“Samoëns” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_5490Heidi in the Alps never had it so good!  A friend accused me of trying to recapture the Alpine world of Heidi, living in a mountain cottage near the goat herds and fields dotted with edelweiss, frolicking to the sound of waterfalls and cowbells.  I defended my travel plans explaining that I would be in a modern house with running water and a wide-screen television; furthermore, what was wrong with having Heidi as role model for my journey?  Heidi had a good heart, helped people feel secure and accept challenges.

Setting the correct GPS for my adventure in France, the location is just across the border from Heidi’s home in the Swiss Alps.  Samoëns, our intended destination, sits in the Northern French Alps, one hour below Geneva, and it is part of the Grand Massif ski domain which consists of five ski resorts: Flaine, Samoëns, Morillon, Sixt and Les Carroz.  With my vision of an idyllic village, I did not want to see tall apartment buildings with concrete as the main material.  Thankfully, Samoëns has maintained its rustic charm and is the only resort in France designated as a historical monument.   img_5379Medieval fountains gurgle beside ancient buildings and its unhurried pace is welcoming.   Understandably, the local residents take pride in their culture and lifestyle.  They feel that it is one of the most beautiful parts of France, and those who take the time to visit here will surely be enriched by the experience.  I found quotes from visitors that said:  “It’s not a resort; it’s a village.  There’s plenty of space, plenty of greenery – and no main roads.”  Another commented, “You immediately become a regular at one of the cafes on the main square.  You greet shopkeepers on the way past.”  Jim and I walked to the boulangerie each day and greeted the flower and vegetable seller who whistled tunes at the top of his lung capacity many mornings when he set up the colorful arrangements.  We shopped and purchased from our entertaining vendor on a beautiful sunny day – a heaping handful of wild mushrooms – an expense worth every euro for the rare enjoyment. img_4450While I’m thinking about the boulangerie, which happens very often, I must recommend Boulangerie Tiffanie which was our regular and the bakery with its tempting pastries and buttery croissants often had lines from the front door.  img_5416The other delicious favorite is La Jaysinia, a must for chocolate lovers!  Thierry Froissard, a top award winner, opened his cake shop after falling in love with Samoëns and La Jaysinia.  He buys local ingredients, and all of his cakes and pastries are home-made.  Are you drooling now? img_5439Eating out is great fun with something for everyone from pizza to fine dining.  Enjoy modern culinary or traditional Savoie dishes.  Reblochon cheese is proudly served with meat from local farms, and my favorite was the local desserts.  Here is a hint from a dairy farmer: “If you buy a reblochon cru, keep it between two plates on the kitchen bench.  If you’re determined to put it in the fridge, take it out three hours before serving.”  You can find cosy French Savoyard atmosphere with stone walls, heavy timbered beams and lovely artwork at the restaurant La Tornalta.  We enjoyed our delicious meal there in the warmth after walking past the rustic front with an antique wooden sleigh.  A young couple at a nearby table dined with their adorable little boy who reminded me of our grandson Daniel when he was younger.img_5443

A group of elderly folks enjoyed tall, delectable, ice cream desserts which I eyed jealously, but I only had room to share cheesecake with Jim when it came time to order.

Market day in Samoëns is on Wednesday.  We were there bright and early in the fog to purchase our vegetables, reblochon cheese, meat, sausage and eggs. A salesman had the adorable, lace curtains with intricate designs seen in many of the farmhouse windows.img_5270

Since I didn’t think about the possibility of finding curtains, I didn’t bring the window size info from my laptop at the rental house.  You might know that he would not be there in the following weeks!  I should have made a bee-line to La Ruche and return with the sizes.  I did find curtains at a modern store, but I’m sure that the vendor with many bolts of lace in the market had prettier design work.

The scenery is incredible, wherever you look.  There is always something else to discover.  Autumn is a wonderful season to be here with cool air and the changing colors.  Summer must be wonderful with all of the outdoor activities.  Don’t think this place is dull since it is a historical monument.  Samoëns is always bustling with activity and has more than you can possibly do!  Here is the winter short list: dog sledding, snowshoeing, Nordic walking, ice climbing, ice skating, hot air ballooning, snowmobiling and paragliding.

Samoëns used to be world famous for its stone masons.  The limestone quarries yield stone with hardness co-efficient of 13 for the skilled stonework.

In 1659, there were so many frahans (the local term for stone masons) that they formed a famous brotherhood and undertook philanthropic missions, caring for the sick and training young apprentices.  Their work as stone masons included commissions by Napoleon and went as far afield as Poland and Louisiana.  There are numerous works of art on Place du Gros Tilleul and in the village streets.img_6823

 

I also enjoyed seeing the many painted murals which are very much a part of the Alpine atmosphere.

img_6801The “Gros Tilleul” (large lime tree) has been described as the one object that epitomizes Samoëns.  Standing in the center of the village, it was planted in 1435, or 1431 or 1438, depending upon the source.  It is remarkable in age and size!  The large lime tree has been immortalized by authors, poet and musicians down through time.

The entrance to the church by Place du Gros Tilleul dates from 1555.  The stoop is decorated with the carving of a snake said to represent healing.  One of the locals took a disliking to the sculpture and lopped the head offimg_5465-1

It was re-carved and remains intact without further incident, so far.  I don’t have a photo of the snake, but I got a few other quirky objects and a beautiful stained glass window.

The Grenette, a sixteenth-century covered market, is on the south side of the square.  There are old bulges on the central pillars which remain since “the mason did not complete his work following a disagreement with the municipality over his contract.”  It seems that politics and business here are like other places in the world. img_5394 I enjoyed seeing the lovely fountain at the edge of the pedestrian-only square, a beautiful reminder of years gone by when the fountain was essential to village life.  I was thankful that it remained essential in Samoens each time we walked through the village. img_5362 Towering over the village is the Criou, the mountain that commands attention wherever you wander in this atmospheric, wonderful town that would meet Heidi’s thumbs up.

Before I close out, I must mention one very important tip.  Check out the shoe store across from the boulangerie!!

Don’t spend your money on shoes before the trip like I did.  Oh my goodness, just look at the pictures.  All of the females, including Heidi, will understand this.  I wanted the red ones, the blue ones, the ones trimmed with fur…

We began with Heidi’s sweet story, and we will end with this child of nature and her good heart.  She read stories to Peter’s blind grandmother and moved her unsociable grandfather to return into the village community.  She inspired millions of youngsters including me!  There is a modern movie adaptation of Heidi titled “Courage Mountain” starring Charlie Sheen, unbelievably, and the lovely Leslie Caron.  It was filmed in France and Austria.

By all means, if you plan a trip to the French Alps, your first CLICK should be to Alps Accommodation.

 

There is more of Samoëns to come including Jaysinia Botanical Garden, a trip to Chamonix for the cable car into the French Alps, nearby villages such as Sixt-fer-a-Cheval, Morillon and further afield to Burgundy and Lake Geneva.  Jim and I hope you return to join us.  Thanks so much!!!

“La Ruche” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_6927La Ruche, the name of the lovely holiday home that we enjoyed this autumn in France, means beehive in French.  The owners found a beehive in the old barn when it was being renovated, and thus the sweet name.  The name my mother chose for me before I was nicknamed Debbie in elementary school is Deborah, which means bee.   Buzzing along to a harmonious connection, I was anxious to see whether my instincts were right about this haven in the French Alps. img_4473A wise proverb says: “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.”  Honey is said to have healing properties according to many experts, and the natural, golden food is simply good and refreshing.  We needed an enjoyable get-away from our normal responsibilities and an escape from routine boredom, a place to recharge our batteries and renew our energy.  La Ruche soothed our bones and rewarded us with a comfortable place to rest and marvel at the ever-changing views across the wide-open fields to the cows in the pastures and the mountains beyond.img_4308Rain pelted our rental car and swished the windows as we made our way cautiously from the Lyon airport on expressways, and then to smaller roads that wound through the valleys and the sides of mountains until we arrived in Samoëns, a charming village filled with character.  (More about the village will come later.)  Locating the house wasn’t a problem, and in my opinion it is on the prettiest road in the town, lined with old and new timber houses with flower boxes overflowing with red geraniums and lace curtains with delicate designs in the windows. img_4321img_4329 Gardens with dark, rich soil had zucchini, lettuce and tomatoes.  But that exploration in long walks was yet to come since rain was falling and we had to unload our luggage and settle into the house.  British Airways had failed to deliver Jim’s suitcase with his clothing, toothbrush, shaving stuff and basically everything a man needs to avoid grouchiness, chafing and the appearance of a hermit at the dinner table.   (It was delivered two days later.)  Right away, we were in need of the healing power of honey to soothe away our worries.

Once we entered the code to the lockbox and had our key, we opened the big barn door and interior glass door to enter a home built of wood, including new lumber and other parts of old timber with huge beams.  The smell of wood filled the senses with a natural, pure feel-good serenity.  Childhood memories filled my mind as I unzipped my boots and walked in my socks on the wooden wide-plank floors.  My daddy’s carpentry business was next door to our home when I was a child, with his stock of lumber at the back where I crept up with my dolls to pretend that the layers of pine, oak, birch and cedar were my house.  The smell of wood was always there in the air and on my daddy’s shirt when I hugged him.  But playing on the racks of lumber was forbidden, and he sent me away with a warning most of the time.  There in La Ruche, I just knew that I had found the perfect wooden playhouseimg_4309

Getting down to basics, the master bedroom was downstairs with glass doors across one wall providing a gorgeous view across the fields and access to a terrace.  The second bedroom was on a mezzanine which was toasty warm for the winter and would be especially perfect for children, a great place for young ones to escape and play.  There were privacy screens so adults could easily stay here, also.  There was plenty of storage in the master bedroom and in the entry which had another closet with mirrored sliding doors.  Lighting for reading was perfect and adjustable heating was great since I want a cool bedroom for sleeping.  Our color combination changed from orange to gray and white when the linens were changed, a nice extra provided for the house.

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We had to go upstairs for the bathroom which is located on the main living area.

 

 

The railings to each level are strong, iron bars, none of the flimsy supports often found in rentals.  Brilliant blue tile that shimmers in iridescent color line the power shower enclosed with a glass door.  The washer/dryer combination is hidden away in a cabinet in the bathroom.  One machine does both functions, a real space saver.  A wonderfully cozy towel warmer was beside the shower door, and I added my robe with the towel so I could wrap myself like a pampered child.img_5049The living room has a large sofa which was very comfortable, a wide-screen television on the wall and the essential wood burner for a comfortable evening by the fire.  Jim loved the kitchen which is completely modern with everything he needed.  He is the chef extraordinaire, very demanding and he had no complaints.img_5051img_5053  A huge window had views to the trees with leaves changing to golden colors and a house with gingerbread trim.  The walls facing the fields and mountains had massive glass windows with wood-slats, open for the view, but shielding any harshness.  A small balcony is accessed by a glass door from this side.  Several large, orange cushions were on the floor inside at the glass wall facing the balcony.  When we had the tour from the property manager, she said that people took the cushions to sit on the balcony in good weather.  Knowing the Europeans’ habit of sunbathing topless, I thought this corner could be a private sunning area in the summer.  img_4429

Jim and I kept on all of our clothes and didn’t expose our birthday suits, and no one called passport control to revoke our entry to France for offending the neighborhood farmers and cows.

The sunning didn’t get me into trouble, but I fell into another area of embarrassment.  We had access to a sauna in an old building on the property that required a large, iron key to open the door.  I had never enjoyed this privilege, so I was excited to check it out.  I slipped on my bathing suit and wore leggings and a sweatshirt over it with boots, my only outdoor shoes, on my feet.  Jim and I walked in the dark under the trees, and sensors turned on lights at strategic locations to safely light the way.  The sauna must be wonderful when the weather is icy cold with snow on the ground.  We sat on the bench and enjoyed the heat with Jim tossing water for steam in the room.  Baking on the wooden shelf like a Little Debbie cupcake, I listened to Jim tell about his Finnish mother’s happy times in the sauna and her brisk roll in the snow afterwards.  It was worth listening to his remembrances just for the mental images of my mother-in-law cavorting in the snow.  Since Jim is willing to give an ear to my doll tea party nostalgia, the least I can do is nod and smile at his boyhood memories.  “Pleasant sayings … a healing to the bones.”

When it was time to return to the house, I felt far too hot to put on my leggings, so I pulled on the boots and walked in the dark wearing only my bathing suit.   I thought nothing about walking in the stillness to the front door, but Jim took much longer locking up and turning everything off than I expected. img_6936

There I stood at the front glass door waiting for him to come and unlock.  The heat from the sauna was seeping away from my body and the cold gradually spread across my arms and legs while I was stamping my feet, shivering on the front stoop.  Just as I pulled my old Guess sweatshirt over my head and my eyes peeped over the frayed collar with my head half-hidden, I was flashed with the bright car headlights focused on my bathing suit with the sequined top, boots to my wrinkled knees, white goose-pimply legs and half-on sweatshirt with huge orange and blue GUESS lettering on the front.  I felt the music vibe from the old song “The Streak” by Ray Stevens when he hollered, “Don’t look Ethel!”  But it was too late.  No one called property management.  We were safe.  Oh, well.  What’s a honey bee hive without a few stings?  We had such great fun!

I must give credit to the lovely owners that we had the pleasure of meeting briefly.img_4476  CLICK here to see their other house – Le Baptieux.  My favorite part of this house is the bathtub, which is to die for!  A special “thank you” must go to Hayley at Alps Accommodation, who helped me from the beginning.  Do check them out for a wonderful holiday home with everything you need.  (CLICK here for La Ruche with all of the details and professional photos.  Mine are far from perfect, but I thought you would like to see everything from our viewpoint.)  The Internet worked perfectly, which was a concern for me.  Graham and Gaëlle with Kukipegs Property Services answered promptly all of our questions from the major to the mundane.  They are just down-to-earth and such a sweet couple, just what you need for a perfect holiday.  Thank you! Thank you!!!

Please come back and see us as we share our days in this beautiful corner of the earth –  the Haute-Savoie.  Next time, I want to share some photography and information about Samoëns.  (My story on the lovely holiday home was unsolicited and I received no monetary consideration, therefore, completely unbiased.)

Perhaps you would enjoy having the book “A French Opportunity” on your nightstand. Available in paperback ,or Kindle, at all Amazon websites including France, England, Japan and many others.

“A Crown for Cassis” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_0357-copyThe French Riviera was only a couple of hours away from our rental house near Roussillon where we enjoyed as much of Provence as we could afford in both time and money last autumn.  Today, the first day with a small dip in temperature whispered an end to the heat of summer and created a ripple of excitement for this year’s autumn trip to France.  There’s time for all of that later. For now, I want to tell you about a sweet place on the Mediterranean.  My good friend Gayle B. in the Dordogne whispered a lovely word into my ear – Cassis!  Thank you, Gayle, for sharing this insider information, not a secret destination, but not a top-name vacation spot like Nice, or St. Tropez.  Cassis is between Marseilles and Toulon, a tiny dot on the map with around eight thousand in population which can swell to forty thousand during August since it is an extremely popular summer resort, especially for French and other European vacationers.   img_0628-copyWe were thankful to be in-the-know, and that we chose cool October to arrive and enjoy the relaxing ambience of an ancient, fishing village.  The captivating waterfront with the colorful boats rocking gently in the balmy breeze made us feel comfortable and relaxed from the moment we took our first walk around the harbor.img_0343-copy   Little alleyways and squares invited us further up the hill with paintings on display and laundry hanging to dry from the windows.  A new vista of the harbor and narrow lanes with purple bougainvillea climbing over walls drew us deeper in love with Cassis. img_0371-copyThe beach, Plage de la Grande Mer, where one can order a margarita (not kidding), is bordered to the east by Cap Canaille, a massive stone rampart looming above and into the sea.  The cliffs are the highest maritime cliffs in Europe.  The summit is the Grande Tete with a 394 meter sheer cliff. img_0530-copy Canaille comes from the Latin Canallis Mons which means mountain of the waters, of the aqueducts, or from the Provençal Cap Naĭo, “the mountain that swims, that juts out into the sea.”  I like the last description since the massif is a listed site, a beauty from the ship’s deck, from a tiny perch on a hotel balcony in the early morning, or from the last stroll in the golden glow of sunset.  I promise that you will want to return again and again.img_0418-copyI went back and forth on my hotel selection, wearing out the keyboard with my inquiries and indecision.  I finally went with Le Golfe Hotel on the pedestrian walk, ring-side for the views and atmosphere. img_0336-copy We had a room with a balcony for a budget price and 5-star charm at the end of the lane.  Morning coffee was never better!  Fishermen set up stalls, and vendors brought goods to the restaurants while we savored the relaxation of the picturesque scene.  CLICK photo for larger image:

High on the cliff above the port is the Chateau de Cassis, a privately-owned, luxurious hotel with an unrivaled vantage point.  Once this was a fortress to protect the town from invasion, dating from the thirteenth-century and it remained a military fortress until the late 1800s.  Expect to pay more, but the hotel selection depends on location as well.  Do you want to be above looking down on the pretty village circling the harbor?   Or, would you prefer being at the edge of the water with a short stroll to all of the shops and restaurants?img_0514-copy We signed-up right away for a boat ride past the lighthouse at the tip of the Quai des Moulins to see the calanques with rugged white stone rising high above the turquoise, emerald or indigo waters.  Yes, the color varied depending on the light and location, but always beautiful.  img_0568-copyThe stone of Cassis was used in the construction of the docks in major ports from Algeria to Greece.  It was interesting to learn that the white limestone was also used to create the base of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from France.img_0578-1-copy  We saw young people scattered on the cliffs as we leisurely wound our way through at least five inlets with a lively bunch of oldsters and youngsters before returning to our little seaside village painted with happy colors and the golden rays of a setting sun.img_0590-copyThen it was time for ice cream! (salted caramel) Husband Jim argued that it would ruin our dinner, but I pointed for his attention that everyone else was breaking the rules.

When in France, do as the Frenchmen!  Games of boule were underway with the clack of balls and careful measurement by the serious men participating.  Ladies were walking their dogs and children rode the carousel.  Gradually folks shifted to the all-important selection of the restaurant for the evening meal.  Cassis is ringed with sidewalk cafes, pizzerias, creperies and ice cream vendors.  Local seafood is the main selection on offer and enjoyed when the sun dips and twinkling lights dot the harbor.

 We were fortunate to be there for the market held twice weekly at Place Baragnon offering food, flowers, chic clothing and jewelry.

I wandered into the public garden to snap photos of the Mairie, a listed historic monument build in 1626 and now housing the offices of the mayor.   I turned after focusing on the historic Hôtel de Ville and ran directly into two large policemen, an unexpected, human, uniformed barricade.  Embarrassed and stumbling around, I adjusted my sunglasses and composure to make my apologies. Rather than being upset with me, they were friendly and offered to help me find anything I needed.  I didn’t ask for them to round-up Jim to join his addled wife.  I knew I could find him sampling cheese in the market.img_0657-copy

Jim insisted that this was a good place to include a redneck joke as a reminder that I’m not sophisticated any day of the week, especially after a run-in with the law!

 

You might be a redneck if you think the French Riviera is a foreign car!

Cassis gets its name from the Roman Carsicis Portus, which means crowned port, referring to the stone peak that looks like a crown.  Cassis deserves to be crowned as the winner in all classes.  If you would like to see the beauty of the Mediterranean in a petite, jewel of a package, go to Cassis!

I have 300+ pictures from our two-night stay in Cassis.  I wish I could share all of them.  Thank you for coming around.  Jim and I are extremely excited to be planning a trip to the French Alps with our flights arranged for only a short time away.  Next time I add a story, it will likely be from France.  Live on the spot reporting!!  I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures in the mountains, by the lakes, possibly a short trip into Switzerland or Italy.  Let’s see how lazy or adventurous we will be.  Wish us safety and new happy experiences, please!  Thank you for your kindness.  Add your e-mail address in upper-right-hand corner to submit for free notification when a new story is posted, so you don’t miss the French Alps, the Provence or our hometown of Opp, Alabama.

Perhaps you would enjoy reading the book A French Opportunity available on KINDLE or paperback.  Just CLICK on the TURNIPS!img_0648-copy

Jim says this is further proof that I’m a redneck since I was excited to see turnips (sorry, just the roots, not the greens) in the Cassis market.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

 

 

“Cucuron by the Pond” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_0125Perhaps the delightful escape through the countryside with Jamie Ivey through the pages of his book “La Vie En Rosé” converted my bi-focal glasses to rose-colored lens.  Ivey’s enthusiasm for good wine, good food and exploration of little-known corners of France was good company for all 265 pages.  On one of the pages of this book, or another of his delicious books, he said he enjoyed stopping in Cucuron for lunch at the cafe by the beautiful pool of water – Bassin de l’Etang – lined with centuries-old plane trees.   Local people and visitors gravitate there alongside the water which seems to cool down the area on the hottest of days.  I followed Ivey’s footsteps and absorbed the colorful ambience on a beautiful autumn day.  Ripples of excitement, a bit of gooseflesh and a goofy smile crept across my face and body as I realized my dream of being in Provence in this delightful oh-so-French village.img_0127The village is not one of the popular tourist spots with streets lined with souvenir shops.  I felt like I should hide my camera and try to blend into the normal flow so I wouldn’t mar the beauty.img_0135

But I had to capture the beauty with my camera without intruding.  The scenes of people walking home with baskets of groceries for dinner and children playing in the street were normalement to them, but a joy for me to capture for many memories in the future.

 

 

A little dog raced along the street beside us and then stopped on a doorstep like he was trained to pose for the camera, a tourism office dog.img_1494-copy

If you can tear yourself away from the rosé by the rectangular pool and walk through the ancient arched entryway, a medieval part of the village is inside the old rampart walls with winding streets, fountains, laundry hung out to dry and a gorgeous view over the rooftops at the top of the village. img_1522-copy  Aristocratic homes and seventeenth-century buildings with beautiful doorways are too beautiful to miss!img_0130  One of the doors had “PetiteTara” engraved into the wood, the same as the Tara in the book “Gone with the Wind and the name of one of my best friend’s daughter.img_1516-copy

When we slowly blended into the atmospheric scenery, I followed an elderly gentleman across the street, hoping to capture a photo of him with the ancient ramparts as a background.  Husband Jim accused me of stalking the sweet fellow.  What is it with the elderly that is so photogenic?

“Young men’s magnificence is their strength; old men’s grandeur is white hair.” – Proverbs 20:29

An elderly woman was moving faster than the charming gent with her wildly, colorful skirt img_0129flapping in the breeze while she chatted on a cell phone planted next to her face.  I hoped to capture a photo, but she was moving uphill faster than most senior citizens.  She was keeping up her conversation and glancing back at me with the eyes of a detective.  I was caught in my covert actions, and she appeared to be strong enough to take me on like Granny Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies and throw me into the cement pond, or L’etang.  Where was Jethro Jim to protect me from a walking cane lashing?

Jim had left me behind to walk uphill for the view, undisturbed on a peaceful terrace.img_1508-copy From the highest position, one can see Cezanne’s beloved Mont St. Victoire and the fertile farmland around which yields Luberon wine, cherries and olives.  Cucuron is home to farmers and shopkeepers and has a good collection of cafes, restaurants and a hotel.  If you are fortunate enough to linger for awhile, the village offers a nice assortment of activities other than people-watching by Bassin de l’Etang.  img_1488-copyCucuron was about twenty-five miles from our rental house when we visited this past October.  We drove there after our visit to Lourmarin which I featured in a story earlier and we returned for a second time because I liked the village very much.  Perhaps you would like to CLICK back to the story on Lourmarin if you missed it!  Cucuron is only four miles from Lourmarin with Ansouis, another Plus Beaux Village, just three miles farther away.  This cluster of villages creates an enticingly delightful area.

Marcia DeSanctis, in her book “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go” has high praise for Cucuron: “One of the most enchanting places in the Luberon is the medieval village of Cucuron, where several scenes from A Good Year were filmed.   In the center of town is a large reflecting pool filled with fish and surrounded by ancient plane trees, their forked white trunks graced with pale green foliage that shuffles slightly.  In the corner of the square, in a pretty house with steel-blue shutters, is the restaurant La Petite Maison de Curcuron, where the chef gives group cooking lessons here every weekend.  Enough said.  No wonder Russell Crowe didn’t return to London.”img_1510-copyWhile Cucuron seems unspoiled, it certainly isn’t undiscovered!  I found reference to four movies that were filmed here, at least in part.  I kept my camera busy.  I hope you enjoy the photography and this very short story.   This is a very special place, so don’t put it low on your list since I didn’t devote as many words to it compared to others.  It is not a secret village, but it seems hidden away from the hordes of tourists especially if you can travel slightly out of high season.img_1479-copy

I’m getting ready for a visit to my adorable grandson.  I should say “we” since Jim will be traveling to Texas with me for the best visit of all, to see Daniel our only grandson!  I will take along a few extra hugs from you.

Please come and visit with us again!  Thank you very much for your encouragement and for sharing this website with others!

“Flying to a Fountain” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9832Rotten crab in a salad caused food poisoning after Bram Stoker ingested the awful dish.  Between bouts of sickness he dreamed about the lord of the vampires.  Thus, the story of Dracula, a best-seller, was inspired by a vile sickness.

Writers find their inspiration in odd places and strange events.  Finding inspiration for a best-seller from a plate of food prepared for a hospital emergency room visit isn’t my idea of the way to success!  I’ve had a few moments of odd inspiration under the influence of sickness and over-the-counter cold and cough medication.  I’m daring to tell you about this one and hope you don’t write me off as unstable.  Dracula is not involved.

During my episode with fever, coughing and sneezing when Jim and I were in the Provence last October, I wallowed on the sofa by the fireplace when we were not out and about.  A large, comfortable chair with a high back was directly in my field of vision to the left of the French doors with a view of the gorgeous courtyard.  Somehow, the chair reminded me of one from my early childhood and it triggered a memory from long ago.  They say the brain is like a filing cabinet, and when one thought is filed away it can touch others and bring them to the surface.  Or, maybe I just made that up.  Anyway, the memory buried deep and forgotten was so funny to me that I had to tell Jim about it.

IMG_9927When Jim was seated in the big, comfy chair later in the evening, I decided to share my tale: “I don’t think I ever told you that I used to think that I could fly.”  Now that got his attention!  He eyed my half-empty glass of wine and cautiously asked, “And, when did you think you could fly?”  Now that he was listening and not looking for Star Trek on television, I said: “Daddy had a big chair in the corner of the living room with a high back, just like the one you are sitting in now, except it was upholstered with ugly, orange and brown, scratchy fabric.  When I was very young, skinny and adventurous, I would climb to the top of the high back of the chair and jump into the air with my arms outspread, over and over again.  I imagined that I was truly flying and I just knew that I could fly even farther if I was high enough off the ground.  I was positively sure that I could out-fly the boys, especially my brother!  I never shared my special ability with any grownups, or I would surely have been teased about it from that day until now.”  Jim nearly laughed his backside out of the chair and said, “I knew you were Super Woman, but I didn’t know it started on the ugly recliner in your parents’ living room in front of the picture window.  Wish I could have been there to see you!”  This time he got his reply in good order.  I would have kissed him, but I didn’t want to share my germs.

The next morning on a beautiful Sunday I was feeling better, and we eased into our rental car for a short ride to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse along with a horde of other Sunday drivers.  At the entrance to the town there is a majestic aqueduct.  My guidebook didn’t mention this striking feature, so I was astounded!  Aqueduct of Galas is more than 78 feet in height and the total length across the Sorgue River spans 522 feet.  The aqueduct was built between 1854 and 1857 and has 13 semi-circular arches.  It was a beauty and I intended to take more pictures from the other side of the river on the return, but somehow we made a wrong turn.  Imagine that!?  After I shot a few pictures and returned to the car, I found that Jim’s brain cells had been working overtime.  “Super Woman, how far could you fly if you jumped from way up there?”  This time he didn’t win any thoughts of a kiss for his comment.IMG_9892The village was once called Vaucluse, or closed valley, which is the same name as the department where Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is located.  The town which is built around the spring is the major draw and it is situated at the foot of a cliff of the Monts de Vaucluse.  IMG_9902There are many discoveries to be viewed other than the famous springs, such as: the remains of the Chateau of the Bishops of Cavaillon, dating from the fourteenth century; a column erected in 1804 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Petrarch’s birth; the Petrarch Museum library; the “Santon and Traditions of Provence” eco-museum with over 2,000 santons on display and the Geological Museum which is an underground gallery that displays information on the underground expeditions to locate the source of the river Sorgue.  One museum which is in the “Just Missed It” category is the Historical Justice and Punishment Museum that is now closed.  I read that it was dedicated to the history of torture and execution, established by a village resident, a last surviving French Guillotinist.  Here is an oddity for you.  One of the old gent’s parrots chanted the Marseillaise and the Red Flag and shouted our execution orders!  Well, that’s what I read.  You can fly faster than any parrot to check it out!IMG_9879Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is perfect for a Sunday-outing, and the local population and tourists knew it on the day of our appearance in the village.  I wouldn’t want to be there during high-season when tourists rub shoulders in the crowds along the river bank.  We had enough people to enjoy strolling under the shade of the plane trees. IMG_9886 Laughter drifted from the restaurants along the river bank where people were seated like they were aboard a mini-cruise ship with the water rushing rapidly downstream. IMG_9893 I went into a few gift shops, and I paid a ridiculous amount for a miniature, pottery Provencal house.  It now stands among a row of tiny buildings on my kitchen windowsill.  I paid too much, but it does reward me with memories of the enchanting place with the surging waters, the giant water wheel, colorful buildings and friendly people.  Three pretty young ladies posed for me under the trees, and I said I would include them in my blog, but I chickened out.  Such a shame because I catch such lovely pictures of young ones during our travels, but I’m ever so cautious about posting them.IMG_9865ProvenceWeb says: “The success of the village is essentially due to the impressive spring which flows out of the 230 meter high cliff.  This gigantic source is the most powerful in France and fifth in the world.  630 million cubic meters of water flow from the source every year.”  In 1946, Jacques Cousteau and another diver were almost killed when they attempted to reach the bottom of the spring.  The air compressor used to fill their tanks had taken in its own exhaust fumes and produced carbon monoxide which almost killed them before they made it to the surface after returning from approximately 100 meters in depth.  A robot reached a depth of 308 meters later in 1985.IMG_9874

I did my best to photograph the beautiful building that houses the Petrarch Museum.  On a narrow lane, it was difficult to find a good angle for the tall building in the bright sunshine.

 

 

IMG_9875The poet Petrarch made this village his preferred residence in the 14th-century, writing: “The illustrious source of the Sorgue, famous for itself long ago became even more famous by my long stay and my songs.”  Sounds as vain as some of the current stars, right? Don’t tell me he wouldn’t be wearing big, black sunglasses.The beautiful village inspired the poets Frederic Mistral and Rene Char as well.IMG_9871Two protected archaeological sites have yielded more than 1,600 antique coins from the first century BC to the 5th century AD through discoveries from cave dives.

We may need to discover our own wishing well of coins to return here, but it is worth it.  Break your piggy bank and fly on over!  You can fly farther than the comfy recliner! Travel safely and come back to see us again.  Thank you!

“Where Shopping is a Pleasure” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9459Begging, bribing, tempting, nor beseeching worked on my friend.  I sounded like a member of the Chamber of Commerce, or a solitary tourism authority.  I promised lower taxes, lower utility bills, no parking meters, a big lake with giant fish, shorter lines at any business, no traffic problems, less crime, a new city pool and friendly people including me!  How could she pass on an offer like this?  She nibbled and circled away like those giant fish in the lake.  I received a short e-mail saying, “As soon as you have a Publix grocery store in town I will pack my bags.”

Publix has an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, good meat and a wonderful bakery with delicious pies, cakes and bread.  All of this horn of plenty is arranged attractively with other necessities and rarities.  It is no wonder that their slogan is: “Where shopping is a pleasure!”  I could go on with more praise, but that would not help my case with the lady I’m cajoling to come on down to Opp, Alabama, and I could offend the fine, friendly folks who open their doors with good groceries here in my hometown.IMG_9461All of this came to mind when I was preparing my story about Goult, a charming town in Provence.   Along a narrow, uphill street in the center of the village is an atmospheric grocery that could easily adopt the Publix advertising theme since shopping there is surely a pleasure.  The tiny grocery has an unusual feature with the main part of the grocery on one side of the street, and the other part with vegetables and fruit is across the street.  The fruit and veggie portion seemed to be on the honor system with no one minding the store on that side.  We bagged our tomatoes, potatoes, beans and strawberries; then, we walked a few steps across to pay a young man for the bounty.  Fresh bread as advertised on the awning in French (pain) is by the cash register.  I experience true pain when I am separated from the (bread) pain in France!

A good case could be argued that the grocery store is the most important place in any town based on my friend’s e-mail and the pleasant shopping experience in Goult.  Oh, some could dispute with their first choices being a place of worship, the bank, the post office, a favorite restaurant, the schools, a shopping center or the bowling alley.  I will honor your selections, but a great grocery store does keep us happy and well-fed.

Goult, not to be confused with a medical condition despite the similarity in sound in the English language, is one of the least known and visited of the beautiful villages of Provence.  I thought it would be a perfect place to rent a house in peaceful surroundings, with possibly fewer tourists, a grocery with freshly baked pain, nice restaurants and an atmospheric neighborhood.  I’ve had the goal of finding a rental house in such a village when I’ve searched, but I’ve never lined up a house close enough to walk to a boulangerie and grocery.  When I met all of my other criteria for the rental house, I was left with a drive to the stores.  Goult has some uphill walks, but not as steep as some.  The old buildings and pretty doorways are easy to find with comfortable walking.  This jewel of a village isn’t a standout on a prominent location like Gordes, Roussillon and many of the villages that are visible from afar.  Goult rewards with quieter moments, inviting you to linger on a bench in the shade with a friend to chat and share a laugh.IMG_9423-2Jim and I separated at one junction.  I took the lane going to the right, and he went uphill.  A cat was in the shade on a window ledge.  The unfriendly feline had no intention of warming to my attention. IMG_9383

I think I found the furry friend’s home further up the hill with a sign on the door explaining the cat’s (chat in French) current mental condition.IMG_9429-1

 

 

A good friend of mine had a sign on her door with the wording in French: “Chat Lunatique”.   Before I knew any French, not that I know very much now, I thought it meant she liked to talk a lot.  Yes, Elizabeth, if you are reading, this is intended for you.

Around the corner an artist’s work was on display outside the studio.  It was easy to see the theme with the red nose on the happy face and the grapes.  IMG_9380The monkey and banana were amusing, and the tall creature in armor on the balcony would definitely scare me away!IMG_9391

I discovered the d’Agoult family chateau which is privately owned and not open to the public.  Many of the buildings seem to emerge from within the rock with windows set directly into the natural stone.  Some of the lanes are carved through the rock.IMG_9433  I could imagine torrents of water coursing downhill during a rain storm.  Oh, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit on a high terrace, or balcony, and observe village life below!  I could rent a house up there and call from an open window with pink geraniums on the ledge to remind Jim to pick up more eggs at the grocery when he walked downhill.

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I’ve read good reviews for Auberge les Bartavelles which is in the Michelin Guide and the Café de la Poste that serves lunches on the terrace in summer.  Thursday is market day.  I know that would be fun.

I ran into Jim further up the hill and asked what he had seen.  He shrugged and didn’t say much.  I told him about my finds with a dig in his direction: “I found an artist’s work that showed your likeness in his painting and sculpture.  You must have modeled in profile with a banana in your hand near your face.”  He glanced down the street to see the monkey and said: “I can’t leave you alone for ten minutes, or you get mixed up with a strange monkey offering to show you his banana.”  Hmph!IMG_9419We walked on further uphill to find a nice surprise.  I didn’t know about the Jerusalem Windmill at the top of the hill which dates at least from the eighteenth century.  It owes its name to the Crusades which formerly attended the lords of Agoult. IMG_9417

There are beautiful views across the valley Calavon.  Another surprise was the dead tree with faces carved into the protruding limbs.  Now, here’s something you can do with a dead tree.IMG_9416-1

I pointed this out to Jim and he said, “Don’t look at me.  Find your sculptor friend.

 

He mimicked a monkey swinging in the branches complete with howls which sounded across the windy hill.  I knew it was time to leave and find a separate downhill path.

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Thanks for joining us!  Please come back.  Share the link to the blog with friends if you would like.  If you do not presently receive a notice when a new story is posted and would like to have a free notice, just enter your e-mail in the area above.

I love hearing from you!

 

IMG_9452 I’m totally bananas, to use a corny expression, when I see a message from you.  My daddy always loved corny jokes and stories.  He would have liked this one.  He loved his son-in-law Jim, also. Take care!

Perhaps you would enjoy reading the book (Click to view a sample.) “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.

“Soaring above Saignon” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_0290Soaring high above Saignon came years before the actual close view of the medieval village perched along a ridge on the Luberon massif in France.  Saignon, not to be confused with the Saigon in Asia, is poised high above the valley like a signpost; hence the name comes from signum, Latin for sign.  Now that the name game is clarified, I would like to lull you into the dreamy vision of Saignon, sited notably as a stopping point for religious pilgrims since the Middle Ages.  You say you are not transported yet?

Visions of France”, a Public Television presentation available on disks, and possibly other media, is the ticket to glide above France.  Music matches the mood when the camera is high above rocky crags, or drifting above the lavender fields where the purple flowers seem to yield their fragrant scent.  I bought the package of beauty as a present to myself, and I’ve soared ever since like a bird, homing my way back to each village with the melody both soothing and enticing my yearning for an actual taste of the scene playing below me.

Yes, I soared over Saignon and added it to my list of beauties to be seen despite the fact that it did not appear in my guidebook.  I could observe with my keen, birdlike view as the scenes played on my television that Saignon was the real thing, like a step back in time, closed to traffic, peaceful and distant from the modern world.IMG_0273  Ancient stone buildings studded the hilltop, aligned at the crest and spread over the edges, clinging together with impregnable architecture.  Winding, narrow lanes lead to squares with fountains.  The wealth from hundreds of years ago is apparent even from afar with buildings that I was able to pinpoint on the screen when the aerial photographer flew above this distinctive site.  Oh, yes, soaring above Saignon while seated on my sofa cushions instead of an airplane seat lured me, and the music lingered in my head!

A good book, or movie, can transport you to a different place like Saignon.  The imaginary vision may create disappointment when one is confronted with reality, but Saignon did not disappoint.  The movie production could only hover and show the skeleton of the colorful medieval village.  The doorways with flowery entrances seemed to welcome me inside, where I was comfortable as snuggling on my sofa.IMG_0220 Stress and any notion of rushing around melted away at the center of the village where three roads meet by the graceful fountain with the water playing a melody of restfulness and well-beingThe lingering sound of the music from the movie had followed me to France.  Beginning on the flutter of butterfly wings, the notes in my head soared and built to a crescendo when I was fully immersed in the panoramic view from the rocky crags.

Soaring above Saignon, I could not see the rich colors of the vines on the ancient buildings.  I could not see the mailbox decorated with a delicate bouquet.  I couldn’t find the artist with the red hair and the coat edged in white fur. IMG_0233 I couldn’t smell the bread in the boulangerie, or enjoy the warm soup on a cold day.  I could not see the tile with the two birds mating, or hear my little girl voice asking my mother long ago: “Mama, why are the birds fighting?IMG_0219

I did not know that three whimsical chairs held flowering plants in the seats. I could not imagine a tiny window with a bulldog’s face painted to surprise and amuse. I did not see creeping vines, bright as chili peppers and yellow begonias soft as butter.

 

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IMG_0261I did imagine a view of me with my smile spread wide lingering by the fountain with the emerald water.   IMG_0243Jim and I walked from one side to the other and back again, trying to cover every nook and cranny.  I saw one youngster waiting around the corner of an arch planning to surprise his mom when she walked through.  I thought of Jim’s incident in the borie with the French lady, and I had a private laugh in remembrance.  (CLICK here for “Lavender or Stones?” if you have not read the story.)  Jim admired the old cars in the village, and we drove to our rental home a few miles away near Roussillon. IMG_0280

Later I realized for a certainty that the distinctive hill in the distance from the hillside, staked as ours for our short time in Provence, was indeed Saignon!  In the morning light, I peered across the fields of grape vines, beyond the sycamore trees lining the road to the village of Saignon.

At that moment with the cool morning air on my face, I realized I knew the lovely village from a face-to-face meeting, shaking hands with her and introducing myself, not soaring by in the distance. While I was sitting in the car with my eyes romancing Saignon, Jim was tossing away our garbage into the separate containers for glass, plastic and ordinary garbage creating a smash and splatter band of his own.  Provence vibes recycled by Alabama Jim!

That’s life for you with garbage on the left, beauty on the right and the road stretching ahead with a generous amount of tedium.

Keep on soaring.  I am thankful for every day.

Please come and stumble around with us again. I love hearing from you.  Just leave a message below where everyone’s comments are on view. You may also like to have a free notification when new stories are posted.  Just enter your e-mail above.  If you would like to read a book and soar with an old Alabama gal, just CLICK her to view “A French Opportunity” available in paperback and Kindle.

“Athletic Activity” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_0164No one has ever praised me for my athletic ability.  I detested physical education class in high school, getting sweaty and ruining my hairstyle.  Later, I enjoyed camping with husband Jim and the children, cooking out with a campfire in the Smoky Mountains, but no extreme sports.  Jim played a little high school football, but he would never be mistaken for a former NFL star.  So, how did the two of us land in the middle of a group of mountaineers in France?  (I hope the mountain pictures are not too fuzzy since I didn’t have the tripod in the car with me to steady my camera.)IMG_0181Do you see the climber just below the trees on left side?

Jim had spotted a sign pointing to a fort when he was driving in the heavy fog on our way to Lourmarin a few days past.  I’m the self-appointed travel planner and Jim usually follows the agenda without too much fuss and even less suggestions.  If he volunteers an idea of his own, first of all I’m shocked, but at least if it’s a failure he can’t blame me.  CLICK photos below for larger view.

I couldn’t find any information in the guidebooks about a fort in the area, but I was game to search for it since I could see that his little boy memories of playing in a fort were kickin’ in.  He was thinking that a big fort in the mountains would be more fun than looking at French knick-knacks, especially in any town where finding a parking space was an issue.  IMG_0168He imagined that he had a fool-proof man’s plan for the day.  Sure enough, we found that sign pointing to a fort and took a left on a typical road.  The easy, uneventful beginning was misleading since it led to a narrow, winding road where we were praying that we would not meet any cars.  Trees blocked most of the side views, but occasionally I saw quick glimpses of mountains with one spectacular peak in the distance.  I gasped and told Jim, “There’s an incredible site to your left, but don’t take your eyes off the road!  It’s like the Devil Mountain dropped down in France.  And, to think, we wouldn’t be here unless you made this suggestion.”  Jim didn’t say anything as we kept going in this Jurassic Park landscape.

Oh, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, the foliage wasn’t palm trees and tree ferns, but it was wild and exotic compared to anything we had encountered, so far.  Finally, we found a place to pull over and that is where we found the mountaineers.  The average age of the young, muscular, athletic folks sticking their heads out of campers and climbing the rock face of the mountains was a huge dip below ours.  Somehow,  I didn’t think that any of them qualified for an AARP discount on their hotel rates.  They probably wondered what brought us to this neck of the woods where we were the old dinosaurs of the pack. IMG_0179

They were friendly and didn’t mind my camera.  Only Jim got upset when I was at the edge of the narrow road, kneeling on the moist ground to take a picture of a mushroom.  A truck rumbled along and stopped, waiting patiently until Jim jerked me out of the way.  The French have a healthy respect for mushrooms, more than Jim, apparently.  I didn’t know my backside was taking up so much room that a truck couldn’t pass me.  Pardon! After a moment of dusting my dirty knees and readjusting my bruised dignity, I realized that Jim was only concerned for my personal safety when he pushed me from the road with the ferocity of an Auburn linebacker.

Now about that fort attraction that Jim had his heart set on, a huge gate crossed the pathway and a sign stated that it was CLOSED, or French words to that effect.  Jim was disappointed. IMG_0171 I pointed out some colorful glass on the utility poles, amazed that electric poles were to be found in the Jurassic Park with a Devil’s Mountain.  Jim wasn’t interested, but the cute young ladies climbing the mountains consoled his disappointment.

 

We went to Buoux on our return and enjoyed the petite community with its old community laundry. IMG_0199 Buoux was the setting where two of the characters in Peter Mayle’s book “Anything Considered” hid their loot – a million dollars – in a sack in a borie!   We didn’t find the borie, or any money.  But I found an adorable cottage at the edge of the road and a colorful character walked past the ancient buildings in perfect timing for my camera.

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Thanks Jim, for a beautiful day!  You may not be a sports hero, but you are my hero! Thanks for all of the wonderful years together since we married on July 22nd on a hot day in the deep south of Alabama.  I hope we travel many more years together.  HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Jim!IMG_0212Please come and ramble around with us again.  This is short story without much in-depth information.  I hope you will excuse me while I party a little with my guy.  Take care!  Thank you kindly.

"Maybe you don't need the whole world to love you. You know? Maybe you just need one person." - Kermit the Frog

“Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you. You know? Maybe you just need one person.” – Kermit the Frog

Perhaps you would like to read the book CLICK “A French Opportunity and enjoy seeing how it all began with the Alabama dinosaurs.  This is the 4th anniversary for the blog which started in July, 2012!!

“Almost Anything Considered” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_0007-1Heavy fog blanketed the roadway ahead as Jim cautiously drove in the Provence along D36 from Bonnieux to D943 down south to Lourmarin.  It was a narrow corkscrew of a road cut through rock with high limestone peaks.  Mourre Nègre rises to 3,690 ft. in the spectacular range of mountains.  Occasionally, I had a glimpse through the fog of the outstanding beauty of the valley below and the rocks jutting from the savage countryside with no houses in sight.  I remembered reading in the novel “Anything Considered” that this road was the perfect setting by night for the twentieth-century highwayman. IMG_0008-1 Husband Jim the normally fearless man at the wheel was driving in mid-morning after a heavy overnight rain which likely accounted for the fog.  Peter Mayle’s novel set an ominous crime scene for the very road we were traveling:  “Rumors of armed robberies had been circulating recently in village cafes, and the story was always the same.  A car, seemingly broken down, blocks the road, with a lone figure standing beside.  The unsuspecting motorist stops to offer help.  Friends of the lone figure then jump out from their hiding place in the bushes, often with guns.  The helpful motorist is left with a ten-mile walk to civilization, while his car is being processed for resale in a backstreet Marseille garage.

Surely, there was no need to worry about highwaymen during the day, and after all this was a fictional account published in 1996.  I decided this was not a good time to share the information like a scary book-of-the-month installment.  I can always find something to worry about. IMG_0012We were thankful to say good-bye to our jumpy, nervous feelings and ease into Lourmarin through the golden canopy of plane trees and past the amusing sculpture of a naked lady at the edge of the road.  IMG_0016

She wasn’t very sexy, but apparently she needed a good sudsy bath with extra heavy-duty mildew remover.  I was drawn to Lourmarin for two reasons.  First, the village is rather flat, a welcome change after climbing the steep pathways in the other villages we had visited in Provence.

The second enticement was the beautiful chateau.  We went in that direction first.IMG_0114There is a hint of Italy in Lourmarin’s castle which stands regally beyond open fields at the edge of the village.  One reference work says that when the chateau was abandoned in the nineteenth century that it was taken over by gypsies.  A local tradition says the gypsies were responsible for the strange graffiti on one of the inner walls, and that they put a curse on the place when they were evicted.IMG_0050Below the chateau to the right of the pathway from the chateau into the village is a church which was built for Protestants, who formed the major population during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  A tomb in the surrounding cemetery is that of the novelist, essayist and playwright Albert Camus, who bought a house in Lourmarin before he won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1957.  His time enjoyed in Lourmarin was cut short when he was killed in a car crash near the village while being driven to Paris in 1960Now, there was another subject I would not mention to Jim at the end of the day when we wound our way north again through the ravine separating the Grand and the Petit Luberon.

The smart people in the chateau had closed their doors for lunch.  Fortunately, I could enjoy the garden of richly-colored dahlias, shining like jewels after the night’s refreshing rain.  We admired the views of the village and then decided to walk on to find a shady place to eat beside the winding narrow street with typical Mediterranean architecture.IMG_0057An arbor of vines kept us in the shade, but it held a canopy of raindrops which showered us with each gust of wind.  We had placed our order and I didn’t see another open table.  The young couple next to us saw our predicament, and the nice lady helped me grab a table without a built-in shower.  After lunch, I noticed that she left the table early to search for photo opportunities, as I did, leaving the guys behind to face the bills alone.  I found a window full of toys for our grandson, Daniel.  Now, wouldn’t my daughter appreciate the Noah’s ark with the many, many animals?  The zebra, snakes, penguins and squirrels might not fit into my brocante antique finds either.   I watched a big sister giving a little sister rides on her scooter on the pedestrian-only street.

A city maintenance truck with the cutest, smiley face on the window came around the corner and parked.  The worker was very annoyed because a car was parked and blocking his way, but he posed for my camera anyway.

A tiger was waiting in an open air safari Jeep.  Oh, it was fake, but very amusing.   A real curbside market, in every sense of the word, was set up at the edge of the lane with vegetables, figue noire (black figs) big as a baby’s fist, sausage hung in loops and wine.

During the photo-snapping, I was suddenly photo-bombed by two young ladies. After the laughter and surprise, I introduced myself, produced my business card, and they agreed for me to share their photo. IMG_0069 Among all of the giggles, I failed to notice that one of the pretty ladies had her eyes closed in the photo.  I suppose that I had the last laugh and photo bomb.  Thanks again, ladies!

Lourmarin is officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.  Lourmarin is a cultural center for the region as it hosts music and art festivals and has many art galleries.  The Countess of Agoult, whose family owned the village chateau, was the mother of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and three other children.  One of the children married Richard Wagner.   Quite interesting to find such a number of talented people associated with this small town.   Peter Mayle, the famous author mentioned at the beginning, also lived here for awhile.  I found a news item published in 2011 that reported the sale of his sumptuous eighteenth-century residence with fourteen acres of property, an olive grove, pool, ponds and gardens for $8.6M.

I never expect to have that sum stashed in the bank, but I have a wealth of experiences stored in my personal bank and bright hopes.

You may be interested to know that I took the beach trip with Vanessa, the buddy I mentioned in the last blog story – “Thrown Away”.  IMG_3363 We shopped and enjoyed shrimp at almost every meal except breakfast.  The brilliant white sand of Miramar Beach, Florida was wonderful, as always.  We spent one night at the Hilton San Destin, and then we stopped for information at Henderson Park Inn since Vanessa had never visited.

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One of my highest rated blogs “Umpteenth Honeymoon” was set at this atmospheric location.  The generous lady at the front desk gave us the key to the Presidential Suite for a short visit with my Canon in action!

Perhaps you would enjoy the book (CLICK TO VIEW)”A French Opportunity.  It isn’t quite the best-seller compared to “Anything Considered” but it has its appealing moments.

Thanks for visiting!  Please come again.  I do appreciate everyone of you very much.

“Thrown Away” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9099On a sweltering hot day of adventure with my partner-in-crime Vanessa, we were headed westward in our friendly hometown of Opp, Alabama.  With Vanessa at the wheel, I was free to observe the flower beds blooming with purple petunias, white daisies and orange lilies and one odd frog made from old tires.IMG_3297  Runner beans, tomatoes, squash and a few rows of corn were flourishing in a few of the yards of older homes that I remember from my childhood when the elementary school was just one street behind the scene flashing past my car window.

There in front of a white frame house, a pile of discarded items was ready for the garbage truck.  I spotted a white plant holder which I needed for my flower pot!  I love finding free stuff!  I could fill this page with a list of good stuff that I’ve found, like the vintage luggage and piano stool that I found in Florida, and a cute child’s rocker that I spotted in Opp.  Hearing my cry of “free stuff”, Vanessa whipped the car around at Indian Joe’s Pawn Shop and took me to the curbside trash deposit.  As we drew closer, I was readying myself to dive out for the plant holder, imagining the pretty flowers cascading in profusion.  Displayed on the trash bags next to a pair of worn-out Lacrosse rubber boots lined with cobwebs was a – porta-potty – not my imagined flower pot holder!  After Vanessa finished with her fit of laughter, she had to promise she wouldn’t tell Jim, or I would never hear the end of it.  I could hear it already: “Honey, the hole in the center is just right for your petunias.  If ya’ll keep on lookin’ you’re likely to find a real commode for a  planter that could be “flush-full” of fresh-as-a-daisy glorious flowers!

IMG_3293Well, it was bad enough that I pulled over for a porta-potty, but I actually returned to the scene for a picture, and the porta-potty was gone!  I guess some folks have less-discriminating taste, or did I miss the potential?  Maybe I should have picked up those Lacrosse boots for Jim.

Vanessa is my good buddy for messin’ around.  She laughs when I reminisce about earlier days in Opp, watches British comedy and drama shows with me and listens to my stories about France.   We are planning a shopping and beach weekend, just us girls!  Vanessa is very much younger than I am.   I must thank her mother for raising a lovely, young lady to be my friend.

Now, I’ve been wondering how I could take this story over to the subject of France after riding all around Opp with my friend.  I asked Vanessa the same question, and she said I should just go for it.  She gets me into a lot of trouble telling me to just go for it.  Jim said to just plunge ahead, using that plunger by the porta-potty!  Shut up, Jim!

Back in October, during our days of golden fall in France, the lady who owned our rental house said we should go over to see Saint-Saturnin-lès- Apt.  She pointed to the town from our roof terrace.  Well, technically it was her roof terrace, but I was renting it for a few weeks.  She wrote the town’s name on a note pad along with earlier scribbles along the lines of wait for me I’ll be back in ten minutes and don’t forget to buy toilet paper for the upstairs bath.   Most rental houses have complex lists of information, but the note pad was it, a very relaxed approach.  But the owners responded immediately anytime we needed help.  Now that I think about it, I believe she could join Vanessa and me to find better stuff than a porta-potty!

The village our landlady recommended is below the ruins of a castle which is on a high plateau.  This much I knew, but a surprise waited for us on the opposite end of the plateau – a beautiful seventeenth-century windmill in perfect-photography condition. One reference said the windmill dates from the sixteenth-century and it is the only survivor of four original windmills that dominated the village.  I found no romantic stories like a shepherdess falling in love with a prince when they met at the windmill and living happily ever after in a castle by the lovely lake far below. IMG_9826  Nothing like that happened, but Prince Jim promised to take me to the brocante so I could poke through other people’s thrown away stuff and buy junk to take home to our cottage on the circle.  And, I found a proclamation of love written on the pane of a dusty window.  Ah, young love!

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St. Saturnin has the largest cherry orchards in the region which are covered with white flowers in the spring. The authentic medieval village with few touristic additions has free parking.  That meant we liked it very much!  IMG_9128-1We wandered around and enjoyed the old architecture, beautiful old doorways and people-watching.

IMG_9118 A group of folks were congregated outside the Eglise St. Etienne which was built around 1860 to replace the Romanesque church at the same site.  The church has a ten-bell carillon with unique key-slot openings at the top.IMG_9134The main road wound around and passed directly through the church yard.  We had to make our departure in the rental car close enough to shake hands with the elderly ladies, some with walkers!  I just don’t see this working in Alabama.

While I pondered this traffic oddity, I noticed a small statue of a man almost hidden in the shrubbery under the tree at the edge of the road. IMG_9124 I thought I had located the statue of Joseph Talon who was considered the “father of truffle raising”, called lou rabasste in Provencal.  But I was mistaken.  I should have explored further to the statue by the sculptor Philippe Gatine in honor of the modest peasant born around 1755.  Talon had the idea to plant acorns for truffle oaks. Unfortunately, his plants often had contamination and consequently never produced truffles.  His idea was improved with newer methods and the cultivation continued.  And, the rest is lucrative history.

Lesley Stahl reported in 2012 that European white truffles can sell for as much as $3,600 a pound.  In 2015, mushroom shavings fetched $1200.00 a pound wholesale.  According to a Bloomberg report a Taiwanese bidder paid $61,000 in a Sotheby’s auction for a white truffle that weighed 4.2 pounds.  In 2010 at an auction in Macau, a two-pound white truffle sold for $330,000, a record amount!  Ms. Stahl reported: “All of this brought organized crime into the truffle trade, creating a black market and leading to theft of both truffles as well as the highly valued truffle-sniffing dogs.”  With oak-forested hillsides, St. Saturnin is obviously a truffle region.

Jim and I returned to our car and cautiously returned downhill, making the U-turn through the church courtyard. IMG_9138 A house to the right could have been mine since it was covered with flower pots.  However, a Quebec auto tag was posted above the door claiming its stake by a Canadian, not a Southern Dixie chick. Jim turned right, driving over log-sized speed bumps without breaking the car’s chassis, or our hips.

Back at home in Alabama today, I’m drinking iced tea on a hot, muggy Saturday.  I looked up the price of Lacrosse boots and found they cost $100.00, or more.  I suggested a bargain deal to Jim, “Hey, how about I get in the Jeep and run over to see if those old boots are still there by the road?  You can clean out the cobwebs and they might just fit you.”  He had an altogether different idea for the thrown-away boots.  “You can get the boots and add some Miracle-Grow dirt inside with the spiders and cobwebs.  Tote ‘em down to the oak tree in the backyard and see if some truffles sprout.”   “Oh, forget it.  I’ll call Vanessa.”

Thanks very much for your kind encouragement and for traveling with us!  I love to see your comments!  Come again!  If you would like to take a look at the book (in paperback or Kindle) “A French Opportunity” and even read a sample, just CLICK for a view.