Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Walk in the Village

It mostly rained yesterday with some really fantastic, booming thunder and lightning.  In fact, as directed in our instructions for the house, we disconnected the internet for a few hours.  It was quiet all night.  This morning was gray and it hasn't rained--in fact, it's warm out--but thunderstorms are predicted.  The next 4 days are forecast to be sunny and warm.  However, Montpellier, where we are catching our Air France flight home, is flooding.  We're hoping it drains off somewhere before we have to leave.  Also, we were mildly sweating the pilot strike which was resolved yesterday.  It wouldn't be too terrible to be trapped in the South of France.

We spent all day yesterday reading so today I really needed to get out.  I decided on a walk around Sanilhac-Sagries.

This is a typical little chemin, or path, in the village.

This is a photo from the owners' website and it is exactly what our house looks like.  The two front windows on the left are the living room and dining room.  The window to the right of the front door is the kitchen.

You won't be able to break in through this window.  We see these everywhere.  So much nicer than the iron bars.

This is downtown, 2 blocks from our front door.

This is just opposite the Boulangerie with the day's crowd gathered by the Mairie (town hall).

Yep, it's a really relaxed place.

Our cute little wheels that get us around.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hiking to the Gorges du Gardon

Today we planned for a hike right out of front door.  In fact, the trail begins right next to the boulangerie.  We took off around 9:30, before it was too hot and what a gorgeous morning it was.  We were mostly alone as we followed the signs, well one sign, plus some occasional yellow markers, very familiar to us now.  We had seen a French couple get out of their car back at the boulangerie and peruse a huge map but they never caught up to us.

This is the view of Sanilhac-Sagries from the trailhead.  Our house is nestled in there.

The path was level until it began to gradually descend.  We came to a magnificent view way at the top of that hill above Chuck's head.  I couldn't imagine we'd be able to make it all the way down to the water.  When we did get to the bottom our eyes just popped out of our heads.  Old ruins were on either side of the mountains.  We climbed up the stairs to see what was up there.

This little building is chapel Saint-Vérédeme, backing on to the cliff, at the entrance to a cave, and was for a long time a pilgrimage destination.  The exploration of the many caves and cavities has shown that the site has been inhabited since prehistoric times. During the 7th century, the Greek healer Vérédème (the future Bishop of Avignon) retired from the world to live in the Gardon Gorges.

 Inside the chapel

Around the corner along that path was a big cave and of course we couldn't resist. We were astounded at the size of this cave opening had to explore it.  The first room was huge and fairly well lit by the doorway but as we ventured further, it was pitch black.  We hadn't brought flashlights but each of our smart phones has a flashlight app that works quite well.
 Inside the cave, looking out.

I was all the way to the bend and there was no light whatsoever.  I shined my iPhone flashlight on myself and Chuck took a picture using his flash.  We continued to explore, moving very slowly--the ground went up and down but it was quite roomy inside.  No crawling required although Chuck did find a small cave opening along the way that would have.

At one point, we turned off our flashlights to see how dark it was and Chuck saw a light at the end of the tunnel!  We hemmed and hawed about whether to keep going but decided to go for it.  I took this picture of the doorway at the end and he is shining his flashlight on himself.

As it turned out, we had to go back the way we came as the trail outside was so overgrown we would not have been able to get around it.  What a fun morning.  The hike was 5 miles and not even difficult.  Unfortunately, the boulangerie was closed for the day.  It's Sunday.

We walked the 2 blocks home and settled into the backyard.  I was sure I would go in the pool--it was quite warm out, or at least we were, but it just wasn't hot enough.  In the shade it's quite nice and cool so that's where we settled for several hours with our books.  Chuck brought down a magnificent lunch of cheese, salami, bread, grapes, apples, cookies and orange juice.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Market Day In Uzes

Today is the BIG market day as opposed to the regular market day.  I must say, even though we expected it, we didn't realize it covered almost the entire town.  We started out early, getting there well before 9 and even finding free parking (some planning went into this).  It was perfect.  Not crowded and a feast for the eyes.  Pictures do not do it justice.  Everything from fresh fish, to scarves and lavender sachets to sausage (we chose 2 from a selection of many) and more things than you can even imagine.
This location in the town square, Place aux Herbes, is where we had lunch the other day.

This woman is scooping up potatoes for us that have been cooking in the drippings from the rotisserie chickens above them.  We also bought one of the chickens.

So many choices of olives.  We went with a gram of Olives de Provence.  Delicious!

We did stop for a cafe creme and some people watching, then strolled around some more.  It was a beautiful morning and we left just as it was beginning to get crowded.

We've had so many really perfect days, but this one, if not the absolute best, is certainly in the top five.  After our shopping at the market in Uzes, we drove our purchases home then took off for St. Remy, an hour away.  We are right on the border with Provence so we are in it almost immediately.  It was a beautiful drive through tree lined roads and medieval villages.

Our first order of business, after scoring a perfect, easy, free parking place, was to find a great place for lunch.  We looked at a few places--it was essential that we sit outside, the weather is just phenomenal--but walked on because none of them were just right.  Then we came to a sort of gravel courtyard with a sandwich board advertising a "Formulae Midi."  Just like the "Menus" we've had, this is a set mid-day meal with 2 or 3 courses.  We decided to investigate even though there was no seating outside and it wasn't very pretty.  We walked through the doorway and saw a gorgeous patio area out back and instantly and simultaneously decided this was the place.  What a great decision.

We started with some beautiful rose wine which we enjoyed for awhile before ordering.

I ordered the beouf tartar and was a little surprised that it appeared to be just raw hamburger.  But, it was quite lean, had bits of olives mixed in and what tasted like an aioli sauce.  Rich and delicious.  Even the salad was wonderful with a perfect vinaigrette.

Chuck ordered the steak "something" with potatoes.  He certainly enjoyed it.

Dessert was a little more tricky.  The first choice was Cafe Proust.  We really couldn't figure that one out.  The waitress explained the second choice, fromage with caramel sauce.  She said it was a white cheese a little like yogurt.  We decided to go for it.  OMG!  More like very light and delicate cheesecake.  This will be a memorable dessert.  I just wish I could figure out what cheese to buy so I can make it.

It was a relaxing, lengthy lunch and just perfect for the rest of our plans.

The reason we came to Saint Remy is because of an English couple we met at Pont du Gard.  They told us about two towns we had to see:  Les Baux and Saint Remy.  They also mentioned that a festival was going on in Les Baux and it would be crowded.  When we got home, I did some research and everything I read talked about Les Baux being an inactive village used only as a tourist spot.  Crowds and lots of traffic are not our thing so I read further about Saint Remy.  That's when I remembered that Van Gogh had spent time there.  I also found out about a Van Gogh walk to the asylum where he lived for a year after cutting off his ear.  What a great decision to blow off Les Baux and head to Saint Remy.

Fueled up with our 'magnifique' lunch, we began the walk just outside the Tourist Information where we obtained a map and some information.  There are 20 stops along the way with pictures of paintings Van Gogh did while at the asylum.  The patients were required to walk everyday and that is when he found his inspiration.

In this painting, you can see a small hut.  This was located on the grounds of the asylum, which was a former monastery, St. Paul's.

Along the way we also saw some Roman ruins, including this mausoleum.

Inside the walls of the asylum

 This is the hut from the painting, above, on the grounds of the former monastery.

Vincent Van Gogh's room in the asylum.  The painting over his bed is a self portrait with a bandage covering the area where his ear was cut off.

Saint Remy is situated about 20 km south of Avignon and is in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region.  It was just busy enough to be interesting, though never crowded.  Easy to get around with many interesting things to see.  I'm so glad we came.

Back home:
Our house has an open "window" between the dining room and the loggia where the sun sets.  I love how the light comes all the way through to the dining room.

Another dinner outside under the lights.  I want this backyard.

 This took 15 minutes to throw it together, thanks to this morning's market.

Not bad for a "home cooked" meal


Friday, September 26, 2014

Pont du Gard

We were last here five years ago during La Mistral, a strong, cold wind that blows from southern France with sustained winds often exceeding forty kilometers an hour and sometimes reaching over 100 kilometers an hour.  This time we had almost perfect weather with the normal breeziness common to this area.

We spent 5-1/2 hours here today and are so glad we came back.  There is a state of the art museum, a wonderful film and nice paths leading to the bridge.

We brought our backpacks and a picnic and spotted our place from the bridge--it's the second outcropping of rocks.  Thankfully we had our self-inflating seat cushions to sit on.  What a spot with a perfect view of the bridge.

I packed a ziplock bag full of ice and put the salami and cheese (3 kinds) on either side of it.  Everything stayed cold.  What a great lunch.

After our picnic, we hiked high up above the bridge, got lost, hiked around some more, then worked our way down the other side where we walked through a tunnel and back.  There are quite a few trails with no markings, just forks in the road.  Our best guess wasn't always the best but we made it back

I was so impressed with this monumental site in 2009 that I had to see it again. We did not even know about the museum last time. We spent hours today in the museum learning about the construction of the site, then moved on to the bridge. Along the way we ran into two separate couples with whom we shared travel notes--one from Texas, USA, and one from Kent, England. We also worried a little about the drone flying over the bridge, although we have absolutely nothing, nothing at all, to hide. We rewarded ourselves at the end with a double scoop of glaces and happily headed home for rest and reading.

So here's what we eat when we're at home:  soup, bread and wine.  Life is good.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Good Day in Uzes

We are staying in a tiny village of 834 souls, Sanilhac-Sagries, about 7 km. from Uzes, a much more bustling town with lots of restaurants and shops.  The weather has corrected itself to sunshine and after a very leisurely morning, we decided we would try for that lunch again in Uzes.  We found the place fairly easily on foot once we figured out parking, and now understand why Suzette could not get us there by car--the restaurant is in a traffic free town square.  That's Chuck in the bottom left and the couple to his right are from Austria.  She inspired us in our dessert choice.

The restaurant had a Spanish feel to it so we ordered Sangria.  Strong and delicious.  The waitress was surprised when I said no to ordering some Tapas, which worried me that my salad choice would be too small.

Chuck ordered the Carpaccio of Boeuf (raw beef) with mushrooms and shaved Parmesan.  He loved it.

I chose the Tabouleh, hummus, and marinated pepper and tomato salad.  Perfect and very filling.  Definitely no need for Tapas.

Such a fun place to people watch through the filtered sunlight.  I noticed that they have a supply of newspapers and hats for their guests.

And the grande finale, Tiramisu.  We both felt that it was the best we've ever had.  But, we often feel that way about Tiramisu.  This shot is after a few bites so you can see the inside.  It was lighter than air.

It turned out to be such a nice day.  A big improvement over yesterday.  I was also having email problems, or more correctly, Google problems.  Google seems to have suddenly realized I was in France and felt that my account had been compromised.  It took lots of patience and time to get it all sorted out and Chuck was the hero of the day.  Now we are relaxing--just finished some napping and reading in our very private back yard.  Time to do some planning for tomorrow and maybe the next day...

We managed to find another extremely quiet place for our final stay in France, with a boulangerie only 2 blocks away (Chuck still managed to get lost coming back with breakfast this morning--we are surrounded by narrow, winding streets).

We are so pleased with our living situation!   This is a dream backyard.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Frustrated in France

The day started out well even though it was raining.  We checked out of our lovely apartment and were on the road by 9:15.  The drive wasn't bad until we reached the smallish village of Uzes, the closest place to our new digs.  I had picked out a restaurant with the plan that we would arrive at lunchtime, eat and relax, go grocery shopping, then call Mme. Vaquez, the property manager, who would meet us at the house.  However, traffic was horrible, bumper to bumper tiny cars in the rain and Suzette, our GPS, took us in a complete circle around the town only to began again.  We decided to get out--there was no parking--and just find a grocery store for lunch, dinner and breakfast things.  We managed to find a tiny store that was just closing.  They were very nice about staying open until we found what we wanted. Have you tried doing that quickly in a place you've never been?

Back in the car, we tried to call Mme. Vasquez.  And tried again and again.  All we got was a recording in French.  Over and over again.  It occurred to us that we didn't have a strong enough signal.  So, we decided to find the house and see if we could find a person who could help us.  We stopped a woman on the street walking her dog, but she spoke not a word of English.  We both laughed and I got back into the car. 

Amazingly, we did manage to find the house even though it doesn't really have an address, just a street name.  We parked and started walking, hoping to find someone.  After a few blocks we came to a bolangerie/patisserie and finally got some help from a French couple who dialed the number on their phone and soon I had Mme. Vasquez on the phone.  She said she would see us in 10 minutes.  We were starving so we bought a couple of cookies and walked back.

She was great, speaks fluent English, and we have put our groceries away, done a load of laundry, had lunch and are now relaxing.  Weather is supposed to be dry and sunny for the rest of our time here.  It's a lovely place, quite large with 2 bedrooms, a big kitchen, comfortable living room, dining room and a loggia off the master bedroom where we can watch the sunset.

Dining room/Living Room

Complete kitchen with normal size fridge and freezer, dishwasher and everything we could need for cooking.

Our bedroom.  It even has screens on the windows, a blessing.  Every other place we have stayed, except in the Loire Valley, did not have screens.  The common denominator?  Both places are owned by Americans.

The Loggia--a good place to watch the sunsets.  Speaking of which, the sun is out!