Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Archive for the month “June, 2019”

Andalucía Pt. 1

Ever since the early 70’s when I studied Spanish history in college, I have wanted to visit two iconic Spanish landmarks, Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita-Cathedral. Both of these monuments can be found in the region of Andalucía, largest in area and second largest in population of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities. Stretching from Alpine slopes to the Mediterranean Sea, it offers a wide-range of geographical landscapes. Andalucía has the distinction of being Europe’s southernmost point and possessing one of the warmest climates. Currently, we are enjoying very hot but dry weather reminiscent of the many years spent living in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California… thankfully, minus the sand. We are certainly getting our dose of vitamin D. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice staying cool and comfortable in this kind of weather.


Eight centuries of Moorish influence on the Iberian Peninsula is most notable in Andalucía and that’s what makes it so attractive to me. The unique architecture with such attention to detail, design, and especially patterns are quite intriguing.


View of Granada from the Alhambra

We began with the Alhambra which spans a vast property on top of a hill in Granada. Like many monuments in this region, it has gone through several architectural transformations over the centuries leaving behind remnants of each. It served as the palace of the Muslim rulers until the Christian Monarchs took over in the 13th century. Later it housed the royal court of the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Fernando and Isabela who received Columbus here and set him off on his legendary exploration of the Americas from an Andalusian port in 1492. Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, attempted to make his home here in the early 16th century by constructing a separate renaissance palace but never completed the project.

There is so much to see that it’s impossible to take it all in at once. We focused on the three Nasrid palaces which belonged to the last Muslim rulers.

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I have always been fascinated by patterns and symmetry. When I taught elementary school, I used M.C. Escher’s tessellations in my math instruction. My students and I were captivated by them. It was interesting to learn that Escher’s visit to the Alhambra in 1922 inspired his work in this field. There is a certain mathematical classification of two-dimensional repetitive patterns based on symmetry referred to as “wallpaper groups”. Remarkably, evidence of all the 17 possible arrangements exists in the Alhambra tiles. Much of our knowledge in math and science can be attributed to ancient Islamic scholars.

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If you are familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you might be interested to know that author Washington Irving wrote a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories titled Tales of the Alhambra. Irving lived in the Alhambra palace while writing the book and was instrumental in introducing the site to Western audiences.


Paella al estilo Pérez

What would a trip to Valencia be without paella? This has become such an iconic dish in the region. Its incredible popularity with tourists has simultaneously driven the price up and the quality down. We decided not to take our chances. Since Norman has prepared paella many times and quite enjoys doing so, we took advantage of the huge array of very inexpensive fresh fish easily found at the local supermarket and shopped for the ingredients instead.

The recipe Norman uses was given to me by one of my Spanish professors in college so it is certifiably authentic, but he modifies it somewhat making it even more robust in flavor and variety. This particular iteration including sea bass, mussels, clams, and shrimp turned out to be one of the best paellas he has ever made. Valencia claims to have produced the original paella recipe which is made with chicken, rabbit, and sometimes duck. This seems a bit ironic since Valencia sits right on the coast with an abundance of seafood which is what we prefer in our paella.



As you may know, the key ingredient in paella is saffron which gives it its characteristic golden color and distinctive flavor. Saffron comes from a particular crocus flower that has bright red stigmata and styles in the center referred to as threads which are collected and dried.


26423334-483B-4CD9-A845-80A71ACA31E8Saffron has long been the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It’s important to get the real deal as there are many imitations and products of lesser quality. Saffron is produced in India and Iran, but the very best comes from the La Mancha region in Spain which we were excited to find for half the price of our usual source, Trader Joe’s. We’re hoping to purchase a larger amount to take home.




Paella is rice-based dish and can be made with many types. Norman has used regular short grain rice and Arborio rice (the kind used to make risotto) with much success. However, the traditional rice used in paella is a special short grain rice primarily cultivated in eastern Spain called Bomba. It’s rather difficult to find in the US, pretty expensive, and not always fresh. Of course, we had no trouble finding it here for about a third of the price. We’ll have to try to fit some of that in our suitcase too.


Paella is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second day as the seasonings and flavors have time to meld. We divided the leftover rice into two bowls and put them in the fridge. Then Norman steamed some extra clams and mussels along with more green beans, peas, and red peppers serving up “mini” individual paellas the following day.


As they say in Spain when a meal is served, “Buen Provecho”

The Two Faces of Valencia

During our short stay in Valencia we experienced the glory of the “old” and the innovation of the “new”. In this post, we will share some of that with you.

The Old…

Like most Spanish cities large and small, Valencia has an historic “old town” area located in its city center. With a metro stop right outside the door of our apartment near the beach, we took an easy 30-minute ride into town to visit Valencia’s Ciutat Vella (old city). Here the streets are narrow, plazas are many, and massive buildings display an array of architecture from Roman to Modernist. The first stop was the Plaza del Ayunatmiento where you are surrounded by some impressive structures dedicated to the business of government that include city hall and the central post office.

Next we came to the Plaza de la Reina originally conceived in 1878 as a plaza Mayor, or central plaza for the city of Valencia. In fact, it is kilometer zero for all streets in Valencia as well as the starting point of reference for numbering all buildings. Located here are the offices and shops of many of Valencia’s most well-known companies. It is also the site of the first traffic light in Valencia which was installed in 1930.


Finally, we arrived at the Plaza de la Virgen, site of Valencia’s renown gothic cathedral. The majority of the buildings surrounding this plaza are of religious significance.

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Not far away, our last stop of the day adding to our list of public market visits — the overwhelmingly large Mercat Central with its intriguing Art Nouveau design.



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The New…

CF0E13BD-5C82-41F8-AC28-B83BB0B8D222La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences) is a futuristic complex of buildings constructed on the former Turia riverbed between 1991 and 2006. The goal was to create an attraction that would draw tourists to Valencia year round. The complex includes a science museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, an opera house, and several other modernistic architectural structures spread over a vast area making it impossible to cover in just one day. So we chose our favorite and headed to the Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe. 

It was so refreshing to be surrounded by new and modern architecture and even more so to have such an up close and personal experience with many different species such as the beluga whales, sharks, and especially the dolphins. 



Barcelona & Gaudí

Our stay in Barcelona has been highlighted by the amazing work of Antoni Gaudí, one of the most well-known Cataláns in Spanish history. His name is practically synonymous with Barcelona and the major draw for most tourists. Gaudí was an architect from Barcelona who gained recognition for his fantastical organic designs inspired by nature. He was a major contributor to the Modernisme movement that was active around the turn of the 20th century. The focus of this trend which manifested itself in both art and literature was to revitalize Catalán culture and identity.

Gaudí developed his own particularly unique style characterized by patterned brick or stone surfaces, bright ceramic tile mosaics, and floral or reptilian metalwork. He created seven properties in and around the city which have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage distinction. We were fortunate to be within walking distance of several of them in our neighborhood of Eixample. One night at dusk, we walked one block to the main thoroughfare, Passeig de Gràcia, and enjoyed a leisurely stroll revealing this marvelous form of architecture just as the buildings were lighting up for the evening. This grand avenue, replete with all the big name designer stores, is regarded as the most expensive in Spain perhaps equivalent to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Gaudí had a great influence on many other architects so there are multiple “gaudi-esque” examples along this route.

One of the more famous Gaudí buildings is Casa Batlló named after the prominent textile industrialist who owned the home and commissioned Gaudí to renovate it. It’s located on what is referred to as the “Block of Discord”, a row of houses designed by various Modernisme architects. Purchased by the Bernat family in the 1990’s, the house has been open to the public since 1995. Aside from from offering daily tours, the house can be rented as an event space. Gaudí designed the house spontaneously and never explained his work. There are many theories about the meanings behind all the symbols encompassed in this work, but, in the end, it’s really up to each individual’s personal interpretation. Take a virtual tour here.


Casa Milà, more commonly known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) due to its unconventional rough-hewn appearance, is another of Gaudí’s creative architectural enterprises and quite a controversial one at that. It suffered ongoing legal battles and constant financial troubles. Commissioned by a wealthy couple who wanted to become part of the Passeig de Gràcias scene, the plan was to create a main floor home with apartments to rent on the floors above. Ironically, the budget was exceeded by such great proportions that they had to mortgage the property in order to pay Gaudí. After many years of use by the Milà family including an array of notable tenants who lived in the apartments, it fell into disrepair. Eventually, it was restored and opened to the public in 1996. Today, La Pedrera hosts a variety of shops on the ground floor, three remaining residential apartments, and daily public tours.


The most recognizable Gaudí architectural icon, of course, is La Sagrada Familia. The first cornerstone for this Roman Catholic church was laid in 1866. Gaudí became its primary architect in 1883 and spent the next 43 years until his death in 1926 imposing his unique style on its design. Still unfinished, construction continues to this day with the goal of completion to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death on June 12, 2026. We shall see!


We have really enjoyed our city center apartment and the Gaudí sites in Barcelona. Tomorrow… off to our luxury penthouse on the beach in València!

What’s Up with Catalonia?


40251DFB-BD57-49F5-8ED1-98188E0A6CABFirst stop… Barcelona. From the point of view of many citizens in Barcelona, we are not really beginning our vacation in Spain, but in Catalonia. If you’ve followed international news at all in recent years or even recent days, you know that the Catalonians have been embroiled in a heated battle with the central Spanish government to gain their independence. It is a complicated topic to be sure and despite all I have read, I am not certain which side I would be on if I had to choose. I think you have to be a Catalonian to really understand the motivations and justification for the movement which, both economic and cultural, are deeply rooted in history.

Following the death of long-time dictator, Francisco Franco, in 1975, a democracy was established in Spain. Unlike many democracies, Spain is not a federal country organized under one overriding body of government as we have in the United States. It is composed of seventeen autonomous communities, each one with its own parliament and some degree of legislative power. Historically, the concept of autonomy or self-rule has existed in the lands now known as Spain for hundreds of years so it is well-ingrained into its people. This autonomy gives each region great leeway to govern itself as it sees fit making unification on any particular issue for the entire country almost impossible. There are several fiercely independent groups the most notable of which are the Galicians, the Basques, and the Catalonians. They have all fought for complete separation from Spain at various times throughout the years with initiatives for such independence similar to those attempted in Scotland and Quebec.

780C2FCE-017C-4972-A4C7-F139D6D4052BThe most recent referendum for Catalonian independence occurred in October 2017. The referendum passed but was flatly denied by the central Spanish government in Madrid who framed it as a coup and charged many of its leaders with rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds. Some of those leaders fled the country to avoid arrest. Others remained behind and have been jailed for two years. Just this past week, a trial for 12 of the defendants finally ended and they are awaiting sentencing. This is no rag-tag group. They are highly-educated politicians, professors, economists — experts in Catalonian independence and what it means for its people. In a closing statement Jordi Sánchez, one of the most prominent Catalonian leaders, told the court, “Catalonians are not sheep.” He reminded the judges that two million people came out to vote and they were not manipulated or coerced. Sánchez concluded by saying, “You have the job of not worsening the political situation. I would not like to be in your shoes.” The fate of the accused will not be decided until November. It will be very interesting to see how this situation plays out for the Catalonian people.

Why should we care about Catalonian independence? I spent my entire career as a bilingual teacher promoting multicultural and multilingual education; endeavoring to improve the appreciation and understanding of others. I believe it’s extremely important for people to maintain their cultural and linguistic heritage which is what a majority of Catalonians seem to want for themselves. They have been denied this right for years. Once any group of people loses their unique, individual heritage, they lose their true identity. It is gone for good — extinct like so many species on this earth and the world is certainly no better for it.

Whenever we travel, we make every effort to communicate in the language of the country we are visiting even if only with a few words. So I’ve added some basic Catalán words to our vocabulary. Here they are with their Spanish equivalents for an interesting comparison.

Hello – HolaHola

Good morning – Buenos días – Bon dia

Please – Por favorSi us plau

Pardon – PerdónPerdó

Thank you – GraciasGracies

Goodbye – AdiósAdéu


While Catalán may appear to be a mix of Spanish and French, it’s really not based in either one. In spelling, it is closer to Spanish making it somewhat visually recognizable to the fluent Spanish-speaker. However, with regard to grammar and pronunciation, it is more similar to French. With our skills in both of those languages, it is still quite a challenge for us to decipher but seems less intimidating than other languages. I’m hoping that keeping all these linguistic, cultural, and political aspects in mind as we visit this region over the next week will make our experience all the more rewarding.


The Spaniards

D0D4A0F6-B76A-495C-A3EB-7C74465C17EAEven though I never made it to Spain, in the early ‘90’s Spain came to me. At the time, I was working as an elementary teacher in a bilingual classroom. This meant I was teaching subjects in Spanish and English to students who were transitioning to English as their second language. I was totally in my element. This educational approach for second language learners is what I had studied, trained for, believed in, and promoted while pursuing my degree at UCR. In California’s Coachella Valley where I taught for 20 years, there were many students in need of this type of instruction but not enough bilingual teachers to serve them so the school district made a recruitment trip to Spain and returned with some spectacular teachers with whom I had the great pleasure of working. In my late 30’s, it was the pinnacle of my career and highlight of my life up to that point.

Not only did I gain knowledgeable colleagues in the work place, but I also gained very special friends. During a period of about three years, we spent much time together both in and out of school. Since my new friends preferred to speak Spanish, I had ample opportunity to develop vocabulary that was more than just academic. We got together for lively discussions on all topics, enjoyed good food and wine, and laughed a lot. I learned so much from them and began thinking about my life in different ways than I had before. This experience opened a new door for me… one that I had failed to enter so many years before in college. This time, I walked through the door without hesitation. As I look back on this time now, I realize it was the beginning of the end of what I refer to as “my previous life” — life before Norman who became my “knight in shining armor” saving this Sleeping Beauty from a stressed, depressed slumber.

6676AA41-DADB-43D3-9F53-97F647673478The Spaniards were all from Madrid (madrileños). However, it was during the time we were together that Barcelona gained its first big dose of worldwide recognition in the form of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and they were extremely proud that their country was hosting this event. They always returned home to Spain for the summer so they were there and I was here vicariously enjoying their company while enthusiastically following the daily Olympic coverage. At the same time, I was savoring the soundtrack of the games aptly titled “Barcelona Gold” which I just recently repurchased to add to the “¡Viva España!” playlist I created for our trip. The opening and closing songs on this album were the most memorable, each sung by an eclectic duo. Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of the British rock group Queen, teamed up with Spanish soprano Monserrat Caballé to produce the moving Olympic theme song, “Barcelona”. For the closing ceremonies, British soprano Sarah Brightman and Spanish tenor José Carreras performed “Amigos Para Siempre” (Friends for Life) — expressing deep emotions about friendship which seemed to me just as appropriate for the Olympic athletes as my relationship with the Spaniards.

Eventually, it was time for each of the Spaniards to return home or set off on a new path. I was a bit devastated by this transition to say the least. I endeavored to keep in touch, but in those pre-internet days that was pretty much limited to the old-fashioned custom of letter writing, a habit which they weren’t particularly good at maintaining. Sadly, in the end, I lost contact with all of them. I don’t even have any photos to share with you here.

FA6AB1CA-2BFC-405F-BB83-1C71CAD52F7DIn my heart, through the first part of our journey I will be reflecting back on those times and emotions to cherish them once again. At the same time, it will be an opportunity to tick off some of those boxes on a very old list and tie up loose ends in my mind. It’s one of several reasons this trip is so important to me. I can’t wait to get started!

Lang & Lit

C41BFB1E-DCEB-47E0-89E9-336739BBB944When I went off to college to major in Spanish at the University of California, Riverside in 1973, I was excited to become a member of the highly touted Department of Spanish and Portuguese. With a student population of only 4,000 at the time, the professors at UCR could provide completely personalized instruction and advisement. They took the time to get to know you and, in turn, you came to known them hanging out at student-inclusive staff parties or being graciously invited into their homes. It was quite a special time. As time went on and budgets deteriorated for the Humanities, changes were made to the department structure. Thus, there was an unpopular, forced merge of many language departments into one large Department of Languages and Literature which we begrudgingly referred to as “Lang & Lit”.

black and white Don Quixote with horseWhen majoring in any language, it is generally required that you not only study the language but literature written in that language as well. In this way, you learn much about the cultures associated with it which is equally important. In my case, that involved reading many historically renown novels in Spanish. I surveyed the likes of Don Quijote (Cervantes), Cien Años de Soledad (García Márquez), Bodas de Sangre (Lorca), La Muerte de Artemio Cruz (Fuentes), and many others. However enlightening it might be, literature in any language has never been my thing. So much is left to interpretation and opinion about the meaning behind all the words in these literary masterpieces. Reading this type of work in a second language demands an understanding of its many nuances which is not easy to achieve. I preferred to focus on the less abstract, more concrete side of things… language. The development and structure of Spanish, Portuguese, French, and the Romance languages in general were an endless fascination to me. So I was much more dedicated to my studies in linguistics, a field I had been introduced to at the age of 16 when I attended a National Science Foundation summer program. Even after six years of studying Spanish in junior high and high school, I had never heard of Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, or Phonology — some of the many sub-fields of Linguistics. Once I got a taste, I was completely hooked. In the same way in which literature helps you understand different cultures, linguistics helps you understand languages and the people who speak them. Originally, I considered pursuing a career as a linguist, but decided to choose a more practical application of the knowledge I acquired from this intense study and the ability to speak a second language fluently. It served me well in so many ways throughout my entire 40-year career as a teacher.


D53E5938-7605-41DA-9F83-C45A8C3734E9Today I continue to reap rewards from my degree as I travel to other countries. This year we are beginning our journey in Spain, an experience I expected to have when I was back in college until the young, impressionable girl I was then chose to defer an opportunity to study abroad… for a boy — silly me! Though I have visited San Sebastián in the northern Basque Country on two previous occasions, I have always wanted get an overall feel for the whole country. In order to prepare for that experience, I chose to open some more books. This has always been my practice before traveling to a new place. To that end, my reading list includes several non-fiction titles I have been working my way through in the past few months:

55EB623F-0A9C-4971-AF97-C7CD8D1BB16BIn addition, I enjoy reading a few fiction titles set in the areas we will visit to provide atmosphere along with some historical perspective for our travels. Among others, I was thrilled to discover the novels of Carlos Ruíz Zafón, currently the most widely published Spanish contemporary author. Born and raised in Barcelona, Zafón moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago where he worked for a time as a screenwriter developing writing skills he uses in his novels. His most popular work is a series called “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” (El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados) with four titles so far. I read all four rather voraciously and highly recommend them. The novels are a mix of mystery, thriller, and historical fiction set against the backdrop of a hidden repository of BOOKS. The way in which the stories and characters are intertwined within each novel and throughout the series in extremely intriguing. They all take place in Barcelona, but even if that’s not your next destination, you will still enjoy them especially if you love books. I chose to read the series first in English, but I plan to pick up at least one of the books in Spanish during our trip. The translations are excellently rendered by Lucia Graves (daughter of renown British poet, Robert Graves), but there’s nothing like reading the author’s original words.4FB53052-DB3B-4B05-9872-8F5D5B32E8C1

Food, Glorious Food!

6B2CC5F8-39D5-45D8-92BA-C0EBB9506A34You might recognize this title as the opening song to the 1968 film, Oliver! It’s sung by the workhouse boys who are fantasizing about all kinds of wonderful food even though all they ever get is gruel. If you know the lyrics or, at least, the tune, you might sing/hum it in your head to accompany this post. We hope you’re hungry for this one!

We are not “big eaters” and in fact, have pared down our food intake and meals greatly over the years. Our metabolism just doesn’t tolerate as much anymore. However, when we travel, sometimes our regular diet goes on hiatus. We love discovering excellent cuisine and new flavors many of which become part of our regular menus once we return home. I am extremely lucky to have a husband who is passionate about cooking. After so many years commanding the kitchen in our household, he has learned to deconstruct just about anything we are served and then successfully make it himself for us at home. We use an app (currently Paprika) to catalog all our recipes and I am constantly adding new entries at his request.

I actually have an entire iPhoto album devoted to photos of cuisine from our travels and even that is merely a sampling. It’s a combination of meals we have ordered and meals Norman has prepared. Due to the fact that we stay in what are called self-catering accommodations, he is able to do a lot of cooking for us on the road. We always have a full kitchen of some sort even if it’s very small. We try to alternate eating out with eating in for a balanced experience. Most places have pretty much everything we need to cook just about anything. Sometimes you have to be creative. Often at the beginning of our trip, we will invest in a few items to make the process easier like a scale, a salad spinner, and perhaps this time even a simple food mill as Norman has become interested in preparing cold soups which would be fantastic for some of our really warm locals. Today, for example, we had the most delicious Tomato Bisque.


When we attended that Marché Nocturne referred to in the last post, we had ringside seats at a small restaurant, Le Grand Cep, on the square. What an amazing array of plates we enjoyed!

One of the smallest kitchen’s Norman has ever navigated was the one at our charming gîte at Le Betoulle in Saint Claud. This is where we began our lessons in Atlantic fish and what they are called in French. Such a selection at the local markets, but we had no idea what they were and, hence, how to cook them. We went home and did some research then went back to the store with our list. Norman chose a beautiful Grondin Rouge and proceeded to prepare us an outstanding meal. Here he is in that tiny kitchen…


Read Norman’s post about his experience in What’s For Dinner? You can also get the recipe in the post that follows it, Grondin Rouge, Anyone?

For the third time, when we arrive in the Dordogne region of France for a 2-week stay with our regular hosts, we will be seeking out once again those gigantic artichokes at the market in Périgueux so Norman can make his famous Artichokes Gourmandises. He has many versions and they just keep getting better.


One of our favorite and, frankly, easiest meals is putting together several small plates also known as apéro in France and tapas in Spain. We often do this at home. Since we do not require full-fledged meals to satisfy us, these work very well. A little goes a long way. There is no end to the variety of choices, especially during the summer.

Speaking of tapas… these are called Pintxos (pronounced peen-chos — literally “toothpick food”) in the Basque Country and they do not cost the price of an entree as they often do in the US. We were introduced to them in 2012 on our first visit to San Sebastián, went back for more in 2015, and are excitedly looking forward to spending a week there this summer hanging out at the beach and consuming LOTS of Pintxos. To fully enjoy the Pintxo experience, you wander from one bar to the next in order to sample all the different offerings. The idea is to take your time, socialize, and try to remember not to eat or drink too much at each stop. That’s why you order a Txacoli (small serving of Basque white wine poured from high) or a caña (small beer) to go along with your food that you see here…

So I have my list of restaurants, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and gourmet food shops for each of our stops at the ready. Can’t wait to go out, go shopping, and enjoy more marvelous flavors!



All That Glitters

You’ve heard that saying: All that glitters isn’t gold. It couldn’t be more true when you wade through dozens and dozens of travel guides and websites available for your chosen destination. You have to spend quite a bit of time reading all the sparkling recommendations and reviews in order to sort them out and make the best choices for yourself. Much depends on what your personal objective is for your travels. For us, it is always to experience the country like the locals and appear as little like tourists as possible. Many people prefer to have someone else lead them through their travels, but I enjoy being our own personal tour guide. It does require a bit of preparation in advance, but I find all the research is almost as exciting as the journey itself.

How do we choose all those places on our itinerary? Ah, so many places, so little time! Even for a trip of several weeks, I find I really have to rein in the number of stops we’ll make. It’s very tempting to try to go everywhere. Some of the choices are easy because there are just certain places you have to see — Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Provence, etc. You get the picture. But those don’t always turn out to be our favorites. It’s all those little towns, villages, and countrysides in between where, for practical reasons, we have to take up residence for a couple of days that often surprise us. For example, at the end of our first trip spanning much of France, we needed a stop midway between the Dordogne Valley and our return to Paris. We ended up choosing Bourges and was it ever a pleasant surprise. We thought we’d just be resting up – far from it. An impressive Gothic cathedral and spectacular 15th century palace once belonging to the wealthy merchant, Jacques Coeurs, were just two of its jewels. Check out Pleasant Surprises for all the details.

Beautiful Saint Étienne Cathedral in Bourges…


On another occasion during that same trip, we were traveling from the French Basque Country to the Dordogne. Again, we needed a halfway stop. I can’t recall how I chose the tiny hamlet of Asques which consisted of little more than a church and a few houses including a large one on the river with a very inviting Fisherman’s house turned self-catering gîte. There was little to do there. It was perfect because we were ready for a vacation from our vacation at that point. However, upon arrival, our host informed us that it was music festival season in France and handed us a schedule of all the free performances to be held at local churches in the area. This is an opportunity for professional musicians from the big French cities to share their talents with people who might not otherwise get a chance to enjoy them. At first we were hesitant because, truthfully, we were tired. Being the music lover he is, Norman decided we should take advantage of this opportunity. After all, the first concert was only a short walk up the hill from our little house. We were so taken by the experience that each evening we ended our day by attending another marvelous performance nearby. In such small, rural places, we found ourselves to be the only American guests. The music was amazing! We also discovered the very fascinating mascaret, a fluvial phenomenon that only occurs in a few rivers around the world. You can find out more about that and our visit to Asques in our post Le Mascaret.

Tiny, ancient church in Moulliac — concert set to begin…

On our 2015 trip, we stayed in another out of the way place called Le Puy — literally in the middle of nowhere. It was one of those places where if you drive too fast, you miss it. Our accommodation was a uniquely restored pigeon tower and house. Once again, we were ready for a break. We spent most of our time there just relaxing and enjoying the very welcome pool. Our host recommended an event in a town close by that we had heard of elsewhere on our journey. It intrigued us so we decided to muster up some energy and investigate. We are so glad we did! As it turns out, this is a traditional farmers’ market and then some! Here’s an account of our experience with the Marché Nocturne (night market) which is held weekly in many small towns around the country during the summer.

The Marché Nocturne in Monségur gets rolling…


It’s really important to plan all the major details of your trip, but equally as important to keep your eyes open for the unexpected things that crop up along the way. They may turn out to be the highlight of your entire adventure.

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