Vive la France, Cinq: Auntie #2

Due to the aforementioned copious amounts of wine, we were moving a little sluggishly on the day we left Orgnac Sur Vezere and ended up arriving a bit later than planned at Auntie J’s.

Still, she and her husband welcomed us with a spread of delicious French cheeses, crust bread and pate.

I can’t remember the names of all the types of cheese, but there was a Bleu, a Brie, a cheddar, and two from sheep’s milk (or was it goat’s? I always mix them up.). I hate bleu cheese except for in bleu cheese dressing with Buffalo wings (which I know doesn’t make any sense) and am not a huge fan of Brie, so would normally have focused on the cheddar, which was very good – crumbly and sharp.

Still, I tried the Brie, and it was delicious, creamy and smooth. But the goat (sheep?) was amazing, so buttery I found it hard to stop eating it.

Eventually, we also had more wine.

I took a picture so I could try to get some when I got home.

Let me just say right here that everything good you’ve ever heard about French cheese, wine or bread is true.

They are incredible.

We had a nice, though too-short, visit with Auntie J and Uncle G and enjoyed meeting some of their friends (also English ex-pats).

We even managed to fit in a short walk between the rain showers. They also live in the country as you can see from these photos of their street.

Or maybe you can’t tell from the picture. Their street is not actually in a town, although it’s not too far from one, and they are surrounded by farmers’ fields.

I never realized how rural France is before this trip. It makes sense though; all those delicious cheeses, wines, and pate have to come from somewhere!

According to “About France,” there were 246 types of cheeses in General de Gaulle’s time, and there are more now (https://about-france.com/cheese.htm).

And there are 27,000 winemakers in France, with about 110,000 vineyard owners (statistics from http://www.terroir-france.com/wine-faq/wineries-france.htm).

The value of “terroir” is held much more highly in France than it is in the US. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia defines it thus: “Terroir (French pronunciation: ​[tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, “land”) is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop‘s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat. Collectively, these contextual characteristics are said to have a character; terroir also refers to this character” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir).

Perhaps we are beginning to catch on, however, with more people focusing on eating more local foods (I see this for myself in the grocery store where I work). But in a country where the average piece of produce travels 1,500 miles, its clear we still have a way to go (figure from https://foodrevolution.org/blog/why-buy-local-food/).

We belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture – see here: https://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for more information) which makes eating local vegetables easier, at least in the summer. Sometimes, our problem is the opposite – figuring out what to do with all those lovely vegetables!

A few years ago, I had a flash of inspiration and began a yearly tradition of making hot pepper jelly, which has become a much sought after Christmas gift.

And this week, I got the idea that I should make strawberry jam with berries for our local market (probably as a displacement activity so I could put off cleaning house). I made a total of twenty-six jars, in three batches, two pots of strawberry margarita (complete with tequila and triple sec) and one pot of plain strawberry jam.

The Margarita jam is beautiful (and delicious).

The plain jam has yet to set, and looks like it’s been frosted because I couldn’t skim off all the froth.

No matter. I’ve decided what to do if it never sets (which can happen).

Strawberry jalapeño jam, anyone?

Anyway, France has the idea of eating local foods perfected.

And Auntie J and Uncle G seem to have learned the knack as well.

We had to leave too soon, and again departed later than initially planned, this time due to wanting to prolong our visit since it had been so short.

This meant we hit Paris at rush hour. The less said about that, the better, except to say I am very grateful to The Engineer for driving. Also, this meant we didn’t have time to take Le Metro to see Notre Dame.

After the stressful drive (or in my case, ride), we were grateful to hear the desk employee at our hotel say, “Of course, I have upgraded you to a lovely suite.” (This phrase works best if said with a lilting French accent.)

We followed dinner at the hotel with a good night’s sleep, then packing up and racing to the airport where we stood in line for a security check that had nine gates going through one line with one X-ray machine and four employees.

I was sure we’d miss the plane

We didn’t, and later that night, we fell asleep, home in our own bed.

Thank you for sharing my trip memories with me.

I’ll leave you with two random leftover photos that I like but have nothing much to do with anything else.

This is an old Citroen. I liked it because it looked so vintage French.

And this is a closeup of a tree. I liked the the way the moss contrasted with the texture of the bark.

Vive la France, Quatre: Auntie #1

From Grenoble, we headed to Orgnac Sur Vezere before going on to Pleuville (literally “Raintown,” which proved apt).

You won’t find them on the map, but I’ve circled the general area in the southwest to give you a general idea. Getting there would require a car, which I had sorted while still at home. Or so I thought.

Imagine our surprise when we finally managed to find the car rental office tucked away in a corner beneath the train station and found a hand-written sign saying they were closed. (It turned out to be a legal holiday of some sort – kind of like the American ones where some things are closed and some are open.)

Our plans for a leisurely day’s drive went kaplooey. But we were in luck! There was another rental agency open next door.

The worker managed to bridge the language barrier enough to say they were out of cars and to tell us our agency sometimes worked with the Novotel and left keys there.

Dragging our suitcases behind us, we trekked back across under the station and up the stairs to find the hotel.

The desk workers spoke excellent English. They were also very kind. Despite knowing we weren’t staying at the hotel, they called the rental agency at the Lyon airport (which was open) to find out about our car.

And they were the ones to point out that our reservation was for two days prior.

I’m not sure if it was our travel agent’s error or mine – a bit of both I suspect, but it was certainly my mistake to not catch it.

The Novotel employees told us there were several other car agencies on the street opposite the train station and recommended we try there.

Knowing how difficult it would be to book a car by phone in French, I asked if we could come back for more help if the other agencies weren’t open, and our saviors agreed.

By this point I was beginning to realize we would probably have to go to Lyon.

But first, back down the steps, under the station, and up the other side we went, suitcases and all.

All three of the other agencies were closed.

Once again we took the now familiar trip through the station and back to the Novotel where the generous and gracious Charlotte not only called to confirm the Lyon agency had plenty of cars, she also booked and printed coach tickets for a one-hour ride to Lyon.

The coach was leaving almost immediately so with quick but effusively heartfelt thanks, we took the steps at a run to find the bus outside.

At Lyon, we eventually managed to the bus stop for the car rental and waited in the rain for the shuttle.

At least it was a warm rain.

Arriving at the rental kiosk, we asked about a car. On the name tag of the woman who helped us, it said “English, Italian” under her name. I can only assume that meant she spoke not only French and English (perfectly), but also Italian.

I find that amazing. I would love to be proven wrong, but I believe such skills are not common in the service industry in the US.

If only I could remember her name! The tweet I posted tagging the agency with thanks for the help would have been more specific. (They did get in touch with me so I think I was able to provide enough details for them to identify her. Naturally I did the same for Novotel’s Charlotte, and they also responded.)

Anyway, our tri-lingual rental agent found a car, wrote up the rental agreement, and as he signed, The Engineer remembered to ask if it has a sat-nav (GPS).

It didn’t.

No problem. She found another car with the feature and wrote up another agreement, which my husband signed.

We dragged our suitcases outside in the rain, loaded up the car, got in, and tried to figure out how to work the instrument but couldn’t get it to do anything but talk to us. In French because, well, we were in France

After about twenty minutes, I finally convinced The Engineer it’s no good, we’re going to have to impose once more and ask for help.

If you never realized it, car rental agencies operate on a one way system. You go out in one direction and come in another. So the only way to take the car back to the office was to drive the wrong way on the one-way system.

The Engineer went in to talk to the agent. She came out, sat down in the driver’s seat and tried to make the sat-nav work.

Only it didn’t.

Feeling slightly cheered that it wasn’t us being stupid, we waited in the car out of the rain because she offered to not only go write another agreement (number three!), but also to bring the new car to us so we didn’t have to get any wetter.

The next time you hear anyone talk about the aloof French, please remember these two parts of our story.

As my husband drove, I somewhat tardily managed to program the GPS (correctly, as it turns out) and we headed for Orgnac with me presiding over the map (which I had brought from home – I’m not completely stupid), and the Google directions I’d looked up and screenshotted the night before.

All agreed on the route, which was fortunate indeed because Auntie G and her husband don’t actually live in a town.

They live here: https://www.stayatlesgranges.com/.

See the lake in the distance? And the neighbor’s cows? This was truly a place to get away from it all.

Below are some photos of our accommodations.

Getting up to the bedroom was just slightly tricky.

This is the sight I woke up to.

I asked Auntie G how old the house was.

“No idea,” was the reply.

Judging by these beams, the answer is “Very old.”

Here’s the front of the house.

Just kidding. That’s the Pompadour Chateau, which was closed on the day we visited.

But this is the back of Auntie G’s house.

It’s in the process of being renovated so they can live there and rent out the part of the house they live in now.

Since we couldn’t see the chateau, we drove to Uzerche and walked around (in the rain). It is a lovely town with an interesting history. (Go here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uzerche and read under “strategic location.”) I liked this door.

Here’s another picture of the view from the gite to give you an idea of what the weather was like during most of our stay.

The history of La Resistance is ever present in many parts of France including the area around Orgnac Sur Vezere.

It is clear from memorials like this one (just down the road from the gite) just how dangerous it was to even live in wartime France.

This commemorates the murder of three French civilians in retaliation for the killing of some Nazi officers. Two of the men killed were only in their twenties.

There is a misconception some Americans have about the French in World War II, which I’d like to address here. Since we are fortunate enough to live in a country that has never been invaded (unless you count our ancestors taking over the country from Native Americans), we would do well to avoid judging others who have, and to remember that governments don’t always represent the will of the people.

In traveling around France, I came to appreciate how many civilians died under Nazi rule and how many risked their lives to try to get their country back.

End of sermon.

We had a delightful stay with The Engineer’s aunt and uncle, with the added bonus of getting to see both his cousins (and two of his young second cousins) plus his other Aunt and Uncle who had come over for a holiday, and I am so grateful to Auntie G and Uncle R for feeding us, putting us up, and sharing (copious amounts of) wine with us.

And here, because I forgot to put it in the Grenoble photos is something I saw on the streets there (not in Uzerche, Orgnac, or at Auntie G’s).

That’s right. It’s a street side condom vending machine (with not one, not two, not even three, but four options!)

For you know, those condom emergencies. 😄

Vive la France, Trois – Grenoble and the Women’s World Cup

From Caen, we had to take a train back to Paris to catch a train to Grenoble.

This would probably be a good time to mention how good the pubic transport system is in France. In six days, we travelled from London to Paris to Caen to Paris to Grenoble using only trains, city buses, trams, a coach, and our legs.

The Engineer loved the trains, especially the Eurostar and the TGV we took from Paris to Grenoble. Below is the view we whizzed by at over 200 miles an hour. Yes, those are the Alps.

I loved Grenoble, even though it was a bit of a drama trying to use the tram to our AirBnB. This was partly because the sun was finally shining (Yay!) directly on the screen of the ticket kiosk for the tram (Boo!) and partly because the machine was being cantankerous and not accepting our credit card.

Since it only took cards and coins, and we had only bills, this was a problem. Eventually I thought to try another card, which worked fine.

Go figure.

Note to would-be travelers: If you plan to use credit cards, have a back-up one for situations like this. And if you think such an occurrence unusual, I can tell you the same thing happened at several toll plazas later in the trip. (On a side note, highway tolls were pricier than you might expect, but the roads were incredible. We didn’t see a pothole until we hit Paris.)

The tram ride took less time than the figuring out of the ticket machine, and our host had given detailed directions to the apartment where he greeted us with great — dare I say French? — charm.

Here is a panorama of our lodging, with The Engineer beginning to regret he allowed me to plan a trip involving seven different beds in fourteen nights. It does make the place look larger than it was, but it was just lovely. It was near this church, an extremely busy place with many people coming and going for some kind of festival, so I took a peek.

Our AirBnB in Caen was also very nice. We’ve used AirBnB six times and had excellent experiences every time. Yes, it can save travelers money, but more importantly, it enables us to stay in neighborhoods, rather than the hotel districts. It feels somehow more authentic to be able to dine, walk, ride buses, drink, and shop with people who live in the city we are visiting.

Grocery shopping in a country where you don’t speak the language can be an adventure in itself as we discovered in Germany when the butter I picked for breakfast turned out to be garlic butter, and the sausage The Engineer picked turned out to be be more like pepperoni or salami.

Never mind. We had a nice lunch made from them. 🙂

Grenoble sets at the foot of the French Alps, and the surrounding mountains add to its beauty. If you want, you can (and my dear husband did) ride a cable car for a more far-reaching vista. Not a fan of heights, I kept my feet firmly on the ground and took pictures from there.

We had come to Grenoble to see a football game. This kind of ⚽️ , not this 🏈. You know, the sport actually played with your feet?

The Women’s World Cup had come to town, and we were going to be part of it. In case anyone forgot what was happening, there were markings on sidewalks to remind us. (And in this picture you get the added bonus of seeing my super-cute and extra-comfortable shoes!)

The game was amazing, much better than expected, with Jamaica Reggae Girlz making their debut against Brazil. Although they lost 3-0, I felt they could be proud of their showing this year, especially give the fact that they got there without the support of their country’s football federation. Though Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella has become a major benefactor, these girls have fought for the right to be here. Their coach is a volunteer. One of their star players lost three brothers to gang violence and another to a car accident within a short time. The team was unrated as late as 2017. (More info on their journey here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/05/31/reggae-girlz-jamaica-backed-by-cedella-marley-make-world-cup/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.22d92066f5c1.)

Yet, here they were, in the Women’s World Cup.

It had rained all day, right up until the game started (and rained again afterwards), but the clouds parted, and we saw the blue sky for the game.

It was wonderful.

Brazil warms up.

The opening ceremonies were, well, ceremonial!

The Alps reappeared partway through the game, which had an attendance of about 17,000.

After attending the game, I have a new goal. I’d like to volunteer at the 2026 Men’s World Cup, when it’s shared by the US, Canada, and Mexico. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to be a part of?

Vive La France, Deux – Caen Churches and London Taxis

Caen also had many beautiful churches. I didn’t get all the names of them, but I took lots of pictures.

I think these are all of St.John (Eglise Saint-Jean), though I can’t swear to it. We walked by it multiple times each day, and there were so many interesting details. Plus, they were replacing stones and cleaning for it, so there’s a big contrast between the new, clean parts, and the older parts. The churches are mostly made of limestone, and you can see below why some parts were being rebuilt. The two most famous religious buildings are the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames (Abby of the Men and Abby of the Women, respectively), built by William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders.

Below is the exterior of aux Hommes and the interior of aux Dames.

En route to aux Dames, we came across the ruins of another church, tucked between some houses.

A few more photos of odds and ends before I tell you about the London taxis in Caen. Panorama taken from William the Conqueror’s Chateau.Plantings commemorating the 75th anniversary of liberation of Caen.

Stopped for a drink at a cafe and looked up to see this.

Interesting building and detail of carving.

Palace of Justice – As it stands today and in the past.

And now, the taxis. You may wonder what London taxis have to do with Caen, France. So did we. But there they were, a long parade of the distinctively English vehicles turning into a parking lot in front of the cafe patio where we were enjoying a cold beverage. Luckily, a British woman came out of the cafe to explain what was happening. The cabs were part of the Taxi Charity, which offers trips to veterans — anything from a day out to see a concert to an international excursion to France for the 75th anniversary of the landings at Normandy. She knew this because she was the companion (perhaps wife) of a 90-some-year-old veteran beneficiary.

To quote their website (https://www.taxicharity.org/), “To fund and facilitate these outings, the charity is wholly reliant on donations from members of the public, businesses and trusts and the amazing group of London licensed taxi drivers who offer their time and vehicles for free.” And they’ve been doing this for more than sixty years.

That, my friends, is why I travel — not just to see things I’ve heard or read about but to see and learn about things I never knew existed.

Vive la France

In case you missed all the hints in the previous post, last Friday, we returned from a fourteen day trip to England and France.

The Engineer has two aunties who retired to France with their husbands, and we’d been meaning to visit ever since. When I discovered the Women’s World Cup was being played there, we decided 2019 was the year. Plus it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and there were some planes we wanted to see land in Normandy 75 years after their original flights there.

We were bumped up to economy plus on our flight – the second time ever this has happened in over thirty years of travel back and forth (thank you, Virgin Atlantic!) There was copious alcohol to be had, and for some reason, I felt obliged to say “Yes, thank you” each time it was offered.

Anyone who knows me well knows I rarely overindulge because I hate the way I feel the next day. Add in no sleep and an eight-hour flight, and well, I was feeling a little rough when I began to sober up (with a fresh new day to enjoy the process – ugh!).

Anyway, I remember the food on the flight was delicious. So delicious, I apparently had to take a picture of it.

Yes, even the cheesy thing was good, though I can’t recall what it was.

Or maybe I was just impressed with having actual flatware and glasses. At any rate, it was clearly important to me at the time, so I’m sharing.

And, naturally, we couldn’t cross the Atlantic without popping in for a visit with the rest of my husband’s family, so we started by landing in London, renting a car, and driving up to the Midlands for a visit. It was especially nice because we got to see some relatives we haven’t seen in quite a while.

I had done a family tree and history of my father-in-law’s family, discovering in the process that there were several publicans among them. One of the pubs was still a functioning pub, so we went for a look. It was once a coaching inn, not very old by English standards, only from sometime in the 1800s. The pub is called the Bulls Head, in Blaby, if you’re ever in the neighborhood. It’s been tarted up, but here’s a picture of the oldest looking bit. Not a big place, but the beer was good.

Then it was back to London for an overnight and off to Paris via the Eurostar from St.Pancras station.

A little over two hours later, we were in Paris. From there, we had to make our way from Gare du Nord to Gare Saint Lazare via the Metro. The magenta line to be exact. At Saint Lazare, we caught the Intercite’ to Caen.

Here’s a map I marked up to show the major places we went. We were in Caen because that’s where the “Daks Over Normandy” were landing, and we wanted to see them. In particular, we wanted to see “That’s All Brother.” This particular airplane led the US forces for the D-Day invasion. It was sitting in Oshkosh, awaiting a conversion to turbo, where an aviation historian located it just six months before it was scheduled for the process (which Wikipedia says uses only 30% of the original plane, with th rest being scrapped). Here’s a link to the whole article:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/That%27s_All,_Brother

Familiar with the plane’s story from our yearly sojourn to Oshkosh, it was there we also heard of the plan to fly as many Daks (DC-3s) to Normandy as possible for the 75th anniversary.

We were in! Tickets went on sale February 1, and I purchased them that day, after checking back many times to make sure they hadn’t been put up early. I also hoped to purchase a ride in one of the planes, as advertised on the website, but the link never materialized, and when I emailed to ask about it, they were somehow all sold out.

I won’t belabor the point except to say the event was a disappointment. The planes were parked quite a distance behind the fence – so far, you couldn’t make out the nose art or N-numbers. There were no placards telling about the planes’ histories as I’ve seen at most air shows and fly-ins, and no one around to ask. If you look at the pictures below, you’ll see how far back the fence and spectators were from the aircraft.

Organizing an event based so heavily on volunteers is surely a mammoth challenge, so I won’t speculate what happened, but this certainly wasn’t what we came to Caen to see. Fortunately, Caen had other attractions. The war was hard on this city, and its citizens do not forget that history. Below is a picture of a memorial to the British regiments that liberated Caen. Behind it, you can see part of an enormous and ancient structure, William the Conqueror’s Chateau, built around 1060.Within its walls is the tomb of the unknown civilian, dedicated to the civilians killed during the bombing that followed the landings at Normandy. Some estimates place these losses of life at several thousand, with 35,000 left homeless. (These figures are for Caen alone. The toll throughout Normandy was much higher.)

“One journalist remarked about what he saw of the city after its liberation, ‘The very earth was reduced to its original dust.'” (Quote is from “Romanticizing D-Day Ignores Thousands of Civilian Deaths” by Marc Workman in The Daily Beast, https://www.thedailybeast.com/romanticizing-d-day-ignores-thousands-of-civilian-deaths).

We were wandering around the castle (chateau means castle, which I didn’t know before going to France) the morning after we arrived and stumbled upon the yearly memorial service for the victims. It was moving to hear the words of a woman survivor, twelve at the time of the bombings, read aloud in French and English and followed by an excerpt of a diary written by one of the English liberators.

There were English soldiers there, representing those who were involved, and Scottish pipers, as well as schoolchildren singing the national anthem of both France and England. Most poignant of all were the old soldiers, one of whom had to be helped away to a seat because he couldn’t stand for the whole ceremony.

I know it’s a cliche, but you would think after so many years of innocents suffering, we would find a way to stop fighting.

There were poppies growing wild everywhere, and they always remind me of that poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. It was written after WWI, but remains a sorrowful reminder of the losses of war beginning “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row …” If you’ve never read it, go here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields.So when I saw this poppy crushed in the dirt of Normandy, it seemed a symbol of how we’ve treated the sacrifices of those who came before us.

Update: We saw “That’s All Brother” at Oshkosh again this year.

As you can see from the photos, the view was much different.