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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Last days in France: visits with Michelle and the Ile-de-Re

Well, the last few days have been fun, catching up with Michelle and then we had a wonderful weekend at

the Ile-de-Re, the small island off the coast of France, near La Rochelle. We have gone there for years whenever we are in France, as Michelle's family had a small vacation house there since 1956. When I was 21 years old and came to France to work, met Michelle and was "adopted" so kindly by her family, we would often go there for weekends. Its charming small fishing villages, narrow cobbled streets edged by rose tremiers (hollyhocks) and white washed, tile roofed houses with their green and blue wooden shutters and doors are high on the registry of picturesque places. There are also the beautiful beaches, and lighthouses which dot the island, as well as winding bike paths. Needless to say it has always been one of my favorite places in France. Since Michelle's father died in 2003 at 91, when we were here, the property went to Michelle's brother who bought an adjoining lot, tore down the old house and has rebuilt a beautiful vacation home with four bedrooms each with its own full bath, a piscine (swimming pool), lovely terrace and garden. I had the joy of seeing it during a short visit in 2007 but Gary had not yet been there. . We are very close to Claude, Michelle's brothert (I have known him since he was 16 years old) and his wife Aline, their daughter Florence and husband Edmond and their two darling children, Camille (5 years) and Thomas (almost 3). We, in fact, had attended Florence and Edmond's wedding in 2003 and had not seen the childtren yet. So, it was so fun to go to the island along with the whole family and spend three days there. Luckily, we had beautiful weather on Saturday and walked the beach, strolled in the tiny "bourg", the center of their town of Le Bois and visited the other towns as well. Gary and Claude even got a chance to faire le velo, bike, while Michelle,  and I visited with other friends.

Aline is a wonderful cook and it seemed we ate all weekend, wonderful meals with wine, always ending with big plates of a selection of France's delicious cheeses (camembert, le chevre, bleu d'auvergne, conte, and many others), along with, of course, the crunchy crusted baguettes. We enjoyed the fruit compotes and confitures made by Claud and Michelle, the fresh tomatos from their gardens which were so sweet and the moules (mussels) and local fish. Every meal was like eatting out at the best French restaurants. We felt very spoiled and lucky at the same time to experience such gracious hospitality.

It was delightful, too, to be with the young people and the darling children of Edmond and Florence, wathing them delight in the small merry-go-round at Le Bois and swimming in the pool. They are so cute, reminding us  of our own grandchildren when they were petit.

Good times must always come to an end and we are wrapping up this fantastic trip, preparing for our departure by train to Paris tomorrow where we will spend our last day before "take off" to the USA and home! It has truly been a grand adventure and we hope friends and family have enjoyed it, vicariously. Stay tuned for photos!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Days in France:Visiting friends in Auvergne

We arrived in Paris from Turkey on the afternoon of September 25th and proceeded to the train station,Gare de Lyon, to catch our train to Clermont-Ferrand, in the region known as Auvergne, where we have long time friends, Marie Claude and Guy Oziol and also, Theo and Viviane Le Calvez, two wonderful couples we have known for over 30 years.  They have also visited us in the US so it's always a pleasure to les revoir ( to see them again).  We have many shared memories of good times. 

Our ami, Guy, was waiting for us at the station and whisked us off to their charming house in Plausat, a little village of about 1300 people where he and Marie Claude remodeled an old winery years ago to be their home.  They are both artists and the house attests to their talents.  In the living room they left an old grape press which is the centerpiece for a magical room filled with treasures from their travels and the textures of wood and stone.   I will be adding photos soon. 

We had a wonderful reunion with Marie Claude and Guy and the four of us stayed up talking until 12:30 am,  finally going off to our beds to renew our energies for the next days' activities that they had planned,.  On Sunday we had the pleasure of reuniting with our mutual friends Viviane and Theo, who also have a very interesting home in a neighboring village.  They have been remodeling this very old stone house for several years and it is charming,also.  Guy and Marie were very excited to share with us what they call "l'ermitage", now titled "Fontzeute" after its origin as an ancient Roman spring and grotto where a stone tower was erected. We first saw this seven years ago when we visited just after Guy had bought this 'pile of stones"--the ruins of the past structure.  Guy has always had a profond intereste in historical places and restoration of old building as evidenced by his home. It was his intention to surprise us with the renovated state of the place and what a surprise.  It is amazing and only photos will tell the story.   Marie had prepared a wonderful French four course "dejeuner" (lunch) and Vivian and Theo joined us at this delightful spot filled with atmosphere (no lights or indoor plumbing yet). Also joining us were Vivian, the 25 year old son of Guy and Marie and his "copine" (something like a fiance) Vanessa.  It was so much fun to see Vivian who we last saw when he was just 17 years old.  He looks a lot like his father and has a delightful personality.  

We ate under the light of an antique  kerosene  chandelier. Needless to say the meal was delicious and we  ended with deliciious French cheeses,  fruit and special custards which Viviane (notioce the feminine spelling of her name not to be confused with Guy's son's name) had brought.  Gary was in seventh heaven as he adores the Frenches cheeses, and everything was gluten free.  They even brought special GF baguettes for him. The meal was accompanied by an assortment of wines, the reds and whites starting with an apertif of champagen---need I say that we laughed a lot (rigole) and everyone felt quite gay by the end of the afternoon,  We  left there to visit Viviane and Theo's house and have a coffee and arrived back chez Guy and Marie after a wonderful day.  The next day Marie had to work (she is an art therapist at a local hospital for people with mental problems) but Guy had planned a delightful siteseeing day.  Vanessa joined us as she is currently unemployed, looking for work in Le Puy where Vivian has just been hired as a graphic artist in a computer business.  Le Puy en Velay is located in the Haute Loire region about an hour and a half from Clermont Ferrand and the home of the Oziols. It is a charming small city.   On the way there,  we visited a beautiful village and old Romanesque church, Lavadieux, known for it beautiful cloister where Benedictine nuns had lived.  We had a great tour with a guide, very fluent in English.  Again photos will tell the story. 

After another stop  along the way to Le Puy, at an old Roman Basilica, we arrived at Vivian's office quite delighted to visit Vivian's new place of work. We went to lunch at "Flunch" (note the "franglais", mixture of French and English), a restaurant chain in France which offers quite good food, cafeterial style but with French flair.  Gary and I got quite a kinck out of the name "Flunch" and the titles of various dishes, like
"Arizona Kebabs", a French open faced beef sandwish, and "Poulet Kentucky" (you can easily guess what that was).  Our choice was a wonderful salad bar with a fabulous assortment of culinary delights.  We ended with glace au chocolat (chocolate ice cream0 and cappucino.   After lunch we had time to visit Vivian and Vanessa's brand new apartment and then said our goodbyes to the two young people and went back to Plausat for a fun dinner with Marie and Guy.  Another late night of talking and laughing with me trying to keep up the translations for Gary.  Marie makes a good effort at trying to speak a little English for Gary.
We ended up having a  lot of laughs.

The next morning, at our request, Guy and Marie shared much of their artwork and photos from their trips to China  with us.  They have traveled to China  three times in the last ten years and delight in the many things they see there as well as some treasures they have purchased. We then realized we had to pack our bags, eat lunch and leave for Poitiers.  Although, we had suggested we take the train to Poitiers when corresponding a few weeks before our departure from the U.S.  they insisted they wanted to drive us to Poitiers, where my dear girlfriend of 47 years, Michelle,  lives.  They had the opportunity to meet her many years ago when we were in France and looked forward to seeing her again and she, them.  We had a delightful 4 hours drive in the car arriving at Michelle's at 6 pm. It was another great "reunion" and Michelle had prepared a wonderful dinner for us all beginning with an aperitif and delicion melon ---tres sucree (very sweet).  Again, another late night and we all went off to bed very happy.  The next morning, after petit dejeuner (breakfast)  Guy and Marie said their goodbyes as Marie had to get back in time for a art therapy client at her studio in the afternoon.  It was hard to say "au revoir" but we know we will see them again, perhaps in the USA in a year or two.  They are planning to come  and their son and his girlfriend, too.

Here, I must interrupt myself with a few comments about something which has come to our attention:  many foreigners are finding it very hard to enter our country even after they have tried to follow all the necessary rules, applying for Visas thtrough the American Consulate, filling out the innumberable papers (they say it is a bit annoying as the 30-40 pages of questions of which many are quite personal and invasive take a long time to ciomplete. This was never the case in the past and it is discouraging for many and does not make them feel that America is a very friendly or inviting place.  It makes us sad.  Last night we were at another friend's house for dinner and she commented that friends of hers were even at the airport with Visas in hand and a trip planned to see friends in the US and they were denied passage to their flight with no reason given.  It was very upsetting. They had electronic tickets which were non-refundable and now have to try to get their money back.  They had to cancel their trip, of course.  We will write to our Congressional representatives about this situation when we arrive home.  It is sad to feel we live in a country with closed doors!

A bientot!