Tag Archives: france

A different Moulin Rouge

Le Moulin du Val Hulin

Le Moulin du Val Hulin

Just 10 kilometers south of Saumur, perched atop a hill in the village of Turquant, sits a house and mill that was built in 1749. When the Mill was first constructed it was a part of the Abbaye de Fontevraud. And up until the beginning of the 20th century it served as the bakery for the village of Turquant.

Le Moulin du Val Hulin, which was classified as a historic monument in 1963, just happens to be owned by a friend of Catherine’s. So instead of just viewing the mill and home from the outside, we were lucky enough to be able to visit inside as well. However, since it is still a private residence, I did not take photographs inside the home.

The mill was constructed with the Tuffeau stone extracted from the hill it sits upon. The stone is grey and soft when mined but becomes hard and turns white when exposed to the open air and sunlight. The mining techniques used to extract the valued stone created a vast network of caves in the Loire Valley, which have even been used as dwellings.

Turquant, France - Troglodyte cave houses

Turquant, France – Troglodyte cave houses

These troglodytes cave houses are famous in Turquant.

Troglodytes cave houses

Troglodytes cave houses

Le Moulin du Val Hulin

The Mill is oriented west to better face the wind. However, if the wind happened to change direction, the Miller was able to turn the mill so that it always faced the dominant wind. A few years ago, during a particularly strong storm, the mill was damaged and one of the wings was broken off.  It has now been repaired, and is back to its original state.

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Le Moulin du Val Hulin

Le Moulin du Val Hulin

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Saumur Part two – Wine Country!

Saumur Wine Country

Saumur Wine Country

The Loire area is surrounded by the vineyards of Saumur such as Chinon, Bourgueil, Coteaux du Layon, etc. which produce some of France’s finest wines, and as I soon learned: Bubbly!

As we drove through the Loire Valley in the Saumur area, it was like driving through one postcard after another.

beautiful vineyards

beautiful vineyards

Loire Valley, France

Loire Valley, France

Saumur is famous for its grapes that are similar to Champagne grapes; and using méthode traditionelle the wine makers make exceptional sparkling wines that rival Champagne. I even found one wine maker with my surname – Grenelle (French spelling of Grinnell) which was established in 1859. How exciting!

I love tiny bubbles!

I love tiny bubbles!

Louis de Grenelle wines

Louis de Grenelle wines

AckermanOur first night in Saumur, Catherine took me to visit an even more historic winery, Ackerman; and lucky for us, we happened upon a special event.

There was music (three separate groups throughout the evening), art, games, education, food and of course wine tasting. Plus, the vineyard is on the hill above and the winery is actually in caves below. We walked around the caves and visited the exhibit on making exceptional sparkling wine in the traditional method.

Pouring the bubbly!

Pouring the bubbly!

Wow - these are some big bottles!

Wow – these are some big bottles!

Catherine relaxing in the cave.

Catherine relaxing in the cave.

Enjoying some sparkling wine!

Enjoying some sparkling wine!

Method Traditional

Méthode Traditionelle

Music in the wine caves

Music in the wine caves

Cool art display with champagne flutes

Cool art display with champagne flutes

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My new French family

Saumur, France

Saumur, France

I just spent ten days living in the most lovely community – Saumur, France – which is a historic town is perched on the Loire river. Staying with my friend Catherine’s parents, in their 17th-century, 3-story house in the center of town, I was able to experience traditional French living – and let me tell you, I loved it. Her parents are so generous and kind, and made me feel very welcome.

There is so much to say about this lovely town and all that I experienced while I was, there that I will need to separate this blog article into several postings.

I’ll start with Living life as part of a French family:

Each morning Catherine’s father walked to the local pâtisserie and picked up croissant and pain au chocolat for petit dejeuner (breakfast) – that along with a cup (or two) of café (espresso) was a perfect start to the day.

petit dejeuner

petit dejeuner

We dined together (as a family) daily for lunch and for dinner, and even though Catherine’s parents spoke very little English, and my French language skills are still a work in progress, we always had a delightful time.

These meals were generally a minimum of three-courses, with the table set with a beautiful table covering, all the silverware and glassware we would need (yes, we had a glass of wine with lunch and dinner), and of course a cloth napkin. Catherine’s parents each had a unique napkin ring to tell them apart each day, so as to avoid washing a barely used napkin; Catherine and I each folded ours in a distinctive way in order to tell them apart. When we were finished dining the napkins went into the bread basket ready for the next meal.

After dinner, Catherine’s parents would go into the longue to have their coffee and listen to music or watch something on television.

On Saturday mornings we walked to the market in the center square of the city. The first Saturday at the market it was pouring rain, but that didn’t seem to stop anyone, people donned their outer-wear and navigated through the sea of umbrellas and canopy covered stalls.

Raining Day at the Market

Raining Day at the Market

Market day in the Rain

Market day in the Rain

fresh sea food

fresh sea food

Boucherie

Boucherie

Stinky Cheese!

Stinky Cheese!

We purchased fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, crème fraîche, eggs, muscles, pork, beef, sausages, etc. for the next few days of dining; then came home and started preparing for our mid-day meal.

Preparing the Moules-frites

Preparing the Moules-frites

Time for Lunch - Moules-frites - YUM!

Time for Lunch – Moules-frites – YUM!

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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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blog people 16

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blog people 9

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blog people 14

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France: Week One – Part One: Paris

Well, I’ve been in France for one full week. And when I say full, I mean FULL. I have had ups and downs, sunshine and rain, met some wonderful people and have stretched my comfort zone to new limits.

Due to all this, I haven’t had a chance or the energy to post a blog yet, so I’ll try to get you up to date on what’s been happening.

Week One, Part One – Paris

Tuesday, August 6
It all started uneventfully. I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris well rested (I actually slept on the plane), caught the Roissybus to the 8th arrondissement (the Opera and incredible shopping), where I’d be staying for the first couple of days with my Parisian friend Catherine before heading down south to AIX for the first month of my sabbatical.

She met me at the bus drop off  and we went on to her home. This is the same apartment I rented the last time I was in Paris, so everything felt familiar and I was comfortable and happy.  Catherine had a lovely lunch prepared, so we dined at the apartment before heading out for a walk around the city.

It was a gorgeous day in Paris – sunny and warm. It was wonderful to see my friend and catch  up on what has been happening in each others lives since we last saw each other.

Wednesday, August 7
I awoke this morning to the sounds heavy rain and thunder outside my shuttered windows. Catherine had already been out to the pâtisserie and had a nice breakfast of pain au chocolat, croissant, coffee, and orange juice waiting for me when I finally ventured out of my bedroom and into the kitchen.

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travel lessons

Following breakfast I took a shower and started to get ready for the day.

This is where travel lesson#1 comes in; something I thought I had learned years ago, but I guess I didn’t or I wasn’t thinking clearly due to jet lag.  ** Yea let’s go with that one! **  🙂

I plugged my straight-iron into a plug adapter and not an electrical voltage converter, and burned off a  nice section of my hair.

It looks far worse than it was. Fortunately I didn’t lose too much hair, and thankfully there was no bald spot. Once I got over the shock of it all, we ended up having a great laugh over it and a good lesson was learned.

After that little issue, Catherine and I set out to purchase a cell phone from a local carrier that I could use while in France, to make calls, text, etc. without having to use my iPhone International Plan for local calls. (This will come in handy later in the week when my iPhone is stolen and I have to find my way home in AIX without the address – since it was in my iPhone… but I digress.)

After lunch Catherine and I went our separate ways, and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Paris in the rain, stopping at a few locations I wanted to visit on this trip, specifically related to my novel.

First stop: Closerie des Lilas

Closerie des Lilas

Closerie des Lilas

In the latter part of the 19th century, Impressionists Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Frederic Bazille began to leave Montmartre and its crowds, and spent their time in Montparnasse and frequented this Café. Situated on the route from Paris to Orleans, the Closerie also served as a stage-coach stop, and the owner rented out rooms to passing travelers.

A little snack

A little snack

While here, I had a light snack, then wrote a little and just enjoyed the afternoon, listening to the sounds of the raindrops hitting the canvas roof of  restaurant’s terrace.

Next, I took a leisurely walk through Jardin du Luxembourg the second largest public park in Paris, located in the 6th arrondissement. The park is the garden of the French Senate, which is housed in the Luxembourg Palace.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

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Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

Then on to meet Catherine for dinner at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, a wonderful little gem in Saint-Germain for steak frites (although it’s become so popular they now have three locations in Paris and another in Geneva). This is a delicious but no non-sense dining experience, and there is always a line (they do not take reservations).

Le_Relais_de_l'Entrecote

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte

The meal is simple. Salad with walnuts, steak and fries. There are only three decisions: 1) how would you like your steak 2) what wine and 3) what for desert (profiterole s’il vous plait!).

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

But it’s the special “Secret” sauce on the steak (good for dipping fries as well) that will keep you coming back for more. Oh, and don’t worry, if you are still hungry after your first plate, they will bring you a second helping of steak and fries.

We finished our meal and then took a drive around Paris to see some of the sights, that no matter how many times you’ve seen them, you want to see them again; not to mention Paris is so beautiful at night.

We concluded the evening at the Eiffel Tower, just on time for the hourly light show.

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We got a little artsy with the next photo, Catherine’s idea, quite fun:

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Well, that’s it for Paris, for now, tomorrow I’m off to AIX en Provence!

(I’ll be back in Paris in September.)

to be continued…

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