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!

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…

Porto to Lagos, So. Portugal

Life in Portugal

You name it, Lagos has it — yoga studios, shops of every kind, beach, high rises, ye-old ancient city, surfing lessons, a side car motorcycle tour(now that was a new one for me) driven by a man who looked a bit like the Australian Red Baron, 5 day crash course in Portuguese(no way in H!@# is that possible), kitschy shops selling kitschy stuff, every nationality in the world drinking beer or wine in the sidewalk cafes, Indian restaurant owner from Goa and I reminiscing about the “good old days in Goa” while I ate samosas and palak paneer, the air of “spring break” brought by university kids from Spain, UK and other locales, and the Konditori pastry shop w/8(count them) cake layers w/chocolate butter cream in between each layer and sliced fresh cherries soaked in some kind of liqueur on the bottom served w/ espresso – I died, went to heaven and my hips just went friggin’ ecstatic –(thank you, Lord, we are out of Senegal and she is thinking about us again!  It took her a while, but she is back in the fold. Amen.)…random thoughts.

To say the words “coffee to go, please”, or for that matter, any “food to go” would be tantamount to sacrilegious — eating and drinking are the pleasures of life and one takes the time to savor the food, the drink and the company.  One is never in a hurry, so plan on 1.5 to 2 hours for a meal.

Met a lovely English couple — whom have had a flat here for 20 years.  We went to, what the Mrs. called, “The Piggy Place”  – served suckling pigs and, for some reason, it just didn’t dawn on me what I was eating, which by the way was beyond fantastic (roasted and grilled w/fresh chips) until we were walking out the door, and it was  pointed out to me the tiny little baby pigs thrown on the grill – a bit disconcerting to say the least.   I have felt guilty ever since.  We stopped at a store to do some shopping and we had to find a parking place where there was no backing up involved, “No, we don’t back up the car at all.  We only go forward.” OK.  We finished out shopping and drove out, going forward thank God, but a flashing yellow light caused major consternation w/the Mrs. – “blinky blinky lights are so stupid – either stop or go.”    Another note:  the Mrs. is a serious horse racing follower — picture the following:  little English lady, grey hair, lovely garden, irons on “her Saturdays” with the TV and radios broadcasting the horses races, mobile(pronounced mo-BILE) on the edge of the board, placing bets w/her bookie, …people are great, aren’t they!

Vision this morphing into a cartoon….

Have been here for 6 days now, and leaving for Marseilles, France in the morning. The beach has been wonderful, albeit water is cold, long walks along the shore line and anyone can wear a two piece as long as they are tan – age is not a deterrent(fyi).  Coffee and pastella for breakfast – coffee and something light for lunch at 1:30ish – coffee at 3:30ish – dinner at 8:30pm followed, of course, by coffee.  There are no US newspapers anywhere to be found yet German, Dutch, French, English and Spanish are abundant.  The Algarve Post is available in English(indication of how many UK’ers have 2nd homes).  Spanish has gotten me thru the language barrier.  An aged ex-hippy or perhaps he still is in the groove, sings old country western songs by the cafes – reminds me at bit of the recent boozy Jeff Bridges’s movie – and he played “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” – sigh.

After being here for 6 days, my ego has kicked in and I am no longer a tourist, so I can say, the tourists arrive on Thursday nite and depart Monday AM = Tues, Wed and Thurs AM are not as busy.  Indication of increase in population on the weekends is the visibility of the Tourist Police.  All sums up to =  if a person can stay in a place for at least a couple of days, you understand a little more about the day-to-day living and another way of life, which in Lagos, is A-OK….and yes, I will take yet another cup of coffee!

The old fort gate frames the new….

take care,  me!

Lisbon to Oporto, Northern Portugal

Arrived in Oporto on 9/10 at 3:00pm after a 3 hours train ride from Lisbon.   Trains are clean, well maintained, connections to just about everywhere in Portugal, easy to manuever, meals served(1st class), cocktails, espresso, comfortable seats, pull out tray for lunch and laptops – definitely the way to travel.

On-line apt rental — went from the 17th century renovated nunnery turned hotel, in Lisbon, to an 18th century renovated old house turned oh-so-trendy weekly apt. rental w/ Pottery Barn type furniture and the most hideous purple glittery rug(think bordello, make that cheap bordello) to add contrast to the white – I suppose — windows overlooking the River Duoro and non-stop traffic below. Close to the city center – it was all good.  Itty-bitty cafe 2 doors down, with fresh grilled fish & seafood salad(owner was born in Oporto, but lived in France most of his life, so “I know how to cook”…..) and he was right.  Bicyclists everywhere,  men fishing in the river all day long, darker that Lisbon – smoke soot on the buildings, windy tiny cobblestone streets on hills, people at cafes 24/7, accordion player and his wife with a tambourine on the riverwalk, people of all nationalities sip espresso, beers or Vino Verde(light white wine), tourist river boats movingg up and down the Douro River, grandmothers w/socks and open sandals and their grandkids in the parks, cafes on both sides of river, and the bars open at 10:00am.  All of Portugal seems to open at 10:00am — the bakeries open earlier — but not a lot of activity before then.  Blue and white tile are the facade de rigour for the old buildings.  New buildings are slowly taking their place in the architectural scheme.  For the past six mornings, I walked up the hills(no need for Taos Spa here) and pass women hanging their clothes to dry on the balconies, men starting their card games, the stalwart tourist ready to be the first on the “Hop On and Hop Off” See Portugal bus, and eventually find my way to the cafe with the best custard and apple filled pastry and coffee, to start my morning.   Did “Hop On and Hop Off” City Tour bus(wish I had the franchise for THAT) and saw the sights, ate dinner at various places with the solo traveler’s greeting by waiters, “Oh, just one?” with disappointment highly visible on their faces knowing the tip would be small since dinner was for one only.  “Deal with it…” I think, “..and “yes, I will take that table by the window with the really nice view” I say. Fish soup w/rice – fabulous!   The occasional conversation w/another solo traveler – usually English or French traveler.  Every store sells some type of wine or Port(hence the name PORTO) and was told a little known fact — “the third most spoken language in the world is Portuguese?” Believe that?  I did not, but nodded and said “oh, ok..huh.” After being in Goa, India, a couple of years ago, I realize no matter what the time, what the century, we bring what we know to where we settle.   The Portuguese were in Goa from the 17th century on and built the same stone houses with tile floors that I see here. Great old mansions still line some streets in Porto, competing with the high-rise weekly vacations-lets.

Tourism is the money generator for the economy and Portugal is catering to it big time. The phrase “American consumerism” is interchangeable w/European consumerism — world consumerism – basically.  Difference is that here, instead of the MALL, one has the shop that sells JUST the Marc Blanc pens, or the Philippe Patek(sp?) watches or the $2000 handbags.  And shoes, both sexes love their shoes – never seen so many shoe stores in my life. Food and drink are the primary socializing tools — the best coffee I have had in ages.     Bangladeshi immigrants have lots of shops here — wonder why they settled here?  Why does one go to No. Portugal — see the country, tour the wine country, see the rivers and experience a “rural Portugal”…

Left this am(9/18) on the train at 9:40am — arrived in Faro, So. Portugal at 5:21amtake good care,