Archive for October 2011

Lovely Limoges

October 28, 2011

Let me say right upfront that there’s a lot of Limoges that’s not lovely, but I’m not going to show you that, because there’s so much that’s really breathtaking. We arrived all crumpled and weary, after six hours on the milk train, a train where sometimes we were riding forwards and sometimes backwards as it chugged its way in and out of small mountain towns we’d never heard of.

Coming in to one of the most beautiful train stations ever took a lot of the sting out of the fact that I’d had my legs entwined for five hours with those of the very tall young woman sitting opposite me. We had to ask each other’s permission to move more than an inch or two, and our feet and knees had quite an intimate relationship by the time I pried myself out of the train and stumbled into the damp and slightly rainy air of Limoges.

It was an easy walk from the train station to the charming little Hotel de Paris , and from there to the wonderful restaurant Le Boeuf à la Mode. If you get to Limoges, stay there, and dine on the famous Limousin beef, which tastes just like beef is supposed to taste, only better. The hotel owner and the restaurant staff were all welcoming and delightful

and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the ceiling from my super comfortable bed, which shows you either how exhausted I was, or how good the wine that accompanied that beef was, or maybe a bit of both.

Of course you can’t go to Limoges without looking at porcelain, so we went to the Royal Limoges factory, hoping to see it in action. It being Friday, and this being France, as the  factory shop keeper and museum curator explained to me, the factory wasn’t working, and we’d have to content ourselves with a visit to the old, preserved parts of the enormous kiln and its associated displays. This turned out to be pretty interesting

and we were reminded that porcelain isn’t all about pretty patterns and colors

but that many utilitarian objects were, and still are, made of porcelain. We thought about buying some of the beautiful dishes, but realized that we’d need a new house and new furniture to go with them, so we left without making a big commitment to changing our lifestyle.

Outside the factory this cute display of cheery street art presaged a slight clearing of the weather, for which we were grateful, having decided at the last minute against bringing our umbrellas on this trip.

Limoges has on old part of town that’s perched on a hill

and surrounds a stupendous cathedral, which is itself surrounded

by a splendid botanical garden, full of plants I’d never seen before.

I have to admit that I fell wholeheartedly in love with this tree, one of the few specimens in the garden not to have a name tag, so my love is destined to remain anonymous, alas.

Inside the cathedral, which was begun at the start of the 13th century

everything is impossibly beautiful.

And speaking of impossible beauty, Shel took this picture, and since nearly all my pictures of stained glass look burned out, I’m still trying to figure out how he did it. He doesn’t want to tell, so he says he “just pointed the camera at it.” Yep, I believe that.

Next we went to what is undoubtedly one of the most unique and heart breaking places in France, but that’s another story, one that I’ll tell you soon, when I’m a little more recovered from the emotion of it.

On The Road Again

October 25, 2011

I know, I know. We just got off the boat, have scarcely settled into our French home, and haven’t shared a single word about France with you yet. Well, here we go again. We’re leaving home on Thursday and heading west, into parts of France hitherto unexplored, by us anyway.

It’s a winding road I have planned: fast TGV train to Lyon, slow milk train to Limoges, overnight to explore the porcelain factory and a village frozen in time since the Nazis executed every man, woman and child therein, rental car to Cognac, overnight to drink as much interesting cognac as possible, then travel by rental car to our real destination: the Ile d’Oléron. Why go to the Atlantic in this season? Ah, therein lies a little tale.

Shel and I are hooked on a program that is on French TV every Sunday at noon, a sort of foodie program where a guy called Petitrenaud travels all over France, and in the most eccentric way possible, saying tu to people he’s just met and kissing everyone he sees, shows off the best foods of regions we’ve mostly never heard of. So there we were on Bainbridge Island one day last month, watching the Escapades of Petitrenaud via the miracle of Internet streaming, when all of a sudden he showed the Ile d’Oléron, and a restaurant called Le Grand Large, which means approximately the wide open sea. The chef, David Boyer, was making the most beautiful creations out of the boundless seafood available there, and for some reason I said to Shel “we have to go there and eat that,” as if it were inevitable.

And so, some few weeks later, we’re on our way. As soon as I looked at a map to figure out where we were really going I realized that we’d pass through Limoges and Cognac, and thus was born a very fine road trip. And although it’s been pouring rain in various parts of France the past couple of days, including right here at home, it’s not supposed to rain while we’re away. I’ve written to Chef Boyer, who has promised to feed me according to my relatively bizarre dietary restrictions, we’ll eat Limousin beef in Limoges, and we have a couple of tasting tours set up for Cognac, where I plan to give myself a thorough education in all things cognac. Thank goodness Shel doesn’t drink and likes to drive!

So please, come along for the ride. I should have no troubles posting along the way, and as we all know, eating and drinking is always more fun in good company.

p.s. and no, alas, that’s not our car pictured up top, we’re driving a cute but sedate little Peugeot 308.

Cruising the Western Mediterranean

October 21, 2011

A week in the sunny Med, hot days ashore, lovely evenings aboard the MS Ryndam, somehow I never found the time to post here. Not to mention the execrably slow Internet connection one finds on board, and the exorbitant prices one pays to stay connected to what’s ostensibly reality, that oh so far away life on land. However, I learned a very cool thing in an onboard workshop: how to make a little “movie” from still photographs. And so, here it is, your private tour through Malaga, Cadiz, Casablanca, Azemmour, El Jadida, Ibiza, and Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. I hope you enjoy it – let me know if I should do more of these for you or if I should keep my day job, just writing, clicking, and posting, without the special effects.

p.s. We had a lovely time, and Shel is seriously considering becoming a full-time cruiser. It must be those towel animals!

Un Ouf De Soulagement

October 6, 2011

Whew! That’s what ouf de soulagement means, a sigh of relief. Finally, and not a moment too soon for we leave in the morning, the packing gods have been appeased. Each of us has one suitcase under 50 pounds and one large carry-on, to last us for the next three months. Three months of clothes that will take us from Casablanca to Colmar, the first sunny and warm next week, the second most likely snowy when we get there at the end of November.

Saturday will find us, by the purest coincidence and a post on Facebook, having lunch in Barcelona with Arne and Janine, who are there now from Vancouver, B.C. We don’t get to see them often, even though we live just three hours apart, so what’s the chance that we’d all be in Barcelona at the same time? And what’s the chance that I’d even see their Facebook post saying so, given how random and perverse the site has become? But we are and I did, and so the beautiful Barcelona will be enhanced by having a welcoming committee, friends with whom to go to a tapas bar and share some of that delicious Spanish food and locally-made vermouth.

But before that we’ll have to spend quite a long time up in the sky, and then afterwards we’ll be on a ship for a week, from which I will attempt to stay in touch here, but Internet at sea is even less reliable than Facebook, and I’m not promising anything. So until then, whenever then may be, wish us fair skies and smooth sailing, and hasta la vista.

Busy As Bees

October 2, 2011

Holy buzz, Batgirl! I’m zipping around here like it’s the last day of summer and I need to get my honey all finished before frost. Actually, that’s not far from the truth. In less than a week we leave for Barcelona, followed closely by France, and the transition takes an incredible amount of effort each time, no matter how many times we’ve done it before.

Shel and I each have our lists, both diverse: pack computer cables, refill prescriptions, refinance house, get a haircut, visit the dentist, rent a car for Ibiza, bake a birthday cake, get the knives sharpened, dig out the sweaters, help Jordan move, and take Beppo and Zazou to their home away from home, the Snuggles Inn. And then right in the middle of all that, a plumbing emergency that added to the list: throw all available towels on the bathroom floor, squeegee a flood out of the garage, call the plumber, buy Pine-Sol, wash all affected floors and the towels that were on them. I think I should add get a massage, and hire a personal assistant. Open a nice bottle of wine has been on the list since the beginning, naturally. Somewhere in there has to be time to cook, pack, and oh yeah, sleep.

Right now the present tasks are so pressing that the upcoming fun seems like a blur. But once in Barcelona there will be a week-long cruise that calls in at Cadiz, Malaga, Casablanca, and Ibiza. Then a train ride home to Uzès, followed by a trip to the Ile d’Oléron, and another to Colmar.  In between our travels we’ll spend as much time as possible with our old friends, return to our French studies, teach some English, and generally revel in la vie française. At least that’s the plan,

for right now we’re just trying to hang in there, and cross as many items off the lists as possible before additional items get added. “Keep your eye on the honey” I tell myself, and the time keeps ticking away. Only six more days to change lives completely.