Genoa to Pisa..on south, and oops, back again..


Misty rainy day accompanied me while I rode TRENITALIA, the regional train, to Pisa.   The words “trundle” or “plugs along” seem to fit these trains as they lurch along.  The conductor hole punched my ticket, all the while leaning on a chair seat for balance.  The seats are smaller than the French trains as are the steps to board.  God help you if you have a large piece of luggage, because from the station platform to the first step on the train makes you want to discard any unnecessary items and start doing lunges at the gym to build up those thigh muscles for that initial “umph”.

There is so much more to this town that just the Tower.  One can see the town in a day, but there are museums, churches, a pretty park, great river walk,  good restaurants,  a 30 minute train ride to Lucca, a one and half hour ride to Florence.  So, Pisa can be a less expensive base to see the surrounding area. I was surprised, because all I have ever heard  was “don’t bother”  & “not much there”.  They had a Miró exhibit in a gallery, also, that I missed!  So, it isn’t just the Tower!

Remember reading about and seeing pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 5th grade?  I do, and when I saw it, it was a “I  truly cannot believe that I am here” moment.  Next to the Tower, was a gorgeous cathedral that received little publicity and was spectacular – have to say, it is becoming sort of the norm now – gold leaf, huge paintings, carved statues, marble alters, fresco painted ceilings, mosaic floors and of course, HUGE.

Art students sat on the grass in groups sketching, vendors of every Italian kitschy item ever produced in Asia selling their wares, and tourists from all over the world with local guides giving the spiel, all gave the area a theme park feeling.  Several people told me “pass on Pisa”.. well, I am glad I did not take their advice– it was worth that one moment of “wow”.  It is an old old town, well, aren’t they all, but.. this one really felt old in parts.  55% of Pisa was bombed during WWII and maybe it was the stark contrast between new and 11 & 12th century buildings with 12th century religious icons preserved in small provincial museums and little churches trying to raise funds to help w/restoration – a feeling of “don’t forget the rest of the town – we are worthwhile, also.”

The museums and churches filled with relics and religious icons were beautiful, but, the thing that really made Pisa worthwhile was lunch at a 10 table indoor restaurant.  My pasta with olive oil and fresh herbs NEVER turned out like that, and the thinly sliced beef with just a smidgen of balsamic vinegar reduction sauce required minimal mastication because it was so tender that it essentially dissolved in my mouth.  And, then the desert — semi-orgasmic experience!  It was chocolate cake, and of course NO FLOUR, with thinly sliced cooked pears baked on top, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce –just a little to compliment it and not overwhelm it.  Fork in hand, cutting off a bit, one feels guilty if this cake is bitten because you might hurt it.  But, that decision was already made because as soon as the piece of cake descended upon my tongue — it automatically started to melt, the chocolate and fruit flavor slowly seeped into the roof of the mouth, the flavors started percolating in the most wonderful sense my body had at that moment – taste.  All the cathedrals just took a back seat – that was my religious experience.  That cake with the cappuccino gave me incentive to always be good for the rest of my life, so I too, could join all those good people in heaven!!!  Lordy, Lordy!

ok.. back to reality — before I left Pisa, stopped at MacDonalds’s at the train station and had a big MAC — what can I say.

And off to a very small village 2 hours south of Pisa … to do a volunteer/work exchange – modern-day indentured servant clad in “culture exchange” – work for food & accommodation – at a German woman’s house.  She moved to Italy many years ago and worked at a high-end hotel.    German TV on, German friends, German paper — just seem to transfer life from the home country to another place.  Would I do the same?  And, if so, to what degree?   I don’t know.  But, another glimpse into ex-pat life abroad.  The Exchange didn’t work out for us — it was one of those instances when it was an instantaneous “Nope, this isn’t going to work..” and it didn’t– we live and learn — and life goes on — so — and back to the train station, once again …on the train and push the re-play button back to Pisa!

Oh, BTW, the regional trains cost zippo –  2.50 € to 6.50€ seems to be the average — of course, the train ride isn’t exactly high-speed air lifting Asian technology, and one has to wonder when you hear the conductors saying frantically to the train engineers “move, move, the next train is coming” and everyone backs up a bit – not that it would do you any good if two trains collide,  but.. details…

It is all good…how can it not be when the scene is this at 4:00pm…

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Heading to Cinque Terre, Turin, Milan…

cya, me

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

THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO ABIGAIL

July 2000 – January 2010

“THANKS FOR ALL THE SMILES YOU BROUGHT TO SO MANY FACES!”


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(!)..my 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… http://www.petanqueamerica.com … 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.

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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.

Ducks….
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

Normandy………


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 workawayer.com 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.)  Workawayer.com 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.

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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.

cya….me