Discovering the Countryside: House sitting in Occitanie

Day 2- Saturday- dawned cold and clear, though the sun would be yet to rise as I awoke to see the humans on the road to their vacation.  As they headed off to the airport to see family and friends  Scamp, Buster and the neighbor dog Floc and I headed out into the woods and through the fields for a morning romp.  I was ever so grateful to have worn my heavy wool coat, scarf and gloves- though it seemed a bit much on the airplane.


Cat-o-nine Tails are unaffected by the wind and bitter cold.They seem to glow in the morning sun.

The dogs pretty much walked me as opposed to me walking them. They are not on a lead, they just head off when I start walking. They are free to go romp around on their own, but they do not unless someone goes with them. Amazing.  Now and then they would turn around as if to ask “Is this way O.K.?” to which I would reply “O.K. then, let’s go!”  And off they would run in whatever direction was in question.  They have worn trails in the fields and trees and know their favorite adventures, though from their pure joy you would think this outing is the first.  They are all wide eyed, tongues hanging as they run and race and roll happily in anything.


As we passed into a lower plowed field a small group of deer bound through the trees on the opposite field edge. The dogs took no note. I was on the lookout for wild boar, as that is my worry. They are known to be aggressive and I don’t want to surprise one.  I see a few very large burrow holes in the soft soil here and there, and I wonder if that is boar? I don’t know, but whatever makes that large burrow I don’t want to meet!


I love this picture! A broken window in the church with the stained glass image on the other side glowing from the afternoon light.

The weather is bright and sunny but frosty cold- with a layer of frost remaining on the grass and shrubs.  It is really frigid and despite my warm clothing and boots, by eyes water from the cold wind.  After a long walk up the other side of the valley and back we make our way back home and all the animals enjoy breakfast as is their normal routine. Floc gets some too.

The morning walk was refreshing but since jet lag was still with me, I had a nice 3 hour long nap as did the dogs. Buster inside and Scamp outside as is the normal pattern.  Lady Edith the cat came pawing at the bedroom window to be let in.


The church at Balarin

It was a slow lazy day for all of us. Thankfully the afternoon walk at 5pm gave us all a renewed sense of energy.  This time we were off to the church yard and beyond, stopping to drink water from the flower pots there.  The church dates from the early days of the chateau and hameau* and is no longer in service, but the few graves are recent inhabitants and are generally well attended with flowers and headstones. We saw another human- the first in 2 days- working in the field in the distance.


Dinner was delicious potato and Leek Soup and wine by the fire. (It’s been a few years since I had to keep a fire to stay warm, but the heat is lovely. I hope my fire making skills turn out to be better than they were as a kid). I lulled my brain cells to sleep by watching French television.Nothing like crime-drama to make you realize how little French language you know.

Day#3- Much the same, though wind is the order of the day.  It is warmer and the morning walk is marked by wind, which the animals enjoy.  I’ve started a fire upon my return to keep the chill off today.  The humans have kindly chopped enough wood for my stay and stacked it nicely in the wood shed, and there is a large amount of kindling.  I only have to take the wheel barrow out of the attached garage/barn and around to the side of the house to fill it up as needed. Each morning I take out the ash out of the stove, and wash the glass window with water and ash- which is remarkably effective.   I venture into the nearest large village of Condom for groceries though I have forgotten it is Sunday. The village is nearly all closed except a produce market, luckily, where I find fresh French bread and croissants! There is a small local store open for 3 hours and I buy coffee to stave off a caffeine headache- that takes the rest of the afternoon to defeat. The wind storm continues and I’ve closed the shutters so they don’t bang against the house all day. Shutters are functional here, not merely decorative though they are that as well.

I did come across a charming old fortified village on the way home, but the fierce wind drove me back into the car. I will have to be another day.


*The Château de Balarin was constructed at the end of the 13th century on the frontier of what was then English territory. It underwent substantial modification at the end of the 15th century to make it habitable, most importantly, the addition of windows and a circular tower. Now ruined, it has been a protected monument historique since 1942.[31] ( 43°57′53″N 0°15′2″E) Wikepedia. There has since been a modern chateau constructed and is privately owned. Test your French language and see this web page for more information:



Adventures in France:The Gers, Mid-Pyrenees, Occitanie Region-Arrival


House sitting in France

Seeing all of France is a big job. It’s a huge, massive country with 13 regions each with a personality and culture all its own, nearly 250,000 square miles and 67 Million people. Regions are further broken down into 101 departments, further into Arrondissements, Cantons and then Communes.(Wikepedia). Each region has it’s own name relative to its geographic location. On this adventure The Gers, a department of Southwest France would be the destination. Also called the Mid-Pyrenees in the Occitanie Region.  House sitting and minding two prissy cats and two geriatric but vigorous and loving dogs would bring me to this area of rural France.


Rolling hills of Occitanie

I arrived via Toulouse in the South of France via an uneventful flight and was able to quickly get a pre-arranged rental car. A lovely new Citroen with 3km on the odometer. The new car smell and smooth, quiet drive lulled me into car romance and it felt easy and natural. Trains and public transportation are usually plentiful in most of Europe and for the most part I have resisted car rentals both for cost, ease and efficiency. But this trip into more remote France would require a car. Thankfully my mobile service is international and I plug in my destination to GPS routing and I’m on the way!

After choosing “avoid highways” the route appears before me and winds lazily through the countryside. I resist looking at the directions and concentrate on listening to the voice navigator though the American speaker annihilates the French road names and I really have to pay attention. The majority of directions consist of: “at the round-about, take the  3rd exit” as I traverse many throughout the day passing small villages and hamlets. The day is bright and sunny but crispy cold, and the sun casts charming slanted  beams  of light through the trees and between the hillsides making for very enchanting scenery consisting mostly of rolling hills and occasional bird farms that provide the famed duck pate and duck breast, both regional specialties.


Chateau at Balarin

I feel a bit of remorse as my days journey comes to an end- an entirely pleasant 2.5 hours drive. At the crest of a rolling hillside is the turnoff for the hameau of Balarin where my 4 footed charges and their people await my arrival. Down the hill and up the other side towards the mildly foreboding  looking old chateau that is the principal player in this sleepy place with just a scattering of white weathered stone cottages; otherwise simple and modest homes.


The entire retinue has turned out to greet me! Two brown spaniels; Scamp and Buster; trailing behind are 2 elegant, fluffy long haired cats- Fergus and Lady Edith; and of course their humans Pam and Albert- out to wave me in. The hameau is small with perhaps a gathering of 6 or so cottages just to the side of the walls of the old chateau which only provide a glimpse of the buildings on the other side. There is no one else in sight.



The Cats Fergus and Lady Edith


Scamp and Buster out for a windy walk

Greeted like a friend I was given the tour; inside and out. and between a dog walk and dinner given the run down of the animal and household routine. Floc, the locally produced aperitif was enjoyed beside a mesmerizing fire while the mouthwatering aroma of  Coq-au-vin simmered in the oven.


The house

A thoroughly enjoyable evening with kind people, good food and loving animals in a warm and comfortable home. Sleeping was easy after a long journey and full day.


Floc the neighbor’ sweet s dog (also the local aperitif) that joins us for walks everyday.


Paris-Food and Exercise.

So much to see and do. Where to start.


Any top list of things to do while in France usually has you start with food.  There is good reason I suppose- for it is amazing.  I have had high tea and macaroons, traditional french dinner, buttery and flaky croissants, coffee, beer and cocktails at outdoor cafes, ice cream, crepes and the beloved baguette.  Each was a divine moment of bliss.  There are legions of books on favorite and popular places to eat, and no one can pick the perfect meal for another. Wandering around and picking an inviting place has served me well. With that said, here are some of my favorite foodie moments while here in France.



While exercise is not a typical French activity- there a plenty of ways to counteract the foodie culture and it’s side effects.  Mornings here  have started out with a daily promenade in The Luxembourg Gardens.  The gardens are closed during the night, and depending on the time of year, vary slightly.  The beautiful iron gates completely surround this amazing public space.  The gardens open in the summer at 0730 and close at 2000. I’ve normally spend approximately one hour, walking the perimeter and weaving through the fine gravel walking paths, which are lined with upright and reclining chairs and benches.  The reason for this is- you cannot sit on the grass.  Except on Saturday and Sunday in one of 3 marked patches.  It sounds funny or unusual, but I tell you, this garden is a glorious riot of color, rich lush grass, shrubbery that is short, tall, thin and wide, fragrant or not; fruit trees, sculptures and fountains. And France/ Paris and the French people want it to stay that way.  It is carefully tended by what must be an army of gardeners, at all hours. They rake the gravel, weed and change out the flowers by season, trim the shrubs, tend the irrigation and the ancient species fruit orchard (that’s another story). I’m sure that is only the surface.  There are no worn or bare patches of grass, or plucked flowers and beware  to the unknowing tourist, as a devoted Parisian will let you know if you trod on sacred ground!


It’s early Saturday morning so just a few exercisers. But by noon the 3 rectangular shaped lawns for sitting will be packed!

Because the Luxembourg Palace is now the house of the Senate, the palace and grounds are guarded- or as the case may be, because of the state of emergency due to terrorism. I’m not sure which. But the guards faithfully watch out for the Palace, and are a comforting presence.


One would think a park or garden is a great place for exercise, and in Paris this is no exception. The devoted runners and various other sport devotees start arriving in force before the gates open and circle the perimeter until they do.  Upon opening the park quickly fills with runners, Thai Chi practitioners and other athletes of varying degree and fitness.  But- they are all upright- whatever they are doing as there is no ground sitting, calisthenics, yoga or stretching here during the week.

Mornings are the perfect time. Though the weather has been hot, it’s a lovely temperature in the morning.  The park is probably 50% treed and provides a lovely shade canopy for exercise. The early morning watering has left the lawns and flower beds dewy and glistening and refreshingly cool in the morning air.  Though the sun warms things up quickly, it’s pretty comfortable until 1100 or so. By then the tourists start to arrive, some in groups with guides leading the way with colored flags or half mast umbrellas, others in pairs or individually to see the palace, the riotous gardens and fountains and stroll the pathways in search of one of the many statues of significance- including a model of the statue of liberty- to which each and every American makes their way. Of note, there is an online, free audio walking guide for the statues in the park- which number approximately 100. Quite impressive, I must say. As well they are interesting with stories of history, politics and faith behind them.


Other side notes on the park: there is a terrace cafe that serves food and drink all day until the park closes. Great coffee and AMAZING French Onion Soup (also another story as I am doing a comparative study on French Onion Soup in Paris)! – Among other delicious things.  There are multiple kiosks that sell a variety of things- toys, newspapers, drinks, ice cream and some souvenirs.  One of my most FAVORITE things is the ancient scales in the park. Apparently for many years people have been doing their daily exercise there and at some point someone thought a scale would be appropriate. These are mamouth green iron giants (compared to home), permanently affixed to the ground and for 20 cent Euro you can weigh yourself.  This is amazing to me and I gleefully deposited my 20 cent coin and couldn’t be happier!  The daily is paying off.


There is also a pavilion or gazebo where occasional performances take place, though I have yet to see one.  But each and every morning, there is an elderly man performing some sort of martial arts practice there with slow concentrated precision. There is a summer schedule posted, but no events in August as that is the month when Parisians head out of town for the annual exodus. (They go on vacation- closing shops and businesses for the business of high quality living).


The Pavilion. I’m in luck- this evening at 1630 there is an Orchestra performance.


There of course are other places to exercise. Walking the banks of the Seine is lovely, but sometimes too cold, sometimes too hot. Other times just right- and oh, so lovely. The sun rising over a quiet city is mesmerizing. The park is lined with parks and cobbled pathways. There is much to see. The Tulleries gardens by the Louvre is also popular, but farther away for me, and less shady so I don’t exercise there- unless it’s the hand to mouth exercise at an outdoor cafe.  Bicycling is also another way to stay fit in this city. Paris has a public bicycle system that is easy and very inexpensive.  The first 30 minutes are free.  They are all over the city. Check one out- return it and it bills your bankcard. Very handy.  Of course locals bike or walk regularly and it’s not unusual to see people dressed for work cycling around the city.


These rows of bicycles are on nearly every corner. Put in your card and Voila! Bike rental- or register online and get a code to unlock your bike.

In the end, the food is sweet, savory, crispy, flaky and worthy. The exercise is imperative so you can keep eating.  I’ve also been cooking quite a lot- learning the skill of French cooking with healthy, wholesome, organic ingredients.  The organic/ biological food trade is alive and well in France. Health food and bio markets are easy to come by. Eating good food is one of the pleasures in life. Cooking healthy food well makes it even better.  And good news foodies: you will never run out of new places to try in Paris. The choices are endless and oh-so tasty!

France- travel and terrorism.

Since my voice has left me I must now blog for myself. My daughter Savannah ( who has been travelling with me for the last 6 weeks has been cataloging our travels, so I have yet to blog this holiday. I encourage you to follow her or take a look. She has a lively voice and is full of fun, food and adventure. She left yesterday for a teaching adventure in Hong Kong, so now I must put to paper my observations on France.

Instead of detailing my days, I’ll make some general observations on traveling in France this year, in what has turned out to be a turbulent time in a world of terrorism that has generated fear around the world.

I’ll start with saying that I arrived in France on July 4th and I’ll be here until September 4th. The first month was spent in Annecy in the French Alps just south of Geneva Switzerland. It’s a resort town with a lovely old town, a renown culinary reputation and a lovely lake in which to spend summer days, not to mention the hiking in the mountains, which we did.  The second month is being spent here in Paris. While I had spent time in the Loire Valley last year, and had tentatively planned to return this year, my plans were only vague until the last minute, when I made reservations and paid for my accommodations.  I have the luxury of fixed periods of time off of work, and since I’ve sold my home some time back, I can make my home where ever I choose.  it’s a envious way to live and the luxury is not lost on me.  I do feel lucky, and feel I am living my life to the fullest and taking advantage of it.

A note on terrorism. The Paris attacks last November struck close to home as I had only left Paris days before that occurred. I watched from afar and felt the terror that so many around the world felt.  Though the people of France and in particular Paris rallied, many world travelers could not bring themselves to continue to travel in particular to France, and as evidence tourism is down significantly in Paris this summer.  The French news reports quiet streets and near empty venues.  While I personally am enjoying Paris in August- a time when Paris is traditionally deserted and the locals go on vacation, I do feel for those whose lives depend on tourism. However, I can say- Paris is not deserted. Yes, certain areas are quiet with the annual vacation period, but the tourist attractions are still busy from my eyes. Perhaps the lines are not as long- but they are there.  Since I am not a “tourist- tourist” I don’t enjoy the tourist sights so much, and particularly despise noisy crowded throngs of people and avoid them anyway. I find quieter times to see the big sites.  And frankly- the safest thing to do is avoid crowds. For I fear terrorism is not over. It will strike again. I don’t know when, or where. But sadly I am confident that it will.  So I do things to be safe.  I avoid crowds. I am observant and vigilant.  I left a cafe just a couple weeks ago  when someone had left an unattended suitcase. I try uncrowded, quiet streets, and out of the way places that offer local charm and culture.  This is why we travel anyway.


Hercules at the Muse de Orsay


France is doing its part to keep locals and tourists alike safe.  With the Bastille day attack in Nice, France has extended its state of emergency an additional 6 months in order to keep military forces and extra police on the streets.  The first I saw of this was just days after the Bastille day attack. Groups of 4-6 military police patrolled the streets and lake side of Annecy. In full battle dress, and machine guns at the ready, they patrolled through the streets. The young men and women with serious faces and purpose were a stark reminder of  our new state of alert and a commentary of the times in which we live. Mornings, noon and night- they could be seen. They were always moving about, rarely staying in one place. They looked straight ahead and I rarely saw them engage with tourists. On a few instances when passing them I looked one or two of them in the eye and greeted them with “bonjour” to which they pleasantly responded. I was intimidated by their mission, appearance and purpose. I wasn’t sure if I should greet them or be friendly. Not many others did. For the most part people have taken note of their presence as a new normal and simply carry on.


Military police patrolling the board de la Seine.

In Paris, it is much the same. The  abundance of police are typically the local forces as far as I can tell and dressed more traditionally in navy blue. But they too have machine guns at the ready, an most often wear a serious countenance. Though they too respond kindly to my greetings and seem somewhat surprised.  They guard all the monuments which now have perimeter fencing as to not be destroyed by bombing or whatever madness crazy people come up with.  They guard all tourist site entrances, and the roads to popular pedestrian areas such as the Isle de la Cite- the Island where the Notre Dame stands in the middle of the Seine, and all the access roads and stairs down to the Seine promenades are also gated and guarded.  They park their police vehicles across the roadways to prevent errant and would be road terrorists from entering and plowing through the crowds of people who flock to the banks of the Seine on hot summer evenings.  I am positive this is only the surface layer of protection that we can see, but it is comforting and reassuring.

Only last night I passed by a group of patrolling armed police and as they passed I had the fleeting thought that I hope they have safety locks on those machine guns… one twitch or sneeze and to say the least would scare the daylights out of a lot of people.  But, they do appear ready to respond- that I can say.

As I have wandered the streets of Paris I have seen them in different places, and though mainly serious, I have seen them changing shifts, sharing a laugh or two, and even eating dinner in a police van on the side of the street. But one thing is for sure- I have never seen them relaxed in public- neither on duty or off.  If they are dressed, they are on duty and they are at full attention.  I had contemplated the virtues or follies of writing about them at all for alerting the enemy to their presence. But surely it cannot be a surprise- for what I relate is merely what can be seen.


And with that, I offer my thanks to France for the response you have made and the steps you have taken to give us a sense of security, but maybe more importantly to show us you are doing something. It has not gone un-noticed.  And like the people of France- some of us will carry on living, and being tourists. We will continue to live and hope and pray for a time when this time of terrorism will be a bad memory.


The Turkish Bath

I’ve come across Turkish Bath houses from time to time both in the US and abroad.  There has always been some air of mystery about them to me. It’s was ultimately ignorance. I had no idea what actually happens in a Turkish bath.  My only vague idea was that it was a kind of large steam room with people sitting around in towels. In those dreams- there was marble, and pillars, and lots of steam so you can’t really make out people clearly.  This must have come from a movie or a book, I don’t know.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1147

Today I had the great idea to drag along two friends and go experience a real, authentic, historic Turkish Bath in Kusadasi Turkey. After wandering around kind of lost in the market place looking for the sign that I had seen before, we were directed to the Turkish Bath house a few blocks away.  For some reason I thought there would only be one in a city, but I think I am mistaken. There must be many from the various signs we later saw around town.

In any case, the exterior was a charming old arched doorway, that looked clean and inviting with a large, clearly labeled sign.  The man inside spoke English to us and asked if we would like a “man or woman”? We all looked at each other and agreed “woman”.  We were shown through the warm and inviting lobby area, with a fountain, lounge chair and ornate Turkish tea sets on the wood and marble furnishings. The walls were hung with paintings that appeared to be of traditional Turkish scenery.  Through another arched stone passage into a dressing area, we were invited to disrobe and put on some plastic sandals. We were given sarong type wraps by the large Turkish woman who demonstrated roughly how to tie it around ourselves.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1139

Having managed so far with just a bit of curiosity, we were shown through a scarred wooden door, with a large wood counterweight on the outside so that it closed automatically. We passed through another large marble room with a big marble slab in the middle and ornate aged faucets on the left and right walls with marble sinks on the bench below them.  In through another wooden door with the same counter weight mechanism, we were shown into what looked like a western type sauna with slatted wooden benches. Only the ornately colorfully painted walls, and domed ceiling gave away another story.  We were seated and told in broken English and hand signals we would sit here for 15 minutes, which we did cheerfully.  It was not a sauna, but a steam room- though with minimal steam.  It was plenty warm and I imagined they didn’t need to heat up bodies that live in a very hot climate on any given day.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1115

After about 30 minutes we were beckoned forth through the wooden door, back into the marble slab room.  Now the Turkish woman had on a black bra and underwear- or bathing suit, I’m not sure which.  She too had on rubber sandals.  The youngest of our trio was in the lead and when the underwear lady tried to relieve her of her sarong- she was not too willing to let it go.  At this point we were all kind of giggling in anticipation of what was to come.  The babushka was able to get the cloth off of her and tossed it aside on the marble bench. She then bent over and picked up a big silver pan and scooped water out of one of the side basins, and unceremoniously tossed it on our leery friend. More giggles of shock and surprise struck us all and I’m sure the other two of us, must have been looking on with huge eyes, wondering what our mutual fate was to be.  The babushka in the bikini motioned for the two of us to go back into the steam room and await our fait, while she “tortured” our friend.  And so we did, with trepidation return to our benches- all the while giggling at the wet slapping sounds, water tossing noises and occasional high pitched shrieks from beyond the door.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1119

After 15 or so minutes, the door opened and we again were beckoned into the marble slab room.  Our friend was sitting meekly, looking a bit like a drowned rat, wrapped once again in her sarong on the marble bench.  Her skin was bright red on her neck and shoulders and arms.  She was smiling in a “oh my god” sort of way, and giggling at what she knew was to come for us.  I would be next- and willingly gave up the sarong, knowing it would be inevitable.  The babushka would have her way.  I got the water pan treatment, but was pleasantly surprised that it was perfectly just above warm and below hot.  It felt fantastic.  This would be the pre-rinse.  Then she threw a pan of water on the slab and motioned for me to lie face down.  I was able to see her putting on a loofah sponge mitt just before she turned it on me- full force starting at the feet and working her way, vigorously up to my neck and arms.  With a loud slap on the backside and some Turkish words, it was clear I should turn over.  By now I was at risk of sliding of the slab like a seal on an iceberg, and she caught my arm and pulled me back with a knowing smile.

Next I would have my front scrubbed down in a similar fashion.  I must say, in all my life, I have never had my breasts and armpits exfoliated- ever. It was hard to take all this scrubbing with a serious face and my occasional looks over at my friends revealed giggling about to break out.    Next would be the soap bucket, cheese cloth treatment.  I had a hard time identifying it. I thought she was soaping me down with a soapy mop, but alas she was dipping a cheese cloth bag into a big soapy, oily water mixture, swirling it around, opening the sack, blowing air into it, and closing it with her fist- then mopping it over me from head to toe, first the backside, then the front side.  I will say- it was quite nice. After that a real soapy  deep tissue massage, during which I had to blow soapy suds out of my nostrils in order to breathe.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1121

I then was motioned to sit up, and she swirled me around easily since I was all oiled up in order  to face her with my legs hanging over the side .  Then I got the real water pan treatment. I was doused from head to toe very thoroughly with the fantastic warm water.  The babushka, inquired via sign language if I wanted a shampoo- which I said I did- so once again, water unceremoniously on the head, followed by a modern day shampoo from a commercial bottle.  I was now seated on the low marble stone bench along the wall with the basins and running water.  For the head scrubbing I was pulled firmly into her ample bosom. AT this I couldn’t help but giggle. My friends were clearly enjoying it too as they giggled right along with me.  Another dowsing for the rinse out.   Being older and assuredly less modest I was left to sit naked on the bench while she moved onto the 3rd of our party.

We had more giggles, and I had new appreciation for what she was experiencing.  I particularly enjoyed her facial expressions with the new and surprising activities.  The babushka appeared to enjoy herself as well, though clearly we were a lot of work.  Together we wondered out loud how the treatment might have been if we hadn’t chosen “woman”. At which we all laughed loudly. Now I wonder how much English the babushka understood.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1127

After the treatment we were wrapped in dry sarongs, fluffy towels and head towels, for which we looked like ancient travelers going to find the Promised Land in the desert. We were motioned back to the changing lounge area, and given a honey tea, which I particularly enjoyed.   One by one we were given a front and back oil massage from toe to head- with no ground left untouched for the most part.  I am amazed that a people so traditionally modest, are so immodest in this respect.  Our wanton western ways are much more conservative!  No sheets to cover you modestly during a massage at a Turkish bath!  The final treatment would be a facial mud mask and relaxation time, during which the call to prayer was issued in the village. I stepped out onto the colorful patio to listen and be curious, which of course there is nothing to see but only to hear the cleric call the faithful to pray towards Mecca.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1132

The whole experience was a sensory delight.  It’s not for the shy or faint of heart.  Though it was only the 3 of us, we did wonder aloud if there would have been other people- would the men and women mix?- I don’t know.  We had a lot more giggles as we re- experienced the day’s events- in total about 2 and a half hours’ worth of spa treatment for a total 40 euros, including the callus treatment on my feet, face mask and oil massage- all which were additional add ons.  We all agreed our skin was smooth and soft and it was time well spent.  I would do it again.

Jennifer Farris I Phone 1135

The thing I failed to understand about “Turkish Bath” is that it’s actually a bath given to you by someone else- like a Turkish woman in a bra and under wear and rubber shoes.  Gone are my vague notions of what a Turkish bath is.  It’s really a BATH… where you are very thoroughly cleaned of every speck of dirt, sweat and dead cells. And hopefully you get some tea somewhere in there too.


I Can’t Read Maps: Pillars and Gates and Bicycling

There are so many wonderful things about travel.  One of those is getting to notice things!  Noticing things that you might otherwise take for granted.  Here in France, as I cycle around the Loire Valley Velo Route I spend my whole day noticing.  Noticing and thinking about how great it is I get to be here and see this great stuff.

The Market Hall in Bourgueil

The Market Hall in Bourgueil

During my morning coffee and croissant routine in the village I was contemplating what to do for the day.  It’s lovely, crisp, cool, fall weather here.  But the average high temperature has only been about 70, and it’s been slightly windy for the last couple of days, and that takes it down a notch.  It’s perfect cycling weather (without the wind).  For sure, I am cycling while the sun is shining, but which direction to go?


In the end, I let the road lead the way.  I had no particular destination in mind, but as I began my journey, I remembered an eco-museum sign I came across a few days ago, so why not?  I’ll check it out.

I’m getting to know the cycle routes now and realized that in the first days, the cycle routes really circle around the longest way for your scenic enjoyment.  But, if you’re tired and just want to get home- there are much shorter ways!  So, now I know how to expediently get places and I have finally gained a sense of direction and orientation.   I will admit to being a lousy map reader. I’m even worse at “guessing” the correct direction- given 2 choices I always pick the wrong one. So this feeling of orientation is quite an accomplishment.


Today’s destination really just leads me to discovering all the great architecture that I am passing by as I ride along the lovely flat and mostly paved cycle route through the villages, vineyards and farms along the Loire River.  So my theme for the day becomes architecture, and then really, I am very fixated on the fantastic pillars and gates at nearly every house and farm.  They are new and old, mostly old.  Some are rusty and sagging. Some are brightly and freshly painted red or green seem to be the most popular colors, but also blue and black. I’ve even seen one aqua…. Which I didn’t like.  There are lovely architecturally interesting stone pillars holding these gates up.  Even the smallest, decrepit, old house has pillars and a gate.  And most are fully enclosed by a stone fence.  Love!  I am completely entranced by these fences, and gates and pillars!  And I want them! All! (Except I don’t have a house)..


I never made it to the eco-museum.  I started on velo route 22, and switched to 38 and passed through many lovely villages.  Notably- Bertignolles which is on the banks of the Loire.  It has no services but is an absolutely adorable village with a cluster of ancient stone houses, some grand and some small. It has a boat launch with a cobbled road, and the main road is called “Rued du Port”. Which is a little amusing since I’m not sure it qualifies as a port, but perhaps in the day.  The homes  tightly abut against one another, and flower pots and garden spaces add color to the uniform stone houses.  It is a designated UNESCO world heritage site.


The Chateau at Candes-St. Martin

The Chateau at Candes-St. Martin


Further along Roguinet is also just a blip in the radar along the road.  It’s been a bit neglected and in fact it is this village where the eco-museum is. Also a handful of at one time glorious stone farm houses, now kind of hanging by a hinge, and some falling down.  I think to myself- probably cheap housing.  And finally I ended in Candes-St. Martin along the banks of the Loire and La Vienne River. This village boasts a hilltop fortified chateau and 12th century cathedral.  It’s all built on the hillside and the little village of white stone houses have encroached themselves around the church and cathedral.  There isn’t a centimeter of land unaccounted for.  The streets, now mostly paved for practical reasons are barely wide enough for one modern day car, and cars pull over and take turns letting others go.  There are a few pedestrian paths that are still the old original cobbled stones, and I tell you they are ankle breakers.  The stones are wide set and uneven, and pretty small so there is lots of potential for injury. But that’s the rest of the world except for America.  You’re responsible for your own well-being, not the city or person who the property belongs to.

This rusty old gate was on a massive farm compound. Little old men sitting around a table in the yard....

This rusty old gate was on a massive farm compound. Little old men sitting around a table in the yard….

In the end, this was my turn around point as the sun was low in the west, casting a deep shadow.  After a beer and sandwich, I set back across the Loire to find the quick route home.


This is the smallest pillars and gates on the most gargantuan property. Chateau Gizeaux.

This is the smallest pillars and gates on the most gargantuan property. Chateau Gizeaux.

Travel: Awkward or Vulnerable?

“Bon Appetite” said the distinguished gentleman as he elegantly handed me my baguette sandwich. In an untimely course of events, my bicycle had fallen over with my tote bag in the front basket. My baguette sandwich that was in a protective sleeve in my bag went shooting out about 5 feet across the pedestrian promenade landing at the feet of a man that I can only say reminded me of Higgins from the 80’s television series Magnum PI.

Higgins from the Magnum PI television Series

Higgins from the Magnum PI television series

Without a further utterance, he strolled down the promenade, mini-cigar in hand, in his fashionable fall ensemble of suit jacket over V neck sweater, crisp tailored shirt, neatly pressed slacks and shiny loafers. Only a cravat was absent.

With other people noticing the scene- mainly because of the crashing bicycle I was in a quandary what to do with my ham and cheese baguette that I was now holding like an offering plate at church. As I stared dumbly at the sandwich, I decided my best option would be to quickly stuff it back into my bag and take a seat, pretending like it didn’t happened. And that is what I did. The waiter who came to take my drink order, pretended it didn’t happen either. Awkward!

Travel tends to put us in a vulnerable position. Not vulnerable in a bad way, but rather the experience of being away from home and all that is familiar makes us a target for new experiences. Sometimes good, sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes undesirable. I can tell you for sure, I have NEVER shot my sandwich across the street at home! Nor do I ride a bicycle in the course of a normal day, or drink beverage at a sidewalk café, nor do I eat baguette sandwiches from a bakery.

Vulnerability is not a negative. It’s a positive. Vulnerability is what allows us to have new experiences. It is a path to growth, self-discovery, intimacy and perhaps most of all it is necessary for nurturing relationships. Being vulnerable means we let down our guard, and open the window to the world that waits for us outside our comfort zone.

So go ahead and be vulnerable. Travel. Being vulnerable is real. It has value. It opens up the whole world.  This unfortunate little incident happened along the banks of the Loire Valley River, In France where I’m busy being vulnerable.

As I sipped my beer, I looked around at the other tables nearby.  I’m sure it was only my imagination, that they were all talking about the awkward lady and the whole sandwich/ bicycle incident…. It makes me laugh.


For more information of the value of vulnerability find Brene Brown, Scholar, Researcher, and Storyteller or @brenebrown on twitter. It was on her  powerful Ted Talks presentation that I discovered vulnerability is a friend.