debbieahlers

Debbie and Ken's Excellent Adventure – we take off…..


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My Last Post – Part Two – We’re Homeward Bound, Again

A final week for this trip and it has sped by. Robin Hood Quiz (Trivia) game (“our” team won! – Ken and I just watched: we are definitely not the target audience for the questions), and a BIG “Thank you” dinner for Michael and Odile at Pastis, a fabulous restaurant, recommended by my food and wine expert: Geoffrey. It did not disappoint. We wanted to do something very special for Michael and Odile, our very gracious hosts for the month (including Lauren). They have been wonderful sharing their flat with us. It made all things possible this trip. Pastis has a chef’s “surprise”, 5 course with wine pairings dinner: a true French experience. We were a bit concerned, well not Ken, of course (LOL), that it would be too much food, but, since each course was a small work of art and taste, it was exactly the right amount. I can’t even begin to describe the ingredients or the wine pairings (which went from the local to end with a beautiful Riesling from Germany with the dessert), but it was a meal I will never forget.

Red tuna and onions

Red tuna and onions

Of course we didn’t start until after 8, when they open, and it went on for almost 4 hours.
Cheese and fruit course

Cheese and fruit course

The restaurant, with only a few tables, was filled, even with some younger people, which surprised me, as it was not the least expensive meal we’ve ever eaten. We had so much fun and it was good to spend some time with Odile and Michael in that setting, and with that experience. We owe them so much. We will miss them and hope they come and spend some time at our place in SC.
Dessert with mint ice cream

Dessert with mint ice cream

A final night with BJ and the gang from InterNations, which BJ organizes on Wednesday nights, first at a little tea and chocolate shop that her friends own (and where we had a wonderful homemade dinner), B’Cosse, and then on to Le Clandestin, a wine bar, for wine and talk.

Thursday we had a treat visiting our landlords from last time, Annie and Gilles, who own a 15th Century B&B in St Pons de Thomieres, a small town a couple of hours from Montpellier, near the mountains. It was good to get out into the country for the day (a tram and 3 buses on the outbound, a bus and a train and tram on the inbound: an adventure and challenge to get to our destination without getting lost or abandoned: no tourists or English on the buses, of course). Gilles took us for a quick tour of the town, where we saw houses with “1581” carved into the marble arched doorways to signify when they were erected. To get through the little historic streets and its turns, even though Gilles has the typical SMALL car, he had to collapse the side mirrors to fit through the narrow streets (which we did very slowly and carefully so as not to scratch the car). Guess they didn’t allow for the width of cars when they built the streets in the 1500’s!

St Pons

St Pons

Old Market, now a 2nd hand shop

Old Market, now a 2nd hand shop

Annie and Gilles, as well as Flo, Annie’s daughter, who we had met last time we were here, treated us to an afternoon in their home where the wine was flowing (as well as a pastis for Ken) and the meal was many coursed, delicious and beautifully served. We had many interesting discussions, even though they had not used their English since we had been there last. The afternoon passed quickly and we were glad we had re-connected with them.
With Annie and Flo

With Annie and Flo

With Gilles, Annie and Flo

With Gilles, Annie and Flo

Friday, another get together at the BookShop, where we met some of our friends, including Alex and Saphia, and then out to a delightful dinner with BJ.

Saturday, 2 friends from home, who are staying in France for 3 months, some of the time in a town near us, come for a visit and also to see some relatives who are here. We spend a delightful afternoon with them, lunching outdoors for 3 hours (consuming 2 bottles of wine, of course) and walking around a bit. Wonderful to hear all about their experiences (they have seen many small towns and landmarks near them) and kind of weird to see friends from SC in our world here. BUT, how absolutely awesome to be sitting outside in perfect weather in the historic district enjoying the atmosphere and connecting with stories of all of our adventures. Scott has been working on his French and his accent is impressive. Glad they are making the most of their experience.

Shayne and Scott - friends from home

Shayne and Scott – friends from home

A quick note about all these extremely long meals: the wait staff in restaurants are well paid and only a small tip of a euro or two or three is all that is expected, if anything (even on $100 tab). Since they don’t have to worry about turning the table to get more tips, everyone is content to let the patrons just sit and enjoy. They do not even come with the check until you ask for it! Really makes for a different eating experience.

Time is quickly fleeing. Tomorrow is Cooking Club at Geoffrey’s (theme Is “Fresh, Seasonal and Whatever You Can Find at the Outdoor Market”: French cooking at its best!). Monday, a final Barbu card game and dinner at BJ’s. Tuesday we get ready to catch our flight early Wednesday morning.

Some final thoughts, as this will be my last post for this current adventure: we have decided to research how we can come back for an extended period of time (9 months? A year or two?), but we are torn, as it feels like home, BUT, there is a wide, wonderful world out there to still be explored (plus, there are many issues with visas, taxes, healthcare, etc. etc.). We love living here, especially being with the people who mean so much to us. We have learned the difference between experiencing a foreign land not as a tourist, but as locals. Of course you know which experience we prefer. That all being said, Life happens, and who knows what the future will bring. We feel very blessed that we got to do this at all, and hope to be back. So, thanks again for following my blog, and stay tuned……

At InterNations party

At InterNations party


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Settling In and Don’t Want to Leave!

It’s been a busy time and the days (and nights) are flying by. Don’t want to leave!

Barbu (French card game) at BJ’s with Ken and Lauren, with many stories from BJ that were funny and interesting. Lauren leaves early the next morning to catch a 6:00 AM flight home. So sad to see her go.

That night is Cooking Club with Geoffrey. We decided to do as a theme: “Spontaneity and Serendipity” (my Culinary Questers Cooking Club: sort of ala Kathy Decker, as a tribute to her…remember her wonderful hosting with no recipes?). We just bring ingredients (mostly from the outdoor market or specialty shops) and throw them together. Everything was delicious. I was so happy, as I’ve waited two years to cook with Geoffrey. Definitely worth the wait!

Cooking Club with Geoffrey

Cooking Club with Geoffrey


Dom is a new addition to our group. He’s from the U.K. and brings a wonderful creamy chocolate, almost a tarte, but not as solid. Ken and I brought, among other things, a Chateau Neuf du Pape. Usually sells for $80 in the States. We found it here for under $15! It is like liquid velvet, especially paired with the cheeses Geoffrey provided: Comte, Morbier, St. Marcellin, Brillat Savarin a la truffle, and Roquefort.
Cheeses

Cheeses

The Morbier was interesting: it’s the one with the streak in the middle. They take the milk from the morning, make cheese from that, put ash on top (the streak) and then take the milk from the afternoon and make cheese for the top. The Brillat savarin a la truffle was like nothing I’ve ever had. The outside looks like brie, but it is so creamy and delicious, especially paired with the Chateau Nuef du Pape. Heaven for our mouths! I also learn that the Roquefort, the blue cheese, is an artisan one, as opposed to my favorite one here that I have found: Papillion (means butterfly – its symbol). Papillion is made industrially. It is still wonderful. We cannot get it in the States due to the ban on certain molds used to make the cheese. We get home late, almost 1:30 and catch the last tram.

The next night is the “Quiz” (Trivia Night) at the Robin Hood. Our favorite bar from last time. Alex, Asaf, Monica (Monica’s parents who are visiting) and Alexander all meet us there. We have lots of fun and Ken and I remember those Monday nights from last time we were here fondly. We get 4th place, mostly due to the younger members on our team knowing all the contemporary questions. The quiz doesn’t even start until 10:00, so another late night. It’s just the culture here. The restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8 or 8:30. We are adjusting to this new timing extremely well.

I notice I am speaking French more (definite plug for immersion programs) and people are responding to me in French and not automatically responding in English. I am still TERRIBLE, especially with my Midwest twang accent, but I can sort of get my point across. If we come back to live, we will really have to become fluent, I think. For a month or two or three, you can get by, but, especially if we buy property here, we will have to be able to operate within the language.

My brother, Gordie, and his new wife, Darlina arrive for a visit.

Darlina and Deb

Darlina and Deb

Gordie

Gordie

We introduce them to a restaurant that was our favorite last time we were here: Saveurs et Sens. (Flavors and Sense). We have a wonderful evening with outstanding food and wine. Much less expensive than a similar meal in the States.
Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

Thin sliced beef appetizer

Thin sliced beef appetizer

Dessert

Dessert


We start with an “Amuse Bouche” (amusement for the mouth) to get things started.
The appetizers (called “Entrees”) include extremely thinly sliced beef or salmon with all
sorts of interesting things on top. (Don’t ask me what they were, but they were delicious).
There was also a foie gras with a pesto sauce in a little shot glass. For our main dish, “Plats”, I had a duck breast with the best risotto I’ve ever had in my life. There was chateaubriand, that was outstanding, for the guys. Darlina had some sort of cod that looked divine and was delicious. Desserts, of course were marvelous, as was the wine. A true French meal.

On Thursday, we are in for a real treat. Maugan, Michael and Odile’s son, is giving a concert with his band (L)OUD. Another thing I’ve been waiting to do since the last time. We love his music (as did Lauren), and he was the one whose studio Lauren and I got to go to when she was here. Every time I play his CD at home for friends, they all request it first thing the next time they are over. Think he would be a sensation in the States. Michael and Odile are there, of course, as well as the keyboarder’s (Michael) parents, Nigel and Karen (who we met 2 years ago). Nice to catch up with them and they have brought some of their visitors to the concert, too. Odile has many of her choir friends attending, so it’s a lot of introductions and the standard 3 kisses on alternating cheeks/trying to communicate in halting French. A lot of fun, but the best part was the concert, of course. It takes place in a small place that sells wine/beer, so I of course plant myself right up front to really focus on the music. The guys sound even better than they did 2 years ago! What a treat to get to see them play!

(L)OUD with Maugan and Michael

(L)OUD with Maugan and Michael

The days are still passing quickly. We show Gordie and Darlina around our “home” city, and they both are very impressed by the urban planning, how easy it is to get around, the vibe of the town, and just the general atmosphere. They both can see how we have come to fall in love with this place.

We take them 30 min. away (by train) to Nimes, which we have never been to. It’s a beautiful town and you can really see the Spanish influence (most of the towns in Southern France were founded by the Romans, except for Montpellier, but the borders shifted continually, so some of the cities were in Spain at one time). Nimes is the only city allowed to fight the traditional bull fight (where the bull is actually killed). They have a venue that looks like the coliseum in Rome, so it all seems very authentic. We have lunch in a delightful little café which serves tapas, off the beaten path, even ordering bull steak (tastes like a beef bourguignon, with a slightly unusual undertone – it was actually pretty good).

Nimes

Nimes

That night we go to a concert in Montpellier at a wonderful venue called the Corum. (Montpellier has two such places: one new and modern, the Corum, and one old and traditional: the Opera House). Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Dvorak were on the program. The city orchestra is wonderful and the conductor gets many encores. No worries about translations…Music: the universal language.

City Orchestra

City Orchestra

As we walk home from the concert after the long day, I get a text from Geoffrey: he had been at the concert, too! Would have been fun to meet up with him there. Then I hear my name being called (with a French accent, of course) and it’s Alex and Alexander out with some friends at an outdoor café that we are walking past (remember, this is late at night in Southern France and someone is calling my name!). The next day, as we walk toward the Outdoor Market, we run into Asaf and Monica parking their car near there to run some errands. This all sort of blows my mind: we keep running into people that we know when we are out and about. We are a part of this community!

We wind down Gordie and Darlina’s visit with making dinner together with items we have purchased at the Outdoor Market. A little more sightseeing today and they are on their way home. It’s been a nice visit.

The trip for us, too, is starting to wind down as we leave so soon! It has been speeding by, especially compared to last time when we were here a lot longer. This week is jammed packed with varied social events with friends each day and evening. I will write about them in my next, and probably last, posting.

For now, just a few thoughts that have been running around in my head. Ken and I like to talk and dream about what our future might look like. We love where we live in SC and the friends and life we have there, but we definitely want to consider trying to come here for a year or two. Michael has been wonderful about supplying us with real estate booklets! There are many tax and visa issues, but we think they are worth looking into. Who knows? It’s good to have information to be able to make a decision.

And of course, who knows what life will bring? Weddings, grandkids, health issues, etc. etc. One step at a time. For now, just living in the present, feeling very blessed to experience what we have been able to experience up until now.


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FEELING MORE AND MORE AT HOME

As I walk around the city or jump on the trams, it feels more and more like “home”. Different, but also comfortable and familiar. Little things still interesting (like they call WiFi, “Wee Fee” due to their alphabet’s sounds), and yet not as much different feeling as the first time: it’s all about the people, our friends, and just living our lives in such an environment that we are not used to.

Friday night was dinner and Music Night at BJ’s. This was wonderful. We all brought something and just chatted and “grazed”. One of my favorite friends, Geoffrey, was there, and since it was the first time I’d seen him in 2 years, I was delighted that he was able to attend.

Music Night Dinner

Music Night Dinner


A yummy cold cucumber soup made by BJ, some dips/tapenade with bread and rice crackers (for the gluten free in the crowd), wonderful cheeses and Geoffrey’s delicious chocolate mousse for dessert. Lots of wine, of course. The perfect French dinner! The music portion of the evening was delightful. Lots of singing, guitar playing and Geoffrey on his sweet sounding oboe. I kept thinking that this was the perfect evening, and I was enjoying it all so much. BJ is always a wonderful host and makes it all look easy and seem comfortable. Since it was fairly late by the time we were done, and the trams were running further and further apart (or not at all), we decided to walk most of the way home. A beautiful evening and Geoffrey walked with us until it was time to turn into his neighborhood. By that time, the tram had come to the station we were at and Lauren and I jumped on to get home. A wonderful memorable evening.

One item that I loved on BJ’s table: the olive oil spray.

Olive Oil Spray

Olive Oil Spray

It doesn’t spray in a fine mist, but in just the right amount for putting on vegetables, bread, or anything else, without pouring a big glob or having to use your finger to narrow the flow. What a great idea!

Olives at Outdoor Market

Olives at Outdoor Market

The next morning, we go to a wonderful open air market (we would call it a Farmers’ market). It feels like a celebration and the food is abundant and all local, of course.

Besides what we usually have at our Farmers’ markets, they also have refrigerated cases for meat and fish. This market is every Tues. and Sat. and where a lot of people buy all of their food.

Meat Cases at Outdoor Market

Meat Cases at Outdoor Market

When we got home, it was Lauren’s turn in the kitchen, and she uses ingredients on hand. A wonderful brunch on the terrace.

Lauren's brunch on the terrace

Lauren’s brunch on the terrace

Saturday night we met up with Saphia, Mounia’s twin, who was new in town. I met Mounia 2 years ago and have kept in contact with her. She is now in grad school in another part of France. We took Saphia under our wing. We went for dinner at the “Kafelin”: a cat café! You eat/drink and then play with the cats in the café. An interesting concept and I’ve heard of these types of cafes springing up in NYC and LA, maybe?

Cat Club

Cat Club

Lauren and Saphia at Cat Club

Lauren and Saphia at Cat Club

Hairless cat

Hairless cat


They have about 6-8 cats, including a completely hairless one (see above): interesting and unique.

After the weekend, Lauren and I jumped on a train to Barcelona, which is only about 3 hours away. We stayed in an air bnb in a good location. It was really cheap ($27/person/night), including our own private bathroom. It worked out well. We had a wonderful 3 days playing tourist. I had been to Barcelona 3 years ago, but it was fun to show it to Lauren. Everything in Spain is fairly inexpensive, so we ate and drank good wine for very low prices. We walked and walked and also used the subway. Everything was safe, even late at night, as there is a definite police presence. That’s another great thing about Europe: everything is so close. It’s so easy to just go to another country, sort of like our going from IL to WI. So many people travel around and have a much more cosmopolitan viewpoint.

Back to Montpellier by mid evening from Spain and with nothing in the house for groceries, Lauren and I go out to eat in Montpellier, just choosing a random little restaurant at 10 PM. We eat outside, late at night, leisurely, surrounded by the old city’s buildings, walls, and streets. So French! The meal is not that expensive and was delicious. I am getting better about using my limited French and making myself understood. It feels like an accomplishment.

Michael and Odile have been at the flat while we were gone and have left a great drying rack for the laundry. Remember: no dryers (too much electricity), so I am thrilled and call it my big “Bad Boy” dryer.
I have trouble originally figuring out how to set it up, but when I do: voila! So much more space to dry. I’m thrilled! (Funny, it’s the little things that please me so much.)

Bad Boy Drying Rack

Bad Boy Drying Rack

Ken arrives the next day from the States, jet lagged, and tired, but glad to be back in Montpellier. I’m so happy he has arrived so we can once again share this experience together.

Friday night we go to a big InterNations party that BJ is in charge of, as she is the Ambassador of the local chapter. InterNations is a worldwide organization that provides a structure for people from other countries to meet with the locals and each other. It is free to join. It is also where we met a lot of our friends originally. The event was a celebration of InterNations’ 8 year anniversary of being in existence. There were about 80 people from all over the world spilling out into the street: old/young and in-between. I talked to people from Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, Poland, Israel, the States, Britain, France, etc. etc., sometimes in halting French, sometimes in their halting English, and sometimes just acting things out: the universal language. I of course loved getting the traditional greeting: 3 kisses on alternating cheeks (2 kisses in Paris, 3 down here in Southern France) from all the young men in attendance! It felt like this is so where I want to be at this moment (not just because of the kisses, of course…LOL).

Busy week coming up: tonight, playing Barbu (French card game) at BJ’s, tomorrow, Cooking Club at Geoffrey’s, next night: Trivia game (they call it “the quiz” and questions are in both French and English, at our favorite hang out bar near our old flat). On Wednesday, my brother and his wife come to visit for a few days and we’re off to see my favorite musician, Maugan, and hear his band play.

I feel like I’m getting into the rhythm of my life here more, and really enjoying it, even the second time around. What does that mean going forward? I don’t know, but it is definitely something on my mind.

Bisous, my Blog Buddies. Thanks for visiting and being interested in my experiences here. More in about a week or so……


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At Home in Montpellier

Despite the angst of worrying about if Tropical Storm Erika was going to become a hurricane and strike our area just when I was trying to leave for France, all my travels went smoothly. The airline changed my flights, without penalty due to the storm potential, to go in a day early. Yay! An extra day!

My daughter Lauren, who had come in a few days before, met me at the tram and showed me the way to my new home for the next month. We are staying at our friends’ Michael and Odile’s flat for the duration. They are mostly staying at their main house in St.Chinian, being very generous by providing us shelter while we are here.

Lauren has already become acclimated as I had set her up with some of my friends to do things with before my arrival. She seems like a native already. For me, I am curious how I will feel this second time around.

Things look familiar and yet a little different as I get used to my new environment. The familiar part is comforting and feels like coming “home”. The different part is that I’ve forgotten a few things in the 2 years since I’ve been here, some things have changed (construction of a new tram line, so a lot of the streets are torn up, but the construction on the train station is finished and it looks great), and I’m living in a different side of town. It’s not as “exciting and new”, as the first time. I feel more confident about knowing how to operate my life here and seeing the people who are so important to me: a very different focus than what I experienced the first time.

So, arrival day was just unpacking and recovering. Wednesday was going to the grocery store near where we’re staying, where Lauren and I met our first challenge: unhooking the shopping cart to be able to use it.

Shopping cart

Shopping cart

They are all attached and we couldn’t figure out how to extract one. Some nice lady, who didn’t speak a word of English (remember, I hardly speak any French, but I try and stumble), showed us that you need to insert a little red chip (which costs 1 Euro) to have the cart get loose. After we did that, she let us keep her red chip to use in the future!

Cart in hand, we now peruse the aisles for delicious fruits and vegetables, cheeses, wine, etc. etc. We make our first lunch and eat out on the terrace overlooking a nice green space in the back of our flat.
lunch

At 5:00 we go to meet up with old friends: BJ, Alex, Asaf, etc. I am so happy to see them again. I feel like I have never left. We gather at a new venue: a little tea and chocolate shop owned by some of BJ’s friends. I have a spiced ice tea that is unusual, delicious, and refreshing. A little chocolate accompanies it: lime and ginger filling in a small dark chocolate square. We are then off to Le Clandestine: a little wine bar that we are regulars at on Wednesday evenings. We sit outside, of course, as the weather is PERFECT: mid-70’s during the day, dry, sunny, with cool mid-60’s at night. What I call “dream weather”: you don’t notice it as it is so comfortable.

The next day we meet friend Charlotte at a central point for lunch at 2. Charlotte is due with her first child in 2 weeks, so we had to meet her early in our visit before the baby comes. She looks beautiful and glowing. We have a nice visit and a delicious lunch sitting outside, of course. We discuss all the different customs around childbearing here in France. Of course with socialized medicine, everything is paid for. For a normal birth, mom stays in the hospital for 3 days and then they are required to stay at home and tend the baby for 2.5 months before they can enroll them in day care, have a nanny, or take them to someone’s home to have them looked after (this is called a noo-noo).

After that we have a real highlight: one of my favorite musicians, Maugan, Michael and Odile’s son, who we used to go to listen to in different clubs when we were here last, has agreed to pick us up at the tram stop near his studio, which is in a small town on the outskirts of Montpellier. He takes us to his studio, which is in the basement of his house. Now remember, this house must be hundreds of years old. The basement is all stone and arches with very modern recording and editing equipment stuck in little crannies. Maugan plays some of his new stuff and revisions of old stuff. We love being the private audience. He is very eclectic: pop, rock, blues, soul, etc. He and Lauren really connect about the music, as it is one of her passions, too. We both feel that the American audience would really like his style and voice.

Maugan's dog

Maugan’s dog

He and his girlfriend have a cute little dog: a breed that we have never seen before. The dog (and I can’t pronounce or remember his name or his breed’s name) is very sweet.
We come back late and make dinner at around 8:30: very French. One of the things that I notice when cleaning up after dinner is that Odile has 3 racks in her dishwasher, the top being for silverware. I love this, as it frees up space and also washes the silverware better.
dishwasher
So today is Friday and the days are filled and quickly passing. We are meeting some friends at the English Book Shop and then have been invited to BJs for dinner and music night. We are all bringing something to contribute and any musical instruments we have. Geoffrey will be there tonight and I am very excited to see him again. He and I have already set up 2 “Cooking Club” dates, so we make sure we have time to do that during my visit.

That’s it for now. We’ll probably go to Sete or Palavas tomorrow as Lauren wants to see the Mediterranean Sea, which is only about 15 kilometers from here. We leave for Barcelona early Monday morning for 3 days. More when I return from Spain.

Bisous (means “kisses” in French) to all!


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Montpellier, France – Part Two

Well, it’s been two years since my last post. In the time since we left Montpellier,
we have moved to Beaufort, SC and started our “retired” life here. It’s a great place, we have made many friends and are enjoying our new environment (including no winters like what we experienced in the Midwest). We know how to adjust to a new place/life partly because of our experiences in France. (Although it’s a bit easier here, as everyone speaks English. LOL) .

Our new neighborhood

Our new neighborhood

I feel I have changed due to what we learned in Montpellier and have been much more open to new experiences and opportunities because of what we discovered about ourselves there. We befriended some Navy guys who were just showing up to serve their tour here in SC and started a cooking club with them. (Never would have thought to hang with mid-20 somethings, but since it worked so well in France, thought I’d try it here.) .

Navy Guys' Cooking Club

Navy Guys’ Cooking Club

It’s been great and feel like we’re a bit like family. Have also taught an adult enrichment class on “3 Months Living Like a Local in Southern France” about our experiences that I wrote about in this Blog. It was very well received, and I was asked back to teach it again.

But, something keeps tugging me back to our “life” in Montpellier. It is mostly the people who we met and connected with. There were about half a dozen with whom I have kept in contact with in the past 2 years, through email and SKYPE. I seem compelled to spend more time with them in person again.

I feel like we are in a “sweet spot” and should try and explore these things now. We do not yet have grandchildren, elderly parents to deal with, or any health problems. Now’s the time and I want to seize the moment!

We can only get away for a month this time (seems too short, but I’ll take what I can get and feel very blessed that I can do this at all), and hopefully will be able to go again, and for a longer time period, a year from now.

I know it all will be different this time, as it won’t be entirely new, like last time. It will be interesting to see how we feel about it as the month progresses. I invite you to follow my posts, so I can share what I learn in this newest chapter of our retirement life.

So hang on to your hats as we take off again….th[3]


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My Last Post…We’re Homeward Bound

Well, this will be my last post for our Immediately-After-Retiring-Adventure Blog. We leave in a few days from France to start our journey home. It’s been an incredible experience, and we have loved every minute of it.

So, to update since my last post… Had two cooking club meetings since the last time I checked in. At the first one I learned three things: including butternut squash in lasagna (the guy who made it is vegetarian) is a surprising addition. This gave it a hearty feel in the mouth without using meat and was delicious. Also, a simple dessert of Clementine orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon and a little brown sugar (only granulated here) is easy and wonderful. In addition, when making chocolate covered strawberries, Chris, our host, used a combination of both dark and milk chocolate. Neither one by itself was “right”, but the combo did the trick. Great cooking – taste and adjust. Unfortunately didn’t take any pictures, as again, was just “living” the experience, not being a tourist.

Couch Surfer Andrew  from Australia

Couch Surfer Andrew
from Australia


At the second get together, we had another addition to our group. Andrew, from Australia, was traveling through from London and Spain on his way back to Sydney (with a stop in Africa and Asia). He was “couch surfing” on our host’s couch. This is how a lot of young people travel these days. There is a website where you can find out about available “couches”, for very cheap. It helps the host make a little money, so a win/win for all. Andrew is only 24 and is traveling by himself. A very different world than when I was growing up. We meet so many different people here from all over. We never experience that in the Midwest….too isolated. (Ken was asked at a club we were at last Friday night listening to some music with some friends about what a “washroom” was….the guy who asked him spoke perfect/unaccented English and was from Estonia and had heard Ken talking in “American”. He had a bet going as to the meaning with the woman he was sitting with, who was from Columbia….and here we were sitting in southern France! Talk about diversity!)

Cooking club table

Cooking club table


So, getting back to the food: a wonderful and simple appetizer: Brie with maple syrup and honey over it, with pecans, and heated…delicious! Geoffrey made a colorful and delicious Asian cole slaw. I was impressed he could find rice vinegar and miso. He seems to have a knack for finding uncommon specialty items here.

5 cheeses

5 cheeses

Geoffrey also is our cheese expert. He selected 5 for us this time. He explains (in the picture I’ve provided), starting on the left, is a goat cheese wrapped in ash with a stick in it which is a Sainte Maure from the Loire Valley (the straw is used to keep it together while being made), the blue is Bleu de Gex, a blue cow’s milk from the Jura (mountains north of Switzerland). The Comte, a cow’s milk cheese is also from the mountains north of Switzerland. It is one of the most popular cheeses in France (the equivalent of our mozzarella/cheddar as everyone in France uses it for cooking, eating, sandwiches, and everything). This one was aged a long time: 26 months. It was my favorite. The heart shaped one is Neufchâtel, also cow, but from Normandie with its classic, recognizable heart shape. And lastly, on the far right, is the sheep’s cheese Ossau-iraty from the Basque country in the Pyrenees near Spain. The French take their cheese very seriously and it is part of every meal right after the main course and before some sort of sweet (even if it is just fruit and 2 little squares of dark chocolate) for dessert.

Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse


Chris made a wonderful chocolate mousse with raspberries for dessert. The time flew by, and I was sad that it was our last get together before we head for home.

Chris

Chris

Geoffrey

Geoffrey

Both Geoffrey and Chris teach English at the Medical School. I had mistakenly thought they had said ALL classes were taught in English, but I was wrong. Doctors are required to know English, but medical classes themselves are taught in French. Geoffrey had me come to two of his Nurse Midwife classes to tell my story of my twins’ birth. Not often do these students get the “first hand” side of the story, especially one with complications, and in English. Good practice for them. Fun for me to interact with them and see how their classes are conducted. My friend, Geoffrey, did a great job making sure they understood everything I was talking about, and I was impressed by their knowledge of medical terms (many of which are the same in French, as in English). Some words I used that they did not know: prom, baby bump, put me out (when you get anesthesia) and scrape (as in having a D&C). Interesting the language gaps.

Playing Barbu with BJ and Alex

Playing Barbu with BJ and Alex


We hit a few of our last little museums that we’ve missed, and then BJ calls and asks us over for an evening game of Barbu with Alex. We’re game!

Our last Saturday night we go to L’idee Sauvers, rated the top restaurant in Montpellier. I had to call 2 weeks ahead to get a reservation.

Dinner with Odile and Michael

Dinner with Odile and Michael


We went with our friends Michael and Odile, our last get together with them. They have really made our stay here memorable. They have become good friends and introduced us to much of life in southern France. I’m sure we will stay in touch and meet again.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche


The most surprising thing at the meal was a “Amuse Bouche” (means “Mouth Amusement”) to get us started, no matter what we ordered. It was made with Cep mushrooms (when I looked it up, it is called “The King of all Mushrooms”) and cream. Wonderful!

Cep mushroom

Cep mushroom

Ken had some delicious mussels in cream and I had lentils with strips of very rare high quality duck. Scallops with butternut squash was my main dish and of course some chocolate decadent thing with a refreshing sorbet for dessert. A crisp, light and dry, local white wine was the perfect accompaniment.

Scallops

Scallops

The rest of our time here we have planned to see friends, go to one last Trivia Contest at the Robin Hood, and attend one last get together with our friends the night before we leave Montpellier. We then have to catch our train to Lyon and board our flights home.

Seems like I talk a lot about preparing food, eating food, drinking wine, and being with friends in this Blog. That’s what the French do! Guess I have really adopted their way of living. They certainly know about joie de vivre!

I feel myself pulling back from here and starting to think about all we have to do when we get “home”. We’ll have about 10 days to handle all the things we have to take care of, see friends and family in the area, and get ready to move to SC. I am not looking forward to “reality”!! I sense a pall over both Ken and I as we wind down this incredible experience. It’s been a great way to transition between life chapters and a unique time for us. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity. I want to thank all of you for following my Blog and being interested in what we were doing. It felt like I was sharing all these experiences with you and that made me very happy. I’ve enjoyed writing it. Your encouraging responses have been so positive and supportive. Thank you for sharing this time with us. Au Revoir to you and to France……for now…..


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We Explore the Countryside

Well, our time is running out and we don’t like that!

Everything we do, every street we walk down is different and interesting. We will miss that when we go home.

Street scene

Street scene


We have been experiencing a whirlwind of activities since we have engaged in a very active social life. The interesting thing is that most of our friends are a lot younger than we are, and yet, they seem engaged, intrigued and eager to spend time with us. At home, we were always “my friends’ parents” to younger people, or of a different and not that interesting generation with nothing in common or to offer them. Here, due to how they were raised (a friend our age said that there are no such thing as “adult” parties. Children sit at dinner with everyone – not as the center of attention at all – and then go off and quietly entertain themselves – usually with a book or something that does not need any supervision by the parents -, so they are used to being a part of the social scene). Also, the “kids” that we have met, are very knowledgeable about and want to know more with anything to do with America and English. They treat us respectfully (as I would expect), but also as a peer that has something to offer them. We are enjoying their energy and enthusiasm! We certainly learn a lot from them, too. A good win/win situation.

Part of our Trivia Team at Robin Hood pub

Part of our Trivia Team at Robin Hood pub


Also, people have time on their hands. We meet many students, so flexibility is a factor, but the French only work 35 hours/week. We are in a small area (only 10 min. walk or tram ride) and people are out and about without cars. We have our “favorite” bar server at Vin/20, Lucy, and when we were eating dinner, another friend, Julien, walks by and says “Bon Soir” (plus all the kissing, which takes more time than the conversation between the greetings and leavings!). Last minute we’re invited Monday night to a English pub that has trivia games (which are read aloud in both French and English), and what was going to be just meeting up for one beer, became closing the place down (we won, so as winners, our team got a bottle of vodka, which of course we had to finish, especially since half our team – a lot of the younger ones – had left “early” after midnight!). And so it goes….

Vodka Winning

Vodka Winning


We’re invited to a friend’s house for a game of Barbu, a French card game, which is sort of like Hearts, loads of fun, and again, a way after midnight outing…had to watch the Tram schedule for that one; however, could have walked home….we plan to teach it to our kids when we are all together at Xmas…a game brought from across “the Pond”.

We learn more and more about wine every day. Our Barbu host, who is actually Canadian, but has lived here for 10 years, tell us: “The best wine from around here is Faugeres, Pic St Loup, St. Cimian. The red wine bottles with ‘shoulders’ (like Bordeaux) tend to have more tannin in them than the ones with smooth sides (like Cote de Rhone). For example, if you like heavy tannins, then usually you won’t be disappointed with bottles that have ‘shoulders’. If you don’t, then choose another shape.”

Sete

Sete

One day we take a bus to Sete, a delightful seaside town on the Mediterranean. An old city, and charming. Historic district, of course, charming shops, and hills and vistas of the deep, blue sea. One of my friends from cooking club here told us to try Tielles, a unique almost pastry with a very different filling.

Tielles

Tielles

Sete is famous for this, even though it came from Italy in the 18th Century and the decedents of the “inventor” are the ones selling it today to markets all around southern France and also in the place where our friend told us to get it, as it’s the best around. It is a pie with a filling made of calamari, octopus or cuttlefish cut more or less finely and mixed with a spicy tomato sauce. The dough is usually bread dough, but no matter what, it is a pie.

View from hill in Sete

View from hill in Sete


The other thing we did in Sete was visit the Paul Valery museum. It was a long walk up a big hill (I tried to take a picture through the trees, near the top, but was not very successful.) Paul Valery was a poet and an artist and a local boy. It was a delightful collection with local artists, many older masters (Renoir, Monet, Degas), and some very modern art also. We enjoyed our time there.

Ken in restaurant for anniversary

Ken in restaurant for anniversary


So we had our 26th wedding anniversary while we were here. Who would have thunk it??? We celebrated by going out to eat (remember, we haven’t been going out that often. We want to save money, calories, and live more like a local, not a tourist). But, the anniversary is a special treat. I make the reservation (and usually you don’t need one, as you just wander around and stop in; however, we are going to a top place, so I call) all in French! The name of the restaurant is Saveurs et Sens (Flavors and Sense). We show up at the appointed time, 8:00, and the door is still locked: they haven’t even opened yet! Also, it takes about less than 2 minutes (literally) to walk from our apartment to this restaurant. I hadn’t planned it that way, choosing instead the quality of the place, but all the top places are just a few steps from us in the historic district. Most places give you a choice of 4 or 5 things in each category: “entrees” (which are appetizers), a “plat”, which is the main dish, and a dessert for one price.

Sardines and caviar

Sardines and caviar


To start, Ken picks sardines and caviar (neither taste “fishy” at all – note the presentation of the sardines in the picture: in a little open sardine tin…clever!).

Pate

Pate


I have pate.

Duck

Duck


For the main dish, I have duck (I get caviar with this, too, plus eggplant and potatoes in a short glass, with the “sauce” in decretive blobs around the plate).

Scallops and risotto

Scallops and risotto


Ken gets scallops, salmon and a fabulous risotto with lobster.

Dessert (and they bring a glass of champagne to celebrate our “anniversaire de mariage”) is some wonderful chocolate something with crème anglais. Ken has a glace (ice cream) with fruit….sounds ordinary, but it is not! Of course the wine is our favorite local white: Picpoul. For one of the best meals, taking a leisurely 2.5 hours, I have ever had in my life, not only how it tastes, but how it is presented: about $100, including tax (VAT: value added tax of about 25%) and tip, which you only leave a couple of Euros (about $4) due to the wait staff getting paid more salary than at home.

Chocolate dessert

Chocolate dessert

Monday we are off to the country. We take a train and a bus to a small village, St. Pons de Thomasiere, where our landlords, Annie and Gilles have invited us to their home for lunch. We are taken aback by the warm welcome. They live in a 17th century house with an attached farm that had been converted to a small hotel and restaurant. Gilles’ parents had lived there, and then Gilles took over. He has since sold the hotel and restaurant, and he and Annie live in the house. It is huge and gorgeous.

Before lunch in the garden at St. Pons

Before lunch in the garden at St. Pons


We start out in the garden with white wine and cassis, a flavoring to put in the wine, along with small tomatoes from the garden and foie gras pate on small toasts. The setting seems like out of a magazine.

Lunch table set for us

Lunch table set for us


The dining room where we eat is massive and the table elegantly set. We start with a swiss chard quiche and progress to chicken with a curry sauce and green olives, with some sort of cous cous on the side. The cheeses are then brought out and a wonderful sweet pastry, swimming in a vanilla sauce, eaten with a big spoon. Wine is flowing. The talk is lively and interesting. (Annie understands a lot, but has trouble speaking English. Gilles is our main interaction: he is the perfect host.)
Annie and Gilles

Annie and Gilles

After dinner he brings out two bottles of after dinner liquers from his father’s wine cellar, which are very old (see picture of plaque certifying of their quality). By now we have missed our bus to our next stop, St. Chinian, but from the get go, Gilles has insisted on driving us down (about 20 miles). The lunch, to our amazement, flies by and takes about 3.5 hours! The gardener comes in with the “harvest” from the garden from that day. We are overwhelmed by the reception from these people. After all, we are only the tenants. We have a wonderful afternoon and the weather cooperated by being delightful: sunny and 70’s (it is mid Oct. and in the mountains, after all).

What the Gardener brings in

What the Gardener brings in


Gilles and Annie drive us to our friends’ house in St. Chinian, another small village. Here the soil is poor and the only thing that grows is the grapevines. St. Chinian is a top quality producer of wine. The topography reminds us in some ways of Sonoma, CA.

We are in for another amazing surprise when we get to Michael and Odile’s house, where we will stay for a few days. Their house is AMAZING!! It is from the 17th Century and used to be a mill and then a factory. They have lived there 30 years and have converted it themselves (Michael doing most of the work) to an amazing house, where they have raised their 3 children, who now are grown and on their own. The river water still rushes right underneath the house where the huge wheel from the old mill used to turn. The living space is about 3600 sq. feet, with 5 bedrooms, each with their own bath. This is unheard of (remember, everything is small here) in France. Michael preserved a lot of the old features/doors/shutters, etc., and yet has made it cozy and livable, while parts of it look very modern and really nice. Michael and Odile are just wonderful hosts. We feel bad as Odile, as an independent translator, just got a huge job that she has to attend to. Hard to have guests while focused on working so much. She was wonderful and seemed to take everything in stride.

Vine BBQ

Vine BBQ


For our first dinner, Michael takes grape vine twigs to make a BBQ fire, using the twigs, instead of charcoal. This is called a “sarment”. He grills lamb right on the fire. The vines give it a unique flavor. Their butcher in this little village of 1600, also made some “merguez”, a North African sheep sausage which is very spicy. Michael puts this on the fire also. The result is delicious.
Vine BBQ meat

Vine BBQ meat

After the meat and fresh French green beans with a chunky tomato sauce to add on top, there is the prerequisite plate of cheeses. These are all local and delicious. They are put out every meal at this time. They are just put back in the frig, without being wrapped (maybe in the original paper they come in) and just tend to “age”.

Cheeses at every meal

Cheeses at every meal

Dessert is a pear with ice cream, chocolate sauce (made from broken up squares of wonderful dark chocolate and melted) and some slivered almonds. Of course there is a fresh baguette and local wines served with the meal. The talk is lively and interesting. Michael tells me that the “kids” now-a-days (he has a son who is my girls’ age: 22) have a special language called “l’envers”. It says everything backwards so that older people won’t know what they are talking about. His son’s band, which started as a duo, is called “L’oud”as a play on this theme, “oud” being “duo” backwards. Each generation has its thing. Michael is a great source at explaining things, as he is a Brit having lived in France for 30 years. He has both languages, and cultures to draw from. Odile is French. We really like spending time with both of them. Very interesting people, and having been in the area for so long, and loving history, Michael is a great “tour guide”.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

The next day we set off for Carcassonne, the best preserved and example of a medieval town in the world. Its origins are from 1500 years ago! It was then preserved and reused in 1659 when this region went from being Spanish to being under French rule.

Carcassonne tower

Carcassonne tower

Being true to the history of the place, it had been restored again in about the 1800’s. It is so interesting to see how people lived. There is an entire town protected by the towers and there are many obstacles invading enemies would have to get through to attack the people. Very interesting.

Town inside Carcassonne towers

Town inside Carcassonne towers

Our next stop is Minerve. This town had a reign of terror visited upon it when Catholics wanted them to renounce their religion or else burn them, the “heretics”, at the stake. They used a catapult to lob stones onto the town’s well so the people could not get water. In the end 180 people were burned. There is a plaque by the church to note where this occurred. Today, only 28 people live in this town.

Minerve

Minerve

Street in Minerve

Street in Minerve

There is so much history here, over thousands of years. Michael has an interesting perspective. He says that the French have learned over this history of people being really AWFUL to each other, that it is better to take care of each other. This is why the culture of France is more socialistic. Yes, they pay much higher taxes, but it is the right thing to do and works better than everyone killing each other all the time. We can see his point and how history has taught them this. Their culture is that you do “the right thing”. (Like we did not see a conductor on our train trip, and no one looked at our tickets…we really didn’t have to buy one, but MOST people will, whether they are checked or not. We could not see our culture working that way….we are more out for the individual than for the collective good.) We had many interesting discussions.

Goats on Goat Farm

Goats on Goat Farm

On the way home, we stop by a goat farm. Michael had been friends with the original owners for many years, and now the “kids” own/run it. They now have about 100 goats. We miss the evening milking (since the “kids” are getting too big, they now only milk in the morning and in about 2 weeks, they will stop milking for the winter until the new kids are born). They milk about 180 Liters in the AM, and if there is an evening milking, about 120 Liters more. We see the clean room where they make the cheese and then get some to take home, of course. Supposedly, some of the best in the area.

Clean room where cheese is made

Clean room where cheese is made

I have been coughing and have had a bad cold for about a week (and have not been sick in years!). Odile calls the doctor in the next town, and “voila”, I have an appointment to see her in half an hour. We go to the office and with no one in the waiting room, no receptionist, Michael comes back with me to see the doctor to translate, as she speaks no English (remember, these are very small villages out in the country). She asks a few questions, listens to my lungs, heart, takes my blood pressure (no nurse around), and in less than 15 minutes, I am diagnosed with bronchitis, given a prescription for an antibiotic, charges $30 (no insurance or subsidies involved….this is what it costs), and am sent on my way.

My antibiotic

My antibiotic


Waiting until it reopened after two hours for lunch, we stop at a “Pharmacie” and got my amoxicillin (just in a box, my name not on it or anything) and some prescription nasal spray for about $13 (again, no insurance or subsidies involved). So, my total medical experience took about half an hour total and cost about $43, including the meds. Painless!!

We drive into the beautiful countryside to go to a private garden in a town called Roquebrun. The surprising thing is that there are cacti as this particular hillside is bathed in sunlight a lot due to its position in the mountains. A gorgeous vista.

Roquebrun

Roquebrun

Being in the villages, again, not as a tourist, but seeing how people live, is an amazing experience and another highlight (there are so many!) of our trip. So glad we did it and are so thankful to Annie and Gilles, and especially to Michael and Odile, for making our experience here in southern France so memorable. We hope we can return the favor someday in our neck of the woods.

Think I’ll stop here, as we have Cooking Club tonight and I have to go out and get our supplies for our part of the meal. We have so much planned with our friends before we leave in the next less than 2 weeks (YIKES!) that I’m sure that the time will fly by. I’ll Post again before we leave to keep you all updated. Thanks for following our adventures!