WWOOF #1, in which there is always cheese

The gîte

The gîte

What is WWOOF? It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it is a work exchange. WWOOFers work on organic farms in exchange for room, board, and some knowledge.

My first WWOOFing experience was in the pre-Alps, near Grenoble, in a region called the Trièves. It was an eco-gîte with a large garden and two donkeys. The farm was located in the hamlet of Avers, which had the population of about 40 people, and it is run by a middle-aged couple with help from their twenty-something daughter. I took a ‘taxi’, (which was just an older gentleman and his normal car, shuttling people around for 2 euros and 50 cents) to the farm from the train station. I was really nervous and just kept running worst case scenarios through my head. Of course, everything worked out fine and the family was really nice. There was another WWOOFer type person there, who was actually doing an internship for college credits. Her name was Lucia and she is from Germany.

The hamlet of Avers

The hamlet of Avers

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Thelma and Louise, the donkeys

Thelma and Louise, the donkeys

I spent three weeks at this farm and a typical day started around 8AM. We all had breakfast together, which was coffee, bread, butter, and homemade jams. Then we would work until about 1PM. I did all sorts of different things, which was nice. I weeded in the garden, planted vegetables, made beds, cleaned, did dishes, built a new fence for the donkeys, and helped with the cooking. Lunch started with wine, a salad, then a hot dish, then cheese, then dessert, then coffee. We had the same for dinner each night. Did I mention that France is awesome? Cheese at lunch AND dinner? If it was even remotely sunny, we would eat outside. Some afternoons we would keep working at whatever task we had started in the morning, but more often I would have the afternoons free. Because it was so remote, you could literally walk out the back door and up a mountain. So, I took a lot of long walks and hikes in the afternoons. I would find a nice field to sit in and read or to take a little nap.

on a walk!

on a walk!

working on the fence

working on the fence

Every now and then my hosts would take us on a hike or a walk nearby. We hiked up a mountain to harvest a plant called l’ail des ours (bear’s garlic). It is a wild garlic plant and you can eat the leaves. It looks a bit like lily of the valley, but grows at a higher altitude. We had to hike almost up to the snow line to find it. We made a pesto out of the leaves and would eat it on bread or mixed into pasta. It tastes like mild garlic and is absolutely delicious.

It snowed the 3rd day I was there

It snowed the 3rd day I was there

The Trièves was a fun place to be because it is the junction of the northern alps and the southern alps. The plants and trees are a mix of what you would find further north and further south. There were a lot of wild flowers blooming, including wild orchids. There were a million tiny lizards running around, and some larger bright green ones. The stars were, of course, amazing. Stars all the way down to the horizon. I also got to watch a fantastic thunder and lightning storm out of my skylight.

des orchidées - orchids

des orchidées – orchids

view out my window

view out my window

Being at a gîte was quite fun because I got to chat with all the guests. The first weekend there was a group of 20 friends that have been getting together one weekend a year for the past 40 years. They all turned 60 this year, so treated the weekend as their 60th birthday party. They brought speakers and microphones and guitars and accordions, and had a party each night. The last night, they all dressed up in costumes for dinner, danced, and played party games. They were a lively bunch, to say the least. The second weekend there was a group of retired hikers, who picked a really rainy and cold weekend to spend hiking. They drank a lot of hot wine. There were also various groups of cyclists who would stay for one night and then ride on the next day.

at the river

at the river

All in all, it was a great first WWOOF experience. Being in the country was so nice after traveling through cities. I loved listening to the crickets and frogs, and watching the hawks glide over the mountains.I got to do many different things, I learned a little about organic farming, I picked up some new recipes, and I met some lovely people.

so glad someone put a bench here

so glad someone put a bench here

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A bientôt!

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Reading Material, cont.

I got some great feedback and recommendations from my last reading material post.  So, in case you are curious, this is what I’ve been reading:

1. The Orchardist by Amanda Caplin

2. On The Road by Jack Kerouac

3. A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous

4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

5. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron

6. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

7. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

8. The Pocket Pema Chodron by Pema Chodron

9. Pride and Perjudice by Jane Austen (obviously a re-read)

10. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (again, a re-read)

11. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

12. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

13. The Round House by Louise Eldrich

14. Canada by Richard Ford

15. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel by Jonathan Evison

16. The Defining Decade: Why your Twenties Matter by Meg Jay

17. Zelda: A Biography (P.S.) by Nancy Milford

Recommendations are always appreciated!!!

A bientôt

Cinque Terre

A little background: Cinque Terre is a group of 5 villages on the northwest coast of Italy. The towns are connected by train, boat, and hiking paths. From north to south, they are Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, Monterosso, and Riomaggiore. We stayed right in the middle, in Corniglia.

My train from Sestri Levante was only 45 minutes, and I jumped off in Corniglia. Of the 5 towns, Corniglia is the only one not on the water. It is up on top of a hill, but the train station is down right along the water. You can either walk up 381 steps, walk up the road 20 minutes, or take a little green shuttle for 1.50 euros. I opted for the shuttle, as did all of the elderly people that got off the train with me. I sat in the sun and waited about 30 minutes for an emptier shuttle. I got stuck getting in the door because my backpack was too tall. It was only mildly embarrassing, and slightly more so when it happened again when I got off.

The shuttle drops you right in the town square, which is also the only intersection in town. I wandered in circles searching for a street sign and finally just chose a street to walk up. Luckily, it turned out to be the correct one! Lindsey found this awesome bed and breakfast on Airbnb. It is run by an old man named Beppe, who speaks absolutely zero English and has a mess of pure white Eintstein-y hair. I rang the bell and Beppe popped his head out the window and started yelling things in Italian. Eventually I understood that he wanted me to go around the corner and up some stairs to the side door where he met me dressed in baggy belted chinos, a tank top, and a bright red baseball cap.

Lindsey was arriving in Cinque Terre from Spain and I had no idea when she was getting in. I knew her train left Genoa at 8:45PM, but that was it. I spent the afternoon wandering around town and napping. I took myself out to a little wine bar with a terrace for dinner. I had some delicious local white wine and a huge caprese salad with giant capers. That evening, I left my window open and stuck my head out every time I heard someone walking by. At about midnight, that person was Lindsey! We had a glorious reunion and then passed out.

Each morning, we ate breakfast upstairs with Beppe and a German couple that was also staying there. Breakfast was just coffee, packaged croissants, bread, butter, and delicious homemade (by Beppe!) apricot marmalade. Our first day, we explored town and then took the train 2 minutes to the next town north, Vernazza. We had a delicious lunch next to the sea and under colorful umbrellas. I had seafood spaghetti and Lindsey had pesto trofie (small, handrolled pasta). Liguria, the region that Cinque Terre is a part, of is known for pesto and focaccia. After lunch, we wandered the town, I did laundry, and then we sat on the rocks and sunned ourselves. Lindsey was brave enough to go swimming, even though the water was full of these tiny sail jellyfish. We climbed up to the old castle tower and then headed home to Corniglia.

Our second day, we took the train to Vernazza and then hiked the trail from Vernazza to Manorola. The trails between the villages are often closed because of landslides. This trail was crowded because it was the only one that was actually open. We often had to stop and let 20 people pass us coming the other direction. Regardless, the trail was pretty, the views were gorgeous, and climbing a million stairs worked off some of the pasta and bread we had been eating. We had a simple lunch of anchovy bruschetta and a plate of cured meats, then we went and sat on the beach! It was sunny and warm, so we rented chairs and an umbrella and took our siesta on the beach. The water was a little cold, but it was fun to go swimming for the first time since I left the States. There was a huge group of really rowdy Italian teenagers at the public beach next to us, and it just made me so glad that I’m not 15 anymore. Towards the end of the day, we hopped a boat all the way to Riomaggiore, the southern most village. We wandered and found a delicious dinner spot. This time we split a seafood pasta course, then I had stuffed mussels (a local specialty) and Lindsey had an amazing baked whitefish served whole. Then we rolled ourselves back down the hill to the train and went home. We walked up the stairs in Corniglia, looking at the stars, and following the lightning bugs.

The third day, it rained. So, we went to Monterosso. We did Rick Steves’ vineyard walking tour (thanks, Rick!), and then had an amazing lunch on a terrace high up on the hill. Our waitress was really nice and appreciated that we were trying to speak Italian. Each morning, we would ask Beppe to teach us something new and we would try to incorporate it into the day. Monterosso was really cute and we wandered all the tiny windy streets and kept finding amazing viewpoints over the ocean and to the next towns. We had intended to walk from Monterosso to Riomaggiore, but that trail ended up being closed, as well.

Our last day, we walked the million steps down the hillside to the little harbor in Corniglia. We sat in the sunshine and watched the sea. We ate gelato and wrote postcards. We had pizza for lunch, took a siesta, and went out for mojitos. For dinner we went to a restaurant up the road and had seafood antipasto and pasta. Our waiter had been to Seattle and gave me the address of his friend who lives on Capitol Hill and said I should go take piano lessons from her. Awesome.

At our last breakfast with Beppe, we took pictures together, he gave us big kisses and then waved out the window when we were leaving. We hopped on the train and went to Savona, which is a beach town just north of Genoa. Lindsey had to be back in Paris on Sunday night to catch her flight home and I had to be in Grenoble on Sunday to head out to my first WWOOF farm. So, we spent one night in this little beach town and then spent the whole next day on the train and spent a night in Grenoble. We went out for a nice dinner at a cute restaurant run by two adorable women, who I imagine were mother and daughter. We wandered around Grenoble in the morning and had a light lunch at a funky place serving local cuisine and locally made cheeses and sausages. Then we loaded up and got on our trains going in opposite directions.

It was so fun to hang out with Lindsey again, and it really felt like a vacation. We enjoyed the sleepy pace of the small villages and tried to avoid the big groups of tourists. Each of the towns in Cinque Terre had their own personality and they were fun to explore. I was glad we stayed in Corniglia because it was the quietest and least touristy, plus we got to hang out with Beppe.

A bientôt!

Nice is nice

Nice is nice. Not fantastic, not amazing, but not bad. Nice. I spent 4 days there and stayed at a hostel up on the hill above the city. The hostel was fine. It was clean, it was cheap, and they had one euro beers. I really lucked out with the weather, it was gorgeous and sunny until my very last day.

The first day, I just wandered around Nice. There is a giant flower and produce market everyday, so I walked through that and bought picnic supplies. Then I wandered along the beach and sat in the sun and ate my lunch of anchovy bread, strawberries, and a banana. The beach is a rocky beach with smooth stones. Some people were swimming, but it was too cold for me. I climbed a bunch of stairs up to a waterfall and a park and enjoyed the view for a bit. Then I got really lost trying to walk to the Chagall Museum. Luckily, I stumbled across a big brass band playing in a sunny square. So naturally, I bought some gelato and sat in the sun and listened. Eventually, I did find the museum and enjoyed the small but interesting collection. Again, I got lost trying to find my way back to the tram, but I made it in the end.

Nice!

Nice!

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The second day I went to Antibes, which is a town 20 minutes by train to the west of Nice. It is just a little beach town with charming winding streets and a Picasso museum. When I arrived, I ended up following an Australian woman to the TI. I got my map and started to wander. I found a cute hole in the wall for lunch and had a delicious meal. I had a salad that was a pile of shredded carrots, greens, and radishes and then two avocado halves filled with vinaigrette. Amazing. I also had a tagliattelle lasagna. After lunch, I walked along the ramparts and then lounged in the sun until the museum reopened after their lunch break (oh, France). The art was not very interesting, but the building was! It was a cool old stone mansion with amazing views of the sea. I finished my day by lounging on the sandy beach, then I hopped the train back to Nice.

view in Antibes

view in Antibes

Picasso

Picasso

The third day, I went up into the hills to a town called Vence. It is the less touristy version of a very famous French town called St-Paul-de-Vence. I took a 45 minute bus up into the mountains/hills behind Nice. I had a great chat with the lady in the TI. She told me I spoke excellent French and then reminded me to keep practicing. It started to pour down rain the minute I reached the main square, so I jumped into the first restaurant I found. I had a leisurely lunch and sipped on some pale rosé while I watched the monsoon out the window. I managed to leave the house without a coat or an umbrella. When the rain let up I wandered the quaint little streets and took a million pictures of adorable French houses.

Vence

Vence

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The last morning, I got up and blew out of the hostel early. I went to the train station and bought my ticket from the best SNCF employee I have ever encountered. She kept starting to speak English to me and then would stop herself and go back and say everything in French. At one point she needed a drink of water, so asked me if I would like a glass as well. She very explicitly explained all my connections and actually smiled at me when I left. Crazy. Of course, when I went to find my train, none of the monitors or boards where they list the platforms were working, so no one knew where to go. It was a mess. I chased down someone with a giant list and hopped my train to ITALY. I have to be in Cinque Terre by Sunday, so I decided to spend one night in a little Italian beach town.

I chose Sestri Levante, which is just north of the Cinque Terre. It took me most of the day to get there because I was on a local train that stopped in every city and town starting with Nice. You can definitely tell when you cross the border. The French trains are fairly clean, silent, and modern. My Italian train was dirty, loud, wildly uncomfortable, and seemed like it had been in circulation for at least 30 years. In Italy, people blatantly disregarded signs telling them not to cross the railroad tracks.

Sestri Levante

Sestri Levante

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Once I arrived, I found my hotel easily and then went out for a walk along the 2 beaches. The town is on a peninsula, so it has a beach on either side of the main pedestrian street. Everyone was out taking their evening walk and enjoying the evening sun. I found a little restaurant with sidewalk seating and of course got seated next to a French couple. I had a delicious ceviche with some sort of fish (no idea what it was) and then pesto pasta with green beans. Yum! I spent most of my meal watching two little Italian kids literally run around the restaurant. It is fun and shocking to be in a country where kids get to run around and be kids. I had a nice walk home and enjoyed sleeping in my own room.

A bientôt

Aix-en-Provence

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After hanging in the snow and ice, I decided to head to warmer climes—Provence! I took two buses (both of which were late) and two trains (both of which were late) and arrived in Aix-en-Provence approximately 11 hours after I left Chamonix. I was staying in an Airbnb apartment there and my host offered to pick me up from the train station, which was SO nice. She was really patient when I kept texting her about all of my connections running late and when I got there it was like having a gruff but caring grandma pick me up. I told her she was so very nice to wait for me and she just looked at me and said that she couldn’t leave me to sleep on the side of the road. The apartment was right in the center of the city on a little pedestrian street, and it was actually a lot of space for a studio.

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There isn’t a huge amount to do in Aix, so I spent my 3 days there moving from café to café. Tough life. There were a few museums that were mildly interesting, but mostly I enjoyed the people watching and the sunshine. There is such a difference between the south and the north of France. In the north, people are much more reserved, quiet, and orderly. In the south, people are loud and passionate and have amazingly tacky/wacky outfits. The people watching is so good.

square in front of town hall

square in front of town hall

Aix is a bustling little city, with a pedestrianized center. The Cours Mirabeau is the main drag. It is a tree-lined avenue with cafes and shops all along it. Aix is also famous for its fountains, and the Cours Mirabeau has many scattered along it. A few of them are covered in moss and other plants because they are fed by hot springs, so the water is warm. There is a little cathedral, with an adorable café next door where I found iced coffee! So exciting. Except, it was really sweet and tasted kind of like the Nestea version of coffee. I ate an underwhelming salad nicoise, and had some of the best pizza I have ever eaten. I really felt like I was on vacation in Aix and enjoyed the slower pace.

Cours Mirabeau

Cours Mirabeau

that is one mossy fountain!

that is one mossy fountain!

A bientôt!

Chamonix

I hate cigarettes.

Let me paint a picture for you. You’re sitting on a mountaintop; you are surrounded by sharp craggy peaks, glaciers, and snow. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and there is not a cloud in the sky. What’s that you smell? Fresh mountain air? Nope. A cigarette. Is that snow falling from the sky? Nope, just cigarette ash. I will never understand how someone can be sitting in such a beautiful, wild place and want a cigarette. End of digression.

Chamonix is a little town in the French Alps, at the base of Mont Blanc, on the banks of the Arve river. It sits at the border of Italy and Switzerland, so it is a pretty international place, in fact, I heard very little French while I was there. Mostly it was German, Italian, Spanish, an unidentifiable Eastern European language, and a lot of Australians. The slopes here are famous for hosting the first winter Olympics, and because you can ski continuously from 12,000 feet, all the way to the base of the mountain.

Arriving in Chamonix is a little tricky, it involves at least two trains and one bus, but the scenery is totally worth it. I was glad to spend the day on the train, when it meant I got to look at rolling foothills, wind through the mountains, and sail past tiny villages. It was nice to see forests and open space. The trees come in three colors here: the dark evergreen, the bright new leaves on the deciduous trees, and the white blossoms on the flowering trees. It was very attractive. The little hillside villages looked exactly like the movie Heidi.

My first evening there, I walked all around the town in the pouring down rain, marveling at the amount of mountains around me. I had a hearty tartiflette for dinner. Chamonix is in the Savoie region, and the food here is heavy and delicious. Most of it involves potatoes, ham, and melted cheese. This is where fondue comes from. Tartiflette has become one of my favorite things ever since our couchsurfing hosts made it for us when we visited Rennes back in the fall. It is potatoes, pieces of ham, onions, cream, and reblochon cheese all mixed up in a dish and baked until the top layer of cheese is slightly browned. Amazing.

The next day, I woke up to gorgeous blue skies, so I hightailed it to the gondola that goes to the top of Aiguille du Midi, one of the mountains in Chamonix. After paying a high fee, you board a tiny glass box with 20-40 strangers, and in ten minutes you are 1000 meters up a mountain. I got off here and walked around to look at the view and get used to the altitude a bit. There is a cute café where you can get lunch or coffee to enjoy at the outdoor picnic tables. I hopped on the next gondola, which takes you another 1000 meters, almost straight up. From there, I got on an elevator, which took me to the very top of the mountain. 3842 meters, or 12,602 feet. The air was definitely thinner up there. Luckily, the sun was shining and it was pretty clear. I could see Alps in all directions. I watched insane skiers start their descent. They each had backpacks with icepicks, crampons, and climbing gear. Oh, and their nifty avalanche homing devices. I explored the tunnels that are carved into the mountain and the viewing platforms that are literally just bolted into the side of the rock. It was exhilarating to be there, incredible to see, and a little unsettling. I felt like I shouldn’t be there, like none of us should. It was sad that this poor wild mountain now had hordes of foreign tourists climbing all over it, smoking cigarettes on it, eating French fries on it. The wind kicked up at one point and I realize that I did not want to be up there if the weather changed, so I hopped back on the gondola. I hung out at the halfway point, which was more comfortable. I had a coffee and watched a bunch of skiers come in for lunch. They were all dripping in sweat and sunburned.

Descending on the gondolas is not nearly as frightening as going up. On my way up, I made the mistake of standing at the window at the very back so that I could see Chamonix shrink. It was a cool view, but it meant that I didn’t see where we were going. I didn’t know when we were going to hit one of the support beams, the result of which was that moment of weightlessness when your stomach goes into your armpit, and then the gondola would swing. It felt like a roller coaster. On the way down, I made sure to stand on the side, so that I could see both directions.

Next, I took a bright red two-car cog rail train up to Mer de Glace, which is France’s longest glacier. There is a small visitors center, a collection of crystals, and 4-room hotel and restaurant. I had brought lunch with, so sat in the sunshine and ate while looking at the mountains and listening to faraway avalanches. The view here was incredible, as well. It was also depressing to read about the melting of the glacier. The visitors center focuses highly on global climate change and shows you how much the glacier has shrunk in the last 150 years, 100 years, 50 years, and 10 years. It would have been an inspiring sight 150 years ago when it filled the whole valley.

After all my mountain climbing, I took a nap, and then had another hearty dinner à la savoyarde. This time it was brown bread baked with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and cheese.

I really enjoyed Chamonix, and being in the mountains. It was fun being around people who wore real raincoats and fleeces, people who wore shorts and flip flops when it was 50 degrees and raining. Everyone looked happy and healthy and wonderfully rugged.

A bientôt!

Road Trip Part 3

We explored a little bit more of Vezelay in the morning and then drove towards Chablis.  We stopped in at La Chablisienne and tasted for a bit.  We had a very slow lunch in town, and then went for a drive through the vineyards there.  I think dad was freaking out a little bit.  The Grand Cru vineyards are literally on the side of the highway and anyone can just get out and walk through them.  We took some gorgeous pictures and it was fun to see the mix of new vines and 60-year-old fatty vines.

We kept on rolling and got to Epernay in the late afternoon.  Epernay is in Champagne, and is home to many of the best and most well known champagne labels.  We stayed in Champillon, which is on the hill just above Epernay.  This was one of my favorite hotels because we had a great view of the valley and a nice porch to sit on.  The weather wasn’t great, but that is beside the point.  We ate at our hotel that night, and had our half of the dining room all to ourselves.

The next day was Sunday, so we took our chances and drove down to Epernay to see what was open.  Our first stop was Moët et Chandon.  We went on the tour, which I thought was really interesting.  I learned lot about how they make champagne, about the different grapes, and the different kinds.  We got to walk through some of the 22 km of caves, and then we got to taste champagne at the end.  We had a tasty lunch in town and then drove out to Hautviller, which is where Dom Perignon is buried.  We stopped in at a champagne shop that does tastings and we got to try six different types of champagne.  Again, it was really interesting to taste the differences between the grapes and the blends.  We walked over to the abbey to pay our respects to Dom, and then we headed home.  We had room service dinner that night and I attempted to make 4 bags fit into 2.

We woke up early and dropped our car off before grabbing a train into Paris.  At Gare de L’Est, we grabbed a cab and our driver was chucking our bags into the trunk and rushing us into the car.  Once inside, he let us know that there was a suspicious piece of luggage at the station and they were about to shut the whole place down and bring in the bomb squad.  Good thing we got out when we did!  After dropping our stuff, we grabbed lunch at a sidewalk café and then enjoyed walking in the sunshine!  We were staying in the 6th arrondissement, so wound our way around to the Jardin de Luxembourg.  We found some seats in the sun and I read my book while my parents took a nap.  We met our friend Keenan for a drink and then went home to get ready for dinner.

Our second day in Paris was a walking day.  We had breakfast at a nearby café and then walked down to the Tuileries, which looked excellent.  All the flowers were blooming, the trees had bright green leaves, and there were ducklings swimming in the fountains.  We walked back down the river to Notre Dame and then stuck our heads in Shakespeare and Company before heading back to our neighborhood for lunch.  Next we went to this really cool taxidermy shop.  Seriously.  It was amazing.  Some family friends stumbled upon it once and said we had to check it out.  It was totally worth it and I highly recommend it.  Mom and I did a little shopping while dad took a walk and smoked a cigar.  Then I did my laundry and repacked once again.  We had a nice last dinner together and headed to bed.

In the morning, I got up and said goodbye to the ‘rents!  I can’t believe how quickly the two weeks went by.  It was so fun to show them around Quimper and France, and to show off my French skills.  Thanks for a great vacation, mom and pop!

xo

A bientôt!

Road Trip Part 2

We hopped on the autoroute, which is the big fancy highway with a hefty toll, and headed to the Loire valley. After paying our 23 euro toll, we wound our way to the town of Chinon, which sits on the banks of Vienne River. We stayed right smack in the middle of town, which was very fun. It was warm and sunny, so we plopped down in a sidewalk café and enjoyed some cool, pale, Loire rosé. We had a tasty dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had a roast pork shoulder with potatoes that had definitely been cooked in the pork fat—amazing!

The next day we walked up to the fortress above Chinon. This is where Joan of Arc came to beg the French king to fight the English and end the 100 years war. We enjoyed wandering the tiny crooked streets of the old, medieval town, and then we packed a picnic and marched off to see some châteaux! Our first stop was Ussé, which was the setting for Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty. We sat in the grass on the side of the road and enjoyed our sack lunches. It was sunny, we were sitting by a little creek, and I spotted some super adorable lizards and dad saw some cool birds. We didn’t actually go in the châteaux because it was crazy expensive, but we did enjoy the gift shop. Next, we drove to Azay-le-Rideau, which is a château that is surrounded by water. The inside was nice, but I liked walking around the gardens better. Our final château of the day was Villandry, which is known for its lavish gardens. We didn’t even bother going inside the castle; we just wandered the grounds. The vegetable garden alone has 115,000 plants. That evening we went to a wine shop called Cave Voltaire and enjoyed some more delicious Loire rosé, as well as a tasty charcuterie plate.

The next day was wine day! Dad had set up two visits to local winemakers, so we set off. Our first stop was Bernard Baudry, which makes delicious reds. We tasted a bit and got a little tour of the caves that they age the wine in. We took a little drive through the vineyards and had a picnic in the sunshine. Then we drove up to Christine de Mianville and had a tasting at her gorgeous vineyard. We went back to Cave Voltaire for before dinner drinks, and then got to have dinner outside on a deck! There was a dog at the next table who kept getting bites of steak handed down off the table. The waitress even brought him a water dish.

The next day was not Claire’s best navigation day. We were going to drive up to Sancerre and have lunch before continuing on, but due to my lack of knowledge of the French autoroute, we took a 40-60 km detour. Did you know that there are very few exits off the autoroute? I didn’t, but I do now. So, we just got pointed in the right direction and headed on. It was a terrible rainy day, so it was a good one to spend in the car. We got to Vezelay, our next destination, late in the afternoon. We checked into our first hotel, got to our room, and Dad’s allergies exploded. So we checked out, and drove up the road to another hotel. Vezelay is a little town surrounded by gorgeous countryside. It is famous for its cathedral, which used to be home to Mary Magdalene’s body, but is now just home to a few relics. This is the town that launched two crusades, and is a popular starting point for the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. The cathedral is striking because it is really simple. We arrived just as silent prayer was ending and vespers were starting. There were monks and nuns in their white robes sitting on their little wooden kneelers. We listened for a while and then headed off to dinner.

A bientôt!