Uncategorized

Ten things we learned this time in France…

Even though we’ve now been to France so many times that I’ve lost count, we really learned a lot during our Christmas trip to Beaune and Nimes, France. This trip did not include stops at museums or sumptuous meals in restaurants. Instead, it was a road trip, complete with true crime. So instead of seeing a tourist’s eye view of France yet again, we got more of a local view. Here’s a list of ten things we learned in France this time!

10. In France, straws are made of paper. Because we were on the road so much, we had occasion to stop at many fast food places. Although I’m sure I read about France banning plastic straws, I was still surprised to drink Pepsi through a paper straw! I say good on them for tackling pollution. They’ve also done away with plastic cups and plates and plastic bags!

It’s true, the straw does kind of disintegrate a little… but at least it will decompose in a timely manner.

9. If you need a new tire in France, you’ll probably have to buy two. This is the same rule in Germany, too, according to our landlord. When our car’s tire got popped by criminals at a rest stop, we went on a search for tires for our Volvo. They proved very hard to find, although it was probably because the shops didn’t have the specific brand we required– Pirelli. If we’d told them we would accept a different brand and wouldn’t mind paying for two, we might have gotten home sooner.

Because of this hole, we had to buy Bridgestone tires for our rear axle.

8. Tire scammers are on the loose! I don’t need to go into the story about what happened to us, since I’ve covered it extensively. However, I will admit that before a few days ago, I didn’t know about organized criminals who pop people’s tires in an attempt to rob them. Be careful out there! By the way, this happens in countries around the world. Based on my research, it looks like India has a big problem with this, as do Spain and Italy.

7. France is magical at Christmas time! Bill and I had such a nice time visiting our friends, Audra and Cyril. I’m not sure if their Christmas celebration is typical, but I really enjoyed hanging out with their family, eating delicious food, and being exposed to humans again instead of the Internet!

6. Raw oysters are a popular Christmas treat in France. I had no idea that the French enjoy oysters so much, especially at Christmas time. We saw piles of them for sale at a Christmas market in Beaune and Audra and Cyril had them for their family gathering. Served with bread and fresh lemons, they make for a delightful treat for those who like them. Coming from the Tidewater region of Virginia, I was fine with enjoying the oysters both raw and cooked. Bill surprised himself by liking them, too!

This cat was enjoying the parked cars.

5. Parking in Nimes is scary! Nimes is full of tight, narrow streets and people who can parallel park. It pays to drive a small, old car there, because parking is at a premium. The above picture is not really a representative of the wall to wall vehicles we saw there. I just liked the street cat.

4. Tile is chilly! In both of the gites I had booked before the tire fiasco, the floors were tile. That makes for easy cleaning, but it also makes the house a bit chilly. I was really glad I brought thick wool socks with me and there were plenty of blankets. Even though the weather was pretty mild, it was cold inside! We didn’t have that problem at La Maison de Maurice, which despite having tile floors, was well insulated and heated. If you’re planning to rent a house in France during the winter, you may want to bring warm clothes to ward off the chill.

Well, I won’t need any KFC for awhile… which is a boon for my expanding behind.

3. KFC in France is not like KFC in America… Okay, so this one is a little lame, as it’s not the same in Germany as it is in America, either, and even American KFC kind of pales compared to what it was thirty or forty years ago. Besides, why eat fast food? I’m just including it because we stopped at a rest area yesterday that happened to have a KFC. Since we were tired of mediocre burgers, we opted to try France’s version of “The Colonel”. And well… I was left pretty underwhelmed by it. Here, you don’t get biscuits or mashed potatoes; you get fries. And the chicken was kind of bland, too… no choice between original or extra crispy. Yeah, I know. We should have gone into town and found a decent restaurant with real food.

2. If you don’t speak French and need to report a crime, Google Translate has you covered. Bill gave his statement in a phone with Google Translate to two sympathetic French ladies who worked for the Gendarmerie. He was amazed by how easy it was. But then, when you’re in Europe, where there are many people speaking many different languages, Google Translate is a total God send! I don’t know how I ever did without it.

And finally, number 1 (because when I try to write a 1, the blog turns it into a list). Germany is feeling more and more like home. It’s not home, of course. I am American and will always be American, and I do have plans to return there at some point. But it was sure nice to cross back into Deutschland yesterday after our French adventure. I don’t regret a single minute of our trip, though, even the criminal part. We learned a lot, made new memories, and I got some great stories and experiences to pass along. I also feel warmth, affection, and kinship for France, because even though we had the unfortunate experience of having our tire popped by crooks, we were shown a lot of hospitality and kindness during this trip. They showed all of us– including Arran– love, and Bill and I love them right back! Vive la France! I already miss the croissants!

BTW, I think the featured photo of Bill is now one of my favorites of him…

Standard
Uncategorized

Our first French Christmas, part seven…

December 26th was our last full day in Nimes. Audra was pretty much free all day after the morning. We could have gone to see the sites, but really, I just wanted to hang out and chat. I live a pretty isolated lifestyle these days, and it was so nice to talk to someone who has known me since way before electronics. Besides that, having the dog kind of cramped our style a bit.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Arran made a lot of friends on our trip, and I am so grateful that we brought him with us. For instance, I think Arran may have played a part in us not being robbed the other day. But although he is a good traveler, I do worry about him being a good guest and not bothering people. Even though he’s about ten years old, he’s not above howling a lot or the occasional accident.

So Audra, Bill, Cyril, and I did more walking and talking… until Cyril started looking a little under the weather and bowed out. We still had good food, though. For lunch, we had fougasse, which is a delightful pastry filled with bacon and cheese. Reading up on fougasse, I see that it’s a specialty of Provence, although it’s also featured in other regions. Audra says some versions are sweet and some are savory.

For dinner, we had roasted pork loin and more root vegetables– carrots and parsnips– and lots of wine. The cheese lovers had their course, too. Cheese is another food I wish I loved more, although my ass sure doesn’t need the help. It was really a great day, with yet another walk around the neighborhood and more reminiscing about the old days… and more wine.

We decided not to visit on Friday, the 27th, because we had made arrangements to be in Beaune between 3:00 and 4:00. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better if we had taken more time heading north. Maybe if we’d said goodbye to Audra and Cyril on Friday morning instead of Thursday night, we might have missed the bastards who fucked up our tire. But at least checking out of Chez Pepito was relatively easy, aside from the lack of parking in the area. We just put the keys back in the lockbox and got on our way. I did get some cool photos on the way up, too. Too bad I didn’t get any of the jackasses who spiked our tire.

Our drive to Beaune was mostly uneventful until we got to the rest stop just south of the city. It was well-connected, with several fast food restaurants, a bathroom, a gas station, and even a shower. You’d never think scumbags looking to do harm would hang out at such a well-traveled place with so many visitors. But unfortunately, there they were, and they had us squarely in their sites.

We stopped at the rest stop only so we could tell our hosts we had arrived and so I could pee. In retrospect, I really wish we had just kept going and called from just outside the front door, like we did when we came in. Our stop at the rest area has so far cost us over 1400 euros. We had to buy two new tires; Bill has missed two days of work; and although the first gite owners gave us a free night, we’re paying another 120 euros for tonight at La Maison de Maurice.

For those who don’t want to read my other vents on this subject, here’s a quick and dirty recount. After I got back into the car post pit stop, a swarthy looking guy stepped out in front of Bill as he was driving out of the lot, forcing him to stop. We think this is when his accomplice punctured our tire and ruined a perfectly good pair of wheels. I say “pair” of wheels, because in France, one must purchase tires in sets of two if there isn’t a tire identical to the one being replaced. So both of our rear tires, just six months old, had to be replaced. It cost almost 500 euros. Such a waste!

Ultimately, the fuckwads who did this didn’t get anything for their efforts. They weren’t able to rob us. I suspect they saw Arran and me and changed their minds about shaking Bill down for money or relieving us of our luggage. Also, Bill immediately got on the phone instead of going for the jack. I think the guys who were doing this must be amateurs.

ADAC told us to call 112, which is equivalent to our 911. A highway assistance guy came and put the spare on… the little donut tire that comes with most new cars these days. We weren’t allowed to drive it on the French highway, but we were headed to Beaune anyway. We went to our gite and decided what to do next. More on that in the next post.

Standard
Uncategorized

Our first French Christmas, part four…

Monday morning, we got up, loaded up the Volvo, and as we were about to check out, met our hostess– the wife of the guy who had given us the grand tour of the gite we rented. She was very young and charming as she told us about how they’d only recently bought their house/gite. It turns out she’s familiar with Wiesbaden because she studied winemaking near there at Weinbau Geisenheim.

Our hostess had told me in an email that she and her husband were a Franco-German family. Originally, I figured she was German, but after having met her, I think maybe she’s French and he’s German. I don’t know… but she said that the gite was a side business, as they are opening their own winery here in Beaune, having moved from Dijon. Dijon is a much larger city than Beaune is, but if you’re wanting wine, Beaune is the place to be– for making, buying, and selling it. Perhaps in a year or so, the gite will come equipped with a bottle of their very own wine!

We said goodbye and told her we’d see them Friday. Originally, we planned a two night stay, but now it looks like it could be at least another day or two before we can get out of Beaune. We must first locate either a tire or a tow truck.

The drive to Nimes was mostly uneventful, except for some dramatic scenery and traffic in Lyon, France’s second largest city and land of exotic eating. Seriously… everybody raves about Paris and the cuisine scene there, but Lyon is supposedly even more exciting. I wouldn’t know from experience, unfortunately, because the one time we stayed near there, we were in a suburb and ended up eating Moroccan food one night (delicious!) and Domino’s Pizza the next (drunk). Ah well, maybe sometime we’ll get to stay in Lyon proper and have some really fancy French food… as long as it doesn’t have any offal, strong cheese, or fungus in it.

The landscape really changed as we approached Nimes. It started to remind me of Texas. The sky opened up, the land began to look browner and scrubbier, and there were low slung trees and cacti dotting everything. I had arranged to stay at Chez Pepito, which I learned was on the edge of the Arabic quarter in Nimes. The gite supposedly came with a parking spot. Pepito had written to tell me he wouldn’t be able to meet us personally, but gave us instructions on how to find the keys and let ourselves in.

Bill and I visited Nimes in 2014, but it was by train. We stayed in a cheap hotel near the train station… very no frills, but kind of charming. The hotel has since changed hands, so I don’t know what it’s like now.

Pepito’s gite, likewise, was kind of no frills. It was on the second floor (which is really the third floor), and that meant schlepping our stuff up a few flights of stairs. Since the “parking spot” was actually a very tiny garage that would never fit our SUV, let alone a normal sized car, Bill had to go find a parking spot. He dumped our stuff on the ground floor, and I hauled it all upstairs. That was quite a workout for me. I really should call myself the Fatass and Breathless Housewife… I had some trouble getting the door open, because I didn’t realize that two locks, of the total of three on the door, needed to be unlocked.

I contacted Audra and she and Cyril came over to welcome us. Bill managed to score a rare spot at the parking garage a block from the gite (four nights was 52 euros, but our car was safe). Pepito charges 10 euros a day for his spot, but seriously, if you have anything bigger than a Twingo or a Smart Car, don’t bother. Your car won’t fit.

Chez Pepito has another bedroom, but there was a sticky note on the door asking us not to use it. My guess is that Pepito didn’t want us messing it up, since there were just two of us. That’s fine, although we probably would have closed the door to that room anyway. That’s what we usually do when the gite is bigger than what we need. It was a really small room, so we wouldn’t have chosen it over the other one. WiFi worked well and there were plenty of heaters, although they did a poor job of heating the drafty apartment. I’ve noticed the French are very fond of tile floors, which keep things chilly even when there’s heat. Nimes was not cold at all, but that gite was. Fortunately, there were plenty of blankets.

We had a slight mishap within two hours of our arrival. There was a vase of dried flowers on the fireplace mantel (and no, we were not allowed to use the fireplace). Bill got too close to one of the sprigs coming from the dried flowers and the vase fell and shattered. It was on the edge of the mantel and a bit top heavy, so that was an accident that was definitely going to happen at some point. I just wish it hadn’t happened when we were staying there. Anyway, I messaged Pepito to let him know we’d made it and report the breakage. He was cool about it, which was really nice. For that, we left him the 40 euros we were going to pay for the failed parking spot.

Chez Pepito also features a “rooftop terrace”. It’s kind of cool, I guess. One floor up from the gite, you can unlock the door and hang out. There are a couple of loungers and lots of plants. I think it’s probably nice up there during the warmer seasons, although the furniture is a bit worn out looking. I can’t complain, though, since Pepito’s prices are very reasonable. For four nights, I paid about 312 euros before the “parking” charge. Not bad at all! And the gite is only about ten minutes from where Audra and Cyril live, and very close to shops and restaurants, including a huge food market that makes Stuttgart’s Markthalle look puny.

After we settled, Bill, Arran, and I were picked up by Audra and we went to her house for dinner. Cyril made a lovely dinner of duck and pureed celery, and I got to see Audra’s daughter, Juliette, who is VERY French and speaks excellent English. Arran made fast friends with Audra and we all sat up and talked until about 3:00am! It’s been a long time since I last stayed up that late simply chatting with an old friend!

Standard
Uncategorized

Our first French Christmas, part one…

Bonjour, faithful readers. I am currently sitting in Beaune, France. We were here in this same gite (holiday home) a week ago, when we were on our way to Nimes to see my friend, Audra. Now we’re on our way back to Germany, and I have arranged to stay at the same house until tomorrow morning, provided we can get out of here due to a misfortune we encountered yesterday at a rest stop. More on that later. For now, I want to start at the beginning and explain how it was that we’ve had a “French Christmas”.

Audra is American, and we met back in 1987, when we were students at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Virginia. We both had the same journalism and world history classes during the 1987-88 school year. When we met, I was fifteen and she was fourteen. We got to be friendly in journalism class, since it was a course that required collaboration.

It wasn’t just school that brought us together. Our dads were friends back in the day. Both were Air Force veterans who participated in singing groups in Gloucester. Audra and I are also both graduates of Longwood College, now known as Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia. We didn’t run in the same crowd when we were at Longwood, so it’s only been within the past ten years ago, through Facebook, that we’ve become closer.

Back in May 2014, Bill and I took our third military “hop” from Baltimore, Maryland. He was on “terminal leave” from the Army, just before he retired. We landed at Ramstein and decided to travel through France by train. On that trip, which I’ve chronicled in this blog, we visited Reims, Dijon, a suburb of Lyon, Nimes, and Nice. Then we flew from Nice to Frankfurt, took a quick trip to the Rhein, and flew from Ramstein back to the States. You can find the story of that trip by searching the blog, although I haven’t yet gotten around to reformatting it since I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I will fix those posts when I get home to my desktop computer. When they’re fixed, I’ll link them to this post.

We visited Audra, her then boyfriend, Cyril, and Audra’s kids during that 2014 trip. A few weeks after we got back to Texas, where we were living at the time, Bill got a job in Stuttgart, Germany. We moved back to Europe, and ever since then, Audra and I were hoping to arrange another rendezvous. A few months ago, she and Cyril, who is now her husband, invited us to spend Christmas with them. They even invited our dog, Arran.

Originally, the plan was that we’d stay at their house, since two of Audra’s children were visiting their dad. But since Audra has cats and Bill is allergic, and Arran loves to harass cats, we decided to book another gite in Nimes. Beaune, which is where I am right now, is roughly halfway between Nimes and Wiesbaden. It’s actually slightly closer to Nimes. I had originally tried to find another gite in a different city, but had difficulty finding one that offered what we wanted and was pet friendly. So here we are, once again, at Au Miracle du Pain Doré, a charming apartment within walking distance of Beaune’s lovely center.

Today’s plan was, originally, to go into town and purchase some wine to bring back to Wiesbaden with us. Unfortunately, we were victimized at the rest stop at the northbound rest stop heading into Beaune. We had stopped so I could pee and we could let our hosts know that we were almost at our destination. During what was intended to be a short stop, a lowlife criminal gouged a hole in one of our tires. So, instead of wine shopping and wrapping up what was a mostly wonderful trip to France, Bill is making a police report and trying to come up with a way to fix our car so that it will get us back to Germany. He did manage to get the tire patched, which makes me a bit nervous, since the gouge was on the sidewall. But the other option is to have the car towed home, since the local tire shop did not have the size we need and we can’t drive it with the “donut” tire spare. The closer we get to Germany, the better… I just hope we don’t have a blowout and cause an accident.

I’m pretty sure the asshole who punctured our tire was hoping to relieve us of our dirty underwear. Unfortunately, this scam is rampant in Europe. Pirates linger near high speed roads and damage motorists’ tires, then offer “help” while an accomplice steals purses, electronics, and whatever else they can find. They target tourists, especially those in rental cars. Tourists are more likely to be unfamiliar with the area, loaded with cash and valuables, and eager to accept “friendly” help. They’re also less likely to make police reports and press charges.

We were not robbed yesterday. I think the would-be crook was spooked when I stayed in the car with Arran and Bill got on the phone with ADAC, one of Germany’s auto clubs. He lingered for a moment, then vanished once Bill gave him the stink-eye. Still, he and his maggot accomplice managed to ruin a perfectly good tire that has only been on the car since July, when it was built in Sweden. And though he’s given me a new life experience and a good story for this blog, I am actually a bit concerned about our safety tomorrow. If it weren’t going to be a Sunday, I think we’d wait and try to get a new tire. If you’re the praying type and you don’t mind, please offer up a few kind words for us.

Standard
Uncategorized

France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 6

I have a good friend named Audra who lives in Nimes, France.  I first met her at the high school in the small town where we grew up.  She is a year younger than I am, but we had classes together.  I used to chat with her during our journalism class, which turned out to be one of my favorite high school classes.  For some reason, I didn’t take the second year of journalism.  I probably should have.  My friend also graduated from Longwood University, which in our day was called Longwood College.  We didn’t really hang out when we were in college, so I hadn’t seen her in many years.  Facebook got us reconnected.

Since we were in France, Audra invited Bill and me to come down to Nimes and help her and her family celebrate her son’s 11th birthday.  I had never been to Nimes before.  It turned out to be a wonderful city, famed for its bullfights and Spanish feel.  We got off the train and walked right into a great farmer’s market that included displays, exhibitions, animals, and agricultural goods.  One native said to us in English that this market thing they had going on was not something they had every day.

The air smelled of livestock and the fecal by-product that comes from livestock.  There were goats, pigs, horses, rabbits, birds of every kind, and sheep.  Kids were taking donkey rides and adults were tasting wines, cheeses, and beers.  It was a fun scene.

I booked us at the Majestic Hotel, a two star establishment near the train station.  This hotel is very quirky and there’s no elevator.  We had kind of a funny incident with the lady who checked us in, who spoke no English.  I asked for the WiFi password.  She said what sounded like “D O’s.”  I tried several combinations.  It never occurred to me that what the lady had actually said was that we had to type ten zeros.  “Dix” is French for ten!

We got in touch with Audra, who came with two of her three kids to pick us up at our hotel.  We drove to a very cool village about an hour outside of Nimes where there was a great bar.  Audra, her boyfriend, Cyril, and Cyril’s parents had arranged for “charcuterie”, which is basically a huge pile of meat and bread.  The guy who ran the bar had a great selection of beers and played great music.  Audra and I wasted no time getting caught up while the birthday boy and his friends hung out.  Audra’s younger son and daughter were also in attendance, along with Cyril’s friend– whose name I can’t remember now!  It was a great time and Bill and I were so grateful to be included, especially since we never would have found that great bar on our own!

Big pile of meat!  I actually tasted a couple of sausages that required some bravery… I was rewarded for the effort!

 

Besides the cool bar, this town was very fortified…

The next day, Audra invited us to spend Mother’s Day with her family.  That, too, was a great treat, since Cyril’s family lives just outside of Nimes on a beautiful tree lined plot of land.  Audra and Cyril are building their own house next to Cyril’s parents’ house and, I have to say, Bill and I were very envious of what they’re about to have!

I think this may have been my favorite part of our trip.  Not only was it wonderful to see Audra and meet her kids, boyfriend, and his family, but we really got an authentic taste of France.  Had we not caught up with my old friend, we would have done the usual tourist things or just wandered around town (which is really more like what we tend to do on our trips).  Thanks to Audra and Cyril and Cyril’s parents, we got to see how the locals live… and from what I can see, they live quite well!

We might have wanted to stay an extra day in Nimes, but my eye was on the calendar and we knew we needed to start thinking about getting back to Germany within a few days so we could get a flight back to the USA.

My new scarf!

After Audra dropped us off during the afternoon, we wandered more around Nimes and I bought a scarf at the farmer’s market that was handmade by a local lady.  We saw a pair of Mormon missionaries who seemed to be having trouble finding things to do.

These three pieces of meat mysteriously fell before us as we walked around Nimes…

Then, for dinner, we stopped at a very charming little bistro that seemed to be a one woman show.  We were the lady’s only guests at about 7:00pm and she served us a fine meal.  I had dorada, which is one of my favorite fish dishes.  Bill had steak.  Then, when it came time to pay, he tried to use his credit card and it didn’t work.  So I had to sit in the restaurant and wait for Bill to get cash to pay the lady for our meal.  She was very gracious about it… I’m sure she’s run into this issue with American patrons more than once!

Awesome French dinner at this restaurant in Nimes…

Our next stop was Nice… but getting to Nice wasn’t all that nice!  Stay tuned!

Bill and the bull fighter! 

Scenes around Nimes…

Standard