“Thanks to AARP!” – by Debbie Ambrous

a1The silver-haired lady was seated in the cool, green haven with laptop positioned ready for her thoughts to be entered on the keypad. My blue eyes changed to envious-green when I saw her cozy corner by the languid pool reflecting the tree canopy.  A red cushion in her seat showed she was prepared to stay awhile in the peaceful outdoor-office by the baroque Fontaine de Médicis with its long pond filled with goldfish.a37  (The fountain was built in 1624 for Marie de Médici, but the mythological figures were added much later.)  I did not have a cushion to claim a seat for my creative endeavors.  I did not have the euros to claim a flat in the Luxembourg Quarter as a semi-permanent Parisian either.  Wow!  Wouldn’t that be grand?

Notice that the young man to the right is being observed from above!  I think my dad had the same expression on his face when he saw Jim, but he was wearing more clothes!

Notice that the young man to the right is being observed from above. I think my dad had the same expression on his face when he saw Jim, but Dad was wearing more clothes!

The Jardin du Luxembourg covers 60 acres in the heart of the Left Bank with formal terraces, a large pool that attracts young and old, hundreds of statues, an open-air café and many other beautiful features. a42 When I planned our visit to Paris, I knew I wanted to be near the gardens. .  I tried to be a savvy traveler and book a room close to the area most important on our wish list.     Here is a suggestion to the planners in the family: get a good guidebook with pictures, such as the Eyewitness Travel Guides that show glossy photos, maps and the essential information.  Computers are great for searching prices and some of your planning, but I recommend a good book as your first resource tool.a13

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I patted myself on the back and smiled a big smile of relief when our taxi driver dropped us at the door of Hotel Le Clos Medicis.  True to its advertisement, the hotel was just a few meters from the Jardin du Luxembourg and ideally located between Saint Germain des Prés and the Latin Quarter.  Of course, I did my homework, checking many websites and reading the reviews.  I found the best rates on AARP’s travel website. Off-season or shoulder season will provide the best rates.  Check carefully since a day or two in one direction, or the other, may yield lower rates.  Ask friends, but do your own comparisons for a hotel that will make you happy and create wonderful memories.  After all, most of us don’t go to Paris every weekend.

I would suggest that you never just arrive without reservations at hotels, or you will likely pay the rack rate.  Many years in the past, we ignorantly did this, but it is usually not a smart idea.  Use any discount options you have such as credit cards, loyalty membership etc.  For instance, consider this possibility when arranging your flights. If you have American Airlines frequent flyer miles, there are discounted mileage requirements for those with Citi Cards at: www.aa.com/rma

Back to the check-in at the Hotel Le Clos Medicis, we found a small hotel on a narrow street with an atmospheric lobby and friendly reception at the front desk.  Holding my breath and hoping for the best, we took the tiny elevator to the second floor (first floor in French terminology) and entered our beautiful room with two large windows that opened to view the courtyard below. a21 I thought I wanted a street view, but Adnann the nice young man at the front desk assured me of nice views and a lovely room with this selection.  He was right!  I could see the terraces of old buildings across and imagine what life was like in the apartments.  a22Ladies opened their shutters and windows in the morning and closed in the evening as I did the same.  Our room was large enough, considering the stories I heard about the tiny rooms in Paris!  As you can see from the pictures, it was decorated beautifully.  The carpet with a peacock feather design is not shown in my photos, but it was a perfect accent to the colorful room.  The bathroom was spotlessly clean with good hot water supply, fluffy white towels and very modern.  With this comfort, we could explore the city and come back to the room to cocoon when we were ready, or when we were exhausted to the point of dropping on the street.  More likely the latter!

We went to the boulangerie on our street each morning, and then we walked in the gardens, watching folks rushing to work or jogging. a3 The gardens were a peaceful retreat in the evening to watch the sun go down along with many other people, both old and young.  a10Romance taps on the shoulder whether you have such a notion on the brain, or not.

With rosy skies casting beautiful light on the pond and on the faces of people sitting on benches or chairs, who could resist a few hugs and kisses?

 

a9 Thanks to AARP for discounting a room for two young oldsters!

Click here for the French Market with books to plan your trip.

For armchair traveling and travel planning click here.  Thank you for joining us!

I just finished reading “From Here to Paris” by Cris Hammond.  He says, “I was in my mid-fifties. My hair was graying.  My bellow was softening and my feet hurt.  And now I was unemployed.“  Can any of you identify with that crisis?  Check the French Market for this book.  I loved it!  Share the link to A French Opportunity with romantic dreamers, or anyone who loves travel.

 

“Feeding Jim and the Birds” – by Debbie Ambrous

n6The Notre Dame de Paris is recognized around the world as a masterpiece of architecture.  Thanks to Disney’s movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” even young children will recognize the famous cathedral.

Of course, we see the architectural beauty of the façade, but what about the framework? See the following excerpt from the Notre Dame de Paris website:

This building has been given the romantic name of “the forest” for many of the beams used to build it, each beam came from a different tree. The structure is made from oak.

The gothic arches required sharply-sloped roofs. Notre-Dame de Paris’s roofs are at a 55° incline. In addition, as framing timber became less common due to deforestation and urban development at the time, it was necessary to use weaker and lighter cutting wood, which made it possible to erect the structure and increase its incline.

The first choir structure was built using wood cut around 1160-1170 (some of these trees could have been 300 to 400 years old, coming from trees planted in the 8th or 9th centuries!!!). This first structure did not last, but the wood was reused in the second structure built in 1220The wood is still there today.

The nave structure was built between 1220 and 1240.  This structure supports a lead roof composed of 1326 tiles, each measuring 5 mm thick, for a total weight of 210,000 kg.”  See the Notre Dame de Paris website for more.

n1A long line of tourists wound its way around the cathedral on this beautiful day at the first of June when Jim and I were among the colorful crowd.  Did we join the tired, waiting, sweating folks with faces of pain resembling the scowling faces sculpted on the nearby bridge?  No, we didn’t trudge along with them since we have previously opted for out-of-season visits with fewer tourists knocking on the massive front doors of Notre Dame.

We mingled with the happy crowd, not in the long line, capturing photos to show folks at home in a Facebook or Twitter message: “Look where I am today!”  Just married, or soon to be married couples, posed in radiant happiness for photographers.  Exuberant, playful, young members of the American Boychoir School were there wearing their bright red sweaters. n7 Sitting on a bench in front of a rose garden, they behaved like typical boys on the loose.  Just as I readied my camera for a photo, two boys stuck fingers into their ears (at least, it wasn’t up their noses) and one of the larger boys tried to push a small one off the bench.  They never even looked my way.  I could report to their mothers that the youngsters were nicely mannered, and they could be proud of the budding young men.

We joined a group of lovely young ladies who had discovered tiny birds in the shrubbery in front of Notre Dame.  A gentleman with bread crumbs showed them how to attract the little birds for a landing and a photo.n15  Jim was once again mingling with the pretty ladies, and I was busy with my camera.  I asked Jim, “Are the odds for a bird in the hand higher at the Notre Dame?”  Jim edged away from the group and replied, “Could be.  You might just find a bird poo decoration on your pretty hat if you don’t get a move-on outta here! Enough of feeding these birds!  I’m hungry. If you aren’t planning on barbecued bird wings by the river, we need to be on a search for a restaurant.”  Watching out for poop on my hat and hoping to satisfy Jim’s growling stomach, we crossed the bridge to check the possibilities.

Atmosphere and ambiance head the list when I’m looking for a place to eat.  Jim’s focus is all about the food and the price.

Take a look at this Lapeyrouse!  Ambiance inside and out, but Jim didn't like the price.

Take a look at Laperouse! Ambiance inside and out, but Jim didn’t like the euros posted on the menu.

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n28n18Which one would you chose? A small café near our hotel was our final choice.  We were seated facing a large fountain near the Luxembourg Gardens with my camera finally switched in the off position.  The waiter brought my favorite, a jasmine tea from Mariage Frères, Maison de Thé à Paris depuis 1854 – the perfect way to end the day.

 

CLICK to Shop at the FRENCH MARKET for books, the movie Hunchback at Notre Dame and more!

 

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“The Beauties from Marseilles” – by Debbie Ambrous

You can stop rubbin' your eyes.  That's Jim alright!  Don't that just beat all!

You can stop rubbin’ your eyes. That’s Jim alright! Well, don’t that just beat all!

It seemed like a harmless plan with a low risk factor.  I had only left husband Jim alone in the crowd of tourists near the entrance to the Louvre for a few minutes.  What could possibly happen?  After a brief time alone with the other love of my life, my Canon camera, I turned and found the most unlikely scene.  I felt like Alice in Wonderland, except I had dropped through a hole into Jim’s dreams.  There he was surrounded by gorgeous ladies from Marseilles, who doted on his every slow-spoken, outrageously corny word!  Wake me up, please!!

Read the rest of the story by CLICKING HERE to WWW.ILOVEPARISLIFE.COM 

Message to the lovely ladies from Marseille:  I hope you are still circling around to visit the website A French Opportunity for the story since I promised to include the photos you graciously allowed me to take.  My business cards were gone when I jumped into Jim’s dreams without a proper introduction to his beautiful visitors.  But Mr. P.R. man was ready with hand-written business cards, so we would look like professional idiots, not the ordinary garden-jardin variety.  Thanks for posing with my guy and making his day!  He won’t forget it!

Bicycle for Sale

FOR SALE - A little old man rode it around the circle only once!

FOR SALE – A little old man rode it around the block only once!

Just so you know I’m selling his bicycle.  Then, he won’t up and get it into his head to recreate this scene in the Jardin des Tuileries of Opp, Alabama.

Thanks to Porter, Louise, Bob and the entire group at I Love Paris Life for making me look extra pretty on your website.  I enjoyed every minute of being your guest writer!

If you’re aching for more, just CLICK here for the book – A French Opportunity.

“Diggin’ Holes in France” – by Porter Scott

porter        Welcome our guest writer, Porter Scott!   It was as a student of painting and photography that Porter Scott first began his love affair with Paris. Determined to continue the romance, Porter tried several careers before finding his true niche – renovating and managing furnished rental properties. Now, with over 30 renovations to his credit and an impressive portfolio of rental properties right in the heart of Paris, it should come as no surprise that Porter has developed some clever tactics for dealing with the quirks, foibles and bureaucracy an American will encounter when living in France.

Dig right into his story and write a comment below.  He will understand if you only say: “Hi ya’ll”

Alabama white dogwood in the front yard of Les Lanceroux

Southern U.S. white dogwood in the front yard in France.  Click to see inside this beautiful home lovingly restored by my parents.

While other kids from the East and West Coasts were studying calculus in grade school, I was learning the finer points of how to handle a pick and shovel in the outback of Alabama (not to say that I did not get a good education, nevertheless). I took great pride in my ability to wield a pick as well as any man out there, letting the pick do the work while my back simply gave the necessary thrust and guidance.

Post-hole Digging: Learning the Basics

Another one of the outdoor handyman skills I learned as a boy was how to use a post-hole digger in order to build fences and string barbed wire. When you had a lot of holes to dig, you rented a special, heavy-duty machine, with a huge augur bit, that took two people to handle and hold while it screwed into the ground and dug a nice clean, deep hole. Once dug, all that was left to do was to insert your post and give it a few wallops with a mallet to secure.

Good ol' "Copperhead" post-hole digger

Good ol’ “Copperhead” post-hole digger

Getting hold of the right tool for the job …

On a lesser scale, when you only have a few post holes to dig here and there, you use a manual post-hole digger, which only needs one person to get the job done. For the life of me, I have not been able to find one of these manual contraptions in France in the 30 plus years I have been living here. Finally, a few years back, I decided to ask my mother’s new husband at the time, who was then 81 years old (but spry as could be), to bring me a post- hole digger in his luggage the next time he came over to France. Being an engineer, I knew that he would rise to the challenge.

 So how does one go about getting a post-hole digger into an airplane these days?

Well, first of all, I decided that I did not need the long wooden handles. Those can be found, or made, here in France. That left the metal base mechanism which consists of two narrow, curved shovel-like elements facing one another with a hinge joining them. It may set off the metal detectors in the airplane, but I did not foresee my father-in-law being taken into custody as the first post-hole digger terrorist. In fact, my stepfather not only rose to the challenge, he managed to bring the post-hole digger in its entirety…handles and all!

Me and my post-hole digger - Alabama born and bred!

Me and my post-hole digger – Alabama born, bred and raised!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The days when someone like my own father (back in the 1980’s) could carry in his luggage all kinds of garden tools and other familiar items (including some sapling trees) are probably long gone. To this day, I have a well-worn double-edged swing blade for cutting grass that is probably the only one in the entire country of France.

Beautiful!  Alabama pink dogwood thriving in French soil, thanks to the post-hole diggers

Beautiful! Southern U.S. pink dogwood thriving in French soil, thanks to the post-hole diggers

Every time we get it out to cut weeds and such, the country neighbors start gawking at those crazy Americans…flailing there arms about us just doin’ things differently. We are also probably among the few people in France who have two dogwood trees (native to the southern United States) thriving in our yard, thanks to my father’s desire to put down American roots in France.

Missing the bare necessities…

There are numerous familiar items that Americans have a hard time finding or cannot find when they move to France, or any other country for that matter. For instance, every time I go back to the USA, I stock up on men’s mid-calf dark socks  because I cannot find the quality that I like in France, not to mention the outrageous prices that the French charge for what they think are quality men’s socks. Good quality permanent press shirts are also hard to come by in France. For some reason, the French feel that 100% cotton shirts are the only shirts that are worth buying, so there are almost no comparable permanent press alternatives.  I just wonder who does the ironing for these guys… My wife marvels at the space taken up by all of the socks (winter, summer, and heavy sports socks separated into three categories) that I have in my dresser, or rather, she complains about not having enough space for her clothing. I have still to show her the ten-year-stock of dental floss that I have accumulated (but fortunately, it doesn’t take up much space).

This little lot should take me well into my eighties

This little lot should take me well into my eighties…hopefully I’ll still have some teeth left for flossing at that stage.

Yes, having the best of both worlds, as an American living in France, is an impossible dream; but with foresight, you can at least maintain a stock of imported familiar items that make you feel a little closer to home. Unfortunately, you cannot import many of the less tangible things that you cherish as an American: fundamental values, flexible thinking, entrepreneurial concepts, a different understanding of freedom…

Thankfully, a little American dental floss can go a long way in comforting you. No matter where you are in the world, with just a bit of thin, wax-coated string, you can maintain at least one American standard that you are accustomed to:  good dental hygiene.

Diggin' under my Opp, Alabama dogwood

Diggin’ under my Opp, Alabama dogwood

Debbie’s comments: Thanks to Porter for sharing some of the differences between the U.S. and France, from the ground up to those white, pearly teeth born and raised in Alabama.  No worries.  We will continue sharing the U.S. dental floss with Porter if he needs any.  Uh, I don’t mean actually sharing our used dental floss.  We will sell it to him, or lend it. Or, would we need an international trade agreement? I can see already that we may need to have a meeting in Switzerland on neutral grounds; do the Swiss use dental floss?  Now, how can I get myself out of this fiasco? Anybody know where I can find a good post-hole digger, so I can dig a hole big enough for me to crawl inside and hide?

Just so you will know, I won’t see you here at A French Opportunity next week.  I’m taking a few days off.  Be safe and enjoy!  Thanks for comin’ around to visit us.  Take a look here for the holes that Jim dug in Florida coral rock with chips flyin’ … Kindle has a great sale going on, starting at $5.99.  Grab it while you can.

“Impressions de France” – by Debbie Ambrous

b14Mid-afternoon on a beautiful June day, we were seated on a boat ready to glide down the Seine, craning our necks for the best views of some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.b4  We never took the boat rides in Paris previously, choosing to spend more time in museums and gardens instead.  Expectation was higher with this delightful excursion delayed until a later day.  I will admit that I was influenced by the film shown in Epcot at Disney World in Orlando.  Have you seen the wonderful show “Impressions de France” on the 200-degree screen in the Palais du Cinema?

Once the audience is seated in front of the velvet curtains with ornate trimmings, a French lady in costume addresses the group with a few words in her language and presents the movie.  The curtain slides open to show a waterway in the countryside with deep woods on each side.  The music is gently flowing, and the movement is peaceful, promising the beauty that lies ahead.  Those settled into seats are rewarded with magnificent scenes of France, from Provence to Brittany, and stirring music to accompany every emotion on the screen.  The music alone is grand.  (Ask for a list of the music at the desk outside the theater.)

b9b2Paris is the outstanding finale, just as in our trip to France.  A romantic, young couple is shown standing on a boat for a ride at night with powerful beams of light playing across the ancient buildings and bridges of Paris.  Happiness and glorious hopes for tomorrow wrap the audience into the scene as the music surges.  The young lady with long black hair, wearing a white dress leans close to the handsome young man laughing the laughter of love.  Every time I see her in the movie I think she looks so much like a friend who worked with me many years ago.  She had the same dark hair, dimples in her flawless skin and a deep laugh of contentment.  Maybe I will tell you someday about the Mary Kay makeup party where I was seated next to her.  “Debbie, the eyeliner is too thick.  You really can’t wear that color.  No, not that one either.”  b6 No looking at the mirror on the afternoon of our boat excursion to check my messy makeup; forgetting my image, I enjoyed the ripples of the waves of the river with the bright blue flag flapping in the breeze and announcing our excitement.

It seemed that only sunny days would shine for my friend Patricia, the sweet lady with the beautiful face and happy disposition.  Then, tragically, her husband died in a plane crash.

When the embracing lovers on the Parisian boat at Epcot pass under the bridge into the darkness, I always think of my friend.  I hope she is happy now with her full laugh, deep inside, like music to those around her – wherever she may be.

b16With all of this as a preamble, how could a tourist boat compare?  Where was the musical score with the orchestra soaring at just the right moment?  Floating under the bridges didn’t hold the same excitement.  Hundreds of balloons were not released into the air on cue with the soundtrack.

b7Why did I think these thoughts when Paris was all around me, literally to touch, feel and smell with its own theatrics and special effects?  Do you get caught up in the past instead of being in the present?  Hope I’m not alone.

I looked around at the group of strangers, some seemingly bored and others punching keys on their smart phones instead of observing their surroundings.  I looked down and saw hairy legs.  No, not mine!!  I wore purple leggings with boots to the knee and my flashy gold and silver jacket to celebrate Paris in style. A few of the fellow passengers were standing and staggering around – just like on the bus.  I thought maybe I should move up front and sit near the driver, just to alert him so he didn’t run into anything, like the bus driver.  Now that’s what I call really being in the moment!!

“Powder Express to the Eiffel Tower” – by Debbie Ambrous

powder1Screams!  I was sure that I heard screams, and then along the side of the street I saw young people throwing something.  On top of the tourist bus, I felt a bit of a scare creep along my spine.  I thought I had read too many stories of riots, and viewed too many news clips.  Closer to the scene, I heard laughter and saw a group of students throwing powder (plaster of Paris??) at each other while most of them wore white coats.  Squealing louder since they had an audience, they waved arms in the air and put on a performance including water pistols aimed at us. powder3 Were they art students?  I wished I could jump down and join them with my camera in closer range, if I could protect it from the powder bursts.  If nothing else, I was fully awake then, full of anticipation on the first morning of our Parisian tourist bus tour, ready for whatever came my way next.

Top of the list for us, and surely for anyone visiting Paris, was the Eiffel Tower.  When we had our first good view, everyone rushed to the right side; it is totally a wonder that the bus didn’t tip over sideways! We couldn’t believe we were there at the foot of this famous tower once again.  Many years had passed with several trips to France, but not to the Eiffel Tower.  Ten years ago, we were high above the city together on a cold day in April, hugging each other and thrilled at the view below.  Jim was here with his sister Virginia later and met students from Alabama, but I was not part of that escapade.  It is still unbelievable that they found their way around France and back home again!  Would you like to read more about Jim and Virginia meeting the young man from Slapout, Alabama on the Eiffel Tower? Just take a look for info on the book “A French Opportunity” by clicking here.

powder4A giant tennis ball was suspended between the first and second floor on the tower, paying tribute to the famous international tennis tournament of Roland Garros.  Maria Sharapova celebrated her win with a photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower just a few days after we had returned home.  I wish I could have been there on the sidelines with other amateur photographers for this event. 

The line for tickets was long, but not as bad as I had expected.  When we reached the ticket booth, there were two options: all the way to the top for a higher price, or the level just below the top for less.  I insisted, “Why don’t you buy the lower-priced ticket?  That will be gracious-plenty high enough for me?”  I leaned heavy on saving money, hoping to appeal to his cheap-skate blood.  It didn’t work. Jim said, “We have to go to the top!  You will thank me when you get up there!  He had stood high in the Parisian sky with Virginia, but I had missed out since it was too cold and windy when we visited together in early April many years ago.  I didn’t think I had missed anything except the possible scare of my life.  I went with his crazy ticket-buying, thinking I might back-out at the last minute, or cling to him with my head buried in his all-weather jacket.  We ascended to the level below the top, and it was simply grand with the sun shining beautifully on the city below.

Do you recognize the buildings far in the distance at the top, center of the picture?

Do you recognize the buildings far in the distance at the top, center of the picture?

 

Now, even with my shaky hands aiming this photo you probably recognize Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre hill.

Now, even with my shaky hands aiming this photo you probably recognize Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre hill.

I was in heaven, almost, with my camera aimed below.  Yes, definitely below!  I can look below, but forget about looking up when I am at any level above the top of the tool shed.  I saw tourists taking pictures of each other from one level to another, and I nearly lost it, while Jim was not in sight to catch me!  We met two smiling southern ladies who agreed to take our picture to record the moment.powder5 My hair was stuck to my head, probably reacting to my brainwaves and trying to hold my foolish noggin in place. 

Then, Jim excitedly said we should go up the stairway to the elevator for the next level, like a kid ready to jump off the high-dive.  Oh, no!  Strike those thoughts.  My bladder was not ready, and I called for a pit stop.  Jim said he could go, too.  He did, but I didn’t!  The line for the ladies bathroom wrapped around forever, but the men’s had maybe two people in line.  Here’s a bit of tourist advice for the Eiffel Tower that you are likely not to find in tourist brochures, “Go, before you go!”  With my eyeballs floating and fear in my feet, I had to decide whether I would ascend with Mr. Fearless to the top.  I thought about those youngsters in the street, having fun and letting loose to enjoy the moment.  It was my time to rise above with nothing holding me back.  I stepped into the elevator, which by the way was an Otis elevator.  Remember that I work in construction, so I’m always looking to see how things are put together.  Good old, Otis!  Let’s climb to the top, keeping my eyes on Jim who was wearing my Cornerstone jacket, and not looking, or thinking, about what I am doing.  No, that isn’t sky out there, just a pretty shade of blue from a Sherwin Williams paint selection.”  I stepped into the first section which had glass windows, easy enough to just look below and think wide-screen television.  Just above was the challenge!  I hugged the wall until I adjusted, and then my Canon-camera-adrenaline kicked in with my lens stuck through the heavy-grid enclosure that safely keeps people from danger.powder7

When I adjusted to being on top of the world, I focused on the places I would like to settle into for a month or so.

When I adjusted to being on top of the world, I focused on the places I would like to settle into for a month or so.

 powder9powder13

DÔME CHURCH - The gleaming dome cannot be overlooked.  Napoleon lies in the crypt.  His final wishes were to "rest on the banks of the Seine"

DÔME CHURCH – The gleaming dome cannot be overlooked. Napoleon lies in the crypt. His final wishes were to “rest on the banks of the Seine”

I don’t know if it was the weight of my bladder, or the desire to capture the city of Paris below with my camera, but somehow I did conquer the top of the Eiffel Tower!  I still haven’t sent Jim a thank-you note.

Are you dreaming of Paris?  Just click here to see beautiful apartments ready for your visit.  Just take a look!  I have received a gracious invitation to write a story and share pictures for the blog: www.ILoveParisLife.com   Do you think I can handle it?  What subject should I select?  What would you like to see?  More of the street scenes?  What about Luxembourg Gardens?  Our boat ride on the Seine?powder12 As long as they don’t think better of having Jim and me over there on the pages of loving the Paris life, we will be eating biscuits here in Alabama and dusting off the computer for the next time.

I will show more photography on my Facebook later in the week. Thank you very much for your wonderful comments!  If you enjoy the blog and pictures, think about sharing the links with other cool and savvy folks like yourself. You are just the most wonderful folks in the world to us!

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Top of the Parisian Tour Bus” – by Debbie Ambrous

My last photo of Paris, until we meet again...

My last photo of Paris, until we meet again…

From the top of the tourist bus, I shot my last photo in Paris and said good-bye to the Beatles, Bob Marley, the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa and Le Chat Noir in the tourist stand souvenirs by the River Seine.  A quote credited to Bob Marley says: “Some people feel the rain.  Others just get wet.”  I thought it rained in Paris continually, but it fell only enough for us to feel it this time and not get wet.  Jim and I felt Paris with all our senses, plus our aching feet and backs.  Still, we fell into the bed and woke in the morning hardly believing that we were in Paris!! 

We arrived on the train at Montparnasse train station around mid-day on a Sunday and checked into our wonderful hotel, more about that later.  Then, we walked and walked.  Our excitement carried us with adrenaline surging.  Dragging back uphill at the end of the day, we were reminded that we were not as young as the energetic couple who did a whirlwind tour of Paris years ago.

Our view of Paris through the glass, on the front seat, on the top of the bus - Wow! It was fun.

Our view of Paris through the glass, on the front seat, on the top of the bus – Wow! It was fun.

It was a difficult decision to plunk out the money for the hop-on, hop-off bus instead of taking a regular bus or metro, but it was totally worth it, plus we paid just a few extra euros for a wonderful boat ride.  It wasn’t a Disney bus with recorded voices saying, “Keep your hands inside at all times.  Stay seated with buckles fastened.  Nope.  People stood on top of the bus, leaning for the best camera shot while the bus was moving, turning and lurching.  Tourists boarded the bus when all seats were taken and stood on top of the bus in the aisle.  No worries.  Where are the chickens and sheep for a third-world bus ride?  What comes next?  Still it was fun, and you know I didn’t stand for the best photos!  Surely not!

Surely seat contact is not required at all times.

Really, is seat contact required at all times?!

Beautiful light for this photo, but not for all of them

Beautiful light for this photo, but not for all of them

I loved the colors of these buildings.

I loved the colors of these buildings, like the flavors of sorbet that I savor in the afternoon in France.

Stop the bus!!  Time for shopping, or in my case, just looking.

Stop the bus!! Time for shopping, or in my case, just looking.

All went smoothly until we were slowly approaching the Arch of Triumph in an advancing parade of traffic like the French army.  Patiently waiting for the movement of the platoon, I noticed the bus was inching forward toward a big tow truck.  What was the bus driver doing down there?  Slam!!! top1 The tow truck driver flew out of his vehicle in a rage with his neon yellow pants flashing in a bee-line toward our bus driver.  Stinging words buzzed non-stop in a loud voice, like nothing you would hear on the Disney monorail in two languages.top2  Tourists gathered to take pictures of the accident.  Of course, what else would tourists do?

A television crew was filming a young man on the street outside a sports equipment store. top4  Leaving the scene of the accident, we rushed to join this action.  I took the young man’s picture thinking he might be a sports star.  When the interview was over, I asked the news lady who the young man was.  She said he was just a random person, and they asked for his viewpoint. top3 I don’t know why she didn’t interview me; I’m a random person who survived a bus crash. 

We saw a handsome man signing autographs just three tables away from us in Tours at Place Plumereau, but we still don’t know who he is because I wasn’t assertive. 

Do you know this famous person?

Do you know this famous person?

This time I was bold and discovered an average, ordinary person.  Maybe he is wondering about my famous identity.

Get your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle and read about a similar incident between a taxi driver and a truck driver that happened when I was on a solo trip to France.  Just click here to read more and order.

Another bus arrived, and we circled the Arch of Triumph feeling sorry for the bus driver and his accident.  There was too much excitement around us to feel sad. top5

Now why did they park that yellow truck there?  Ruins the property value of the whole neighborhood!

Now why did they park that yellow truck there? Ruins the property value of the whole neighborhood!

People, famous and ordinary, are attracted to Paris, and simply mentioning Paris fills the imagination with grand expectation.  I asked Jim when we were stopped by the vendor’s stand with the photos of notable visitors to Paris, “When do you think we can return to France?”  He answered, “When you can arrange it, I will be ready.  Now, that’s what I call an agreeable, fabulously famous husband!

Where are the pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the café life? We experienced too much for only one blog.  More will follow with pictures, some of them not taken from the top of the bus.  Thank you very much for coming around to see us. 

“A Long Time Ago – In a Land Faraway” – by Debbie Ambrous

Chateau Marcay - a dreamy hotel with 30 wonderful rooms and a gourmet restaurant - "Hold on to your hats! We will visit shortly, but let's go shopping first!"

Chateau Marcay – a dreamy hotel with 30 wonderful rooms and a gourmet restaurant – “Hold on to your hats! We will visit shortly, but let’s go shopping first!

Dressed in our Sunday-best clothes, we were heading to Chinon, France on Dimanche (Sunday) for the Brocante Mensuelle (Monthly Antique Sale) which attracts local people and tourists with colorful displays in the squares and along the ancient streets.  Doesn’t such a festive event deserve equally attractive attire?  We thought so.  Old serving dishes, fragile teacups, pewter pitchers, copper pans, tiny brooches with intricate designs, hand-embroidered cloths and other goodies would be there for me to examine, photograph and possibly purchase.  Other men and women had the same thoughts and drove their cars in a rush to the parking lots and streets, filling every imaginable spot.  I knew this would possibly be beyond frustration for Jim, although he can handle the challenge with the best of drivers. 

A brightly-colored sign pointed to a Vide-Grenier (empty out the attic) on a narrow side road in the small community of Anché.  Hey, Jim, let’s turn on this road.  It could be more fun to shop here for the garage-sale type stuff than in Chinon.  It should be easy to park in the field, and prices are usually lower in the small towns.” This was a French accordion lullaby to Jim’s ears, easy parking and cheap prices. 

Aren't they sooo cute?

Aren’t they sooo cute?

Jim called out, "Come here! I found the perfect thing for you.  See!! That big fan will take care of your worst hot flashes!"

Jim called out, “Come here! I found the perfect thing for you. See!! That BIG FAN will take care of your worst hot flashes!”

We walked in the sunshine, checking out everything from baby booties to the kitchen sink.

Is she thinking about her younger days on a motorcycle?  Or, is she thinking about a trade?

Is she thinking about her younger days on a motorcycle? Or, is she thinking about a trade?

I love those cool fixtures!  However, my plumber might not like the installation.

I love those cool fixtures! However, my plumber might not like the installation.

Not me!!! But she has the right idea for the heat.

Not me!!! But she has the right idea for the heat.

Sausages cooking on a hot grill lured us to a picnic table with a sweet family, sharing laughter and cookies together.  The three-year-old boy had a tiny car in his hand, and he was more interested in playing race car driver than eating his food.  Older sister wanted attention since little brother caught our eyes instead.  She talked loudly, but then fell silent and bashful in front of the camera.  The middle-child was quiet for the entire meal.  Middle-children are often left out, unfair, but it happens.  Sending love to our middle child pronto with that thought. We left the festive group in the sunshine and made our way to the car with no purchases, but our personal bags were packed with the kindness of strangers and memories of a fun morning, our favorite Brocante Mensuelle.

Since we are dressed in our Dimanche-best clothes, maybe it would be a good time to visit the Chateau Marcay.”  With this suggestion to Jim, we drove to Chateau Marcay, a luxury hotel with a gourmet restaurant situated amidst the vineyards in the village of Marcay, just a very short drive from Chinon.  Catching sight of the chateau at the end of a long driveway lined with trees will elicit a gasp and heighten the anticipation of reaching the romantic room.  In other words, when you see that long, long line of trees and the pretty castle, you will whoop and holler, “Heavenly days! Get outta here! Look at that, will you!?  You mean we are gonna stay there!  After you get hold of yourself and park the car, you will be walking across the courtyard with the rocks crunching under your feet, but you won’t notice it because you will be floating in the clouds. 

You might feel as decadently, luxurious as the lady in the painting.

You might feel as decadently, luxurious as the lady in the painting.

I would like to say that I had this type  of arrival experience when Jim and I stayed long ago in this far away land.  No, we arrived at the beautiful chateau, very tired, cranky, totally annoyed with each other and a long way from being romantic, or rich.  Still, we planned to indulge in one night at the splendid hotel.  Our timing was not good since we were not on speaking terms with each other.  (Read more Chateau Marcay and our experiences in the book “A French Opportunity” available in paperback or Kindle by clicking here for the French Amazon site or here for the American Amazon site.)  Have you ever planned a wonderful party, or vacation, and then when the time arrived you felt like screaming instead of laughing?  It happens!  I believe we finally warmed up enough to not totally waste a bedroom with a view of a tower, close enough to touch it, and a room with big bed in a French chateau worthy of romance!

Sending a letter in advance to make arrangements to visit would have been the proper way to enter the chateau, but I had not.  Sorry, Mama, I know that was bad manners, and you raised me better than that!  My business cards were completely gone, so I blundered around telling the nice lady at the front desk, who spoke better English than I, about my book and I scribbled the name of my website on a piece of paper.  Then, we ambled down the ancient hallway past antiques, paintings and a comfortable salon to the sunny terrace, finding a shady corner with an umbrella to enjoy cake and coffee.  At least we were in love and smiling at each other, completely in the moment, enjoying the view and allowing the sumptuous ambience to capture us in that cloud of romance, even though we are not young newly-weds anymore.  Perhaps, even more reason to be here.

Jim is waiting in the shady corner for me, without the "big fan" that he suggested.  I had a better idea of sitting in the shade on a beautiful terrace.

Jim is waiting in the shady corner for me, without the “big fan” that he suggested. I had a better idea of sitting in the shade on a beautiful terrace.

We returned to the front desk to a trio of young ladies.  Of course, Jim was in fine form then with three beautiful young ladies to present with his version of Southern Alabama charm. 

(Left to right) Charline, Laurence and Stephanie - Thank you for a gracious and hospitable visit!

(Left to right) Charline, Laurence and Stephanie – Thank you for a gracious and hospitable visit!

Laurence graciously volunteered to show us around.  She didn’t know what she was getting into, but she did a fine job and she is welcome in Opp, Alabama anytime!  We saw two equally beautiful bedrooms, one much larger than the other.  My favorite was the blue bedroom with the drop-dead beautiful bathroom!  We were not staying this time, but our visit caused us to put another stay at Chateau Marcay on our bucket list.  Perhaps, you should also!!

My personal favorite bedroom!

My personal favorite bedroom!

Taking a photo of myself in the big, gorgeous bathroom.  Laurence is giggling at me in the corner.

Taking a photo of myself in the big, gorgeous bathroom. Laurence is giggling at me in the corner.  Huge jacuzzi tub is behind me.

Massive suite, suitable for a Princess, or a Queen!  Indeed, perhaps royalty slept here.  Hmm.. Probably  quite good that the walls cannot talk!

Massive suite, suitable for a Princess, or a Queen! Indeed, perhaps royalty slept here. Hmm.. Probably quite good that the walls cannot talk!

Come on over to Chateau Marcay.  Tell the good folks here that we sent you.  You will love it here as much as we do.

Come on over to Chateau Marcay. Tell the good folks here that we sent you. You will love it here as much as we do.

Thanks to the readers for coming around to visit us, and special thanks to Charline, Laurence and Stephanie.  Oh, and I must say thanks to the family who shared the picnic table with us. 

Be sure to click over to the Chateau Marcay website for information and beautiful pictures, without me in the bathroom mirror!

“Jardin of Good and Scared!” – by Debbie Ambrous

Peonies and roses at La Maison Perrotin - my bouquet - Peonies are finally blooming!

Peonies and roses at La Maison Perrotin – my bouquet – Peonies are finally blooming! You can call me, but I won’t be answering on this antique phone.

Come on out, please.  I really want to see you.  The sun is shining, and it’s warm most of the time now.  You will be so beautiful and make me very happy.”  I said these words to coax the peonies to bloom, very quietly so no one would hear me and think I was crazy. 

I walked further examining the tiny fruit on the trees and the petite green raspberries gradually maturing in the sunshine.  The strawberries are ripening; we had a few with ice cream for dessert last night.  Further, at the back of the garden on the adjoining property in the rear, is an old stone house in ruins.  I thought of the many houses like this that I’ve seen for more than ten years on the internet for sale.  I skipped any thought of these tumbled-down houses and searched for one with a roof in good shape and functioning plumbing and electricity in place.  Dreamers like me often think that it would be easy to remodel.  I stood quietly, not coaxing the peonies for several minutes, and then moved a few steps along the stone wall.  A long object that resembled rebar (a rusty-colored metal building material) except thicker was on the rock-covered walkway.  Then I noticed the curve at the end.  Snake!!!  I was shocked at how perfectly camouflaged the snake was with the rusty-brown colored rocks blending around it.  When I regained my breath, I told my feet to move fast and I rushed to the house – this time watching the ground for more snakes!  Breathlessly, I told my snake story to Jim, and he laughed at my fright.  I don’t think that he believed a snake was in the garden, but we grabbed our cameras like good tourists and rushed to the scene of the snake-sighting.   The snake was not there!  See, I told you so!  It was a snake!” 

I searched on the internet and learned that there are only two poisonous snakes to watch for – vipers or adders – with slit-shaped pupils and grey or reddish-brown skin.   Sounds like my rebar snake, but I didn’t look him in the eyes since he seemed to be using the rock pathway as a tanning bed.  They are apparently more aggressive during the spring – mating season.  Spring!?  This is spring!  The article said the poisonous snakes are usually not deadly, but one should remain calm and head to the hospital if bitten.  Taking a picture was suggested, but one should not kill the snake since they are protected in France.  Just keeping you informed. 

Warning sign near an Alabama lake

Warning sign near an Alabama lake

I watch very carefully for snakes on our Alabama property and other outdoor areas since poisonous snakes are prevalent and deadly. 

It had not even crossed my mind here in France when I’ve wandered through the woods, by the roads, on farm property and stepped on cow, horse, sheep and chicken manure.  I only thought of the smelly stuff on my boots, not the poison potential in the area.  The good news is that a tourist will rarely even see a snake, so look at how fortunate I was!  Very special, indeed!

Painters below reminded me of Stephan, Mele and Dominika with Prime Beluskov Painting

Painters below reminded me of Stephan, Mele and Dominika with Prime Beluskov Painting

Later in the day we visited Loches and I was enjoying the view below from a high vantage point.  Painters with ladders were painting shutters a bright red color on a house below.  I was thinking about the many, many days that I worked at the main office for a major construction company and talked with subcontractors daily.  The painters reminded me of a subcontractor, Prime Beluskov Painting; they have a European background and appreciated hearing about my trips to France.  I was smiling at the workers below as I remembered my friends in Florida.  I heard Jim suddenly say, “Look out for the tree snake!  I turned quickly and saw his prank. 

NOT a snake, just a tree limb without leaves.  Sneaky Jim's trick!

NOT a snake, just a tree limb without leaves. Sneaky Jim’s trick!

 I suggested an antidote to his snake prank. “Do you want to take the fast way back to the car – head first over this wall?

We drove on to Montresor, one of the Plus Beaux Villages in France.  It was lunchtime when we arrived on a Monday with the boulangerie closed, so we couldn’t buy a sandwich.  Boulangeries close on Monday in most instances, and many are closed during the lunchtime.  We see many changes in France compared to earlier days.  Stores are open during lunch and Sunday in some instances, which was unheard of during earlier times when we visited.  Honestly, I would like to see the old ways continue.  I respect the way of life with more time for workers to be with their families and enjoy life. 

Authentic French atmosphere inside and excellent food

Authentic French atmosphere inside and excellent food – CAFE DE LA VILLE

We found only one restaurant in the village and wasn’t sure it would be very good.  We were very pleasantly surprised!  Great service and very good food! 

Just leave everything in her hands - You will feel right at home!

Just leave everything in her hands – You will feel right at home!

I had the beef and Jim had fish.  We chose from the specials of the day that included salad bar, a main dish and dessert for twelve euros.  The small dining room and porch area were filled with local people and a few other tourists.

Jim had the view of the television, and I could people-watch from my side.

Jim had the view of the television, and I could people-watch from my side.

 

The UK couple were selecting from this cheese board

The UK couple were selecting from this cheese board

Handwritten on the shirt:

Handwritten on the shirt: July 2013 plus a thank you note

Our table on one side had a Canadian in their group, and to the other side a couple from the UK was happily enjoying their meal.  It was nice to talk with them and exchange stories.  I forgot to tell them about the snake.  Maybe just as well.

Along another road, far from Montresor, I saw an artsy collection of rebar trees.  I was mouthing my lack of admiration for the rusty metal decor when Jim said, “Well, you know you gotta have a rebar forest for your rebar snakes!”

Rebar trees?  Who is head of city planning?

Rebar trees? Who is head of city planning?

A nice pathway runs along the waterway below the chateau, a  wonderful place for a walk after lunch. 

Isn't this a peaceful, lovely place?  See CHATEAU MONTRESOR

Isn’t this a peaceful, lovely place? See CHATEAU MONTRESOR

SNAKE-14Come walk with us again.  Merci!   ORDER THE BOOK “A FRENCH OPPORTUNITY” IN FRANCE EASILY, BY CLICKING HERE.

 

 

“Rabbit Stew” – by Debbie Ambrous

Knock! Knock! Is anyone home? Could you direct me to Isaac and Florence's home?

Knock! Knock! Is anyone home? Could you direct me to Isaac and Florence’s home?

Lunch was waiting for us in Villeperdue with lapin (rabbit) stew, rice, beets, carrots, olives, cheese and fried plantain on the menu.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Fried plantain (bananas)! 

Plantain - cooking hot and sweet in the frying pan!

Plantain – cooking hot and sweet in the frying pan!

I’ve loved them since I acquired the taste in the Caribbean, and it was further cultivated in Miami.  Isaac and Florence invited us to lunch, and their son Manoah came home from school to be with us, also.  Priscillia, their lovely daughter, couldn’t join us, but she will be at our house next for a meal.

How did all of this happen?  I will only suggest that one should grab at each safe opportunity to speak with local people.  Many English-speaking groups are here in France including clubs, church groups, sports groups and much more.  Speak to people in the markets.  With a few of your French words, gestures and their English, perhaps much better than your French, you can create a memory and possibly the beginning of a friendship.  We stopped at a market in a nearby town earlier in the morning, but we didn’t find any extra guests for the dining table today.

Meet Manoah - such a helpful and polite young man!  I will get Priscillia's picture next time.

Meet Manoah – such a helpful and polite young man! I will get Priscillia’s picture next time.

 

Manoah and Priscillia - the children - folded the napkins in the attractive design.

Manoah and Priscillia – the children – folded the napkins in the attractive design.

Jim waited in the car while I took pictures of the chateau and got directions at the boulangerie.  He struck out at the bar/tabac and the gas/feed store.  Both places said, "right of the chateau" with many gestures.

Jim waited in the car while I took pictures of the chateau and got directions at the boulangerie. He struck out at the bar/tabac and the gas/feed store. Both places said, “right of the chateau” with many gestures.

Villeperdue is a very small community with an extravagantly beautiful, private chateau on the main street at the edge of the village.  I snapped pictures the best that I could while Jim waited in the car ready for a get-away in case the owners didn’t appreciate paparazzi in their bushes and trees.  When I hopped in the car, Jim said the gendarme had driven by.  He sounded serious, but you never know with the kid who was voted “Wittiest” in high school.

We didn’t find the house with the rabbit stew baking and plaintain bubbling in the frying pan just right away, so we stopped at the boulangerie for directions.   I know you are wondering why we went to the bakery for information and thinking why we didn’t go to a tourist information office instead.  It worked!  The owner of the boulangerie knows everyone in the village.  She looked at the address and asked who we were looking for and immediately knew Isaac and Florence.  The madame called Isaac, and he was there before you could say chocolate croissant.   So very nice and helpful!  See!  You can find more good stuff, even non-fattening, in a boulangerie.

Such a lovely couple! We think that Isaac looks like Sydney Poitier.  Sounds like him too!

Such a lovely couple! We think that Isaac looks like Sydney Poitier. Sounds like him too!

We talked and learned more about each other.  Isaac is in construction, so we had something in common.  Florence works also, assisting children with special needs.  Just like the United States, both parents often work in France to meet the budget.  We enjoyed the meal of rabbit stew, and it was a familiar dish since Alabama kitchens serve it up also. Chocolate dessert with coffee came next.  Then, we enjoyed a tour of their garden to see lettuce, tomatoes, parsley and Swiss chard growing in the dark soil. 

Fresh eggs!  Can we stay for breakfast?

Fresh eggs! Can we stay for breakfast?

Chickens were clucking away in the corner and pecking the ground, looking for their lunch. Florence has canned many jars of vegetables, ready to feed the family, and the children have their own little garden with radish and pepper plants. The family has fun camping together with a caravan (camper trailer).  I was a little envious.  I could see Jim and me warming by a campfire along the river.  Then I remembered my bad knee and Jim’s bad back and knew that La Maison Perrotin was the right choice for us.  Further around their yard, we saw fruit trees, apple and peach were coming along with tiny fruit appearing on the branches.  Jim admired their fine barbecue area that Isaac built.  Grape vines will soon cover the seating area with a nice canopy of shade in the summer.  I don’t know what they were cooking at the chateau down the road, but the atmosphere couldn’t possibly be as warm compared to what we enjoyed just a short hop away at Isaac and Florence’s home.  Merci!  Thank ya’ll!