Tag Archives: tour

Whimsical France

My back yard garden is dotted with bits of whimsy–yard art and wind chimes tucked in among the flowers–so imagine my joy at discovering bits of whimsy during my travels around France. Here is a sampling.

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It is not uncommon to see animals on roof tops–here are two cats in Honfleur.
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Blue snail in Bayeux

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A person beneath an umbrella in a fountain in Bayeux.

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Giant-sized gardening tools in LeMans

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Blue gorilla in the Beau Arts Gardens in Angers

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Church gate in Albi

Extra touches

This was the first time I traveled with Overseas Advendure Travel (O.A.T.) and hopefully not my last. O.A.T. specializes in small groups and solo-travelers; we were eight people for our main tour (three more had planned to come but covid changed their plans), and I did not have to pay a “solo-supplement” to have my own room. Some other pluses were that we stayed in each location for several nights, giving me time to get to know a place a bit and also setting a comfortable travel pace. We did day trips and also participated in a number of activities that added interest to the trip.

In Barbizon, I took a sculpture class with Melanie Quentin.

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My artistic talents are somewhat limited; but it was great fun working with clay. I have a new appreciation for sculptors.

Bayeux is known for lace-making. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts and then I took a lace-making class with Cécile Roquier at the Lace Conservatory.

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Hand-made lace using bobbins. It took me a little bit of practice to learn the process of criss-crossing the bobbins to make a pattern.
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The project I worked on. The process is slow (perhaps because I was new); I added maybe six rows to this piece.
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Madame Roquier made these lace hearts and is selling them to raise money to support Ukrainian refugees.

From Carcassone (where we stayed inside the walled city), we ventured out to Chateau Auzias. We walked through the vineyard and learned about the pruning process. Then we toured the Cave, where the wine is made, and then we had the opportunity to mix our own red blend.

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Anastasia getting ready for our wine blending class.

At Maison Fleuret in Paris, we took a macaron-making class . Let me just say that making macarons is as much science as baking, and I have a new appreciation for all that goes into making them.

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The finished product!

Touring with O.A.T. was fun and educational. I am still on a “travel high” even though I have been home more than a month.

Castles, castles everywhere

Before visiting France, I probably would have said I had little or no interest in castles, but I would have been wrong. I found the castles of France fascinating. Some were mere ruins while others had been well maintained.

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The Chateau d’Angers, built between the 13th and 16th centuries.
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On top of the wall
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The garden inside the castle walls
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Chateau Villandry, built in 1536.
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The Meditation Pool at Villandry
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The gardens at Villandry
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Part of the moat and the only castle we visited that still has water in the moat.
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Chateau de Commarque was built in the 12th century and is still in the Commarque family. It is currently being restored.
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Inside the grounds of the Chateau Commarque
Beneath the Chateau are caves with carvings that date to the Magdalenian Period (15,000 B.C.).

French Churches

It seemed that most every town we visited had a beautiful church or cathedral. Some dated from medieval times and others were relatively new (19th century).

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Eglise Notre Dame de la Persévérence (St. Mary of Perseverance), Barbizon, France
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Bayeux Cathedral, built between the 12th and 16th centuries.
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Stained glass window on the Bayeux Cathedral
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St. Cecelia Cathedral in Albi was built in the 13th century. The outside looks more like a fort than a church, while the inside is full of ornate paintings, sculptures and carvings.
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Side altars inside the Albi Cathedral
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The Cathedral in Le Mans

Noticing light

One of the first things I noticed in Fontainebleau were the light fixtures and the decorataive ironwork on many of them. I wondered if people differentiated their homes from their neighbors by the artwork on their outside lights.

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The light at the entrance gate of Chateau Fontainebleau (the gold on the gate reminded me of the garden gates at Powerscourt in Ireland)
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Light fixture at Chateau Fontainebleau

As we walked the streets of Fontainebleau, and really throughout my time in France, I noticed the light fixtures and thought about light.

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Ornate light in Barbizon

We are so accustomed to flipping a switch and, voila, light. But before electricity, when many of the buildings I was passing were built, there was no electricity. I pondered light and darkness.

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Light in Honfleur (also, notice the heart shape in the brickwork)
Light in Honfleur

On that first day in Fontainebleau, as light fixtures caught my eye, two friends came to mind, two women who are facing health challenges, and I wondered how I might bring some light to their lives.

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Light over the pedestrian bridge in Carcassone.

One great thing about touring in France is that there are churches everywhere, so I began in Fontainebleau, and continued throughout my trip, visiting local churches and praying for people who need light (I included myself in that group). I lit candles and joined my prayers to those of all the people who had prayed in these churches over the centuries; I felt I was a part of the communion of saints.

My self-care plan

In January 2021, after a couple of years of increasingly serious health challenges, my mom went on hospice. She was ninety-four years old, her heart was getting weaker and she had other health issues. I was still working, and I spent much of my after-work time at my mom’s. I was already a bit worn out, and I knew the most challenging times were ahead.

I worked at a cancer support center and continually encouraged people to take care of themselves, especially those in the care-giver role. I decided to take my own advice.

One self-care plan for me is to have something to look forward to, something exciting to plan for and anticipate.

Several years earlier, I had been to Paris, and I wanted to see more of France, but I don’t speak French, so I booked a land tour of France with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) for March 2022. It was more than a year away, and I bought insurance so I could postpone if need be, but once it was booked, the trip dangled in front of me like a sparking gem.

I began to read books set in France, particularly books related to World War II and the actions of the French government and the resistance movement. I love history and especially enjoy reading historical fiction.

My mom’s care became more consuming as the weeks and months went on, and my dream of traveling in France helped sustain me.

My mom died in June, and grief replaced dreaming; France settled somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

And then one day last November, I remembered my trip to France. I called OAT and asked where I was in the process. Yes, I had booked the trip; I still needed to do some administrative tasks and book my flights. Once those were completed, I began again to dream of France.

Since I was going to Europe, I decided to add a week at the beginning of my trip to visit friends in Ireland. It was great to see them again after five years, and we had a wonderful time. Then I was on to France.

On the way from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to Fontainebleau (the first stop on my tour) I noticed trees along the highway which had things that seemed to be huge nests in them. I asked the tour guide, and he said they were mistletoe.

He explained that mistletoe is a parasite and if left untreated, it kills the trees.

I had never given any thought to where mistletoe grows or that it might be harmful. This is going to be an adventure of learning, I thought—beyond my expectations or hopes or dreams.

Sure enough, there were surprises almost every day. We traveled for three weeks, from Fontainebleau to Normandy in the north, south to Carcassonne, and north to Paris—the mistletoe in the trees along the highways serving as a reminder to let go of my expectations and be open.

In some other place

The trip seemed so far away

when I booked it.

Time seems to have a way of moving at its own pace,

sometimes too fast and

sometimes too slow.

The mindfulness people tell us that

today is all we have,

and I know what they mean,

but I like to have things to anticipate,

plans and dreams.

I suppose I live in the future,

creating my packing list,

immersed in my daydreams and guidebooks,

imagining myself in some other place,

on the other side of the ocean,

visiting museums and historic spots,

being in buildings erected

before the first ship sailed west.

It seemed so far away

when this trip was just a dream,

and now it is here.