“Taking the Cures” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5574Sitting at the breakfast table across from husband Jim in Alabama with biscuits on the table instead of beignets, croissants and baguettes, Jim asked me, “How were your cures yesterday?”  He likes to poke fun at my manicure and pedicure at the salon, calling my retreat the taking of the cures.  Sipping on my coffee, I thought about the nice lady in the salon who painted my toenails a pretty mocha color and then massaged my feet until I was in a state of bliss.   Maybe taking the cures was the right expression.  I always read the glossy magazines with the latest pictures and stories on beauty and style, not that it does me much good, but I like to read anyway.  With a sly grin I told Jim, “I learned something new from one of the beauty magazines at the salon.  Yep, I learned a helpful beauty tip.  I can just shave my feet when I don’t have time to go for the cures.”  That got a quick reaction.  Jim said, “Whoa!! You better not be using my razor to shave your feet!  Besides, I didn’t know you had hairy feet.”  Before he lost it, I said, “Don’t get your blood pressure up.  I didn’t use your razor and I most definitely do NOT have hairy feet!”  The lady in the magazine was saying you could use a razor to shave away dry skin in the shower after the skin softens.  She recommended a sensitive skin razor and going slowly so you don’t shave off a chunk of skin.  I could see that I was over-sharing at the breakfast table when Jim’s face developed a pained expression.IMG_5603Leaving our Alabama breakfast behind and zipping over to France for a blog story cure, I would like to show you some of the beauty we enjoyed at Lake Montriond and the village of Montriond this past October, 2016.   The lake is situated north of Morzine, France at an altitude of 1049m/3442 ft, the third largest lake in Haute-Savoie, surrounded by steep pine-covered escarpments.  A shady path leads all around the lake.  People, young and old, were walking and enjoying the views when we were there.  Believe me, it was cold!IMG_5597For the lake visit, I have a picture story.  (Just click on the images in the gallery below for a larger picture.)  IMG_6573

On the way we met the red polka-dot cow and then the store named Gitem which sounds like the worst of our Alabama slang: “goin’ to the store to “git’em” somthin’ to fix for supper.”  We never have any problem finding distractions wherever we go.

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In the town of Montriond, look for the dragon fountain carved from wood with an edelweiss blossom on its head.  With such an adorable head-ornament the dragon spouts fresh water, not sulfur and fire.

Watch for the beautiful white horse and its young rider.  When I watched the graceful creature clip-clopping uphill, suddenly a huge cement truck approached and blotted my view.  After the loud obstruction cleared the road, I half-expected to see a sad equestrian lump on the asphalt, but nothing was there.  The beautiful horse and rider were gone!  The rider could have stepped into the store, but not the horse!  I still don’t know the answer to the puzzle.   Be amazed at the cute little boy wearing the magenta coat who pedaled his little bicycle all the way around the huge lake. .  Don’t miss Jim being extra careful this time when he meets the group of ladies on the lake pathway.  He didn’t launch into a Foggy Mountain breakdown like the one performed in Morillon.

I say that was unfortunate for the three ladies that Jim didn’t offer to dance by the cold lake since Jim can offer a cure like no other!IMG_5611At this moment, I’m wearing an ankle brace and hoping I will be in fine shape very soon!  No, I haven’t climbed up any waterfalls recently, but I hope there are more lakes and waterfalls in my future.  Thank ya’ll and please come again.

“Umbrellas” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5905October, 2016 – Drizzling rain fell like it was pouring from a sweet, old granny’s garden watering bucket on our neighborhood in Samoëns.  Low flying clouds scudded past like big boats trawling for chimneys instead of fish, although puddles large enough to support a school of fish were forming at our front door.  None of this was stopping me from seeing the countryside after I had traveled thousands of miles crammed in an airline seat like a chicken in a crate.  Husband Jim was settling into the warm and dry interior of our cozy rental house too much to suit my plans for the day.  I dropped heavy hints that he needed to get moving, or the day would be gone before we knew it.  I wanted to drive over to Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, a beautiful village a few miles away.   Jim rumbled noises about the rainy weather and nested deeper into the couch upholstery and soft cushions at La Ruche, our charming rental house.

Before I go much further with this rainy travel story, I must explain that apparently Jim’s mother never taught him to wear a rain coat, waterproof shoes, or that he should use an umbrella in bad weather.  His intelligent and patient wife has not improved upon this situation either.  Jim seems to think that he can rush through the rain fast enough that he will not get wet.  If his theory doesn’t work, surprising as it is, he shakes it off like a frisky puppy while I’m embarrassed and fuming rays in his direction, hot enough to dry through to his underwear.

I insisted that we should buy an umbrella for him in case the rain didn’t stop like he predicted with his suddenly acquired meteorology degree.  A quick stop at the grocery store, and I grabbed the only umbrella design on the shelf, a black little number tucked into a plastic sleeve, discreet and masculine enough for any man.  Jim unfurled the sedate little black number so we could walk to the car.  Cute flowery designs and flirty French wording encircled the umbrella cancelling any discreet, don’t-notice-me style.  I stayed quiet hoping he wouldn’t notice and knowing he wouldn’t exchange for my feminine-colored umbrella.  Oh, he noticed alright, and asked: “Do you expect me to slosh around with a teenager’s umbrella?  Why didn’t you buy a matching purse?”  I retorted: “Well, I’m sorry we couldn’t find an umbrella with huge letters saying you are a honcho, he-man capable of leaping buildings in a single bound.” Sounding like a whining teenager he asked, “What do these French words in the flowers say, anyway?”   I didn’t answer.IMG_5907

We left Samoëns behind, traveling prepared for the weather and anxious to see the little village with a population of 800 and bearing an unusual name.  Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France which usually stamps a guarantee, seal of approval, for a truly beautiful site with atmosphere and exceptional character.  A short distance before we reached our destination we stopped at the car park to investigate the Gorges des Tines.  IMG_5198A pathway crossing a bridge leads to trails for exploration of the gorges, carved deep into the calcareous rocks by the Giffre River.  The gorges are very narrow, with the narrowest point being only 2 meters (6.5 feet) and the widest at 30 meters (98.4 feet).  The view of the deep gorge from the bridge was difficult to capture since it was very narrow. IMG_5204 We met a family on the bridge with a muddy dog which reminded me of Jim who still didn’t take his umbrella along to explore the gorges. IMG_5886

There was a gorgeous view of the mountains and hamlets toward Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval from the car park despite the clouds smothering some of the vista.

IMG_5195Sixt is a haven for mountain lovers, adventurers, walkers, skiers and mountain bikers.  We knew that we didn’t fit into any of those groups except for a bit of slow-walking.  A large board at the car park posted maps of trails and a few reminders on safety.  I could visualize which category we would land in, literally.

Sixt had enough to draw us with plentiful trails and paths among glorious alpine meadows, abundant waterfalls and a village of picturesque architecture.  The historic village is surrounded by seventeen hamlets including Salvagny, Passy, Le Fay and others which we explored in the sunshine during the following days.

IMG_5226Sixt is named for the Cirque du Fer à Cheval east of the village which, from above, looks like a horseshoe.  Cirque du Fer à Cheval is classified as a Grand Site de France and has more than five hundred thousand visitors each year.  If you are fortunate enough to visit after the snow melts, or during a time of heavy rainfall, remarkable waterfalls cascade from the cliff walls and mountains with an altitude of 3000 meters (9,800 feet).  Clouds and fog covered our view on the first day, but we returned to the Sixt area several times during our stay in Samoens for better views. IMG_5898Cacade du Rouget is a large waterfall found near the end of a road at the south of the village.  The view of the waterfall was far from perfect at the lower position since a natural wall of stone obscured the perfect picture.  Just to the right I saw a pathway that others had taken up to a higher level.  IMG_5196 No notices were posted saying that women eligible for senior discount and the athletic ability of the old lady in a Carol Burnett comedy sketch should not climb to the waterfall.  Rain wasn’t falling, so I took this as a signal of all-clear.  I didn’t have the mountain climbing gear like the couple we met at Aiguille du Midi.  I wore my nylon raincoat with a hood and had my camera underneath the coat, bulging at my middle, appearing like a miracle pregnancy.  IMG_4922 Jim refused to be my Sherpa guide and pack mule saying that he had to stay ready to drive me to the hospital when I fell and slid down the mountain and landed at his feet like a muddy hog, and furthermore it was almost his lunchtime!     All in the name of capturing a magnificent waterfall photo, I cautiously made my way uphill, hoping that each area where I placed my foot was not too slippery.  Reaching the upper level was not extremely difficult, but coming down was a different story with gravity not being on my side.  I finally went down more or less by the seat of my pants, bracing with my arms and lifting to the next position.  I knew a well-padded posterior would be helpful one day!  Jim was watching and shaking his head in his safe and dry position down by the car.  I got back in time for his lunch with no side excursions to the hospital.  Score one for me!  My waterfall photos are merely mediocre and I won’t bore you with the reasons. IMG_5911Back in the village of Sixt we saw a plaque honoring Jacques Balmat, who died nearby while prospecting for gold in 1834.IMG_4885 Balmat, called le Mont Blanc, was a mountaineer, a Savoyard mountain guide and hunter.  His most notable accomplishment is the first ascent of Mont Blanc with the physician Michel-Gabriel Paccard on August 8, 1786.  For this amazing feat, King Victor Amadeus III gave Balmat the honorary title le Mont Blanc.

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Jim was walking along the wet streets under a slight drizzle of rain in moderate comfort with the umbrella which he detested.  I pointed out the rooster on the church tower and on a statue in the square and explained the meaning in my abbreviated version.IMG_4880The Embassy of France published this explanation: “One of the national emblems of France, the Coq Gaulois (the Gallic Rooster) decorated French flags during the Revolution.  It is the symbol of the French people because of the play on words of the Latin gallus meaning Gaul and gallus meaning coq, or rooster.  The rooster has been used as an ornament on church bell towers in France since the early Middle Ages, but at that time it was probably used to symbolize vigilance as roosters are known to crow at the expectation of the sunrise.  The Gallic Rooster has been used for centuries by folk artists as a decorative motif on ceramics or carved and veneered wooden furniture…”

I found another comment in my search saying the rooster is seen as a symbol of gallantry in France, saying if the rooster in the poultry kingdom finds a food source he will always call his hens over to eat before having any himself.

I asked my Alabama Rooster under the flowery umbrella if he was ready for lunch with his favorite hen.

Please come back to see us.  In future posts we will visit the small hamlets around Sixt and share more of this area in the sunlight most of the time.IMG_5915

I love hearing from you.  Just leave a comment below so I can read it along with others.IMG_5229The French word for umbrella is parapluie.  Perhaps you would like to read another rainy story, just CLICK on “Parapluie

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_5071October, 2016 – Our theme song for the drive to Morillon could have been Foggy Mountain Breakdown, the music written by the best known banjo-picker in the world, Earl Scruggs, when I was in diapers.  Whether you know his name or not, you are likely to remember the song as the background for the movie Bonnie and Clyde.  Now, mind you, husband Jim and I were not roving gangsters, but the bluegrass music fit our rambling up, down and around the curving road in the fog with cows appearing in the mist. Bright-colored shutters at windows with trailing red geraniums glowed in the murky fog. img_5073 We could have been in the mountains of North Carolina with our car radio tuned to a country music station, but our true location in fog banks and low clouds was France.  On the road again, like Willie Nelson, we were honing in on Morillon, a one-hour drive from Chamonix, Geneva and Annecy.  Allowing for pit-stops, meandering country music memories and sightings of pastoral beauty, we could be there for a morning visit and return to our rental holiday house in Samoëns for lunch.  That was our plan.

Morillon is in the heart of the Haut Giffre Valley, an authentic village preserved with charm and populated with wooden houses and chalets surrounding the village’s historic church which dates back to the 16th century.  The village consists also of the smaller hamlets, Les Champs and Le Verney.img_5082Jim found a parking place only steps away from the ancient church situated in the center of the village, a much better position for parking compared to our many breathless hikes uphill after parking near the city dump, or something similar in our travels.  The foggy refrain blanketed the mountain views, blocking any pretty backdrops for my photography, except the hazy outlines of distant tiny houses. img_5078 I started at the notice board, the bulletin board outside the church, which posted the going-rates for baptism (free), weddings and funerals.

Since I was already baptized and married at no cost for the services, and surely didn’t want to plan a funeral, I just filed the info for future reference.  Did you know that in France, the legally recognized wedding must take place at the Mairie?

Following the left side of the main street, I walked downhill with Jim on the side with the most colorful buildings.  Jim was up-close and personal with the Alpine traditional buildings painted sunflower-yellow and edged with eye-catching gingerbread trim.  Hearts and flowers decorated the woodwork and windows. img_5097 My camera eyes romanced the scene and found cows painted on a wooden plank over a doorway on my side of the street.  Jim didn’t have all of the good stuff!  While I was busy with my search for the photogenic, on the other side of the street the set-up for a scene suitable for our Foggy Mountain Breakdown theme song was unfolding.  A nice, unsuspecting lady with a long, black ponytail and a hot- pink scarf wrapped around her neck was approaching Jim casually on the sidewalk.  Now, what do you do when you meet a stranger on a narrow sidewalk, especially if the stranger is a lady and you are a gentleman?  Usually, both of the strangers will move aside, keeping eyes averted and avoid bumping into each other.  Perhaps they will say “Pardon”, or “Excuse me”.   Well, that’s ordinary folks, not Jim.  Jim met the lovely lady who was wearing pretty, wedge-heeled shoes.  Of course, I had to check out her shoes even from a distance!  Jim bumbled back and forth in his Sketchers as the two decided which would go right, or left.   He raised his arms and swayed back and forth like he was launching into a do-si-do right there on the sidewalk, and he belted out his personal rendition of the Foggy Mountain Breakdown in a noisy, off-beat performance.  With a face that matched her hot-pink scarf, the good-natured lady burst into laughter. img_5091-1 They both went away chuckling while I kept my face cast down to the sidewalk, quietly walking away, pretending I didn’t know him.  Would you follow the path of non-personal, typical and less colorful conformance?  Or, would you walk on the side with vivid color, silliness, a beat from the norm? img_5094When the lady was safely down the hill, away from her potential do-si-do partner and out of sight, I asked Jim to cross to my quiet side of the street.  We strolled hand-in-hand to a tourist shop and found a gift for our granddaughter Hanna, a small sign perfect for her bedroom, with the wording: Debutante Place.img_5128

Jim bought a postcard that he had promised to send to his buddy Ricky. We found a walking cane with a compass at the top, a perfect souvenir for Jim since I accuse him of having no sense of direction!  The post office and Mairie were just across the street, the colorful side of the road; so we crossed over together.

An ancient fountain was gurgling there near the sidewalk.  I was lured in that direction while Jim was mailing Ricky’s postcard. An elderly gentleman was filling several plastic bottles with the water from the fountain. img_5131 I remember drinking water from a fountain when I was young.  Green moss grew at the edge of my childhood fountain, but the water bubbling up was clear, cold and the sweetest tasting.img_5103  I did not drink any of the water from the beautiful fountain in Morilles since the gentleman was busy.  I didn’t want to interrupt him.  I should have taken my stride from Jim and asked for a taste of that sweet water.  (Earlier, when I first brushed my teeth at the holiday house I noticed that the water actually tasted good!  Incredible!  Ours has so many chemicals added that it tastes awful.)

Before I could think further on the ways of water in France and Alabama, I glanced up into the tree that spread its graceful branches above the ancient fountain.

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There among the golden leaves and attached to the bark of the tall tree trunk was a shocking-pink lizard with indigo polka-dots, sizing up to a few feet in length.   No, it wasn’t a live lizard!  Let’s not go too crazy here.  But why was this neon-colored creature in the tree?  Do they have a party with piñatas and a mariachi band?  Are margaritas with salt and salsa with chips served there under the tree?  This is not Mexico!  What is wrong with this picture?

Truly, I love this whimsy and I love Mexico!

I never knew why the lizard was up the tree.  I didn’t have the nerve to march into the Mairie and ask.  I took the chicken-way out and sent an e-mail to the tourism office.  To this date, I haven’t received a reply.img_5102Hunger pangs signaled time to find the car and head on to our lunch at La Ruche, our holiday rental home.  A short distance from the village of Morillon is one of the hamlets I mentioned earlier.  The front of a large, beautiful rustic home is covered with colorful decoration.  My imagination sees the lady in the vivid pink scarf, who Jim invited to do-si-do, dancing to her own beat in the house with the colorful bric-a-brac. img_6861Ya’ll come back and visit with us again.  Later, I plan to find lots of bric-a-brac, stroll on the colorful side of a few lakes, soak up atmosphere in more villages and follow my heart to Burgundy.  Thanks for your lovely comments of encouragement!  img_6859

Jim loves his old orange Senor Frog’s sweatshirt that we bought in Mexico, but I will not let him pack it for France.  I’ve always said it was too brash for village life in France, but now I stand corrected!

Jim – 1   and Debbie – 0

I was coerced to wear Jim’s loud and proud sweatshirt which I had censored for his trips to France. (The photo was taken today in our backyard with some of my souvenirs from Mexico in the background.)

img_7676-1 In the future, you may see Jim proudly wearing his bright orange sweatshirt on the streets and in the castles of France.  Enjoy reading more of these adventures by checking out (CLICK the link.) the book A French Opportunity.  A big “Merci” and “Thank Ya’ll” to those who purchased a copy!.

img_7693-1 Perhaps you would enjoy reading about some of our adventures in Mexico.  The photo shows Jim with binoculars checking out Lake Chapala with our youngest daughter who is now the Mom of our grandson Daniel.  Daniel would probably like the koala back-back she is wearing.  For the blog story,(if you missed it or want to re-read) Just CLICK to “Mexico from A to Z”

“Ambrous in the Alps” – by Debbie Ambrous

img_4645October, 2016 – On a glorious Sunday when the sun painted smiley faces on the sky, blue as the blossoms on my morning glory vine, husband Jim and I layered winter gear for our exciting trip to ascend to 3,842m/12,602ft.  A lump forms in my throat and a slight shiver shimmies down my spine when I think about it, even now.  I read the tourism brochures, and a few guidebooks, to plan and arrange our trip to Chamonix in the French Alps.  The most astonishing experience listed is The Step into the Void which is virtually a glass box on the side of the mountain at 3,842m/12,602ft.  (I keep repeating the astonishing height to get your attention.)  The advertisement promised 100% thrills guaranteed and 100% safety.  We promised 100% guaranteed that we would not step foot into the glass cage!!  No Way!!  Forget it!!

Modern advancement offers many opportunities for exciting travel.  But think about the hardship of travel hundreds of years ago in this area without the road systems, automobiles with GPS, AC and heating and much more!  I read about the three-month-journey of a group of young people in the summer of the year 1816, written by Mary Shelley.   At the time of the journey she was Mary Godwin, eighteen and pregnant, and her soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley arrived by mule with her at Chamonix in July, 1816.  What were you doing when you were eighteen? Mary described wild and daring tales: “Did I tell you that there are troops of wolves among these mountains?  In the winter they descend into the vallies … and devour everything that they can find out of doors.”  Were you that adventurous?  Would you say: “Mother, may I take off to the unknown?  I could be eaten by wolves, or fall down the mountain, or be covered with an avalanche.  Oh, and by the way, I’m pregnant.”

We arrived in Chamonix and parked our comfortable Citroen, more expensive to feed compared to Mary and Percy’s mules.  My excitement ran high with the beautiful mountains surrounding us and the cable cars passing just above.  Mary (Godwin) Shelley described it best:

“Pinnacles of snow intolerably bright, part of the chain connected with Mont Blanc, shone through the clouds at intervals on high.  I never knew – I never imagined what mountains were before.  The immensity of these aerial summits excited, when they suddenly burst upon the sight, a sentiment of ecstatic wonder, not unallied to madness.  And remember this was all one scene, it all pressed home to our regard and our imagination. Nature was the poet, whose harmony held our spirits more breathless than that of the divinest.”

The cable car station for Aiguille du Midi is in Chamonix, where tickets can be purchased easily off-season, but they should be bought in advance during peak times. img_4594 The cable car soars high above the town to reach the Plan de l’Aiguille (2317 m). img_4595 You can admire the Glacier des Bosson, Mont Blanc, the Aiguille Verte, the Drus and the Aiguilles de Chamonix.   At this level, Jim discovered a new hairstyle when he removed his hat.  Do you think I should send the picture to his hair stylist? 

We missed a grand adventure because it was closed for maintenance.  If you go, don’t miss the ride on the famous little red railway train.  Time will stand still and you will enjoy the vintage ride, climbing the mountainside, rolling through tunnels and over viaducts.   Then you will enter the high mountains at the destination of the famous Montenvers-Mer de Glace glacier.  Click this link if you would like to check for information.  Mary (Godwin) Shelley was the best tourism authority:

“…the immense glacier of Montanvert, fifty miles in extent, occupying a chasm among mountains of inconceivable height, and of forms so pointed and abrupt, that they seem to pierce the sky… masses of ice detach themselves from on high, and rush with a loud dull noise into the vale.

Ms. (Godwin) Shelley put this glacier on the map famously in a different way when she wrote a story that all of you will surely know.  In 1816, when she was in Switzerland sitting by the fire at night, keeping warm while the mules were elsewhere, she was challenged by her friend Lord Byron to write a ghost story.  Mary turned nineteen in August, and she wrote about a scientist who animated a “hideous phantasm” out of, perhaps, parts of a corpse.  Do you have it yet?  Do you know the name of the story? She wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. “The terrifying, pivotal encounter between the scientist Frankenstein and the daemon of his own making takes place on the Mer de Glace, where the creature took refuge from the world that despised him.”  With this Gothic masterpiece, she wrote the glacier into history.  Don’t miss this train!img_4686We saw parasailers launching from the first level, and we regret that we didn’t stay there longer.  We anxiously went aboard the next cable car thinking we would stop on the return, but we were too tired.  High altitude has that effect on your body.img_4663

We went slowly, taking time to adjust.  A few young ones were having more difficulty than we experienced, so we didn’t feel so ancient.  The second cable car took us up to an altitude of 3777m in 10 minutes, above seracs and glaciers.  From this level you can see the tiny glass cage high above where people step into the void.  They look like stick figures suspended in open air! 

Then, we walked through the tunnel cut into the mountain, passing the museum to continue higher.

img_4620img_4657We took the top lift to reach the peak, the highest level.  The dazzling mountains glittered below us at this dizzying height. img_4721 I noticed people were snapping photos of themselves below the sign showing the elevation.  I removed my camera and strap from my neck to ask Jim to do the honors.  Unbelievably, I dropped my camera!  I was in shock.  I stood, breathlessly, with my face as white as the snow, waiting for Jim to examine the camera.  He said the words I wanted to hear, and color came back to my face.   The camera fell and hit on the side, not the lens, which was probably the salvation of my Canon.   How could I miss the photo opportunity of a lifetime with Mont Blanc close enough I felt that I could touch it and  with the endless mountains of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps spread below?img_4717img_4664img_4699People were lining up to enter the room for the 100% safe and 100% thrilling Step into the Void.  I could see the glass cage from the side where excited couples were standing, seemingly on nothing, right there in thin air.  I grabbed a few shots of their excitement.img_4711

Then, lo and behold, Jim got in line for the glass cage that we had 100% guaranteed no way we would ever step foot into!  Like an idiot, I followed his steps.  He assured me:  “Didn’t you read the sign? It is made of three glass plates with each plate 12mm thick and held together with mechanical fasteners that were specially made for the project.  The whole shebang is tested continuously by the Centre Scientifique something or other.  German and French laboratories tested it.”  I answered his scientific, calculation theory: “Do you even know how thick 12mm is?  And, don’t say shebang. It sounds too much like something falling!”  Despite all this, I stayed in line enjoying the photo opportunities.  Why did we go for it?  Maybe we wanted to get our money’s worth since it was part of the ticket.  Everybody else was doing it.  Where have I heard that one before? 

It was our time before we knew it.  We had to put our camera bags and coats in a storage area, and a nice man used my camera to take pictures of the Ambrous in the Alps enjoying an unforgettable experience! img_4741 Our time in the glass cage was over too soon with another couple stepping into the big, floppy shoes.  All visitors must wear the soft shoes over their own shoes.  No, our feet are not that big if you are looking at the photos and wondering! 

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We went through the museum on our return and met a young couple outside the door assembling their mountain climbing gear.  We thought we saw them later on the snowy slopes.

My business card was in a pocket with them for an exhilarating ride!  If you look closely, you will notice that the black dots are people on the massive, frozen precipices of ice and snow.

img_4652I never felt afraid at any level until our trip down on the cable car.  We were in the front with full view of the wide-open expanse as we swung on the cable up to a tower and then down again, moving quickly along to the bottom. img_4778 (Photos were taken through the glass on a moving cable car while I  braced with one hand, so they are understandably blurry.)  The buildings below were spread like a tiny toy town as we sped toward the cable car station.  Maybe I wasn’t truly fearful, but I gasped and swallowed a scream when we went down from the tower!  The lady on the other side did the same with OMG in another language! 

What can I say?  We did it, and it was an adventure of a lifetime.  I want to go again!

Quotes are from the short book (68 pages): “History of Six Weeks’ Tour Through A Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland” (The title is almost as long as the book.)

Please come again.  We have more mountains to climb and aching muscles to prove it.  I do greatly appreciate your encouragement, kind comments and sharing this blog link with others.

Perhaps you would enjoy reading “A French Opportunity” which has many more pages than Mary’s short book of letters, but then again, I can’t boast that I wrote the story of Frankenstein!

“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.

Such a nice thought!IMG_9387

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.

IMG_9450

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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.