Simple Morning Pleasure: Opening the Shutters

Something I find very visually pleasing here in France is all the window shutters. You may have noticed from my photographs, they are everywhere!

Home with blue shutters

Home with blue shutters

But the shutters are not just for esthetics – there is so much wind here in Provence that sometimes the shutters are needed to protect the home.

One simple thing that I love doing here that I do not do at home in the U.S., it’s opening the shutters to the house each morning and seeing that first burst of sunshine.

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I’m also greeted by the cat (aptly named: mon chat or “my cat”) meowing and purring and looking for his breakfast.

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“mon chat”

I feed him, make my coffee, and then I take my breakfast out on the patio.

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petit déjeuner

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Now We’re Cookin’: Soupe au Pistou

All the fresh ingredients

All the fresh ingredients

I love to cook and find new recipes, so one of the most enjoyable afternoons I spent with Evelyn (the woman I am staying with in Provence) was the afternoon we spent making a Provençal classic: Soupe Au Pistou.

Shelling beans!

Shelling beans!

Evelyn shelling beans

Evelyn shelling coco beans

Red and white beans, found in Provence

Red coco beans, found in Provence

Beans and vegetables mixture.

Beans and chopped vegetables mixture.

The soup consists of red coco beans, white coco beans and chopped vegetables: flat green beans, string beans, zucchini, onions, carrots, potatoes (or pasta), along with a celery stalk (removed after cooking), salt and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until all the vegetables are cooked.

Pistou, or pistou sauce, is a cold Provençal sauce made by pureeing lots of cloves of garlic and tons of fresh basil, a cooked peeled tomato, parmesan and olive oil. It is somewhat similar to pesto, although it lacks pine nuts.

Puree the basil, garlic, cheese and olive oil

Puree the basil, garlic, tomato, cheese and olive oil

Just before serving add the Pistou and serve hot. The amazing aroma will be a pleasant part of the experience for your senses… and it tastes good, too.

Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou

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I’m certainly no Van Gogh

Number #13 on my France Dream List is to paint or draw a picture, so I bought myself some colored pencils and a pad of paper and I sat down to draw something. I may not be a great artist, but I am freeing my inner child!

Girl in Paris with Bike

Girl in Paris with Bike

I didn’t come up with this Girl in Paris on my own, I found a picture I liked on-line and used it as a reference, doing my best to make my drawing look similar to the original.  It was “close” but the original is much better:

Original Painting by Fifi Flowers

Original Painting by Fifi Flowers

This original is a Watercolor Painting by Fifi Flowers – if you’d like to check out her other work, click here.

I tried another one, this one is completely off the top of my head … no reference piece. Can you tell??

Lavender and Sunflowers

Lavender and Sunflowers

Next I bought myself some oil paints and after watching three or four hours of YouTube videos on Oiling Painting for Beginners, I set up my work station and gave it a go!

My new paint set

My new paint set

Mixing colors

Mixing colors for my sky

Here we  go!

Here we go – there’s the sky !

Add some mountains in the background

Added some mountains in the background

And now for the final picture and my first oil painting ever. Drum roll please… I call it “Rolling Hills of Wheat”.

Rolling hills of wheat

“Rolling hills of Wheat” by Deborah Grinnell

I know it’s not great, but hey, I did it! I’ll sign it once I get a small enough brush to write with and it will be officially finished.

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Marseille: The Old Port and the Sea

Marseille - Old Port

Marseille – Old Port

I spent a couple of days in Marseille this past week, and the weather was perfect – sunny, warm with a light breeze. Located on the southeast coast of France, Marseille is France’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast and largest commercial port. Marseille is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Getting to Marseille was easy – I just took a bus (about a 40-minute ride) and then transferred to the Metro. Two stops later I was where I wanted to be – right in the center of the Old Port – or Vieux Port.

Old Port Marina

Old Port Marina

As I exited the Metro station the pungent smell of fish filled the salty air – and I walked right into the daily fish market held on the Quai des Belges. (The scent reminded me of walking down Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.)

Daily Fish Market

Daily Fish Market

As in many coastal towns, fishing remains important in Marseille and the food economy there is fed by the local catch.

I strolled along the Old Port and admired the beautiful sailing boats, some fishing boats and a few small yachts. There were lines of people waiting to buy tickets to board ferries to Château d’If and the islands, and tourist boats visiting the calanques.  Meanwhile locals sprayed down their boats or otherwise readied themselves for a day on the sea.

Getting ready!

Getting ready!

I noticed these two men taking care of some maintenance on their boat.

Locals doing a little boat maintenance

Locals doing a little boat maintenance

On a hill on the south side of the Old Port is Notre-Dame de la Garde, built on the foundations of an ancient fort located at the highest natural point in Marseille, (490 ft).

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Another thing you can’t help but notice in Marseille is the street art. In addition to murals painted on the sides of building, there are Fiberglass animal sculptures painted in wild colors and patterns, and most notably are some very impressive Salvador Dali pieces right there on the Quai.  (More on Marseille’s art scene in a future post.)

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Sculpture by Salvador Dali

One thing I cannot fail to mention is the free Ferry Boat that you can take from one side of the port to the other. It’s great if you want to get off your feet for a few minutes and get out on the water. The views back at the city from the ferry are quite nice. In the summer there is also boat service to Pointe Rouge, the port on the South Side of Marseille.

Free Ferry Boat

Free Ferry Boat

Following are some more photographs I took through the two days I was in this sea-side city – focused on the water… Enjoy!

 parish church of Saint-Laurent and adjoining 17th-century chapel of Sainte-Catherine

Parish church of Saint-Laurent and adjoining 17th-century chapel of Sainte-Catherine

The 12th-century parish church of Saint-Laurent and adjoining 17th-century chapel of Sainte-Catherine, stand quai-side near the Cathedral. It is a fine example of Provençal Romanesque architecture built of pinkish stone from the Couronne quarries.

Heading out to Sea

A view to the Sea

Heading out to Sea

View back to the port as I head out to Sea

Sailors in the distance

Sailors in the distance

Out at Sea

Out at Sea

Sunset at Sea, Marseille

Sunset at Sea, Marseille

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Lavender Fields of Provence: Oh how Sweet the Smell

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Visiting the Lavender fields in Provence, France

One of my favorite outings in Provence was an excursion to lavender country. In most years the lavender has been harvested by this time, but due to a very cold spring some fields were still in flower. I feel fortunate because I was able to get on the last guided tour of the season (August 15th) and was able to see some of the most beautiful countryside in France.

Lavender fields in Provence, France - August 2013

Lavender fields in Provence, France – August 2013

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Lavandes en Fête

The tour went through the Luberon Regional Nature Park via the picturesque and unspoiled Combe de Lourmarin. We visited the village of Sault, the lavender capital, and were able to join in the festivities of their annual  Lavandes en Fête – celebrating the Lavender harvest.

We spent time in the hilltop top villages of Monieux, Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt and Saignon. (More on these beautiful villages in a future post.)

I hope you enjoy the pictures – I only wish I could have made them “scratch and sniff” so you could enjoy the fragrance that was in the air (everywhere) – it was so sweet!

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Lavender for sale in Sault, Provence, France

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Lavender candy

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Lavandes en Fête, Sault, France

Bouquets of Lavender to take home

Bouquets of Lavender to take home

More bouquets to take home

More bouquets to take home

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Butterfly on Lavender

Lavender field in Provence, France

Lavender field in Provence, France

This little mauve and blue colored flower, is a cousin of thyme, rosemary and sage.

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Stone Cottage in the Lavender Field

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Lavender fields in a valley in Provence

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A valley of Lavender

Harvesting is performed by machines or by hand when the lavender reaches the peak of its blossoming season.

Harvesting Lavender

Harvesting Lavender

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Wheat and Lavender fields

Wheat fields and lavender fields are found in the same areas, and often side-by-side. The wheat ripens just before the lavender season, so lavender fields are often bordered by golden bands of grain.

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Lavender Fields with Mont Ventoux in background

Mont Ventoux is the largest mountain in the region and has been nicknamed the “Beast of Provence”, the “Giant of Provence”, and “The Bald Mountain”. In case you were wondering, that’s not snow a top the mountain, it is bare limestone without vegetation or trees, which makes the mountain’s barren peak appear from a distance to be snow-capped all year round (its snow cover actually lasts from December to April).

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People watching at a Café

I love to people watch and make up stories about the people I see. So while dining at Brasserie Les Deux Garçons I got the idea to sneak some snapshots of people I found interesting.

Please join me at the Café…

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Brasserie Les Deux Garçons, AIX en Provence

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France: Week One – Part Two: AIX en Provence

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As I mentioned in my last post, the first week in France has been quite an experience.

Being in Paris was wonderful and I know that was because everything was familiar to me. I’ve taken the bus and the Metro many times all around the city with no issues. I’ve ambled down the large boulevards, sat in cafés and people watched, and I’ve navigated many train stations.

But mostly I think I had such an easy adjustment in Paris because I had my friend Catherine as a companion, who took care of me those first few days, making sure I ate, giving me tips on which bus to take, helping me get my phone, showing me some places I hadn’t seen in Paris before, and speaking French for me when I couldn’t find the words.

But now its time to go to AIX en Provence.  Comfort zone be prepared for expansion!

August 8 – Arriving in AIX en Provence on the train was easy, and Catherine’s friend EveLyne was there to pick me up. I will be staying at her home and house-sitting / cat-sitting while she is on holiday.

EveLyne picked me up curbside in her adorable bright yellow and white Citron DS3; and with a quick greeting, we tossed my bag in the trunk and we were off.

CitronLooking out the car window at my new surroundings I see the South of France countryside with villas, groups of cottages, farmhouses and small villages scattered over the landscape.  There on the horizon, just east of Aix rises the Montagne Sainte-Victoire one of the landmarks of the Pays d’Aix. This mountain was a favorite subject of Paul Cézanne, and he painted its likeness many times throughout his lifetime. (More on Cézanne in a later post.)

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Montagne Sainte-Victoire

Upon arrival at my new home, EveLyne gave me a brief tour of the house, back yard and pool, then showed me to my room to unpack and get settled in.

Later, EveLyne shared the bus schedules with me so that while I am here I can get along without a car. I thinking, Oh this will be easy! I know how to read a schedule, and I’ve taken the bus and metro all around Paris. (The saying: Famous Last Words now comes to mind.)

I change out of my travel clothes and don a cute summer dress and we head out for a delicious organic meal in the little village near EveLyne’s home. While walking in the village she points out the bus stops so I’ll know exactly where to go. (Note: there is no such thing as “exact” in the South of France, just saying.)

AIX 009

Following dinner we drive into the center of AIX for a look around. EveLyne takes me one of the most popular and lively places in the town, Cours Mirabeau, a wide (mostly) pedestrian street, with double rows of plane-trees and lined with grand homes, shops and restaurants.

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AIX is often referred to as the City of 1000 Fountains, and Cours Mirabeau is decorated with its fair share; the most notable being La Rotonde, a large fountain that makes up a roundabout at one end of the street.

rotande fountain

August 9

Today was purely a vacation day. I just relaxed around the pool, read a little, ate a little – it was wonderful. It’s been years since I did nothing but relax. I even got a suntan!

August 10

Today Evelyn left for her holiday (sailing in the Mediterranean Sea) and I headed off into AIX for a bit of exploring.

I walked to the bus stop, and there was an older French woman there. Being friendly I say, “Bonjour” and she responds in kind.  A minute later, she Lavender 001starts talking to me (in very rapid French), and from what I can make out she is upset because this village closes down in the middle of the day, and other shops closed down for August. Apparently she needed to go shopping as well as to the post office and everything was closed, and on top of that, she wanted to know where the bus was? Why was it late?

Did I mention this is my first day out? I am not fluent in French, she doesn’t speak a word of English and I have no idea why things are closed. So I string a few French phrases together to let her know I am just visiting, and I have no idea why this town closes down, I’m just trying to go to AIX.

The bus finally comes and within ten minutes we arrive in AIX.

I wander aimlessly around the old town, winding through the narrow, cobblestone streets, taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. I’m just thrilled to be here.

Here are a few snapshots from the day:

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COUPLE BW

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After a really nice day of wandering around, I stopped into a little brassiere for a bit of refreshment. I met some locals who taught me some new French words, and I taught them some English. We were having a terrific time.

There were only a few of us in the place for quite a while, but after around six o’clock, it started getting really busy. I had been looking up information on my iPhone all day, checking in on foursquare, etc., but I always put it back in my bag when I was finished. Except one time.

At one point late in the day, I had been using my phone, and then needed to grab something out of my handbag. So I laid my phone down on the table, and then when I went to grab my phone again, it was gone. GONE. Someone swiped it right then and there. Unbelievable!

In the States we have our phones out all the time, and no one seems to bother them. I was shocked and upset. But that wasn’t the half of it.  Busses stop running to my little village pretty early, so I had planned to take a taxi home that evening; the problem was – I had the address of where I was staying on my iPhone – so I didn’t know how to direct the cab driver on where to go.

To say the least I was pretty upset and a little scared. It was now dark, I had no idea how to make it home. After wracking my brain on what to do, I remembered my local phone, and called Catherine! (Thank goodness we programmed her number into the phone before I left Paris.)  She texted the address to my local phone, but I was so taken-a-back by the fact that my iPhone was stolen, I couldn’t really manage speaking in French to the driver to tell him anything. Remember, this is my FIRST day out in AIX by myself.

Catherine was such a good friend — she talked to the driver for me and proceeded to stay on the phone with him until we arrived home – giving point by point directions and making sure I made it safely. Seriously, I do not know what I would have done without her.

What a hard lesson to learn my first week. After talking to a few other people, I guess there is quite a market for smart phones here and you cannot set it down at all without your eyes on it at all times.  I’ve heard stories where these thief’s will actually steal it right out of your hands while walking down the street.

Thankfully my phone is insured, but trying to get a new phone while in Europe may prove to be a little difficult, and I may have to wait until I get back to Paris where there is an AT&T Worldwide office.

August 11

Needless to say, I stayed home today. I swam in the pool and got my bearing’s back.

To be continued…

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