One Exhausting Day

So, the evening my husband and I went back to Paris, I received a text from my college girlfriends saying that their flight had been canceled and they had been put on a plane two days later! Incredible!! They had called their travel agent (don’t ever travel without a travel agent in these crazy times!!), and he had worked his magic and got them on a plane that left two hours earlier than their original flight…as long as they could get to the airport immediately! They did. Then they would fly from Greenville, SC to Charlotte, NC to London (Heathrow) to Paris! They finally arrived in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport at three-thirty in the afternoon, rather than the original nine-thirty in the morning. I guess six hours late is better than two days late!

I, however, having spent the entire day at the airport, now knew everything about the airport (go ahead, quiz me), as well as getting to know all of the security agents. They actually clapped when I finally came walking out of arrivals with my college girlfriends! What really shocked me was the fact that CDG airport was so closed down. Of the three terminals, there was only one active (Terminal 1), the other two were closed completely. And, in Terminal One, half of the airline gates were closed. One security agent told me that there had not been a flight on Turkish Air in almost two years. I was gobsmacked. Yes, that is one of my favorite words.

Anyway, once I had gathered them and their luggage, we jumped on the RER from the airport to the center of Paris – my favorite way to get from the airport. However, my girlfriends did not find it as enjoyable as I did. Perhaps, it is because they were short on sleep. Or, perhaps, it was because they had over-packed…in a big way. I had told them: one checked bag, not too big, and one carry-on that was big enough to hold your purse. They, however, assumed that was just a suggestion, and had two checked bags each, and two large carry-on bags each. One does not travel like a Parisian with that much luggage. They needed “people” or staff, but alas, they had neither.

Once we arrived in the center of Paris, we hoofed it through the metro to the Montparnasse train station. I already had our tickets ready, so I quickly picked up sandwiches to eat on the train. At that point I had a mutiny on my hands. They did not want to get on another mode of transportation. I told them we either boarded the train or slept in the train station. They needed a few minutes to think about it. Oh, and did I mention the fact that we had to have our French Health Pass checked at each junction. No? Well, we did, and since one of my girlfriends never got hers, they kept checking her COVID test results. Yeah, not really fun.

Finally, we were on the TGV train, settled in our awesome seats with the table between us, and eating sandwiches. Everyone felt better after ham and butter sandwiches, water to drink, and a bite of chocolate. We watched the scenery pass by as we barreled south to Angers. Once there, we collected the car from the car park, where I had left it two days before on my way to Paris with my husband. (I’m no dummy, I would never drive in Paris.) And we were off to our lovely house in the Loire Valley. We pulled in just before dark, so they were able to see the outside, but would have to wait for the next day to really take it in.

I had cooked supper two days before, thank goodness, so I heated everything up and we dug in. Even though we had done nothing but sit around for almost two days, we were all famished. Pasta with a rustic tomato sauce, salad, and bread never tasted so good. As soon as the last dish was done, we crashed. Determined to not miss a moment of our time together in France, we vowed to get up early the next day.

Well, come back next time and see how that went…

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A Week in the Loire Valley, Just Hubby and Me

My husband and I settled into “our” home easily enough. Our bedroom was quite spacious with large “French” windows. (Aren’t all windows in France French?) The bathroom was divided into two rooms: the commode was in it’s own room separate from the double sinks and shower room. That worked for us. The salon or living room was the perfect size, small enough to be cozy but large enough for plenty of seating and a large television. The dining room sat eight. The kitchen was every chef’s dream. The front and back garden were perfectly proportioned, with a lovely olive tree in the back and a great deck with a casual seating area as well as an alfresco dining area. That house was absolute perfection.

We took off to the massive Super U to purchase groceries, as our little village market was closed. (Who knew that after a month of having Parisians about, the market owners needed their own vacation for a short time during the first of September. Something that had escaped my research.) Note to self: wait until the second week of September to head out into the French countryside.

We were quite impressed and saddened to see this massive grocery store that resembled a Publix, Costco, and Sears all rolled into one. Although, on the plus side, we were able to purchase everything on our list and a few dozen things we had not even thought about. Driving there and back was still quite the ordeal, but I knew that eventually I would feel more comfortable behind the wheel in a foreign country. After all, I had spent months researching the driving rules in France. No, I am not obsessive at all.

We wandered all over the countryside that week. We went to a few chateaux. Our hosts had actually recommended the Chateau de Brissac, and it did not disappoint. It was stunning and incredibly enough still in the same family for over five hundred years. In one room they had the current Duchess’ wedding gown, as well as their daughter’s wedding gown – she married a prince, naturally.

We found a few family owned wineries with their own caves. It was only neighborly to try some, right?! There was nothing fancy about them, just great wine, with grandma helping out. Who could ask for more.

We wandered all over our lovely village eating at all of the restaurants, which was no easy thing since my husband’s French Health Pass never came in. (Who knows why mine did but not his?) He had to keep getting COVID tests every three days. Not fun, not fun at all. There was a great museum about the Loire Valley called, Loire Odysse’e-Bateau Loire de lumiere in the village. It told of the history of the Loire Valley from the earliest times to the present. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

All too soon my husband’s time in France had come to an end. You see, what I have not yet mentioned was that just before we left for France, the doctors had found a mass in my husband’s abdomen. They told us to go on our trip, and when my husband returned they would have him scheduled for a battery of tests. It was a difficult goodbye. I wanted to go home with him but he would not hear of me leaving. My college girlfriends were coming to France as he was leaving and he would not have our trip canceled. He can be quite stubborn when he wants to be.

Our daughter was going to be at our home when my husband returned and would take him to his appointments. We did not expect a biopsy until I returned toward the end of the month. These things actually take a lot of time to schedule. It’s not at all the way they portray it on television.

We headed back to Paris so he could catch his flight the next day. The staff in the Angers train station could not have been more helpful. The TGV staff were equally wonderful. We stayed at an IBIS hotel at the Paris airport and they were horrible. I vowed that I would never stay there again. American Airlines did a tremendous job making sure my husband was comfortable, as he had begun to be in a great deal of pain that final morning. I kissed him goodbye at his departure area, hoping that the tests he would be having would answer so many questions.

Then I went to the arrivals gate to meet my college girlfriends. And that is a a story all by itself. Stay tuned for the next installment of this once-in-a-lifetime-trip…at least, I hope to never have a trip like that again!

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The Loire Valley

After several wonderful days in Paris, it was time to head out to our home-away-from-home in Saint Mathurin sur Loire. We repacked our suitcases, took the metro to Gare Montparnasse, and boarded our train. The second class seats are very spacious and comfortable. We had purchased lunch in the train station to eat on the train – eating lunch on the train always reminds me of my very first French train ride so long ago!

Within just a few hours we were in Angers. We picked up the rental car and prepared to drive to the house. I have driven in other countries before but never in France. I was terrified I would forget to watch for traffic entering our road from the right. Do you know about that little law in France? That people coming from a road to the driver’s right have the right-of-way, unless they have a yield or a stop sign…which are very rare. Yes, it’s true. If you are driving down the road, main road or country lane, you must watch for drivers coming from roads on your right. They don’t even slow down. They know they have the right-of-way, and you had better be watching! It’s amazing to me to see traffic on a main road come to a stand-still because someone is coming toward the main road from a side road on the right. Yup. Truth!

Anyway, we drove along the beautiful Loire River for about thirty minutes and entered the village of Saint Mathurin Sur Loire. Such a lovely little town. Actually, it is a perfect little town. One pharmacy, one Boulangerie/Patisserie, one creperie, one seafood restaurant, one tabac, one market, one boucherie (butcher shop), one incredible restaurant called La Luciole, one church, one cemetary, one post office. Everything one needs and nothing more.

We got to our house and met the owners. We had rented the entire house for one month. The house is called La Petite Echauguette, which means “little watchtower” The owners, Corinne and Bruno, were absolutely wonderful! They had everything ready for us. They took time to make sure we understood how to use everything, and where everything was located. They had written most of it down, because they knew it would be a lot to take in. Then, they were off on their holiday.

Here is a picture of our lovely house. We fell in love with it. What do you think?

My husband and I just looked at each other and grinned. We were in the Loire Valley, in the home we had rented for an entire month! The world opened up to us and we grabbed it. And we did not look back.

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Paris…and Then

Yes, I know it’s now January 2022. Yes, I know we went to France in September 2021. You would not believe how our lives have changed. But, I digress. First Paris, then the Loire Valley, then the life-altering episode.

Ah, Paris. We stayed in the Hotel Jardins d’Eiffel, a three-star hotel. A lovely hotel with an impeccable staff. Our room was spacious (according to Paris standards) with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower (according to any standards). Yes, it was incredible. There was a lovely hotel garden where we could relax in the afternoon or where we could have breakfast in the mornings. We opted for the hotel breakfast in the mornings and were not disappointed. The ladies offered a large American-German-styled breakfast, so no one went away hungry.

We walked out the front door of the hotel and into the heart of Paris. A few blocks from Les Invalides, a few blocks from La Tour Eiffel. A few blocks to Rue de Grenelle, a few blocks to the Musee Rodin. And, of course, it is just a few blocks to Rue Cler…one of my favorite streets for, well, everything.

The weather the first of September could not have been more perfect. Warm and sunny with brilliant blue skies. We wandered hand in hand for hours checking out everywhere we love to go and finding new spots. Then we stopped for a bite to eat, one day at a cafe, another day at an English pub. Who knew we would find a pub in Paris.

Even in a pandemic, Paris did not disappoint. The Parisians were welcoming, the tourists were glad to be there, so everywhere we went it was wonderful. The metros were not packed. The museums were easy to enter. The restaurants were excited to show what they could do. Even having to wear a mask indoors was not really a hardship, just something we had all gotten used to.

After a few days in Paris recharging from the trip over – and for me, recharging my “French” batteries, we were ready to head to our new home-away-from-home in the Loire Valley. But, more about that next time.

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France…Really…We Made It!!

I must apologize for the length of time between my posts, but I really have a good excuse…really, I promise. You see, the hubby and I were finally able to travel to France. Now, France is my absolute most favorite place in the entire world. I kid you not. I am of French ancestry, but it is more than that. If I believed in reincarnation, I would insist that I was French in my very last past life.

I have a deep affinity with France and all things French. I never get lost in France, especially Paris, even though I can get lost in the town I have lived in for most of my life. I never get tired of French foods, or drinks, or soaps, or perfumes, or architecture, or, or, or. The list of French things that I never grow tired of is endless. Literally. I can get a whiff of something undefined and it will transport me back to the France of one of my many visits. I carry all of that in my memories, my mind, my very DNA.

We didn’t get to go to France in 2019, because we had so much going on. Had I known 2020 was going to be a complete bust, I would have carved out a couple of weeks to go. Obviously, last year was not a year to travel anywhere, including France. But, that was okay, because I knew we were going this year. Well, one trip was canceled a month ago, and I was sitting on pins and needles to see if this trip would make it from the planning stage to the fulfillment stage.

I am happy to say that France did not close down, the flights still carried happy Americans to their French happy places, and we were among them. Our flight over was about three-fourths full, which I found interesting since the United States government was trying desperately to tell Americans not to go to France. I guess others listen as well as we do.

We flew American Airlines, which is my favorite (American) airlines to fly. The flight attendants were wonderful. The pilots were in top form. The plane was one of the new Boeing Dreamliners. A great aircraft, if I do say so myself. The biggest disappointment was the food. It was awful. I got the pasta and my husband got the chicken. Neither was any good. Both were so highly spiced that I couldn’t eat either. My husband had a few bites of each and then gave up. Elementary school cafeteria food gets a higher ranking than that mess.

Sleeping on the new Dreamliner was actually quite comfortable. The main cabin had wide enough seats that reclined as well as shifting forward slightly to take strain off the back. We were provided a blanket and a pillow, which was exciting for us because we had heard the airlines were not going to continue to provide those due to COVID.

When we awoke, it was breakfast time. I was excited because I adore French food, especially croissants. What a disappointment. The second meal was even more of a let down than the first. There was no croissant. No French butter. No French jam. There was yogurt, but it was terrible. It tasted like pink-colored mush. There was a fig newton-like cookie. Really? For breakfast? There was something else in there that was absolutely unmemorable, as evidenced by the fact that neither of us can even remember what it was. American Airlines really dropped the ball on this.

Ah, but when we disembarked, we were in Paris! Which you will be able to read about next week. So come on back then to get your Paris fix.

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Edi-Slo, Not Edisto

We just returned from four wonderful days at Edisto, South Carolina…beach, not just island. (Trust me, there is a difference.) Oh, what a heavenly visit it was. We watched the international space station zip across the night sky. We sat at the beach and did nothing more strenuous than lift a bottle of water to our lips or wade ankle deep into the lapping surf. We ate great seafood at several awesome restaurants.

Edisto Beach has a well-deserved reputation for moving slowly, and we like it that way. We do not need those busy beaches with massive condos and hotels taking up every inch of land – and sand. We don’t need the constant noise of beach shops and amusement parks that litter so many beach places. We need to recharge our batteries when we go to Edisto. We need to slow down and just be. We need our little slice of heaven, so we go.

My husband and I have been going to Edisto since we were children. It truly is a wonder we never met there. It took until we were out of college and settled in our careers to meet each other. I really think one of the reasons we ended up together was because we each thought the perfect vacation was a week on Edisto Beach.

We have been going together to the beach for more than thirty years, and we look forward to many more years there. We raised our children on Edisto seafood, ice cream, and sand. They may have chosen homes and careers a world away, but they, too, treasure their memories of Edisto. As a matter of fact, our one daughter invited high school friends for a few days at Edisto Beach to celebrate their ten year reunion a few years ago. Everyone had a fantastic week remembering the past while making memories for the future.

I never want Edisto to be just a part of my memoires. So I keep going back, season after season after season.

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Sipping and Wandering in a Special Winery

We have just spent a lovely few days winery wandering in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. The weather was glorious, and the wine delicious. We went to several wineries but, by far, our favorite was Hanover Park Winery.

A small, family-owned winery located in rolling hills at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their farm is perfect, an old farmhouse surrounded by acres of gardens and vines. There is even a wonderful picnic area, and rocking chairs on the front porch. But it is the owners themselves who really make all the difference. Michael and Amy’s love for their winery, their product, and each other shine through the entire visit. They, and their staff, are dedicated and knowledgeable, as comfortable around true connoisseurs as they are helping novices.

The Cab Franc and the Michael’s Blend are wonderful, as are the whites, but my favorite – especially this time of year – is The Pearl. A delicious, gentle, refreshing rose’ that sits lightly on the palate. Oh, gosh, don’t take my word for it, just try them all.

The next time you are wandering around North Carolina, do turn your car toward the Yadkin Valley and wander over to Hanover Park Winery. Try their wine. You will love it. I promise. Please sip some for me.

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What Do You Choose?

Goodness, it has been a couple of weeks since I posted. What was I thinking? Oh, yeah. I was thinking that I had a house full of friends and family and had no time to write anything. Do you ever have days or weeks like that? After last year, when we had no visitors after March, I despaired of ever having anyone visiting again.

One thing I have learned from last year, and a very busy few weeks this year, is that life really is what you make of it. I could have been frazzled or aggravated that I had no time for my blogs…or any writing whatsoever…but that would have been self-defeating. I loved having a full house. I loved the hustle and bustle of all we did. I loved spending time with my wonderful mother.

The reality is that we make choices. Every day. All day long. Choices that help our lives, fulfill our lives, enrich our lives. Or, conversely, we make choices that tear down our lives, cheapen our lives, destroy our lives. I made the intentional choice of stepping back from my computer and spending that time with the people right in front of me, eating at my table right then. I do not regret it at all.

I did, however, miss you…and my writing. I like opening myself up to the greater world. There is so much to see, so many to meet, and so little time in which to do so. It seems sad that many people live in the small bubble of their making and never venture out into the great unknown.

The best part of so much activity is the slowing down after everyone leaves, and the opportunity to turn some of those conversations, some of those sites, some of those personalities into my writings…into characters…into settings…into dialogue. All of my friends and family know that anything they say or do, anywhere we go, can be (and probably will be) fodder for a story. They accept that idiosyncrasy of mine and I appreciate them for that. Besides, I think they look for themselves in my writings!

Anyway, I hope you have had a great few weeks and have taken time to smell the proverbial roses. I certainly have, and they are fragrant and wonderful. See you on Tuesday.

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Our Final Day Aboard the California Zephyr

We awoke to our final day on the train. We were surprised to discover that so many people had gotten off the train at Salt Lake City. I cannot imagine having to disembark during the night but I suppose they did alright. After breakfast (remember, we still had the COVID menu, so we were thoroughly tired of the breakfast menu by now), we went into the observation car and found it mostly empty. We sat for a while and watched the flat desert land of Utah and Nevada pass by. It was still incredibly beautiful to me.

This is scenery we never see at home in the deep South. We watched huge cattle ranches pass by. They were spread over massive stretches of land. We watched land filled with absolutely nothing except scrub shrubs. No trees, no animals, no water. The land was achingly beautiful. Stark, still, somber…majestic.

That morning, we met a wonderful couple from Indiana who own a ranch and used to raise and show Western Quarter horses. We had the best time visiting, and lunching, with them. That is one of the best thing about train travel – all of the great people you meet.

Within a few hours we were climbing again. Right after our stop in Reno, we began climbing into the Sierra Nevadas. Glorious scenery once again. In places, we rose above the treeline where the snow never melts. We looked down on Lake Tahoe. We stopped at Truckee, California and my husband and I reminisced about the time we stayed in Tahoe and and spent the day in Truckee. Such a great little town. We went on up, through Donner Pass. The thought of all that land had witnessed is not for the faint of heart.

All too soon we were slipping down out of the mountains and into Sacramento. We were running terribly late, so the stops were quick. Smokers were simply out of luck. We arrived in Emeryville about five-thirty in the evening – two hours late but we didn’t mind. The trip had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A two thousand, four hundred, and thirty-mile journey through seven states. I’m ready to do it all over again next year. Come join me!

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The California Zephyr – Crazy for Colorado

As I said last week, we were up and going early as we did not want to miss one view of Colorado. Well, guess what? Everyone else had the same idea. The observation car was completely full by eight am. Who knew? The nice thing was that the conductor came through every two hours and had people leave so those who had not been able to sit in the observation car would have a chance.

My husband and I decided that we could see most everything sitting in the comfort of our compartment, so we went back there after breakfast. We were like two little children, our faces plastered to the windows – one on each side of the train – watching the Rocky Mountains pass by. Thankfully, we were traveling slowly, so we missed nothing.

We left Denver and continued to climb. The scenery was breathtaking. Sheer mountains, rocks stacked upon rocks, on one side and drop-offs ending in gorges and valleys with rivers and streams flowing quickly on the other side. Truly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Within an hour or so, we entered Moffat Tunnel. It opened in 1928 and cuts through the Continental Divide. On one side, the water flows one way, on the other side, the water flows the opposite way. Being a Southerner used to flat land, and an Easterner used to water flowing east toward the Atlantic Ocean, it took some getting used to…seeing mighty mountains, and water flowing toward the west. The Moffat Tunnel is five miles long and took us ten minutes, thirty-eight seconds to pass through. It was awesome to me, but I heard later that some people who have claustrophobia issues, did not have such a good time.

We were warned a number of times that once we entered the Moffat Tunnel, no one would be allowed to go between the train cars. There is always the possibility of exhaust and other unpleasant bits in the tunnel. We were also told to remain still while in the tunnel. It is pitch black in the tunnel. Thankfully, the train had its lights on. We turned out all of the lights in our compartment, closed our door and pulled the draperies. It was pitch dark in our room. I cannot even imagine what the men went through who built it.

According to the information from the train, the Moffat Tunnel is just above nine thousand feet in elevation and almost three thousand feet below the surface. Yeah, those poor souls with tight-space issues were not having fun when they heard that. I, however, thought it was simply incredible.

Onward from there through several smaller towns and stops, and lots of mountain vistas, before we arrived at Glenwood Springs. Wow. What a great western town. My husband and I wished that we had planned to stop and stay there a few days. It is postcard picture perfect. The main street had a number of shops, restaurants, and hotels. The roads looked to be brick, and the sidewalks were wide. There was much outdoor dining, ice cream shops, and plenty of people about. We had no idea that Glenwood Springs existed, but if we had, we would have planned a two-day stop here. Many other people were doing just that. Something for you to think about.

We wandered, train-style, through more of Colorado with one amazing view after another. After lunch, we settled in the observation car and found out that there really was more to see in that car. Those upper windows that curved into the roof allowed us to see waaaaaay up the mountains to the very top. We could see rocks perched precariously upon boulders, which sat on massive sections of mountains. It was almost indescribable. Pictures really did not do the scenery justice. You are just going to have to ride the rails and see for yourself.

Supper was late again that night, but we didn’t mind, we were still watching the scenery. As the night stole over the mountain pass, we finished our supper and headed to our compartment, ready for a good night’s sleep. Sometime during the night we left the mountains behind and slid into Salt Lake City for some minor engine repair and to drop off and pick up passengers. We missed all of that as we slumbered along to the click-clack, jerk of the train.

I hope you will wander back next week to hear about our final day on the California Zephyr. It really was an incredible journey.

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