A fondest farewell

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NO REGRETS.

It’s been a week since we got into the plane and came home. Initially, the adrenalin of coming home caused me to have fitful sleep but eventually the rest was needed and normalcy appears.

Our last day in Paris was quiet, as we simply did a bit of laundry and cleaned here and there. Our last meal was in an English Pub, about a .5 kilometer down Rue de Tolbiac, where we enjoyed a great pint of a bitter dark beer and perfectly crisp fries and fish, accompanied by a minty mushy pea side, and freshly made tartar sauce. The place was crowded with Brits. Even the waitress had a lovely Yorkshire accent.

Now that I’m back, and it’s a week later, I’m left with that misty memory fog that you have just after waking from a dream. Rather than having sharp memories of this particular place or that, it’s more like an essence of a scent of fresh wet grass, the sound of the morning doves that woke us up every morning with their hoo hoo hoo, the crispy crunch of perfect french fries. And yes, they were perfect everywhere we did have them. And remembering the lovely man, standing there, singing to no one in particular, and everyone with ears to hear.

France is an amazing place. It dispelled, at least for me, every single negative thing people told me to expect. “French people are rude…” Really? I don’t think so. Although my French is not perfect, although I did try when I could, I was always quickly helped with as much English as they had. Always, between the two of us, we conquered any language barrier. The shopkeepers in the neighbourhood always remembered us and were happy to see us again. The little waitress in Dragey jumped up with joy when she understood what we wanted and she could help. The Sylvester Stallone lookalike at the market laughed with me while we discussed weather, rain, and pasta. Returning something at de Hellererin wasn’t at all the problem I thought it would be. In fact, they went out of their way to help us even more.

If we seemed lost, someone would inevitably ask us what we were looking for. During our time there, we laughed, ate, danced, walked and enjoyed every minute.

Almost every minute. Driving in Paris is a struggle for anyone without a knowledge of the myriad of streets. There isn’t a great street sign system there, and if there is, we didn’t figure it out. Gary drove down a total of 5 one-way streets during our time there. Well, 4.5 The last one way there were cars letting us know with blinking lights and horns that perhaps our route was a tad hazardous. NO amount of GPS watching could help 100%. But on the good side, the transit system in Paris is amazing, and the train system out of Paris is fast. Unless you want to amble around a bit, like Gary and I did, I’d plan carefully and go for the train/transit idea. Perhaps next time.

Another quip from a well meaning friend. “I was there once. It was dirty. Dog poo everywhere”  Well, I think I can honestly say, we WERE everywhere. I think we hit 18 out of the 20 odd arrondisements around Paris, and yes I saw dog poo. Twice. Which wasn’t as disgusting as the used underwear and dirty needles I saw in Vancouver when I visited a while ago. And yeah, I never saw anywhere in Paris that came close to what the downtown eastside has to offer. Or Whalley, or any Lower Mainland core has, or for that matter, the back alley of my own neighbourhood, where I saw a drug deal go down yesterday and the single mom spent a healthy portion of her “living wage” on some crack instead of baby food.

I know Paris has problems too. I heard about them from Parisians themselves. I can see that this city has some very unique challenges in the future, and I pray that they get worked out, and if not, as before, the Parisian people, with their indomitable spirit, will overcome. Over 2,000 years of being a city has proven that.

I hope with all my heart, there is a next time that I can see, smell, taste, walk and dance in France. I haven’t seen Provence and Brittany. …. Yet.

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A French Market in the 13th

Most of the good boulangerie / patisseries are lined up on Sunday morning. On our first rainy day (not really bad) the boys are coming home with their market goods.

Most of the good boulangerie / patisseries are lined up on Sunday morning. On our first rainy day (not really bad) the boys are coming home with their market goods. Notice the lineup for bread (at the boulangerie)

Showing off their market bags. Gary's is a Costco one. I think Chris's is much more Parisian.

Showing off their market bags. Gary’s is a Costco one. I think Chris’s is much more Parisian.

The neighbours choosing their veggies for the day!

The neighbours choosing their veggies for the day!

Red and green grapes

Red and green grapes

What is this you ask? It's duck three ways. You just can't see this at Safeway. Le sigh.

What is this you ask? It’s duck three ways. You just can’t see this at Safeway.
Le sigh.

Lapin. Rabbit.

Lapin. Rabbit.

Chicken wings

Chicken wings

Mostly poulet (chicken)

Mostly poulet (chicken)

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Lollipopped (poodle legs) Chicken wings for sale at the French market in the 13th.

Seafood at the Market.

Seafood at the Market.

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Fresh seafood. Clear eyes, firm skin, no smell. Freshly caught, and freshly bought.

The beautiful finished product looks wonderful on Donna.

The beautiful finished product looks wonderful on Donna.

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Lovely lady who makes these interesting headpieces is helping Donna choose one.

Lovely lady who makes these interesting headpieces is helping Donna choose one.

This is what it is. A great market in the 13th.

This is what it is. A great market in the 13th.

Vegetable farmer selling his wares.

Vegetable farmer selling his wares.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables.

The lovely market offers everything.

The lovely market offers everything.

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Markets don't just have lettuce. This market at the 13th in front of the Church, also has great charcuterie.

Markets don’t just have lettuce. This market at the 13th in front of the Church, also has great charcuterie.

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Mass in France. Warning: Very Catholic Spoiler Alert.

We are one body, one body in Christ;
and we do not stand alone.
We are one body, one body in Christ;
and he came that we might have life.

I went to Mass last week in Paris, near the Champs Elysee. It was an English Mass, very much what I have at home. Of course I felt at home with the large community of Filipino people, and smattering of everyone else.

But today was different. I went to our local church. “Sainte Joan d’Arc”. And arrived early, so I could pray a rosary before Mass. A friendly version of every greeter at every Catholic Mass in the world shook my hand and welcomed me. I sat where I always sit when I come into a church. For some reason I like the left side, somewhere in the middle. If it’s a Catholic church, especially, I like to sit perpendicular to the 4th station, where Jesus meets his mother on the way to Calvary. I like to be near her, in some way.

Oh, did I mention this is a very Catholic post? If you aren’t Catholic, feel free to continue to read, or pass by. I understand either way. God bless you. Want to argue about my feelings about Jesus’ mother? Sorry, I’m not an arguer.  I’m a hugger, and a Peace be with You’er.

As I took out my rosary that Gary bought for me in Lisieux (a beautiful pearl and gold rosary that I hope I have for the rest of my life) I began to pray. As I raised my head up from the beads, I realized two other women were also praying near me. One Asian lady about my age, and another African lady. All of us bending towards the rosary and quietly saying the prayers, together, united, and yet separate.

The lovely African lady must be one of the pillar of the church, because as many people arrived, they would stop and give her the standard French salutation of kisses on both sides of the face. Young and old, every color, and sex would give her a friendly bonjour and bouche. But as well, there was much friendly greeting going on. This was a church that truly loved and honored each other. It reminded me of the scripture. “You will know them, by their love”

It occured to me how much this country has welcomed people of all nations, as the church began to fill. And there did not seem to be any kind of disharmony anywhere in this place (where people of one kind only sit together) No. It was a place that exuded pure love. Peaceful love.

I do not know enough French to really understand all, but I did ask the Holy Spirit to guide me, and true to form, he helped me recognize the first, second and gospel reading. I knew them (or recognized them) by the few words I did understand. And if you aren’t aware, every single Mass, in every part of the world, shares these readings. It is the Catholic Church. We are united in Scripture, Tradition and Faith. So sitting there, amongst these loving people, I am truly at home in a way that I’m not anywhere else. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Singapore, Australia, Paris or Whalley, BC. If I attend Mass, I am united in body, with these brothers and sisters, through the Holy Spirit. It’s an amazing feeling, and impossible to describe really, if you haven’t experienced it. But every time, it happens. Through the Eucharist, which is Jesus, as he promised us (I will be with you until the end of time) there is an amazing unity. One that I certainly never understood before becoming Catholic, but now, I crave. Coming Home. Wherever I am. United in love with the people in front of me, behind me, with the priest, with Jesus.

It’s very easy to forget that when you just go to your home parish on a Sunday and see Frank, and John, and Mary and Catherine, the same people, the same stuff the same homily, the same, the same. But you realize, no, it’s so much more than that when you allow the Holy Spirit to just open your eyes for a second or two.

The veil between heaven and earth is opened just long enough to be in awe. And then it’s gone. Mass is over, life outside that realm begins. And you hope you can maintain just enough of its peace to carry His love to the world.

As the priest admonishes us (every one of us) Mass is ended. Go in Peace.

Amen. Thanks be to God.

Up and Down, Lost and Found, Dali, Julia Child, Bourdain and moi.

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
Julia Child

This morning, my guardian angel woke up and decided to hang out somewhere else.

Plan for today. Apparently there is an amazing flea market at Sacré Coeur. I thought I had read about it being there on Saturday. I know my sister in law shopped there. It seemed like the typical “no brainer” Take the train to Sacré Coeur, shop, visit the church and whoop-de-doodle, walk around the district and then off to the famous cooking store E. Dehellerin.

Our cooking class made it possible for a 10% discount at the store that Bourdain, Child and every other cooking god and goddess shops.

Made it to the beautiful church of Sacré Coeur. Although the crowds were there, it wasn’t that hard to get into the church.

Here’s where I digress from a typical Catholic opinion of a Catholic Church and become somewhat political. Although the Church did request proper attire and a respectful quiet in the church, what I found a little irksome was the amount of candle offerings/prices surrounding the edges of the church. It was like a supermarket of offering candles. You couldn’t walk ten feet without seeing a table of 10e, 5e and 2e candles which you light in order to offer up a prayer.

There were many people in the body of the church praying, and confession was offered. Those are all wonderful things. You can even go into the chapel next door where there is perpetual adoration. Also wonderful.

It was just the flea market atmosphere of candle offerings that put me off. And I am telling you now, as a Catholic Catechism teacher, you do not have to pay to pray. God doesn’t look at your payment as a more worthwhile offering. If you stand outside and pray, that’s as effective as buying a 10e candle. This practice was a little “moneychangery” for my liking. So there is my short political statement on that. Enough said. C’est fini.

As I walked out of the church it occured to me that I was alone. Well, not really alone, 10,000 tourists and me. But no Gary, Donna or Chris. I stood by the exit for a while, thinking perhaps they were behind me. I did walk through fairly fast, as my emotions weren’t very prayerful to say the least, and I thought it better that I leave and pray outside.

After 10 minutes or so, I realized they weren’t in the church. They couldn’t have stayed in their that long, unless, of course, God really had something else in mind. So I walked into the side of the church, where Gary mentioned going up to the top of the dome, and waited in the shade.

Much time passed. I prayed a rosary. Even though I had 10e on me, and no transit pass, and no key to get back into the place, I felt an enormous peace. No worry. I felt that whatever came by us today, would entirely be a providential plan. Perhaps even my becoming “lost”. I just stayed put until Gary showed up.

We met Chris at a place where a wonderful female opera singer was, and then re-met up with Donna. Chris thought it was a good idea to amble down the streets of Montmarte. After a short period, being hungry, we decided to find a restaurant. Chris has the TripAdvisor app (as do I) and we found a 4.5/5 restaurant that wasn’t too far away. Unfortunately, when we got there, the waitress told us the kitchen was closed. It was around 2:30pm. So we went to the place right next door to it, and had wonderful croque monseurs and hamburgers and the crispiest fries you could ask for, along with a perfectly seasoned and dressed salade aux tomate.

Of course, in that heat and humidity, and walking very steep stairs, up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down, you develop a thirst, and that cold Heineken barely met my lips when it began to cool the body down, first the mouth, then the throat, then the belly. And again!

It’s said you should drink 10% of your body weight in ounces of water, so if you weigh 150 pounds you should drink 150 ounces of water to combat the heat and walking. I hope that Heineken helped add to that.  Beer must be at least 80% water, right?

As I said before, I felt that whatever happened that day, was supposed to happen, and as we turned the corner, there it was. The Salvador Dali museum, that Gary was interested in seeing.

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí was born in Figuerasthe11 May 1904 and died in the same city 23 January 1989. A painter, sculptor, writer, screenwriter, and considered one of the leading representatives of surrealism and as one of the most famous painters of the 20 th century.

That’s from Wikipedia. My version is that Salvador Dali is a uniting factor in my marriage. What? you say? Yes. I thank Salvador Dali, and in a smaller way Rembrandt. Because Gary loves those artists, and has no problem going into an art gallery and spending time with me, loving the art, and discussing the aspects of this piece and that. “Don’t you love the way you can look at this piece for 5 minutes and continue to see something different” he tells me. Why, yes I do, Gary. Yes I do.

Leaving Dali to his own surrealistic devices, we decided we had time for one more place before we made it home for the evening, and either make a little dinner, or have something in our own “hood”.

OOOOOO LA LA! I was in awe of this historical landmark! To think that Julia Child shopped here as does present day Ina Garten and Anthony Bourdain made me giddy as i went up and down the cramped aisles.

E Dehellerin is the best. I have already made a mental list of “a few little things I might need” the next time I shop here. Copper pots, knives of every kind, baking dishes (some in the shape of the Eiffel Tower), every single gadget and important thing, bain marie’s, giant mixing spoons, and pictures of Julia Child behind the desk. Very helpful staff.

Six months ago, when we decided to go to Paris, I told myself, no frou frou things to fill up my suitcase, No trinkets, no pictures that I will not hang up, no no no. What I wanted to do was buy one thing that was an iconic and lasting thing of France that I could even possibly hand down to my kids.

Enter Langouile knives. They are considered to be some of the finest knives in the world, in design, and in utility. We chose to purchase a matching set of steak knives and forks with pearl handles. I will not share how much they are, but I’m certain both my kids are going to be fighting for them when we are dead and gone, and they (they knives) are mentioned in the will as a bequest. Fortunately we got 10% off, because of going to the cooking class. That saving was enough to have dinner.

Finding one subway connection to another, we were all very happy to see our lovely “14” from Chatelet. A few minutes later we were walking to the local grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.

I love this grocery store. I wish we were lucky enough to have one in walking distance to home. Imagine being able to pick up duck pate, an amazing selection of cheeses, beautiful bread, fresh and crisp veggies, good wine and beer and dish soap just around the corner. We all were a little “peckish” so we definitely enjoyed picking up some charcuterie and cheese, bread and grapes, etc to enjoy with our wine.

A great dinner was made and enjoyed and 10pm caught us all scrambling for sleep.

À demain

This is the basement the cooking store where Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain and Ina Garten shops at. Oh, yes, also Marla Poirier. I shop there too.

This is the basement the cooking store where Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain and Ina Garten shops at. Oh, yes, also Marla Poirier. I shop there too.

dinner in deTolbiac

The knives.

The knives.

The Julie with the spoon I want to buy ... next time.

The Julie with the spoon I want to buy … next time.

Come on. Look at this!

Come on. Look at this!

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Our dinner after a busy day.

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A beautiful painting in Montmarte. We all loved the play of light, but also how representative it was of Paris.

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Paris from the top of the 18th, at Sacré Coeur.

Paris from the top of the 18th, at Sacré Coeur.

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The three amigos.

The genius of Salvador Dali. Although this picture is interesting, it does not do the reality justice.

The genius of Salvador Dali. Although this picture is interesting, it does not do the reality justice.

Chris Whitehead, explorer extraordinaire. Fine connoisseur of good Scotch, and storyteller maximus.

Chris Whitehead, explorer extraordinaire. Fine connoisseur of good Scotch, and storyteller maximus.

Vintage shopping in Montmarte.

Vintage shopping in Montmarte.

Where are we, and how do we get where we want to go? Our common term for "knowing" the right way is the "Pride Bubble". There was a general consensus at this point, so you see three potential pride bubble. My pride bubble was absconded by my guardian angel in the morning, and he went to an unknown location, not to return until later.

Where are we, and how do we get where we want to go? Our common term for “knowing” the right way is the “Pride Bubble”. There was a general consensus at this point, so you see three potential pride bubble. My pride bubble was absconded by my guardian angel in the morning, and he went to an unknown location, not to return until later.

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Art is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. This is the mantra for every art department I've worked in. That and "make it cheap but good."

Art is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. This is the mantra for every art department I’ve worked in.
That and “make it cheap but good.”

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Really explains it all. Sorry Tara. I’m not that wealthy enough to buy some 8b’s for you.

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E. Dehillerin ... a pilgrimage site for foodies.

E. Dehillerin … a pilgrimage site for foodies.

Macarons, The Virgin Mary and a Parisian Cooking Class

When I think of France, the strange, beautiful, sacred and bizarre all become bedfellows. (think Cirque de Soleil, although that’s a Canadian thing) — a green tea and raspberry macaron, or art that bends all current rules, or liking Jerry Lewis, for instance.

It’s all good and wonderful. It’s the juxtaposition of ordinary things, however completely different made unique by their unity.  The passion for uniqueness, the passion for unity. For instance, there’s a series of Starsky and Hutch videos (in French of course) in the living room. Or an old lady walking down the road wearing the newest torn up jeans from Fitz, or taking a English cooking class with Dominican Republican, Australian, and American visitors, or being surprised by the Virgin Mary just around the corner.

The streets yesterday were pretty busy with people, but as we found out at the end of the day, most of Paris were at the Solidarities concert. Apparently 70,000 people hip-hopped to music for a benefit concert. More on that when/if I find out more!

Donna and I have done some research before visiting here. Donna has the Rick Steeves choices figured out and knew exactly where the best macarons could be found. Gary had his GPS on the ready, and I looked for the fastest way to get to the Champs Elysees, and Chris was armed and ready with his fancy pairing camera/phone combination, and is also checking out the best market choices out there. We will have a cooking day, complete with some fine wines.

11am: Off to the races! Down the subway, make a connection, grab Gary’s GPS, so we were aware of the right way to travel to get to Ladurée the finest of macarons, according to Steeves, and Donna and Chris, who have had them before. The lineup was pretty long, (approximately 30 people), but within 10 minutes we were presented with 16 of the most scrumptious, crispy, tangy, bright and crispy macarons you could ever taste. The outer crust gives way to your teeth with a crack to reveal a soft, beautiful scented centre. A variety of flavors from coffee, to rose, raspberry, or ginger lemon. We ate and shared four each and decided it was worth the $50 cdn to experience this.

We had a few hours before our cooking class, and I was certain that if we walked to the Concorde and took the subway to a block away from the La Cuisine Paris, situated right on the Seine, in the Latin Quarter.

But distractions are common in Paris. There are so many beautiful things to see, and like the dog in the movie “UP” (think Squirrel) you must see this or that. I suppose it was fortuitous that the Grand Palais was closed for summer, but right across the street was the Petit Palais. I am suggesting that if you took the Vancouver Art Gallery and multiplied it by 30, you might get the dimensions of the Petit (small!) Palais.

Our plan was to get to the beautiful bridge at the end of the road, but the Petit Palais was free to visit, so off we went, to use the bathrooms, and peruse the art available there.

Everything from Greek Antiquities to art in the 20th century was displayed. Beautiful statuary, woven tapestries and art from the Dutch Masters, French Impressionists (a beautiful Monet and Pissaro) and then…

I walked into the room, and to my left was The Virgin Mary.

Okay, I get it. If you’ve visited European art galleries, that’s no big surprise is it, seeing yet another Madonna and child.  Every art gallery in town that has displays from the 1st century on is going to have a Madonna and Child. At least one. But you have to understand, this particular one was special to me.

This wasn’t an art history situation, like most of the art that I see is. This was purely a love thing. 15 years ago I was creating cards for the Agape Street Ministry, and was looking for good pictures for the outside of the cards. I saw this beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary, holding Jesus, surrounded by Angels. It became my desktop picture, my “favorite” Madonna and child, and I woke up to looking at her for years.

So, imagine my delight when I turned the corner, and there she was. For me, it was like finding a long lost best friend unexpectedly. I didn’t even know the name of the artist, or any information about the painting, because this love of this painting was purely emotional. But today, I’ve found out more…

This is it: Virgin Mary, Adolphe-William Bouguereau, The Virgin With Angels,1900,Petit Palais,Paris.

So after our beautiful, free, surprising visit, it was off to find the Concorde Metro Station.

Normally metro stations are very easy to find. You simply look for the Art Nouveau stylized “Metro” in red metal, and follow the instructions.

However, we walked and walked, got to the Concorde, and nowhere to be found was the metro signs. We looked for around 15 minutes, and then gave up an got a cab. As soon as we were in the cab, I asked the driver, “ou est le metro pour le Concorde? He pointed me in the direction that Chris was walking towards. He has a great nose for direction. Between Gary and his GPS and Chris and his sense of direction, we probably won’t get lost in Paris. Probably.

10 minutes later we were right where we needed to be in the Latin Quarter at our cooking school. We were early enough to enjoy a glass of wine, beer and Donna’s choice, a lovely combination of lemon juice, honey, ginger syrup, and soda water with a side bottle of water. Delicious. I didn’t drink it, but I took a big sniff. It smelled refreshing and soothing at the same time. I think if you had a cold, or a bit under the weather, that drink would be perfect.

The cooking class was not only informative and fun, but also delicious, as we all got to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I am now a master of a beetroot coulis, I wlll have you know, and Donna can strip the silverskin off of a pork tenderloin like a pro and tie up the tenderloin like a butcher. Gary can make Parisian mashed Potatoes, and Chris not only knows what caul fat is, but he’s played with it. Yes, Chris knows how to use it, and now, we all have to source it out when we get to Vancouver.

What did we make? Pour le entrée, a Saint Marcellin rounde aux pistaches hacheés Coulis de Betterave, et pour le plat, Filet Mignon a la Sauge avec Purée de pommes de terre a la francais, et pour dessert, Tartlettes Amandine avec fruits saison, et sauce camarel buerre saie.

Yup, we all rock the French cooking now. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited for dinner. Oh la la.

The day was not finished. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower at night. So, more walk walk walk, use GPS, use Donna’s and Chris’s instincts, and voila…. There she was in all her splendor.  It was then when we found out that there had been a concert a few hours before. Sore feet, bodies tired, and weary, we stood in quiet tired awe at the lights of France’s Eiffel before heading home to our beds, to sleep the sleep of the dead.

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MY madonna.

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Aren’t we fancy making these beautiful tartes.

Donna and Chris Whitehead, our co-travellers.

Donna and Chris Whitehead, our co-travellers.

This Frenchman, after feeding the pigeons, was schooling some young people on the importance of feeding the birds.

This Frenchman, after feeding the pigeons, was schooling some young people on the importance of feeding the birds.

The reception area of La Cuisine of Paris cooking school. In our group were two Australians, two Americans, one young man from Dominican Republic, a Spaniard, and four Canadians. Great group.

The reception area of La Cuisine of Paris cooking school. In our group were two Australians, two Americans, one young man from Dominican Republic, a Spaniard, and four Canadians. Great group.

Lise teaching Gary and Brian on the Sauce and the fried Saint Marcellins...

Lise teaching Gary and Brian on the Sauce and the fried Saint Marcellins…

On the Champs Elysee.

On the Champs Elysee.

Chris and Donna working hard on the filets.

Chris and Donna working hard on the filets.

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At the Notre Dame

At the Notre Dame

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Dusk at the Notre Dame.

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Je suis Charlie, from a Parisian’s eye, and looking for Picasso

LE METRO

We’ve been in Paris for more than a few days now. Today’s the 17th, and we arrived back on the 13th. We needed the 14th to re-adjust ourselves, buy a 5 day tourist/metro pass, (which for the two of us was 70e, around $12cdn a day, which isn’t bad, if you plan on using it. Certainly less expensive than cabs, and gentler on your walking feet.

The Paris Metro is actually a dream, and makes you think what it could be like if Vancouver had a metro transit system similar. The underground snakes through all of Paris. It’s fairly easy to navigate around, and extremely fast. The only downside is the 20-40 minutes that you might be on a subway, you see nothing of the Paris streets or life.

Another option for healthier people than me is the inexpensive bike rentals that are everywhere. You can rent from one place and drop off at another. If I was 20 years younger, I think I might be on that, but not now.

JE SUIS CHARLIE

We had dinner at a new-ish restaurant with Simon, the young man who lives full-time in this apartment with his parents, Rodolphe and Laurence. There’s four children in all and Simon, at 21, is a budding theatre impressario, and is now in Scotland, at a Fringe Festival, looking at talent.

Over dinner, which was steak tartare for Simon, a perfectly cooked salmon avec haricot vert for me, and a “meh” beefsteak for Gary, we discussed being young and in Paris, and what happened in January of this year.

from wikipedia:

On 7 January 2015, two Islamist gunmen forced their way into the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing twelve: staff cartoonists Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski, economist Bernard Maris, editors Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad, guest Michel Renaud, maintenance worker Frédéric Boisseau and police officers Brinsolaro and Merabet, and wounding eleven, four of them seriously.

During the attack, the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) and also “the Prophet is avenged” President François Hollande described it as a “terrorist attack of the most extreme barbarity”. The two gunmen were identified as Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent.

This wasn’t the first time for Charlie Hebdo. They have been the target of attacks several times.

After the attacks, the phrase Je suis Charlie, French for “I am Charlie”, was adopted by supporters of free speech and freedom of expression who were reacting to the shootings. The phrase identifies a speaker or supporter of those who were killed at the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and by extension, a supporter of freedom of speech and resistance to armed threats. Some journalists embraced the expression as a rallying cry for the freedom of self-expression.

Simon was a part of those marches. He said, sadly, that many of his friends are of different religions, some Jewish, some Moslem, non-Christian, and Christian Catholics. He shared with us that during those days with his friends, there was a lot of discussion of what was right and allowable within one’s own faith tradition, and what is was a moral stand. He said that there was no way that they could come to any equal agreement. He said this was sad, and that Paris is no longer the same since these things have occurred.

Certainly, Paris is a city of very diverse cultures and economic states. In some ways it reminds me of my church, which has 74 different countries represented.

This particular Sunday, in the liturgical calendar of my faith (Catholic), it was the Assumption of Mary. In many countries it is considered a Holy Day of Obligation. In some churches, such as a few in Paris, there are special prayerful things attached to this day, and so I embraced the day fully by attending a prayer service and benediction at Rue de Bac, where the Church of the MIraculous Medal is, and then attending Mass at St. Joseph’s near the Arc de Triomphe.

I was in a garden near St. Joseph’s when I heard some people talking in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines) I smiled and said to Gary, “I hear the call of my people” and walked down to where they were. It was Mass at 6:30, and I smiled as I looked at the group around me assembled for Mass. An Irish priest, 80-90% Filipinos, a few African people, some South Asian’s two pews up, some American’s behind me. Just like at home. We even sang the same entrance hymns. “Glory and Praise to our God” The kiss of peace was different though. When in France! I got a kiss on both cheeks. I loved Mass, and then as I exited, with everyone else, there was Gary, who had walked the 280 stairs to the very top of the Arc de Triomph and took more than a few pictures.

LOOKING FOR PICASSO

I was prepared. I had printed out the maps of the Marais district, and how to get to 5 Rue de Thorigny, the Musee de Picasso. Trip Advisor has over 845 reviews, at 4/5. Not bad! And I love Picasso so much. His Blue Period was the basis for my Thesis in Art History.

It took one street right from the beginning, walking out of the #2 subway. One street the wrong way, and in the Marais, you are screwed. Yes there are signs pointing to le musee Picasso here and there. But none of them are actually pointing at a specific street. They point somewhere between the streets. It’s almost as if someone had turned the directional signs 20 degrees one way, so it was really up to you which way to go. And if you don’t know this. Paris is actually built like an escargot, or seashell, so no one street is actually straight and definable from another street. It’s part of the charm. It’s also what made my brain start singing this song, to the tune of Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives.

“We are looking for Picasso…
We’re so smart…
Just looking for Picasso…
Down one street, and left…
NO NO NO NO NO

We saw lots of cool things. Sat in many parks, including the central Place des Vosges. Bought some veggies and fruit and came home, after eating some Halal sandwiches in our neighbourhood.

Then after looking at the computer, and seeing facebook congratulations, we realized it’s our anniversary today. 41 years, and not a clue about what day it is.

I guess we’re going to celebrate tomorrow. After we finally find Picasso.

And have some good eats in a fancy schmantzy French restaurant.

And then I’ll post pictures.

Adieu.

Goodbye

The Plantations of Louisiana / the Chateaux of the Loire

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Louisiana: Oak Alley Plantation

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White Castle Plantation (over 50,000 sq ft) We stayed there one night with one other couple. Eerie.

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Chenonceau gallery to the Chateau

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Blois Chateau

We’ve travelled to Louisiana three times now, and visited more than a few plantations. Every plantation has a similar story, some more embellished than others.

Usually it’s a situation where a wealthy French baron or businessman has some sons, and one or more isn’t the behaving type. Spending too much money in the wrong places, with the wrong people, causing concern and a bad reputation to the good family name.

What to do? Send him to the Americas, to that place in the south. To NEW Orleans, where he can establish a business there, and export money back to the family, ensuring his good favor with family (read father) and perhaps, if he continues to behave, maybe even return to France.

In most cases, there was no return to France. But what did happen is a duplication of what was popular there. Build your family residence (read palace) in the city, where you do small group entertainment and business, and build a monstrous castle in the outskirts (read plantation) where you have thousands of acres of crops and money-making enterprises (read slaves, and to a smaller degree, sugar). In fact, in one case (the Laura Plantation) the plantation owner’s wife (the widow) decided sugar was not nearly as lucrative as slaves, and became one of the worst slave-owners in all of Louisiana, breeding slaves for sale, destroying families (which was against the French code for slavery) and bringing such a horrible reputation to her family that her daughter disowned her own mother.

Another thing I noticed, as visiting Chenonceau, is that they have the same tree-lined gallery going to the Chateau as Oak Alley does in Lousiana. The tree lined avenue in Louisiana brings cooling winds up to the residence, allowing the temperature in the gallery area to be cooler than 10 degrees from the outside. Similar landscaping design and similar lifestyles. Building the smaller but expensively appointed city home and the lavish and over-the-top country homes to entertain.

The very small Laura Plantation is the only “business only” plantation in Louisana. The others not only raised crops, had slaves but also had huge entertainment areas. And it’s one of the only few “honest” plantations you can see today, as they still have the slave quarters to view (not destroyed and glossed over as others)

I am certain that the Chateaux in the Loire had similar purposes. Business, entertainment, deals made and lost, and love affairs and murder. It’s all in the day of a wealthy patron.

The Loire Valley, a tale of two women, and the best darned art show I ever saw in a cave.

There she is! Rosa Bonheur. Self portrait. Gutsy artist for her time!

There she is! Rosa Bonheur. Self portrait. Gutsy artist for her time!

Catherine di medici

O Catherine de Medici, I love you and hate you at the same time!

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O Chenonceau, beautiful chateau of the Loire Valley.

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The chapel at Chenonceau

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It’s called “The Three Graces” but it’s really a portrait of three of the King’s mistresses.

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Portrait of Diane du Portiers, courtesan to King Henry II.

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Here’s a strange tip. It’s hard to get ice and a cooler in France. Not a priority. So, if you want your drinking water cold, simply hold it against the air conditioner for 10 minutes. It will cool down enough to enjoy a cooler sip.

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The grand entrance to Chenonceau reminds me of Louisiana plantation homes.

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Driving down country roads in the Loire, you come across beautiful Chateaux, such as this one.

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Stopping by the Loire River for a short break.

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Sexy legs!

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Big white draft horses. Love them!

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One of the sons of Catherine de Medici’s room.

Inside the Chateau Blois where Catherine di Medici would pray, (just outside of her bed chamber)

Inside the Chateau Blois where Catherine di Medici would pray, (just outside of her bed chamber)

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The king’s chamber.

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The Roman couple, one of the few statues at Blois. Beautifully created.

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Blois Castle. Four distinct architecture styles are merged together.

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Chateau at Blois

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The real thing. Rembrandt Van Rijn, the meditating soldier. I was literally 2 inches away from the painting, contemplating brushstrokes, and then a few feet away, contemplating the magnificent talent.

Since I was 12 years old I wanted to be a famous artist like Rosa Bonheur. She was a woman, amongst so many male artists. And she painted horses. Lots of horses. I lived and breathed horses when I was 12 and wanted to own one, as well as paint them, over and over again.

A critic once said of her “with it there is no need to gallantry; she makes art seriously, and it can be treated as a man. The painting is not for her a variety of petit point embroidery”  I think the demands of motherhood and the daily work of a wife and mother would make it impossible to retreat to your studio and ignore the rest of your life. 

I did attend college, (did not finish) but enjoyed the fine arts, graphics and art history classes that I was a part of. I’m forever grateful to my professors and the time I took to really learn (especially the history) I believe it made me really appreciate the scope of art and architecture that I was able to absorb over the last few days.

Where to start!

BLOIS: Chateau. This is actually a combination of four architectural styles. It took hundreds of years to reach the point where you see it today. It may not be one of the more popular chateaux to visit, but I did my research, and I think this is surely one of the most important, historically.

It was the residence of 7 kings and 10 queens of France! The Royal Chateau of Blois is a site reminiscent of the power and daily life at court in the Renaissance, as do testify the royal apartments, furnished and embellished with magnificent polychromatic decors.

As you walk through the myriad of furnished rooms and artwork, the drama of court life and the stories of these people come alive.

I particularly became entranced with Catherine di Medici. She was an Italian princess, who married a French Prince, heir to the throne. Now, I do not claim to be an historian by any means, but what I learned is that she did give the King three male heirs, lost two twin girls to a horrible childbirth, where the legs of one of the children were broken in utero, and then both children pulled from her both. They both ended up dying, and Catherine never bore any more children. She also endured the several mistresses of her husband, in particular Diane du Poitiers, who her husband trusted in acts of state. Apparently he would sit on Diane’s knee in court, play his guitar and play with her breasts. He had the beautiful Chateau Chenonceaux built for Diane and several of his other mistresses. After his death, Catherine arrived at that Chateau, kicked those women out, put up some religious pictures of Jesus and Mary, and her own portraits of course, redesigned the bridge over the river into a ballroom so his son could have some parties. She also decided to rule France from there, for a period of time.

I’m looking into this particular history more. I find it really fascinating. This also happened during some horrible religious wars. Catherine initially was open to the Protestants and some of the theology that they were bringing forward, but then seriously changed her mind. She was a major player in the St. Bartholemew’s Massacure …. From Wikipedia:

The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, which began two days later, has stained Catherine’s reputation ever since.[43] There is no reason to believe she was not party to the decision when on 23 August Charles IX ordered, “Then kill them all! Kill them all!”[99] The thinking was clear. Catherine and her advisers expected a Huguenot uprising to avenge the attack on Coligny. They chose therefore to strike first and wipe out the Huguenot leaders while they were still in Paris after the wedding.[100]

The slaughter in Paris lasted for almost a week. It spread to many parts of France, where it persisted into the autumn. In the words of historian Jules Michelet, “St Bartholomew was not a day, but a season”.[101] On 29 September, when Navarre knelt before the altar as a Roman Catholic, having converted to avoid being killed, Catherine turned to the ambassadors and laughed.[102] From this time dates the legend of the wicked Italian queen. Huguenot writers branded Catherine a scheming Italian, who had acted on Machiavelli‘s principles to kill all enemies in one blow.[103]

Oh, sweet Lord, Catherine, I was starting to really like you, and being sympathetic to your stand against all those mistresses, and then you get all postal and anti-ecumenical on me! What would Jesus say?

THE LOIRE

Driving country roads along the Loire is not the only way to tour this area. You could skip all that beauty and just stay on the highway. …… NOT.

The challenge of driving country roads is that sometimes you have to be patient. Sometimes you have to stop, pull over, dip your feet into the cool, quickly moving river of the Loire. There can be curves and corners that challenge you as other cars share the one lane between you. I can only imagine a tour bus showing up around one of those corners.

We only visited two Chateaux. We did it in one day though. I looked at many brochures that offered two, three and even four visits to various Chateaux in one day. I can’t imagine that. I think two was enough. And if I had even more time, I’d have only done one, and absorbed even more.

Because I was limiting us to two chateaux to visit, I chose Chenonceau and Blois. There are so many beautiful chateaux to visit, but Blois was important historically and Chenonceau has an amazing story and is to my eye, the most amazing (although it’s really not that large.) The most famous of all the chateaux is Versailles, but I just could not bring myself to standing in hours long lineups.

Apparently Chenonceau is called the Chateaux of the women, because of the many mistresses, (and queen Catherine de Medici, of course) who resided there. One of my favorite things about this place was the basement. (kitchen) As a cook, I could appreciate the myriad of ovens and pantries, the bouchon (butchery) and the room that the servants broke bread together. As it was over 30c that day, I thought how extremely hot that room must have been, as several cooks labored over stuffed quail and roast pig with rosemary, and breads of every sort, and sweets. Unimaginable.

ACKERMANS

Two days from now, Gary and I celebrate 41 years together as man and wife, or woman and husband. Oo la la. Over most of those forty years, we’ve celebrated at the same restaurant, and drank the same bottle of wine. Ackerman’s vin rose. As it turns out, it appears we are way more French than we thought, because in August, the rose wine is THE wine to drink. There were many years I felt a little foolish ordering a rosé when really that wine had gone out of favor with wine drinkers. We all embraced the deep, smoky, rich reds such as the Shirah, Barolo, and  others. But tradition is tradition.

As such, it was a no-brainer, that while in the Pays du Loire, we would visit the Ackerman’s winery and caves in Saumur, west of Tours.

Ackerman’s produces several sparkling and still wines from local grapes, of course, and employ a champagne method for their sparkling wine. We went on the wine tour (in Francaise) but were able to pick up much of what the absolutely lovely tour guide had to say. We were already familiar with the method used for creating that lovely bubbly wine, as we’ve been on more than a few wine tours.

But the beautiful surprise was at the end, when we were able to go through the caves area that some artists used to build a fantasy installation that literally blew our minds. We loved the play of color and light and themes that they used to pull us into a world simply unimaginable. (At least in MY imagination, thank God for theirs!)  Gary and I played down there for such a long time, that when we entered the purchasing and tasting area, we realized the rest of the group were already halfway through the tastings. No problem, though, the Ackerman’s staff were more than happy to help us choose several wines.

I chose another Sancerre, as well as five other bottles, which we will have to drink before we leave? Quelle domage. Too bad. So sad. Do you want some cheese with that wine?

Mais oui! Yes please!

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The Rembrandt. I had to upload this, because the non-use of flashes does not do our actual picture justice at all.

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More of the kitchen at Chenonceau

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Gathering entrance at Blois Chateau

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A show and shine at Ackerman’s in Saumur

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Art exhibit in the caves.

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Just a small representation of the art exhibit. Amazing.

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Lovely tour guide, Marion.

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Upside down wine glasses illuminated by led.

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Inside the caves. A representation of wine storage. (just for tour) The actual wine storage is extremely large.

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Wines of the Loire Valley

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The Winery Ackerman, one of the first wineries of the Loire to produce enough to sell internationally.

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I wanted more than anything to get a full field of sunflowers. Of course they were everywhere, but this was taken at 130km an hour, the slowest we stopped during this section. Insert sad face here and and cheese to my whining.

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More of the car show at Ackermans.

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It wasn’t a big show and shine. I think what it really was were around 12 car enthusiasts on a trip together. Very nice.

Le Mans to Blois

Today was a short drive. We stayed at an IBIS hotel, which I really recommend. It’s not expensive, the staff at that particular one (in Le Mans Centre) were very friendly, efficient and funny. We had a nice room with two very comfortable twins that sort of made a king. The room was very clean, which is a big priority with us. If all IBIS hotels are like this, it’s worth booking there. The price was ridiculously inexpensive. It did not have air conditioning, but I think 90% of hotels in France don’t. Most of the time the weather is temperate. I think we North Americans are a little fixated on ice, air conditioning and king sized beds.

LE MANS

The race track and adjoining museum and gift store is almost a religious experience for most men and more than some women. I watched that look of adoration and almost rapture, as all eyes were on the racing motorcycles as they sped around the LeMans track like a bunch of angry hornets. I’m not being facetious. The history of this track, and the science behind these racing vehicles and motorcycles is very interesting and important.

I saw lots of bonding situations between boys and dads. It was sweet watching them. Gary was in his heaven. We were just lucky to be in LeMans on the day that the motorbikes were racing and preparing for a big race. He watched the motorcycles prepare and learn how to join the pack, and curl around those tight curves with angles that defy gravity. He was just …. so happy.

Afterwards we hit the toy store … oh, no, the gift shop. And he tried on shirts like a happy bride to be approaching her wedding day. But he was also sticky and hot, so after trying on more than a few, he chose and we were off.

147 km to Blois. Mostly on freeway. One toll. We made the gigantic mistake, and I’m sharing so this never happens. Never, ever, assume that a lineup for tour buses can be entered with a car. You will be billed $20 EURO for the toll, instead of probably $2. A lesson learned. ALSO, re tolls, always make sure you don’t enter the toll lineup for CARTE. You have to have a local card for that. We messed up there too. But not bad, considering we have gone through probably 20 toll booths at least, and the tolls have added up more than diesel. We both agree though, these tolls are used by the people who use these amazing roads and it’s worth it. The highways are smartly engineered, and really fast. I think Gary’s top speed on our Mergano was around 155. But it was over the speed limit quite a bit. …. following the traffic… following the traffic.

Thanks to our trusty English gentleman who lives in the GPS, we were able to find our hotel. He insisted we were there. But we couldn’t see it. Found it after walking around the corner and the friendly girl at the desk gave us the key to our room. But wait, our room. Cue the scary music used to frighten people who have anxiety disorder.

The room was small enough to spike Gary’s fear of small places, so he went downstairs, and for $40 euro more got us an amazing room, which we are enjoying right now. And although all those castles beckon, we are going to stay here in the room and lie back and chill until they kick us out, John Lennon and Yoko style.

Peace out and where’s that wine…

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I was impressed by the Ibis hotel. It’s an economy chain that offers the bare minimums. However, their restaurant offered chopped limousin beef with a choice of veggies or pasta and a lovely potatoes Anna for a reasonable price.

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The original room in Blois was too small to shake a cat in, so we upgraded for 40 euros more and got a beautiful suite. The bathroom was the size of the previous room. The shape of the room would not suit tall people, but for Gary and I it was perfect. As well, I took pictures, because I have a room exactly this shape, and It gave me some ideas.

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Back in the ’60s people would tour Europe in Magic Buses. The hippie trail was the name given to the overland journey taken by members of the hippie subculture and others from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s between Europe and South Asia, mainly India and Nepal. The hippie trail was a form of alternative tourism, and one of the key elements was travelling as cheaply as possible, mainly to extend the length of time away from home. This bus reminded me of that era.

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This picture demands an explanation. Although we didn’t take a picture of the description, it is exactly the vehicle we need to punch a road through to the cabin.

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Part of the charm of travelling by car is stopping whenever you want and having a picnic at one of the many rest stops along the main highways, or just on the side of the road by a farm. We found a Super U which is a grocery store, and enjoyed picking out various cheeses and pastries. At the same time I was impressed by the many unusual foods that were available, such as four different kinds of chicken.

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This particular village had won an award for improving their town through the addition of flowers. And boy did they.

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Almost every window in the town was adorned with a beautiful flower arrangement

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This town didn’t just look lovely, it smelled lovely!

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I think one of the best parts of touring by car is not going by highway, but choosing the road less travelled.

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Choosing roads “less travelled” sometimes means you have to be patient. This lovely driver did finally find a place where we could pass.

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After seeing thousands of fields like this, I wanted one visual to remember them by.

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Training a horse to pull a cart takes patience.

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A most beautiful room

You know what they say about pictures. Worth a thousand words, etc. I’m just too damn wordy not to say something about Domaine D’Archange in Dragey. The hostess is a lovely french only speaking lady. We managed between smiles and a little French to get everything settled. I have only one complaint, no two. One is that we didn’t book for another day because I would love to just sit in that garden and do nothing but sit in that garden and play with the dogs. Two of the cutest French spaniels you could ever meet. Even if we didn’t speak the same language, Dog Gestures did just fine. I got down on my haunches and it was if I was their long lost relative! The only other complain is that the shower, (which is huge) didn’t have a glass separator door, so water did spray onto the floor.

Breakfast made us both feel like we were royalty. I’m sad that I don’t have a picture of the amazing table and food that we had. Fresh bread, pain du chocolate, fresh fruit, cheese, charcuterie, including pate, the best coffee and good company. (Some Flemish people who told us we must visit Bruges)

So here’s the pictures, which don’t do it any justice. The graveyard pictures are from the church next door. Gary tried to get into the church again. Heck, he can come to mine anytime. Don’t know why he’s obsessed with French Churches. Maybe it’s his latent genes talking to him.

 

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Other half of bedroom. All gold and white, with fireplace and alligatored custom paint on the walls.

Other half of bedroom. All gold and white, with fireplace and alligatored custom paint on the walls.

Half of the bedroom. Gary counted 50 separate lights in the room. Two piece separate bath.

Half of the bedroom. Gary counted 50 separate lights in the room. Two piece separate bath.

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The painted front gate with obligatory fleur de lis

The painted front gate with obligatory fleur de lis

The entrance to Domain du l'archange. (Home of the Archangel)

The entrance to Domain du l’archange. (Home of the Archangel)

 

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