France Trip – Summer 2018: I need to learn to take photos of all my adventures, not just things that are pretty. We arrived in Narbonne and had one day there before we were to head off up the Canal du Midi to Carcassonne. This was our best chance to be close to the Mediterranian, which I had never seen, so we drove out to visit the beach.
No photos from me because when we got there, there was a pretty brisk offshore wind that was blowing sand everywhere and I didn’t want to risk getting sand inside my lens/camera. The beach was a long, shallow sand beach and the water was a perfect temperature.
The excitement happened on the way back – in a crowded intersection in Narbonne (when we’d made a wrong turn and we’re trying to get back on course using the GPS) we were hit in the right side passenger door by another car. Yay! Rental Car! Our car had some dents in both doors but the other car.. the whole bumper fell off.
The other driver asked us to follow him, to his home, as it turned out, where we were invited inside and had the fun of filling out accident report forms, in French, with the help of his family none of whom spoke much English and we did not speak French.
We had some questions about WHY he had a stack of accident reports in his home and HOW his entire front bumper fell off (and he had a bunch of twine handy to tie it back on – had it already fallen off??) But he was so very friendly. It’s a bit of a mystery, but the insurance is sorting it out.
Once we finally made it back to the canal it was time to move onto our boat for a week of travel up river to Carcassonne.
Back in the fall I took one day to make a loop through the Jemez. This is a favorite day trip of mine and each time I get to see a little something new. This time I took a side road up to see some tunnels through a steep pass that I’d never been out to see before.
While learning how to make molds I became accidentally obsessed with the Lewis Chessmen. We saw them first two years ago on our trip to Scotland and I tried to 3-D print one to make a test mold out of when I went to NM. The 3-D print wasn’t detailed enough and soon after I discovered that I could purchase pre-made molds. They are latex, not especially durable, and I’m a bit afraid to cast resin in them. I ruined one already by trying to cast wax into it and then couldn’t get the wax back out again.
The originals are from the 12C and were discovered on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. There are 78 chess pieces in total.
Back to some France photos. This is something I think I would not have thought to do if I were left to my own devices. We took canoes down the Dordogne valley, past some adorable cute towns and stopped for ice cream along the way.
If anyone is going to be in Kirkland, WA this week, the tall ships, the Lady Washington, and the Hawaiian Chieftain are there. Tours are $5, sailing trips and battle sail trips are also available. My daughter is on the crew so we popped down on their day off to deliver a care package and provide a dog for the crew to pet.
The Lady Washington is a period reproduction and has appeared in many movies, most notably, she is “the Interceptor” from Pirates of the Caribbean.
The main word that comes to mind is “ostentatious”. I mean, building a giant, spired, wood-paneled, fake-castle/palace as your summer home (or in this case, hunting lodge) is alway ostentatious, but this one really seemed to do it more.
Just look at it!
It was only used for seven weeks total by the builder (in the 16th Century), in part because it’s completely impractical. It’s too big and open to heat effectively and there was no nearby village to supply food so everything had to be carried in for the 2000 or so guests who would arrive all at once. But it has some really neat features. One of the most famous is the double helix staircase. Two staircases spiral around each other and you can stop at the internal windows and look at your friends going up the opposite stair.
And there are fire-salamanders everywhere, and who is not a fan of fire-salamanders?
And, as usual, the gardens were vast and impressive.
There was an equestrian show at an outdoor pavilion on the grounds that I missed, and I’m a bit sorry I did because it sounded amazing. Next time, I guess?
So you’ve got a vast network of damp, dark, underground, limestone tunnels. What do you do with them? Grow mushrooms of course. We visited a cave used to grow shiitake, champignon de Paris, oyster and ‘blue foot’/Pied bleu mushrooms. The blue foot were my favorites, but Sylvia, surprisingly, was a fan of the Parisian. We got to pull some directly out of the beds and eat them. Later, in the shop we purchased a half kilo and made risotto for dinner out of them. I brought back a jar of the blue foot and have yet to decide what to do with them.
The tour was officially in French but our guide spoke English so she took the time to either translate for us or to pantomime so effectively that we didn’t need to know exactly what she said.
Of interest: the shiitake mushrooms are grown in cubes resting on the floor and they said it was important to their growth to periodically whack the cubes. I’m wondering if ‘mushroom walloper’ is a good thing to put on your resume.
Of course there’s extra tunnel space. What to do with it? In this case a stonemason and and artist came down and carved an underground village there. Many of my photos didn’t turn out. There were shop doors, with a cat sneaking along, trees and balconies.
And just outside there was this pretty little cluster of flowers.
This château has everything: white stone towers, a river, grand rooms, complicated gardens, a tree-lined path and a hedge maze. We may be early in our journey, but I declared it “Peak Castle” all other castles are downhill from here. Technically I consider this a ‘palace’ – a non-defensive structure, leaving room for me to really enjoy some less elaborate and more defensive structures. While we were there we saw a few people paddling by in canoes which also seems a great way to view it.
I was impressed by the amount of copper-ware in the kitchens and the vast black-and-white checkerboard tiles in the long gallery that spans the river, but the best part was definitely the exterior of the castle and the grounds, which were stunning.
We’ve been away on a 3-week long trip to France and now that we are back it’s time to go through the photos. I always liked the idea of traveling with children, but it turns out that I find organizing for that many people stressful, so we kept putting it off. Finally, I noticed that my oldest was 18 and if we wanted to do a major, whole-family trip, I had better act now.
For our first three days we stayed in a ‘troglodyte house’, a home partially built into the limestone hillside behind it. I really love the idea that if you ever thought your house was too small you could just continue to dig into it and make it bigger.
This one has some remnants of an old wine press in it. The back rooms were wonderfully cool, which we enjoyed because temperatures in France were very hot for our entire stay. A house two down from this one was for sale, and while we loved staying there, the rooms are also perpetually damp and that might get old after a while.
This little canal and bridge was in town, near the patisserie. It did not take much time at all for us to get used to the ubiquitous presence of fresh daily baguettes and pastries within walking distance. The baguettes were inexpensive, generally .8 euros or less, which is FAR less than I would expect to pay for them in the US.
At night it was very quiet and dark, all the street lamp went out at midnight giving a good view of the sky. In the early morning we saw hot-air balloons in the distance. When we had free time at home, we listened to “Coffee Break French” podcast to try to prepare ourselves for actual conversations.