Category Archives: France Retour

Bon Appétit!

Last week David commented that the fatigue evident in my last two posts was beginning to make it seem like we needed to get on a plane and go home, so new rule: Sleep more. Whine less. Or as Jessica Hagy* says, Less crankiness. More marveling.”                     *See my quotes page for more gems from her.

So I offer my apologies for the grumbling. I assure you, dear readers, we both remain deeply grateful for this journey and all it entails, and especially right now for the chance to live for a short while in beautiful La Rochelle.

La Rochelle from Tour de la Lanterne -- Photo by Chelsea
La Rochelle from Tour de la Lanterne — Photo by Chelsea (Click on any photo to enlarge.)
Atlantic as seen from atop Tour de la Lanterne -- Photo by Chelsea
Atlantic as seen from atop Tour de la Lanterne — Photo by Chelsea

Now that we’re back here after seeing Brittany off, I finally have time to write about some of the previously neglected touring, shopping, and in this post, dining that we experienced while Chelsea and later, Brittany were here. And bonus, Chelsea has sent me some of her photos, like the two above and this one, all taken in La Rochelle. Thanks, Chelsea!

Photo by Chelsea
Photo by Chelsea

Aside from being VERY photogenic, France is of course famous for dining, be it café, brasserie, bistrot or restaurant, and David and I have a few favorite spots in La Rochelle we were anxious to share with our visiting daughters, like Les 4 Sergents. So a few days into her visit, we took Chelsea there for lunch to meet Pascale and Jacky.

Lunch ended up being multilingual, rather than the usual bilingual. It worked like this:

  • David: English, a few words of French (like bonjour, merci)
  • Jacky: French, the occasional word of English
  • Pascale: French, some German,  a few words of English
  • Chelsea: English, German
  • Sunny: English, increasingly solid intermediate-level French
  • Waiter: French (and most likely at least some English as well)

Chelsea sat next to Pascale so they talked together a bit in German. Pascale and Jacky spoke to all of us in French, which I then translated into English for David and Chelsea, who in turn would make comments or ask questions in English that I would translate into French for Pascale and Jacky. Between talking to le serveur in French, all the translating, and trying to eat my lunch, I got so discombobulated, once Pascale said a few words in English and I turned to David and translated them into French, then quickly back into English, when I realized what I had done. He gave me one of his long-suffering looks, and said, “Yeah, got that.” Oops.

Chelsea had this beauty for desert:

Dessert at Les 4 Sergents, La Rochelle -- Photo by Chelsea
Dessert at Les 4 Sergents, La Rochelle — Photo by Chelsea

Absolutely art on a plate. And I loved the silver. Even the backs of the spoons were gorgeous. The food and the company: as wonderful as ever.

When Brittany visited, instead of meeting Pascale and Jacky at a restaurant, they invited us chez eux (to their house) for another of the fun table BBQ’s we had enjoyed so much a few months ago. Here’s Jacky with the amazing wine we had after les apéritif, to accompany the foie gras du Périgord:

Jacky with wine to accompany the foie gras
Jacky with wine to accompany the foie gras

Note the electric grill under the silver tray. After les apéros (during which we had champagne and tiny nibbles) comes l’entrée (or first course — the foie gras and the wine above, in this case), then le plat (main, usually meat course with red wine), which is where the grill comes in. We had raved so much about how much fun it was, like a fondue party except with a grill, they were kind enough to offer a repeat. Merci beaucoup! 

Next, du fromage (cheese), and usually salad, but no one had room for that.


Then dessert (with cognac), then café, made in a fascinating glass cafetière Hellem, that looks like something from a chemistry lab. All absolutely delightful, as usual.

Chelsea in Paris
Chelsea in Paris

Chelsea’s first dining experience in Paris went very well, but her first dining experience in La Rochelle did not go quite as well. At a port-side café the waiter managed to dump a full dish of bright orange dressing into her lap, and pretty much all over her darling black and white summer dress.  He was of course very apologetic and her meal was free, but she still had to walk through the crowded town looking, as she noted, like an illustration from the children’s book The Big Orange Splot. As they say here, Hou-là-là-là-là-là-là! (Roughly, YIKES!)

Fortunately, the shops were nearby and open. Unfortunately, she was walking with David and Will, who are . . . you know, men . . . so not super patient with shopping. However, she managed to quickly find a dress so cute, I made her take me back to the store the next day so I could buy one.

Which brings me back to gratitude. Thank you, friends and family, for patience when I’m grumpy, for meals shared and memories made, and for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. And thanks to God, for the grace of lessons taught with gentleness.

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. ∼Denis Waitley

Even in the most peaceful surroundings, the angry heart finds quarrel. Even in the most quarrelsome surroundings, the grateful heart finds peace. ∼Doe Zantamata

Wishing you grace and peace and a heart full of gratitude.


Very Versailles

Versailles was very  . . . gold . . .


. . . and big . . .

Versailles gallery--roped-off or it would have been full of people
Versailles gallery–roped-off or it would have been full of people

. . . and crowded . . . and therefore, a little disappointing, honestly. Granted, we were already exhausted from days of tramping around Paris fighting the hordes for elbow room at all the main tourist sights–in other words, exactly what David and I have tried to avoid until now. And I had not slept well the night before, realizing at 2:30 a.m. that I didn’t know exactly how we were supposed to get there, so I sat up in bed for an hour with my tablet on Google Maps, trying to figure it out between the metro and the RER trains. Turns out all I had to do was ask the man in the booth at the metro station right by the apartment. He sold us the correct tickets and gave me a map with the metro and train connections circled. More unnecessary hours of stressing out. I thought I was going to quit that!

When we arrived, we decided to see the palace first to “beat the crowds.” Too late. After being elbowed and shoved and coughed on and photobombed . . .

Versailles Hall of Mirrors -- photobombed
Versailles Hall of Mirrors — photobombed

. . . for a good 40 minutes inside the palace, I said to David and Brittany, “Ugh. Let’s go outside. I’m over it.” To which Brittany dryly responded, as only Brittany can, “Over it? I’m damn near homicidal.” Yes, well. I was too, really, so out we went to admire the gardens and to try to locate Marie Antoinette’s faux peasant hamlet. We had a map of the grounds, but did I mention Versailles is BIG? BIG. We walked and walked and walked, after having turned our noses up at the lazy schmucks who were riding the goofy little train, and began to wish we’d taken it ourselves.

Nevertheless, find the hamlet we did, eventually, as well as some sandwiches for lunch, so had a bit of a breather before seeing this . . .

Marie Antoinette's Hamlet at Versailles
Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles

. . . and this . . .

Marie Antoinette's Faux Peasant Hamlet at Versailles
Marie Antoinette’s Faux Peasant Hamlet at Versailles

. . . and this . . . .

The Farm at Versailles
The Farm at Versailles

. . . before trekking back through town to the train station, where we had a bit of drama trying to figure out the right train to Paris, along with every other tourist on the platform. As a matter of fact, they are ALL the right train to Paris, but no one seemed to understand that, even though I had been told in French, “tous les trains” and another woman I talked to had been told in English, “all the trains” go back to Paris. The problem was an announcement that the train serviced stations I didn’t recognize (but later found on the map PAST our stop, so absolutely would have taken us where we wanted to go). Whatever. After the stress-inducing announcement, we decided to bail at the last minute and I was nearly crushed in the closing door of the train. Yikes. One MORE reason to QUIT with the worrying already!!!

Now we’re back in La Rochelle, where it is maybe not quite so GOLD, but still beautiful in it’s own way . . .

La Grosse Horloge, La Rochelle
La Grosse Horloge, La Rochelle

. . . and very much more peaceful.

A few thoughts for you from some who HAVE figured out worrying:

. . . Do not fret — it leads only to evil. ∼Psalm 37:8

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? ∼Matthew 6:27

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. ∼Corrie ten Boom

Wishing you a worry-free week!

Paris Pell-Mell

Chelsea, our youngest, has come and gone, but I was too tired after our boating misadventures to drag my camera around, so no photos of her stay until she sends me some, but we did have a great time. Then Brittany, middle daughter, arrived a day after Chelsea headed home and is now here in La Rochelle with us for a few more days. David and I are recuperating from too much Paris at too frenetic a pace. Even Brittany, young and strong, says she vastly prefers the tranquility of La Rochelle.

Word to the wise: choose two, maybe three things max, to see and/or do in Paris each trip, unless you’re there for a long time. David and I know this, but time felt short and neither Chelsea nor Brittany was certain of coming back. So we walked and walked (and walked and walked) and stood in line after line and tried to do way too much.

We visited le cimetière du Père Lachaise, where we saw the tomb of Heloise and Abelard . . .

Tomb of Heloise and Abelard, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris
Tomb of Heloise and Abelard, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris

. . . and, of course, Jim Morrison’s grave (not nearly as photogenic, but mobbed, nevertheless). Oscar Wilde’s tomb was too far up the hill for our tight schedule, so we had to pass on that one. We were off to climb la Tour Eiffel . . . .

Brittany climbing the Eiffel Tower
Brittany climbing the Eiffel Tower

David opted out this time, instead walking in the park while Brittany and I headed up. The best part was actually the climb to the first two levels–no line for tickets, less expensive, and very few people on the stairs. Once we had to join the hordes in line for the elevator to the top, things got ugly. A fight nearly broke out over a misunderstanding about placement in line, and there was WAY too much full body contact with the odd man behind us. Brittany and I took turns trying to elbow him back.

Next day: Louvre. More hordes, but also some fabulous art when you could manage to catch a glimpse of it between all the tourists who wanted their picture taken IN FRONT OF whatever we were all trying to see. What?!? And–bonus–there’s a new tourist torture device in heavy use these days–an extension pole for your camera, to better take your annoying selfie, while taking up as much space as possible and simultaneously clocking other tourists on the head. Gha-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a! Beyond maddening. We could see ceilings:


And since they’re HUGE, we also managed to see the apartments of Napoleon III (nephew of the Napoleon more famous to Americans, in case you’re not up on your French history).

Apartments of Napoleon III in the Louvre
Apartments of Napoleon III in the Louvre

Maybe I’m missing something, but those Napoleons do seem to have ignored one of the main points of the French Revolution (a bit less conspicuous consumption while people are starving, s’il vous plait).

We eventually took a break from the Louvre and went to the Catacombs, where it turns out there are whole sections that are NOT filled with bones, like this little corner:

Catacombs, Paris
Catacombs, Paris

But there are also the remains of roughly 6 million Parisiens, all very close together . . .

Catacombs, Paris
Catacombs, Paris

. . . as apparently Parisiens are used to being.

Brittany and I went back to the Louvre later in the evening when the crowds had died down a bit and enjoyed it MUCH more. Here’s one piece I loved:

Louvre, Paris
Louvre, Paris

Then on to l’Arc de Triomphe to admire a bit of Paris by night:

L'Arc de Triomphe CroppedAnd just in case we weren’t sufficiently exhausted and sick of crowds, the next day we went to Versailles. Yup. The mother of all crowd attractors. Wasn’t that an excellent idea? But I’ll save that for another post.

So, what have I learned? Mmm.

  • It is impossible to be TOO familiar with the metro system of Paris or the map of Paris streets. Before, between, and during all of the above, I had to scramble to figure out Metro connections and walking routes, not to mention which direction we were even facing when we came up from the Metro. Sheesh.
  • Too much is too much, no matter how beautiful or famous or gilded. Pace yourself.

And especially:

  • Tranquility is precious. Find it whenever possible and savor it.

Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.
∼Thaddeus of Vitovnica


Cognac and Jarnac: The END of the River Cruise

I had a few more photos from the river cruise, so thought I’d give you a few final thoughts on our river-cruising adventure . . . emphasis on FINAL. David said his favorite part was giving the boat back at the end, so I think that means we’re unlikely to repeat this adventure. It was certainly WAY more stressful than I expected, although now we could probably pull it off with a bit more sang-froid, after four and a half days of experience. Not much, but it sure beats ZERO. I even managed to dock the boat at the Jarnac base–with three employees of Le Boat watching my approach–without crashing into anything or anyone. Fortunately, my heart-rate was not being monitored.

But I last left you with our failures at Saintes, so to wrap up: We did get out of there without further incident, and made it through the two locks on the way back to Cognac in a semi-pleasant mood. We’d been through them all on the way downstream, so at least knew what to expect. The first lock upstream from Saintes is automatic, tended by a charming–and completely calm–young woman, who pushes the right buttons at the right moments, which left me free to photograph this random, cool French sight:

Turreted Sight at Auto-Lock Edited

We shared the next lock with a couple who have been cruising the Charente for fourteen years. FOURTEEN YEARS. What?

Friendly lock-helper and his 1920 bicycle
Friendly lock-helper and his 1920 bicycle

I promise my French is good enough that I understood her correctly–both times she said it. I made her tell me again after I asked her if I had heard her right over the sound of rushing water. Wow. They did seem to have it down to a science, though.  And our smiling bicycle friend, who had helped us on the way downstream, arrived just as we were exiting, and told us he’d close up and we should keep going. Okay. Back to Cognac. There are worse destinations.

We spent the last night (Friday night the 29th) back at the exact same mooring in Cognac we’d had on the way downstream, so that was easy. Then we had another walk around town, where I found this amusing sign . . .

Ici Rien Cropped

. . . which means, roughly, “Here on the 17th of April, 1891, absolutely nothing happened.” Priceless in a town (and country, really) absolutely overrun with tourists snapping away at historical sights, like this:

Château de Cognac
Château de Cognac

The last day we had to get through three locks all by ourselves, so David drove into the first one and I was doing all the cranking and wheel-turning and power-walking around to the other side to close or open the lock doors and sluice gates, and he made the mistake of saying, “Can’t you do this any faster?” Um, no, actually. So we switched places, and David found out exactly how much work it is doing a manual lock without assistance, while I got to practice remaining calm (and driving and mooring).

. . . which eventually brought us back to Jarnac, where we . . . phew . . . GAVE BACK THE BOAT. Woohoo! Deep cleansing breath, everyone.

We then had some time before our train to see this:

Crypte de l'église Saint-Pierre, Jarnac
Crypte de l’église Saint-Pierre, Jarnac

Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to go on this particular boat trip, in this particular location, was to see this crypt. And it was right there, two blocks from the starting point!

What else is under my nose that I’m missing?