Albuquerque and Santa Fe 2013

Paris: An Inspiring Tour of the City's Creative Heart by Janelle McCulloch
Paris: An Inspiring Tour of the City’s Creative Heart by Janelle McCulloch

Woohoo! Long-stay visas were granted, and we leave in less than a month, but we’re STILL packing, including the beautiful book you see above, so I decided it was time for a little more reminiscing of past adventures.

Shortly before heading off to France last spring, I decided to replace my point and shoot with a decent camera. I had been addicted to photography in my pre-mom days, but when our girls were growing up, I discovered it was impossible to simultaneously host the birthday party, carry the cake out to the waiting hordes, and artistically document it all with a completely manual SLR camera, with everything that involved: light meter, f-stop, depth-of-field, focus, separate flash attachment, interchangeable lenses, etc. Yikes. Not enough arms or time.

But now that they’re grown, it’s time. So I found a great deal on an entry-level DSLR, and after playing with it (and fire) a bit at home,

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I decided to try it out on a weekend road trip down to visit family in Albuquerque in March of 2013.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lots of super photogenic sights, like the beautiful chiles above, but after David’s patience had been pushed to the limit, we decided to look for a place for some guacamole and maybe a couple of margaritas. Not sure how we got the nerve to go into this place — It’s called the High Noon Saloon and it’s pretty sketchy looking on the outside, but look what we found inside:

High Noon Saloon, Albuquerque
High Noon Saloon, Albuquerque

And — bonus — the food was great. Now it’s our favorite Albuquerque spot.

Turns out you can also go wine-tasting in Albuquerque, as there are quite a number of vineyards, but we only went to the Casa Rondeña Winery. It was so beautiful, we just sort of hung around the grounds (and took a few photos, of course).

Casa Rondeña Winery, Albuquerque
Casa Rondeña Winery, Albuquerque

The next day, on the way back to Colorado, we stopped in Santa Fe for a look around, and happened into this place.

Miraculous Staircase of Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Miraculous Staircase of Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

This is the Loretto Chapel, and the story goes that there was no way up to the choir loft and all the carpenters consulted concluded that there was only room for a ladder.  The Sisters of the Chapel made a Novena to St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, and on the ninth and final day of prayer, a man showed up with a donkey and tools, looking for work. Months later, the beautiful staircase complete, the man disappeared without pay and without a trace. Aside from the mystery of the carpenter,  some of the design considerations perplex experts to this day, enough that it was featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.*

May your journey lead you also to beauty, story, mystery, and of course, fabulous food and wine.

*Adapted from the Loretto Chapel website.

Bishop Castle 2012

Packing Update: I’ve now packed all the fiction — 40 boxes total. Woohoo! Next up Memoir / Biography.

I promised more about Bishop Castle a couple of posts ago, so here you go. Our neighborhood Harley group did a weekend ride to southern Colorado back in June of 2012, and one of the stops was a place unlike any other I’d ever seen, all built by one man during the very short summers that an altitude of 9000 feet offers.  Be sure to note the iron sphere, the highest accessible point, at least at the time we were there.

Bishop Castle, Colorado
Bishop Castle, Colorado

You really have to climb it to fully experience this place, but I was able to get a few quick snaps whenever I could convince my fingers to loosen their grip on whatever handhold I could find. Terry, one of the riders in our group, had no such qualms:

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Yeesh. I hyperventilate just looking at the photo. Plus — added bonus — the whole thing shimmies with every footstep ANYONE takes ANYWHERE on the iron part of the structure.

Safety precautions at Bishop Castle
Safety precautions at Bishop Castle

I think you should consider this a dead end and choose another route.

In case you can’t really tell how high this is, check out our Harleys in this photo shot from inside the sphere. Go ahead and get your magnifying glass. I’ll wait.

From inside the sphere atop Bishop Castle
From inside the sphere atop Bishop Castle

That’s the dragon to the right, unfortunately (fortunately?) not spewing flames when we were there. Rumor has it there’s a plan for a new burner that would be able to shoot flames 30 feet. Not sure how you get a permit for that in a state with annual raging wildfires. Hm.

Here’s another shot of the dragon:

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The drive alone was spectacular, along the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway, and this place must be seen to be believed. There seem to be several Bishop Castle websites, so just Google it and take your pick, but whatever you do, find a map or directions so you can start planning your very own scary climbing adventure!

Bon courage!

Chez Nous 2013

We’re on full-steam-ahead mode now. You’ll be happy for David when you hear that I’m finally helping with the packing. I’ve now packed 29 boxes of books, which is more than half of the fiction section of our library. It was actually kind of addictive, like a jigsaw puzzle, so I will definitely be packing more of the library, I promise.

Here is the final post about the 2013 reconnaissance mission, originally written just after we had arrived home (chez nous):

We managed to dodge all the transportation strikes in France and the lightning in Denver that almost forced our plane to land in Colorado Springs instead, and got home late Thursday evening, the 13th of June.

Here is the last set of photos from our three weeks in France. These are a few I wanted to send earlier, but they didn’t quite make the first cut. So for a temporary farewell to France, here they are.

Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

Inside shot of Musée d’Orsay. No photos allowed in among the paintings, but this is from the little scenic overlook you can climb up to after you finish admiring the Impressionists. I think I was allowed to take this shot, but if not, it’s too late now!

Musée d’Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

The posh restaurant at the Musée d’Orsay mentioned in an earlier email. Fortunately the rain chased us in there.

Square Gabriel Pierné, Paris
Square Gabriel Pierné, Paris

Tiny park in Paris with benches after my own heart.

Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris
Parc de la Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris

Another shot of the park with the pretty blue benches.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

One of the other beaches on Ile de Ré. Love this picturesque ramp, but my favorite part was the sign right next to it saying, “Beach Access 0 km →” (or more likely Plage Accès) pointing to the right AWAY from the ramp. I can agree with the 0 km distance, but I question the need for the sign in the first place and certainly the direction of the arrow. Quoi? (Roughly, Huh?)

This and other mysteries will perhaps be solved soon. We fly to France on the 26th of March.

À bientôt, la belle France!

Montmartre 2013

June 2013 — the final leg of the trial run. Trying to find the Avis rental car drop-off in Marseille was a bit hair-raising, involving David driving in a large and unfamiliar city in bumper to bumper traffic (sometimes literally) and me periodically hanging out the window  or even jumping out at various corners and accosting strangers for directions.  But we finally found the place, parked the car in an open spot and went looking for someone to check us in. When we finally did, they had no interest in actually seeing the car and just said something to the effect of, “Oh, it’s parked down there. Okay.” No checking for new dents and scratches. No even making sure it’s actually in their lot. It was a little unusual, but no additional charges ever came through, so I guess all was well.

From there, we walked around the corner with our bags and followed the crowds, since not one sign pointed us to la gare (the train station). After a few hours on the TGV — super comfy, big cushy seats — we made it to Paris for an afternoon and evening in Montmartre. Longest taxi ride ever in near grid-locked traffic from Gare de Lyon, but still only 24 euros so didn’t break the bank. We’ve learned not to attempt the Metro with multiple bags, especially if there will be a connection, which there would have been. If you’ve never used the Paris Metro, be forewarned that many steps are involved, some go down just to go right back up FOR NO APPARENT REASON except to bedevil those dragging around bags on wheels. Not to mention the random confusing forks in the road. Someone should create a map of the underground tunnels leading to the various stations. But since I’m not aware of one, take a TAXI!!!!!

But we made it. Took a bit of a wander round after checking business emails, bien sûr (of course).

Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre
Le Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre

Try to ignore the couple in matching T-shirts checking their i-Phone. Pretty much impossible to avoid tourists in your photos of Paris/Montmartre unless you’re willing to get up at the crack of dawn (which I’m not, even though the light would be beautiful). This restaurant was the setting for a famous Renoir painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette. Moulin is French for “windmill.” So if you’ve heard of Moulin Rouge, it’s a red windmill that happens to be over a very expensive well-known nightclub.

Montmartre
Montmartre

Everything is VERY cute here.

Montmartre
Montmartre

More cute.

Montmartre
Montmartre

Super cute. Thinking about trying to get a table for dinner. We didn’t make a reservation which is often a mistake in Paris, but we’ll wander over around 8 and hope for the best.

 Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre
Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

This is the view of Sacré Coeur when coming up from the public WC’s (down the steps southeast of the entrance, in case you’re ever looking), which I was very happy to have found! Absolutely magnificent cathedral. Made it inside today for the first time. Last attempt the line was too long. No photos allowed inside, I’m sorry to say, but it does help to maintain the sacred space feeling without cameras snapping away all the time.

We enjoyed Montmartre enough that we’ve booked a few apartments in this quartier for our various stays in Paris, one of which has a front door on a landing of one of these stairways:

Montmartre
Montmartre

We did make it home to Colorado the next day. La grève (the strike) was finished in the morning as promised (just making a statement, not hamstringing the entire country). The whole experience certainly broadened our horizons. That last evening, while I did another check of business emails, David watched some sort of Asian cooking show (with English  subtitles) where several people were outside around a fire, roasting a spider they had inserted (somehow–I wasn’t watching) in an egg. Yikes. Definitely had to take that man to go find some dinner.

The Plan — Part One

I’ll spare you any more photos of boxes, but you can take my word for it that they’re piling up around here. And I, dear Reader, have finally packed TWO of them. Gold star for me. Until a few days ago, I’ve been wielding my highly developed instruction-following skills by putting together our massive dossiers for our long-stay visa applications, and last Thursday, I hauled nearly three pounds (yes, THREE POUNDS) of paperwork over to Kinkos and shipped it FedEx — as instructed, of course — to the French Consulate in Los Angeles. As of Wednesday morning, the bank shows they’ve run the card for the payment of the fee, but I have no idea if that’s a good sign or not. On verra! (We’ll see!)

It has been brought to my attention that the minutiae of our projected adventure are not quite as widely known as I had somehow imagined. Quelle surprise! What else could anyone possibly have to think about? I’ve even been asked where we’re going, a subject on which I was fairly certain I had been monopolizing conversations for at least a year. So here, briefly — or as briefly as you can reasonably expect from me — is a bit of the itinerary.

We’re temporarily leaving views like this:

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

And castles like this:

Bishop Castle, Colorado
Bishop Castle, Colorado (More on this place later!)

For views like this:

Paris, from the top of La Tour Eiffel
Paris, from  atop La Tour Eiffel

And this:

Dordogne River Valley, France
Dordogne River Valley, France

And castles like this:

Château de Chenonceau, France
Château de Chenonceau, France

And this:

Château des Milandes, France
Château des Milandes, France, Josephine Baker’s Humble Abode

The Plan — Part One: In March, we’re heading off to France, for just enough more than three months to require the aforementioned long-stay visa, then back to the states for a New England summer, then back to France, for about two and a half months, but just soon enough after the previous trip to require another visa. Yippee. Excellent planning, non?

After the second France trip . . . ah . . . you’ll have to stay tuned!

Sausset les Pins 2013

9 June 2013 we drove the rest of the way to Sausset les Pins (near Marseille) to visit some customers of ours. Even though we kept to the back roads again, we made pretty good time following a couple on a motorcycle ahead of us driving as if the furies of hell were after them. We decided if they could handle all the turns at that speed on a motorcycle pulling a trailer, surely we could in our little car. Every so often I’d try to explain which turn to take at the next roundabout, but David would say, “I don’t care where you’re going, I’m following them!”

Viaduc de Millau
Viaduc de Millau

Our one departure from the back roads. This is the Viaduc de Millau (another photo shot through the windshield as we were speeding along). I took a shot of the valley very far below, but it turned out to be mostly of the blurry side rails, so I’ll spare you.

This was the view from our balcony in Sausset les Pins:

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

Pas mal, n’est-ce pas?  Which means roughly, “Not bad, eh?” (But you probably figured that one out.)

The next day we took a bit of a walk from our hotel to scope out the area. The beach there is mostly stones, but there were a few people lying on it anyway, with not so much as a towel, let alone a chair or yoga mat or any sort of padding. And they were doing a pretty good job of looking as if they were enjoying themselves. We, however, were not tempted.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

The color of the water really is this spectacular in places.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

And if you’re lucky enough to have a sailboat, the wind is blowing pretty much all the time. But if you don’t, as we of course do not, you can sit on a whale’s tail and stare longingly out to sea.

Sausset les Pins
Sausset les Pins

Château des Baudry 2013

Winter’s grasp is unrelenting today, so although the snow is very beautiful, here are a few more memories of warmer days. These photos are from the trial run France trip last May and June. After lunch in Saint Émilion, we drove the rest of the way to Monestier to spend the night at Château des Baudry and have another of Hélène’s amazing meals. We discovered this place on our first trip to France in September 2011 and it was just as excellent the second time.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Definitely a place to stay if you’re ever in southwest France.

Courtyard, Château des Baudry
Courtyard, Château des Baudry

Interior courtyard. The entry hall and all the rooms surround this. Each room has a door onto the outside and also one onto the courtyard, complete with palm trees, lemon trees dripping with lemons, and goldfish lazing around among blooming lily pads.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Lots of little scenic spots begging to be photographed.

Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry
Château des Baudry

Everything in bloom here too.

Last time our room was the massive corner room. This time that room was taken, but we had another beautiful room. All the rooms are less pricey than rooms in Paris and two to three times the size. I made sure to get the tutorial on the shower this time (left knob is on/off, right knob controls temperature), since last time although I lucked out the first two days, I managed to inadvertently change something the third day and had a cold shower.

Monestier, France
Monestier, France

View to the neighboring château.