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.

Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway 2013

It’s snowing like mad tonight, which made me decide it is the perfect night to sit in front of the fire and remember summer. Here’s another post about Sturgis 2013:

Besides shopping, Sturgis week is about scenic rides, of course, and as a passenger of a rider I trust, I was free to enjoy the scenery.

Iron Mountain Road, near Keystone, South Dakota
Iron Mountain Road, near Keystone, South Dakota

All week long we rode past photographers snapping away, always with a big sign letting you know which website to check in search of your photo. I bought this one, because it absolutely captures our riding experience: me relaxing on the back, David eyes forward with laser focus. The road you see in the background is where we just were about three seconds before this shot was taken. Iron Mountain Road is stitched together with little curliques of wooden bridges, which I loved–David, not so much.

All in-motion riding photos are taken with my little pocket-sized Nikon CoolPix. Love my Canon DSLR, so it lives in a case until we STOP.

Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota
Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota

Needles Highway was similar. The passengers were snapping photos non-stop. The drivers were white-knuckling it through all the hairpin turns, trying not to overbalance and lay down the bike if someone ahead happened to stop suddenly. There was a lot of traffic, mostly Harleys, but also a few dazed-looking out-of-towners in sedans and station-wagons, no doubt wishing they’d picked a different week for their vacation. So there were occasional sudden slow-downs and you REALLY did not want those to happen in the middle of a hairpin turn. It wouldn’t have been catastrophic, because speeds are so low on sharp turns, but it wouldn’t have been fun either, and there’s a fine line between too fast and too slow on a curve when you’ve got 1200 leaning pounds of Harley, luggage, passenger and self.

Needles Highway, Keystone, South Dakota
Needles Highway, Keystone, South Dakota

But when the traffic stretched out a bit, it was just plain beautiful.

Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota
Iron Mountain Road, South Dakota
Needles Highway, near Keystone, South Dakota
Needles Highway, near Keystone, South Dakota
Needles Highway
Needles Highway
Stretching Break!
Stretching Break!
Lots of time for self-portraits!
Lots of time to practice self-portraits!

Saint Émilion 2013

Grâce à une gentille Française (Thanks to a kind French woman) a few errors in my French were noticed and have now been corrected in earlier posts: Il fait soleil (not du soleil) and Train à Grand Vitesse (à not de). Merci beaucoup! The following is another of the accounts of our trial run last spring:

Au Revoir, La Rochelle
Au Revoir, La Rochelle

Sunday, 9 June 2013, was goodbye to La Rochelle for a while and  Day 1 of the road trip. We rented a car at the La Rochelle airport. Pascale and Jacky kindly drove us there and went in with us in case my French was not up to the task. (It wasn’t.) The guy filling out the form to note the previously existing damage on the rental car was a bit cavalier and we had to have him add a few X’s once we actually saw the car. If you’re familiar with these tiny streets with stone buildings pressing in on both sides, you’ll know why all the cars are so small here. Yes, actual cars drive on la petite rue pictured below. 

One of the tiny streets of Saint Émilion
One of the tiny streets of Saint Émilion

It’s not even full tourist season yet, but parking was at a premium. David was not too excited about driving through the town searching for a spot, especially at one VERY tight corner. I think he was relieved we had to park several blocks out of town. Definitely, made leaving easier.

We stopped for lunch and a look around in Saint Émilion. It was nearly 2:00 by the time we got there, found a parking space (no easy task) and a restaurant that would let us in (full or done serving), so within a few minutes, everyone else in the place had finished up and left and the staff was resetting for the dinner crowd.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

We apologized (in French of course) for arriving so late, ordered and ate quickly, and the waiter was gracious. Lunch is served at very specific times in France and if you miss it, too bad for you!

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Tough to get photos in Saint Émilion without having them infested with tourists. You have to point, focus, shoot, with no dilly-dallying or someone in shorts and tennis shoes will pop around the very medieval corner you were framing so artistically. I shot this one over everyone’s heads.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Lucked out here with this tiny alley, but if you look carefully you’ll see the top of the tower is full of people.

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

Another cute little private spot. No one is there because, as we’ve already covered, LUNCH IS OVER!!

Saint Émilion
Saint Émilion

No one in sight. Shoot fast!

Vendredi Soir (Friday Evening) 2013

Here’s the rest of vendredi soir (Friday evening).

Coquelicots, Ile de Ré
Coquelicots, Ile de Ré

Driving back to Pascale and Jacky’s. This is still on Ile de Ré. Doesn’t it look exactly like a Monet? The red poppies (called coquelicots) are eye-catching in private gardens but absolutely stunning massed in huge fields.

Le Jardin Chez Jacky et Pascale
Le Jardin Chez Jacky et Pascale

More gorgeous flowers, these in Pascale and Jacky’s backyard.

IMG_1033

IMG_1035

Jacky trying to BBQ after the rain started and sent the rest of us inside. David’s compassion is apparently stronger than mine or Pascale’s.

Jacky and David
Jacky and David

Gotta love le BBQ!

Pique-Nique on Ile de Ré 2013

Toward the end of our two-week trial run, we spent another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening with our new friends Pascale and Jacky, which somehow works even though David still speaks pretty much zero French.

David gamely ventures a “bonjour” or “merci” from time to time and neither Pascale nor Jacky speak English, although Pascale occasionally does a goofy imitation of David saying “Me too.” Not sure why that strikes her as funny. David comes up with teasing and jokes that I manage to translate at least well enough that we’re all laughing much of the time.

Site of Pique-Nique
Site of Pique-Nique

This set of photos is from our afternoon on Ile de Ré where we had a pique-nique, then a complete tour of the whole island. The pique-nique was very French, even though we were sitting on rocks looking out to sea, complete with aperitif (our favorite Pineau de Charentes–sweet and cold), then multiple courses and wine, ending with a nice soft camembert. We’ve never liked camembert in the states, but Jacky says the secret is to find a soft one, a week to ten days before the expiration date. To confirm that it’s soft, you take off the lid and give the middle a good press with your thumb. “C’est pas poli,” (it’s not considered good manners to do so) he warned us, so you have to first glance around furtively to make sure no one is watching.

This island is very popular with cyclists, so many went by while we were there, and every man, woman and child, without exception, wished us, “Bon appétit!” Dining is VALUED here.

IMG_0943

It’s definitely the height of rose season right now. They’re everywhere, and definitely on Ile de Ré, the island just over the bridge from La Rochelle. The bridge is a big swooping 2 km beauty, that you could walk or bike over, but you’d have to be dedicated. The middle is HIGH.

IMG_0967

We climbed up another little tower, this time a bell tower in a church in Saint Martin, with a tiny creaking wood staircase so small, they’ve installed a couple of stop lights to regulate the flow. It’s actually forbidden (in French) to pass anyone on the straightaways. Your only chance is if the person on the descent crams into a corner at one of the turns. The person in the lead of the ascenders announces how many are in the ascending party so the descenders don’t resume heading down before all are by. Et voilà!

Saint Martin de Ré
Saint Martin de Ré

This is the view from the top. Worth every claustrophobic, dusty, hair-raising moment.

We climbed down just in time. The huge bells tolled just as we made it outside.

IMG_0964

Then we walked toward the port to try to see the donkeys that wear pants called “les ânes en culottes” but, alas, they only work Saturdays and Sundays.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

In a week or so the entire island will be covered with holly hocks. Here’s an early one.

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

Looking out from the western tip of the island at the base of the old lighthouse. This beach has concrete and stone walls that trap fish when the tide goes down, but this method of fishing is dying out with the older generation. Seriously gorgeous, though, n’est-ce pas?

Ile de Ré
Ile de Ré

Another cool sign.

Adventures in Wanderlust