Île-aux-Moines

Bretagne, Part 2 — Thursday (the 23rd of May) we took a boat tour of the Golfe du Morbihan with a long stop on Île-aux-Moines. We got on the ferry at Port Blanc and about three minutes later were already there. Pascale, as usual, had done her research, so we set off on the red walking route, marked on the road at various intersections.

This island was beautiful and green and sometimes reminded me of Sunapee. Seriously. Check this out . . .

Île-aux-Moines, Golfe du Morbihan, France
Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire, USA

But then I’d see something like this . . .

Or this crêperie with the thatched roof . . .

Île-aux-Moines, France

. . . where I had this amazing salad for lunch . . .

Salade “Papy Jean” at La Chaumière, Ile-aux-Moines — Yum!

. . . after we returned from our walk out to the point. Here’s the map.

Proof we made it all the way to the point! “Vous êtes ici” (You are here)

A few sights along the way . . .

Golfe du Morbihan from Île-aux-Moines, France
Île-aux-Moines, France

I absolutely soaked in the peace of the place.

After lunch and a winding stroll back down to the port we caught the boat for the tour of the entire gulf. The guide was apparently hilarious, since everyone kept laughing, but I understood next to nothing due to the distortion of the sound system coupled with my limited attention as I enjoyed the sunshine and taking a bazillion photos. Still loved it. By the end the light just kept getting more and more beautiful. The photo doesn’t really capture it, but here’s the best I’ve got . . .

Golfe du Morbihan, France — Photo doesn’t quite capture the beauty of the light — sorry!

Bonus, my 17,000 steps gave me permission to have this for desert at dinner . . .

Profiterole at La Cocotte in Auray, France

I couldn’t quite finish it (Jacky had no trouble with his). Isn’t it a work of art?

I am so grateful for this opportunity to be back in France with friends who care about me and remember great times with David. Also for new adventures that remind me that my life is not over. There’s always more to see and do. I know. But I’m also revisiting favorite places from the past, partly to prove to myself I can. The other day I walked across the street from La Grosse Horloge (the huge clock that’s a major landmark in La Rochelle) over to Cours des Dames, one of the main places I associate with David. He loved people-watching there, waiting for me after my French lessons. Just as I stepped up on the curb and faced the pedestrian walkway, I could feel a wave of sadness threatening. Suddenly I heard David saying, “Don’t start thinking how sad you are I’m not here, because I am here. I’m with you everywhere. . . .” And of course he is. He is a part of me.

So the adventure continues . . . .

En Bretagne — Part 1

I’m now installed in the super-cute little house I’m renting for the next month.

Home away from home — simple facade hiding LOTS of charm!

Front door leads into the living room, with the bedroom on the left. It’s basically a U. In the photo below the kitchen is on the right, bathroom on the left, living room next to the kitchen, bedroom where I stood to take this photo–wrapped around this perfect, private little space, with doors leading out from all of them. Love it!

Le Patio

So now I have a few minutes to tell you about our adventures in Brittany, or as it’s called here in France, Bretagne (the end rhymes with lasagne). We were headed to the Gulf of Morbihan, where Pascale had planned various excursions to see ALL of it, including islands in the middle. Thanks, Pascale! All of it was well worth seeing. Way too much for one post, so here’s Part 1.

We packed up and headed out from La Rochelle around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday the 22nd and made it to Vannes in time for lunch at our first of many traditional Breton crêperies. We walked through the base of the tower out to a stone-walled terrace.

The most impressive part, though, was les toilettes — the tiniest, wedge-shaped, stone-walled, low-ceilinged, claustrophobia-inducing WC, too tiny even to take a photo, except of this sign by the tiny sink:

“In this place was the cell of those condemned to death”

So, yeah, note to self: It could be worse.

Angel in Vannes, France

I sure wish I had been participating in FitBit challenges, because I would have rocked it. I logged roughly 17,000 steps a day Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Wednesday and Sunday we were driving there and back, and I still managed 12,500 on Wednesday and 8,000 on Sunday. Wednesday was high because the lunch stop in Vannes included a walk around the town . . .

Then Wednesday evening we also walked to dinner, twenty minutes from the hotel down to the port in Auray. And back, of course . . UP.

Auray – down to dinner and back up to the hotel!

But in the company of friends, even that wasn’t too bad! My lesson for the day: life can be hard, but it can also be beautiful. Pascale and Jacky’s next door neighbor apparently agrees:

La vie est belle — (Life is beautiful).

Château de la Roche Courbon

Pascale, Jacky and I have been taking advantage of every moment. We returned Sunday afternoon from our five-day adventure in southern Brittany, (the part that sticks out on the northwestern corner of France). I will tell you all about it, but I’m not even going to begin that yet!

To keep it chronological . . .

Monday, the 20th, Jacky drove us forty-five minutes or so southeast of La Rochelle to visit the Château de la Roche Courbon. Click on the link (then on the Union Jack flag for English) for more about it.  If you’re not that interested in reading more of the history, you can just trust me it was interesting and gorgeous.

Here are a few photos, a little gift of beauty for you. Enjoy! (Remember you can click on any photo to make it larger.)

Château de la Roche Courbon

The family that has owned this amazing place for several generations still lives here and opens it to the public for all kinds of events, in addition to the regular tours.

The story of this château and its gardens inspired me by its history of determination. It was built, improved, then abandoned, then suffered various reverses, then was restored. At some point over the centuries the gardens were amazingly built on marshland. What?!?No worries for drought, but of course various complicated drainage issues had to be expensively addressed in the 1930s and again in the nineties. The gardens are actually now supported on deep piles driven through the marshland down to bedrock.

Panoramic view of the gardens from the upper terrace/balcony

I love this image of driving a pile down through the muck to bedrock and the resulting beauty that is possible. Makes me think of the encouragement of the psalms.

Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress. I will never be shaken.  Psalm 62:2 NIV

I patiently waited, Lord, for you to hear my prayer. You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.  Psalm 40: 1-3a CEV

Wishing you abundant beauty to share, anchored on bedrock to see you safely through the mud and mire!

 

Among Friends in France

I’ve made it back to La Rochelle and am being well cared for by my friends, Pascale and Jacky.

Pascale and Jacky

Although I broke the trip into two parts, it still took its toll. I had a lovely evening Thursday with Tom and Meg (David’s brother and sister-in-law). The next day Meg and I went out for a delicious lunch at a local cozy Italian place before she took me to the airport for my overnight flight to Paris.

It’s the “overnight” part that makes it tough, not great conditions for restful sleep, but enough about that. I’m here! I slept ten hours the first night and nine last night, both mornings waking at a very reasonable 7:15-ish, so am well on my way to being acclimated to local time.

The weather I left in Colorado was FABULOUS, so I hope you Coloradoans are enjoying it! Here, it’s cooler and rainier, although the rain let up yesterday and today is only cloudy. Pascale and I took a long walk around La Rochelle yesterday morning, as I was anxious to reacquaint myself with my home-away-from-home. Tour Saint-Nicolas is currently closed and under renovation, so I’m glad I’ve already climbed it multiple times (see here and here and here).

Later, after a delicious Sunday lunch, for which I was not allowed to lift a finger, we took a little drive (yes, I slept through all of it) to Fouras . . .

. . . where some SERIOUSLY hardy souls were actually swimming!

Here’s how we were dressed . . .

. . . and we were not overly warm. The wind was BRISK. Still, it was beautiful.

It is so good to be back among friends in a place so dear to my heart. We talk a lot of other times we’ve had and laughs we shared with David. Of course, we all wish we could have enjoyed more time with him, but are so very grateful for the time we did have together.

It is not length of life, but depth of life. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now we will make new memories to share in days to come.

Better Than Portlandia

Time is flying! I can hardly believe I head to France this week. There have been so many tasks, getting the house ready for the people who will be staying here in my absence, and of course, getting myself ready to go. But I thought I had better write a quick post about our fabulous Easter weekend in Portland before I missed doing it entirely. This is likely to be one of the last, if not the last, of Chelsea’s fun trips before her baby is born, so we took advantage of the long weekend to pay a visit to Doug and Kristl.

We got there Thursday afternoon and had a chance to walk around a bit before Doug got home from teaching. Spring in Portland was a bit ahead of Colorado (and DEFINITELY ahead of Minnesota), so we soaked it in.

Thursday night, Doug’s band often gets together to practice, so we had a bit of an impromptu concert . . .

Doug and a band-mate serenading us

OF COURSE, we went wine tasting–Chelsea along for the views only. Sorry, Chelsea!

Doug, Brittany, Courtney and Chelsea at Colene Clemens Vineyards

. . . and no, Doug is not double-fisting it. He’s holding my glass while I snap the photo. Didn’t want it to look like the mom-to-be was swilling wine! Here’s the view . . .

Colene Clemens Winery

We had brought along a picnic from Grand Central Bakery . . .

Grand Central Bakery, Sellwood (Portland, Oregon)

. . . where I accidentally bought the last three quiches out from under the people in line ahead of me, who were asking about them while I was paying for them with another clerk. Sorry! I didn’t realize. (Not THAT sorry. They were amazing!)

The weather was a bit rainy Friday, so not quite picnic perfect, but Bergström Winery–one of the other wineries we visited–has changed its tasting procedure, so we were forced to come in and sit at a table and have our picnic while we tasted their wines. (Perfect!)

Chelsea and Brittany on appetizer prep

And because Doug is an all-caps EXTROVERT, of course he (and Kristl, who is NOT an extrovert, but is very gracious) hosted a bunch of people Saturday night. Here are Chelsea and Brittany helping prep the appetizers . . . .

By Sunday, we were all happily exhausted, so had a low-key day. Doug and I took Courtney downtown for a quick dash through Powell’s (one of my all-time favorite bookstores) and then to catch a train to visit a friend in Washington, since she was so close. Brittany, Chelsea and I headed home on Monday. Brittany had been to Portland several times before, but the time went by so fast, I don’t think I even had a chance to show Chelsea and Courtney that the quirky image portrayed in the show Portlandia exists for a reason. Exaggerated, but still. What a fun place.

The last time I had been there was the last road trip David and I took before his diagnosis, so I had a few weepy, nostalgic moments, but overall, what a joy to be able still to share beautiful places and happy times with dear ones. I am so grateful for that.

Wishing you many opportunities to enjoy beautiful places and happy times with your dear ones as well!

Next post from France if all goes as planned. Stay tuned!

Ebb and Flow

I started this weeks ago and never posted it, but since it is honest and true, even though I’m doing better now, here it is:

(Written April 4): I haven’t wanted to write this. I sort of wanted to pretend I was still at Folk School leaving the grief rock among the daffodils, as if I’m now skipping into the sunrise, but that’s not really how things have been going since I got back.

I was okay for a while. A friend hosted a fabulous French cooking evening that was a super fun group effort as well as delicious…

. . . where I won this . . .

Julia Child Prize for “#1 Best attitude about mistakes or messes

. . . which I would not have won without an epic fail in the kitchen during my part, let’s be honest. But it’s true, we did all cope and laugh about it, and I ended up with a cute new apron.

And yes, I did paint the little 4 x 6 I mentioned in the comments on the last post, and I still like it, especially framed:

In the knowledge that creative things seem helpful to my general well-being, I even finished a piano composition that’s not bad. Admittedly, George Lopez, a music professor at Bowdoin College and a traveling concert pianist who offers lessons when he’s in town every few months, was not impressed. Oh well. I worked on it a bit after that lesson, and my friends have said kind things. And I guess most important, I like it and I feel a sense of accomplishment having done it, so there’s that.

Yesterday, I spent four hours at an art workshop with kind people and a patient, encouraging teacher. Here’s one I started there and finished (maybe) at home last night:

Still, it was hard driving home from that workshop on a glorious Sunday afternoon, knowing David and I, on such an afternoon, would probably have headed straight to the Rio patio for margaritas, but I was headed home alone. All my closest friends happened to be out of town, so I couldn’t even show up looking pitiful on one or the other of their doorsteps. Surely you don’t want to read about me feeling hopeless, but there it is. It seems right to be honest.

Today, April 27: Here I am a few weeks later, and I’m doing better again. I’m recently back from a quick Easter weekend trip out to Portland with my three daughters, which involved only minimal weeping, but I’d better save that for the next post.

I guess this grief journey is still about ebb and flow, even if the grief waves crash over me less frequently and are less likely to knock me off my feet. Thanks be to God, my rock among the shifting sands, and thanks also to you, my dear ones, who hold me and many others in your hearts. I know I’m not the only one walking this rugged shore.

 

Folk School – Part Five: Leaving

The whole experience at the John C. Campbell Folk School was so great, I didn’t want to leave.

So I didn’t.

Okay, I admit I was already booked to stay an extra night to avoid having to pack up and move back to the Holiday Inn before my Sunday flight out of Chattanooga, but still. I was delighted to prolong the Folk School high. I just didn’t expect it to be so lonely.

I had spent some time Saturday with Mom in Murphy, dodging raindrops and browsing galleries and shops, but then I drove back to the Folk School to start packing and to take advantage of a pause in the rain to shoot a few final photos.

The sudden quiet was a little unnerving after the bustle of the week, and I wasn’t sure what I would do with myself in the evening after I got back from one last dinner with Mom and Dick. My wine buddies had all gone home. But then I noticed a flyer that there was to be contra dancing that night in the Community Room. I decided to go watch.

Well. That’s not really how they do things at JCCFS. You don’t watch. You do. So next thing I knew, people were introducing themselves and teaching me the steps, and I danced until I begged for a pause to get a drink of water. It wasn’t hard to pick up, although I had a few random lurches in odd directions. But as the caller said, if you didn’t do what he called, it wasn’t wrong. It was different. So much fun, and I’m glad I went, but I ducked out early to finish packing up.

Sunday morning, the sun was breaking through as I loaded the rental car and drove down the hill to Keith House to make myself a cup of tea and bid the place farewell.

At some point during the week, digging through the heavy bag I carried to and from the painting studio, I noticed in the bottom a small, smooth, black rock, the perfect size to fit in the palm of my hand. It startled me at first, seeing it there, but I knew what it was. It was a grief rock, given to me during my earliest grief counseling in a group for the newly bereaved. It was meant to be something solid to hang onto, something smooth to soothe the ache. But it also had a little weight to it. I had another one at home on David’s dresser. That one was not going anywhere. Not anytime soon. But this one? Did I really want to continue carrying a memento of grief with me everywhere I went? No, I decided. I was ready to let it go.

So in the freshness of a glorious sunny Sunday morning after a week of rain, before I got in my car to drive away, I held it in my hand for a moment, then I left that stone among the daffodils just beginning in earnest to raise their heads and shine with gold.

I left something behind that needed leaving, but I brought home so much more. And I’ll be back. I hope to see you there with me someday.

Adventures in Wanderlust