving home, so they can set up a pattern of usage.

Last, but not least… let it go.  In the big scope of life, a stolen laptop is a bleep in the radar screen.  Of course, it only took me around 1 week to finally reach that oh-so- higher-state-of-consciousness!

Just a random photo from traveling in China in 2005 …

He swung back a forth, hoisted up and down with the roller pressed to the wall..

you gotta smile…



Winter in Provence

2011 — can you all believe it?  Obviously this Santa is having a tough time!Many twists and turns in this year..with the last road of 2010 leading to Rognonas, Provence, France, where I have been since mid November.

“Nice and fresh, isn’t it?” ..temperature 20° …

Mistral winds – 65 mph one day, and the next day, calm and sunny skies

Closing the shutters every night…

Trucks lined up by the neighboring greenhouses loading wooden crates filled

with red and butter lettuce reminding me of loading bales of hay at the ranch…walking thru the orchards, onto forgotten railroad tracks, thru the village to the boulangerie for croissants…

The colors of fall…dried leaves crackling underfoot and barren trees..frost on thick turf under fruit and quince trees.. the bus to St. Remy for Wednesday morning markets.

Speaking French with every action happening in the present tense, because I forget to use the past tense, elicits a question mark on a person’s face which slowly turns to a smile as comprehension settles in…going w/Keryn(gite owner) to town and not limited to one sack of groceries because I have use of a car(!) skin feeling soft because of all the moisture..not hearing “Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer” every three minutes during the Christmas season…………

My dear friend of 36 years, Nancy, arriving and zipping down the country roads remembering days when our children were small…

Christmas Day with the gite owners and their friends — eating foie gras, wild boar and roasted vegetables,chocolate Christmas log, wearing paper crowns, pulling crackers(pop out paper containers with little surprises inside), 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle, Trivial Pursuit game w/looks of expectation on faces when a question pertaining to the States happened, and great conversation with no topic sacrosanct.

Walking by the village folk riding their bikes, men playing boule in the village center… … see for further definition of boule because it requires more patience than I have to explain it!…

Life goes on and no matter where you are in the world, there is a rhythm, and after a passage of time, we are notes on the scale and following that song.


Agriculture is alive and well in France.  Trees are pruned so they are kept low for easy fruit picking since all is done by hand.   Also, branches are tied to other trees so they are forced to grow sideways instead of vertical – again since harvesting is done by hand.   Drove up to Vaison de la Romaine – vineyards, villages built on the side of hills & Roman ruins.  Farmers were in the vineyards tying the vines to the wires, and some of the vine stalks are 4′ – 6″ in diameter(how many family generations have picked grapes off that vine?).  Went to a wine co-op and families came in with their plastic containers to fill up with wine for the week! Went to L’Isles sur la Sorgue for Sunday market day, and table upon table of antique everything, clothing, jewelry – then the food sections – fresh beef/lamb/pork/poultry, sausage, cheese, bread, vegetables with everything smelling fresh – made me want to bite the air!

The USA is so-o-o young! And, the plane trees – Napoleon planted these to provide shade for his troops while they were walking and these trees are everywhere, pruned every which way and provide shade for everything  —

Winter time in France is cold and damp — but — the other side of that is:  great boots, coats, hats and scarfs get to adorn one’s body if one is so inclined!  Prices are significantly lower than in the spring, summer  & early fall – hotels are 50% lower in some places, monthly house rentals are 75% lower, no lines for tourist attractions, music festivals are on, roads are easy to manuever, Christmas is celebrated with food, friends and no stress, shopkeepers have time to chat,  weekly markets are navigable……food for thought if you decide to visit Provence from November thru April 1st!                                           Take good care,                                                                                                                                                                         me!

Happy Holidays….


To prepare the Christmas crib, there are numerous santons markets organised throughout the Provence region from mid-November on. The real santon, deriving from the Provençal word “santoun” meaning little saint, is handmade from clay by craftsmen with a love of their art. Santons must then take on a human aspect, with a personalised appearance, character and even social status.

They represent the inhabitants of the village visiting the Christmas crib: pétanque players, fishmongers, doctors, bakers, shepherds, etc. Here the traditional crib is in fact an ideal model of a Provençal village and its inhabitants. This tradition is present in each department of Provence but it is particularly strong in the Bouches du Rhône.


This season, I have reflected on the many Christmases my sons and I spent at our family ranch in Southern Arizona — and our Christmas tree.

Our Christmas season began with the search, cutting and placement of the Christmas tree.    It would be dragged into the far end of the living room where a metal container was set inside a wooden barrel.  Two people would hold the tree in position, then we would position large rocks in the barrels to hold the tree in place.  This was after much turning, tilting to get it just so, little to the left/little to the right, branches trimmed, and eventually there was a symbiotic relationship between barrels/rocks/and a very large tree.

Boxes were brought into the living room, lids dusted off, ornaments unwrapped, and we decorated the tree.  All the while, my mother sat on the couch directing us where the ornament should be hung, etc.  ….   as only mothers can do(!).  We did not have solid blues or silvers or gold ornaments – the tree was an eclectic mix of ornaments bought or made by family members over the years.  These brightly colored pieces were individual elements of the jigsaw puzzle representing our family story.  Decorated pine cones, Mexican tin cut outs, thin glass orbs, silver stars, Oriental tassels, Swedish straw houses, woolly sheep, wooden cows, glittery angels, golden carousels with “Charlie 1974” “Michael 1969” — we’d laugh and remember when we got this one or that one, who was where at what time, where we lived — and slowly, our tree of memories was complete.  A small moment in time..

I wish you all a season filled with remembrances of those special moments in your life and a smile lights your face.

Let’s carry that smile with us …

Happy Holidays and Peace for the New Year



Settling in…Rognonas, Provence

Avignon Centre Ville – Palace des Papes

I approached Avignon, Provence with a historical eye.  I took photos, but, was unable to capture the overpowering grandeur of it.  I sat on a bench, and transported myself back to an imaginary scene filled with kings and queens, knights in armour, ladies in waiting gossiping, priests and cardinals scurrying down halls, secrets being whispered in corners, illicit affairs… horses hoofs tramping on cobblestone streets, boats on the River Rhone, lace made in backrooms, oven fires burning to make bread, cook meat, boil vegetables, barrels of wine rolling down the streets.. and I could imagine everyone and everything was protected  by the Avignon walls with its castle tops and soldiers with their crossbows.

And now, museums, tourist attractions, some great art galleries, very trendy shops and very trendy prices, restaurants with 10 tables, bohemian areas selling art supplies, books, LP’s, and on, and on….

Cafe au lait in hand, and the other hand held my 2,456th “croissant avec chocolait” since arriving in this country, and again, I vowed it would be my last one.   I  watched the people go by.  All nationalities trying to stay out of the way of the skateboarders who were using the ramparts as jumping points, and realized — life really hasn’t changed much — kids playing and irritating adults, poverty and wealth, religion giving a cause to some, political aspirations for the sake of power……

So, on that happy note, I walked out of the centre ville, and met my landlady at the Avignon gate to take me to my new home. We drove to the small village of Rognonas, 15 minutes south of Avignon, where I have rented a one bedroom gite for three months. A lovely couple from New Zealand bought the property 4 years ago, continued its renovation, and now operate 4 holiday rentals situated between neighboring vegetable farms and fruit orchards.

Since I have no car, I am dependent upon my legs, a bicycle and the bus.   It is a 10 minute walk to town consisting of 2 bakeries, 2 butcher shops, 1 supermarket – uh – think monopoly game squares – small itty bitty places, 1 post office, 1 church and 1 school.

Since I have been riding the bus more(no train here) I have noticed a difference between the train and bus stations, and, the population who ride them.  Graffiti is considered “art” at the train station, and it is always on the outside of the train station, NEVER on the inside; however, graffiti is all over the bus station and not pretty – harsh and angry.  Waiting rooms at the bus stations have dispenser snack machines and a snack bar outside on the street usually with the word KEBAB in the title.  Train stations have coffee bars, places to sit/eat, and always, a magazine store.   Single men tend to ride the bus more often than women, and very few women aged 40+ ride the bus.   Definitely, buses are on the lower edge of the socio-economic scale. That’s my demographic take on the two main segments of transportation in France.  Not that it interests anyone, but these were observations while waiting for the bus.

99% of the drivers on the road are very respectful of bicyclists, so, I have no fear joining all the other bicyclists, all five of them(!),  on the road in the village.  I have learned just the proper amount, both quantity and weight, to buy at the little stores so it will fit in my shopping bag and be able to carry it home comfortably.  There is another side of this country living, which is the accommodation I have to make by not having my own transportation = dependent upon otherss-c-a-r-e-y……

side note:  One reduces one’s food consumption when one realizes one has to CARRY the food back to one’s house.

Village life is, well, this…..locals see you and some say “Bonjour, Madame” while others don’t, the post office lady helps me count the change because I left my glasses at home, the grocery store checker FINALLY acknowledges me, I see covert looks projecting “who is that?”, I greet a lady who opens her shutters in the morning as I pass by her house on a walk, I go to the post office which is supposed to open at 1:00pm but doesn’t open until 1:30 that day and letting that flitting bit of irritation GO,and am grateful for no tourist shops..

Life goes on… just a little slower here

Note from Provence that I am learning, feeling, and waking up to:

The Mistral

The Mistral may blow continuously for several days at a time, attain velocities of about 100 km (62 miles) and reach a height of 2 to 3 km (1 to 4m) towards the French Riviera and the Gulfe de Lion. These winds can affect weather in North Africa, Sicily and throughout the Mediterranean. It is strongest and most frequent in winter, and sometimes causes considerable damage to crops. Trees in Provence are forever bent in the direction of this fierce wind.  But as inhospitable an element as it may be, this beneficial wind does clear and dry the atmosphere in the region, leaving the sun to shine some 2800 hours per year!

“Behind the Mistral is the beauty of Provence. Its fierceness blows away clouds and grime and doubt, leaving colors the depth of dreams and a freshness that can come only after the Mistral’s scouring. Provence needs the Mistral or it ceases to be the Provence of my dreams. I need the Mistral to cut through those dreams to truth – beauty comes after the wind.” Kamiah A. Walker

It’ll probably be a few weeks before I write again — settling in — living life in my own place for a while.. Enjoy Thanksgiving — be thankful for all you have ….

cya.. me

Languedoc Region

Languedoc Region

Late fall in the Languedoc Region, Southern France presented me with some of the most beautful scenes and vistas of a countryside getting ready for winter – leaves turning, crops harvested, acres of grape vines sleeping,  canals dotted with empty houseboats, Pyrenees Mountains with snow capped peaks – absolutely gorgeous.

I arrived in Narbonne via the train and walked to “Will’s Hotel” – like the name, no frills. Explored Narbonne which is close to the Mediterranean and has a relaxed atmosphere about it — maybe because it is close to the sea, or so many stately mansions, or canal running through the town with houseboats on it, cobblestone streets or the innumerable cafes.. but something is in the air here that just makes you want to sit and watch the world go by. 

Traveled on to Chateau Ventenac, a 20 minute drive from Narbonne, where I attended a 5 day writing workshop given by a British writer, Patrick Gale.  The Chateau belonged to a Jewish family who escaped France just prior to German occupation and gave the Chateau to the village.  It was subsequently divided into 3 “homes” and another major portion of it became a winery.  A British woman, bought the middle section of the Chateau in 2007, which had been uninhabited for 50 years, renovated it, and it is currently used as venue for various workshops and holiday rental.

The workshop participants were 5 Brits, a couple from New Zealand and me!  We read, wrote, visited a nearby castle, walked the canal path, and ate & ate & ate.  The view from my window was the Pyrenees Mountains far far away, fields harvested and dormant, villagers taking their daily walks, ducks and a resident black swan swimming below, and misty mornings.

View from window…

……………………………………………………………….Resident black swan

Gorgeous country… pictures definitely wrap this week up… I’m outta here and on my way to the Avignon area …. take good care, me


I left Marseilles on October 17th, took the high-speed train to Paris, then a bus to the Montparnasse Train Station, and boarded the train for Flers, Normandy.  From 7:30am until 3:30pm on that day, the following happened: I met a Venezuelan lady who showed me the way to the proper bus stop in Paris; I left my computer bag containing my passport, all ID, credit cards and some cash on the bus; I sat at the bus stop waiting for bus to come around again, and explained my plight in FRENCH(!!) to a Muslim woman who took me to the ONLY BUS KIOSK that was open(strike was on) and she pounded on the door until someone answered and there was my bag was with everything in tact(angels were watching over me on THAT one);  the bus driver saw me and stopped the bus to make sure I got my bag; I got my roller bag stuck in the turnstile at the train station bathroom(one has to pay to use the restroom there) and held up many angry women for 5 minutes while the restroom employee had to disassemble the turnstile to get the handle thing off (don’t even ask how that happened because I have NO friggin’ clue); I boarded the train, and entered the wrong car but same seat number but nobody checked tickets since everyone was on strike and I hoped to hell there was at least a driver on the train;  and I arrived in Flers, Normandy scared to even move for fear what might happen next.

A smile lit my face when I spotted the small woman with a yellow rain jacket and her little collie on a leash standing on the train platform waiting for me. Jenny, my host and her dog, Tasha, greeted me and we set off to her home in a little hamlet outside of Flers.    We passed stone houses built from the stones cleared from the fields, little villages, small country roads, cattle and sheep  — all very picture postcard-sque on our 30 minute drive to her house.

Jenny had a knee replacement a few months ago and had difficulty doing all the daily chores involved with home maintenance and attached GITE (pronounced G(soft g) -EETE).  (A gite is a holiday rental unit.) provides an avenue for people traveling to connect with in-country locals and work for them in exchange for room and board.   We connected via this website and there I was in a house with 3 Shetland ponies, 8 cats, 1 dog, English garden, and an amazing little English woman!

She lived in Bosnia during the war in the ’90’s working to provide educational programs to children unable to get to school because of sniper fire.  Additionally, she CEO’d for the organization that instituted the DNA matching program for mass grave victims and their families, worked at the foreign correspondent desk for a newspaper in England,  taught at university in Bosnia, and now has retired in France. Her house is a veritable library touching on all aspects of history regarding people, politics and countries throughout the world.

During the last 2 weeks, I picked acorns off the ground so the three Shetland ponies wouldn’t colic, picked up “pony poo” from the pastures, stocked the fireplace with wood, pulled grass from the gravel to keep things neat & tidy, cleaned the house, washed dishes,

learned to deal with cats(no choice on that since there are eight), moved hay from trailer to hay barn,  and helped in whatever seemed necessary at the time.

This cat is on MY bed!

Tasha and I went for daily walks in the forests on trails that were shared with equestrians, bikers, hikers and the occasional hunter.  I had to walk every day because the food that came out of this little kitchen with two feet of counter space was AMAZING.

Whom ever said English food was bland did not visit this house.

Jenny’s neighbor stopped by one day, and her pig, Dexter, started to follow her as she left their dairy farm.  We are talking a pet pig(!). She was able to get the pig to turn around and follow her back to the pen by slapping her thigh to get the pig’s attention and continued walk to the pen w/pig following, close the gate, and give the appropriate reward of food to an animal that must weigh at least 500 pounds.

Some of Jenny’s friends I met had renovated old stone barns and houses, spoke various levels of French, had French residency cards to qualify for French health care and gite rentals to bring in extra income, and all had their own stories.  I went to a French dog school with Tasha, visited local markets with fan-tab-u-lous homemade sausage and cheese that was over the friggin’ top(!!), and went to an “agricultural store” that sold everything from espresso machines and specialty wine to tractor discs and hay.  I feel like I lived on a reality TV show comprised of three components:   “All Creatures Great and Small” / “Days of Our Lives” / and a modern version of ex-pat Masterpiece Theatre!!

To sum up my experience w/living w/the Brits, I can only do it by the following imagined conversation:

Henry:  Hm-m, seems to be a bit of a blaze there. Robert:  Yes, there does, doesn’t there.  Wonder what’s that about?

Henry:  Not sure, hm-m, but it does seem to be growing, don’t you think? Robert:  Yes, quite.  Seems a shame, though, doesn’t it, to see those lovely vines, just turning the most brilliant shade of red, lose their color like that.  Do you suppose we should call the fire department?

(meanwhile fire has engulfed the entire town…..)

Henry:  Well yes, I suppose so, but do you have your phone?  Not sure where my mo-bile is. (“Probably damn burning, Henry.” … says Lisa…”Will you PLEASE get on with it!) Robert:  I have mine.  “Hmm yes, there seems to be a bit of a problem here at Cornish Lane.  The houses are burning.  No, not sure.  Quite a mess really, terribly difficult to breathe. Yes I suppose something should be done.  Hm-m-m,  oh that would be brilliant. Hm-m.  Well right then, cheerio, b-ye.”

Omaha Beach was hugely emotional for me when coming face to face to thousands of white crosses commemorating American soldiers. The American Visitor Center is very well done, but sadly enough, the visitor is greeted at the entrance by the standard security apparatus to thwart the ever-present anti-American feelings exprssed by some people.  The French DDAY Center, with no security gates,  gave thanks to all the other countries involved with the DDay invasion, England, Canada, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, etc. and opened my eyes to the amazing feat of DDAY.


I have come away with these thoughts…

…live my life to the fullest

…….wherever my friends & family are – that is home

………….be open to all, leave my own culture at the doorstep

…………………..and don’t own a pet pig, he’ll never leave you.

On that note, I am off to Paris for a night, then on to Narbonne for a week in the Languedoc region before I occupy a gite and spend 3 months living in Provence.

View from the cliff where I walked Tasha.


Marseille and Arles

Survival tips for navigating the streets in Marseille.  These notes may be applicable to other cities, however, given my brief time in a metropolis setting, I do not feel qualified to make such a generalization — so — this only applies to Marseille:

  • Navigating streets – Have a goal in mind, whether the goal is 10 feet or 100 feet  – focus and walk.  Retract shoulder to allow others to pass by, no need for eye contact.
  • Navigating less traveled “rue’s”(streets) – Keep above in mind, however, to glance down  frequently, because dog excrement is prevalent and owners DO NOT remove waste from public areas AT ALL.
  • Street lights – May be ignored, but do so with great diligence.  Electric trains are very quiet, so they are unsuspecting missiles……………………..splat.
  • Shop hours – Totally dependent upon the owner or shopkeeper of the day, w/the exception of larger endeavors.  Typically, shops are open from 10:00 – 2:00 & 4:00 – 7:00pm, give or take 30 minutes or hours.


On the home stretch for the French lessons.  Brief scene(no accents in text because it is a too much of a hassle to insert them).

Teacher:  “Tu”

Lisa:         “Too”

Teacher:   “Tu-u”

Lisa:           “Too-oo”

Teacher:     “Ecoutes bien(listen well)(Lisa thinks: I AM)  “Tu-u”

Lisa:            ” Too-ooooo!”

Teacher:      “Alors(common word that means “OK” basically).  Make your tongue like a boat, purse your lips with an O and soften TOO-OO – to –TU.” (Lisa thinks “s**t”   – but smiles) says “OK.”

Lisa:              Minutes pass while trying to figure out how to make tongue into a boat (rowboat or Q.E.  F*&^&G II , BUT purses lips into an O and rowboat at the same time. Teacher looking on with an expression of  “oh, you poor idiot”.   But, finally, out comes “TU-oo”.  Oops, Lisa knows she is in trouble.

Teacher:        “Alors, Lisa.” (Ah-ha – patience level is leaving, first name is added to correction!)  “Encore (again)……..Tu-u. ”

Lisa:                Patience level is g-o-n-e – and thinks, I will say it if you can say LISA and not LIZA!  After 1 minute of tongue forming a small rowboat sorta, lips pursed in a  “ROUND O”, not “OVAL O, LIZA”   (oh-h-h-h  yeah THAT makes all the difference) — out comes “TU”

Church bell rings, fingers unclench, legs uncross & Lisa expects deserving praise and gets….


Teacher:         “Repetez — Tu as une voiture.”

Lisa:                That’s IT?  After all that,  just “repeat after me..”….!@#….  OK, no praise, just move along, accept people the way they are, this is not America where we praise people for EVERYTHING.. move on, move on, move on  = “Tu as une voiture.”

…..and so it goes…4 hours a day for a total of 10 days…but, I can survive in France, understand most things if spoken slowllllly, read most things w/a basic understanding, and buy pasteries from the shops. WHEW!


The public sector workers in France are on a major strike.   I am learning that strikes in France are so common that nobody pays much attention to them.  Workers take vacation days, bands play in the street, professional JUGGLERS(!!) provide entertainment, some private sector employees go on vacation, and store sales go up.   Flares are lit by the strikers to provide various colors of smoke for a more emphatic demonstration.  It is a party!   Take a look at my photos in The Album which I took from my balcony.   It was a massive party on the street below.  People went about their day — just w/out public transportation!  Banks and the post office were open.  I think the only people who weren’t working were the drivers of public transport which also translates to no garbage pick up.

I did not think it was that big of a deal, until today. The garbage is starting to pile up on the streets and alleys.  Most of the food stores are small little stands with fresh veggies and fruit, so you can well imagine the odor that is starting to emanate when one is walking down the streets with 6 and 7 story buildings on either side, holding in the smell.  Oh, and let’s not forget the slime on the streets from all the mini compost piles.   Navigating the streets is a challenge.

Train and bus tickets are only being sold for that day only and for only the few trains that are running.   This has resulted in higher gas prices, rental car agencies are sold out, and tourism has stopped.  So it goes….


Prior to the above, I took a 45 minute train ride to Arles(of Van Gogh fame), pop. 14,000, a great little town, albeit lots of tourists.  (FYI for future reference:  Rick Steve’s Guides have taken over from Lonely Planet Guides.  Michelin Green Guide is great for driving tours/hotel recommendations and place descriptions.)  Lots of Roman ruins pulled out of the Rhone – one forgets that the Romans were here in 1 a.d.(I guess +/- a few years!!)..anyway, ruins in the center of town, trendy shops, Rhone River goes thru the town,  and calm and friendly people.  I rented a car, drove to the Camargue and finally saw the white horses of the Camargue marsh region that I have known about since the 80’s.  A movie was made about these horses, “The White Mane (1953).

Easy driving, and I never thought I would thank Taos for putting in the roundabouts, but I did, because they were everywhere. Definitely helped in the navigation factor of how to get on, off and not keep going around in circles!  Saw lots of little towns, and renewed my faith that not all of Provence is inundated with tourists.

I am on my way to Flers, Normandy this Sunday, October 17, that is, if the train is running.   I signed up with WORKAWAYERS.COM, a UK website.  On this site,  people whom need help with various things, advertise, and, provide accommodations and food for the workers.  If an ad interests you, send an email and go from there – basically, a modern-day indentured servant!

I did respond to one ad and received a positive response.   My hostess had a knee replacement 8 weeks ago, and still needs some help on her little farm feeding her Shetland ponies, goats, chickens,  and winterizing her garden.  WIFI and my own apt. is provided, so, I will be there for a couple of weeks.   She is a retired English woman who has lived in Normandy off and on for years, and my final correspondence from her was this:

“I will be in yellow plastic raincoat with a hood, and my dog will be with me.  We will be on the station platform waiting for you. ”

A bientot……(see you later!)I hope this picture changes on Sunday at 07h45….



Lagos, Portugal to Marseille, France

Bon appetit!

Bonjour! Bon soir! Au revoir!

I don’t know about this healthy Mediterranean diet — see above and answer the following, “Does your stomach say “No, thank you, I will have a V-8 instead?”

Arrived on Saturday, Sept 25th and checked into a little rental apartment which was close to everything.  There was a bookstore down the street that carried English books — not having reading material is an issue and it is very difficult finding English books, couldn’t imagine why??  Oops, there goes that attitude — but really!  Decided someone could make some money just having a little bookstore/coffee shop with American, UK, German books and magazines.

One, two or more cafes and boulangaries(pastry shops) are on most streets.  My old trusty tour friend, Hop On and Hop Off, is here.  I  have my own pair of ear plugs to listen to the audio, know the best seat to protect from wind and the tone of the speaker’s voice getting ready to announce the next stop!  The broad city tour really is a great way to get a general idea of the city, decide on areas to explore further, and learn some background of the city/country for those of us who do not remember much history.  I never thought the world existed until 1910, when Arizona became a part of the Union, but…

Notre Dame Church, an amazing piece of architecture, looks over Marseilles Harbor and the Mediterranean Sea.  There are great small wooden ships made into mobiles

hanging from the ceiling in the church, dedicated to all the sailors from France.  The photo doesn’t do the boats justice.  It was just so remarkable to have this very elaborate and ornate church and, then, in one small area, these few hand-built wooden ships hanging.

Marseilles is a bustling city of 900,000 people with the noise level to go along with it.   A large Muslim community, made up mostly of Algerians, has been part of Marseilles for years.  No strikes or anti-Muslim sentiment, some women still wear the burka, which is also non-issue, as opposed to other parts of France.  The Muslim quarter has a daily outdoor market of every spice and food reflecting their culinary tastes and it is frequented by all.

The huge harbor is center to Marseille with cruise boats, fishermen, tourists,  and “yachties” sailing in an out.   Bouillabaisse(fish stew) started here, I was told.  I walked the 6 mile harbor/coastline to the western part of Marseilles and the Mediterranean is sparkling clean. Major efforts have gone into cleaning up this sea, and it has paid off.

Public transportation comprised of buses, metro, regional train, and bullet trains make traveling easy and inexpensive. I took a 50 minute train ride to Aix-de-Provence for the day and round trip ticket cost $13.00 – senior discounts apply for everything now if you are 60 or above!

Aix-de-Provence is a university, ex-pat, arty and tourist driven community, with the trendy shops in the Vieux Ville(old city) which seems to be the standard now for these towns and cities with old buildings.   The market was just exactly how I imagined Saturday Market in Provence. Lavender sachets, flowers, painters with their canvasses, jewelers, antique dealers, white cotton shirts, blue and white striped cotton sweaters, every kind of fresh vegetable and fruit imaginable, breads in every size and shape complimented by HUGE wheels of cheese, olive oil, on and on….  It is an event.   People bring their bags, some on rollers, to haul everything back to their house.  This was all complimented by a constant fashion show of whom could be the most trendiest or the most “oh-so-impressionist French painter-like”- sort of like a mini “Sex in the City” fashion show without Jessica Parker but everyone else substituting for her — men and women alike.  All balanced out by some tourists wearing whatever, English in baggy pants, Germans looking very determined to get to point B, and me sitting having coffee w/a Bob Dylan t-shirt on!

The 17 and 18 century buildings are used for University classes, museums, flats and shops. There are little plaques, for example, “XIV”, on the buildings showing when they were built, and my first thought was “The US is still a teenager.”    With a population of 150,00, the town is quieter than Marseilles which is very nice on the ears!

Found a French teacher and moved into her daughter’s apartment since she was gone for a few days and I had to leave my rental.  Currently, am in the French teacher’s studio apartment for two weeks.  I will be taking French classes 4 hours a day for 5 days a week for the next two weeks.  Now, whether that knowledge transfers to the brain remains to be seen.  Just a side note: the word “city code” does not apply to these old buildings – gas lines inside, electrical wires EVERYWHERE, shutters that returned with the French after the left India, daily prayers are murmured in hopes one isn’t allergic to mold…

Take good care, you guys…