Tuesday, August 22, 2017

So Long - Farewell

I spent this weekend in San Diego.

When I was a kid, it seemed so far away and hearing from my aunt and her family was a rare treat. While I was a baby and we lived in California for awhile, we spent time with them all, but it was not until my uncle and aunt and two cousins drove across the country that we became close.

While we were geographically distant, we still are, we were drawn to each other. I love my cousins and I loved my uncle and I loved my aunt. We said goodbye to JoAnn Helen Hogan on Saturday.

There was a lovely service in a Catholic Church, even if my aunt was not Catholic. There is a story there, but it is not mine to tell. After the service was a luncheon at the local VFW. My aunt had been an auxiliary member and spent many Sunday mornings there having breakfast. And if you were visiting, well you went along.

Many people came to pay their respects and while my aunt did not understand why people cared so much for her, we all did. It was repeated over and over again.

I spoke, but not eloquently and I did not say what I wanted to say. I'll admit I was crying and speaking was much harder than I had thought it would be.

This is what I wanted to say.

Hi, I am Margaret Fuquea. I am the daughter of JoAnn's only sibling, her sister Jackie. My mom really would have liked to be here, but she does not travel well these days.

Jackie and JoAnn grew up on a small island in the middle of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. Jamestown. Their father was born there, their grandfather was born there, and back until I don't really know when.  

They were raised, mostly by our cousin, Beanie and a housekeeper, named Ann. My mother was convinced that Ann liked Joey best because there was never any frosting on Jackie's hot cross buns, because Joey got it all. She used to speak of how when they were young she was always being told to let JoAnn tag along and how much she resented that. But then they grew up and married Navy men and went their separate ways, there were many ports of call for all of us but and thru it all there was a bond that was never broken. 

When we found out Joey was sick, I was talking to my mom, she was afraid to call. She said, I just don't know what to say. I told her that she just needs to hear your voice, so call. She did and she was so glad she did. On the morning of June 28th she called me and said, I just called your aunts house and there was no answer. Something is wrong. Find out.

So, I called or texted, I can't remember which and learned that my mom had called at the same time JoAnn was drawing her last breath.

My Auntie Jo was a force. She was funny. She could drink you under the table. She always welcomed any one of us Fuquea kids whenever we showed up at her door. Every time I called she would say "Mags, when are coming to visit?" Every time I walked thru the door at Hogan's Hut is was like I was coming home. She was the rock of so many people. She was my rock when I could not talk to my own mother about things, I could talk to her. 

She was my mother's rock when life did not go as planned.  

They loved each other. They were confidantes. They kept each other's secrets. And my mother knew the moment that JoAnn left this earth. 

My mom will miss her. I will miss her.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Home again, home again.

We started our journey home on Saturday. We sadly left Baulay in the rain. And as Benny said "Tears from above because we are leaving today".

I will honestly say that leaving France always makes me sad. It is a place I love and would love to see more of it. It is not that I am not sad leaving other places, because I am. But perhaps because it is so far away that I think this may be my last time here? I certainly hope not.

Our Saturday was spent packing and loading up the car and driving. When I planned this trip, I thought let's drive on Saturday to a village we have never been to near the airport. Spend some time exploring and then have a lazy morning, drive to the airport and be off. I think it was a good plan, except for the driving part. Traffic was terrible and it took us a bit longer than anticipated to reach Senlis. A small village that is one of Le Plus Beaux Villages de France (one of the most beautiful villages in France). A distinction given to about 155 villages in France - I'm not sure who makes these choices. I would be hard pressed to limit this list. It seems like every village I go to is the most beautiful.

Senlis center is full of small windy cobblestone streets, the buildings are all pale colors mostly yellows and whites with some timber thrown in here and there. They have lights that hang off the sides of the buildings and I am sure they are lovely at night. There are lots of cafe's and bars in this little town and of course being near the end of July all the stores "soldes" were now 50% off.

It seems like we were always hitting places after lunch was finished and before dinner is served, so we wondered around and followed the church spire to the cathedral of Senlis. This place was started in 1153! I know all my readers are smart and can do math, but that it is 864 years! For nearly a thousand years a place of worship has stood on this site. The cathedral was built on the site of an older place. It has changed many times over the course of those years and I am sure the people of 1153 would not recognize it today. It has had a fire, been ransacked during the revolution and classified as an historic monument. It is still the church for the village. Perhaps it will stand for another thousand years.

We stopped at a little cafe on one of the little cobblestone streets and had a drink and some olives. While sitting there we watched a young man park and Audi. You might think we were really bored, but not so. He pulled up, backed into a small opening in a building barely wider than the car and we were quite impressed.

We wandered a bit more and then it was finally dinner time. Now one might think that we could not possibly eat another thing after the meal we had the night before, but one would be wrong. We found a place called Table Italienne, reviews on line were good so off we went. We found it without any trouble, well there were a couple of wrong turns, but when are there not? We came in and Upstate told the woman behind the bar that we were there for dinner and then we waited. We waited while five or six women just were kind of standing around. As we started getting a little anxious at the wait, wondering why because there was only one other table occupied in the place, a young man came flying in from the back. Phone at his ear, blue suede shoes on his feet and I am assuming keeper of the table gate. He seemed to be the only one that could seat people and he did seat us. We had a nice little table in a covered area that seemed it could be opened up to the sky. Upstate and I ordered pastas and my beloved and the Girl shared a pizza. It was really good. Not the good of the night before, but different really good. The bread was good here as well, how do the French do such good bread? As we were finishing our dinner it started to rain and we are pretty sure it hailed a bit. Perhaps not the quite tears of Baulay but the ugly hard tears of being even closer to leaving.

We stayed at an Ibis hotel. The Ibis chain is all over Europe. They are budget hotels. So if you choose to stay at one expect smaller rooms then you are used too, one towel per person and not a lot of amenities, but they did have a nice soap in the shower and checkout is noon. Also, we had a great breakfast here. The yogurt was fantastic!

Now I mentioned the lovely cathedral in Senlis, well the non catholic's had a little area in the hotel where they hold Sunday services, we could hear them singing as we waited to check out. Not sure it will be there in a thousand years.

Finally, we checked out and headed for the airport and the rental car return. Here in America most major airports have gone to the off site car rental mega temple. All rental places, giant garages, buses that take you to and from the airport. Recently on a trip to San Diego, I think the bus ride to the rental place was as long as the flight. Not at CDG. No. The car rental places are right smack dab outside the terminals and there are a few terminals so make sure you got the correct area or you will have a long journey to your terminal.

We drove down into a pit between two terminals and found the Enterprise area. We pulled in and a nice young woman, who I will quickly decide I don't like, takes our paper work and starts going over the car. Upstate and my beloved get all the luggage out of the car and onto carts.

This is a tip - use a damn cart when ever you can. It makes your life so much easier. You are welcome.

So she goes over the car and says "there is a tiny crack in the windshield" 

Really? Yes, really.

So she and I go into the little booth and she writes up the damage report. Truthfully, I am glad she did not look at the bottom of the car - all that new road we drove on. She says "they will send you an invoice for the damage". I ask any idea about how much? Oh yes, I can't even type here the amount she said to me.  

Then she asks "how was your experience picking up the car in Paris?" And off I went. She just smiled and handed me the invoice.

So we take our baggage laden luggage carts and start the trek to Terminal 2E - Air France and home.

First stop is at a print your own boarding pass and luggage tags. While my beloved and I could print what we needed cause we had no stops, Upstate and the Girl could not get past Detroit - how sad for them - so they had an extra stop at information and we went directly to check in our luggage.  

Sky Priority is a good thing, you get special lines and I am not ashamed to admit I like it. We got our luggage checked in and then started the wait for Upstate and the Girl. We waited and waited and then had to leave to get to our gate. So this is where we parted ways with Upstate and the Girl, in fact Upstate broke up with us by text. We were headed for different terminals and flights home.

Our flight was delayed a bit so we had a lot of time to sit around wait. We were serenaded by some boys choir. They sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight and the best part was the little girl behind us singing it in French.  

Finally we boarded and off we went. An uneventful flight and home again we are. Then we get to customs and there is a little issue. The woman that had been sitting next to me starts screaming "what??? What??? You left it on the plane? That was your responsibility." She was yelling at the man she was traveling with. Apparently he had left the ipad with all their pictures on the plane. She was crying and I was thinking if that ipad has ALL your pictures from all your life and that is the only place you have them then you are stupid. Stop yelling at the man and go to the AirFrance counter and ask them to check out the plane. Geez.  

Now on to plan the next trip!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Soap, Food and a Selfie

Today was another quite day, in fact I did not even get up to go to get bread with Patrick today. He said he waited five minutes for me and realized I was a no show. We had gotten back to Baulay around 1:00 am and I slept until I heard the bell ring. Every morning at 8:00 Patrick rings the bell in the bell tower. I thought it was to mark the start of the day. But today I found out two things about the bell:  

1) Nobody else has heard it. I mean, my beloved said what bell? The Girl said what are you talking about? Bell?? Upstate was perplexed.

2) The bell ringing is for Benny. To tell her it is time to rise and shine and that her breakfast is ready.

I am beginning to think that Patrick does not sleep.

We decided to do a little shopping today, so back in Azay le Rideau. We went into a store where I purchased a bag ten years ago that I carry to this day every time I go on a trip. They still had the pattern and so I bought a smaller bag for stuff that will go into the bigger bag. If I keep this up in 150 years I will have every shape and size bag in this pattern.

We went for soap products. Upstate wanted some lavender soap and while you can buy this in the states, it is just not the same. The products here just smell so much better, not as manufactured. The scents are more natural. Anyway, the soap shop was so colorful and full of well, soap. Bars, small rounds, big rounds, they lined the walls and hung from the ceiling. I wish I had taken a picture, but I did not. Not sure what I was not thinking. We picked up a few bars. The woman at the counter apologized to me for her poor English. My feelings about that are, I should be apologizing for my poor French. I am in your country after all.

One would think that after coming here so many times, I would speak French quite a bit better than I do. I think I should work on that.

Then we came back and took naps and prepared for dinner. Dinner tonight was at the Auberge XII in the village. Benny had made the reservations and let them know that we were vegetarians. Nice...

We all get more dressed up than we have been and head over for our 7:30 reservation.

We walk in and the Maitre D asks if we have a reservation. I say yes, under the name Bernard. He says "oh, the vegetarians". I think oh dear, is this a bad sign?

He asks if we want inside or out. We choose out and are seated on a lovely patio. He sits us and asks if we would like wine. We explain that my beloved likes sweet wine and Upstate would like a rose, something local.

He brings back two wines and the sweet one is a winner. The rose seems to be alright as well. A good start.

Then he holds up the menu and says, since you are vegetarians you will not be needing the menu? Are eggs and fish alright, he asks? I say, no we do not need the menu, we will trust whatever you do. Yes to the egg and fish as long as it is a white fish.

And man, did they do.

In addition to the MD you have two nice young men waiting on you. One that reminds of us of Lyle Lovett - his hair. And a second that must be an MD in training - is there a school for this or is it on the job training. Then you have two young ladies that clear and deliver some of the food. We can see the kitchen and the chef thru a glass cutout in the wall. I think there were at least four people plus the chef in there making stuff.

So our first course was four different things in little dishes. One was a cold soup of some kind with a little tiny round ball of cantaloupe in it. One was a tiny tomato that had been peeled and rolled in sesame seeds. One was a little leek salad and one was a carrot sorbet. I can't even tell you which was best because they were all fantastic. Now sadly Upstate needs to be careful with the seed thing due to diverticulitis and The Girl reminded her to be careful, because they had a long plane ride to take in the next couple of days. So good for me because I got her tomato!

The next course was a small dish of a pepper salad. Small, really small.

The third course was the best thing I have ever eaten in my life! A soup of some kind that had paper thin carrots cut into little flower shapes, artichoke hearts and a ravioli filled with some kind of cheese. I think that was what was in it. It does not really matter what is was, I would have gone back into the kitchen and fought my way to the pot and eaten the entire pot of it! It was so good that we used our bread - did I mention that the Lyle Lovett look alike brought over a big basket of bread? Fig bread or sesame bread or just white bread. Yeah, just white bread that had a hard crust and broke open like an egg and was soft and chewy inside. Yeah....bread. We used it to soak all the extra goodness that you could not get with your spoon. I thought I might never brush my teeth again, it was that good.

The next course, fish. Cooked to perfection on a bed of tomatoes and peppers diced up really tiny sitting in an olive sauce. The bread was again used to soak up all that sauce. 

Then came the cheese course. Lyle brought out a wheeled table that had seen better days, the cart had a big flat basket on top filled with at least twenty different kinds of cheese. Stinky cheese, goat, sheep, gooey cheese, African cheese, blue cheese. In other words, Cheese Heaven. We all picked a few and most of them were winners. The African cheese I picked tasted like nuts. It was yummy. Imagine a little bit of cheese on a little bit of fig bread. Oh yeah with some fig compote, my god who thinks of these things cause I want to worship at their feet.

Dessert was a fruit crumble of some type with rhubarb and blueberries, we think. With a pistachio ice cream on top that was a little taste of perfection. It came on little dishes that had these cute little covers.

So we were done and we were stuffed.

But no, we were not done. Lyle put some new plates on our table and said a surprise! A surprise? Can I eat one more thing?  

We see the two young ladies lighting what looks like birthday cakes of some kind. Upstate and I look at each other and think cool, for us? But no, they went right by us to another table. We were joking wouldn't it be funny if they were bringing them to the wrong table? Well they were not. We did not get anything with candles in it. What we got were four little dishes again filled with delightfulness. One was a little tiny blueberry muffin thingy, then a mint and chocolate pudding thing, a cream brûlée that had fall spices in it and my favorite, a strawberry sorbet, that was so cold and smooth.

Then we were done. Really done. So done I thought they were going to have to roll me out of there.  

I'm not going to talk about the guy on the patio that smoked because he really did not spoil it as much as his wife that wore so much perfume it made your eyes water. Or the family at a table behind us that the young girl would not eat anything but the bread. Or the family that came in with at least three children under 4, why would you bring them to a place like this? And I am not going to talk about the table in the corner with the woman who looked angry and was with a very very young man that got our candle lit dessert.  Our about how when I got up to use the ladies room I kicked a table that had glasses and wine one it and was afraid it was going to crash to the floor, but did not. 

We came back to Baulay and went over to Patrick and Benny's to report on our dinner and thank them for arranging it. We chatted a few minutes about how great it was. As we were leaving the artist friends were just arriving home from a long day of house hunting. They think they have been successful and have found a home! Yeah. They showed us a picture and it looks lovely. And yes, I am jealous.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lights, Cameras and Cousin Love

 Oh my. Today started very early. Music Man and Photo Girl are leaving and needed a ride to Tours to the train station. Their train is scheduled to leave at 7:45 am and that meant a 6:30 departure for them, Upstate and I. While talking to our hosts about this the evening before, Benny said "oh no, they should leave from Druye, the next village over. They can catch the train to Tours, change at Saint Pierre Des Corps and then right to CDG. It is very easy, I did this for 17 years to Paris. There is no need to drive into Tours. We will ask Patrick to take them. He is up at that time."

Patrick, Upstate, MM & PG and I all piled into the car at 6:30 and headed to the next village. We got to the village and the little shop that sells tickets to the train was not open yet. We waited for the train to come, Patrick explained what they needed to do, the train pulled up at exactly the time specified on the schedule, they jumped on and their trip home begins. I think they were both ready to get home. Upstate got updates of their journey and seems they were both picked out at CDG for more extensive searches and Music Man was the last on the person on the plane much to Photo Girls relief. Last I heard they are home safe and sound and going to weekend music festival. Ah to to be young.

Near the train station is the place where all that wheat that is being harvested is brought.  A big mountain of wheat, you are only seeing part of it in the picture.  I am telling you there are a lot of very happy birds that live in this neck of the woods.

Upstate, Patrick and I continued on to get our daily fresh baguettes. I am not sure what I will do for the few weeks after we return home and there is no fresh baguette waiting for me or actually taking a daily trip to the traditional baker in town and being the only ones around on a quite morning. It is one of my favorite times of the day. Patrick showed us the map of the area in the Plaza Calder, which for some strange reason is missing it's Calder sculpture. I was surprised to actually see Baulay on this map. Now everyone will know how to find it.  

Then back to Baulay to plan the day. And today's day was a quite restful one. My beloved was having a bit of stomach issue, so she slept most of the day away. And The Girl, well she is a teenager and can sleep, sleep, sleep. So, Upstate and I spent the day reading and relaxing, something I could get very used to and Upstate said she was just not used to having this luxury of time.  

At some point Patrick took his tractor out and harvested some of the freshly mown hay left over in the wheat fields for his garden - it keeps down the weeds.

I must say a few words about our hosts and not just because I know that Benny is following this blog, but because they must be said. Patrick and Benny are the kind of people you want to host you on your travels. They are as involved as you want them to be, they know everything about this area, they are welcoming and they live a life in a beautiful place that they enjoy sharing with others. I am a lucky girl to have crossed paths with them so many years ago and been invited to this magical place and been blessed to be able to return. I hope to return many more times.

So as the day goes on we decide to take a trip to Blois (pronounced Blah) this evening for the light show at the Chateau. We pile into the car - actually now that we are down to four there is plenty of room for all of us - and head out.

Yesterday I told you about the detour at Azay le Rideau, well the road work has moved down the road to our little road. We drive out our little windy road and get ready to take a left at the end of it. Sadly the road is blocked, we can't take a left - oh no! So we must go right.

I have say that having GPS in the car is wonderful. I used to the think that people that could not read a map and relied on GPS should not be let out of the house alone. But the GPS is now my new best friend.   

The nice lady inside the GPS rerouted us - we are following her directions on a newly paved road (I don't even want to think what the bottom of the car looks like) we continue and are preparing to take a right turn in a few kilometers. Now at this point there are two or three cars behind us, so we feel confident it is alright to be on this road, then...

In front of us, with no place to turn off, the road is blocked by cones and a sign that we cannot read. Not because it is in French, but because it is for traffic coming the other way? I felt like I should be in a cartoon, you know where you look one way and then the other and can't go either way and your eyes bulge out of your head.

We stop the car and I get out and do what must be done. I move the cones so we can pass. The woman driving the car behind us smiles, shrugs her shoulders and gives me a thumbs up. Well, on we go. We follow our re-routed instructions and boom we are on the A10 and on our way.

Some background on Blois, because I know you, my faithful readers demand it.  

Let's start with Joan of Arc. In 1429 she came from Chinon to Blois to be blessed before taking her army to push the English out of Orleans. The siege of Orleans lasted only nine days, but imagine these being hurled at your for nine days. I'd give in after a couple of hours.

I don't know how old she was, but again they let her do all the dirty work then burned her at the stake. And truthfully being declared a saint a few hundred years later would not have been worth it in my book. Let Charles fight his own battles. I have said that if Joan stopped at every church they say she stopped in she would have never made it Orleans, but who am I to argue with her travel blog - which is a statue in every town, village and church in the Loire.

This chateau has 564 rooms. Each room has a fireplace. There are 100 bedrooms and 75 staircases. It has got some really creepy water down spouts. I have tried to find info on them, but have been unable to find anything. They look like people in absolute agony.

I try to imagine the number of people it must have taken to keep a place like this going. Maybe some of the down spouts are people that worked here, because going up and down all the stairs would have made me cry out in agony.

As the sun began to set and lights started to come on the pathways were transformed and people started gathering in the courtyard of the Chateau to await the light show. 

I am going to skip a lot of years and get to 1588 and Henry III, the son of Catherine De Medici. During the Estates-General convention here during that year Henry III assured his cousin, the Duke of Guise, that he loved him and trusted no one in France more, then the next morning had him assassinated by a bunch of guys with knives. Then he had the Duke's brother, the Cardinal of Guise bumped off the following day.  

Catherine died in this chateau about a dozen years later. In tonight's light show they portrayed her as a person that only wanted the Catholics and Protestants to get along. But, you can't be behind the St. Bartholomew's day massacre and cry about how people don't like you.

The light show brought us thru many years in the life the Blois Chateau and luckily in 1841 t was declared a historic monument! Thanks King Louis-Philippe and to Felix Durban the architect who lead the restoration.  

The show started at 10:30 and lasted a bit more than an hour. Now we had our hour drive back to Sache. Let me say here that my beloved did a great job of getting us back. The roads here, even the highways are DARK. There are no street lights and the stars don't give you enough light to drive by. We made it back were very glad to see the sign for Baulay at the end of the drive.

We staggered in an fell into dreamland where I am sure we all dreamed in in techno color tonight.

As a side note, I normally write this blog in the morning after the day I am talking about. I write and then I look back at the pictures I took during the day to decide which to include in the blog. While looking at them, I realize, oh I left that out or should I blog about that? Then I go back a revise a little. Right before I left I downloaded the newest version of the blogging software I use and it was having issues, my posts were disappearing, so I started writing them in another app and copying them to the blog, I am much happier and you are getting a lot more info. Lucky you and a way less frustrated me.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chandeliers, Sache, Chinon and a detour

Today was a much cooler day.  Started today with an outing with Benny to the Furniture man. Just Upstate and I took a little ride to a place that I am not sure I can even describe. At first glance you are saying "what is all the junk" then after a few minutes you are saying "what can I find here". A man has been going to estate sales and buying things for many years. He has everything you could imagine from dishes to paintings. While these pictures look like big piles that one would have no way of knowing what was where, I can guarantee you that the Furniture man knows exactly where everything is. I was in chandelier heaven, if I only had a bigger suitcase. I am saying right here that if I ever do get a charming little house in the Loire, I will be getting much of the stuff in it right here. While we peeked in the barns and did venture in a little bit, I did feel that if you touched the wrong thing it would all come tumbling on your head. So leave the picking to the professional.  

Now back to the cottage and wake all the others and off to the Chateau de Sache. This chateau's claim to fame is that the famous author Honore de Balzac spent time there writing. It seems he would head there when things go too tough in Paris. You know, like your creditors were knocking at your door. The owner of the chateau was Jean de Margonne. Who just happened to be the lover of Balzac's mother and father of his half brother and also made his fortune making cheesecloth. So I guess if you need a place to stay, this might be a place you could go. He sounded like an interesting house guest. He would entertain all by reading his works to them, going to bed after supper and sleeping for a few hours, then get up and write all night sustained by large amounts of coffee. In one room were many statues of Balzac, some by famed artist Rodin, none of them show a very attractive man. I'm thinking Monsieur Balzac had to have something else going for him than his looks. Hmm, maybe it was that whole writing thing?

While exploring the dining room Music Man noticed a stand with a hat on it. The sign invited you to try it on, just please put it back where you found it. So, when in Rome... and don't think about how many other people have put that hat on their heads.

We tried to get into the church in the main plaza in Sache, but it was closed. When I approached the front door I noticed many bouquets of flowers wrapped in clear plastic at the door. I tried the door and it was locked so we could not visit. I watched an old man get out of his car and carry a bouquet to the church door. I watched him as he slowly approached using his cane. I stopped to watch him go down the stairs, thinking if he fell I could be there to help him get up. Pay it forward. But no, he took his time and made it down safely.

On on way to our next destination Photo girl said oh I wonder where that road goes. It was a small road between two sunflower fields. So my beloved turned the car around to find out. We all wondered where does it go? Well the answer is it stops in the middle of a field about 50 feet past the first curve in the road. So my beloved pulls at 50 point turn with the little beeping sound of you are too close to something sound coming form the car for an extended period of time and we continue on our way.

We head over to Chinon, you know, the place where Joan of Arc started causing trouble.

Chinon is a midievil town with a big fort above it. It is on the banks of the Vienna River and you can look out over the slate rooftops for a view not seen in many places.

I don't know about you, but I get pretty confused when it comes to the kings of England and France. Chinon was developed under Henry II, who was crowned King of England in 1154. Henry took the castle from his brother Geoffrey after he had rebelled a second time. On his death the castle went to his eldest living son with Eleanor of Aquitaine - Richard the Lionheart. Richard had it from 1189 to 1199 when he died. This does not mean he spent much time there, it seems that The Lionheart spent most of his time on Crusades and basically pissing off, holding for ransom and fighting everyone around him. I find it interesting that his heart was buried at Rouen, his entrails in Chalus and the rest of him in Anjou. I do wonder why they split him up that way.

Richard's mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. He died in her arms and is buried (well, part of him) next to her at the foot of his father's tomb. And some people wonder about his sexuality.

Anyway, back to Chinon which had a siege of it's own to deal with. In 1205 Philip II of France captured Chinon after a battle of many months. Imagine being stuck in the fortress for months while people threw big giant rocks at you, dug under your walls and just generally harassed you the entire time. Eventually Philip got everyone under control and the fortress and town has been under French control ever since.

This is the place where Philip IV (The Fair) imprisoned the last grand master of the Templar and a few others from this order. Philip The Fair was not called that because he was a fair and just ruler. He was pretty. He imprisoned the Templars because they were rich and he did not want to pay back the money he owed them. Oh yeah, he owed the Jews of this area a bit of money as well, so he kicked them out of France.

Again, back to Chinon. In 1429 along came a little girl name Joan. She picked the future Charles VII out of a crowd and was responsible for breaking the siege of Orleans which lead to him being crowned king. We all know how they thanked her. Burned her at the stake after letting her do all the dirty work.

We decided that tonight we would have dinner at Baulay, so another trip to the grocery store in Azay le Rideau was in order. We shopped and got back in the car for our ride home and zip, zip stop! The road is closed for repair, we drove up just as the worker was putting up the cones and signs. Oh, no.  

He walked over and looked into our car and we said Sache??? He said, well I don't know what he said, but what I heard was - go back to Azay le Rideau and take a left and another left, you will be fine.

OK, so back we go. We go left at the round about and left again and end up in a very nice campground. Where my beloved said "how do we get out of here" there was gate on the outgoing, but not the incoming. So being the resourceful person she is she went out the in. The man standing at the entrance looked perplexed.  

So we backtrack to the center of town and we did start down a one way street going the wrong way. So we backed up a bit while a woman in a blue and white off the shoulder checked blouse watched us with a "what the fuck" look on her face. We pulled into a parking area and used our devices to re-route ourselves and made it back in time for a nice dinner cooked by Upstate.

I may have mentioned wheat harvesting is going on. Well they were harvesting the fields around us until after 11 last night. They worked until the last little ray of light faded. They work very hard. I have been told that one of the brothers is retiring, so who knows what will happen around here in the next few years.

There used to be many small farms around here like Baulay. They all had a cow or two, maybe a horse, they farmed their lands. Now they buy their milk at the store, drive something with more than one horsepower and rent their land for planting. It makes me sad that someday this area may not look like this anymore. I do realize that things change, but does everything have to change?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Biking the French countryside

So... have you ever wondered what it would be like to rent a bike in the country side of France? Imagine it, biking from chateau to chateau. Stopping along the way to take pictures of the lovely countryside. The slight breeze blowing your hair back for that perfect picture of you, a bike, a baguette in the basket, a chateau in the background. Yes, it all sounds so picturesque, so wonderful, so full of shit!

This is what really happens.

You drive to the village of Azay le Rideau to the bike rental shop. You talk to the man about the ride (with a French accent) oh, it is not far to Villandry. Round trip about 25 kilometers. Once you get past this first hill it is all flat, all the way. OK then, that does not sound bad.

We walk up the hill with our little bikes with saddle bags not baskets and it does flatten out. We ride the bike path for a little bit and it goes right thru a wheat field, that when not being HARVESTED I am sure was quite lovely. So onward we go. A rather large grasshopper decided to fly right down my shirt. So imagine trying to stay on the bike and get a grasshopper out of your bra. Yeah...

Then we bike some more thru a little forest which was cool and pretty. I watch Photo Girl try to take a selfie and marvel at her long arms and skillful bike riding.

We pass a beautiful Hotel and Tea Room and cross over some railroad tracks. Next to the railroad tracks is a very nice house and The Girl says wow that is a really cute house. I reply (because I could still speak at this time) yeah until the train comes thru your backyard.

And we continue to peddle and we hit a down hill and then I remember a mantra from hiking - for every downhill there is an uphill waiting for you - and yup there it is. There are some beautiful cows in a field off to the left which I use as an excuse to stop and take a picture and walk UP the hill.

There is a man with a truck and a trailer and I seriously think if he is going in the direction we are, I might just pay him to throw this bike and my ass into the trailer and take me with them. But alas they head back in the direction we have come from and in retrospect I should have paid him to take me back.

So we peddle some more and some more and see a sign for where we are going. All the signs are in kilometers but I know that 10 KM is not around the corner.

At some point we missed the bike path trail and end up on a road leading into Villandry. A road with traffic going fast, but what is a girl to do? Just go. Luckily there is a good down hill, really good, too good. We are going faster and faster and faster when a damn truck pulls out in front of my beloved and I and in my head I scream and wonder you couldn't wait?

We (my beloved and I) catch up to the rest of crew at the Villandry commune line and we peddle over to the chateau area. We opt for lunch before touring. We were hot and hungry. Then over to the chateau.

My beloved and I toured the gardens 

while Upstate and the crew went into the chateau and the gardens. We regrouped after a while and started the ride back.

It started UPHILL with a detour. My beloved and I brought up the rear and as we are walking our bikes uphill a couple passes us saying "electric" and pointing at their bikes. Damn them! Why didn't we think of that? And up we went and up and up. So we finally get to a point where we can ride and off we go. We tell the rest to go ahead, because not only am I a slow hiker I am a slow biker. We biked and we walked. We biked and we walked. We biked and we fell (well I fell over at one point) we biked and we sat. We caught up with Upstate and Crew waiting for us under the shade of a tree.  

They continued on and we sat for a bit longer. Then pushed on walking, biking, walking biking.

We came to a little town and we stopped our bikes and my beloved went to get water. Sadly the little store was closed. I was sitting on the curb in the shade looking pretty bad I am assuming. A young woman pulled her car into her driveway and then came back out and asked if we wanted some water. We gladly said yes and she invited us into her home. Inside was a woman I assume was her mother (neither of them spoke English and our brains were now mush and could speak nothing) they gave us water, told us the temperature and I'm sure wondered if these two old broads were out of their minds. We stayed for a few minutes and then pushed on.

We continued our biking walking biking and walking. At one point I considered throwing my bike down on the side of the road and my body down next to it and crying. But I did not. My beloved kept saying you can do this. We can do this. Come on.  

We continued on and suddenly from around a corner came an ambulance and I thought yeah... they have come for me. But, no. I guess someone else needed them more.  

A few minutes after the ambulance rolled by our friend that offered water and the shade of her home to us pulled up. She had called a friend with a larger car and they came looking for us. We must have looked really bad. I can just imagine the conversation - please come and help me look for these two old ladies on bikes going to Azay le Rideau. I think they might die on the way and I can't stand the guilt if I don't help them.

So being the good wife that she is, my beloved said - take her. I will continue to ride. Truth be told, I did not put up much of a fight. In fact she peddled off and I stood there as these two young women figured out how to get my bike into the car. And off we went.  

My beloved made much better time without me and we passed her not too far from town. Yes, we did stop and make sure she was ok and gave her the rest of my water. Then I waved goodbye.

We got to the rental place and the girls got my bike out of the car and I offered them some money. They would not have it! They said no, no, no. We would only wish that if we were in this position someone would help us. So, pay it forward people. I'm going to be doing that for a while.

I sat and waited. I looked at my phone and it was dead. Then I thought, I have my beloveds pack and I know that she carries extra power in there. I was able to charge my phone enough to find Upstate and crew (yes, please bring me water) and get a phone call from my beloved asking how to get to the bike shop.

Music man went up the corner and looked for her. Came back and went up a second time. I picked my ass up off the step I was sitting on and went up as well. We looked around and could not spot her. After a few minutes we spotted her yellow shirt (for a minute a Tour de France joke ran thru my mind, but it never made it out of my mouth). She had come down the wrong street and was a bit mixed up. Lack of water? Too much sun?? Did I mention we did this in 95+ degrees? Yeah...

We all piled into the car and went off in search of Aloe for the sunburn and more water. We finally made it back to our sanctuary and headed for showers and something to eat.

Photo girl and The Girl made us a nice little spread and we all ate, drank and went to bed.

And I guess I woke up not dead this morning because I am writing this.

Monday, Monday - a Tisket a Tasket

Today started with a sweet ride in Patrick's BMW Z3 convertible to get to town early to get baguettes for the crew. He likes to go early in the morning to get some fresh air. I will say, being driven in a sports car on the little windy roads is a bit different than driving them in a sedan filled with other people. I liked it. He also took me by a barn that is for sale not far from here. We stopped and looked, but it was too close to the road to consider. Sad.

Then later we went to Villaines-les-Rochers which is a town that is famous for its baskets. As we pulled up to the cooperative and got out of the car the sign changed from Overt to Ferme! We tried not to take it personally. We took a walk thru the village and ended up at Vannerie Romani Art. This was a studio run by a woman and her husband that make baskets and serve drinks on their lovely tree covered deck. They have a facebook page and webpage - check them out.


Catherine took a liking to Music Man (name de blog for Upstates son) and at one point I think she thought he spoke fluent French. She spoke to him really fast, I understood about every third word. He did really well and does not seem to be self conscious of speaking. Unlike me. If someone speaks to me very slowly, I can understand. And it my head I am speaking fluent French, it just won't come out of my mouth. It is very sad.

She talked to us about the coop where they make many items in willow. Baskets, trays, etc. She had worked there for 28 years making the same rectangular tray every day, until she just could not take it any more. She and her husband struck out on their own, which is very unusual in France. From what she said working there was almost slavery, they pay them by the piece and you have to make a certain number of pieces every day. They are not paid much and the owner of the coop was a very difficult demanding man to work for. It was his way or the highway, she and her husband took the highway.

We did go into the coop, I mean we had come all this way... I am happy to say we did not purchase anything and that I will never purchase another basket from China. It is a dying art form in France and that seems a shame to me. Catherine was teaching a woman to make baskets today. While the student was interested in making contemporary baskets it was explained to me that she needs to learn to make traditional baskets first. Because you cannot make new baskets without knowing the old ways. Catherine also was the first woman to get a certificate in rattan furniture. She was restoring a couple of chairs in an also dying art form. Her husband won "best basket maker in France" at some point. It was interesting to watch him work, we treat baskets gently and think we will break them. He was whacking the one he was working on with a tool that looked like a flattened hammer, so I think dropping one won't do much damage. Unless they come from China, then they will probably shatter.

We also saw groups of Boy Scouts, sweaty boys in shorts and hats with maps. We think they must be on some kind of a test, you know get to this point or get kicked out of the scouts. Who wants a scout around that 1) can't read a map and 2) can't find his way out of paper bag. Isn't that what scouting is all about?

Then it was off to the highlight of our day, lunch. We went back to Azay la Rideau to catch a bite. Alas it was too late to manger, so we gave it up and headed to the CarreFore, the big grocery store in town. We came across a pizza place in the plaza where the grocery store was and decided pizza for lunch. It was a good idea to eat before we went into the grocery store, since we were all pretty hungry and might have purchased far more than we needed for the next few days. So trying to order pizza in a place where the guy is not French. He was Greek and said he spoke French, but from what I could tell not very well. Well, I thought I ordered one large margarita pizza. My beloved said, I think he thinks we want two pizza's. No, I said one. Yes, but I think he is making two. Music man ordered two pizzas, one with meat and one cheese. Well, we ended up with four pizza's at our table. That is a lot of pizza. Photo girl did not like the look of the meat on the pizza and I think the fact that Music Man had an upset tummy a little later might have proved her right.

Now, off to the grocery store. This is a full service grocery store! They have everything you could ever want. From playing cards to badly needed sandals for Photo Girl. She had only brought one pair of shoes on her travels and while she said they were comfortable for most occasions, she needed a break from them. So there she was standing in the grocery store with a pair of sandals. Imagine my surprise when I saw that. So we gathered groceries and as we all wondered around we ended up with three of the same cheese, two of which went back, while we like cheese - to much of a good thing can back you up - if you know what I mean.

We took our groceries and our left over pizza and headed back to our little slice of the Loire. As we are standing in the cottage a woman comes up to the door with a large beautiful bouquet of flowers. She stopped at the Dutch door and said (in a french accent) there is Beth Hogan?

Yes. I signed for them and we all waited for Upstate to come downstairs. She came down and was very surprised to see that Minnesota Man had sent her flowers for their 24th wedding anniversary. How lovely. Our first thought was how the hell did he pull this off? We are out in the middle of nowhere. Really? Did he find someone that speaks French and call a local florist? Did he do it all over the internet? Did he contact Patrick and Benny? Well, he found them on the internet. He had to contact two because the first one backed out. The second one probably had better flowers anyway. I learned later that the florist had contacted Benny to find out where to come. It was really a special moment. I guess love will find you no matter where you go.

We were invited over to Patrick & Benny's for wine and whatever. We all went over and were introduced to some artist friends of Patrick and Benny's that have returned to France from Columbia. They are house hunting and I am a little jealous.  

As we are sitting there talking about their art, it comes out that he does erotic art. What? What? He brought out a bag of these little boxes that looked like beach cabanas. Very nicely made and painted. There are little levers on the side or back of the box that would move what was inside. Let me just say inside the box were little cut outs of people that were naked and having sex. One of them had two men and a woman and both men had the face of the guy from 50 Shades of Grey. Um, lets just say the workmanship was great!

So now we are back in our Baulay and it is 9:45 at night and still light out. While it seems wrong to go to bed and waste this daylight, I have another early date with Patrick to get our morning drive to get bread, so off to bed I go.