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